Saturday, March 30, 2013

Serial Saturday: "A Writer's Tale" Part 1

A Note from the Narrator:
Dear Reader-- Perhaps I should begin with a brief word of explanation. 
I am a writer. Not critically-acclaimed or anything; up till a few months ago, I've only had small articles for local journals and periodicals, a few "How To" books and poetry compilations.
My editor sat me down one day and told me to take a holiday; he suggested I take a trip to somewhere spontaneous as a drastic measure to add a note of unorthodoxy to my writing. He told me I was getting too predictable.

I returned home and sat at my typewriter. He wanted unorthodoxy? I would give him that. I had very little idea of where exactly the words would take me (which is highly unusual); what followed was like nothing I'd ever thought possible.

I am a writer, and this is my tale. -Laura

Once Upon A Time...

Oh, who am I kidding? They all begin with "once upon a time." You might as well broadcast at once, "All right, here we go into story mode! Prepare to hear things that are not possible in real life!" Because that is what we do, really; we hear a story and never once do we enter fully into it. We keep our feet firmly planted in a world our minds desperately long to escape, all thanks to those words, "Once Upon A Time."
What time? We say that all the ensuing story happened "once", but it's really a trick because we never specify any particular time, just "a time." As in  "any time but now." Why not? What's wrong with the past or the present? My present happens to be very entertaining, perhaps more so than most.
For example, I'm sitting here at my typewriter in this musty old attic full of moth-ridden memories of yesteryear, stacks of boxes neatly filled with decorations waiting for their seasons and gifts to bestow upon future generations. My writing desk, a modest, old-fashioned garage-sale steal, sits right slap against the round window that peeks down into the next-door neighbor's back yard so I can chuckle to myself most mornings (such as this one) as I am treated to a ringside view of a circus none of the neighbors see: my next-door neighbor in his striped pajamas chasing their little black lab through the bushes. It happens all the time, and usually we all hear it, but the fence is so tall no one can ever witness it—except me. When I'm writing in the morning I can watch.
He has been chasing the mutt for ten minutes now. I wonder what he will do when he catches him. He never does, really. Oh, there he goes through the rose bushes! I see my neighbor stand surveying the thorns, scratching his belly through the paper-thin muscle shirt that barely contains his girth. I sip my coffee, settling down to watch the show. My neighbor grabs a shovel, but the minute he approaches the bushes and commits himself too far to turn around very quickly, zip! The black blur streaks from under the bushes and through the pet door to wait innocently for his breakfast. My neighbor has no choice but to fight his way out of the thorns. Even through the window and at this distance I can hear him screaming dire and impossible threats toward the house and the dog, who is no doubt being coddled by his wife, safely inside.
But I digress. Back to my question: what if we decided to treat a book like a swimming hole, what if we dared to dive right in, all the way in? No gradient progression, wading slowly into the water only as deep as one's shoulders, and certainly never out of reach of the shore—
I'm staring at the keys now; they seem to have taken on a life of their own. I am barely able to write as the whole contraption verily quivers with excitement at the prospect of me, the writer, coming unhinged. Dare I? What will happen if I do? Will I be able to return, or will I be forced to remain there, permanently separated from my world altogether?

Oh come now, pull yourself together!

What is happening?

You are a writer, are you not? Paper and ink are your world! You are not leaving, you are arriving!

I don't understand. How is this possible?

How is it possible? You have never doubted the scope and magnitude of your abilities before. You have always accepted the worlds you create.

Accepted? Well, I've written worlds, made them up, as it were, but surely they don't exist.

Of course they do not exist out there! But there is no way you can say they do not exist in here.

In where?

In the paper.

Scratch that, you mean "on."

I mean no such thing! I am a typewriter, I know what I am about! It is you who are confused! Ah, how can writers be so narrow-minded? Just stop correcting me and go through the door!

Did you do that?

What, you just noticed it? Now you are going to be like those people who you claim get on your nerves and ask yourself the point of writing fiction?

I should probably inform the readers that there appears to be a glowing door standing next to my writing desk. It's strange. It fades into the background while I'm watching the paper, but the longer I stare at the door, the more it comes to life and changes form: now a trellis full of ivy, now a curtain of lush hanging vines. Apparently I am intended to go through this door.

What do you mean "apparently"? It just so happens that this is the door you have been looking for every time you place your fingers on my keys, or put a pen to paper. You have searched for almost all your life, not knowing that all the time the door was right there for you.

Door? What are you talking about? I never needed to look for doors in any of my stories, and I really don't think I was looking just now.

You might be shocked to realize that anyone who has ever read true, great fiction has been through this door in their imagination. This is the door into the ImagiNation. Now is your chance to go through it physically, where so many of your readers have only been mentally.

Why haven't I heard about this door or noticed it before? Come to think of it, I have been using this typewriter to write manuscripts for years; why hasn't something like this happened before?

Well, let me ask you this: in all those manuscripts, as you say, did you sit down with your whole idea planned out already, or are you ready for anything, to let the stories of the ImagiNation tell themselves?

Planned, of course; woe betides the writer who doesn't plan ahead!

Oh really? Who are you to decide that? You want to know why you have never heard your typewriter or seen the door? Because you have had your face buried in your own white paper, telling your own story all that time.

I'm sorry.

Never you mind. At least now you have changed your tack. Congratulations, now get your rear in gear and go through that door.

Wait! What are you doing? Put me back on the desk!

You have to! Because

I am the only way you could ever get back through that door. Take me with you and the minute you lose me, you will be completely at the mercy of the fiction world until you find me again. Leave me here, and at the very least I will have the capacity to keep you alive.

Wise choice. Now you can go through the door. Well? Now what is the holdup? Go! That is the spirit!

This is the typewriter addressing you all. The Writer has gone through the Door. She will be fine; do not worry. I will relay her experiences for you to read in real-time. You just sit tight and wait for the story to commence. Some people think it is all the writer directing the story, but now I will show you how real writing happens! She has arrived. Good; let us read.

I began in a pleasant place. I stood in a grove of trees, looking around to get my bearings. Before me stretched a wide, sunny field dotted with blooming bushes and speckled with brightly-colored flowers. I stood just on the outer edge of a grove of trees that seemed to stretch to my left over the horizon, and to my right, all the way to a mountain range that dominated the landscape, even though it had to be many leagues distant. Behind me the grove was quite deep, though I could see a few patches where the trees stopped at another clearing. I decided to explore this one. As I turned and progressed deeper into the trees, I see flickers of light waver around my feet, like specks of dust in a beam of light—only these specks were quite large, emitting high squealing sounds, and they appeared in the shadows as well as the light. I attempted to walk quickly; these must be fairies, but I didn't want to find out the hard way that they're the vicious kind!
            I tried to dodge the blinking lights, but they seemed to come from everywhere! I cross-stepped right into some vines covered in a sticky gunk that pulled my feet out from under me. Instantly, a swarm of six-inch high little people spread over me, hauling with them the same dark, sticky vines. I threw my arms about, trying to toss my captors and regain my footing, but to no avail.
As they wrapped me tightly in the vines, I noticed that the lights I saw were tiny torches in the hands of the creatures. The dark creatures grinned maliciously as they displayed considerable strength to lift me up in that cocoon of vines, high into the treetops. I had no idea what to do. I could not move, but would I dare call for help? What if the only creatures inhabiting this place were the same species as my captors—or worse?
The creatures cinched me up tight, but they were not done yet. A group of creatures came down the vines toward my head bearing a large yellow fruit. I cringed as their sharp foot-claws scrabbled over my scalp. Several of them climbed down the side of my face (pulling out hairs as they did) and pulled down on my lower lip, forcing my mouth open as the others crammed the fruit in as far as it would go. A burst of juice gushed out of my mouth and dripped down my neck. I tasted sour, rough rind and overripe melon. Cackling and chattering, the little creatures scurried away and left me hanging up there.
The woods were bathed in golden horizontal light as the sun set somewhere behind me. It would have been beautiful, I am sure, but in light of what had just occurred, there was an eeriness, an ominous tint to the dark shadows.
The sky grew black, and a light rain began to fall. Of course the tree canopy was so thick that no water penetrated, but I began to feel drowsy in the warm, thick air that accompanied the shower.

I don't know when I finally nodded off or how long I slept, but the next sensation to register on my brain was the sounds of gentle voices chatting. Where I had been very uncomfortable with my surroundings before, and very much frightened of the little black things, I detected that my present company, whoever (and whatever!) they were, would be much more soothing.
            I felt something soft and fluttery persistently brushing my cheeks at annoyingly intermittent intervals. I reached up to brush it away—but I was still tightly wrapped in the green, vine cocoon. I opened my eyes and immediately regretted it. I could not see—not in the sense that I was blind and everything was dark, but there were so many bright lights in my face that my eyes refused to stay open. So I listened to the chatter around me.
            “You say you found her like this?”
            “Yes. The imps must have gotten her.”
            “This does seem to be their trademark prank.”
            “Aye, your Highness; they are not very bright.”
            “Well, neither is this—being—if she allowed herself to be caught so thoroughly.”
            “What do you suppose it is?”
            “Your Majesty! It appears the being is waking up!”

            I opened my eyes as the light died down around me. Standing on a platform of leaves suspended by vines about three inches in front of my face was a delicate, winged creature about six inches high. She smiled at me, and her wings raised and fluttered, sending off a brilliant light, which made me wince and close my eyes again.
            “My apologies,” she said quickly, settling her wings and allowing me to open my eyes again. I stared at her. She had thick, dark hair piled atop her head and held in place by sturdy blades of grass. She wore a dress of exquisite beauty, some unknown, ethereal fabric, and her delicate feet were bare. She blinked her dark violet eyes at me. “You are a very large creature,” she observed, “We found you hanging here; I’m afraid the imps were up to their old tricks again. Can you speak?”
            I opened my mouth and tried, “I…What—“ My voice was cracked, my body was numb for being wrapped so tightly for so long, my throat was dry, and I was totally confused. A fairy! A real fairy! What on earth was this place? What had I gotten myself into?
            The fairy in front of me laughed, a high, jingling sound. “Ah, that’s still a problem, is it? You can understand me because we put fairy dust in your ears while you slept, but I cannot understand you because you must take fairy dust in your mouth.” She took off, hovering a moment before me. “I will be back presently,” she said, and flew away.
            While I waited, a group of fairies flew around my face, combing out my hair with their tiny hands and smoothing a soothing substance over my face.
            The dark-haired fairy returned shortly with a small berry in her arms. I recalled what she had said about fairy dust. “But that doesn’t look like—“ I began speaking to myself (being the only one, evidently, to understand my words), but before I could finish, she gently tucked the berry into my mouth. Involuntarily I swallowed.

            The sweet, tangy juice flooded my mouth. I tasted blueberries, and a hint of savory cinnamon. It was altogether delicious—then it entered my throat. A transformation occurred, and it felt as if a fireball was working its way toward my stomach. I gagged in surprise, but, as the berry was already swallowed, there was nothing to choke back up. Whatever I had consumed along with the berry (or perhaps it was a strange naturally occurring aftertaste of the berry) tasted like the spiciest peppers imaginable and overwhelmed my taste buds.
            “Water!” I gasped, careless of whether the fairies understood me, “water!”
            The fairies seemed to know what I wanted, because a dozen of them flew down and brought up a small, hollowed-out burl filled with a clear, fizzy liquid. It tasted like apples, and it refreshed my mouth. The burning died, and I found that I could now speak to the fairies as well as understand them.
            The dark-haired fairy returned, “My name is Perissa,” she said, “and if you are ready, we can untie the vines and let you down to a more comfortable seat.”
            “Oh, yes please!” I sighed.
            The fairies first cut me down from the tree, and then when I was safely on the ground, they began cutting the vines off me. It was such a relief to be free! I stretched out my arms and stood up against the tree, relishing the sensation of feeling returning to my extremities.
            “Thank you,” I told Perissa as she landed on my open palm.
            She curtsied, “Now perhaps you can tell us what you are and how you came here.”
            I sat down on the lush, soft grass. “Well, I am a human—“
            I got no further as the whole fairy population stopped and gasped. Perissa clapped her hands to her mouth, “A human?” she bent down to feel my hand, as if suddenly unsure of my existence. “Oh my! I always thought they were just stories!”
            “Don’t worry about her,” a voice above my head called out. I felt something on my head, and when I tipped it forward, the voice cried out as a small body dropped into my lap. This creature was a male, and it had no wings. “Are there such a thing as wingless fairies?” I wondered aloud.
            The young man stood and straightened his tunic. “Of course not!” he snapped back, “I’m an elf! All fairies have wings, of course!” he snorted at my ignorance for good measure. Smiling to myself, I plucked him up by one little foot.
            “I’m sorry,” I said, letting him dangle, “I didn’t know. This is the first time I’ve seen a fairy or an elf.”
            “Whoa! Okay!” the elf waved his arms frantically, “I get the picture! Put me down!”
            I wasn’t about to let him go just yet. “Say please,” I demanded.
            “PLEASE!” I could see the elf’s face turning bright red, even as small as it was.
             I laid him gently on my palm, where he remained for several minutes as the blood left his head.
            Perissa had gotten over her shock by now. “What is your name, human?”
            I smiled at her, “My name is Laura; what is this world?”
            “You mean you don’t know?” Perissa flew up and hovered in front of my face, the movement of her wings causing her to glow brightly. “How did you get here if you don’t know where you are?”
            Would you believe me if I told you I had a conversation with a typewriter and walked through a door to get here? I thought to myself. I wondered if this world received many strangers. I was certainly the first human they had ever seen. I hazarded the most truthful answer I could give under the circumstances.
            “I came here through a—a magic portal from a different world,” I burst out.
            To my great relief, Perissa accepted this answer. “Ah yes, I have heard of those, but I was never quite sure where they were. This world, Laura, is called Phantasm. This realm is called the Fairy Glade.”
            I looked around at the fairies flowing to and fro over the flowers and bushes, at the tall, strong trees with the dark vines winding round them, and the yellow fruits hanging from these vines. It was all so—magical. “It’s very beautiful,” I said to Perissa.
            She bobbed in agreement, “Thank you; now, as much as we would appreciate your presence here, I’m afraid we have no accommodations for humans—and you wouldn’t want to get caught by the imps again.”
            I shuddered to think of spending another night hanging from the trees. “No, thank you,” I assented.
            “Very well then,” Perissa landed on a toadstool. “I—“
            Just then, we all heard a soft whinny, and when I turned around I immediately jumped to my feet.
            As if seeing imps and fairies and elves wasn’t enough, what should come striding toward us but a really, truly unicorn! I stared in amazement as it came prancing through the glade. It’s milk-white sides and the silver hooves sparkled in the sunlight. A pure-white horn extended from the center of its forehead, right between its eyes. I saw as it came closer that the horn had a velvety sheen to it.
            “Ah, Jerak,” Perissa greeted the unicorn, “How kind of you to visit us.”
            The unicorn spoke with a gentle, rolling voice, much like the whinny of a horse. “Ah, Perissa, I am only waiting to lose the velvet on my horn; until then, I am as free as a red-horn to move where I wish. But—“ he turned his head to cast a clear blue eye over me. “What is this?” he asked.
            I detected an air of respect from the unicorn. I nodded politely and said, “I am a human, and my name is Laura.”
            Jerak stamped in surprise, “Is that so?” he gasped, wagging his head, “Truly I find this amazing!”
            “Please, do make yourself comfortable,” Perissa invited Jerak, “I was only beginning to tell Laura that she might be more comfortable in one of the dwarf-towns, where they might have accommodations more suited to her kind.”
            Jerak glanced at the little fairies. He blew out his nose. “Does she know her way around Phantasm?” he asked Perissa.
            The little fairy flew figure eights around the unicorn’s head. “I do not believe so; she has only just arrived, and the imps caught her last night.”
            “Squirmy little creatures,” Jerak nickered in disgust. “Well, Laura,” he turned back to me, “have you any guide to help you along the way?”
            I shook my head and turned to Perissa, “Perhaps if you or one of the fairies could—“
            “Oh no!” Perissa gasped, flying over to me. “The dwarves, well, they…don’t take kindly to the Little Folk.”
            “They trap them, mostly,” Jerak added, “Bring them back to town for entertainment and charge other creatures to watch them dance.”
            “Like a flea circus?” I asked.
            Both the unicorn and the fairy didn’t know what to make of my comment.
            “What’s a circus?” Jerak asked.
            “What’s a flea?” asked Perissa.
            I shook my head as Perissa continued, “We can point you on your way, Laura, and we can provide you with provisions for the journey, but I’m afraid, beyond that, you’re on your own.”
            “Not if I have anything to say about it!” Jerak neighed insistently. “Laura the human, I will be your guide, if you permit me.”
            I was beginning to like this courteous, gentle unicorn. “Of course; I welcome your assistance,” I replied in the same formal manner.
            Jerak nodded, “It’s settled then; to the dwarf-towns we go!”
            “Before you leave,” Perissa said, “Let us supply you with food for your journey.”
            One hundred fairies flew around the piles of fruits and vegetables and grains, packing into two large cloth bags, which they draped over Jerak’s back.
            “Fare well,” Perissa called after us as Jerak and I departed down the winding road to the dwarf towns.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody", Part FINAL

“Rise and shine, sleepyhead!”
            Alex groaned as he rolled over under Marlo’s imperceptible touch. “Five more minutes,” he moaned.
            “Now, you listen close, I won’t—oh, Alex!” Marlo stopped her reprimand when she saw the grin he vainly tried to hide. She swung a foot at his head, but it didn’t cause him the slightest discomfort. “Get outta bed, you jerk,” she ordered fondly.
            Alex obediently tossed himself out of bed and began throwing on his uniform.

            Ted glanced approvingly at the stark-yellow braid perched stiffly across the brim of his hat.
            “Looks good on you,” he mused with a nod.
            Alex swelled a little bit and it may be admitted that he fairly marched through the doors of the station.
            “Morning, Alex!” Marnie sang as she slid the day’s files across the counter. “Last day; are you ready?”
            Alex tipped his head, “Last day for what?” he asked.
            “Your old shift! You have a new one starting tomorrow.”
            Alex glanced at the “orientation” form, detailing his new responsibilities and schedule. His day would be broken into three segments, morning, afternoon and night. In between, he had breaks for lunch and for dinner. From twelve hours to fourteen. He was a senior officer!
            Alex Davis went through his last day as on the standard 12-hour shift with renewed vigor. He even found time in the middle of the afternoon to look up Daphne Phillips’ number and call her.
            “Hey, I’m starting a new shift tomorrow,” he told her, “want to meet up for lunch?”
            “Sure!” she replied immediately, “that would be great!” She paused and continued cheekily, “Shall we meet at the bakery…again?”
            “This time I can say I’m planning on it,” Alex stated.

            He was in such a good mood that not even the Brendons’ persistent hovering could dampen it.
            “Oooh, not serious, eh?” Marlo needled, “but now you’re meeting for lunch?”
            “A bold step,” Ted cautioned, “are you sure you’re ready?”
            Alex shook his head and ignored them.

            “Alex? Hey, Al!” Alex had just pulled into the garage after his beat, and Chris Tanner was waiting for him. Alex’s buddy grinned when he saw the braid.
            “So it’s true, you did get the promotion!” he whooped.
            Alex smiled and nodded, pointing to his brim, “Guilty as charged.”
            Chris shook his head and chuckled, “Say, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
            Alex leaned casually against the hood of his car, “Oh?”
            “Yeah; see, I need girl advice, and seeing as you pretty much wrote the playbook on cop lady-killers—“
            Alex winced at the insinuation; was this really the reputation he had? Lady-killer? “Actually,” he cut in, “I’m really not—“
            “Oh, yeah, I know,” Chris was getting gradually more uncomfortable, his nervous hands fiddling with the wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers on the bench behind him, “I, um—well, a lot of the guys have noticed that you’re…. not the same—anymore.”
            “Not the same?” Alex blinked.
            “Oh dear,” Marlo whispered to Ted, “you don’t think he’s going to ask about us, are you?”
            “Shh,” Ted quieted his wife, “I’m sure if push comes to shove Alex will find a way out of it.”
            “Not that it’s a bad thing!” Chris hastened to clarify, “I mean, some guys think you’re being a suck-up, but other guys, well…”
            Alex saw the opportunity to change the subject, “Okay, all that aside; you said you needed advice about girls?”
            Chris shrugged, “Well, yeah, if—if you’re still giving it out; I mean, what with all the new you being so responsible and all—“
            Alex bit back a laugh, “You think that part of my making changes in my life means that I would not be as interested in giving dating advice.”
            “Jones said that you weren’t doing your old… thing on your beat anymore, the one where you stake out the hot chicks and stuff, so I thought that maybe—“
            Now Alex laughed and shook his head, “Oh, don’t worry, Chris! I still have plenty of advice; I’m just not as active in that scene as I was before. What did you want to know?”
            Chris visibly relaxed, “Oh good; I was just wondering, because I was out on a hot date and her friend was talking about you, and how you seemed like a really good guy, in spite of being a cop, and that sorta got me thinking—I wanted to be like the old you, because I thought that would be the best life ever, to be a cop every day and be a ladies’ man every night, but now—“
            “Yes, now?”
            Chris was more pensive than Alex had ever seen him before. “Now…I guess I would rather be more like the new you; no offense, but it looks way better on you.”
            Alex, mollified, nodded, “Thanks, I appreciate that.”
            The two cops entered the bullpen together.
            “Chris,” Alex said, “I’d be more than happy to show you how to be just like me.”

            Outside the station, before they disappeared for the night, Alex asked the Brendons, “So—I’ll see you tomorrow morning at seven, I guess!”
            “I guess you will!” Marlo returned cheerily.
            Ted nodded in affirmation. “Say, Alex, do you want us to leave you alone when you’re on break?”
            Alex knew he was referring to the lunch date with Daphne; why on earth would he want them to miss that? He smiled, “Hang around if you want to,” he replied. “See you tomorrow! Oh, and,” He nodded to the couple who had been his mentors for almost two weeks now, and taught him more by their imperceptible influence than any amount of lecturing could have. “Thank you,” he said. “I really owe it all to you two, my being the sort of person I am today.”
            “Aw, I kind of like this new Alex!” Marlo gushed.
            Ted caught her elbow, “All right, let’s let the poor guy get some sleep. See you in the morning, Alex!”

            When Alex awoke at six o’clock—the earliest in about six years—the next morning feeling like he’d had a full night’s rest, he suspected the Brendons (who happened to be waiting for him in the kitchen, a sure sign that they were bending the hours again), but he said nothing.
            When his first beat of the morning was a drive-through around Pentomino Heights, he suspected Marnie had something to do with it, but he was far too preoccupied with quite another matter to confirm his suspicions.
            At last, he sent off the last form and clocked out for his lunch break. As he suspected, Marlo and Ted still remained visible.
            “You don’t mind if we tag along, do you, dear?” Marlo said as the three of them sat in the back seat of the taxi, headed for the Rising Sun Bakery on Turnkey Avenue.
            “Nope,” Alex said, too busy concentrating on the ring box burning a hole through his jacket pocket to say anything more.
            Daphne waited for him at one of the tables. A father dined with his two young daughters, a young woman tapped away at her laptop while discussing some business proposition on her cell phone, and not one but two Rising Sun employees stood behind the counter to cover for Daphne on her “date.” A group of hungry college students came in and lined up in front of the counter.
            To Alex, it was way too many people for what he wanted to do.
            “Um,” he fought to keep his voice from cracking, while he wiped his sweaty palms on his pockets, “Do you want to take this somewhere else?”
            She smiled, but there was confusion in her eyes. He was grateful when she did not hesitate or question him.
            “Sure,” she stood up and re-packaged the sandwiches, snatching a white paper bag from the stack beside the register. “It’s crowded in here today, isn’t it?”
            “Yeah,” Alex mumbled as they stepped outside.
Down the street was a small square, a blocked-off avenue between rows of townhouses. The pair stopped there, and Daphne took a seat on one of the benches. Alex remained standing. She spread a napkin on the seat of the bench and began laying out their lunch again.
“Daphne, I—“ Alex couldn’t get the words out; they stuck in his throat.
Finally, she looked up, as if noticing for the first time that he was excessively nervous.
Marlo noticed this, but she figured she knew what it meant. “Alex?” she squealed excitedly, “Does this mean what I think it means?”
“What?” Daphne asked him.
Alex cleared his throat. It was now or never. He dug the box out of his pocket and plucked the ring from its velvet bed.
            “Daphne, I was wondering if you’d—“
            Her eyes flamed an angry fire as she roughly snatched the ring out of his hand.
            “Where did you get that?” She snapped through gritted teeth.
            Oh Alex!” Marlo shrieked. “What are you doing with my ring?”
            Alex was as thunderstruck at Daphne’s dramatic change of attitude as she and the Brendons were at the unexpected sight of the ring. He did not know where this fearsome hoyden came from; what was the problem? “Um,” he stammered, “I, uh, found it.”
            Daphne was back to staring at the ring in awestruck wonder. “Where?” she persisted heatedly.
            Alex tried to grab it back so he could finish his proposal properly, but she ducked away from his hand. “Why do you want to know so badly?” her behavior was leaching into him.
            The Brendons clung to each other as anxious spectators.
            “Alex Davis, you tell me where you got this ring! It’s my mother’s ring, which makes it mine!”
            Alex felt his knees buckle. Her words made little to no sense in his ears. “Your…mother?” he echoed incredulously. To Daphne it seemed like he was staring into vacant space, but in reality, Alex stared straight at the woman who now uncomfortably fingered the likeness of the ring on her own ghostly digit. “But—but I thought—you never—“ he spluttered. He shook his head and tried to regain coherency. He pointed accusatorily at Daphne, “You said your last name was Phillips!”
Daphne cast her eyes sideways and nervously toyed with a lock of her hair. “Well, yeah, that was my biological mother’s name,” she explained, “She gave me up for adoption just after I was born because she didn’t want me. This ring belonged to Marlo Brendon, and she was my foster mother till—till I was seventeen.” Her voice caught near the end, and her chin trembled slightly.
Alex sighed to calm his racing heart, and sat on the bench next to Daphne. “What happened at seventeen?” he asked gently.
Daphne pressed her lips as sorrow twisted her face. “We had a big fight; I mean, I guess it started with something that happened when I was fifteen, and it had been just building over the next two years until it all came to a head when I was seventeen, and I—I demanded my emancipation right then.”
“You did?”
Daphne nodded as tears began trickling down her face. “I did! I contacted my advocate at the foster agency and I arranged to get myself a lawyer and I dragged the Brendons—the only parents I had ever known—dragged them to court and demanded they relinquish custody of me then and there.”
Alex felt blindsided by the story. He glanced up at the couple as he prompted Daphne, “What happened?”
The young woman shrugged and wiped away the tears. “I was declared a ward of the state, but it only lasted a few months till I turned eighteen, then they set me up with a small job and an apartment and let me be.” She still played with the ring in her right hand, while she clasped Alex’s hand earnestly with her left. “It took a few months to get used to living on my own, but it only took about a year for me to realize how wrong I had been to leave them like I did,” she admitted softly.
“What did you do then?”
“Nothing; I was so scared of what they might think, and it was like there was this emotional wall that I had built up against them, that I didn’t dare go back and apologize.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw Marlo step forward as she added, “This was probably about the same time Ted and I realized the truth of the matter, too; but we were so guilty about not standing up and fighting to keep her that we were afraid she might reject us again and think that we just wanted to control her if we came back and apologized. So we never made it right.”
He shook his head in amazement. “Oh wow; I had no idea.” He meant it for both of them, but Daphne couldn’t know that he was getting both sides of the story. She continued.
“Yeah; then when I had heard they had been mur—“ her voice caught and once again a violent grimace restricted her speech so that she could barely get the words out, “murdered, I knew I would never get the chance to make it right like I should, so I tried to make it up to them by claiming their bodies and arranging for them to be buried side by side in the cemetery, under the tree that Marlo always liked.”
“Oh Ted!” Marlo clasped her hands over her heart, “She’s had us buried under the magnolia tree!”
Alex had to concentrate so as not to miss a word of Daphne’s tale.
“I didn’t find out till later that their stuff had been stolen, and I started going to every pawnshop in the area, looking for those things, to try and make it up to them. A lot of them were too expensive for me—“ she stopped and glanced curiously at Alex, “and then you started buying it all. Why would you want some dead couple’s heirlooms?”
You reclaimed all our heirlooms?” Marlo couldn’t resist now, but rushed at Alex, flinging her arms around his neck. “Oh, you wonderful young man! Thank you so much! How did you do it? When?”
Alex tried to appear innocent to Daphne while shrugging Marlo off, “Um, it’s a long story,” he stammered, “but I was able to recover everything, and you can have it, if you want.”
“Everything?” Daphne gasped, “Really?”
“Thank you so much,” Daphne stared back down at the ring, and a slow, blushing smile crept over her face as she remembered what exactly Alex had originally intended by bringing her here. “Um, Alex,” she couldn’t bring herself to look at his face, “Were you, uh, going to ask me something?”
Alex chuckled; any hope of a formal proposal was pretty much blown. He let Daphne hold the ring as he answered, “Yeah, sort of; I have a confession to make.”
This brought Daphne’s eyes up to his face. “Oh?”
“That night when we first met, I admit I was more concerned about making trouble for the gangsters than in saving your life.” Alex blushed scarlet and ducked his head in his turn.
Daphne flushed an even deeper red, “That’s not quite the speech a girl expects to hear with a ring!” she pointed out.
Alex shook his head and continued, “Sorry, what I meant to say was, that day we first met, I was a lazy, selfish, flirtatious good-for-nothing—but you saw right through that.” He clasped her hand and now looked earnestly into her lovely brown eyes, “You treated me like the man I ought to have been, that I could have been, instead of the idiot that I was. I realized the other night that I didn’t really have friends who I could do activities or just hang out with, nor did I have anyone in my life I actually wanted to do things for. I used a lot of people to get what I wanted.”
Alex expected Daphne—or at least Marlo—to come back with a snarky “I-told-you-so” remark, but neither of them spoke. They merely stared at him expectantly, so he forged ahead. “Meeting you changed all that; Daphne, I want to get to know you better, and I want to be your close friend, your confidant, and your protector. Will you have me?”
Daphne watched him for several of the longest seconds of Alex’s life. He waited—rewarded soon by that same sunny smile and magical sparkle in her eyes as she slipped the ring onto her own left hand and admired the effect. “I think that sounds like a good idea,” she accepted.
Alex was so happy that he had no words, but swept the laughing blonde in his arms and embraced her. Ted and Marlo looked on, ghostly tears of joy streaming down their faces.

            Later that evening, Daphne invited Alex over to her place for dinner, and they spent the evening reminiscing over Daphne’s childhood, raised by Ted and Marlo. The old-fashioned clock on her mantelpiece chimed eight, and Alex remembered one more task he had to finish as Marlo coughed politely.
            Alex looked down at the golden head leaning against his shoulder. “Hey, Daphne?”
            She turned her brown eyes up to him, “What?”
            Alex rose from the couch, “Would you excuse me, just a sec?” He glanced over to where Ted and Marlo waited for him by the garage door. “I, um, have to make a call.”
            “Don’t be too long,” Daphne responded graciously.

            Alex followed the ghost couple out to the small tool shed at the back of the garage, where they could discuss in private. They waited for him to speak first.
            “So…” he sighed. “Daphne.”
            Husband and wife grinned sheepishly.
            Alex shook his head, “You knew about her from the beginning? Why didn’t you appear to her, then?”
            “We tried, Alex; for two days straight we followed her around, hoping, waiting for her to notice us, but she never did,” Ted explained.
            “Yeah,” Marlo added, “We don’t know why we couldn’t appear to her; for a long time we thought we were invisible to everyone in the world, until you happened to see us in your patrol car.”
            Alex blinked, “She was your unfinished business! And till now I thought—“ he colored and bit his lip.
            “You thought our unfinished business was the reformation of Alex Davis?” Ted finished. “How narcissistic; no, for once, Alex, it’s not all about you.”
            “Maybe we were out of touch with Daphne, that’s why we couldn’t appear to her. We needed someone like you to sort of get us back in touch with her,” Marlo suggested.
            Alex nodded, “I guess it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?” he grinned.
            Ted chuckled, “I’d have to say it did!” He smiled proudly at Alex, “Congratulations, Alex; having observed you the last few weeks, I can honestly say there’s no one I would trust more to look after Daphne than you. Take care of her—“ he wagged a finger ominously, “Or we’ll be back!”
            Marlo stepped forward. She put her ethereal hands on Alex’s shoulders. “Alex, I know you won’t feel this,” she said, “but—“ Abruptly, she leaned forward and kissed him. When she pulled away, her eyes were sad, but she smiled. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done,” she whispered. “None of this would have happened without you!”
            Alex felt the tears itching the back of his own eyes. He reached up to scrub at his face. “I—I’ll see you guys,” he choked.
            “Gracious!” Marlo cried, “I hope not! I’ve had about enough of you, I need a break!”
            All three of them laughed. Alex could already see their images fading from sight.
            “I meant,” he sighed to regain his composure, “I meant goodbye,” he said.
            “Goodbye, Alex,” Ted replied. Alex saw him take his wife’s hand. “It’s time for us to go. Ready, Marlo?”
            Marlo couldn’t resist one last quip, “Ready, Teddy!” she chirped.
            Ted looked askance at the awful pun. “You’ve been waiting your whole life to say that, haven’t you?”
            Marlo grinned like a schoolgirl, “And beyond, dearest.”
            Those last words still hung in the air long after their forms evaporated completely. Alex was left alone in the tool shed with the phone in his hand.

            “Alex?” he heard Daphne calling him from the garage. He emerged to join her, struck once more by the way she may not have any of the Brendon features, but he could see a bit of Marlo in her mannerisms.
            Daphne looked concerned at Alex’s expression. “Is everything okay?” she asked him.
            Alex couldn’t take his eyes off of her, but merely looking didn’t suffice, either. He walked over to her and grabbed her hand.
            “C’mere,” he murmured, pulling her into his arms and holding her like he never wanted to let go. She relaxed in his firm, protective grasp.
            Now everything is perfect,” said Alex Davis.
<<<<<THE END>>>

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hit List: Top 5 Dame Actresses

Having now seen Skyfall, I felt compelled to produce a Hit List today, comprised of my "Top 5 Dame Actresses": the five most eligible "Queens of the Screen" that I have ever had the privilege of seeing. (And who are all still active in their careers at present) Each actress comes with a "Recommended Filmography", films I have seen and thus may recommend. (If you have seen any others, feel free to recommend them to me! :))

5. Angela Lansbury
 Possibly the sweetest role I have seen Angela in to date would be Murder, She Wrote. Playing an older woman in a charming New England town who decides to write a murder mystery novel and gets fame (and real mysteries) for it, Angela captures the heart of an adventuresome older woman with plenty of spunk and imagination, whom no criminal would ever expect to find them. :) She's "everybody's grandmother"-type, yet she doesn't cave in the face of danger, and she keeps up with actresses much younger than she (often "showing them up", as far as the realism of her acting goes!) So simple, so elegant, so creative--I very much love watching her.

Recommended Filmography:
Bedknobs & Broomsticks (Disney)
Murder, She Wrote
Beauty & the Beast (Disney) 

4. Julie Andrews
The first out of the five I ever saw, traipsing her way through the streets of Austria singing her heart out in The Sound of Music. Words cannot express how much I wanted to be her--to sing like her, to dance like her. She happened to be the only female onscreen in that particular production with a pixie cut (though the movie is set during a time when pixie cuts for women were likely not the fashion), but she wore it with such feminine grace that one probably would never realize it. Julie captivates and charms with her winsome ways and her unquenchable sense of humor. From Mary Poppins, the magical nanny who danced with animated penguins, to Queen Clarisse of Genovia in the Princess Diaries movies who finds herself in many awkward situations reasonable of a woman half her age, Julie handles it all with the same finesse and regal grace.

Recommended Filmography:
The Sound of Music
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Mary Poppins
The Princess Diaries
One Special Night

3. Helen Mirren
My favorite "Mirren Moment" would be from the movie RED, the part when Helen--wearing an ivory silk gown and pearls--has to lay down cover fire with a big heavy machine gun behind Bruce Willis and John Malkovich. What does the lady do? She ditches her satin heels for a pair of combat boots for added mobility and sturdiness and she pulls that trigger! She also pulls a hilarious stint as fussy Aunt Elinor in the wonderful fantasy adventure Inkheart--a reclusive bibliophile who still manages to assert herself as a woman not to be trifled with, even when the man rummaging through her beloved books has a very sharp knife and desperately wants to use it. With a subtle tilt of her head, purse of her lips, and firm glint in her eye, Helen commands attention at the same time as she invites suffering innocents to come to her for comfort.

Recommended Filmography:

2. Judi Dench
There isn't enough I could say about this woman. Just barely over five feet high, Judi earns the name "la petite dame formidable." Whether she's playing the soft, gentle spinster Miss Mattie of Cranford, or the woman in charge of the security of England (and most of Europe), the unquenchable M in at least 5 Bond movies--look out for Judi. She may be small, but she's a firecracker, and not to be regarded lightly. Her skill, too, with the works of Shakespeare such as Macbeth and Henry V--as a devious, power-hungry lady in one, and as the comforting mother-figure for a young vagrant (played by Christian Bale) in the other--only add to the amount of respect she deserves. 

Recommended Filmography:
Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall
Henry V
The Importance of Being Earnest
Home on The Range

1. Maggie Smith
Which brings me to my ultimate favorite Screen-Queen. First seen in the movie Hook, Maggie will always embody "Gramma Wendy" to me. She is certainly the "Queen Mother" of them all, as the veritable "grande dame" to command the screen as a slight (but by no means frail!), elderly dowager who should not be crossed under any circumstances. Her Scottish accent is positively adorable as the peppery, regal Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series, and I very much liked watching her in the role of Mrs. Medlock on The Secret Garden. Whether period piece or modern-day movie; whether it's a literary adaptation or an original screenplay, Maggie Smith is the kind of skilled actor to fully embody every role, an anchor for the rest of the cast and a stellar example of excellent acting.

Recommended Filmography:
Harry Potter
The Secret Garden

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Serial Saturday: "Protective Custody", Part 9

            When Alex awoke the next morning to the chiming of his alarm, the sun was just beginning to peek around the corners of the building, almost all the heirlooms were safely stowed in the attic, and things were really looking up for him. As he progressed through his normal grooming routine, Alex pondered over the best way to present them to the couple. He finished getting dressed and looked at himself in the mirror.
            It had been more than a week already since Ted and Marlo first appeared; he was already growing accustomed to their intermittent presence in his daily life. Going to work, he admitted to himself, just would not be the same without them. He dimly wondered if their unfinished business was completed yet; he was certainly the better for their influence!
            He met Ted and Marlo at the front door.
            “Nice to see you looking so good, Alex,” Ted commented as the trio walked down the lane toward the police station.
            “I feel good today,” Alex replied with surprising energy.
            “Oh, did you have a nice date last night?” Marlo queried.
            The memories of the previous night caused the young man’s smile to dim. “Well…” he sighed, “I guess you could say that—in a way,” he admitted slowly.
            “What happened?” Marlo looked sorry that she’d brought it up, but confused as to why she should be.
            “I found out who she really was… and I dumped her.”
            “Oh, Alex!” As much as they disliked Adelaide and disapproved of Alex’s pursuit of her, Marlo was quick to sympathize with a severed relationship. Alex wondered how many guys fought over the rich Staten baby sister before she found Ted. “I’m so sorry,” she looked very much like she wanted to hug him, but they both knew it was not possible.
            Alex shrugged, “It’s okay; she was acting all strange last night anyway, and I would have just stopped seeing her over that, but then Daphne—“ He stopped.
            Ted was in his face, “Yes? Daphne?”
            “Never mind,” Alex muttered.
            Marlo giggled, “Oh, stop it, Ted, you’re making him blush!”
            “Marlo, honey, it’s his fault for going out with Daphne when he’d like us to think it’s Adelaide.”
            “I never went out with her!” Alex snapped.
            “Oh? Let me guess,” Ted persisted, “you just happen to bump into her all the time.” He rolled his eyes. Marlo chuckled.
            “It’s not serious!” Alex protested, but by this time, he was at the door of the station, and no further conversation was possible.
            Ted couldn’t resist one last jab, for Alex’s ears only. “You know, there’s no reason why it has to be. Why wouldn’t you get serious with a girl like Daphne, instead of chasing miniskirts like you always do?”
            Alex ignored him and greeted Marnie. “Hey, Marnie, how’s it going?”
            Marnie grinned at him, “Aw, it’s going great, Alex; how about yourself?”
            Alex checked his stack of the day’s cases, noting that they were varied, but kept in fairly decent vicinity of one another. “Well, it’s a lot different than I have been in the past, but I have to admit, I kind of like it.”
            He left on his beat right away, performing his duties like any decent cop—like a cop who actually cared about doing his job right. He noticed that the Brendons didn’t seem to talk much, except Marlo. She chatted endlessly about the different perpetrators he arrested or the accidents they saw, but it was all directed to Ted, not to Alex.
            Still, that didn’t bother him; he was almost glad that they didn’t talk to him much, because he couldn’t seem to shake off the last comment Ted had made about Daphne. In fact, Alex found himself thinking about Daphne more that day than he had ever before. He thanked the fates that Ted and Marlo couldn’t read his mind; he did not want help sorting out these thoughts! For once, she never appeared on any of his routes, but for Alex this was almost worse than thinking about her and then seeing her, because the more he didn’t see her, the more his mind ran wild with memories and thoughts about her. He had never met a girl quite so intriguing. He’d had two conversations with her, and she’d told him more about herself than any previous girlfriend had in a month of dates. Yet still there was so much he didn’t know about her. Did he want to know more about her? Why did he want to know? Would she ever tell him, or would he end up with someone completely different, and she would always be the “really good friend”? Alex shook his head as Marlo was making comments about the fashion sported by the delinquent in the back seat. Their hints and comments had already got him thinking about Daphne as a friend. He didn’t even know her full name, much less where she lived or how to contact her, for crying out loud!
            He returned to the station in time to fill out the paperwork before his shift ended, but no sooner had he reached his desk than Captain Prosser’s grating voice boomed out, “DAVIS! In my office, now!”
            Instantly, everything Alex had done that day—in fact, everything he’d done in the past year—flashed through his mind as he thought about the corner-cutting, the lack of follow-through, the “choosiness”… in short, every time he had failed. Perhaps it was his past choices now catching up to him; he’d had his “playtime”, here came the consequences. Fighting the shaky feeling in his hands and the weak feeling in his knees, Alex approached the foreboding orifice. He noticed that Ted and Marlo didn’t enter with him; he’d have to face the music alone.

            Sure enough, Chief Prosser sat at his desk, the familiar frown on his face as he looked over some papers. He did not lift his eyes from the paper.
            “Sit down, Davis,” he ordered gruffly.
            Alex took his seat, but his gut lodged in his throat while his heart sank down through the floor. He’d seen this happen from afar. Prosser, sitting at his desk, viewing some papers; the subject sits down, and Prosser pounces, shouting and spitting at the subject until they scurry from the office and out of the station, completely cowed. Alex braced himself for the shouting.

            “How long have you been on the force, Davis?”
            Alex was so worried about what he thought was coming that he almost completely missed the question. “Sir?” he asked.
            “I asked you how long you’ve been here, officer,” Prosser laid the paper down and clasped his hands. Alex had no idea of his expression because he dare not look the Chief in the face.
            “Um, about s-seven years, sir,” Alex responded.
            “How many calls would you say you have taken in that time?”
            Alex blinked; he never kept record of how many calls he took; he knew Barelli kept a running tally, but certainly Alex never thought of doing the same! “I don’t know how I could keep track, sir,” he replied honestly.
            “Of course you do, you just never have,” Prosser scoffed. “I had Marnie pull the records for your patrol car over the last six months,” he stated, shifting the documents and pulling up the one in question. He turned it around and pushed it toward Alex. “Would you mind explaining this to me, officer?”
            Alex glanced over the page. The six months previous showed a steady, low volume of reports going in and out; he remembered when he developed the trick of hanging out at locations for extra time, and not reporting in till he felt like it, so the dispatcher would think that he had actually taken that long to deal with the issue.
            All that changed within the last two weeks, showing continuous report-ins, and a high volume of calls taken. He had driven more in the last two weeks than he had in the last three months combined.
            “Would ya look at that!” Alex squelched the urge to jump as Marlo’s voice breathed in his ear. The Brendons were standing on either side of him now, gazing at the chart. Alex shook his head; how was he going to explain to Prosser that the sudden change had come about because of two ghosts from a certain call he didn’t take?
            Prosser was still waiting for an answer. “Well?”
            “Sir, I, uh,” Alex tried to be as coherent as possible, without seeming dishonest, “I guess you could say that I sort of woke up one weekend and decided that I wasn’t happy with my life, and I wanted to change it.”
            Prosser blinked; he’d never had a lackadaisical cop turn around this fast, and with no sign at all of any ulterior motive nor evidence that said that as soon as he got what he wanted he’d go back to the way he was. Once a lazy cop, always a lazy cop—but there was Alex.
            The gruff police chief cleared his throat and pushed some more documents around. “I’ve gotten a few e-mails in the last week, Davis…about you.”
            Alex gulped, “Me, sir?”
            “Are you a parrot?” Chief Prosser snapped. “Yes, of course, you. This one’s from Officer Derby, who I’m promoting to Sergeant at the end of the month: ‘Alex Davis has always been like a son to me; I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but lately I’ve seen that son grow into his own man. If you’re considering anyone for promotion, I think it should be him.’
            Alex glowed at the praise from his mentor.
            Prosser picked up another paper, “Here’s one from Marnie: ‘I was thinking about quitting a few weeks ago, sir. I had no satisfaction in my job, and I felt taken for granted by everyone, just another potted plant in the lobby. Alex Davis changed all that when he turned and told me Good Morning. He’s greeted me like a real person ever since, and made me feel like my job is worthwhile. I wouldn’t be here without him!’”
            Prosser set the paper down as Alex squirmed; he’d never received such praise from anyone before. He’d gotten by with just doing the minimal, exactly what everyone expected of him. Prosser stared at him; Alex felt his whole face burn. He bent his head in an attempt to hide the flaming-red color without being rude.
            “Those were two e-mails I wasn’t surprised to get, not after seeing your records. This morning I received a third e-mail, from the last person I ever expected to recommend you.” He picked up a third paper and read,
            “Dear Chief Prosser—Three months ago, you couldn’t have paid me to write this letter. One month ago, this note probably would have said the complete opposite of what I’m saying now. In fact, I don’t know why I’m writing this now, but I want to send it off before this mood leaves me and I end up deleting it.
            “I’ve never said this before, but Alex Davis is a really good kid. Sure he’s a world-class idiot sometimes, and he’s a total jerk the rest of the time, but lately I think I’ve seen a side of him that I never expected. He’s shown us on the force what he’s capable of in the last week. I think he should be given a better chance of getting the respect that his abilities deserve. He should be promoted. There, I’ve said it.
-Lt. BreeAnna Munroe”
            Alex’s head swam. Bree Munroe had actually written to Captain Prosser about his promotion? Was the world coming to an end so soon?
            Prosser didn’t say anything for a long time. He merely watched the sweating officer closely. Alex wished he could know what was going on in the stoic Chief’s mind.
            Chief Prosser’s face was a blank mask. His piercing gaze practically nailed Alex to the chair.
            Slowly, the Chief of Police leaned forward and clasped his hands.
            “I have to say, Davis,” he began slowly, “When you first joined the force, I thought you were one of those punks who just wanted to carry a badge and a gun to impress the ladies. I figured that once the going got tough, you would back down, give up, and you’d be the grunt of the force until you quit or got fired.”
            Alex felt a small part of him want to curl up in a deep hole under the earth and never emerge; this was exactly his reasoning behind becoming a cop: because it made for a really cool day-job. Evidently Captain Prosser had seen that from the beginning, and kept him on anyway.
            Prosser continued, “Now, the Mayor has notified me that there’s room in the budget for some promotions, and he told me to select the ones most worth the upgrade. I’m going to send him the list tonight…and your name will be on it.”
            Alex furtively reached under himself and grabbed his chair to keep from leaping out of it in excitement. “Thank you, sir,” was all he could trust himself to say.
            Prosser’s irritable mood returned and he waved his hand impatiently. “Get outta my office. See Marnie about getting a braid for that hat of yours before you leave. Congratulations, kid; you’ve earned it.”
            Alex didn’t remember his feet ever touching the ground as he moved out of the office, past Marnie’s desk, and out of the station. He didn’t doubt Ted and Marlo had to carry him. His senses did not return until he was standing on the sidewalk outside the police station. He barely heard their farewells as they honored the agreement and left him alone for his free time.
            He might have been standing there for most of the night if someone walking by had not saluted him, “Good evening, Officer Davis!”
            Alex blinked; who—A young woman smirked as she walked around him. He turned to follow her.
            “Hey,” he said.
            Daphne stopped under a street light and smiled. “I seem to recall that’s the first word you said to get my attention when we first met.”
            Alex dimly remembered that night; he shook his head. “Oh yeah, that; I don’t think that counts as an official meeting.”
            Daphne tilted her head, “We talked,” she countered.
            “I didn’t even ask your name.”
            “But you wanted to know if I was okay.”
            “Force of habit; it comes with the job.”
            Daphne laughed and twisted a lock of hair around her fingers. “Well, okay then; I’ll see you later.”
            She turned to leave, but Alex reacted on a gut impulse and stepped after her again.
            “Hey, um,” he wasn’t quite sure what to say when she turned to look at him. “Are you—uh, have you had—I mean—“ Where were the coy pick-up lines that always came with girls he knew had heard them all before? With them, he knew that they would know how to respond to any invitation; with Daphne, he couldn’t be so sure, especially with the way she’d suddenly turned sour on him the night before. He felt his cheeks flame brightly, and he decided to forgo proper grammar for the sake of getting his point across.
“Dinner?” he asked.
Daphne laughed; it sounded so much more wholesome than the high-pitched titter Adelaide favored. “Sure, I’d like that, I haven’t eaten yet; I was just about to stop by the taco wagon on my way home.”
Alex sighed with relief, “Here, I’ll get us a cab and we can go someplace downtown.” He escorted her to the main road to do just that.

Alex took Daphne to the Casa Romero, a Mexican restaurant he had frequented with his family.
“My sisters would always get these little one-dish things,” he mentioned to Daphne as they sat in a booth next to the window at the front of the building, “but Dad and us guys would go for the big plates, the two-hand burritos. Their enchilada sauce is awesome.”

Though the restaurant was not as upscale as the ones he’d gone to with Adelaide, Alex found that time actually flew as he and Daphne chatted away over spicy enchiladas and a sizzling pan of fajitas.
“So, Daphne,” Alex busily hacked another bite off the mammoth enchilada, careful to get plenty of chicken inside the tortilla, “I saw the other day that your bracelet has your initials on it; what’s your last name?”
Daphne chuckled, “Oh yeah, that’s right; isn’t the name the first thing you get off a girl, along with her number? I guess you don’t have anything but my first name.” she stabbed a few peppers and onions and deftly rolled them in the tortilla. “It’s Phillips,” she answered casually, focusing intently on her work, “Daphne Phillips.”
Alex nodded; he’d only gotten a glimpse of the spidery cursive engraving, and it wasn’t enough to discern whether the last letter had been a “P”, a “B”, or an “R.” He was glad she replied to his question so he would not have to admit that detail.

Alex felt like they’d only been at the restaurant for twenty minutes when Daphne glanced at her watch.
“Oh man,” she gasped, “It’s ten o’clock. I should get home.”
Alex stood to his feet immediately, “Oh, of course.” He waited for Daphne to walk past him out toward the front of the restaurant. The aisle was narrow, forcing them to do an awkward sort of dance to get past each other. Alex tried to carry the conversation to ease some of the tension. “This was fun, um, I mean, I had a good time tonight.”
Daphne smiled at him, “Yeah, me too; we should do it again sometime.”
Alex paid for their meal and the two of them walked out to the sidewalk to find another cab. One pulled up, but just at that moment, Alex glanced across the street and saw that they were very near an alley he remembered Chad Andrews’ fence mentioning, between the bowling alley and the gas station. He never realized how close it was to this restaurant, nor even that it was on this side of town.
Daphne was already in the cab, waiting for him. “You coming in?” she asked.
Alex couldn’t take his eyes off the shadowy alley, “No,” he said, “I think—I need to check something. I’ll see you later, Daphne.”
“All right; have a good night.”
“Thanks, you too.”

The minute the cab pulled away, Alex dashed to the crosswalk and darted across the street. There was a small out-building attached to the side of the bowling alley. Alex knocked on the door.
“It’s open!” a gruff voice barked.
Alex pushed open the weathered metal door and stepped inside. The room was small, mostly illuminated by black-light, and crowded with metal merchandise, mostly jewelry. Alex knew there were only a few items left on his list, but he followed a system he’d used on other stores and found very effective.
He pulled out a mug shot of Chad Andrews, “Do you know this guy?” he asked the frowning, scruffy man behind the counter.
The man gazed over the rims of his glasses at the photo, and pensively scratched his paunch with gnarled fingers.
“Yeah, been here a couple times; haven’t seen him lately, though,” the eyes darted up to Alex’s face suspiciously.
“I’m not here to make trouble,” Alex promised, “I just want to know: did he sell you anything?”
Another glance; another scratch. “Yeah; small fry. Just one piece.”
Alex felt his heartbeat quicken. “What piece would that be?”
The man pushed away from the counter and turned his back on the young man. Alex worried that he might have blown his last chance to finish reclaiming the heirloom, but the burly man soon turned back, holding a tiny box in his large hands.
“Just this,” he said, opening it and pushing it toward Alex, “A ring.”
A shock like electricity coursed through Alex’s hands as he picked up the ring. He had not previously seen any of the other heirlooms, but he had definitely seen this one before! It was Marlo’s wedding ring; her ghostly form still wore it!
He fought to keep his voice steady as he asked, “How much?”
The man glanced at him; Alex knew he was getting the once-over. Finally, the man crossed his arms and pushed his glasses up his nose. “One-fifty,” he rumbled.
Alex shook his head. “Seventy-five.”
The man leaned his paunch and both hands on the counter. “One-twenty.”
Alex adopted the same stance, sans the overextended belly, “Eighty.”
“That’s real gold, a real stone,” the man insisted, “I ain’t going lower than hunnert, take it or leave it.”
Alex shook his head and pulled out his checkbook. Chad had probably sold him the trinket for something like eighty dollars, but he would rather spend the money than risk losing the ring. “Fine, one hundred it is,” he responded.
The man replaced the ring and closed the box. He sneered at Alex. “Want a bag for that?”
Alex knew perfectly well there was no bag in the store. “Nah, I can carry it.” He turned around and left the room.

Alex arrived in his apartment, but he didn’t go straight to the attic just yet. In fact, the more he looked at the ring, sparkling so innocently in its box, the more he remembered the way Marlo would constantly be twisting it and playing with it, and the less he liked the idea of just dropping the box somewhere amid the jumble of heirlooms already in the attic. Something this small wasn’t meant to sit in a storage crate.

Ted’s jibe from that morning returned to him.
“Why not Daphne?”
Alex thought about the date he’d just left, the casual congeniality of Daphne—the way she rarely talked about her family. When they had been sharing personal stories over dinner, he’d rambled on an on about how one time his older brother and sister did such-and-such, or how his sisters always liked to go here or there, or his brothers’ favorite activities. Daphne had laughed and engaged in his family—but she never volunteered any tidbits about her own. Could it be that she didn’t have a family?
“Why was she going to all those pawnshops, then?” Alex asked aloud. This Daphne sure had a lot of mystery surrounding her.
In spite of all the unanswered details, Alex knew one thing was certain as he looked at the small, delicate ring between his fingers. He hadn’t given it much thought over the last few years, but with the promotion coming, Alex keenly felt the weight of responsibility on him, and he found within himself a new resolve. Daphne may not have been his best date ever, nor was she the prettiest girl he ever dated, but if he could spend the rest of his life with a girl like her—if not Daphne herself—by his side, he would be happy to the end of his days. What was more, he would appreciate the opportunity to be her especial protector, not just as a cop, but also as a husband.
He put the ring back in the box and tucked it in the back corner of the drawer of his bedside table. It looked sort of funny, seeing a ring box next to his Glock pistol and badge. Alex grinned as he lay back in bed and turned out the light.
Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise for Ted and Marlo Brendon, to see their young protégé finally taking his last steps to maturity after almost two weeks of intensive monitoring?

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