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Dodging Eros, Through Past Present and Pleasure (Extra Stories)

Copyright 2017 by Cardyn Brooks

Smashwords Edition


Cover art copyright 2017 by Banks Art Partners


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author in the same way you would want your own work respected as a means of earning support for life’s essentials.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this work are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.




Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure (Extra Stories)

By Cardyn Brooks


Table of Contents

1. Bossy v. Moody

2. Shuffling the Deck*

3. When Familiarity Breeds the Opposite of Contempt

4. Into the Wilderness

5. Carrying On

6. Charging Forward

7. Farewell Toast

8. Moody As Ever

9. More Than Pen Pals

Miscellaneous Tidbits

About Cardyn Brooks



Dear Reader,


Thank you for choosing to read these bonus stories connected to the back stories for some of the main characters in Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure. The following stories are presented in the order in which they were written a few years after Dodging Eros was completed. *Chronologically, the events in “Shuffling the Deck” happen after “Moody As Ever” in this timeline. Otherwise, these stories occur in order, while the written correspondence in “More Than Pen Pals” weaves in and out of the events occurring between the summer after Danya and Rick’s freshman year in college and Rick’s permanent return to the fictional town of Darlingfield, Virginia seven years after their college graduation.


These bonus stories expand upon some of the vague references from the main story, my private thoughts and character sketches based on my research and world events during the years I was writing and rewriting Dodging Eros.


May these stories add more pleasure to your life,

C.B.


“Bossy v. Moody” and “Shuffling the Deck” appeared in a 2016 RBTL Book Promotions blog tour, along with the content in Miscellaneous Tidbits.




Bossy v. Moody

Danya and Rick: Their Beginning

Dodging Eros extra story no. 1




Mona Fullerton snagged her husband’s upper arm and tugged until he slowly stepped a few paces backward out of the short hallway in front of the food prep area and into the walk-in pantry in their family bakery in Darlingfield, Virginia.

“Stop looking at our summer worker like you’re planning to put him in a headlock, John,” she whispered as they both watched Danya, their youngest child, show Frederick Maxwell how to knead and shape dinner rolls for the final rise. Mona thought the two young people looked adorable standing next to each other in their matching Full Bake ball caps and t-shirts.

“Oh, no, ma’am, a headlock is too good for that boy who keeps looking at our baby girl.” Bewilderment seeped through the menace in the soft growl of his whispered threat.

Mona shifted her gaze away from her daughter’s budding summer romance with the young man who was working off what he owed for his share of the deductible for replacing the front window of the bakery when he and his friends decided in their drunken inspiration to use the wrought-iron bench on the sidewalk as a ramp for practicing their daredevil skateboard tricks. She thanked God that it was three skateboards instead of three bodies that crashed through the glass.

While her husband scowled at their daughter’s would-be beau, Mona studied John’s stern profile and still recognized the tenderhearted boy and former Black Panther civil rights activist in the man standing beside her.

“Rick is a decent boy, John. He stayed and waited for the police even though his two friends ran,” she said quietly, reminding him of facts he already knew. The boy hadn’t named his two friends because he hadn’t needed to; their names had been etched into their skateboards.

Mona embraced her husband with one arm around his waist and squeezed when he chuffed with grudging acknowledgement.

“John, your ladybug is now a young woman who’s coming into her own power. We need to trust her to live her life based on everything we’ve taught her.

“Plus, this is just a summer flirtation. In six weeks Danya returns to State and Rick goes back to school in Colorado a few days later.”

Mona’s words were a consoling reminder to herself as well as to her worried husband because at first she had dismissed the idea that this smart, good-looking, privileged white boy was seriously interested in pursuing Danya. But weeks of observing the boy’s awareness of and attentiveness to Danya had made his respectful intentions obvious.

Rick also let Danya scold him about cheerful eye contact and using words instead of grunts when serving customers who might choose to buy their baked goods elsewhere from more courteous workers.

Mona couldn’t blame her daughter for being curious about Rick. She understood that times were different now. Interracial dating wasn’t as rare or dangerous as it had been during Mona’s younger years, but she believed that all three of her children would choose to marry Black people when they were ready to settle down. She needed to believe it for her own peace of mind.

“Come on, John,” she said. “Glaring at the boy won’t change anything. Let’s finish payroll.”

Mona counted his heavy sigh accompanied by his slow turn toward the business office as a win for all four of them--Danya, Rick, John and herself.


~~~~~


Hours later and two blocks away from the bakery, Danya said, “Rick, get in the car right now. Please. It’s raining. And lightning! Your parents wouldn’t want you to risk getting electrocuted.”

Rick wasn’t so sure. His parents had been furious with him when they came to get him at the police station a month ago the night he and his friends broke the big front window at the Fullerton Bakery. They’d taken him into one of the interrogation rooms and expressed their disappointment with his poor choices: underage drinking, getting drunk, destroying private property, skating outside of a skate park, cowardly friends.

In fact, his dad had said Rick’s decision to remain at the scene of the crime was the only reason the Fullerton’s weren’t filing a complaint and the police weren’t pursuing any criminal charges against him. It was also the reason his parents were taking away his driving privileges for the entire summer, but not grounding him. Friends could pick him up and drop him off for social activities only. Rick had to walk or ride his bike--like a little kid!--to and from the early Saturday morning alcohol education classes at the police station, his restitution work at the bakery and his regular summer intern job as a physical endurance trainer in the evenings at the YMCA. Weight training combined with walking and running to his two jobs meant he was stronger and more physically fit than he’d ever been. He’d completed the mandatory alcohol ed course last weekend with his former friends. So that torture was done. Thank you, sweet lamb of God.

Rick stopped at the corner when Danya stopped for the red light at the empty intersection. He bent low to make eye contact with her through the half-lowered passenger window on the ancient compact car her grandmother used to drive around Darlingfield before she got too sick to renew her driver’s license.

“Boss Dan, when we’re not at the bakery I don’t have to do what you say. Go on home. I’m fine.”

He tapped the roof of her car, then stood and stepped off the curb as the traffic light glowed green.


~~~~~


Danya slid the car into first, then second gear, pacing Rick as he jogged along the sidewalk. He was drenched from head to toe. Water splashed up to his knees with each of his quick, long strides.

When the steady downpour instantly switched to a deluge of slanting sheets of rain, Danya sped up to turn right at the next intersection, stopping abruptly to block his path. She leaned over to unlock the door and shoved it open.

“Rick, please let me take you to the YMCA,” she yelled to be heard over the whooshing rain when he grabbed the edge of the door in order to slam it closed. “Save your stoic endurance for your clients at the gym, Moody Broody Maxwell!”


~~~~~


Rick got into her car. Because he was soaked down to the bone and tired of worrying that Danya might wreck her car while dividing her attention between watching him and navigating the slick streets. He pulled the door closed with a slam, adjusted the seat as far back as it would go and still felt cramped as he fastened his seat belt before he rolled up the window, then turned to watch Danya’s expressive face while she pulled a k-maneuver to get back onto the road to the YMCA. The enclosed space filled his head with the smell of wet fabric softener mixed with spiced dough and Danya’s unique savory scent.

“Thanks for the ride,” he said, wiping his wet face and slicking back his wet hair with the wet palms of his hands. “So you’re naturally bossy all of the time.”

“Yes.” She nodded, then turned to smile at him in a way that made him smile, too.

For the next two blocks they argued about how he planned to get home after work. Danya speculated aloud about rearranging her evening plans in order to workout until the end of Rick’s shift. By the time she pulled up to the employee entrance for the YMCA Rick had agreed--promised--to call his parents if it was still raining later.


~~~~~


“Did you catch Rick before he left the bakery, Glen?”

His wife Jane’s melodious voice floated to him as he closed and locked the front door.

“No,” he said while taking off his Colorado Academy ball cap, shaking out of his trench coat and hanging it on the top edge of the open door to the front closet as his wife’s soft footsteps tapped closer.

“No?” she asked before sweeping her gaze over him from head to toe, then leaning up to kiss him on the lips and pulling back quickly when he reached for her.

“I’ve seen a lot of lightning, Glen. Where is our son?”

He grabbed her soft hand and squeezed it gently to reassure her.

“The Fullerton’s youngest was dropping Rick off when I traced his route from the bakery to the gym. He looked wet. That’s on me,” Glen said as they walked down the central hall toward the kitchen. “I know Rick takes everything I say about rules of conduct literally. I should have reminded him to call home for a ride when I heard rain in the forecast.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” he said when Jane placed a mug of hot coffee in front of him as she sat next to him with her own steaming mug of the strong brew he preferred.

“I took away his driving privileges because seeing that broken plate glass window and imagining Rick cut and bloodied, maimed or dead still wakes me up in a cold sweat some nights. I wanted the punishment to inflict so much aggravation on him that he’ll never do anything that stupidly dangerous again.

“But he should know that I don’t want him to get sick in the rain or struck by lightning. Right, Jane. Why doesn’t he know that? Why didn’t he call?”


~~~~~


Jane watched her husband chug his coffee and wondered for the thousandth time in the past two years what she could do to mend the widening rift between Glen and their son.

Some of it was due to Rick’s evolution from boy to man, where their son’s very liberal leanings clashed with Glen’s life-long conservative ideals. Jane suspected that a young man’s need to establish his own identity separate from his father’s was the source of most of their communication problems.

“Glen, Rick has strictly followed his punishment rules without any slip-ups for the past month. Otherwise, Melissa would have told us since she never passes on an opportunity to torment her older brother.”

They both laughed.

When their shared amusement faded, she asked, “What if we allow him to drive to and from his jobs only? It worries me when he leaves before dawn to go to the bakery, and gets home from the gym after sunset. Darlingfield is a safe place, but criminals are opportunists and someone might view Rick as an easy target because he’s by himself--despite his size and obvious physical strength.”

Jane stopped talking even though additional arguments hovered on the edge of her tongue. She knew her husband well enough to understand that he had started this conversation so she could convince him of what he already knew: The severity of Rick’s penance had made its point.

They sipped their coffee in silence until Glen asked for a refill. While Jane stood and walked to the counter, her husband knocked his knuckles once against the kitchen table.

“You’re right, Jane. We’ll lift some of his driving restrictions. Let him drive directly to and from work. I’ll tell Rick when I pick him up tonight. What time’s he off?”

Jane glanced at her son’s work schedule taped to the side of the refrigerator.

“Ten.”

She brought the coffee pot over to the table and half filled both of their mugs. Once she’d placed the nearly empty pot on the trivet in the center of the table and reseated herself, Jane caught her husband’s eye as he sipped.

“After you tell Rick about his partially restored driving privileges, Glen, remind him to make sure he protects himself and his future every time he’s with a girl.”

Her husband paused, lowering his mug without breaking eye contact. “You think he’s fooling around with the Fullerton girl?”

Jane thought about the look on Rick’s face the few times he’d griped to her about Danya’s high expectations for his work performance at her family’s bakery. In Jane’s opinion her son’s attitude reflected more intrigue than annoyance.

“No, I don’t think he’s done anything with her. Yet. But I think he wants to.”


~~~~~


Glen liked the Fullertons. His department supervisor at the municipal water treatment plant always hired them to cater their holiday parties. Everyone in the Fullerton family was professional and well-spoken. Over the years he and John Fullerton had agreed on more than one issue at Darlingfield town meetings and school fundraisers, but Glen still believed that keeping things simple with personal relationships was best for everyone.

“We’ll swing by the drugstore on the way home.”




Shuffling the Deck

Dodging Eros extra story no. 2

This contemplation of Warwick’s future occurs immediately before the events in III. Night Vision in Dodging Eros.




Warwick Fullerton stood in the center of his cramped office. Only the nearly floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the campus quad on one wall and his transparent door to the hallway on the opposite side kept the tight space from feeling like a coffin. He always kept the door open unless he was counseling a student. As tenured faculty he could have requested a larger office, but he preferred the coziness of having his metal drafting table flanked by collapsible wooden bookshelves leaving just enough room for his adjustable desk chair, one narrow visitor’s chair and a square patch of industrial floor tiles worn smooth by generations of feet.

The soft whine of a motorized scooter slowing to a stop preceded, “Professor War?”

He turned with a smile to greet one of his smartest, most conscientious students who had taken more than one of his graduate courses about the evolution of Western Civilization.

“Karen,” he said, kicking back with his foot to shove the visitor’s chair before he dropped into it. “Come in.”

His move gave her more room to maneuver her scooter into his office while putting them at eye level. Scents of fresh air, sunshine and something fruity accompanied her arrival.

She smiled at him once she’d set her brake. “I’m so glad you’re still here. This is for you.”

Warwick’s gaze lowered from the excitement beaming from her expressive face to the rectangular package overflowing the palm of her hand.

During his years of teaching, first as an assistant, then an adjunct, a full-time instructor and finally as tenured faculty, he had learned various diplomatic ways to dodge, redirect and discourage his students from crushing on him as their teacher, mentor or as a sometime local celebrity whenever details about his hostage negotiations incidents leaked to the public--despite his best efforts to remain anonymous in those dealings.

Accepting gifts from his students was something he rarely did.

“It isn’t a love token, Professor War, so you can stop trying to figure out how to reject the crippled girl’s romantic overture without breaking my heart and sending me into a sad decline that makes me drive my scooter into the duck pond.”

The accuracy of her droll words regarding his thoughts made a laugh burst forth from his chest on a belch of sound. Her impish grin kept him chuckling and shaking his head at her as he reached for the package. The plain brown paper offered no clues.

Seconds later he was holding a tin box with a sun, a moon, an infinity symbol and an open book etched into a swirled pattern across the top of the hinged lid. He traced the rise and fall of the delicate lines with his fingertips before he looked up to meet Karen’s pensive gaze.

Her smile blossomed again as she laughed and clapped her hands. “Oh, good, you like the box, but that’s not the best part, Professor. Look inside.”

He did. The exquisite details of the contents kept him speechless as he examined each hand-drawn Tarot card. Sharp black lines and curves of assorted thickness framed a soft pastel color palette for the Major Arcana; vibrant primary colors for the Minor Arcana. Each one of the seventy-eight cards was a masterful work of art.

“Karen, you made these and the box for me?”

She nodded. “Yes. I know you study the mystical and the religious only from an academic perspective, which is really interesting to me, Professor, because you’re the most instinctively compassionate and intuitive teacher I’ve ever known. Add in your being a handsome brainiac with a mesmerizing voice and a wicked sense of humor--” She did not share her thoughts about his enticing scent. “--and it’s no mystery why there’s always a wait list for your classes and most of your students fall a little bit in love with you every semester.

“Not me!” she added with a laugh before she got serious again.

“Thank you for being my advisor, Professor. Thank you for challenging me. Thank you for always treating me like a regular human being and not like the poor little crippled girl.”

Warwick coughed to clear his throat. He glanced away from Karen’s earnest face down to the priceless gift in his hands, then back up to her eyes.

“You must have worked on these cards and the box for weeks and months, Karen. Are you sure you don’t want to keep this set? It belongs on permanent exhibit in a museum.”

Her smile radiated her pleasure. “Thank you for saying that, Professor War.”

“It’s true,” he said very quietly.

“You have the only set, but I’ve scanned each card and the box lid just in case I have gift-giver’s remorse later on. Okay?”

Warwick slowly nodded once. “Under one condition: If you ever change your mind and want it back or need it for an exhibit of your work, Karen, contact me. Agreed?”

Her slight frown shrank her smile a bit. “Yes, but it’s unnecessary because my art is just for me; sometimes gifts for family and friends--never for public display.”

“Well, that’s a big loss for art lovers, Karen. Yes, I know,” he said when she opened her mouth to speak again. “History is your passion. You’re going to publish, go on an international lecture tour, then become a professor at an Ivy League university. This--” Warwick pointed down at the Tarot set in his other hand. “This shows me that art is your passion as well. Do both.”

They talked for several more minutes before Warwick leaned forward to shake Karen’s hand in farewell.

“Whenever I look at this exquisite Tarot set I’ll remember what a gift having you as my student has been to me, Karen.”

He stood and paced her to the door as she backed her scooter into the hall.

“Enjoy your sabbatical, Professor War,” she said, then spun her scooter and zipped down the hall toward the elevator.


~~~~~


Karen had lied to Professor War to save face and to spare him from discomfort in her presence. She’d been crushing on her academic advisor since her freshman year when she’d tested into one of his rigorous senior courses in Western Civ.

Over the years of her undergraduate study she had secretly contemplated his cards from different decks and assorted layouts. Whether the Visconti-Sforza, Marseille or Rider-Waite deck laid out in horseshoe, Celtic Cross or Tree of Life configurations, The Chariot and The Hierophant always presented themselves no matter how she shuffled the deck. Was she projecting her admiration for his compassion, intelligence and authority into each reading? Her psychologist dad would say yes. So would her Wicca mom. Both would counsel Karen to search for those qualities in a peer instead of her unattainable professor--if they’d known about her crush. But her parents hadn’t guessed because Karen dated regularly in a methodical search for a young man whose recognition of her worth would make her feel as strong and fearless as being in Professor War’s presence did.

The Tarot set was a token of her appreciation and her unrequited love for him. In her farewell contemplation of his cards last night, for the first time ever, Karen had uncovered The Wheel of Fortune for her professor’s hopes and aspirations combined with The Lovers for his future experiences when her past readings used to reveal The Hermit for his future. It didn’t really surprise her that the universe (and her subconscious) expected dynamic changes for him during his sabbatical.

Karen hoped that Professor War was destined to meet a woman who would recognize and appreciate him, and love him the way he deserved to be loved.




When Familiarity Breeds the Opposite of Contempt

Danya and Rick: Their Beginning Continues

Dodging Eros extra story no. 3




“How do we stop this, Jane?”

“We don’t, Glen.”

“There must be something we can do.”

“There isn’t.”

“When we restored all of his driving privileges, Jane, I thought Rick would spend less time with the Fullerton’s youngest—not more.”

“I know you did, sweetheart,” his wife said without looking up or dropping a stitch from the sweater she was knitting for their son.

“But you didn’t, did you, Jane?”


~~~~~


Jane Gilmartenson Maxwell paused as she considered how much truth to tell her husband. She decided to ask him a question first.

“Is smiling Rick’s default facial expression?”

“No,” Glen said without hesitation.

“What about when he’s headed out to see Danya or when he’s just been with her or Melissa teases him about her—is Rick smiling then?”

This time his answer came slower, after closing his eyes and thinking for a few seconds before slowly opening his eyes again. A resigned sigh preceded his, “Yes.”

Jane set her knitting in the big basket next to her chair, then got up and walked over to her husband, who reached out with both arms to help her sit in his lap. She looped her arms loosely around his neck as she stared into dark eyes set in the rugged face of the only man she had ever loved and trusted with her whole heart.

“Glen, our son is in love with Danya. She makes him happy. Anything we do to try to keep them apart will only backfire by making him more determined to keep her in his life.” She waited for him to accept that truth before she said, “In two weeks when they both go back to college, hundreds of miles and a few states will separate them until Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas if we book Rick’s flight from Colorado directly to Harrisburg instead of having him come home to drive with us to visit your folks in Pennsylvania for the long weekend.” Jane simply waited because her son had inherited more than his looks and his height from her husband.

One minute and two deep huffs later, Glen leaned forward to kiss her. When he pulled back he said, “A lot can happen in two weeks, Jane.”

She nodded. “True, but Danya is a smart girl with professional ambitions that have nothing to do with trapping our son.”

Jane had made sure last week during a spontaneous lunch at Full Bake when she and her daughter Melissa had gone to purchase scratch-made pizza dough. Mona Fullerton had invited them into the kitchen to taste some items they were considering as new menu options.

Seated on stools clustered around the end of a stainless steel prep counter, Jane and her daughter had sampled an assortment of savory bites and given their honest opinions to Danya, who was trying to convince her parents that experimenting with new techniques and food combinations would be good for business.

Danya’s passion for food and expanding the Full Bake made it clear that she was planning to lead her family’s business into other markets.

It was hard to believe that this vivacious young woman had once been the chronically ill child whose name was constantly on all the local churches’ prayer lists and used to motivate people to donate blood, get immunized, and any other community health issue that required prodding of the Darlingfield masses to increase their participation.

Watching Danya’s beautiful face and animated hand movements as she talked had made it easy to understand why Rick had fallen for her.

Jane gazed into her husband’s eyes and strove to project her conviction through her eyes and her voice. “Danya is not a threat to Rick’s future, Glen.”


~~~~~


Danya felt strong hands slide around her waist before she heard Rick’s voice whisper in her ear.

“You’re supposed to use the step ladder, not climb the shelves, Dan.”

One of his hands left her waist as he reached over her head to grab the wooden crate filled with rarely used mini muffin tins. “Is this what you need?”

“Yes,” she said when the hand at her waist slid across her stomach to hook his arm more securely around her while he pulled and lifted the crate from the shelf.

With one hand clutching an upper shelf, Danya turned in the circle of his embrace until they faced each other.

“Thank you, Rick,” she said at the same time he said, “You could’ve fallen and hurt yourself.”

Danya smiled as she leaned forward to press her lips to his, then nibbled and licked until he opened his mouth on a soft groan.

Shared laughter ended their kiss because they’d both kept their eyes open, and kissing cross-eyed looked ridiculous.

Rick hauled her off the shelf where she was perched, and lowered her to standing on the floor. Once she was steady on her feet he handed her the crate in response to her give-me hand gesture.

“What are you making now?” he asked as he slowly pushed the door open wide enough for Danya to precede him out of the storage room and into the short hallway.

“Miniature lemon curd cupcakes for Mrs. Bergen’s tea party at three this afternoon,” she said, leading the way to the smaller kitchen that had once been the only one. They used it for baking individual batches and last-minute special orders. The residential-sized oven was already pre-heating.

“It’s ten past noon,” Rick said.

“I know. Mrs. Bergen had a baking mishap with her batch.”

Danya felt the heat of Rick’s proximity and focus, but didn’t allow them to interfere with her preparations as she scrubbed and dried the baking tins, then lined them with small muffin cups made of compostable parchment.

“Didn’t your shift end at noon, Rick?” she asked while she grated lemons for zest before she chopped them in half and squeezed them for juice over a strainer to catch the seeds.

“Yeah, but I needed to tell you I can go with you to Reb’s pool party if you still want me to.”

Hearing that made her look up from folding whipped egg whites from one glass mixing bowl into another glass mixing bowl full of batter.

“You’re scheduled as a private trainer at the Y tonight.”

Rick shook his head. “He cancelled. My supervisor said she doesn’t need me to come in at all.”

Danya laughed when Rick’s eyes kept straying from looking at her face to staring at the cake batter. She finally put him out of his misery.

“Yes, Rick, I’m baking enough for you to have some even though they won’t taste as tart as you prefer them.”

“Nice,” he said, stepping closer to her work space after washing his hands. “Let me help you.”

Danya stared into his dark eyes and smiled. “Okay, please set up three piping bags for me with large round tips, then…”


~~~~~


“Foiled again, baby?” Mona Fullerton asked her husband’s strong back while he sat at his desk and watched the computer monitor display divided into thirds that showed the public area in the front of the bakery, the main commercial kitchen and prep stations in the back, and the small kitchen Danya had commandeered as her food laboratory.

There was no sound, but their facial expressions and body language told the tale of their being very comfortable in each other’s personal space.

“What teenage boy hangs around when he’s off the clock at the job he’s working as punishment?” Her husband’s deep voice held equal parts disbelief and bafflement.

“You didn’t really believe that scheduling them on opposite shifts would keep them apart, John?” she asked, knowing that her husband was in denial about the seriousness of their daughter’s relationship with this young man.

Mona said the only words that could ease some of his dismay. “Two weeks until they both return to college, baby.”

She stroked the tense line of his shoulders.

“Hmm,” he grunted as he continued to watch the live security feed.




Into the Wilderness

Danya and Rick: Their First Goodbye

Dodging Eros extra story no. 4




“Stop glaring at that boy, John. It won’t change the outcome of this weekend.” Mona said as she settled in against his side when he raised his arm to pull her closer.

They stood together at the front window with a clear view of the driveway, where their youngest child, Danya, used graceful hand gestures to show Rick Maxwell where to place her backpack, large suitcase, and her mountain bike in the cargo area of his old pickup truck. Glen and Jane Maxwell had assured the Fullertons it was road-trip-worthy during their dessert meeting at the Maxwells’ home two nights ago.

“Well, don’t expect me to smile and cheer as that boy takes our baby girl camping so they can have privacy to do more than sneak kisses in the walk-in refrigerator at the bakery, and snuggle up on the couch when he comes over to the house to watch movies with her.”

“Danya could have lied by omission to us, John. She didn’t have to tell us that Rick was planning to meet her and her girlfriends at Treehouse Village for their second annual summer send-off.”

Mona turned and looked up, willing her husband to pull his gaze away from the scene outside. After several long, tense, silent moments, John turned his head and tilted his chin down until his eyes met hers. She tipped up onto her toes to brush a kiss across the stern line of his compressed lips.

“They’re nineteen, John. You and I were camping and snuggling and doing all manner of things behind our parents’ backs when we were their age.”

Mona hugged him tightly with both of her arms squeezed around his waist, leaning into him and letting him support most of her weight.

“We turned out all right. They will, too.”

He just grunted before he leaned down to kiss her with some heat.


~~~~~


“Your parents are making out in front of the bay window, Danya, like they’re filming the closing scene of a romantic movie.”

Danya paused in double-checking the lockdown clamp that secured her generic bike next to Rick’s fancy model. She glanced over her shoulder to see a variation of what she’d been seeing at home during her whole life.

“Yeah,” she said before turning her attention back to the truck bed and testing the bungee cords holding their luggage, gear, and provisions in place against the outer wall of the passenger compartment. “They’re always really affectionate at home, but right now my mom is also probably trying to distract my dad from brooding about my spending the weekend with a boy who can’t wait to get me naked.”

Slow, heavy footfalls on asphalt told her Rick was headed closer to her before Danya felt his hands at her waist gently lift her and turn her. His eyes twinkled with mischief while he set her back on her feet and leaned down until they were nose to nose. “Maybe your mom is distracting your dad from seeing the way you undress me with your eyes,” he whispered.

Danya laughed, placing her palm against the center of his muscular chest, she said, “In your dreams, Rick. Now, let’s go say goodbye to my parents before we hit the road.”


~~~~~


“I think your dad just tried to crush my hand,” Rick said in a conversational tone of voice as he backed out of the Fullerton’s driveway. Once they were headed down the street toward the main road that would take them to the interstate, he asked, “You’re sure your girlfriends are okay that I’m coming with you, Danya? I don’t want them to try to drown me in the canal while we’re tubing.”

Danya laughed. “You’re welcome as long as we follow the rules of no PDA during the days’ group activities. During the evenings the girls will amuse themselves.” She placed her hand atop his on the gearshift and squeezed. “We’ll have the nights to ourselves, Rick.”

At a red light, Rick turned to face Danya. “You set the pace for what happens when we’re in private. Okay, Danya?”

“Okay, Rick,” she said with a firm nod as the traffic light switched to green.


~~~~~


“Oh, Rick,” Danya sighed when she entered their cozy little one-room treetop cabin after her trip to the women’s bathhouse. Her towel and plastic bucket full of toiletries thumped to the floor at her feet.

Flickering illumination from several battery-operated flameless candles grouped together in the center of the metal bistro table in the corner added to the glow from the fading fire in the potbelly stove on the other side of the room, and threw soft shadows and enough light for her to see what he’d been doing while she’d been showering and primping.

The thin mattress on the sleeping platform was now covered with a thick gusseted feather bed, two fluffy pillows that looked like oversized marshmallows, and turned back sheets in some pale color she couldn’t exactly identify.

She noticed a potted leafy green plant atop the cooler at the foot of the platform when she drifted two steps farther into the small room.

“All this was in that box you wouldn’t let me carry inside when we arrived?”

“Yeah,” Rick said so softly that she read the word from his unsmiling lips more than she heard it.

Three more short steps brought her to within touching proximity.

“Thank you, Rick, for going to all this effort to make my first time special. You’re so sweet to me,” she said, reaching out and snagging two of her fingers into the threadbare cotton of his Darlingfield YMCA staff t-shirt to pull him close enough to kiss.


~~~~~


While Danya’s kiss short-circuited his brain synapses and redirected all of his sensory focus to the soft, wet warmth of her lips and her mouth and the damp fresh scent of his girlfriend’s body, Rick felt like the condoms in the front pocket of his hiking shorts were going to burst into flame.

Secure the door before this goes any farther, he kept chanting in his head between suckling forays and dueling tongues.

When Rick raised his head to break the kiss, Danya rocked back on her heels with a dazed look in her eyes.

He pulled a wedge-shaped metal door stopper from his other front pocket and showed it to her. “Do you want to get in bed while I make sure the door stays shut all night, Danya?”

He walked toward the door without waiting for her reply, which was why he was completely unable to utter even one word when he finished with the door and turned around to see Danya standing where he’d left her. Only she now looked very different.

She’d shaken her hair loose from the messy topknot. She’d removed her cut-off sweatshorts and Virginia State hooded jacket to reveal all of her smooth brown skin and curves nominally dressed in some sort of clingy lace tank shirt half-top and matching little undershorts. Neither scrap of fabric hid her nipples or her crotch from his greedy gaze as he stepped closer.


~~~~~


Danya watched Rick strip out of his t-shirt, and thought she owed her big sister Monica major props for her lingerie recommendations when they’d gone shopping at the Dulles Towne Centre last week during one of Monica’s rare breaks between private protection assignments.

When Rick grabbed Danya up into his arms and guided her legs around his waist as he carried her to the bed, being the sole focus of his strength and heat and hardness pushed everything else out of her head.


~~~~~


“Does that feel good, Danya?” Rick asked, pressing the damp washcloth between her legs with one hand and stroking the side of her face with the other.

“Yes,” she said, still touched that he had planned ahead with a sealed mixing bowl filled with water, face cloths, and pain reliever in a crate tucked under the sleeping platform.

Now that the cluster of candles provided the only dim lighting from across the small room, Danya could barely see Rick’s features beyond the shine of his dark eyes and the flash of his teeth as he leaned over her. She hoped that was all he could see of her. Otherwise, she’d faint from the embarrassment of letting him care for her in such an intimate way.

“Why did you choose me to be your first, Danya?”

She covered his hand between her legs, then reached up to stroke his scruffy cheek with her other hand.

“Because you love me, Rick. And my mom and my sister told me that my first time should be with someone I love who loves me back.”


~~~~~


Rick felt safe from exposure in the low lighting. He felt hidden enough to ask, “How can you tell?”

The flash of her smile preceded her soft chuckle before she said, “The way you nagged me all summer about leaving the back door of Full Bake unlocked for deliveries when I arrived first to start up the ovens and the dough rotation, then you started coming in earlier to keep me safe. The way you walk slower so I don’t have to skip to walk beside you.” She sighed. “And you really listen to me whenever I’m speaking to you, like now. I can feel your attention entirely focused on me, Rick. Those are just a few of the ways that you show me you love me.”

When she tugged on his ear, Rick leaned closer to brush her lips with his, and tasted the salt of her tears.

“I’m going to miss you so much, Rick,” she whispered at the end of their kiss.

After she drifted to sleep, he whispered, “I’ll miss you more.”


~~~~~


On Sunday afternoon Danya and Rick were sunburned, exhausted, and giddy with a dash of melancholy as they hugged her closest girlfriends goodbye following their short bike ride. Danya and Rick waved until the two cars disappeared around a sharp curve in the road.

Danya pivoted toward Rick to find that he was already staring at her. His arms came up around her when she stepped into his body and peered up into his face.

“One more plate of Old Bay waffle fries with lump crab meat at the Crystal Caverns Cafe before we go home sound good to you, Rick?”

His eyes twinkled with amusement and one corner of his mouth twitched.

“You’re going to turn into a waffle fry, Dan.”

She laughed. “So that’s a yes,” she said, then jumped up to smack her smiling lips against his. “Good. First, we eat, then we drive.”

Rick nodded his agreement with her plan as he escorted Danya to the passenger side of his truck, opened the door, then boosted her up onto the bench seat.

By the time he rounded the hood and got himself buckled into the driver’s seat Danya was fastened into place with her legs stretched along the seat and her bare feet were tucked under Rick’s thigh.

They ordered their lunch as carryout. Danya fed Rick and herself alternating mouthfuls as they drove the longest route home.


~~~~~


Ten miles outside of Darlingfield, Rick pulled into a rest area and parked under a security lamp, but kept the motor running to keep the heat on for Danya, who had jiggled herself into sweatpants and a jacket after sunset brought much cooler temperatures.

“You love me, Danya. And I love you, but you’re still breaking up with me when I drop you off at home tonight?”

She looked into his eyes and nodded, afraid that speaking would unleash a flood of tears.

“We’re not going to call or e-mail or write old-fashioned letters or try to visit each other on weekends?”

Felling her eyes fill with tears, she gently shook her head no, then took a deep breath for courage.

“I know I’ll pine for you, Rick. I’ll want to visit every weekend. My grades will suffer. My parents will freak. They’ll lecture me about how much I owe to my enslaved ancestors who suffered and sacrificed to give me opportunities they were denied.

“I’m being selfish because not being your girlfriend anymore is the only way I can go back to college tomorrow without wanting to curl into a ball and die.”

“Come here,” he said, reaching for her with both hands.


~~~~~


Rick held Danya close while she cried silently against his chest, drenching his favorite Dierks Bentley concert t-shirt.

He waited until it felt like no more moisture was being added to his shirt before he said, “You were my friend before you were my girlfriend, and I don’t want to lose our friendship, Danya. Here’s my counter offer: on October first we start e-mailing each other as friends who care about each other very much.”

Danya was quiet and still for long enough for him to wonder if she’d fallen asleep.

“November first,” she whispered.

“What?” he asked just as quietly.

“Let’s resume our friendship on November first because it’ll take me at least two months to believe that not trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with you is the wisest choice. Okay, Rick?”

“Okay.”


~~~~~


After Rick had carried Danya’s bike and all of her bags and gear through the side door into the garage, they stood hugging each other in the gap between the open driver’s door and the cab of his truck.

She pressed a kiss to his breastbone as he kissed the crown of her head before they both let go and stepped back to stare into each other’s eyes.

“Don’t add moping to your moody broodiness, Rick. That’s overkill,” she said, backing away from his truck while he climbed inside and closed the door.

He leaned his head out of the rolled down window. “E-mail me on November first, Danya. Our friendship is worth the effort.” He started slowly backing his truck into the street. “Go on inside now, Boss Dan, so I can go home knowing you’re safe.”

He saluted in answer to her wave before she turned on her flip-flopped heel and ran inside. She flashed the porch light twice as he spun the steering wheel to head down the street.




Carrying On

Rick: After the Break-up

Dodging Eros extra story no. 5




“That Maxwell kid never quits,” the physical training supervisor for the campus gym said in a hushed voice to the woman standing next to him.

She wore a plain fitted t-shirt and baggy sweat pants. Both garments had small emblems of the seal for the U.S. Forest Service discreetly attached. Otherwise, Dr. Morgan Grant looked unremarkable, which was one of her many assets in a career based in misdirection.

During their two years of association the gym supervisor had recognized that Morgan was looking for more than physically fit candidates to become forest rangers. She wanted more brain than brawn. Frederick Maxwell had much more than the average person’s allotment of both.

“Tell me his training schedule again, please,” Morgan said.

“Sundays off. Although he bikes the trails or hits the slopes depending on the season. Monday through Saturday he works in audits of gymnastics, modern dance, and classical ballet classes around his daily a.m. and p.m. workout sessions and academic course load. Rick…”


~~~~~


While Morgan Grant watched her potential recruit move through another circuit of thirty-second intervals, she listened to the gym supe’s assessment.

Maxwell’s consistent Dean’s List academic performance with a double major in chemistry and human physiology, and a minor in ergonomic product design had flagged her attention. Observing him now through the one-way mirror confirmed everything her research, family background check and interviews with his professors had suggested.

Maxwell was a strong prospect to invite to compete to enter a clandestine state-side entity of Intra-national Rangers, nicknamed I-Rangers as a nod to the favorite cartoon crime fighters of the kids the group’s leader had adopted after his first mission. What she was seeing combined with what she already knew about Maxwell made it easy for her to decide to approach him.


~~~~~


As Rick exited the men’s locker room, he heard, “Hey, Rick, I want to introduce you to someone.” The gym supervisor called out to him from the doorway to his business office.

“It’ll take fifteen minutes, max,” he promised with a nod of his head toward the interior of the office.

Rick decided to find out if this introduction would answer the question of why he’d been feeling eyes on him throughout his workout—more than the usual flirtatious regard of the young women who were using the treadmills that hugged the perimeter of the workout area.


~~~~~


Morgan liked the way Frederick Maxwell entered the room. She watched his gaze assess the layout of the tight space, the supervisor, and her in about a second before he reached forward to shake her extended hand.

Once all three of them were seated, Morgan said, “Rick, since 2001 the increase in domestic terrorism means that our first responders are more vulnerable to danger as they execute their duties. The U.S. Forest Service is developing a team of rangers dedicated to back-up and rescue of first responders and covert agents in the United States.” When she saw his eyes briefly flare wider, she asked, “Will you come with me now, to my office? It’s just around the corner. Thirty minutes to present the details, then however long it takes to answer your questions.”


~~~~~


On a Friday night two weeks later Rick wondered if he had underestimated the challenges that competing for one of the ten spots for this semester’s class of recruits would demand from him. Had his search for additional ways to distract himself from counting down the days and hours until November first led him into a situation he couldn’t handle?

Lightly garbed in a long-sleeved thermal shirt, summer-weight sweat pants, performance socks, and heavy duty hiking boots of above average amateur quality, Rick kept his breathing and his running pace steady. Moving kept him warm in the cold darkness of the heavily wooded terrain. His competitor had veered off on a southeast trajectory more than an hour earlier. They had twenty-four hours to use the start and end point coordinates, a tri-folded laminated map, and a compass to reach their destination forty miles—no, just over sixty-four kilometers away. He had to reset his brain to think of distances in metric first.

The first candidate to reach their destination won a spot. The second lost with a thanks for trying, here’s your ride back to campus farewell.

Rick and his competitor had started at nine p.m. A glance at the shadows cast by the moon glow and his own internal clock told him it was around one a.m. His plan was to sleep for four hours from two until sunrise. He estimated his cautious nighttime pace at two mi—three point two kilometers per hour. He would more than double that with daylight.


~~~~~


Five hours after sunrise, Rick almost stepped on his competitor, who was huddled under a blanket of brush and branches. The guy moaned when Rick knelt at his side and called his name. Pushing away all of the foliage revealed that his competitor was unconscious from fever while clutching what appeared to be his broken arm to his chest.

It looked like he’d been there for hours, which alarmed Rick because he’d assumed Dr. Grant and her team were tracking their progress, but his competitor’s condition made it clear they weren’t—or something was wrong with their surveillance method.

Rick pulled his shirt off over his head, then ripped off the sleeves.

“I’m sorry, man. This is going to hurt,” he whispered as he propped the guy up into sitting as Rick gently straightened his competitor’s injured arm to use one shirt sleeve as a compression binding and the other as a sling to immobilize the damaged limb against his chest.

Rick hated seeing litter anywhere, especially in what should be pristine wilderness, but he had taken advantage of the plastic water bottle he’d found last night close to a trickling stream. After drinking a few sips before climbing a tree to fall face-down with his arms and legs hugging a sturdy upper branch, he’d gone to sleep hoping not to wake up sick to his stomach. At sunrise he woke up feeling exhausted, but not sick. Now he was doubly glad he’d endured the inconvenience of carrying the filled plastic bottle in one hand with his thumb over the opening to keep most of the water from sloshing out.

“Drink,” Rick said as he let a few drops wet his competitor’s lips, which parted to let his tongue frantically lap at the water faster than it fell.

Once the water was gone, Rick tied the empty bottle to his sweat pants with the drawstring at his waist. Sweat stuck the laminated map in place between his hip and briefs. He checked that his pants cuffs were still tucked into his boots, and his compass was still in his zippered pocket with a tap of his finger while he decided on the best way to carry his competitor.


~~~~~


Morgan entered the RV parked next to the decommissioned wilderness research station. The mobile unit was half monitoring equipment and half medical suite.

“Progress?” she asked the three members of the overnight crew after reciprocating their nods and closed-mouthed smiles.

“Candidate orange pulled ahead of candidate blue at twenty-three-thirty-seven and dusted blue until oh-two-hundred when they both stopped. Respiration and lack of movement indicate sleeping,” he said, reading from the activity summary.

Morgan looked over his shoulder to scan the monitor with real-time stats.

She frowned. “Why are blue and orange currently moving so slowly?” She leaned closer. “And in tandem?”

After a loaded pause, the second crew member who was also the overnight shift leader and an EMT said, “Oh, Doc, you know we’ve seen this before. The pampered youngsters decide that really roughing it just isn’t for them so they make sure they miss the twenty-four-hour deadline. They’re keeping each other company while they stroll toward failure and mediocrity.”

Everyone in the RV had completed this exact challenge with hours to spare ahead of their competition.

Morgan turned to the third member of the overnight crew who was the computer tech specialist.

“What do you think?”

The computer tech scowled at the other two night crew members, then looked directly into Morgan’s eyes. “I volunteered to go put eyes on blue and orange, but the shift leader said no.” His eyes cut sideways, then returned to meet Morgan’s gaze. “Each of the four times I’ve volunteered since oh-seven-hundred.”

Morgan glanced at her watch. So he’d been worried for just over two hours. Her gut agreed with the computer tech’s concern.

The RV was designed for off-road maneuvers for many practical reasons. This situation was one of them.

“We’re rolling out to meet them.”


~~~~~


At first, Rick thought he was imagining the sounds of a large vehicle crunching closer to his location. It was hard for him to think beyond the ache in his shoulders as he carried his unconscious competitor across his back like he’d seen his dad carry a badly injured, tranqued doe many years ago. The added weight slowed his pace to a crawl, but so far he hadn’t tripped or fallen, making the loss of speed worth the cost in time. Because breathing evenly and battling exhaustion and dehydration to keep moving forward step by step were his only priorities. He was worried. And once he got them back to civilization with water and food and medical attention, he would let loose his furious anger at how effed-up this test was. It didn’t inspire his confidence. It didn’t make him excited to join Dr. Grant’s team.

From one thought to the next, Rick went from being alone with his human burden and his grievances to facing the front grill of a motor home that looked like an RV and a Hummer had made a tank baby.

He stopped, blinking as Dr. Grant jumped out and ran toward him. Three big guys followed her, but Rick wondered if he’d gone deaf because their lips were moving but he couldn’t hear them. Then he was on his knees and the weight of his competitor was being lifted from his shoulders after Dr. Grant peeled Rick’s fingers open and lowered his arms from their clenching hold on the other candidate’s body.

Rick’s body shut down.


~~~~~


“Jesus, Mary mother of God, and all the heavenly host!” Morgan added to the chorus of profanity as Rick collapsed against her.

She managed to keep him from hitting the ground until the three men returned from loading candidate orange into the RV. The EMT carried Rick in a firefighter’s carry to the second bed in the medical treatment area of the mobile unit.

“Go, go, go! Straight to the medical facility at headquarters,” she said while starting an assessment of orange’s condition.

Out of the corner of her eye Morgan saw that Rick was still unconscious. Her loud voice hadn’t roused him. He looked dehydrated and exhausted. She prayed that those were his only medical problems.


~~~~~


“… goddamned incompetent… What the ever-loving hell…”

Hours later, Morgan and the three overnight crew members stood in front of the general’s desk for twenty minutes before he calmed enough to dole out six consecutive weekends of penalties. Remedial training in candidate monitoring protocols for the overnight shift leader and the crew member who had dismissed the computer tech’s concerns. No strikes against the tech beyond the authority to go over the shift leader’s head and follow his instincts if similar circumstances occurred in the future.

When only Morgan and the general remained in his office, he said, “Shift change was scheduled for eleven-hundred, Doc. Why’d you show up early?”

She declined his offer of a drink of bourbon from his crystal decanter with one small shake of her pounding head.

“I wanted to see how candidate blue was performing as of the halfway mark. It didn’t make any sense that he’d traveled just under eighteen kilometers in five hours of darkness over unfamiliar terrain, then averaged less than two per hour from soon after sunrise. Blue’s heart rate was too fast for the slow pace he was keeping, and orange’s was too slow.”

The general sipped and nodded.

“Okay, even with the signed and notarized non-disclosure documents, waivers, and liability indemnity clauses, if these two boys tell their parents, we’re screwed and so is our team, Doc.

“We need candidate blue because we can’t teach that kind of determination; that kind of commitment to the welfare of a stranger. I want him as an I-Ranger—” His lips quirked in amusement over the nickname. “I want him fast-tracked to training for special assignments as soon as he graduates from college.”


~~~~~


The overnight crew was waiting for Morgan in the hall outside of the general’s office.

“Enough with the shame-faced looks, men. Disaster was averted. Our candidates will recover.”

The men fell into step around Morgan as she walked down the hall toward the corridor that would take her to the medical facility.

“We’re going to use this near-miss to improve how we operate.”


~~~~~


Rick’s body felt like hundreds of aches rolled into a pulsing ball of throbbing discomfort even though he could tell he was covered in soft sheets and a warm comforter in a very comfortable bed.

When he opened his eyes the details of a super nice hospital room swam into focus.

“Welcome back, Rick.”

Before he turned his head, he recognized the soft voice as belonging to Dr. Grant.

“Do you want me to contact your parents?”

Rick stared at the woman seated next to his bed and struggled to comprehend the question. Parents, he thought, and a switch clicked in his brain. His mom and dad, who had just forgiven him for being a destructive drunken idiot with his skateboard. He could only imagine the lectures and punishments if they found out about this.


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