Hair Of the Dog

[Here’s a follow up to my story Cheeseburger In Paradise. And maybe the beginning of another Bucks County Novel… maybe?]

Kerry Donovan felt like someone had placed tiny little cotton socks on each of his teeth. He rolled over and his stomach rolled in the opposite direction. Steady, steady now… He opened an eye. It was light out. Very light, in fact. And the last thing he remembered was dancing (dancing?!?) in a dark corner of Martha’s Tavern with a gorgeous brunette. He cautiously picked his head up from the pillow and realized he was on his parents’ sofa. Apparently, Martha did have to call his daddy to come pick him up. Great. His first night in town and he’d gotten blind drunk. No doubt he’d made a fool of himself, too. “Way to go, dumb ass,” he muttered to himself.

He lay staring at the ceiling for a minute and listened. The house was quiet except for the whir of the ceiling fan. Both his parents were early risers so either it was very late and they were already up and about their business. Or —and he shuddered to think— he had kept them up way past their bedtime with his shenanigans and they were still sleeping.

He tried to remember the events of the previous night. He remembered bearing his soul to Martha, telling her the whole sordid tale of his failed engagement. And then Brianna calling…. She had called, hadn’t she? Kerry cringed. “She just sweet talk you into taking her sorry ass back. That’s what…” Yeah. That’s what Martha had said as she hung up on her. And then she’d introduced him to her baby sister…

Magdalena. He remembered her dark eyes, high cheekbones, her thick lustrous hair. The bee-stung lips he was sure that he’d kissed. He closed his eyes and imagined her scent, the press of her body close to his as they swayed to the soft music on the bar’s sound system. God, he hoped he hadn’t done anything too embarrassing. If he was sticking around, he sure would like to see her again.

He gingerly placed one foot on the floor and then the other. Slowly, steadily he pushed himself to a sitting position. He was still in last night’s clothes, minus his flip flops, and he smelled like beer. It made his stomach roll again. With one hand on his belly and another shading his eyes, he shuffled to the kitchen. The clock on the stove said 9:45. The coffee in the pot was long cold and neither of his parents’ cars were in the driveway. He breathed a tiny sigh of relief. At least that conversation was postponed.

He filled a glass with water, chugged it, filled it again and took it with him to the outside steps that led to the rooms above the garage. After trudging up to the tiny apartment, he searched the medicine cabinet for aspirin, hoped they weren’t expired and downed four of them with his glass of water. He found his toothbrush and scrubbed the ‘cotton socks’ from his teeth. After a shower, he felt nearly human again. He returned to his parents’ kitchen to forage for food. As he was about to pop two slices of bread in the toaster, the doorbell rang.

He peeked through the front window to see who it was. Tall, tanned, her black hair piled on her head and wearing a short, white sundress that showed off her long legs, Magdalena stood at the front door with carry out coffees and a bakery bag in her hand. She spotted him at the window and smiled. Kerry felt like his bones had just dissolved.

“Thought you could use a little hair of the dog, honey,” she said as she floated past him. “It’s Martha’s special hangover cure. Irish coffee and croque monsieur. Salt, sugar, fat and alcohol. If it don’t cure ya, it’ll put ya outta your misery.”

She handed him a cup and the bag. Their fingers touched and he imagined that a jolt of electricity passed between them. Ridiculous. He found his voice. “You want to sit outside?”

“Sure,” she said, giving him the bone melting smile again.

He led her through the house to the lanai overlooking the back yard. They settled in the shade of the ancient live oak, at the antique cafe table his mom had rescued from a second hand store. His stomach rumbled noisily as he unwrapped the melted ham and cheese sandwich. Magdalena laughed and raised her coffee cup in a salute. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

He bit into the sandwich and nearly groaned out loud. Magdalena sat back in her chair and kicked off her sandals. Then tangling her feet with his beneath the table, she made little circles on the inside of his ankle with her big toe. It was all Kerry could do to chew and swallow.

“You were a lot of fun last night, honey,” she said with a mischievous grin.

“Fun?” he repeated, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat. “In uh… what way do you mean? Fun?”

“You got some moves, sugar.”

“Moves?” He winced, realizing he was repeating everything she said.

Her foot moved higher up his leg to stroke his calf. “Oh yeah…” she said.

‘What the hell was that supposed to mean?’ he wondered. He put the remainder of the sandwich down on the foil wrapper and took a big gulp of the whisky laden coffee. He coughed and sucked in air. “Damn! Is there actually any coffee in there?”

She laughed again. “Mm hm. Just enough.”

He sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Look, Magdalena…”

“Maggie’s fine, sugar,” she said gently.

“Ok. Maggie. Listen, I have to be honest… I don’t exactly remember what happened last night. At least not after you sat next to me and we got to talking. So…” he looked at her hopefully.

“Aw, baby. Don’t you worry. We had a lovely evening. Dancing at the bar, walking on the beach, kissing under the moonlight… and…”

He swallowed hard. “Yeah. And?”

She leaned forward so their knees were touching and her face was inches from his. “And you were a perfect gentleman.” She smiled and leaned closer, taking his face between her hands and kissing him softly on the lips. “Much to my chagrin.” He could feel her smile against his mouth as she lingered. He brought his hands up to cover hers and kissed her back. She sighed softly as he deepened the kiss, running his hands down the smooth skin of her arms.

Neither of them were paying enough attention to notice the click of heels on the walkway leading to the lanai. The thud of a suitcase landing hard on the ground finally broke their embrace. Kerry turned and gasped. “Brianna!”

Cheeseburger In Paradise

A Bucks County short story [revised and retitled] by Meg Sorick.

Nobody was expecting him. After all who in their right mind drives to Florida from Pennsylvania on the spur of the moment? Kerry Donovan –that’s who. Although the part about him being in his right mind was questionable. It had taken him eighteen hours to reach St. Martha’s Cove, the tiny Gulf Coast town where his parents had moved after retiring a few years ago.  Back home in Bucks County, Kerry and his brother Leo had taken over their father’s construction business.  

The sun was just lightening the sky as Kerry pulled into his parents’ driveway.  He had thrown some clothes in a duffel bag and taken off without telling anyone where he was going, not even Leo, and chances were pretty good he was going to be pissed.

Ryan Donovan was sitting on the front porch with his coffee and the newspaper.  He tossed it aside and stood when he heard the crunch of gravel.   Kerry saw him open the front door and yell inside.  No doubt announcing to his wife, Sophie, their son’s unplanned arrival. Kerry cut the engine and got out. His muscles were stiff and his back was sore from sitting so long. He barely had time to stretch before his dad was on him.

“Kerry,”  his father said, striding over and putting a hand on his arm.  “What the hell’s going on, son?  You ok?  Is it Leo?”  He gripped Kerry by the shoulders and stared at him hard.  “Brianna.”  He muttered a curse.  “What happened?”

Kerry gave him a shaky smile.  “I took her over to see the house.”

“What?  She didn’t like it?”  Ryan asked.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Sophie Donovan ran outside, still in her pajamas and bare feet.  “Sweetheart!  What on earth…?”  she began.  “Come inside, you look exhausted.  We can talk over coffee.”  She held Kerry’s arm and led him to the house, peppering him with questions the whole way.  Ryan got Kerry’s bag from the truck and followed them inside.

Sophie directed her son to the kitchen table and set a cup of coffee in front of him.  “Now, tell us what’s going on,” she ordered.

Kerry covered his face with his hands, resting his elbows on the table before speaking.  “She called off the wedding.”

“What?!?”  Sophie cried.  “With only three weeks to go?  Oh, sweetie, why?”

Kerry rubbed his eyes.  They felt like sandpaper.  “She’s decided she can’t spend the rest of her life with me.”

“Why the hell not?”  Ryan growled.  “You guys have been dating for over two years and it took her this long to figure that out?” He shook his head in disgust. “At a minimum she shouldn’t have said yes when you asked.”

“I know, Dad,”  Kerry sighed.  “I’ve been asking myself why I didn’t see it coming for the past eighteen hours.”  He gave them the whole story, detail by sordid detail.  “That’s it.  We’re finished.”

“Did you tell your brother?”  Ryan asked.

Kerry shook his head.  “No.” He paused and blew out a breath. “Not ready for the pity party.”

“Well, you can stay here for as long as you like, dear,”  Sophie said patting his hand.  “But you have to call Leo and tell him.  He’ll be worried.”

“Yeah.  Not right now, ok?”  He drained his coffee cup and stood.  “So can I bunk over the garage or do I have to squeeze into that closet you call a spare room?”

“The rooms over the garage are all yours, sweetie.  Let me go get you some towels and sheets,”  his mother said, rising.  “Then I’ll fix you breakfast.”

“Sounds good, Mom.”

***

The setting sun shining through the west-facing window finally roused Kerry from his slumber.  He trudged into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face.  His dark stubble was past the five o’clock shadow stage but he couldn’t have cared less.  On returning to the bedroom, he checked his phone.  There were three missed calls, all from Leo, and one voicemail.  Maybe he’d try and sweet talk his mom into calling Leo back for him.

He pulled a pair of cargo shorts out of his duffel bag and tucked the phone in one of the pockets.  His parents’ bungalow was quiet when he entered through the lanai in the back of the house.  “Mom?  Dad?”  he called out.  No response.  He found a note in the kitchen,  ‘Kerry, we ran out for some extra supplies.  Shouldn’t be gone too long.  Help yourself to whatever you find in the fridge.  Love, Mom.’

He opened the fridge, didn’t see anything that caught his fancy.  He felt like a big greasy burger and about a gallon of beer.  He ran back upstairs for his wallet, left a note for his parents and walked toward the town, looking for a bar.

He found a place facing the beach, right on the edge of town, called Martha’s Tavern.  At first, he thought it was named for St. Martha’s Cove but as he got closer, he saw in smaller letters beneath the sign:  ‘And this Martha ain’t no saint’.  He chuckled.  This was just what he was looking for.  He poked his head in the door and saw a few customers sitting at the bar, a few more playing pool in a small room off to the side.  It looked like a mix of locals and a couple of stray tourists.  Perfect. He found an open seat at the bar and sat down.

A mountain of a woman came over to take his order.  She must have been six feet tall and built like a line backer.  She had a mass of black hair pulled back in a braid and the tattoo of a snake coiling from her thick wrist to her impressive bicep.  She smirked at Kerry’s shocked expression.  “Somethin’ a matter, sugar?”  she drawled.

Kerry blinked and mentally smacked himself.  “Uh, no, no.  Nothing’s the matter.”

“Aw, a Yankee boy.  You down a visit, honey?”

“Uh, yeah, my folks live here,” he replied.

She cocked her head to the side, swinging her long dark braid behind her.  “You sure they ain’t nothin’ wrong, darlin’?”  she asked.  “Lemme getcha a drink and you can tell me ’bout it.  Whatcha havin’?”

Two shots and two beers later, Kerry’s head was spinning.  He hadn’t eaten anything since his mother had forced breakfast on him that morning.  Martha had matched him shot for shot and didn’t seem fazed in the least.  Before she set his third beer in front of him, she went back to the kitchen and returned with a big burger on a kaiser roll, a pile of fries and a pickle.  “Chow down, honey.  Else I’ll have to call your daddy to come getcha.”

Kerry shook his head to clear it.  “How’d you know…?”

She laughed and patted his hand.  Kerry dug into the food while Martha moved down the length of the bar to take care of her other customers.  He nearly groaned with pleasure – this might be the best burger he’d ever had.  Getting a little food in his belly helped to clear his head somewhat, too.  When Martha had refilled everyone’s drinks she came back to Kerry and leaned in close.  “You wanna talk about it?”  she asked gently.  “Might help.”

Kerry found himself pouring out the whole story.  How he’d bought an old run-down house and remodeled it for his soon-to-be bride.  The time and attention he’d put into restoring every detail in the beautiful Craftsman-style bungalow.  Hardwood floors, wood trim, tile in the kitchens and bathrooms.  Stained glass in the window of the front door.  It was his wedding present to her and she’d dumped him on the front porch.

“That girl be crazy, let a handsome young fella like you get away.”  Martha patted his cheek.  “She don’t deserve ya. That’s what. You better off without her.”

The phone in Kerry’s pocket vibrated.  It was probably his mom worrying that he wasn’t home yet.  He answered without looking at the caller ID.  “Hello.”

“Kerry, it’s me,”  Brianna said quietly.  “Can we talk?”

Kerry’s stomach knotted and the shock must’ve shown on his face because Martha frowned.  “What do you want Bri?”

“Kerry, I’ve been thinking…  Maybe… maybe you were right, I was just getting cold feet.  I’m sorry.  I’ve made a huge mistake.  Can you forgive me?  Will you please let me come over so we can talk?”

“Forgive you?  Come over?”  Kerry repeated into the phone.  “Just like that?”  He swallowed hard.  “Bri, I’m in Florida at my parents’ house.”

Across the bar from him, Martha mouthed “That her?” and Kerry nodded.  Martha snatched the phone away from him and hung it up. “Hey!” Kerry protested.

“No good’ll come from that, sugar.  She just sweet talk ya into takin’ her sorry ass back.”  She pushed a fresh beer in front of him.  “You’ll find the right girl, doncha worry none.  In the meantime, set a spell and keep ole Martha company.” She grinned wickedly and gave him a wink.  “Who knows, maybe you’ll meet somebody here.”

Kerry drank deeply from his pint glass and shook his head.  Then for the first time in the last thirty-six hours, he smiled.  Yeah, he would be all right.  He could stay here, fish in the gulf, get himself a tan and help his Dad fix up that old boat he’d bought.  Leo could manage without him for a while.  Winter was coming and business would slow down anyway.  Besides, the weather here was beautiful.  And even better, Brianna was eleven hundred miles away.

Kerry was concentrating on his burger when someone slid onto the stool next to his. He turned his head, intending to be polite and found himself face to face with a stunning brunette. He managed a smile and forced himself to keep his eyes from drifting south to her sinful curves.  With thick black hair, huge dark eyes and full kissable lips, she was breathtaking. She smiled and Kerry went weak in the knees. Martha cleared her throat,  “Sugar? Lemme introduce you to my baby sister.”

Keeping Up Appearances

An older short story, recently revised for an upcoming collection.

Jane awoke with that familiar knot in her stomach. Every day was the same. Her husband sighed and rolled over, silencing the alarm. Jane pretended to sleep through it so that he would be quiet as he readied himself for work. Then, just before he left, he would softly kiss her cheek and whisper, “I love you.” She’d murmur her response and wait until the door closed behind him. Today was just like every other day.

She ran her fingers through her short hair and stepped over the dog as she climbed out of bed. Then after using the toilet, she washed her hands, swapped her glasses for contact lenses and stared at herself in the mirror. The strain was starting to show. Dark circles and fine lines framed her haunted blue eyes. She turned away and shuffled to the kitchen for coffee.

While the Breville heated, she fumbled in the liquor cabinet for just the right bottle. Bourbon? Yes. A shot of Woodford to kick start the motor. Perfect. With a healthy dose added to her mug, she ground the beans, packed the filter with the grind and set the mug beneath it to fill with the extracted coffee.

Rain battered the windows. Her daily walk would be impossible —only a zealot would be out exercising in this weather. She’d be trapped inside. Maybe a double shot was in order. With a heavy sigh, she splashed a little more bourbon in the mug and stirred. Taking the coffee with her, she sat on her sofa and tucked her feet beneath her. How had things gotten to this point? She used to be happy, used to leap out of bed in the morning. When had that changed? She laughed wryly, knowing the answer. Was it already ten years since she’d been manipulated into moving her elderly parents into her home? Her father was gone now and just Mother now occupied the apartment on the ground floor. Jane and her husband had been pushed upstairs into the smaller of the two spaces. Her reverie was broken when her mother hollered up from the bottom of the stairs. “Janie? Are you up yet?”

Jane muttered a curse under her breath. “Yeah, Ma. I’m up.”

“So what’s on the agenda today?” her mother asked, increasing her volume to be heard through the closed door.

“None of your damned business,” Jane muttered. If only she had the guts to say that out loud. “Nothing. Why? You have big plans?” she asked, sarcastically.

“Well, I need some things from the store and the drug store and…” her mother droned on and on, missing the sarcasm. “I was hoping you would go for me.”

“I have clients today, Ma. And it’s pouring. Can it wait?”

“Not really,” her mother whined. “Besides, you aren’t seeing clients ALL day, are you? You’re never that busy…”

“Fine,” Jane replied, ignoring the barb. “I’ll go at lunch.” She sighed. “As usual.”

“Did you hear the news?”

Jane rolled her eyes. Her mother seemed to think she was uninformed just because she didn’t watch the nightly news and the morning news and the noon time news as religiously as her mother did. “No, Ma. What happened?”

“A water main burst in Center City. It flooded an entire neighborhood!”

And this impacted our lives, how? “Oh yeah? That’s too bad.”

“You should see the pictures. It was terrible.”

“I’m sure it was, Ma.”

After a brief rundown of the rest of the broadcast, her mother toddled off to get her breakfast, leaving Jane to her thoughts. She missed her father. He had been the only reason she’d agreed to this badly thought out plan. She’d had three extra years with him and that was a blessing wasn’t it? Jane sighed and drained the last of her spiked coffee as tears filled her eyes. She looked heavenward to keep them from spilling over. “Pull yourself together,” she said to herself.

After she showered and dressed, Jane wandered downstairs through her mother’s part of the house to reach the basement office where she saw clients on most days. Another mistake —they should have devised some way for her to reach the office without having to pass Mother on the way. She was in the kitchen fixing breakfast as Jane strode past.

“You’re not going to let people see you like that, are you?” she asked, turning at the sound of Jane’s footsteps.

Jane looked down at her jeans and black pullover sweater. “What’s wrong with this?”

Her mother sniffed. “It’s awfully casual, don’t you think?”

“I want my clients to feel comfortable with me, Ma. Not intimidated by a business suit or dress.”

“You could at least put on some lipstick,” she grumbled as Jane walked away.

The irony of being of family counselor struck her every time she flipped on the lights and turned on the soothing music in her subterranean work space. Jane checked the time. She had ten minutes before the Hedbergs were due. They were easy. All she had to do was sit and listen while they got their grievances off their chests. After each session, the couple left smiling and holding hands. Jane was nothing more than a means to get them talking.

At lunchtime, she trudged up the two flights of stairs to eat and let the dog out. As she passed through the first floor, she heard the noon news broadcast coming from the TV in her mother’s bedroom. Jane rolled her eyes. She would get a full report when she got her mother’s list of errands.

Lunch was a vodka martini with extra olives and a few slices of cheddar cheese. Just a little something to take the edge off before facing the dragon again. When she descended the stairs, she was surprised to find the living room empty and the sound of the TV still blaring from the sitting room. Jane went to investigate.

“Ma?” she called out.

No answer.

She peeked in the room. Her mother sat in the recliner with her eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. Jane knew without checking that the old woman was dead. She picked up the remote and lowered the volume. Then closing the door to the room behind her, Jane exhaled slowly and tried not to laugh out loud.