Copyright © 2013 by William D. Colella
All Rights Reserved
Candice loved Bach. She always found his music to possess the eloquence and simplicity of a short mathematical equation, but one with the power to alter the path of galaxies. She recalled Justin always did have great taste in music as she sat in his darkened apartment for the first time in over two years. Candice had let herself in with the key she had never returned, a successful and ultimately useful procrastination since their breakup, one which she initiated by cheating on him with Ted. Now she was the recipient of Ted's unexpected farewell, perhaps due in no small part to the bad karma she had unleashed into the universe, which, like an errant satellite, had circled the outer rings of the solar system and was now finally crashing down upon her. To kill time while waiting for Justin to return, she thumbed through his stack of classical music CD's (the guy still bought CD's) and found one titled "Masterpieces of Bach." She slid the disk into a stereo he kept near his bed in the large studio apartment. Candice sat down in a faux leather chair by the room's only window. A nearby streetlamp served as the apartment's only source of light, partially illuminating her petite frame. She preferred the relative darkness of Justin's room. Too much light had already been shed today. Candice's pitch black hair contrasted the fair complexion of her skin. Stylish eyebrows rested above intelligent, dark brown eyes, behind which one could tell was a deep churn of cognizance, always observing, always looking for answers, even if the questions themselves were not yet known. A scant four hours earlier, Candice lay at home, nursing her wounds from Ted's sudden breakup call, the indentation from her removed engagement ring still marking her finger. Her friend, Brenda, forever the adventurist, had brought weed as an offering of sympathy. And, of course, it couldn't have been some lightweight, low octane variety, but had to be thermonuclear, fusion-grade pot. NASA could have powered the space shuttle for another ten years with just one joint of this stuff. But the marijuana was meant less as some kind of hippie healing salve and more like Brenda's way of just saying, "Hey, he's a guy. There are three billion on the planet. Find one who isn't an asshole." After Brenda left, as Candice gazed over one of the many fossils she kept around her apartment (a byproduct of her academic pursuits in paleontological pharmacology), Candice (stoned) mused over how great it would be to bond with the rock itself, to unlock the eons of knowledge within the confines of its rough, jagged form. She soon found herself grinding part of the fossil into a fine powdery dust and sprinkling it onto the green strands of pot Brenda had left
the fossil into a fine powdery dust and sprinkling it onto the green strands of pot Brenda had left her, then lighting the end of the re-rolled joint and taking a drag. The coarse, bitter taste of burnt rock coated her tongue. She held the smoke not more than a half second before coughing and wheezing like an 80-year-old emphysema victim. Candice wasn't classifying the act as one of her finer moments of brilliance as she stumbled back over to the couch. And that's where things became less real. Or maybe too real. It was hard to say. She recalled the sensation to be like a submersion into a pool of knowledge in which only a select few swam. A bond with place and time in which you were both master and slave. Shards of reality penetrating like nails into her plane of consciousness, so sharp, so clear, they could have drawn blood. What she saw in that brief altered state wasn't completely understandable, but there were two concrete images that warranted her concern. The first being the vision of Brenda and Ted as lovers, appearing as though they were intimately familiar with the touch of each other's skin. The validity of that sight was something she would not yet accept. The second, though, shone with a brightness that only the light of truth could illuminate, and that's why she sat there now, in the darkened room, listening to a Bach concerto, the notes laden with a perception of the human condition that few men or women would ever achieve. Candice glanced around the room at the sparse decor that was indicative of most single men's lairs. Other than his framed diplomasâ€”an undergraduate degree from Syracuse and a Master's from Berkeleyâ€”the pale blue walls were completely bare. The furniture was minimalist in design, including a boxspring-free mattress at the far corner. Not bad though for a guy whose wardrobe comprised of maybe three different shirts and a few pairs of pants, all of varying solid colors that he could easily match. The intriguing scent of Justin's place was the one aspect that drew out memories like old trinkets purchased from a notable journey in a distant land; a pheromone-infused earthy musk, Candice had labeled it, and whether or not it was attributable more to his choice of cologne than some kind of unique natural essence, she couldn't say, but that faint smell permeated every object in his room, reminding her of meeting him when she was a first year grad student and having a crush on him from day one. His tousled, light brown hair and rugged handsomeness made the edges of her mouth rise to a faint smile every time she looked at him for more than a few seconds. His theories on the evolution of human memory were on the edges of accepted research, as the funding his projects received, or didn't receive, more times than not, would attest. But Justin wasn't some crackpot academician searching for a controversial hook in order to land a book deal. You could tell with every fervent and persuasive lecture he gave that he believed in everything he said, despite the occasional repressed laughter of his fellow colleagues. "Innate Knowledge Theory," he had termed it, and whenever Candice stayed late in his office to learn the details and premises of the concept, she set hormones aside and listened to him with a critical, science-based filter. After all, just because she thought he was hot didn't mean she had to apply as a research assistant on his team. Justin's solid research and logical reasoning only made him all the more fascinating though, and Candice soon found herself as his sole assistant on the creation of a new research paper, one that had the potential to alter the precepts upon which most modern theory in his field was built. Her pharmacology background would complement Justin's specialization in neurology remarkably well. They were a team that commanded respect. Within a few months, working late nights and spending more time together than apart, Candice and Justin became romantically involved, after which, as with any deepening
Candice and Justin became romantically involved, after which, as with any deepening relationship, an aspect of his personality that remained shielded from casual acquaintances began to materialize. It was nothing that completely contrasted his public persona, but Candice found that a large driving force in Justin's world was a certain gnawing impatience, a quest to finish the race without one glance down at the road on which he ran. This explained the times Candice had to catch his occasional stumble, where he would link two seemingly related conclusions together without properly searching for a contradictory third. His work was brilliant, but this premature quest for the finish line is likely what had led others to dismiss his theories as little more than intriguing, provocative conjecture. Candice attributed this insight to her concern when Justin mentioned a sudden influx of cash by an anonymous donor. It was "an act of philanthropy targeted to his research," he explained, then casually changed the subject. The additional funding eliminated any chance of the project getting the axe or her modest pay being reduced further still, but the image of an angel investor showering pennies from heaven on some two-person research team never felt like reality, and it remained a subconscious distraction for the remainder of her time on the project. Close to a year after they began their relationship, Candice headed off on her own to a pharmacology exhibition near San Francisco, where she met Tedâ€”a bearded, handsome, wellspoken guy who navigated the waters of pharmaceutical sales with the precision of a five-star admiral. He was also the type of guy who could spin a yarn of magic with his words, then stand smugly as he watched the girls swoon. She justified having a drink with him later that evening in the name of a potential job lead. She would, after all, be looking for work after earning her master's, and Ted had connections to many of the top firms. The drinks were stronger than anticipated, as it were, and a few hours later she found herself in bed with him. During the requisite post session pillow talk, sweat dripping from their skin onto the crisp, starched hotel sheets, Candice learned that Ted worked primarily out of L.A., not far from the university. She knew this meant trouble for her relationship with Justin, who eventually grew suspicious of the increased frequency of her "nights out with girlfriends" (aka meeting Ted), and he finally flew off the handle when she accidentally called him by Ted's name. In retrospect, maybe it was accidentally on purpose. Her relationship with Justin was over, and for the next eighteen months, the one with Ted deepened, to the extent one could go deep with a guy like Ted (he did, after all, work in sales), but seeing someone who took things a little lighter, not exhibiting so much profuse intensity, was a welcomed reprieve from her time with Justin. And, essentially, that's how Candice viewed her relationship with Tedâ€”an extended, enjoyable reprieve from the manic extrapolatory musings that became part of everyday existence with her prior boyfriend. Which is why the ring came as such a surprise. While it was perfectly normal to leave aspects of a loved one's life unexplored, Candice hadn't yet peeked around every corner of Ted's personal labyrinth, so to speak, nor cast light into all the shadowy corners she would have liked. After writing off such concerns to her innate affinity for scientific research, reminding herself that Ted was indeed a person, not an object of study, she accepted his offer to marry. It would be a simple, easy life, with ample income on his end alone, should she one day decide to take time off from work to have a child, which neither of them had any interest in doing in the immediate future, though. The travel required by Ted's line of work ensured the marriage would never become claustrophobic, providing each with a fair amount of time apart. It would beâ€Śimmature to say no, she rationalized. Justin and Ted only met each other once, a chance meeting at a lecture on campus. Ted
Justin and Ted only met each other once, a chance meeting at a lecture on campus. Ted extended his hand saying, "The illustrious Big J, pleasure to meet you." Candice pulled him away before Justin could throw a punch. She realized that, though it sounds cool, it really is too embarrassing to have guys fight over you in public. Justin didn't hire another research assistant. He continued his work on his own and published a paper predictably without the solid core needed to displace existing theories. Candice had been helping him find that core, keeping him grounded, holding him to present irrefutable proof where little more than eccentric inductive reasoning was provided as ample evidence. That core would have been in the form of a pharmaceutical agent that enhanced the part of the brain in which innate knowledge was stored. Even with the extra mystery money, Candice told Justin this type of agent would take years to unveil, with a number of studies, both animal and human, before they could ever go public with their findings. She had heard from a colleague that, after their breakup, Justin spent two months with a native tribe in the Brazilian jungle, studying their advanced knowledge of medicinal plants. Yet it wasn't an agent he was looking for anymore, she later learned. The tribe appeared to have access to an inherent advanced knowledge, knowledge approaching that of trained medical professionals in the modern world, a knowledge handed down over the eons, though the origins were unknown. He used the study of that tribe's innate knowledge in place of a pharmaceutical agentâ€”how the tribe members essentially utilized parts of the brain that yielded torrents of specialized information. And while his scientific peers lauded Justin's work as his best to date, the paper was not the disruptive force both she and he were at one time crafting. Candice confessed to still thinking about the discovery of this agent long after their relationship was over, that the concept had simmered on the back burner of her mind, persisting like the ring of an unanswered phone call. And perhaps, in the end, that's why she sat there this evening. The CD changed to a piece Candice recognized but couldn't name exactly. She recalled learning it was written soon after Bach resigned his position working as a composer for the church. Heavy low notes of harpsichord hammered under lofty trills of violin. It was, unmistakably, Friday night music, inflected with an edgy atmosphere of anticipation, a piece that said boldly, Sunday morning can wait. A few minutes later, muffled voices tunneled through the front door. One was unmistakably Justin's. The other, unmistakably female. Candice heard the jostling sound of a key inserted into the lock, then the clash of a keyring falling to the floor. The female voice inhaled a high-pitched laugh. Justin said something in reply that Candice couldn't quite make out through the door, but it made the female voice laugh louder. And she's annoying too, fantastic, Candice thought. The key finally inserted and the door opened. Justin and the female, who was a tall, lanky girl with a brunette bob-cut, stepped in. The combined smell of their evening's transgressions carried across the room in the darknessâ€”beer, whiskey, cigarette smoke, and flowery, cheap perfume. The door shut behind them. "You leave the stereo on?" Justin asked. "I don't think so?" the girl replied, and the ceiling lights flicked on. Justin stopped in his tracks, startled. The girl yelped as she covered her mouth, taking a step back. "What the fuâ€ŚCandice?" Justin said. Candice leaned forward, more into the overhead light. "Justin?" she asked with a sardonic tone. "How did you get in here?"
The high-pitched ping of Justin's apartment key sang through the air as Candice flicked it off of her side-turned fist. Justin caught it with two hands against his chest. "Been meaning to return that," Candice said. Justin blinked a few times in confusion, digesting the sight of an old girlfriend sitting in his favorite chair. Candice knew that in an alternate universe, where she didn't show up at his apartment that evening, the tall bob-cut was already legs-straddled on top of him, unbuttoning his shirt, kissing his neck. Justin's look of hesitance turned into one of resolve. He quick-stepped over to the stereo, hitting the stop button on the CD. "Get out," he said, pointing to the door. Candice only looked at him in reply. Justin lowered his arm as a light smile rose on his lips. His eyes focused on her left hand. "Your ring finger looks a little less shiny," he said, taking a step closer. "Sounds like a real tragedy. Let's talk about it over coffee sometime. Please go." "I found the agent, Justin," Candice said. Justin blinked again, as if to clear the fog of alcohol and process what she was saying. "Justin?" bob-cut said in her high-pitched tone. "I'm sorry… This is Candice. A former…research assistant." Candice laughed in a way that told bob-cut, I was a little more than that. Justin stepped in front of Candice, bending down to her. "Let's discuss this some other time. Please leave," he said in an earnest tone. Candice looked him in the eyes—steal blue contrasting the tanned hue of his skin. "And I have it with me," she said, opening her fist to reveal a small vial filled with fossil dust. Justin shifted his glance to the vial, then back to Candice. Her eyes flitted to bob-cut and back again, making the message clear, She has to go. Justin stood up straight, rubbing a hand across his face as he approached the tall, modelesque girl. Her eyebrows knitted into a question mark. "I think…I need to straighten this out. Do you mind?" Justin said. Anger flashed across bob-cut's face. Her arms crossed. She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped, took a deep breath, and marched toward the door, slamming it as she left. "Bob-cuts really are out of style anyway, Justin." "If you're fucking with me Candice…" Candice threw a hardcover novel on the floor in front of Justin's feet. "Start reading," she said, knowing this would reveal to Justin that she'd ingested the agent. He picked up the book. "Since when do you use yourself as a human guinea pig?" "I'll bend your ear about it later." Justin opened the book to a random page. Candice closed her eyes. "I haven't tried this yet, just letting you know." This aspect of Justin's research both of them had agreed to keep unpublished. As an undergrad, Candice observed trials in the psyche department to test the ability (or lack thereof) to remote-view another person's perception. Part of her assignment was to review PET scans of test subjects who claimed to see things through the eyes of others. As aspiring scientists, everyone tried to keep an open mind, but they all knew these types of studies were more or less hipster public relations campaigns so potential students would see the school as something über cool. Once a student got there, of course, he or she would learn that the universe of discovery
cool. Once a student got there, of course, he or she would learn that the universe of discovery would be as cool or uncool as it wanted, that science had very little interest in the subjective viewpoint of its beholder, and, at times, broke the hearts (and minds) of those who dared try to learn its secrets. But Candice recalled seeing an area of the PET scans light up with an almost imperceptible glow. As it was a section of the brain thought to have little to do with visual perception, her findings were written off as inconsequential. She had accepted that ruling and thought little more of it until her work with Justin. Shortly before the train wreck ending of their relationship, Candice had begun to research candidate drugs (agents) and culling any historical data on their effects. For those that had gone through more advanced clinical trials, PET scans were available. All of them had one thing in commonâ€”that faint glow in an area just under the cerebral cortex. One of the last professional conversations she had with Justin was that it was plausible the area of the brain that allowed people to remote view (or led them to believe they had the ability) was the same that stored advanced innate knowledge. Standing there in front of her now at his apartment, Justin began to read. After a few moments, he stopped, looking back up at Candice. "The absence of remote viewing doesn't nullify the theory," he said. Candice kept her eyes closed, took a deep breath. "Keep reading." Justin's finger traced along the sentences as he read silently to himself. Candice mouthed the words, rising from a whisper to audible speech, "...and as he walked down the street, the sky turned into a deep, effervescent mauve. The faint glint of a star pierced the encroaching black..." The book fell to the floor with a thud. Candice opened her eyes. Justin stepped away, opening and closing his fists to hide the trembling of his hands. She watched him pace for a while, then said, "I'm thirsty." Five minutes later, they stood drinking tall glasses of iced tea in Justin's kitchen. "How long ago did you ingest?" Justin asked. "About five hours ago." "Since you used marijuana as part of the delivery mechanism, we'll need to rule that out as contributive." "That's not going to be easy. Before coming here, I stopped by the lab at school and ran a few tests to filter for toxins or psychotropic elements. Other than the pot, nothing." Justin took a long, deep drink from his glass. "They let you into the lab on a Friday night?" "I flirt with the security guard in the building. Sweet old guy." "Then unless it's some formerly unknown strain of cannabis, the agent that facilitates access to innate knowledge must be in the fossil dust." "Or a combination of the pot with fossil dust," Candice said, playing her old role of quality checker. Justin paced a little, no longer able to contain the anticipation. "This should get us the funding for at least a few clinical trials." "Why wait for that?" "We have to test, Candice. Why wouldn't weâ€Ś" Justin's breathing suddenly grew fast. He pulled at his collar. Candice stepped close to him. "I'm not saying we shouldn't test. Quite the contrary. I think we should start right away."
Candice held up the small vial she showed him earlier, half of its contents now gone. She shifted her eyes to his near-empty glass of tea resting on the counter. Dust granules formed a ring around the bottom of the glass. Justin stumbled backward, trying to catch his balance, but he fell face-up onto the floor. His breathing was heavy, and his expression bore that of both fear and fascination. Candice crouched down to him. "I broke up with you, cheated on you, because I knew, somewhere deep, that you were leaking info about our work. And you took money for it." Justin tried to process what Candice was saying. "I used it…to help fund…the research…" Candice finished his thought, "…which the university gave us little money for, I know. That's why I couldn't end your career. Only…us. Who was it, Justin? Who'd you whore us out to?" "An operative…big pharmaceutical…I always presumed…never met him. I never meant…to discredit our work." "And you have no idea who it was?" Justin shook his head. Candice stood back up. "Then maybe it's time you found your own truths." Candice stepped over to the door, opened it, and walked out. Justin remained lying face up on the floor, breathing heavy, eyes wide. The view from his kitchen floor shifted from that of a stark, fluorescent overhead light to a room. Not a room, exactly, but a hallway to a rental storage facility—a red, garage-like door directly in front of him. There he took one last look inside a manila envelope that he carried. It was a paper containing preliminary data, mostly dealing with candidate pharmaceutical agents based on Candice's research. Justin swallowed hard before licking the underside of the flap and sealing the envelope shut. He then lifted the door open, stopping it just above his head. Inside, the room was completely empty, save for an unlocked chest, the kind typically placed on the floor at the foot of a bed and used to store winter blankets. Justin stepped into the room, approaching the chest. He crouched down and flipped it open. Inside was an identical manila envelope, nothing else. He laid his inside and lifted out the other, ripped it open and pulled out a thick wad of cash, all $50 and $100 bills. The metal paneled door screeched behind him as it moved halfway back down to the floor. Justin turned to see the lower half of a man wearing expensive jeans and polished brown shoes. "The contents of the envelope meet your expectations?" the man asked, his deep voice reverberating against the bare metal and concrete of the storage facility. Justin gazed slightly downward in shame. "Yes…it does," he said. "If your research does the same, we'll do business again." The man walked away, his footsteps echoing into the distance. Justin hesitated for a moment, then quickly walked up to the metal door, sliding it back open enough to step out into the hallway. He looked to his left, just in time to see the man round a corner out of sight. Back on his kitchen floor, Justin squinted his eyes into focus. "Who are you… Who are you?" The red-doored hallway of the storage facility appeared again, but his view was now different. The vision was blurry at first. He could barely make out the form of the man or the color of his blue jeans and brown shoes. The man's blazer was a gray tweed, fitting perfectly
color of his blue jeans and brown shoes. The man's blazer was a gray tweed, fitting perfectly over an olive green, button-down shirt. The features of his face were still just a smearâ€”he recognized this guy from somewhere though. Focus, Justin commanded himself. Light near the glass door entrance shone on the man's face, illuminating a smug smile just as the blurry distortion shifted to a hard, sharp clarity. The man was Ted.
Brenda observed the odd stare of the senator as he sat behind his polished mahogany desk. She had been sent to interview him for a piece on the new city water project. Her assigning editor knew Brenda and the senator were familiar with each other, which would likely make him more talkative and less guarded. And he had a known affinity for blonds. Working on Saturdays really wasn't her style, but she knew it was the only time the guy, a notorious workaholic, had available. It also didn't hurt that the senator had a face similar to that of a male model. Not the type you see on runways in Milan, but the kind who appear in magazine ads for designer eyeglassesâ€”square jaw, light brown eyes, dark, close-cropped hair. In public appearances, his gaze carried a sense of import, as if he were a champion of every noble cause in contemporary politics. Now though, he bore a look that Brenda had seen countless times on the faces of boys and men (she would object that there was any real difference between the two), a look of pensive confusion as to why he found her attractive. Brenda knew it wasn't because she was unattractive, with a long mane of wavy blond hair, now fastened in the back with a button-shaped hair clip, hazel eyes that looked at you in a studious but disarming, non-judgmental way, a fair complexion augmented by soft, pink lips. But she was far from the perfect features or body type seen in lingerie catalogs or swimsuit calendars. And she was more than fine with that. A girl in a reddish-pink business skirt with matching jacket pranced into the room. Her pinstraight, shoulder-length brown hair didn't move and her black high heel shoes were silent as she stepped across the plush blue carpeting. Her attire was in marked contrast to Brenda's simple yellow sundress, gold pendant, and thin leather bracelet. The girl handed the senator a manila folder and he thanked her. She cast Brenda a look while walking back toward the door, an expression laced with jealousy, revealing her suspicion that Brenda was sleeping with him. Brenda was used to the snide smiles of hotter girls who would grow jealous of the attention she could pull away from their conventional, prim and proper looks. Brenda had no sympathy for their lack of ability to solve the easy equation called "guys." All men are explorers by nature, and rarely are they intrigued by a wide open, barren landscape, she had surmised. They prefer a land of peaks and valleys, winding roads, shadowy corners mixed in with radiant sunshine. Not in a dick-tease, head-gaming kind of way, but something that imbued a sense of subtle mystery, one they know they'll never really figure out, because, in the end, they really don't want to. Brenda found that the senator, named Devin Templeman, was unlike the posh Washington wannabes hiding their self serving ambitions behind teeth-whitened smiles. He was a younglooking, late 30-something and exuded an air of what you see is what you get, and what you saw
looking, late 30-something and exuded an air of what you see is what you get, and what you saw upon meeting him was a good man with a pair of balls, a Boy Scout with a set of brass knuckles in his back pocket, she would muse. He had one important additional quality also that many politicians lacked, or too frequently forgot to useâ€”brains. And, he wasn't married. Devin had the habit of pulling downward on the lapels of his designer suit jacket just before saying something serious. He did so, and his barrel chest underneath strained at the buttons of his shirt. "You could have just asked me these questions the other night," he said. "That would have been combining the professional with the personal, no?" she lobbed as an underhanded pitch, knowing he was smart enough not to swing. "The project ran over budget due to unforeseen expenses to repair the central pipeline. I'm happy to have my assistant provide you with all the financial records backing up my statement." "I'm not so sure she'll be happy." Brenda knew he wouldn't get it. He wasn't supposed to. "There's going to be an empty chair across the table from me on Thursday evening. Morrison's, on Wilshire. How about we continue this discussion there." "Morrison's. Nice place. And how many other people would be sitting at this table, Senator?" "Other than myself, no one." Brenda gave him a playful smile. He'd been trying to get her to be seen in public with him for some time. With his looks and ascending rank on the state political scene, she knew his lack of a wedding band spurred talk in well known blogs that he might be gay. He'd have to manage his public image in some other manner though. "Dinner is for couples, Senator. And that's not what we're about." Devin leaned back in his chair, narrowing his eyes. "So you're really not going to have dinner with meâ€Śever," Devin stated and asked at the same time. She was tempted, so tempted, to tell him yes, she'd be there, and that she couldn't think of a better way to spend an evening than in his company. When she first slept with him, it was a week before she was supposed to take over the crime beat from some older guy who the paper was laying off because he had entirely too much experience and was completely too loyal. In retrospect, of course, it would have been better if she had waited until Devin was officially not a source of information that was needed to do her job. And when her boss later explained to Brenda that she would not be moving off of the political beat after all (they found a way to lay off some other older guy with even more experience and loyalty instead), Brenda remembered thinking, Oops. At that moment, for work-related reasons only, she would have gladly unscrewed Devin, gone back in time to uninvite him over to her place to help her with research on a "big project for the paper," to stop him from kissing her and taking off her clothes and feeling his large, strong hands on her shoulders, stopping herself from feeling the taut muscles of his well-defined chest and the steady rhythm of his steel-hard cock inside of her. After all, she did have a professional ethos to maintain. Brenda did her best, though, to preserve an effaced, definitive line between emotional ties and the necessities of her job. And, if push came to shove, so to speak, jobs were indeed few these days. Guys were still, and always would be, aplenty. Devin's maintenance man contract would be terminated if she had to make the choice. She frequently had to remind herself that she could easily do so.
*See what happened before Chapter One: Click here to watch the award-winning prequel, or keep reading and watch it later.* Outwardly changing the subject, Brenda asked, "This is off-topic in both respects, I suppose, but is the state backing companies offering experimental housing?" "Define experimental." "Like, free?" Devin couldn't suppress a laugh. "No." He looked at her, justifiably, like that was the dumbest question he'd heard in a while. She couldn't blame him, but she found it odd when the same question had been posed to her just the night before, noticeably because of her role on the political beat for the paper. The question came from Ted, whom she found lying in her bed when she got back from Candice's place. She had slept with him only once, about six months before. Candice had become keeper of Brenda's spare key, since fees doubled for tenants who locked themselves out of their apartments, which Brenda had done no less than five times over the prior year. One of those times, which Brenda would blame on the strength of the martinis she and a coworker had downed at the bar next to the office, Brenda found Ted at Candice's place. He explained that he was apartment-sitting for Candice while she was out of town for the week at some mega-convention for the pharmaceutical industry. Maybe she's fucking around on you this time, Ted, she remembered thinking. After asking for her spare key, slurring more than a few words, Ted insisted on seeing her home. It was within walking distance, she'd be fine, she explained. But he already had his car keys in hand and one arm in the sleeve of his jacket before she could object in any intelligible manner. It was late to be walking the streets of midtown anyway, and she still was quite drunk. Brenda remembered the orange-tinted glow of the dashboard lights and smell of the black leather seats in his Porsche 911 Cabriolet. One of the perks of her apartment building was underground parking, including one guest space (quite the rarity in L.A.). Brenda noticed the blot of a wine stain on her flowered dress as Ted parked the car, engine idling. She could still taste the sharp tinge of the martinis on her tongue as she sat there in the passenger seat, feeling the cool heat of Ted's stare. The blueish hue of the garage's overhead lights reflected in the chrome door handle, as if beckoning her to leave. Just lift your hand, open the door, walk back up to your apartment, and sleep this off, she remembered telling herself. Ted leaned toward her, just a few inches, in a manner he could have easily explained away as concern, perhaps, that she was about to vomit, if she had accused him of making a pass. Which is, of course, exactly what it was. Ted was somewhat of an anomaly in the predictable pattern of Candice's boyfriends. Candice usually went for the hot professor type, which is why Justin seemed like such a better fit for her. But Ted…what was really so great about this guy? Hormones and journalistic curiosity mixed with copious amounts of alcohol can make you do surprising things, Brenda would later admit. She ever-so-slowly turned her head in Ted's direction. His stare could have burned the retinas out of her eyes. Brenda smiled nervously. She was close enough to see a few gray strands in his otherwise reddish-brown hair and light acne scars covered by a thin, well-groomed beard. Handsome in an odd way, or at least after a few drinks, she thought. A few seconds later, they kissed. Two minutes later, she was on top of him on the driver's seat, flowered dress hiked up to her waist.
A white Lexus pulled into the garage and parked two spaces away. A plump, elderly couple climbed out, gabbing about some movie they had just seen. Brenda remembered catching a glimpse of the silver-haired woman as she walked by like she hadn't just witnessed two people screwing in a nearby car, then sharing a giggle with her husband. The joke is on me, lady. He's not that good, Brenda wanted to say to her. Brenda conceded that maybe her expectations were a bit too high, but this was, after all, the guy whom Candice had engaged, the man Candice had placed above all others in the world, which is why after Brenda unzipped his pants and gripped his hard shaft in her hand, she had half expected to find it plated in gold or some other precious metal; she couldn't think of any other reason Candice would date a guy like Ted, much less want to marry him. But he was nothing but flesh and blood and skin and bone, not unlike any other member of the male gender, just a little less skilled under the sheets, it would appear. As she slid back over to the passenger seat, both of them spent (him more than her), she realized the answer she was subconsciously seeking. Ted was really nothing more than "not Justin." He wasn't for-life material, certainly not for Candice, very possibly not for anyone, which made it so much easier to console Candice after the breakup. Brenda had indeed expected the tearful phone call from her friend to come much, much sooner than it actually did. Since that night in the parking garage, Brenda and Ted had said nothing to each other about the encounter, a conversation she was more than happy to evade, mostly by declining invites from Candice to stop over or go out to dinner if she knew Ted was going to be around. And while she had hoped the breakup would lower the odds of Candice ever finding out, she knew Ted was the type of guy to use anything within reach to his advantage. Seeing him lying in her bed when she returned home from consoling Candice about the breakup, while shocking, was far less of a surprise. He had clearly let himself in with her spare key he'd taken from Candice's apartment before the breakup, which tipped Brenda off to the fact that the entire event was not a spontaneous burst of emotion on Ted's part, but planned well in advance. "Wow, I thought I lived alone," she said with his back still facing her. He rolled over, a false tear streaking his face. "I'm confused. Can we talk?" Brenda had seen better performances on over-eager actors in high school plays. "Wrong girl's apartment, Ted. Please leave." Ted sat up, wiped his face. "I thought maybe you and I couldâ€Ś" "What, date? Oh, maybe we can get engaged and then you can fuck me over too. Get off my bed and leave. Now." Ted's brow furrowed in surprised irritation. Brenda could tell he thought the evening would go differently. "How's your senator friend doing?" he asked. Brenda didn't answer. She had never discussed anything with him about Devin. "Don't freak out," he added. "I just know you work the political beat at the paper, and I presume you talk with Templeman. Or something like that." Ted was the type of guy who lied in a way to purposefully let you know he was lying. To her, it made him all the more repulsive. "You want to talk about Senator Templeman? Not Candice?" Ted worked his way off of the bed and stood, taking a few steps toward the door. "Since we won't be seeing each other around quite as much for the rest of our lives, it would
"Since we won't be seeing each other around quite as much for the rest of our lives, it would appear, I was curious if he'd mentioned anything to you about housing developments." Brenda stood looking at him, mouth open to speak, but no words would form. Housing Developments? "I know, I know, you're thinking I just broke off an engagement with your friend and I'm talking about regional politics. How strange and cold of me. But any information you may be privy to about free housing provided by the state, preferably in the high desert areas, would be very helpful." "I don't want to help you, Ted. I want you to leave and never come back. Ever." "Right, but you see, I was so confused about our little time together in my car, that I just couldn't go through with it with Candice. My emotions were too torn. I feel like, maybe, I should let her know." Brenda perceived the threat. Blades unsheathed. "She never believed your bull shit from day one, Ted. Candice lied to herself for two years and you bought into it like the self deceiving asshole you are. Like she'd suddenly believe anything you have to say now." Ted's calm, arrogant demeanor remained unchanged. "I convince people for a living, Brenda. It would be the easiest sell I've had yet." Brenda reorganized her thoughts. Whatever information he wanted, he wanted it bad, and where there's want, there's weakness. "Did you want me to deliver a message to Templeman, maybe something that could be perceived as a bribe?" Ted took note of her new approach and stepped closer to the door. "Just keep your ears open in your conversations with him. Or, better yet, ask him directly if he knows anything. That would be helpful, and may incite me to keep our little Porsche fuck to myself." He blew her a kiss before leaving. Now sitting in front of the senator, having asked him what Ted wanted, Brenda couldn't help but feel blackmailed. But she was less threatened by Ted potentially telling Candice than intrigued by why he wanted to know about housing developments in the desert. Wasn't he in pharmaceutical sales? The interview about the water project ended with an obligatory handshake and standard pleasantries. Later that night, Brenda heard a knock at the door. Her black dress set off her blond hair and light freckled skin. When she opened the door, it was admittedly odd to see Devin out of his business attire. Now wearing a blue zip-up windbreaker, white polo shirt and tan khakis, he looked more like some guy who missed the exit to the docks at Marina Del Rey, randomly rolling down his car window to ask strangers for directions. Not really her type of look, but whatever, he somehow made it look hot. They barely got through the first few sips of wine before landing on the bed. If sleeping with Ted was analogous to a walk in an early spring shower, Brenda mused, then it was accurate to say that having sex with Devin made her come with the force of a midsummer hurricane. Over an hour later, they both lay face up, panting in a post sex glow on top of sweat-soaked sheets. Brenda sat up, reaching for a bottle of water on her nightstand. "Going to have to call you Marathon Man," she said, and took a long swig from the bottle. Devin sat up also. "I have a good running partner." "Forgot to tell you about my rule."
"No dates. I got it." "Not that one. The one where we share a secret with each other." "I'd feel really cheap and used if I began to think you were just sleeping with me for information." "I'd be telling you one too. No need to feel like a slut." She passed him the bottle of water. He took a long, contemplative sip, then handed it back. "OK. Sure," he said. "Great. You go first." Devin gave her a suspicious smirk in reply. "Nothing silly or trivial," she added. Devin remained silent, eyes narrowed, still smelling this out. Brenda sighed. "It allows us to have a little something beyond this," she said, pointing down at the mattress. "We're not dating, so there's noâ€Ślove involved or anything. So let's keep each other's secret instead." Devin motioned for the water bottle, which she handed over. He cleared his throat and softened the sharpness of his gaze, waiting one last moment before replying, "I've never been in love." Such the political strategist, she thought. Even if she printed it, it would only help explain his lack of a public companion and make him all the more an object of conquest to ambitious young women. He took another long swig from the water bottle, then said, "Your turn." Brenda turned her body to face him, sitting Indian style. He did the same. "I was adopted. By an amazing woman, initially my foster mother," she said. "You were in foster care as a kid?" "I was about 4 years old. My biological mom was a junkie, it turns out. Heroin and meth, mostly, or so I was told. A rep from the Department of Health and Human Services found me living alone for a week in an apartment near skid row, where we apparently lived. I went to therapy for two or three years after, and even though I remember her, my bio Mom, I could never remember how I ended up alone." Maybe that would dissuade him, she thought, from asking her to dinner again. Can't really say it's good for your political career to be seen with the abandoned daughter of a missing junkie. She didn't add that her adoption mom really was amazingâ€”a single woman who ran the IT desk at a huge software company and who was a genuine mother to her. Devin leaned in closer, staring at her with intense compassion. He kissed her slowly, and she pulled him back down onto the sheets, giving herself to him completely once again. Another hour later, Devin sat on the edge of the bed, pants already on, donning his shirt. He spoke to her over his shoulder. "I need to spend some time up in San Francisco." Brenda withheld her "That's not going to help with the rumors that you're gay" comment. Devin stood up, turned to face her. "It's a meeting with a bunch of city planners, unions, and activists over the next three weeks." Brenda tried to suppress any display of disappointment, which she was surprised to feel. One of the primary clauses in her maintenance man contract was no preset time commitments. All that was required was that both parties found the arrangement to be mutually beneficial. Whatever this feeling was, she had to shake it off fast or risk the embarrassment of breaking one of her own rules.
Brenda shrugged. "OK." She also forgot that sometimes she really sucked at hiding her feelings. Devin took a step back toward the bed, bent down to her, leaning on one hand to speak close to her face. "So, this is what we are, huh?" he asked. "Yep," Brenda said, "keeper of each other's secrets." Then, she kissed him deeply.
Candice knocked on the partially opened door to the office of Dr. Kayla Taft. The lacquered wood was lighter than it appeared and the door creaked open further, revealing the profile of an attractive 50-something woman sitting at a desk. Her thick mane of gray-streaked, shoulderlength black hair was gathered into a loose bun. Her brown eyes peered over black, cat rimmed reading glasses as she turned toward Candice. "Dr. Taft?" Candice asked. "Are you my two o'clock?" Kayla replied, removing her glasses. "I don't think soâ€ŚI didn't call first. I'm sorry. I'm not a student here. Not anymore. I graduated three years ago." Kayla squinted, calling up memory files from lesser used archives. "Candice, right?" she asked. ** END SAMPLE ** Read the rest of the book. Click one of the links below to buy on Amazon. Amazon U.S. Amazon UK Amazon Canada Amazon Australia
Sample chapters from the book based on the award-winning short film.