Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008 - , 12 comments

PoW -2

It's that time again, time for Portrait of Words where folks write stories based on a series of photos provided by our patron, Jeff.

If you'd like to see this month's pictures, click on the icon to the left. Even better yet, if you'd like to participate, you'll see all the details about that too. The more the merrier. However, I couldn't come up with a decent title. You'll have to forgive me. ;)


Emily found herself making the long trek from her gate at the airport to baggage claim. She was walking with the man who sat next to her on the plane. He would insist on talking to her. Though she had a decent figure, she normally dressed in oversized clothes making an effort not to look her best to avoid this kind of thing. Usually that and the fake wedding ring was enough to keep most men from trying to engage with her though the occasional gay guy would think he was doing his “good deed” for the day by offering her fashion tips.

Today, she forgot to wear the ring. She hoped like hell that she had put it in her luggage. She hated the idea of having to buy another one. But Roger was nice enough in his way, and she could not bring herself to be rude to him. Emily was a very private person, and so anytime anyone asked her a personal question, it felt like an interrogation. She always had to keep reminding herself that they were just being friendly.

And Roger was so nice, despite her cool one word responses to his questions. He kept droning on and on, but somehow she was sort of impressed with his tenacity. However, she unkindly considered that perhaps he was one of those empty-headed fools who are oblivious to everything around them and liked to hear themselves talk.

Here they were, finally, at the claim area waiting for the bags to start down the ramp, and he was still talking. What was he on about now? Ah yes, the infinite conundrum, why after walking fifteen miles from the gate, does it take the bags another ten minutes to make it there?

She looked down at her watch, 3:30. Damn, she thought. I’m going to be late. It was the one thing she hated almost more than anything. Though she usually made it just under the wire, she was forever rushing here and there, always pushing everything right to the limit. The airport gods had their own sense of time, and Emily knew it was no good to try to rush them. They would only make you pay with additional delays, so she resigned herself to patience. Getting upset would accomplish nothing. She realized that Roger had stopped talking. He must have asked a question requiring an answer. For the most part, he had given up on those. She tried very hard to remember what he said, something about sharing a taxi.

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you to offer, but I couldn’t possibly put you out like that,” she said with a smile. After all, he had put out an extraordinary amount of effort for a guy who only wanted to get laid, and she hadn’t offered any encouragement … other than not telling him to get lost, which is hardly practical on an airplane.

“May I call you?” He asked.

Emily brought forth her most sympathetic smile, “Oh my dear, it really isn’t a good time for me. I wish it was otherwise, but I’m sorry.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her bag coming down the chute. She got that look of relief on her face that all passengers get when they realize that their bag actually got on the same flight they did, and their trip has not been ruined. Roger’s face conceded defeat.

After she retrieved her bag, she went back to Roger on automatic pilot. “Thank you for keeping me company. I really appreciate it,” she said. As she walked away she thought, Why did I do that? I didn’t appreciate it, and all it will do is encourage him to do it to the next poor sap who is trapped next to him on a plane. Who knows, she rationalized, maybe the next person will like that sort of thing. Really, she felt guilty that she couldn’t talk with him like a normal person. He had been so nice, and now that the torture was over and she could escape, she wanted to be at least a little nice too.

She walked outside with her bags in tow seeing the line of vans for rental car agencies, hotels, and the like, not to mention the taxis. Noticing the yellow Hertz mini-bus, she headed that way then climbed aboard stowing her things with everyone else’s bags. As she glanced around, she thought about how each of the half dozen people there were in their own plastic bubbles, not interacting, but completely self-contained, each looking at the world around them like they were the only one in it. She was fully aware that she did exactly the same thing, studying these people like they were lab rats in a giant science experiment, but she was relieved that she wouldn’t be expected to talk to any of them. She didn’t even have to talk to the driver. This was a one-stop bus route. She let out a happy sigh as she settled in to wait with the book that she brought for the trip, still mostly unread thanks to Roger.

A half and hour later, Emily’s plastic bubble had been replaced the steel frame of her rental car. She splurged on a full sized vehicle even though she really didn’t need it, but she hated the feeling of being squished like a sardine into one of those compact cars. She buzzed through the traffic with a surge of invincibility while not going over the speed limit … too much. She felt a sense of relief when she made it to her hotel room. It was one of those moderately priced numbers, but they still seemed to have the most comfortable beds with the softest pillows. Competition must be getting fierce, she thought, if these chains had to make such an effort to get business folk to rest their weary heads at their inns. Emily was glad to reap the windfall.

Once she got to her room, before she could even think about doing anything else, she had to search her luggage. She must find the ring. She couldn’t imagine putting it in there to tempt someone, not that it was really worth much. It was just gold plated with some cubic zirconium, but it was pretty nice she thought. The stones were large enough to look somewhat affluent, but not so big that they looked fake … even though they were. Twenty minutes later, she was still digging through everything.

“Where are you? Where are you. Where are you!” She said aloud. She loved talking to inanimate objects. She felt that they were the only things that actually did what she told them. “Could I have forgotten it when I went through security?” But no, it was when she was checking in that she realized that she didn’t have it on. “I’ll bet it’s sitting on my dresser at home,” she sighed. Just then, she saw something glint from the corner of her suitcase. “Oh, there you are! Thank goodness!” She immediately slipped the hundred-dollar trinket onto her finger. Anyone watching her might have thought she found her real wedding ring.

Emily looked around the room that was now strewn with her possessions. “Of course,” she said, disgusted. “I can’t do anything about this now. I’m late.” Indeed she was. She had wasted two hours between rental cars and hotel check ins, and then there was the scavenger hunt for the ring. It was after five-thirty, and she had to be at the bar by six. Well, it wasn’t exactly a bar though they did serve beverages of an alcoholic nature. It was a good old-fashioned pool hall. She took a couple of minutes to freshen up a little bit, far less time than she wanted, picked up the little case that held her pool cue, and headed out the door.

As she headed into town to the little dive, she smiled to herself in the mirror. “What a lot of fuss for a little amateur pool tournament.” It was more than that really. Most of her family lived here, and she thought it would be a good excuse to come to the city. She hadn’t even considered that she was only going to be in town for a couple of days, and she wouldn’t see most of them. It might even be a minor miracle if she saw any of them, any of them except her cousin Frank. He was supposed to meet her at the bar.

The time was 5:56 when Emily walked through the door of the smoky place. More and more places were smoke free these days, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She actually didn’t even smoke or really drink for that matter, but there was something about being in a smoky bar infused with the scent of beer and alcohol that made her feel at home. A character flaw, no doubt, she thought. She sat down at the bar and took a look at the plastic encased menu, good “greasy-spoon” fare that’s for sure. Everything was deep fat fried. Are they trying to kill everyone? She thought wryly. Between the smoke, the alcohol, and the fried food if one thing doesn’t get you, it’ll be one of the others, forgetting that just a moment before she had been struck by a feeling of nostalgia for the old place.

A rotund bartender about 60 came up to her and asked, “You here for the contest, lady?” And handed her a form to fill out. “You want anything?”

“Yeah, can I get a club soda? And do you have anything that’s not fried?”

The man laughed, “You ain’t from around here, are ya’? How about a nice burger and fries?”

She smiled at him, “That’ll be fine.” As he walked away, she started to study the form. Man, you can’t even have a bar tournament without having to fill out a form of legalese about where to send the body if someone kills you with their pool cue. Just then, a man sat on the stool next to her. She shoved the form in front of him. “Will you look at this? What is this world coming to when a place like Charlie’s has to have people fill out crap like this?”

The man was her cousin Frank. They were almost exactly the same age and had been close since they were little. Though he was a little taller than she, with their Nordic features, blond hair, and blue eyes, they looked a lot alike and frequently were mistaken for brother and sister. They usually didn’t bother to correct people. He grinned at her and said, “They’ve got to have something to justify the $50 entry fee.”

“Good lord,” she said, smiling and rolling her eyes.

The bartender arrived with her club soda and said, “You gonna fill that out, Missy? They’re waitin’ on you over there.” With his head, he gestured to the pool table about twenty feet away surrounded by eight men. One of them was explaining the rules. He was obviously the organizer. Emily picked up her drink and headed to the table. Frank followed her after ordering a beer.

She didn’t really listen, sounded like standard fare. People always seemed surprised by the fact that she played pool. She guessed that she didn’t look like the type that would hang around bars, too “goody-two shoes.” She had started playing in junior high at some after-school place, but unlike a lot of the girls, who just didn’t care, she found that she was pretty good. Just like when anyone finds that they’re good at something, especially if their parents didn’t push them into it, she really got to like it. Her girlfriends just thought she was weird. She tried to tell them that they could be good too if they would only practice a little bit, but they weren’t interested. They actually seemed to take pleasure in looking incompetent with all the guys laughing at them. She thought they were crazy, but they obviously knew something that she didn’t. They were all married with families while she was sitting in bars wearing baggy clothes and a fake wedding ring. There’s something wrong with this picture, she thought.

Emily quickly won her first two games. That usually shut up the guys with their wise-ass remarks. During a break in the rotation, she finally got to eat her food with Frank.

“Cold hamburger with cold fries, my favorite,” she remarked.

“You were the idiot who ordered as the tournament got started,” Frank chuckled at her.

“Yeah, I know, but I was starved. You know what they feed you on airplanes these days if they feed you at all?”

“And this is so much better, right?” They laughed at this together. Just then, the organizer came over to the table with his hand extended. He was a tall man in Emily’s estimation, over six feet with short dark brown hair. He looked to be in decent shape, but not like he worked at it too hard, like some guys can.

“Hi! Emily, isn’t it? My name is Ben. Do you mind if I join you?” He said as he shook their hands in turn and proceeded to sit down without waiting for an answer. “You’re pretty good with a stick,” he said to her, then turned to Frank. “Do you play?”

“Ah, no, I’m just her groupie,” Frank said smiling.

“I see,” Ben said. “I hope I’m not intruding,” sounding like he couldn’t have cared less whether he was or not.

“Not at all,” Frank said. “I was just going to the bar for another beer. Can I get you anything?” He offered as Emily glared at him.

“No, thanks,” Ben said, and Frank walked off leaving Ben and Emily alone at the table. “How is it that you play pool when your husband doesn’t?”

“Oh, Frank’s not my husband. He’s my cousin,” she said with a laugh. “He lives around here, and he comes and watches me play whenever I come to town.”

“But you are married, then,” he said while glancing at the ring.

Emily looked down at the table a little embarrassed. “Well, not exactly.”

“What does that mean? Engaged? Separated?” Ben pursued.

Frank looked over at them from the bar and saw the defiant look come over Emily’s face, then shook his head in resignation.

Emily looked Ben straight in the eye and said, “What it means is that I’m a woman that wants to go wherever she wants and do whatever she wants without having to worry about what people are going to think because she’s doing it by herself. She doesn’t have to concern herself about a bunch of guys trying to hit on her because she is so desperate that she has to go out by herself. I’m not desperate. I’m just not going to sit around waiting until I can be ‘properly escorted’ like some helpless female.”

“So, you’re single then,” Ben said smiling with a sparkle in his eye.

Returning his gaze with a sly smile, she replied with a single word, “Yes.”

At that moment, they heard Emily’s name being announced overhead.

“You better go then,” Ben said. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” she said and walked over to her next game.

Between shots, she glanced back at the table. Frank had returned. He and Ben were talking and even started laughing from time to time. She found it harder and harder to focus on what she was doing.

“Damn,” she muttered under her breath, as she missed what should have been an automatic shot. How could you have missed that? You have to concentrate, she thought. Her head snapped up as she heard a peel of laughter from Frank and Ben. What could they be laughing about?
In ten minutes, Emily was walking back to the table.

“How’d it go?” Frank asked.

“I’m out, thanks to you two,” she said in a huff.

Frank got an incredulous look on his face as he said, “Out? How can you be out so early? And how could it be our fault?”

“With you two laughing and carrying on over here, I couldn’t keep my concentration.”

“What do you think this is a golf tournament? It’s a bar for crying out loud. People are going to make noise,” Frank said, pulling her chain a little bit. “Just for that, I’m going to the john,” then he got up and walked towards the back of the room.

Ben had been silently watching the exchange with interest. Now, he said, “I’m sorry if we disturbed you.”

Emily sat down at the table and said, “What I want to know is what was so damned funny,” still angry but starting to calm down.

“You know,” he said shaking his head slightly with a sheepish smile, “I really couldn’t tell you. We were talking about places we knew around the city. Your cousin’s a funny guy.”

“Oh yeah, he’s a riot,” she said while rolling her eyes. Then she smiled and said, “No, really, he is. I should have known. I don’t know what got into me.”

“Now, that you’re done playing, can I get you something stronger than a club soda?”

“Sure, how about a Dr. Pepper,” she replied with another of her sly smiles.

“You sure? That stuff’ll kill you,” Ben joked. Emily watched as he went over behind the bar, fixed the drink himself, and got another beer.

The two of them had been talking about an hour before Emily realized that Frank had never come back. In a sudden panic she asked, interrupting Ben mid-sentence, “Have you seen Frank? Where did he go?”

“Didn’t you see him when he waved as he walked out the door?”

“No, when did he do that?”

“About forty-five minutes ago,” he replied with a smile. A few minutes later, a man came up to Ben and whispered in his ear then walked away. “It’s time to announce the winner and hand out the prize. Will you excuse me?”

“Sure,” she said. Then, she watched the proceedings. Some young kid won, and Ben handed him a giant trophy. I couldn’t have gotten that through security anyway, she mused.

Emily stood up as Ben returned to the table. “I better be going,” she said.

“Okay, but can I walk you to your car?”

“No, that’s alright. I’ll be fine, but thank you,” she said.

“It was great meeting you,” he said holding out his hand to shake hers.

“You too,” she said as she took his hand. They held it a moment longer than necessary.

She turned to leave, and Ben said, “Bye.” She turned back to his big smile.

In a low soft voice, she said, “Bye,” and then rushed out of the pool hall to her car.

Emily couldn’t sleep at all that night despite the incredibly soft bed with the wonderfully luxurious sheets. She kept turning the evening over and over again in her mind. It had been a long time since anything like that had happened to her. As she compared it with what she supposed happened with people who had real lives, it probably wasn’t that big a deal. But it was a big deal to her.

She had received a text from Frank that said, “Sorry for bailing, but you seemed to have everything well in hand. ;)” Well, in hand, heh, whatever, she thought. As she saw the sky start to pinken up, telling her that the sunrise would not be far away, she decided to get up.

She straightened up the disaster that was her room after tearing it apart in the frantic search for the ring the previous afternoon. She looked at the clock, 8:30. I suppose I could order breakfast from room service, she thought. She never talked out loud this early in the morning. In a few minutes, she was forced to as she placed her order. She didn’t feel like taking a shower, but realized that she reeked of smoke from being in the pool hall last night. She may have liked the nostalgia that it brought in the bar, but it didn’t mean that she wanted to smell like that.

Oh, it’ll take forty-five minutes for them to get here, at least. I have time, she thought. Just before she was about to get into the shower, the phone rang. I wonder what they messed up, she thought unkindly.

“Hello?” she said.

“Remember me?” Said the male voice on the other end.

“Yes,” Emily answered warily.

“You don’t sound happy to hear from me,” Ben said with disappointment obvious in his voice.

“How did you get this number?”

“Your cousin told me where you were staying. I just thought I’d give you a ring,” Ben said.

Emily looked down at the ring on her hand and couldn’t help but smile.


Nice job there. A love story wrapped around a smokey pool hall. Guess you just never know where Cupid is going to strike.

That one put a smile on my face.

I liked it, I hope Ben is a keeper, he seems nice. Emily deserves a nice normal guy that can be proud of who she is.

Thanks for stopping over to read my POW. I'll have to read yours tonight. I can't stay on one spot too long at work. Have a good day :)

A well done story. I came to like your main character.

I really enjoyed that. A completely different perspective and it leaves me wanting to know what happens and hoping that she and Ben get together...

Thanks guys! Appreciate the comments. What I have found interesting is the frequency of the name "Frank" in this month's stories. Kinda a freaky. The spirits of Halloween must be in the air. LOL

Now that would make a good Movie of the Week on WE!

I'm a sucker for romance. I wanted to turn the page and read more. BJ

Now, I never would have thought of that, Sandi! :)

Thanks,B. Roan

You kept my attention right to the end, excellent!

I love Emily!! She's a bit difficult and overly cautious but she is so cool at the same time.

I like the fake wedding ring and what it means to her. Her explanation to Ben was so believeable, so well written.

And a cool happy (but vague) ending. I enjoy that, let's me decide if I want them to be together.

Thank you so much, akelamalu!

Dianne, could it possibly be well written because I've had some practice with that particular speech? lol

Difficult, overly cautious, cool ... remind you of anyone? :)

So glad you liked it!

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