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The Other P-Word

By:MK Schiller

The Other P-Word
MK Schiller

       Chapter One





I first laid eyes on him in a cemetery and if that wasn't an ominous  sign, I don't know what is. My stalking, leering, checking out-whatever  it was-disturbed me. But not enough to stop searching for him among the  granite markers rising from the earth. I usually found him. Either we  were on the same schedule or he visited so often it was unavoidable.

He wore a gray hoodie, dark jeans with rips at the knees and what looked  like a vintage bomber jacket. His hair, thick and disheveled, covered  his neck and curled at the ends, its color somewhere between sand and  sun. Broad shoulders and a confident stride made watching him walk  dangerously enticing. He paused for a brief moment. My skin prickled as  his head turned my way with a stare that lingered a second too long to  be coincidental. I dropped my head, rearranging the baby pink roses on  Lorraine's plot, sure they resembled the color on my cheeks. I gripped  the stems, ashamed to be caught by Tall, Blond and Brooding, and at such  an inappropriate place.

"Well, Lorraine, I got another rejection today." I fished the crumpled  letter from my jacket. I came to see her every time I got a letter-a  habit I desperately wanted to break. "This one is personalized, at  least, but it still tore my heart. ‘Dear Miss Price, While your work is  enjoyable, I didn't connect to your characters. I felt an overall lack  of passion in your writing. As I'm sure you know, passion is the measure  of a good romance'."

I smoothed the paper with my hand before folding it into a neat square.  "Then there are some other things about this being a subjective industry  and all. How could she say I'm not passionate? And worse, is it true? A  writer who isn't passionate is like the cobbler with no shoes, or the  dentist with no teeth." I stared at the etched letters chiseled into the  steely granite headstone. "I once read you wrote eighty stories that  were rejected before your first break. I don't know how you did it."

The roar of a motorcycle interrupted the solitude. I allowed myself  another glance toward the gravel road where he was speeding off into the  horizon.

A few moments later, I stood, wiping the dirt from my jeans then taking  the sufficiently decayed peach-colored flowers from last week's visit.

"Until next time, Lorraine."

I headed down the path myself as clouds curtained the sky, drowning out the sun with shades of bleak.

I made it to the Third Street stop, preparing myself for the three-hour  bus ride that would take only an hour by automobile. I didn't mind the  public transportation, though. People carved out time as if it was made  of boundless clay, filling every second until no white space remained.  The time to think had become a peculiar pastime made for odd people like  myself. That was what I did during the long commutes to visit Lorraine.  The first drops of rain flicked against me, mocking my good intentions.

It wasn't so bad. I turned my face toward it and closed my eyes in  appreciation of the light mist. Unfortunately, the sky opened and doused  me in retaliation.

Shit! Here I was at one of the only bus stops that didn't have a covered  seating area. I held my knapsack above my head as I surveyed my  surroundings. My salvation lay in the shop across the street that  boasted pictures of whimsical cups on its door and checkered curtains.  The aroma of whipped cream, strong coffee and fresh baked pastries  beckoned me with each step. If I wasn't running toward it, I might have  floated like a loony cartoon character.

I wrung out my wet tresses, twisting my blonde hair into a tight bun as I  waited in line. I blotted myself with napkins in a lame attempt to dry  off while I waited for my order. The tables overflowed with people who,  like me, sought shelter. Only one vacant seat remained.

Where he was.

His hair was damp, not drenched like mine. A helmet sat on the seat  across from him. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and was flipping pages of a  newspaper. For a moment I lost myself in him, until someone bumped my  shoulder, nearly spilling my drink.

The large-mouthed cup complete with saucer chattered as I walked around the tight space.

"May I sit here?" I asked timidly.

He tilted his head and smiled, pushing the vacant chair out with his  foot. Observing him at close range was worse than viewing him from afar.  His eyes had the same luminosity as melting chocolate. A noticeable  white scar on the chiseled planes of his jaw made him look dangerous.  The boyish smile that elicited the slightest dimple disarmed me. But it  was the natural tan he sported that invoked my curiosity. It wasn't  orange enough to be fake, but the weather in Chicago hadn't reached  tanning levels yet.                       
       
           



       

I set down my tray and picked up his helmet. It was heavier than I'd imagined. He took it from me.

"Thank you. The other seats are taken," I explained. Although a mere glance could have confirmed my statement, he just nodded.

He snapped his fingers and pointed to me. "Graveyard girl," he said, a trace of a southern twang coloring his words.

I tilted my head, trying to keep my smile from reaching ridiculous heights. "Is that what you call me?"

"In my head, but now that I say it out loud, it sounds creepy."

"Yeah, it does." I chuckled, holding out my hand. "Billie Price."

He leaned over slightly. The scent of soap and peppermint was even more  pleasing than the coffee. His smile held the lure of temptation-the kind  of expression that made ordinary girls feel exceptional.

"Billie?"

"I know it's a strange name for a girl."

"I like it. It sounds southern. Pleased to meet you, Billie Price. The  name's Evan Wright." He tightened his grip on my hand. I always thought  my hands were awkwardly large, but in that moment, my right hand looked  tiny, almost dainty, clasped against his powerful one. He flipped my  wrist, kissing the underside of it, causing a shiver that travelled down  my spine straight to my toes.

"That doesn't happen to me every day." My voice sounded unnaturally  squeaky. Did they pump helium through the vents? "Maybe it should."

His trailed his thumb across my wrist before he released our connection.  I shrugged off my jacket. His gaze lowered slightly, causing my skin to  tingle as if his eyes were touching me.

I gulped my coffee, wishing I'd ordered it iced, because despite the chill in the air, steam rose from my pores.

"May I ask where you're from, Evan?"

"Everywhere. Anywhere."

"That's cryptic."

He nodded, his grin stretching. "There's no mystery here. Just truth."

I doubted that.

"If you want specifics-I was born in Alabama, but we moved to Chicago my freshman year of high school. The accent never swayed."

Thank goodness for that. My sisters and I often argued the merits of a  good inflection on a man. Marley preferred the British sound while  Stevie insisted that an Aussie accent did it for her. Personally, I'd  always loved the slow, sexy drawl of a southern man, especially when it  hit the notes of rich and smoky-slow poured honey over hard whiskey.

"I just got back into town." He closed the paper, running his finger along its edges.

"From where?"

"Miami."

Well, that explained the tan.

He took out a glinting copper coin, rolling it between his fingers. "What are you drinking?" he asked, staring at my cup.

"Grande, Quad, Non-fat, One-Pump, No-Whip Mocha."

"What's a quad?"

"Four shots of espresso."

"Shit, you're an addict."

"Yes, I'm waiting for an appropriate twelve-step program."

"The first step is admitting you've got a problem, so you've got that covered."

"True. What are you drinking?"

"Coffee. Black. I try to limit my order to a single adjective."

I hummed along to the instrumental version of Drops of Jupiter that  echoed softly from the speakers, thankful for the distracting comfort of  a melody. "I have very specific tastes."

"A girl who knows what she wants."

"Yes."

"And what is that?"

His question took me by surprise. He was a stranger asking me something  very personal. But then again, I was the one who'd left the door open,  hoping he'd step inside.

"Lots of things, but they're even more complicated than my coffee order and require far more adjectives."

"Fair enough," he said, turning back to his newspaper.

I wondered if that would be the end of our conversation. He continued to  flip the coin between his fingers. It was the color of a penny but the  size of a quarter. "Don't you usually drive?" Evan asked. Apparently, I  wasn't the only one who had been paying attention. Had he watched while  I'd done my mad dash across the street?                       

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