Stringers Chapter 1

Jesus, it seems an eon since I’ve gotten to swipe something that actually pertains to us!

Here’s the loot… (It’s not final draft so please don’t chisel it into a stone tablet or anything.)

Chapter 1

Claudia slid the keycard through the slot on Room 207 at the Granton Suites.

Already, I know what you’re thinking: a wild night ahead for this chick. Okay, so maybe you didn’t make that presumption. It was more than likely yours truly. It would had to have been a bad joke, though, because the chances of that were about as good as this February day giving me heat exhaustion. And, not because of her, mind you, but because of me. I barely wanted to be in the same room with her. Take a moment to write that down; it doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, this reporter deems it most newsworthy.

I know I’ve probably led you to believe that Claudia is perfect. Hold onto your hat, then, because I am here to tell you she’s not. And, yes, I heard your gasp all the way the hell over here in this dimly-lit, ugly-carpeted hallway on the city’s westside.

See, the anal-retentive one has a really hard time with failure. Surprise, surprise, huh? Well, she had failed big-time at work, not once, but twice. Two major project deadlines had been missed, and she had some explaining to do. She probably provided a very plausible explanation to the powers-that-be, but explaining it to herself in digestible terms… Well, there wasn’t a way. And so, she turned into a bear: a big-ass bear up on its hind legs roaring at the world to back the hell off. Yes, indeed, the green-eyed beauty had turned into the green-eyed grizzly.

People react to anger in one of two ways, I figured. Okay, three, if you counted healthy, well-balanced individuals, but screw them, for the moment anyway. My reaction to anger is to curl emotionally into a little ball and wrap my arms around my head. Claudia, on the other hand, stands really tall and puts up her dukes. It’s one of those oil and vinegar things I supposed every relationship has. … Don’t they? … I actually couldn’t think of one goddamn example to back up my claim. Maybe because I knew Holly and Laura better than any other couple in the world, and they were so far from vinaigrette, it was laughable. Ginny and Kris? Um… I’d probably have to put them in the “Screw Them” category. Maggie and Susan? Nah, screw them, too. Alison and Janice? Um… Yes, I’d have to peg redhead and blackhead as oily and vinegary, which sounds utterly disgusting when said that way.

But comparing us to them—to any of them, generally got my mind messed up quicker than most things. We were we, or we were us: whichever is grammatically correct. My cerebral dictionary is on the fritz, and no, I do not mean the butler.

The green-eyed grizzly opened the door, and despite the whole not wanting to be in the same room with her, I nonetheless followed her inside. I shut the door behind us, feeling sorry for the “Do Not Disturb” sign that would remain as unused throughout our stay as I would. Unless…

My great hope was the Lesbian Adventure Club weekend before us. See, Ginny and Kris were the hostesses, and they were notorious, with me anyway, for their hidden agendas. They targeted couples and/or individuals who needed a kick in the butt. Claudia needed a kick in the butt, and if I were lucky, their shoes would make impact sometime before tomorrow morning’s checkout time. Admittedly, I was ignoring the fact that they had no clue her butt was in need of a grand kicking. I hadn’t told a soul. Okay, so maybe I needed a little serendipity, too. An outright miracle wouldn’t have hurt, either.

I threw our duffle bag onto the bed as I watched her aim for the far side of the room. I knew her well enough to assume she’d shove open the window to dispel the strange smells and then turn up the heater so we didn’t freeze to death in the process.

“The snow’s picking up,” she said when she whipped open the damn ugly drapes. Then, she did what I expected, and a blast of north wind made its way to me. After she stabbed what I knew was the heater’s “high” button, she turned to me. “Should we unpack?” she asked. “We have an hour to kill.”

I wanted to point out that LAC weekends never before required unpacking, that living out of a duffle bag was tradition. Did a hotel somehow change that, make sweatpants require a hanger? I shut my mouth, though, and gave her what had become my standard answer as of late, “Whatever you want.” It wasn’t because I wanted to please her. It was because I wanted to stay out of trouble. Perfectionists grappling with their own failure tend to have an overly keen eye to every imperfection in the world around them. I had a bazillion of them, and I was sick to goddamn death of her pointing them out. The only logic I could find in her recent critical nature was a need to see herself as less imperfect than anything or anyone else. Yet doing that, I knew, did not make her feel any better. It simply made her see everything as flawed, and her wheels were helplessly spinning in the pile of shit she continued to amass. Life stunk. How could it not?

I wanted to scream: Claudia, you screwed up—big time! Welcome to the realm of the mere mortals. Now, get the hell over it. I knew better, though. Life might have stunk, but I sure as hell wanted to keep breathing it in.

At first, I tried to do the supportive partner things, the ones that came natural to me when she was having a hard time at work: back rubs, an available ear, a shoulder to cry on, nice meals, pleasant distractions, and the big guns: homemade chocolate chip cookies. None of it worked. She found something wrong with no matter what the hell I did. My heinous crimes: a wet kitchen towel on the counter instead of the hook; toothpaste splatter on the faucet; a sock that missed the laundry basket; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Heinous, heinous things.

Eventually, I backed off trying to get her to feel better. In so doing, though, I also backed away, and that seemed okay with her, which inadvertently pissed me off. Was our relationship too imperfect for her? Was I? Or, did she somehow figure I was to blame for her missed deadlines? Had I kept her up too late too many times? Had I not been supportive enough? Or, did my imperfection contaminate her perfection? Or, did she fear that I had somehow come to think less of her for—God forbid—being human? Whatever the hell it was, I was goddamn sick of it. Get the hell over it and quit being so goddamn nitpicky!

But, she didn’t, and we were now miles apart. It wasn’t the dreaded abyss between us, though. Actually, it was more one of those occasions when I wanted to find the abyss just so I could frickin’ nosedive right into the frickin’ thing. My wheels were inclined to spin in my own pile of shit, but I frickin’ refused to give in over something so stupid.

Yes, I know: It wasn’t stupid to her; it was a damn big deal. And that was the only reason I shut my mouth and tried to be—or, at least, tried to appear to be—patient and let her work through it.

“I don’t think we need to unpack,” she decided. “Give me your jacket, though, and I’ll hang it up.”

Quickly, I obliged and handed it to her in her passing. I listened to the scrape of the metal hangers across the metal bar as I lamented the fact that the room did not have a balcony where I could escape for a smoke. It was too soon to excuse myself to make the journey downstairs and outside to have one. Instead, I prayed for “Sutter! Cigarette?” to shake the doorframe. Laura had to be out there somewhere, holding my salvation from this awkward situation in her voice box.

“Does it smell better in here?” she asked, and my “uh huh” propelled her feet across the room to close the window.

Then, she sat on the bed, and a yardstick could have lain between us with room to spare. I wondered why this awkwardness was okay with her, why it didn’t drive her as nuts as it did me, why she didn’t seek to make things perfect rather than spinning her wheels in that shit. For the hundredth time, I had no frickin’ clue.

She leaned forward and grabbed the remote control sitting conspicuously next to the television. I nearly laughed, for I knew it meant the awkwardness did bother her, yet she was choosing to mask it, not fix it. There weren’t too many times in life when I felt smarter or healthier than she, but I did in this moment.

She started flipping through channels, taking three-second glimpses of movies, commercials, a cooking show, and other crap. Oddly—okay, shockingly, what caught her eye and made her finger stop stabbing the remote was a fishing show. Seriously, the chick did not fish. Hell, the chick wouldn’t even eat fish if it still looked like fish.

Yet, there we were, watching some bearded guy in a boat casting his line into a glimmering lake on a calm sunny day. Did I mention this was February and snowing?

See, February is an interminably long month as it is. Short in days, but long in the place where one was sick to death of winter and not quite close enough to the first signs of spring. Fishing shows, while meant to give one hope, seemed to do the opposite, especially when it was snowing outside. Hopeless.

And even more hopeless was the fact that tomorrow was Valentine’s Day. For us, it was a day we warmly acknowledged, but we never went so far as to go all-out in celebration. In my mind, you were supposed to do nice things all year, not just on one frickin’ day. But this day, tomorrow… Honestly, the idea of it seemed more like a jab to the heart than a stirring of it. The present I’d hand over tomorrow when we got home would be obligatory and nothing more, and that made me sad, very sad.

“Oh,” she suddenly gasped, scaring the shit out of me and the imaginary yardstick. “I have something for you.”

Will it hurt? I reflexively wondered.

She whipped around, dove for the duffle bag, and after a loud unzipping, she began to rummage. A moment later, she handed me a box of … um … “Single-Serve Coffee Capsules.” Huh?

“I called ahead,” she explained as she jumped to her feet. “They have single-serve coffee makers in every room. So I got a box for you.” She now stood at the cove between the open closet and the bathroom door. “Sure enough,” she said. “Throw me the box, and I’ll make you one.”

She had bought coffee for me, and I suddenly felt horribly guilty.

I tossed the box to her and offered a thank-you that didn’t sound very grateful. I think I was more shocked than anything. It was a sweet gesture, and yet, I knew it didn’t really change anything between us. It made me miss her, though, and almost violently yanked me from my angry, defensive place to the part deep inside me that simply hurt. Indeed, I missed her and the good stuff that existed between us ninety-eight percent of the time. And, I was not about to buy the bullshit that said the two percent provided contrast so I knew how goddamn good I had it. I knew how goddamn good I had it, which was why it hurt. Duh. Platitudes did not cut it with this chick, and they sure as hell wouldn’t work with a green-eyed grizzly.

Intentionally yanking myself in a different direction, I asked, “Can that thing make Earl, too? Want a teabag?”

“In the zippered pocket,” she said. “If you’d grab me one, that would be great.”

I turned to the duffle bag and childishly noted how Earl never had to worry about his relationship with her. Okay, as an adult, I knew I didn’t either. This wasn’t breakup-worthy. It was a bump in the road … except with an incline of a mountain. Had we even cleared it yet?

Soon, she delivered a cup of coffee to me, and I thanked her. A swig made me thank her again, for it was actually quite good. I think I had stupidly equated single-serve with instant, and that would’ve been atrocious.

My cup was half-empty (by no means half-full) when she returned with her own cup. Again, she sat on the opposite side of the imaginary yardstick and began bobbing Earl.

In silence, we watched the rest of the fishing show. When the guy held up a stringer full of smallish fish, it made me think of Crappie Cabin and the good times we’d had there. Oh, and a hellacious fight we’d had, a bazillion times worse than this, and I reminded myself that we had weathered it just fine, that we actually ended up closer. We’d weather this, too; I knew that, but I wanted it now. Now! Just knock off the crap and be done with it. Please?

The fishing show ended, and after enduring a lengthy pitch for our hard-earned money to keep fishing programs on the public airwaves, a gardening show began. February became even longer.

She must have thought the same thing, for she said, “I wish spring would hurry up and get here.”

“Me, too,” I replied.

A thaw was exactly what we needed. A coldness had invaded my joints, making me unable to reach my hand out in search of hers. It was probably in some safety manual somewhere or in a Common Sense for Morons book: Never extend your hand toward a grizzly, no matter how green its eyes. She would have to do the reaching out. Except, that was probably in the manual, too: If a grizzly reaches out to you, especially one with a French braid, run like hell or play dead. I was very adept at one of those and getting better at the other.

“What do you think we’d be doing today if it was spring?” she asked without taking her eyes off the gloved woman planting geraniums in a big blue pot.

“Cannonballing off Crappie Cabin’s pier,” I readily answered.

Cannonballing?” She seemed shocked. “Spring is still too cold, or it’d be raining.”

I wanted to tell her that the weather was always warm and sunny in fantasies, and fishing shows, but I knew better. Gloomy and gray probably ruled fantasies when your wheels were spinning in the shit of imperfection.

In silence, in February, in snow, in the coldness caused by the imaginary yardstick, we, the avid non-gardeners, watched with great interest.

“It’s almost noon,” she said when the plea for money began anew. “Do you need to do anything before we head to Kris and Ginny’s room?”

Dutifully, I informed her that I needed to use the bathroom. I also offered to rinse our cups, bone white ones emblazoned with “Granton Suites” in hunter green. Had they been in a different font or had they marked a good time with her, I would’ve slipped them into the duffle bag.

Moments later, we stood at the door. She shoved the keycard into the back pocket of her jeans and asked whether I had the credit card and/or debit card our invitation had mandated.

“Debit,” I answered.

“Take a credit card, too,” she said, digging in her pocket and then outstretching one to me. “Just in case.”

“Just in case, what? I don’t plan on needing a line of credit for one of our weekends.”

“Just take it anyway,” she insisted, shoving the thing at me. “We’re by the mall, and I assume they’ve planned a scavenger hunt or something. It’s what they do, and since we were both supposed to have one, we can also assume we’re not on the same team this time.”

On any other occasion, I would’ve whined about the prospect of that. As it was, though, I admit I felt relieved. Let someone else deal with the grizzly—and hopefully kick her in the butt. Suddenly, I was excited about the weekend, even if it involved the mall.

I slid the credit card into the pocket of my jeans, being careful not to butt dial the people who wanted me to fund fishing and gardening shows.

“Ready?” she asked, her hand reaching for the door lever.


As she prepared to open the door, I wondered whether she’d initiate our ritual vow to come out together on the other side of the weekend.

She didn’t.

I didn’t, either.

Nonetheless, I followed her.