Another Life – Chapter 37

– “Do you want to know what really tipped me over the edge? What finally decided me to ask you out? I was talking to Eli about you. I admitted that I would feel bad if I guilted you into dating me. And he said: If you wait too long, someone else is going to ask her. And how would you feel then?”

“I would have been jealous. I would be kicking myself, if you were going out with someone else.”

The waiter brought our food. It saved Rose from having to answer me. But her cheeks were flushed – she was definitely thinking about what I’d said.

The fish was excellent. Mario served up good quality, at a reasonable price. It’s hard to find places like his nowadays. I’d said enough, I thought. So I ate, and waited.

Rose held out until the coffee. Mario himself brought us two shots of sambuca.

– “On the house.” he said, with a big smile. Considering how many times my Uncle Ray had fixed his car, or his wife’s, it was no more than a nice gesture.

“And for the lovely lady …” Mario produced a bowl of gelato – three flavours – with two spoons. He gave me a wink. “Enjoy!”

As soon as he was gone, Rose spoke.

– “I like you too, Joe.”

I smiled. “You do?”

– “I didn’t want you to know, though. I was afraid you’d feel … obligated. You’ve been helping me diet. And walking with me. I didn’t want to make you feel guilty.”

We skipped the Lion. Instead, we went for a long walk around the lake. It was familiar, obviously, because we’d been walking to the bus stop for months now.

But it was different, because we weren’t on the way on to school, or to work. And then there was what we’d said to each other. I reached for Rose’s hand, and she met me halfway.

We talked, of course, but we also walked in silence for a while, just holding hands. It wasn’t awkward, or uncomfortable at all. Quite the opposite: I was incredibly at ease. Yet only a few hours, on the way to the restaurant, I’d been nervous.

Our first kiss was under an old-fashioned street lamp, opposite the old boathouse. Her lips were soft, and I kissed her gently. Neither one of us wanted to stop, though. When I put my arm around her waist, Rose put hers around my shoulders.

After a long, breathless time, Rose broke the kiss, and put her head on my shoulder. I held her tighter. She was an armful – that was for sure. But I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone, that night.

We walked back the way we’d come, and then home.

In the hallway, just past my room, but before hers, we kissed again. This time was a little more passionate. I felt the tip of her tongue, tentatively crossing my lower lip. Soon we were french-kissing, our bodies pressed together. I could feel her massive breasts against my chest; I’m pretty sure she had to be able to feel my erection.

It was a dizzying, knee-trembling kiss, so intense that it left both of us a little dazed.

I recovered first. I kissed her once more, softly, on the cheek.

– “Goodnight, Rose.” I whispered. And I went to my own room.


Murder Mystery Weekend – Chapter 38

“We have treasure?” Lena asked. She was smiling at me, as If I was the one who had found it.

– “So we don’t need Ee and Sheila.” said Leo. He didn’t sound entirely happy about it, though.

– “Let’s not jump too soon.” I suggested. “It would be nice to find out if both them have the letter ‘D’. That would make it 100% sure. But don’t forget the rest of the game.”

– “Meaning?”

– “Meaning we have to protect the treasure if we find it.”

– “Couldn’t we just move it?” asked Leo.

– “We wouldn’t want them to see us.” I said. “I asked Teresa if she would have let Barb and Ben ‘kill’ me – in the game. She said ‘They’re pirates’. That means we have to stay alive to enjoy the treasure.”

Eric had another thought. “If we cut Eliza and Sheila out of a share, what’s to stop them joining up with the other four? We’d be outnumbered, and probably outgunned.”

– “That makes me wonder.” I said. “Put yourself in their shoes. Ben and Barb, I mean. Or Craig and Claire. What will they do now? Originally, I thought they were on the ship to rescue Redbeard. But he’s dead. Then there’s the treasure. I don’t think they can figure out the code. Not without the Bible.”

– “Do they know about the ‘French tea’ clue?” asked Eric.

– “I don’t know. Maybe they have a clue that we don’t. But Teresa must have meant for them to have the Bible. If Claire had kept it, they would have had six of the twelve letters.” I said.

– “Hey!” said Leo. “We would only have had four. That’s not fair.”

– “Maybe she meant for us to ally with Eliza and Sheila. There must be a reason why those two haven’t joined with the other four.” I wondered aloud. “But now I’m thinking about what Redbeard’s crew will do. No rescue, no treasure – unless they ambush us for it.”

Lena spoke up. “The Scar – he will force me to marry.”

– “That’s right.” I said. “We want to prevent that.” I did not fail to remember that Scar wanted me dead, too.

– “How?” asked Leo. “Kill him?”

– “There might be another way.” said Eric. He was rubbing his chin.

– “Really?” asked Lena. She seemed quite excited by this news.

– “Well …”

– “Out with it, Eric.” I said. “Don’t keep the lady waiting.”

He gave in. “Alright, I guess. My character was a pirate, but then he ran away and became a minister.”

– “Shit!” said Leo. “You’re Tom Hook?”

– “How did you know?”

– “I didn’t.” said Leo. “I mean, I knew he was aboard, but I didn’t know he was you.”

Lena and I just looked at each other. Neither one of us had the slightest clue what they were talking about. She just shrugged, and smiled.

– “OK then, Mr. Hook. What’s this other way?”

– “Well, like I say – I’m a clergyman, so … so I could marry Miss Lena here to somebody else. As long as I had a Bible. And look at that: we just happen to have one.”

“Can’t the Captain of a ship marry people?” I asked.

– “She could.” agreed Eric. “She would need a Bible, of course. And then you would have to tell her your real names. The secret ones. With me, your secrets are safe.”

– “What do you think, Lena? Do you want to get married?” I asked.

Lena looked a little perplexed. “Who do I marry? You?” She was talking to me.

Why not? Eric was needed to perform the ceremony. And if she married Leo … the difference between their respective heights was even more ridiculous. “Sure.” I said. “I would be happy to.”

Lena smiled, but she still seemed worried. “But … if you are killed? If I am widow, can Scar force me? Still?”

– “I don’t think so.” said Eric. “As a widow, you would have to observe a proper mourning period. No Minister would marry you again so quickly. Not one aboard the ship, anyway.”

– “There you go, Lena. Even if they kill me afterwards, you’re still safe.” I dropped to one knee, and reached up – way up – for her hand. “Lena – will you marry me?”

My bride to be suddenly shed her shyness. She bent over, put her other hand behind my head, and planted a kiss one each of my cheeks. When I say a kiss, I don’t mean a brush of the lips, or a quick smack. Lena full-on kissed each cheek, with moist lips and a full second of delicious pressure.

It should be pretty clear by now that I am basically a horndog. I was quite pleased with myself, having slept with three beautiful women over a span of little more than 24 hours, in this (so far) legendary weekend. But as I looked up, into the lovely face and shining eyes of this exotic girl from a quarter of the way around the world, I realized something: if Lena was willing, I would gladly sleep with her, too.


Another Life – Chapter 36

Rose agreed to go out with me – and she told me Thursday morning, as we walked to the bus stop.

– “Are you sure, though?” she asked. “We see each other every day as it is.”

– “Yeah – as friends. As the Diet Twins, as Rina would say. But I want more than that … I want to know if we could be more than friends.”

Rose blushed again.

– “Why … I mean, when did you start … feeling that way? Was it …?

– “When I saw you in the bathroom?” I asked. She blushed even more. “Partly. Can I tell you the whole story tomorrow night?”

– “Okay.” she said.

I was a bit nervous. I couldn’t quite figure it out. With Sam and Tanya, I’d been completely relaxed. I was nowhere near this worked up with Barbara. What the fuck was wrong with me?

Rose seemed pretty nervous, too. We walked to Mario’s without saying too much. It was like we were both waiting until we got there to start talking about the serious stuff. That’s when I realized why I was nervous.

Because this was serious.

I liked Rose. And I didn’t want to mess this up.

We got a glass of white wine for her, and a Moretti for me. We both ordered fish, with salads. Then we sat there, looking at each other.

– “You look … lovely.” I said. It was true. Rose had a very pretty face, and the humidity in the air gave her long brown hair a little extra wave.

– “Thank you.” she said. But she couldn’t meet my eyes, and looked down. She was more nervous than I was. Was it for the same reason?

– “Rose, would you like to know why I waited so long to ask you out?”

– “What?” she said. Her head came up, and she looked me in the eye. “You waited?”

– “I did. I wanted to ask you out weeks ago.”

– “Really?” Rose wasn’t sure whether to believe me or not. She was searching my face for clues.

– “I was afraid that you’d think you owed me.” I said. “That you would feel guilty if you said ‘no’, because I was having breakfast with you … and then I didn’t want you to think that I was only asking you out because you were losing weight.”

“I almost delayed again.”

– “Why?” she whispered.

– “Because of Rina. She kept hinting that you liked me. That’s what she was doing, wasn’t it?”

Rose smiled shyly. Then she lowered her head again.

“Rose, I liked you the first time I met you. And when we moved in together, I found even more reasons to like you. You’re kind, and selfless, and a great cook -”

– “I’m just learning.” she said.

– “You pass me books that you think I’ll like, you teach me to cook – and I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say an unkind word.”

– “Okay – I believe you. You like me.” she said. But I knew that tone. She didn’t quite believe it.

– “Rose: how tall are you?” I said.

– “5’10”. You know that.”

– “And what do you weigh?”

Rose held her head just a little bit higher. “One-sixty-eight.” she said.

– “I’ve been telling you from day one that you’re not fat. You’re a big girl, Rose. I went to the library. Do you know the average weight for a woman who’s 5’10”?”

– “Yes.” she said, softly.

– “You do? It’s between 135 and 165, Rose. You’re only three pounds over that. And have you looked in a mirror, lately?”

I haven’t seen every woman who’s 5’10”. But I’d be willing to bet that very few of them were as stacked as Rose. Unfortunately, there was no internet back then, so I couldn’t immediately call up thousands of pictures of women who looked like her.

– “Joe.” said Rose. “I’m …”

– “You’re a beautiful woman. And I’d like to go out with you. Often. Exclusively.”

Rose’s head snapped when I said that. Her mouth was half open.


Murder Mystery Weekend – Chapter 37

“Daydreaming?” asked Eliza, as she walked up behind me.

I had just enough time to fold the piece of paper which identified me as the murderer. “Sort of.” I admitted. “Just trying to figure out who the killer is.”

– “Do you have a pistol?” she asked.

– “I do.” I admitted. “But so do Leo, Ben, and maybe others. How about you?”

Eliza smiled. “Just a knife. Listen, Colin: I thought over your offer. I’m interested. If you guys still want my help, that is.”

– “How about Sheila?”

– “Dunno.” said Eliza. “I’ll talk to her, and try to bring her over.”

– “Sounds good. I’ll talk to the others.” I told her.

Eric, Leo, and Lena were waiting for me outside. Lena gave me a big smile. I should have been used to it by now, but every time I came near her I was struck anew by how freaking tall she was – and by the exotic beauty of her facial features.

– “Safer outside.” said Leo. “They can’t sneak up on us, and they can’t hear us, either.”

I relayed Eliza’s offer to them. “She’s not a pirate, either. That was one of my clues this morning.”

– “Can we trust her?” asked Eric.

I shrugged at exactly the same moment as Leo said “Yeah.” We looked at each other. He said “You don’t?” at precisely the same moment as I said “You do?”.

– “That’s a ringing endorsement.” muttered Eric. Then we had to explain to Lena what Eric had said. We were all smiling by the time we had finished.

– “Question is, do we share the treasure with them?” I said. “That’s assuming that we can find it on our own. Would they be able to help us?”

– “Two more letters could be a big deal.” said Leo.

– “Eliza has a knife. I don’t know if Sheila is armed, but she might be.” I added.

– “I might be close to a solution.” said Eric. “Bring out the Bible, Colin.”

I produced the worn little piece of paper. We re-read it together.





“We know that there are 12 letters, in three words.” said Eric. “There are 10 of us, each with a letter, if we exclude the Captain – Teresa – and I think we should. She’s given us repeated clues that the Bible is connected to the treasure.”

– “Yes, she say it is part of treasure code.” said Lena.

– “She also said that it had two uses.” I pointed out.

– “Let’s start with the first one. Look at the Bible clue. What if the two missing letters are right here?” said Eric.

– “In the verse?” asked Leo.

– “It’s not a real biblical quotation.” continued Eric. “So why would she make one up?”

Just then, I finally had a little flash of insight, and I saw it, too.

– “‘The first shall be last …'” I repeated. “What if the first letter of her quotation is the last letter of our treasure code?”

Eric nodded, and grinned. It took Leo another few seconds to see it. Lena saw it, too. “And last letter of quotation is first of code!” she said, with a big smile.

– “What would that give us?” asked Leo.

Eric produced the sheet of paper we had been writing on yesterday. When he took the first letter of her quotation – ‘K’ – and put it at the end, and then took the last letter of her quotation – ‘U’ – and placed it first, the whole thing looked like this:




3. LEO E



6. BEN






– “Holy shit.” breathed Leo. “Is that enough?”

I looked at Eric. “How many four letter words end in O-C-K?” I started running through them in my head. Rock. Cock – better not to say that one aloud. Go alphabetically: Bock. Cock. Dock.

– “Dock.” said Eric. “But don’t look at it!” Instinctively, we had started to turn our heads. After all, we were standing less than 20 yards away from it. “Just in case – they may be watching us.”

– “What about the rest of the letters?” asked Leo.

– “We know that one of the words is ‘THE’. If we’re right about the Bible clue, then ‘THE’ can’t be the first word. It would have to be in the middle. So Barb’s and Ben’s letters must be ‘T’ and ‘H’. Sheila’s letter must be a ‘D’.”

– “What is first word?” asked Lena.

Eric just grinned. Scrabble was just a hobby with him, but crossword puzzles were a passion. “Five letter word, beginning with ‘U’. ‘UNDER’ fits perfectly.”

– “Holy shit.” said Leo. “We did it.”

Another Life – Chapter 35

The next day was a Saturday. Rose told me, later, that Laurie didn’t emerge from her room until well past noon. She was a bear for most of the day.

By the time I got home from the garage, though, Laurie was more or less human.

– “Joe? Can I talk to you for a minute?” she said.

– “Sure, Laurie.”

– “Did I say … or do … anything really stupid last night?”

I gave her my best smile. “No. You had a bit too much to drink, and I walked you home. You told me that we were really good friends – several times. I got you a glass of water and helped you get your shoes off. That’s about it.”

Laurie looked at me for a moment. Clearly, she didn’t quite believe me. But then she smiled back.

– “You’re a sweetheart, Joe.” she said, just before she kissed me on the cheek.


I would never have taken advantage of Laurie when she was drunk. For one thing, there were too many sharp objects – like knives – in the apartment. For another, I don’t believe that ‘in vino veritas’ bullshit.

People say things, when they’re drunk, or upset, that they don’t really mean. They may feel it, but they know better than to say it. Eli is a bit of a freak. Thank goodness he’s pretty unique. Imagine a world where people expressed their feelings openly. It would be chaos.

You ruined my life, bitch. You’re an asshole. You were an accident, kid. You’re fucking boring. I hate you.

I mean, it would certainly make Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings more exciting, but total honesty would destroy civilization. Somehow, I think that keeping one’s stupid thoughts to oneself might just the basis of a healthy society.

Laurie and I got along fine, after that. There were things between us that didn’t need to be spoken. So we didn’t say them, and remained the best of friends.

Meanwhile, Rina obviously didn’t subscribe to that theory. She started to say things that really didn’t need to be said.

– “Rose is looking slimmer, don’t you think?”

– “I guess so.” I said.

– “No guessing about it.” said Rina.

One Sunday night, we were sitting in the living room. The three girls were sharing a bottle of wine, while I had a beer. The conversation was all over the place. Until Rina decided to get clever.

– “I really like your hair that way, Joe.” she said. “Don’t you guys think he looks better with shorter hair?” I had gotten a haircut a week earlier. Rina hadn’t said a word about it until now.

I looked at Laurie, who just grunted, and shrugged. Then I glanced at Rose, who blushed, and looked away.

– “Don’t you think so, Rose?” repeated Rina.

I was beginning to understand what was going on.

“Say, Rose,” continued Rina, “why don’t you tell Joe what you said about him? He’s right here. No time like the present.”

– “Okay, Rina.” said Laurie. “That’s enough.” Laurie shot me a meaningful look. This time, I knew exactly what it meant. I got to my feet.

– “Refills, anyone?”

I went to the kitchen, and stayed there for a while.

I didn’t need Rina to push me towards Rose. I’d been looking at Rose differently for weeks. I’d even discussed it with Eli – which was pointless, because I already knew what advice he’d give me, even though I wasn’t asking for any.

– “Tell her how you feel, man.” he said. “You can’t go wrong with the truth.”

The truth was that Rose was beginning to lose weight. The walks and the exercise were helping, but it was probably more important that she had stopped going to the bakery at all. The meals she’d been cooking lately were leaner and healthier. She still had a bit of a belly, but it no longer looked like a spare tire.

The physical difference was there to see, if you were paying attention. It took me longer to notice, because I saw her every day. But the biggest change was definitely psychological.

Rose wasn’t dressing like a fat girl any more. She was still a big woman, but she could fit into a pair of jeans, and have nothing to be ashamed of. The big, shapeless tent dresses were a thing of the past.

I saw all of that, and how much happier and more confident Rose seemed to be.

And I didn’t want to fuck it up for her.

– “Joe.” said Eli. “She’s a pretty girl. Plus-size, but attractive. How are you going to feel if some other guy asks her out?”

That hit home. I would be seriously ticked off. No two ways about it. Of course I wanted Rose to be happy – but not with somebody else.

Yet hitting on her at this point would be creepy – at least, that’s the way it struck me. After I had helped her to lose weight, how could she turn me down? Wouldn’t she feel beholden to me? And how could she could not think that I was only interested because she was losing weight?

Rose and I were both a little off, the morning after Rina’s comments. We had breakfast together, and walked to the garage, but we didn’t say much to each other.

It wasn’t until the following morning that Rose brought up the subject.

– “Thank you, Joe – for not asking me about what I said to Rina.”

– “She shouldn’t have done that.” I said. “If you wanted me to know, you would have told me.”

– “It wasn’t anything bad.” said Rose.

It was the look in her eye at that moment … Rose didn’t want me to be hurt. She was concerned for me. That was what decided me to take the leap.

– “Can I ask you something, Rose?” She immediately looked nervous. “No – it isn’t about that. I wanted to ask you if you’d go out with me on Friday night.”

– “To the Lion? With Laurie and Rina?”

– “No. Just you and me. Dinner at Mario’s. We can always stop by the Lion afterwards, if you want.”

– “Just … us?” she said. “That would be like …”

– “A date.” I said. “I’m asking you out, Rose.”

She looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“You don’t have to decide until Thursday.” I said. “If you say no, that’ll still give me time to make plans with Eli. I’d rather go out with you, though.”


Murder Mystery Weekend – Chapter 36

When I awoke, Sheila was gone. People were already up, bustling around the kitchen. The shower would likely be occupied, so I put on my shorts and decided to brave the lake one more time. It was cold enough to shock me awake. But the skies were clear, and the day promised to be a mild one.

I was out of the water, wrapping myself in my towel, when I saw Eric come out of the boathouse. He jumped when I called out to him.

– “You’re up early.” I said. “Can’t remember ever seeing you up this early.”

– “You slept in.” he replied. “But yeah – I got up earlier. Kept thinking about those clues – the letters – all night. I had a theory.”

– “What’s your theory?”

Eric shrugged. “I don’t know. Just that Teresa had to hide the treasure, right? Probably when most of us weren’t here yet. But I thought she might have hidden it outside of the house. Now I’m not so sure.”

– “We’ll figure it out.” I told him.

– “Yeah – Hey, can I see the Bible again?”

I had hidden it in the den, so Eric and I went back inside. Claire was having pancakes for breakfast, with an attentive Craig fussing over her. They were both smiling. Unless I missed my guess, there had been some new developments on that front last night.

Eliza, Lena and Teresa were also up, and Leo was in the kitchen. I closed the door to the den. Eric perused the Bible while I got dressed. His face was screwed up in a frown.

– “Problem?” I asked.

– “It has to be simple.” he said. “Teresa knows that none of us are Sherlock Holmes, so she would keep the puzzles easy. I think.”

We had a leisurely breakfast. Nobody was in any particular hurry. Ben eventually came down, but we didn’t see Barbara or Sheila until almost noon. Sheila gave me a playful smack on the head as she walked past. I took that to mean that things weren’t going to be too weird between us.

Teresa was very patient. She let the late risers have breakfast while the rest of us cleaned up. Only then did she ask everyone to dress in costume once more.

When everyone had returned to the main deck, Teresa handed us all an envelope.

– “These are your final clues.” she announced. “Everything will be resolved today. Sometime around 8 or 9 o’clock, we will have the ‘Big Reveal’, where you can all guess at the identity of the murderer, and the location of the treasure. There are no duty stations today, so you can associate with whoever you like, and freely go wherever you wish. Good luck, everybody!”

I wasn’t the only one who wanted a little privacy to read my final clues. We all dispersed. It was time for me to pay a little more attention to the murder part of the mystery. I suppose I had been too busy worrying about Ben and Barbara, or concentrating on the treasure. I went out on to the balcony to open my envelope.




YOU are the murderer. Ned Mulligan could never rest easy while Redbeard was alive. When you realized that members of his crew could be aboard the Retribution, you feared that they would organize a rescue. To foil their attempt, you decided to end his life.

While everyone was busy preparing dinner, you went down into the hold. Redbeard was asleep, or passed out on his bunk, his head facing the iron cell door. His food bowl was on the floor, and there was vomit on his clothing. You realized that the sound of a pistol would not carry to the busy main deck, so you drew your weapon, and shot him in the head at close range.

If they find out, his former crew will want revenge. Also, the authorities may not be pleased that you cheated the hangman. Good luck, Ned.

I read the last paragraphs in disbelief. How could I be the murderer? Then I remembered Teresa sending me into the basement on Friday night, to get the cooler. She had made sure to provide me with the opportunity, and now she had written down my motive. I had to smile. Clever girl. By waiting so long to tell me, Teresa made sure that I couldn’t give myself away on Friday or Saturday.

If you had asked me, a few minutes earlier, who I thought the murderer was, I would not have known. I would have liked to pin it on Ben, because he had a pistol. But if he was the Scar, as I believed he was, then he had no motive. Leo had a pistol, too, but no motive that I could see. Now I would have to find a credible suspect (or suspects), to deflect attention away from myself. If you are the murderer in one of these mystery games, you don’t want everyone else to be able to guess your identity.

I could see Teresa talking to Lena, just below me on the patio. Why, I wondered, had she given me the part of the murderer? Was it a random act? No – I didn’t believe that. Teresa didn’t leave things to chance very often. Did that mean that she saw me as a central character? Or did she simply give me a big part, so that I would enjoy the whole weekend just that little bit more?

The murder victim was a bloodthirsty pirate. I could still see myself as one of the ‘good guys’. Lena and Leo seemed to be on the side of the angels, and probably Eric, too. Eliza and Sheila might be a little ‘greyer’, but they weren’t villains like the Falcon and the Scar. Could that mean that Teresa saw me as a good guy, at least sub-consciously?


Another Life – Chapter 34

Her sense of smell must have gone AWOL, because she didn’t react to being led through the alley. I had one arm around her waist, with my finger through the belt loop of her jeans.

– “Joe’s takin’ me home.” said Laurie.

– “Yes, he is.”

– “Good ol’ Joe. Ronnie’s cousin.” she muttered. “But he’s my fren. My fren Joe. Fren zone Joe.”

She had that right. I smiled, wondering how much of this she’d remember tomorrow.

“Why you fren zone, Joe? Why you never make a move?” she said, a little louder.

– “Because we’re good friends, Laurie.” I said. “And because you told me not to.”

Laurie tried to wave one arm. “Why you listen to me?” she complained. “Maybe I want what .. that other girl had.”

– “No you don’t. We’re good friends.”

– “Yeah, we are.” she agreed. She seemed to snap out of it, a bit. The next time she spoke, it wasn’t so slurred.

“But you’d do me, wouldn’t you? I mean, I’m not ugly, right? And I’ve got nice …” Laurie tried to get both hands under her breasts, to lift them – which was rather difficult, because she had one arm around my neck at the time.

– “You are far from ugly.” I told her. ‘You have a pretty face, and a spectacular body. Best of all, though, you’re intelligent, and generous, and fun to be around.”

– “Thass sweet …” she mumbled.

With one arm supporting Laurie, I managed to get my key in the door. The stairs looked a little daunting, so I took the simplest, most straightforward solution: I put Laurie over my shoulder and carried her up the stairs. She didn’t protest.

Once I had her in the kitchen, I got her a glass of water, and made her drink it. She was going to feel like shit tomorrow.

– “Do you need to use the bathroom?” I asked her.

– “Okay …”

I got her close to the toilet, and then closed the door behind her. I re-filled her water glass. I turned on the light in her room, and turned down the sheets. Just in case, I put her wastepaper basket next to the bed, in case she felt the need to throw up later on.

Then I went back to the bathroom and knocked on the door.

– “How are you doing, Princess?”

– “Hee hee. Princess.” I heard her saying.

– “You okay?”

– “Just bwushin’ my teef.”

I made her drink some more water, flushed the toilet, and then steered her towards her room. Her jeans were undone, but I tried not to notice that. She sat down heavily on the bed.

– “Time for bed.” I said. I knelt at her feet, to pull off her shoes. “There you go.”

When I looked up, Laurie had raised her arms – as if she expected me to help her take her shirt off. That was not a good idea. I’m only human.

She saw my hesitation.

– “Joe.” she whispered. “We can be more than friends – if you want.”

I’m no angel. But that night I came as close to sainthood as I was ever going to get.

– “I think you really need sleep, more than anything else, right now.” I said. “If you want … more than that … we can talk about it tomorrow. Okay?”

– “Okay …” she mumbled, as I tilted to the side, so that her head came to rest on the pillow.

Then I made my escape.