Saturday, July 30, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda: Serial Part 1

When the woman sat beside me on the plane, I had to try and stop myself from staring. Not only was she unusually beautiful, she was unusually dressed for plane travel. The top half of her red dress was, well, body-hugging some impressive curves. The bottom half was tight around her hips but, below, it exploded into cascades of ruffles. She looked like a dancer … a flamenco dancer. I found this just slightly odd, because even assuming she was traveling straight to her performance venue, wouldn't she have means after her arrival to change from her street clothes into costume?

As she sat beside me, taking the window seat, I tried not to look ridiculous. It's hard not to look ridiculous when you look like me – a ginger-headed, pasty freckle face – but, I mean, I hoped I wasn't drooling or looking like a fish that had forgotten to close its mouth. She turned her face towards me, and, for a moment, it was like she was in a shampoo commercial, one where there is a fan blowing and, instead of blowing the style apart, every hair flows into its perfect place. Maybe, it was a York Peppermint Pattie commercial that was supposed to have wind whipping through your hair. I know I was getting sensations even without eating a York Peppermint Pattie. I tried to speak, but nothing came out.

I tried again. “Are you a dancer?”

She shook her head at me, and her dark, wavy hair was still perfect. “Yes, I dance, but that is not my main business.”

“Oh, well … I … ahem, I thought you looked like a performer.”

“I am a performer. I'm a magician.”

“You mean a magician's assistant?”

Her eyes turned icy for a moment. “You think women can't do magic?”

“Well, I … you're … It's just that you're so beautiful, and aren't magicians supposed to have beautiful assistants?”

She smiled at that.

“What do you have, beautiful male assistants?”

I gave a sideways glance to my buddy Jack, seated by the aisle, and I thought I detected a slight eye roll on his part. Jack probably disapproved of my infatuation. He usually did. Though I hated it, I knew he was motivated by a sense of protectiveness, wanting to shield me from what was often my poor judgment.

“Are you applying for the job?” As if to prove her skills of magic, a business card announcing her as The Great Zarelda suddenly appeared in her hand. She tucked it into my front shirt pocket and then pressed it with her hand. It felt like a warm iron against my chest. I was going to melt right here on the airplane floor, and Jack wold have to mop me up to bring his buddy home.

“Fascinating,” I said, pressing the card in my pocket.“I'll have to look you up and see one of your performances.” My tongue was loosening up. “We have something in common. We're in the toy business.” I pointed my thumb at Jack.

Jack looked her way and grinned. We were just returning to New Jersey from a Toy Expo in Dallas, and Jack had traded in his fedora for a white cowboy hat, a souvenir from our trip. The cowboy hat had a hatband decorated with silver worked in the style of western buckles. I thought he looked more like a cartoon character than Chuck Norris.

The Great Zarelda touched my arm. “We have something in common how?”

“Well, you know … entertainment, fun, kids ...”

“Oh, I don't perform for kids.”

I really wasn't certain if she was saying that her tricks were much too sophisticated for children's birthday parties or if her shows were inappropriate for kids … and I was afraid to ask. I shifted my focus to the in-flight magazine in the pocket in front of me, not really sure what to say.

A cowboy ballad, one Jack had subjected me to on the trip, came to mind. “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl. Night times would find me in Rosa's Cantina. Music would play, and Felina would whirl …” I wasn't absolutely certain the Great Zarelda was Mexican, but her Latin-style dress and our former location seemed to suggest that idea to me.

Suddenly, I felt the lovely Zarelda's leg rest against my calf. Flamenco dancers were playing castanets in my chest, and I thought I might just implode. This woman was so bold and forthright. Ordinarily, it look me years to make this sort of progress with a woman, which, I suppose, would explain why I'm nearing 40 years old and am still single. On average, it took me five years to realize a woman was actually flirting with me.

I glanced to my right and could plainly see Zarelda's legs were not near me, and it was only her voluminous skirt that was touching me. Her ankles were daintily crossed and almost seemed to be angling slightly away from me. Even so, I still felt something warm and even pulsating against my leg. Did beautiful women drive men to madness just like the sirens did for Ulysses and his men? If so, I must have progressed to the delusional stage.

I looked over at her lap and the cascades of ruffles on her skirt. Could my imagination be that confusing? Did she have deceivingly wide calves beneath that ankle-length skirt? It seemed incredible, considering how lithe and slender her upper half was. Was that nearest black T-strap heel attached to a prosthesis and her natural leg in a different position than I supposed? I decided that no matter what deformity she might be hiding, I was her devoted slave. Nonetheless, If I were a cat, I'd be on my eighth life just now, having lost number nine to curiosity. 

As I bent down and retrieved my Daniel Silva thriller from my carry-on bag, I had the notion to have a peek under her skirt, not lifting it scandalously high like Marilyn Monroe's dress over the subway grate, but just a momentary "accidental" flipping of a ruffle, so I could see a bit of a calf or ankle. I felt like a twelve-year-old boy, an evil twelve-year-old, as I fumbled my book below her skirt and gave her ruffles a flip as I pulled it out. "Pardon me," I said. I saw nothing unusual but a pair of shapely legs, what I could see of them. Sitting up with my book, however, there was now a bright blue feather sitting on its cover. I secretly pocketed this treasure. Zarelda was either wearing some very exotic undergarments or she had lost a feather from a hat or hair accessory that had somehow clung to her skirt. Clearly, Zarelda was not your run of the mill woman.

She turned to me, smiling, a curious look in her eyes. Did she know what I just did and that it wasn't so accidental? "What's your shirt size?"

"Excuse me?" I didn't realize we were in the "What's your shirt size?" stage of our relationship. A slightly modified pop song came to mind, "I just met you, and this is crazy, but what's your shirt size and call me maybe." 

"If you're going to be my assistant, I will need to get you a costume."

"Oh. Costume. You're serious."

To Be Continued ... 
© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Lit Club Mystery: A Grace Darby Mystery (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1 ...

Grace did go get coffee at Beatnik Beans, a hangout for the artsy and Bohemian students, where the walls were covered in poetic graffiti. She also fixed her hair so that it was halfway between Gibson girl and uptight librarian.

She took a sip of her Kerouac kaffee and pondered the mystery of the message in the book. She sat alone in her favorite spot, the right rear corner near the wall, with a small leather-bound journal and pen, alternating between doodling roses, notes on the Brownings, and, on the flip side of the page, notes on the mystery of the book. Was that really intended to be a message? Why, in this modern world of emails, text messages and social media, would it be necessary to communicate by this strange method? Maybe the careful person was simply fond of puzzles. Then again, perhaps, pencil marks are more easily erased than electronic files. Perhaps the careful person didn't intend the message for a specific person but for anyone able to decipher the puzzle. That didn't make sense though. “Do not pick up articles,” was not a sensible message to give to a random person. She'd seen how well that went. The only way that made sense is that there was a former plan to pick up the something, and this new message canceled it. Why did she allow this to distract her? It might still be a whole lot of nonsense, and she was reading something into nothing. Maybe she was the one who was simply fond of puzzles.

She tried to put it out of her mind and was mostly successful until she passed the same private study room at the library once more later that week. It was not a red book this time but a small coverless paperback, still carefully centered on the table with almost mathematical precision. The room was empty of students. Grace entered. Again, she hated to stir the position of the book. She sat down at the table and leaned in on her elbows. The little book was a Bantam Classics copy of “Crime and Punishment.” Would there be underlines in this one?

She flipped past the book's introduction since this seemed to fit the pattern from last time. She saw it then on page three, towards the bottom of the page, the single word “go” underlined. On page four, in the second paragraph, two words were underlined, “do it.” Go do it. On page six, towards the very bottom, “get” was underlined. On page seven, single letters were underlined, the R in Raskolnikov, and the U in confusion. She scanned the paragraph for underlined letters and wrote them down. R-U-S-S-I-A-N. Russian. The underlined letters spelled out “Russian,” which was fitting considering the book they were found in. It couldn't be considered coincidental any longer, could it? Then, towards the bottom of page seven, she saw another underlined word, “drink.” Go do it. Get Russian drink. She didn't find any more underlines after that. It seemed to end there.

What sort of Russian drinks were there? Vodka was the first drink to come to mind. That's what this was about? A college drinking party? College binge drinking? Why such an elaborate method to going about getting liquor? Was it some sort of wacky fraternity stunt? She thought of Zachary and his fraternity pin. Maybe she should tell the dean about a potential upcoming party, only she felt half insane explaining how she got her information. What could she do about it? What could she ever do about it? She'd seen a lot of students half ruin themselves this way. A couple of years ago, one of her students died from binge drinking. He'd had so much potential. He was a sensitive poet and a promising trombone player. She sighed and tried to push that memory from her mind.

Later, that morning, Grace quizzed her poetry class students. As her students were all quietly marking their Scantron sheets, she noticed something odd, some movement under the tablet arm of one of the chairs. She walked the aisle between the chairs. It was her student, Devin, a baby-faced thing with dark thick-framed glasses who could pass for a high school sophomore rather than a college sophomore. He had a Rubik's Cube in his left hand held under the desk. He'd mark his paper, twist the Rubik's Cube, mark the paper again, twist the Rubik's Cube, in an alternating pattern. Grace had seen many methods of cheating in her career, but this was the first time she'd seen cheating by Rubik's Cube.

“Let me see that Rubik's Cube, Devin.” As she approached his desk chair, she brushed it and knocked a pencil to the floor, an extra pencil. He already had the pencil he was using in his hand.

He handed it to her, and she rotated it in her hand, examining it for notes or markings. She found nothing unusual.

“I'm not cheating, Ms. Darby. I know the material.” He bent down to retrieve the fallen pencil off the floor and arranged it next to a Pink Pearl eraser at the top of his desk. He kept tweaking their positions so that the eraser and pencil were completely flush and evenly spaced from each other.

Normally, she would assume it was true that he knew the material. Devin seemed to be clever, a diligent student and a Lit Club member. Maybe it was really another student he was helping, and his method had nothing to do with markings on the cube but some sort of signal with the number of twists or the placement of his fingers on the squares.

“I hope that's true, Devin, but I think I'll hang onto it for now. You can get it after class.”

“I swear it's not cheating, Ms. Darby. It's just something I need to do.”

Devin's neighbor turned to her and whispered, “He's a whiz at the Rubik's Cube. He goes to conventions and races to solve them. He's really good too.” Grace simply nodded and put a finger over her mouth.

As she passed his desk a second time, again, she brushed too close and knocked a pencil to the ground. Once more, Devin retrieved it from the floor and tweaked its position on the desk to his liking. After she'd returned to the front of the class, she noticed Devin's hand fiddling under the desk as if with a phantom cube.

To Be Continued ...

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Monday, July 18, 2016

Summer Reading: Mystery Book Review of "Shaken" by J.A. Konrath

"Shaken" by J.A. Konrath

This book was not what I initially expected. I purchased the book some time back when it was promoted directly to my Kindle. By the time I came arond to reading it, a few days ago, I had forgotten any book description. The title and cover art seemed to suggest a cozy mystery to me. After only reading a few pages, I could see that this mystery involved a serial killer and a very gruesome crime, gruesome along the lines of Hannibal Lecter, or, in true crime, Jeffrey Dahmer.

Actually, the book has elements of both a thriller and a cozy mystery. Considering the disturbing nature of the crimes, the author does spare us highly graphic descriptions. Even so, psychologically speaking, the suggestion of these crimes is still quite disturbing. Towards the end of the book, the writer, via his characters, seems to almost make a humorous self-reference. Since I don't think it contains any spoilers, I'll include the excerpt.

Just before the excerpt, a policeman describes a scene from a thriller novel he read.

"'Nice,' I said, wondering what sort of a warped mind could think up something like that I'd hate to meet one of those thriller writers in person.
'It was actually pretty good. Held back on some of the really gross stuff. Sort of like Stephen King-lite.'"

That excerpted bit might give you an idea of the writer's style.

Between the more intense scenes and scenes with some gruesome suggestions, there is quite a bit of humor, mostly in the interactions between the main heroine and her male police partners, which provide some comic relief. Some of this humor is rather crude. Her partner Harry McGlade is presented as an "uncouth" character. Occasionally, between the disgusting nature of the crime and the crude jokes, I felt like I needed a brain scrub, but I kept on reading. I wanted to see the crime solved. I wanted to see justice done, and most of all, I wanted to see the heroine survive and overcome her danger.

In the very beginning, the heroine is kidnapped by the killer. I felt optimistic however, knowing this woman has a police background, and the story, in parts, is told from her point of view. This gave me hope that there would be a positive outcome.

The title "Shaken" and the drink shaker on the cover art is having a little fun with the main character's name. She is Jacqueline Daniels, aka Jack Daniels. Other books in the series also have drink references in the title. Jack Daniels, at this point in her story, is a former policewoman who is now a private investigator.

The story flips back and forth between scenes in different time periods, the present time and Jack's captivity and scenes from her former investigations with her partner or former partner, Harry McGlade and Herb Benedict. Gradually more information is revealed as the mystery is unraveled.

Because the writer uses his initials, I did not know until I finished reading that he was a man. As I read, I changed my mind several times whether or not the writer was more likely to be a man or a woman. The main sleuth we are concerned with is a woman after all. The crude "guy humor" among the male police partners was one element that caused me to think the writer was more likely male. In another observation, I really felt the understanding of female psychology was quite good, and that's not something I always feel when reading about female characters from a male writer's perspective.

Not all of the humor is crude in nature. I did find the interactions between the officers to be interesting and entertaining and began to feel like they were rather interesting characters I could know.

Over all, it's an interesting blend of light and dark.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Music To Be Cheerful By: A List of 15 with Video Links

When someone asks me a simple question like "What music do you like?" I find myself stumped. The best answer to that question is something like "I have eclectic tastes." I can't say, as I've heard others say, that "I like everything," because I don't like everything indiscriminately. I would probably need to talk to you for hours before you'd really know the answer to that question. I do like music from multiple genres including a lot of older music from decades that predate me.

I also like different styles of music for different moods and activities, one sort of playlist for exercise, another sort of playlist for relaxing, etc. For this post, I've compiled a list of fifteen songs to be cheerful by.

One category of music I have been exploring a lot lately is acapella music, including Youtubers who do multitracking videos, overdubbing their own voices, singing the full range of parts. Acapella music may sometimes be classified as a genre, but really that category can cover a wide range of styles, sometimes by the same group or artist. Styles can range from Renaissance madrigals, turn of the century barbershop music, doo wop, Broadway, movie soundtracks, today's pop, almost any style.

I was really impressed with Youtuber Sam Robson's mult-track version of Disney's "Everybody Wants To Be a Cat" with 120 overdubbed voices and percussion and instrument voices all made with the human voice or claps.

1) "Everybody Wants To Be a Cat" from The Aristocats -- Sam Robson

I couldn't include the first song in the list without "I Want To Be Like You," because I like them equally well. Jungle Book soundtrack is special to me. It was one of the first albums I had as a child, and I still think the music is great. 

2) "I Want To Be Like You" from Jungle Book -- Sam Robson

3) "Lemonade" -- Alex Boye

I first discovered Alex Boye through a viral video of him performing an African tribalized version of Disney's "Let It Go" from Frozen. Boye is an American musician born in England of Nigerian parents. I've explored many of his other songs, and I'm really enjoying his Africanized covers of popular songs, giving known songs a very different interpretation with his own unique flavor. The uplifitng "Lemonade" song, however, is his original.

I also love his rendition of Pharrell Williams' "Happy," collaborating with the One World Children's Choir. The fun colorful video with child mermaids and Boye as Gru from Despicable Me was filmed at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah. He worked with the same choir on "Let It Go." I noticed a commenter on that video asking why there was a choir of white children involved in the Africanized rendition of the song, and seeming to suggest some sort of prejudice was at work. A second commenter pointed out that Boye had creative control over his project and must have chosen the artists with whom he'd work. If he doesn't mind, why should we? With all the recent race conflicts, it's nice to keep in mind that not everyone is racist and that there are artistic partnerships like this and melding of different cultural sounds.

4) "Happy" (Pharrell Williams) -- Alex Boye

I love Boye's version of "Royals" as well, and I was not particularly enthused about the original. This one seems to have even more of a traditional African sound than in these other samples, so you may want to check that out also.

On the African theme, after having a Kenyan Maasai man visit with me in May, I very much liked seeing this video of violinist Lindsey Sterling filmed in Kenya. I think I recognize Maasai people in this video too, the people in red doing a jumping dance. 

5) "We Found Love" (Rihanna) -- Lindsey Sterling

I find the "Brave" song by Sara Bareilles very moving. It has an uplifting message, and it brings  to my mind young people standing up to bullying. This rendition is sung by a very pregnant Evynne Hollens, wife of Peter Hollens, a multitracking Youtube star.

6) "Brave" (Sara Bareilles) -- Evynne Hollens

7) "I See the Light" from Tangled -- Claire Ryan

You will fall in love with little three-year-old Claire Ryan singing with her father in this beautiful reenactment from Disney's Tangled

8) "Ou est ma Tete?" -- Pink Martini

Although this song by Pink Martini may seem to be a song about loss, the lyrics are clever and fun, the music is playful and the accompanying video makes it a love song between a man and his dog (with a happy ending.) The French lyrics are fun. Here's a translation, "I lost my head in St. Honore Road. I searched for it here and there. I did not find it. Tell me. Where is my head? I lost my arms in the Place de l'Opera. I did not find them. I searched here and there. Tell me. Where are my arms? Since I lost you, I am in pieces on the avenue, and I can not pick up the pieces of myself. Repair me, my very dear, because I am not whole. I need you, only you, and what's more, I love you. I lost my nose in front of the Bon Marche. I searched here and there. I did not find it. Tell me. Where is my nose? Return to me, darling. My nose doesn't matter. It's you who can complete me.  ,,, I lost my feet at the Saint-Germain-de-Pre. I searched here and there. I could not find them. Tell me. Where are my feet? ... "

9) "Istanbul Not Constantinople" (They Might Be Giants) -- Julien Neel

This song's playful rhythm and fun lyrics always helps put me in a good mood. One of the better known recordings is the 1990 by They Might be Giants, but the original version came out in 1953 by the Four Lads. Julien Neel of France has a variety of multi-track videos and collaborations with other singers and musicians.

10) "Mister Ed theme song" -- Julien Neel

When I'm in a truly happy mood, extremely goofy songs come to mind, like camp songs from childhood. I was delighted that Julien recorded this silly song, and I appreciate all the personality that comes out in his expressions in this video. 

I remember a time in my college years when I was visiting my brother and his wife. My sister-in-law and I would sit up watching Nick at Nite until midnight and it was time to pack a lunch for my brother who worked a night shift. "Mister Ed" came on at that time of night, and there was something about the late hour that made the show seem exaggeratedly funnier than it would at some other time. Each night, I got the giggles every time the horse (supposedly) sang, "I am Mr. Ed."  

Not only do I enjoy many different varieties of music, I sometimes like unusual meldings of styles or reinterpretations of well-known songs in new styles. Some of these may qualify as parodies. I've loved Brahms' "Hungarian Dance Number Five" ever since a duo from my high school played it for competition. This duo below play this Brahms piece in its original version and in a Latin jazz arrangement. 

11) Brahms' Hungarian Dance Salsa Style, Piano Duo -- Tal Zilber and Eyran Katsenelenbogen

12) "I Want You Bach" -- The Piano Guys

Then there is this interesting mash up of the 1770s and the 1970s in a fun new version of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" ... with a harpsichord?

Very often, I prefer Postmodern Jukebox's reinventions of current or moden pop hits, reworking them as 1920s jazz or 1960s surf rock or 1950s doo wop, or, in this case, Motown.

13) "Shake It Off" (Taylor Swift) '60s Motown style -- Postmodern Jukebox

14) "Good Old Days/New Songs Medley" -- Main Street barbershop quartet

In this medley, you hear a variety of 2015 hits as you've never heard them before, with a lot of humor worked into the act. 

15) "In Christ Alone" -- Caleb Hyles 

This may be a bit of a mood change from the earlier goofiness, but this is still a song to be cheerful by, for me, in a much more meaningful way. Caleb Hyles sings a variety of styles, Broadway, Disney, songs from movies and TV, but I was very happy to hear him sing this spiritual song.  It is partly a tribute to Christina Grimmie, the "Voice" contestant, who was killed in Orlando. If this seems sobering in a list of cheerful songs, I'm reminded that, if this message is true, and I believe it is, her pain is gone and replaced by great joy. Hyles links to a site where you can donate to help Pulse Club victims and Grimmie's family.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Lit Club Mystery: A Grace Darby Mystery

Introduction: Grace Darby first appeared in a few episodes of a suspense serial in New Jersey Life and Leisure. The story below actually has no relationship to the story line formerly published. I hope to develop that story line, The Poetry Stalker, into a novel, and perhaps, some day, there will be two mystery series, one for Grace and one for Andy Westin and Jack Donegal, aka the Action Men. This first segment of a short story is a bit different than Action Men with Silly Putty but still a bit on the light side. 

The Lit Club Mystery

Grace did not know why she noticed the book. This was a library, and it was not unusual for libraries to have books. It was just that this book was so perfectly centered on the table, in a private study room with no students, as if it were waiting for someone who never came. She'd passed the room several times now, and its red cover caught her eye.

Perhaps, she needed some distraction, some procrastination, but she came closer to the glass door of the room and read the book's title, Masterpieces of Mystery Selected by Ellery Queen: The Supersleuths. This caught her attention, because she liked mysteries. She didn't come to the library to read mysteries however. She'd come to delve into the Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett, and prepare for her class of lit major sophomores. Procrastination won out, and she entered the room.

She picked up the book and soon regretted it. She would never be able to get it back to its exact former position. She had a feeling it was placed there by a careful person who would notice its misplacement. For some reason, she did not want to sit with her back to the door but sat on the opposite side of the table facing it.

The first story in the book was “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” by Arthur Conan Doyle, a nice one. She then noticed there was a single underlined word on the page, “do,” underlined in pencil. Why? As a professor, she'd seen lots of books with all sorts of handwritten notes, but why outline that single word and no others? Did it make any sense for emphasis? She read the whole sentence it belonged in. “'Why do you not write them yourself?' I said with some bitterness.'” No, it did not make sense. If any word should be emphasized, it should be “yourself” or maybe “why.” She flipped a page, and there was a word underlined on this page also, on the right hand side. The word was “not.” She flipped another page and, again, more underlined words, this time two together, “pick up.” She flipped another page still and the underlined word was “articles.” Very odd. “Do not pick up articles.” The underlined words formed a perfectly grammatical sentence. Coincidental or not? And were these articles as in newspaper or magazine articles or articles in the Conan Doyle sense as in things?

“Oh Grace, you're a little idiot,” she said aloud, with no one to hear her but the book. “It's just paranoia. That's all there is to it. Paranoia, and procrastination and too much imagination and late nights watching thrillers in an empty apartment.”

Focus, Grace, focus. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … let me count … let me count … let me … count … count

She was sitting in a velvet lined armchair at 221b Baker Street, listening to Watson recite Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary. How sweet Mrs. Hudson was bringing her a cup of tea, Earl Grey. Mrs. Hudson or was it Miss Lemon? No, this was all wrong. For Pete's sake, she'd jumped books. Miss Lemon, Poirot's secretary, didn't belong in the 19th century or in Arthur Conan Doyle.

Grace woke up seeing red … the red book, its embossed leather cover leaving scalloped impressions in her cheek. She sat up and fumbled in her purse for her cell phone to check the time. 8:30 a.m.? 8:30 a.m., not p.m.? I've slept here all night? They must not have noticed her in this room when they closed the library for the night. She breathed a sigh of relief, remembering her next class was not until 10:00. Even so, what a royal mess she was.

She saw a male figure in gold and royal blue pass the glass door, seeming to look her way. The careful person? She rubbed her eyes, scooped up her things and hurried out the door of the study room.

She charged out with her armload of books and ran into a hard obstacle, the figure in gold and royal blue who had paced back to where he had started. Poetry books fell like hail all around her.

“Ms. Darby!”

“Hi Zach.” She recognized the student. He'd been in her freshman English requirement class last semester. He wasn't a literature fan, but he seemed like a nice boy. She reached out her hand. If he was the careful person, the sort with germophobic tendencies, she thought he'd shy away from this

He grasped her hand and gave it a squeeze and a shake. The right side of his mouth pulled up in a sort of crooked smile. “Ms. Darby, your hair. It looks different.”

She'd slept all night with her face smashed into a book. She was quite sure her hair looked different!

“You look like one of those girls in the vintage Coke ads.”

“A Gibson girl? I look like a Gibson girl?”

“Sure.” He shrugged. “If that's what it's called.”

She reached up a hand and felt at the back of her head. She'd been wearing a French roll which had come partially loose. “Is that a good thing?”

“It suits you, Ms. Darby.”

She made a mental note that if she fell asleep with her head on a desk, she'd have the perfect look for the turn of the century.

“Well, let me get those books for you.” He kneeled down and began to collect the books. Grace squatted down as well. Zach read off titles as he handed her a few volumes, “Sonnets of the Portuguese? Love Letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Ms. Darby, if I ever need to impress a girl, I'll know who to talk to.”

“You can always join us at Lit Club on Thursday nights.”

“I know.”

“I see you've gone Greek,” she said, noting the Phi Sigma Delta pin on the collar of his rugby shirt. “I remember you said you were pledging when you were in my class.”

“Good memory.”

“Well, thank you for picking up my books, and speaking up picking up things, have you any plans to pick up … some … some articles?”

Zach stared at her like she'd grown a fifth appendage. “Articles? I usually read articles online.”

“Me too,” said Grace, clearing her throat. “I do most of my article reading online. Well, I just thought that if you were going to pick up some articles … that maybe you shouldn't.” She suddenly remembered that the sentence spelled out from the underlines had said not to pick up. Perhaps she gave the wrong advice. “Or maybe you should.” She cleared her throat again. “Let your conscience be your guide.”

He continued to look at her like she was an alien life form, and she felt fully deserving of that.

“I … I haven't had my coffee yet,” she said, glad to be able to grasp at this excuse.

He smiled his crooked smile again. “I understand the feeling, Ms. Darby.”

To Be Continued …  

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark