Sunday, December 3, 2017

Chapter Seven: The Adventures of an American Misanthrope




With Robyn sitting beside me on the porch, drinking her coffee, and looking out at the ocean, I admitted to myself how insanely comfortable we had become with each other given that our relationship was just a couple of weeks old. I chalked that up to both of us being in our mid to late forties and needing adult companionship. Compared to her, I was a basket case as far as personal relationships went since I had played the lonely divorced bachelor for years.

My biggest fear was doing something really stupid by getting to serious far too soon. Robyn on the other hand seemed at ease with everything from sleeping over at my place to having me get heavily involved with her dog, Max, which was unnerving in its own right. Robyn was twice divorced and the best I could tell was that she took our relationship in a purely casual manner. All I could do was follow her lead and take things really slow. But God help me, at night when we are bed I know there were real feelings developing between us.

With the implications of my new and serious relationship bouncing inside my head, I suddenly felt the need to get some air. Luckily, Robyn's dog was still on the porch looking at us as if we were both crazy so I decided to use him as a way to get out of the house.

“Robyn,” I said putting down my coffee cup, “how about I take Max for a walk and once we get back I take you out for a fancy breakfast.”

She was taking a long sip of her coffee as I spoke and I must admit seeing her night shirt cling around her body made me think of a far different activity. “Sounds great,” she responded after setting her coffee cup down killing the urge for us to return to the bedroom. “I could use a good breakfast before I get back on the computer and work for a couple of hours.”

Minutes later I have Max out on the beach doing his very best to break free. “Sorry Max old buddy,” I said to him knowing he couldn't answer back. “I just needed some time to clear my head about how I feel about your mama.”

Max, much to my amazement, took a break from sniffing the sand and turned his head towards me. The look on his face could have meant a lot of things. But in a totally weird way I knew it was something to the effect that I should tread carefully when it came to Robyn. We walked on allowing me to replay how she entered my life.

***

Blame it on a stupid and irrational instant infatuation, but as I sat on the steps of my newly rented beach house for at least an hour waiting for the mysterious brunette and her dog to reappear. Being a forty-seven year old divorced man who had spent far too much time in a self-imposed monkish lifestyle probably explains why I was acting like a clumsy, lovelorn teenager. Making matters worse, as I sat on the weathered wood of the step memories of doing something painfully similar when I was thirteen during a family vacation down at Edisto Beach took center stage in my mind.

The Edisto Girl, whose name was the one thing that failed to resurface, was at least a couple of years older than me. Earlier that day we had bumped into each other at the local grocery store as I was buying stuff my mom needed for making dinner that night. Being that the store was literally a block away from the beach it allowed a far more casual dress code for its customers. Wearing a stylish at the time bikini and with her blonde hair tied back into a long ponytail, the churning male hormones in my brain instantly responded sending urgent messages down to my nether regions. The physical result was, needless to say, quite uncontrollable and totally embarrassing.

As we bumped into each other everything I was carrying fell to the floor. After that my memories became a blur of sensations from the softness of her skin where we touched to her smile that came damn close to giving me a religious experience. As we both bent down to pick up the dropped items, she made some offhand remark about me being cute and then walked away. Being thirteen, I took the remark as a declaration of true love and spent the next several days convinced I had a chance with her. Which at that age what exactly that chance meant was still largely hazy.

Sitting on the steps of that Pawleys Island beach house, I suddenly remembered the final result of that long ago teenage crush. After wracking my brain for several days to think of a way to talk with her all my hopes came crashing down when I saw Edisto Girl making out with a guy closer to her age behind the video game arcade. At least I had a couple of friends who made sure I didn't think too much about my stillborn imaginary romance.

After reliving the sad echos of that crush, I realized how stupid it was for me to repeat a similar behavior at my age. More to the point, the mystery woman chasing her dog was probably married or at least seeing someone, a thought that was tantamount to a kick in the balls. But I'll be damned if I didn't feel some sort of instant connection after making eye contact with her. Feeling chagrined, I went back up the stairs and into the beach house telling myself that the last thing I needed to do was make a fool of myself with yet another woman.

The next couple of days I made a point of keeping myself busy. The first item on the daily agenda was attempting to get into the habit of jogging every morning. I was more than a little overweight and with no money worries nor need to force myself to conform to a bogus society, like keeping a job, concentrating on my health and fitness was a perfect activity. To assist with that lofty goal, a run to the nearest grocery store, one of the fancy upscale types, later that day had me buying numerous health items like fruits, vegetables, and plenty of chicken and turkey for lean healthy meals.

While I intellectually understood what I needed to do, the next morning I slept late and skipped the whole affair. Matters were made worse when I did get up my breakfast consisted of a huge stack of pancakes overflowing with maple syrup at the restaurant right next the expensive grocery store I bought all the super healthy items.

The next morning I did at least get up and attempt to jog. Quickly feeling the effects of my years as a couch potato cooped up in a dingy apartment, I instead walked for an hour. When I got back to the beach house, I called that one a win and collapsed on the couch and took a nap.

The afternoons were another challenge, with nothing requiring my attention or time I found it difficult to not fall into the routine that dominated my divorced lifestyle back in Quincy. On my third morning in the beach house I spotting a person out on the ocean paddling a kayak that gave me the idea to buy one of my own. Whose purchase had striking similarities to the one of my new truck.

The saleslady showed me all the high end kayaks and cool gear and unlike the overly fashion conscious truck salesman, I bought everything the lady suggested. Her sale included the ultra comfy deluxe seat, carbon fiber paddle, bright orange life vest with the attached gizmo that flashes so the Coast Guard could find my dumbass at night, and survival backpack stuffed with neat items should I decided to get shipwrecked and play Robinson Crusoe.

Eager to tryout my toy, I rushed back to the beach house, put on my high tech life jacket and was paddling out into the ocean just minutes later. Oh, it was so easy to get into the feel of adventure and freedom and I continued paddling out far longer than a novice should dare. What brought me back to my senses was noticing several rather large jellyfish near the surface of the water. Having the basic knowledge of such creatures, I decided to slowly paddle out of their area fearing I might overturn and get really intimate with them on a far too personal basis.

That was when I noticed the thunderstorm coming from the west. The menacing dark clouds seemed to stretch across the entire sky as I continued to gently turn my kayak around then proceeded to try and race the jellyfish back to shore. That's about the time I saw the dorsal fin breaking the surface of the water to my left on a direct intercept course for me. As my arms worked the double edged paddle for some strange reason I was hit with the bizarre desire to watch the movie Jaws and then dig out the old copy of Old Man and the Sea from my storage box.

“Hello Mr. Shark,” I said to my new toothy friend as it fell in alongside my kayak. “Out for an afternoon swim?” I asked as the urgency to get my ass back on dry land increased exponentially. It wasn't just the shark that was making me paddle faster, the evil looking thunderstorm was drawing closer to my area almost as if the jellyfish, my toothy friend, and it were in a rush to play an elaborate practical joke on any fool on a small boat way too far out on the ocean. As I paddled, visions of tragic television news flashes began forming in my head.

“How about this one Mr. Shark,” I said to my swimming companion. “Stupid winner of the Gigabucks Lottery washes ashore half eaten and sporting thousands of jellyfish stings.” Mr. Shark was silent, a sign that I took to mean he was carefully considering my creativeness.

“Oh this is a good one, Gigabuck Lottery winner struck dead by lightning just as soon as he steps ashore from an ill-planned afternoon kayak excursion.” I offered to my shark friend. This time Mr. Shark bumped my kayak, I couldn't tell whether it was from liking my new suggestion or not but in truth I didn't want to know.

At some point the jellyfish had wandered off, no loss they were snobbish pricks anyway. But I was quite surprised to notice Mr. Shark stayed with me up until I was in about a foot of water. Just as the bottom of my kayak bumped the sand, it turned around and headed back out to sea. “Thanks buddy,” I called out to it as I hastily jumped off my toy and dragged it back onto land.

I didn't know quite what to think when Mr. Shark energetically trashed its rear fin as it headed back out to deeper water. Was it a dignified “your welcome and thank you for the conversation” or just frustration that the hairless and largely clueless primate didn't do anything quite stupid enough to end up an early dinner for it and the rest of the local ocean food chain?

Optimism hadn't been one of my strong points since the divorce. But as I sat on the warm sand feeling the first drops of rain begin to hit my head the thought that I had finally had a decent workout did bring a smile to my face.

With the jellyfish giving up early, and Mr. Shark apparently not in the mood to try and make me a meal, the incoming thunderstorm deciding not to give me any shit and fizzled out before reaching my location. I used the opportunity to drag the kayak underneath the beach house and secure it to one of the embed pylons the structure was built on top. After getting cleaned up, I decided to reward my workout and corresponding brush with ocean life by grilling one of the really expensive steaks I bought from the fancy grocery store.

From the day of my arrival the propane-fueled grill included with the beach house was a source of wonder for me. Made of stainless steel, it had six main burners, with two additional ones on each side. Somehow it looked sleek and mean and as I raised the cover and ignited the burners a thrill went through my body I couldn't explain. Not to sound like an insensitive male pig, but the excitement going through my head seemed on par with how some women react at the sight of a perfect pair of shoes.

Whatever the case, when I dropped the ten ounce Kansas City Strip on the grill the sound of the meat sizzling was like a multitude of angels singing in heaven. For a couple of glorious minutes I watched the meat cook while whispering a profound thanks to the cow that lived a dreadful life and suffered through a horrific death for my pleasure and sustenance. After precisely adjusting the grill temperature settings, I walked through the screen-in section of the porch and into the house to make a salad and microwave the potato that would join me for dinner along with that beautiful piece of meat.

I'm not sure what caught my attention but as I was washing lettuce a profound disturbance in the Force rippled through my mind, body, and soul. I quickly walked back to the doorway where the screen-in porch joined the rest of the house and saw Mystery Lady's German Shepherd standing on its hind legs while it used its front paws to pull my precious steak closer to its drooling mouth.

“Get the flying frak away from my meal you mangy mutt!” I yelled at the dog who briefly looked over at me before going for broke and using its mouth to grab the steak. Before I could get back outside the dog was running down the stairs and onto the beach with my expensive steak.

A better man might have let it go, by that time my fascination with the Mystery Lady had faded with me resigning myself to the idea it was just another hopeless fantasy. But dammit, I had earn that steak and I was sure as hell wasn't letting it go easily. So I gave chase, fueled by the gross injustice of the situation my reality narrowed down to the gold and black, four-legged furry criminal in front of me. But in hindsight my chase was just like a dog who foolishly goes after a car, if in fact I was able to catch Max I had absolutely no idea what I do next. It wasn't like I could take back my half-cooked steak and eat it like I planned. But as I ran by amused and puzzled residents of the small island the endgame didn't really matter.

The section of Pawleys Island I was staying consisted of three rows of beach houses. The first was situated on the ocean itself, the second was naturally set in the middle between the two streets running the length of that section of the island. The back row looked out upon the marsh running between the island and the mainland. Max the steak stealing canine centered his attention on one of the houses next the marsh and bounded up the raised steps and through a busted section of the screen door disappearing from view.

By the time I made it to the house and up the steps my body was sending urgent messages about imminent failure to my brain. With my remaining energy, I knocked on the screen door unable to see anything inside the house. There was no immediate answer but in the background I thought I heard sounds of paws running up steps.

“Dammit Max,” I heard what I assumed was Mystery Lady's voice coming from a second story window, “just what trouble have you caused now! Oh my God, where in the hell did you get that steak?” She finished asking what I assumed was a rhetorical question. I wasn't judging, hell I had carried on a conversation with a shark earlier.

I knocked again and heard something whispered from the second story window and then footsteps coming down the stairs. By now the anger was gone replaced with a renewed interest in the Mystery Lady. The absence of a male voice from inside the house had given new confidence to that small portion of my brain that clings desperately to lost and hopeless causes. Of course, a more cynical portion of the squishy gray matter between my ears suddenly became active reminding me that just because no husband or boyfriend was currently present wasn't proof he didn't exist. Adding insult to injury, the cynical part of my brain then added that if Mystery Lady turned out to be single there was no rule that said she would be interested in me.

As I inwardly cursed my own thoughts sabotaging my self-esteem Mystery Lady appeared at the door.

“Hi,” she said before gasping. “Oh my God, you're the guy Max slammed into on the beach a couple of days ago. I guess the steak he's chewing in the living room is your? I'm so sorry, I was working upstairs and didn't realize he had busted out of the house.”

With Mystery Lady standing in front of me, I naturally found myself unable to speak. It took a force of will equal to anything I had ever done before to just nod my head yes. At least time seemed to stop to allowing me to gather my few wits. She looked to be in her forties and a touch above average height. Her shoulder length brunette hair went well with her brown eyes that seemed curious and maybe even welcoming. As far as weight went, I could tell she had a much better body fat index than me, almost to the point she could be called athletic. But most of all, I saw she wasn't wearing a wedding ring.

“Yeah, Max is guilty on both counts, but it's okay.” I said finally. “My name is Jason Lance by the way.” I added suddenly.

“Can I pay you for the damage and trouble he caused?” Mystery Lady asked making a motion to turn away but not breaking eye contact with me.

A ridiculous image of the cynical part of my brain looking like my ex-wife appeared in my head. It was laughing and saying I was about to totally screw things up with this woman. That's when I decided to go for broke.

“Actually no, I'll forget about the whole thing if you met me some place for dinner tonight. Of course, after I go back to my house, turn off the grill, and change into clothes that are only slightly more presentable than the dirty things I'm wearing now.”

Mystery Lady laughed, “Sure I'd like that a lot. In fact, I'll pick you up at your place in about an hour, okay. There's a nice Italian restaurant I've been wanting to try.”

“Awesome!” I said with the enthusiasm of a stupid teenager. “I live at...” I started to say.

“I know where you live, Jason Lance,” Mystery Lady said. “ I saw you unload your kayak earlier this afternoon and paddle out.”

“Oh okay, I'll run home now and get ready.” With that we said goodbye for now and I began walking home.

“Hey Jason Lance,” Mystery Lady called out from her busted screen door. “My name is Robyn Egan by the way.” She finished giving me the warmest smile I had seen in a long time. Again feeling that teenage curse, I waved and tried laughing at myself.

4 comments:

Pixel Peeper said...

I like the humor that's starting to appear in this story!

Harry Hamid said...

A lot of potential food chain action going on here, although I'm glad the shark didn't get Jason. That would make Chapter Eight a little odd.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Yeah, my original intention was for the entire story to be at least somewhat funny. But serious matters started appearing and I just went with the flow. I guess I should find an old literature teacher of mine and tell her I finally understand how some stories take on a life of their own.

Harry: If my plans for Jason go like I want, he'll have another chance with the wilds of nature.

The Bug said...

I enjoyed this chapter a lot! That shark seemed to be behaving like a dolphin - ha! And I'm still suspicious of Robyn :)