The Dedication, fiction by Jonathan Penney
Instead there lingered in my gut a feeling of vulnerability that left me cold. Or then again, I could have been cold because I was almost naked. Looking at the beautiful sleeping woman to my left I realized I didn’t feel as I imagined I would in this moment.
God, she looked so gorgeous. As the morning light drifted slowly up the bed from the sloppily drawn curtains, the moment began to sink in. How could I feel so joyless at such a triumphant moment? It probably stemmed from the only thing which I believed was a universal truth; namely, my own inadequacy.
Despite all the great writers and great poets whom I’d read, it was Groucho Marx who was able to best articulate my own self doubt. He used to joke: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”
That had been the credo for my love life for years. Too much, so much early rejection had led me to believe that any girl accepting my company could only be explained by the fact that they certainly possessed fatal flaws, if not at least poor taste in men. But then again didn’t all women have terrible taste in men? But I knew Persephone was not flawed. She was perfect. The girl for years I would have traded the remaining three billion for—the girl, who had my whole life exhibited so little reciprocal feeling for me, who had always seemed to exude such an absence of love for me.
Damn it, it was true. I loved her. I don’t know why I tried to hide it or was embarrassed by it. But I was ashamed. As if unrequited love was the greatest weakness one could emote. God knows it always feels that way.
Especially since everyone knew it. I knew it. She knew it. Everyone I knew, knew it.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” I tried to yell in my head. “Rejoice! Hallelujah!”
I had finally convinced Persephone to take me. And why did it feel like I had conned her or something? Why couldn’t it just be she fell for me?
“Stop. Stop it. Relax.” Came the voice from my head. The voice that always sounded like me, but intelligent. “Enjoy the moment, and don’t worry about how the hell you are going to maintain a relationship with her after this.”
If it were not for Persephone beginning to stir at this moment I was certain that she would have awoken later to a man whose head had exploded.
She rolled her head over and smiled at me. I felt like she was looking right at me despite the fact her eyes were still closed. Attempting to wake, Persephone squinted at the rays of sunlight which shone in her face and found it easier to keep her eyes closed.
“Mmm, good morning.” she moaned in her sexy Louisiana drawl. Oh man, how sexy was she? Persephone reached out for me. I inexplicably shuddered at her touch. Thankfully, she did not notice.
Attempting to alleviate my freaked-out-ness I leaned over and kissed her forehead. She smiled a half smile. Finally there was some joy returning to me. Immediately the sensations of last night rushed back to me. She had tasted exactly as sweet as I’d imagined. To the touch she was cool, like hugging a fan after a jog on a hot June day. But nothing was quite the attack on my senses like her fragrance. It wasn’t perfume or shampoo, it was her. When lips touch skin the passion becomes palpable, the fragrance of the other person saturates you. They linger on your body for days, on your pillow, on your hands, and in your hair. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, provided you enjoyed the source. Which, quite frankly too often I had not. I looked at her. She had moved but not really; she was just lying peacefully with her head on my shoulder. Her flowing gold hair covered her face like Venetian blinds. I reached for it, to brush away the rogue strands so as to admire her flawless ivory skin, but dare not avoid disturbing a scene which I felt hung in such a delicate balance.
I most certainly had stumbled into some sort of worm hole which if tainted could at any moment warp me back into my solitary and Persephone-less reality.
She sat up. Persephone was wearing my yellow dress shirt with blue and white stripes as her pajama. It was as if I had painted the scene myself. The only difference being I would have given myself a more unabashed smile. I was wearing only my boxers and my white undershirt. She climbed out of the covers. She rolled over onto her knees straddling my long outstretched legs and stared at me, pulling her hair from her face. As she did so I felt a fleeting strand brush my nose. It made me smile. Uneasily, but I smiled. She said nothing; she just stared into my eyes. It was like walking underneath the great Amazon canopy, the morning sun made her eyes such an unnaturally lush green. Persephone’s eyes possessed an aquarelle quality as if they were painted on canvas. I was still suspended in disbelief at my fortune. But, if Persephone knew one thing about me, if in all our back and forth she learned something, it was that she could tell when I was unhappy. She was beginning to figure it out when I broke the silence.
“Would you like pancakes? I can make pancakes.” I rambled.
“Sure, I’d love some pancakes.” She responded enthusiastically. “I’d love to see you cook. I’m expecting the best pancakes ever.”
She leaned in to kiss me and I closed my eyes. I could feel her body pulling away from me. A chill coursed through me as her body heat was subtracted from mine. I waited in an infinite anticipation for the sensation of her kiss. It was a long wait. It always was with Persephone. It was as if when I opened my eyes she’d be gone and I in my bed alone. Her physical separation allowed my mind to wander. For a moment I began to contemplate the repercussions of our actions.
Suddenly, I felt her full weight on me and I was instantly brought back into the moment. I felt her lips gently press onto my lower lip. They were moist and soft, yet slightly sticky. I didn’t kiss back but rather allowed her lips to explore my mouth. It was amazing to be kissed. To presumably feel someone’s desire. I opened my eyes, revealing to me the sight of her closed eyes. In the fifteen or so seconds I had my eyes closed, I had seemingly forgotten just how gorgeous my companion was. I grasped her cheeks with both hands and pulled her towards me. She giggled and let out the slightest moan of objection but she couldn’t stop me. I felt her soft femininity on my chest. I wanted to press her onto me. As if I did it hard enough she’d be unable to ever disjoint us.
“Morris,” she mumbled through her kiss. “Stop for a second.” I let go. I knew she would let go eventually. I felt hapless, stripped upon hearing the command to stop. Like a puppy I released expecting she had broken my spell and would return to the girl who once had shrugged away my advances with indifference and ignorance.
“Say something.” she pleaded with a smile.
“What?” I said looking up toward the ceiling.
“Anything.” she pulled my eyes back toward hers.
“You mean something cheesy that masquerades as romantic?” I don’t know why I was being so difficult, but that was just my way.
“If that’s what you feel, then sure.” She giggled with seriousness.
I stopped for a second. I looked into her inquisitive eyes and wondered what I could say. Only words I was not smart enough to construct myself could say what I needed. “Proud of my broken heart since though didst break it, Proud of the pain I did not feel till thee, Proud of my night since thou with moons dost slake it, Not to partake thy passion, my humility,” I whispered in my best attempt to be profound.
Perhaps it was this which was the cause of my emptiness. Perhaps I was only uneasy at the absence of the lingering intestinal knots which Persephone had tied years ago and given me no chance to untie. For years, I had ached and ached as I was unable to get to the source of my angst. Now the angst was gone and I missed it. I was no longer whole without it. Like a cancer it had spread over my body seeping into the very tips of my finger nails over the years. But now it was seemingly absent.
Either way, Persephone was unfazed. “Hmm, Dickinson.” She said as if she had to actually think of the answer “You do not want to get into a battle of literary wits against me, Morris.” She laughed, but did so without pretentiousness. She was absolutely right. She was so much smarter than me. It really wasn’t even close. I loved her for it. She could dissect me with her intelligence.
“Alright, let’s see… hmm… Oh! How about this:” she said, clearing her throat gently.“‘Wild nights, Wild nights were I with thee Wild nights should be our luxury, futile the winds to a heart in port, done with the compass, done with the chart, rowing in Eden, Ah the sea! Might I but moor tonight in thee.’”
Persephone rocked her hips gently on my waist as she finished her poem. I was pudding. She had melted me, it was that easy. I was a man, imaginably a masculine one, and the sound of a poem from a woman I loved was enough to make me a love-struck teenager, although in fairness I often felt not much older than one.
I knew what I was feeling was more than just love. I was in love with Persephone. Not half-way in love, which I think is a ridiculous claim in the first place, all the way in love. Nor was I convinced I was in love when really I was something else. I wasn’t pretending I was in love so as to say I had been in love at some point. I was in love with Persephone, simply in love. I knew it, because I had always known it.
“Persy.” I mumbled.
“Yeah?” She asked tenderly.
“I have a confession.”
“Which is…?” she smiled amused I think by what was certainly a concerned look on my face. I could never tell what she was thinking. If I had, I’d have snagged her years ago. She was impenetrable; a fortress of independence. She had been pursued by men way too many times to put up with all our mischief anymore, even though she herself at one point had been the great destroyer of men’s hearts. In high school maybe, but Persephone now, much more so than I, was an adult. Once again, my adolescent mind wandered from the pleasure of the moment and began to evaluate the reality.
“How were we going to deal with her fiancé?” I thought, “How could she choose me over such an accomplished man? And to think of the scandal I could cause them both.” Then my moral dilemma kicked into high gear as I asked myself “What was I going to do about my girlfriend? She had been so great to me.” It was then that the full weight of my sin hit me over the head: “Oh God, I’m screwed and I’m going to hell.”
In a desperate attempt to leave my head, I resumed telling Persephone what I’d longed to tell her for almost two decades.“I’m in love with you.” I blurted as if her fiancé was waiting outside my apartment to say the same thing.
She laughed the sexy laugh she’d always had. The one that was halfway between a giggle and a cackle. “That’s nice to know. You’ve never said that before.” She leaned in to kiss me. I stopped her. “What?” she asked.
“Persephone I just told you I was in love with you.” My confusion must have been written into my facial expression.
“I knew that.” She replied with a seeming appreciation of the moment’s seriousness.
“What do you mean, you knew that?” My mind was racing, I felt so exposed. Like a trap had been set and I had been clamped on by steel teeth.
“I mean, I’ve known you’ve loved me since the 10th grade. At least a part of me has always known.”
I stared at her in blank confusion, how is it that this could come as a revelation to me, yet I was sweating in anticipation of what I felt could only end terribly. “Oh my God, the moment of truth. This is it.” I thought to myself. To think that the next sentence could alter the course of my life from this point forward was a daunting thought. But it was a thought in which the hype was warranted. An eternity passed as I stared waiting for a specifically ordered string of words.
Persephone obviously saw the fear in my eyes because she finally spoke. “Morris, I honestly don’t know if I’m in love with you. I know I could be, but what we’re doing, or where we could be going is going to require that you give me some time to think over some things. I’m the coward in this, not you. What I do know Morris that what happened last night, what’s happening right now; it’s amazing. Right now I see in flushes of light and your lips are the most decadent flavor.” There was relief in her voice as if my final ability to voice my love gave her some kind of fulfillment. “But right now, can we just be. Let’s not worry about anything but the fact you and I are in a bed together?”
I had no idea what to say, but I spoke anyway. “Still want those pancakes?”
“Yes.” she smiled with some relief.
The Dedication fiction by Jonathan Penney
An excerpt from: Chapter 1: New York Calling
Eight months prior
The snow was falling briskly as Morris Mahoney left his hotel lobby. The cold New York air refreshingly bit his cheeks the second the revolving door introduced him to the elements. Morris smiled as it dawned on him that he had sparsely seen snow over the last decade. After all he had lived in Los Angeles for nearly twelve years. He pulled his collar tight and put his head down as he joined the pedestrians, whom he all hoped were heading someplace warm. The falling powder made Manhattan glitter and the writer in him began to wax poetic in the depths of his inner monologue. To say he was excited would not suffice to measure his level of enthusiasm for meeting up with his old friend Chip Calloway.
Morris had accomplished far more than he thought he could have by age thirty-four, although he constantly had to remind himself he was unequivocally an adult now. Like most people, despite his tall and lean frame, Morris was particularly self-conscious about his looks and was a harsh self critic.
For the past dozen years Morris had lived in California making a name for himself as a screenwriter, something he appreciated he was fortunate to succeed at. But luckily, he wrote with his friend and college roommate Michael Stein, who was quickly rising as a young director in Hollywood. Michael and Morris achieved their fame through two early hits, to which Morris’ contributed mightily.
After all these years, Morris had finally returned to New York, something he had wanted to do for a long time. Oddly enough however, he wasn’t actually a New Yorker. In reality he was a Jersey boy, but his affection for the city did not suffer for it. In his own words, his love for the City was immeasurable and he often said that his feelings could best be described as a kind of jealousy. There lingered inside him a pull to Manhattan that was simply, in his mind, destiny. He allowed himself a smile, mostly due to the fact that he was about to live in the City for the first time in his life, something he always wanted to do.
As Morris walked down the avenue, he pulled his coat tight to fight off the bitter February air. The sidewalks were still lined with snow which fell two days prior and the air was filled with the frozen breaths of every passerby.
The cold numbed his brain for the two block walk to the bar. But he eventually turned the corner to see the wooden street sign for McGovern’s Pub. It was a welcome sight. He bounded the last couple steps and burst through the door with a surprising amount of gusto. Immediately upon entering he noticed his friend. He hung up his coat on the rack and headed over.
Morris Mahoney headed toward the empty bar stool beside Chip Calloway and was completely unable to restrain his grin in any capacity. He looked at his long lost friend, but the two reacted to each other’s presence as if they had been hanging out only yesterday.
“What’re you so happy about?” chided his friend.
“Ha, well it’s not about seeing you again, if that’s what you think” jested Morris. “I’m back in New York for the first time in a while, I’m all checked into my hotel, and I have an apartment to move into next month. Plus, the biggie, I finally finished my book.”
“Congrats, Morris.” Chip sincerely offered. “Is this the one that’s supposed to be your great American novel?”
“Yep, took me ten years. I’m just glad I have something to turn into the publishers.” said Morris laughing as he pulled into his seat.
“Honestly, three years ago, I would have laughed at that idea of you being a writer.” laughed Chip.
“Actually, you did use to laugh at me. And in case you think I’ve forgotten that I’m two steps away from waiting tables and begging people off the street to read my screenplays, I haven’t. I am very aware.” he conceded smacking his old schoolmate on the back of the shoulder.
Chip laughed. “Well, it’s not my fault you have no other discernable skills.”
“That’s only sort of true.” grinned Morris, “The real question is does this book keep me middling along or can I actually make some serious money this time through. Thank God for the movies, or I’d be a pauper.”
“You can always work with me. You’d have plenty enough money by this time next year. I don’t know why you allow that law degree of yours to go to waste.”
“We can’t all work for Goldman Sachs, Chip. Besides, I have a soul to maintain.”
“Ouch.” cried Chip feigning indignation. “That hurts. I always love it how one way or another we’re always either talking about you or about how terrible a person I am.”
“C’mon, I’ve got a meeting with the publishers tomorrow, and I want to be properly hung-over when I meet with them. I have a reputation to uphold.” smiled Morris wryly. Turning to the bartender and waiving his Platinum American Express card, he added “Bartender, can I get two tequilas and start a tab here please.”
“You’re not a drinker, why would you show up tomorrow hung-over?”
“That’s why they call it a reputation. You think my intrigue is I’m the only registered Republican screenwriter in the country? Here… this shot’s on me.” demanded Morris as he passed him the freshly poured shot.
“Tequila? Really? On a Thursday night?” Chip looked concerned.
“You’re such a stiff in your old age, Chip.” Morris said as he attempted to literally place the shot into Chip’s hand.
Chip reluctantly took hold. “So, what? You figure you’ll show up doing some sort of poor man’s Hunter Thompson impersonation?”
“Eh, I don’t know. All I know is, half these suits are all failed writers themselves, they just wanna rub elbows with the artists, so I’m gonna give’em one.” And with that Morris clanked Chip’s glass and slammed his upside down upon the counter-top after shooting the booze down his throat.
“The way I figure it,” he continued “is I’m not gay or eccentric, I’m hardly what you’d call famous, and I obviously haven’t been back in the city long enough to have entered society in any capacity. So right now I’m trying my best here at some semblance of a professional persona so that later I can develop a public persona.”
Chip just chuckled, and finally followed suit by drinking his shot. Seeing his high school friend again was great. After several years on the West Coast, Morris was back, permanently. At least that’s what he claimed. Since high school, Chip and Morris might have seen each other only a handful of times over what had fast become more than a decade and a half.
Since college Morris had been living in Los Angeles with his college roommate attempting to make films. Having had enough success to not have to be pleading for work every day, Morris had finally returned home to the East Coast, satisfied he was now officially in the profession he had always wanted: novelist.
“So, is your wife coming, or is it just you and me tonight?” asked Morris, already waiving over his second drink.
“Savannah said she should be out of the ER by ten, so she should be here soon. She’d’ve called if she was gonna to be late.”
“Are you gonna wait for her or are you gonna drink with me?”
The former schoolmates went drink for drink for the next hour, chatting about old times, American League baseball, jobs, marriage, snack cakes and 17th century painters. Only Savannah’s frenzied entrance into the bar was able to rescue the boys from their near drunk ramblings. Unaware of the two’s somewhat inebriated state she hurriedly rushed to Morris and gave him a hug. Bewildered, he stood to return the embrace and swap cheek kisses.
“Oh God, Morris, so nice to see you again, welcome home!” and as sincerely as she had hugged him she left him equally as quickly to kiss her husband. “Oh, Chip, I’m so sorry I’m late, at the last minute some woman came racing in pregnant and of course the next doctor, who was already there refused to take her, and of course I wound up staying late delivering the baby, thankfully it was her fourth and slipped right out of there like a…”
“Savannah! Please, no need for gross gynecological narrative.” squealed her husband in protest.
“It’s actually an obstetrical story, but sorry I didn’t realize that my husband hates my work!”
“I actually find it fascinating Savannah.” Morris chimed in. “So tell me, does it really get easier to slide out a bun each time you bake it?” asked a particularly curious Morris.
“Actually, yes.” she responded. “Although, I don’t think I’d put it in such crass terms, I appreciate your interest in my evening nonetheless Morris.” she added with a bemused frown. “Usually by the third kid you can get in and out on a delivery really fast, almost like a drive-thru.”
“Thanks, Morris, really cool, always trying to show me up.” Chip said, sure his friend was feigning interest.
The three of them were now laughing and Savannah was comfortably sitting at the bar beside them.
“So, Savannah, can I order you a drink, you have a lot of catching up to do to get on par with us.” Morris had a devilish smile,
“Um, actually, I’m good.” Savannah declined rather sheepishly.
“Since when do you not drink? You’re one of the best drinkers I know.”
“I don’t know, just it’s late.” She was not very convincing.
“It’s ok, Savannah, tell him.” Chip was so giddy, he was almost giggling.
“We’re having a baby.” Her declaration was rather factual.
“Oh my God, guys, that’s amazing!” Morris was so happy for them. He didn’t even know why, but instinct told him they’d be great parents. He slapped Chip high five and got down off his chair to give Savannah a hug. She seemed so tight. He felt her loosen a bit with his congratulations.
“Well, it’s early, and this isn’t our first try. I don’t want to jinx it.” She seemed to be a little more excited now, although she tried to hold it back.
“Ok, ok, we won’t talk about it and I’ll keep you in my prayers.” Morris said, sitting back down. “But I am so happy for you guys, you’re going to be great parents.”
Savannah seemed happier now, but she still wanted to change the subject. She was so curious about Morris’ days in Hollywood. “So Morris, you’re home for good right? Did you sell your place in LA?”
“Yup. I got a place here in the city lined up and I can move in next month, tomorrow after my meeting with the publishers I’m driving down the shore and staying with my mom back at home.”
“So, all those years in LA trying to make something of yourself, and you’re returning home to mommy?” said Chip jabbing Morris’ shoulder.
“Ha-ha…very funny.” Morris sarcastically allowed. “It’s only for a couple weeks. Then my quest to be a struggling New York novelist will commence because the whole struggling LA screenwriter thing wasn’t fun enough.”
“So tell me,” said Savannah gleefully. “what’s the LA life like? I want the full dish.”
“I don’t know. I mean I was working more than anything.”
“Oh come on now! Don’t give me that crap.” she was very adamant, “The parties? The schmoozing? The girls? You must have, c’mon.”
“Yeah Mahoney, spill the beans!” Chip was severely interested in Morris’ personal affairs and showed every bit of hopeful enthusiasm on Morris’ behalf. “You get some of that hot LA action?” he hesitated for a short moment to allow Morris to answer, but then continued on without waiting for a response. “Yeah, you did, I mean is there a better pickup line out there than being an Academy Award nominee?”
“Yeah, how about me actually owning an Oscar. Or being famous. Or good looking.”
“Stop it, you’re plenty handsome.” she said in the most motherly way possible. “But, seriously? You’re telling me there was no one special? You were out there for over ten years.” Savannah sounded let down.
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“Someone special?” teased Chip, “You don’t go to LA to find that special someone, you go to have fun. Am I right?” Savannah gave Chip a disappointed stare.
“No it wasn’t really like that either. Really, I was working really hard out there. I mean I did some Hollywood parties, premieres that sort of thing, and it is a lot of fun, but there’s not really anything exciting to tell.”
“Don’t you want to settle down? We’re thirty-four now, you should have someone.” Savannah seemed disappointed on Morris’ behalf.
“That’s why I’m back in New York.” said Morris with an air of earnestness. “Yeah of course I want what you and Chip have. Hopefully this next book will keep me stable, offer me some teaching opportunities and I can focus more on me.”
“Did you finish that second book yet, Morris?” asked an excited Savannah.
“Yup the editors at the house have all seen it and it’s ready for print, just have to meet with some of the brass to talk about promotion. It’s already been sent out for review.”
“That’s great! It’s not like the last one at all.”
“No no no, the last one was just really a kind of glorified screenplay, this one’s more a traditional novel, I mean you read that last transcript I sent you? Right?”
Savannah acknowledged his question with a vigorous nod. “Yes, of course we did, it was really good, right Chip?”
“Yeah, it was pretty sweet. I mean I thought your last one was better, but it was good.”
“Chip!” Savannah ribbed her husband with her elbow. “Well, I loved it!”
“No it’s ok, he’s right; this book is not exactly as fast paced as my last one.” Savannah seemed to accept Morris’ attitude as adequately non-offended and let Chip alone. “This one is more of a desperate attempt at writing something deeper. Hopefully people will like it, I don’t know if anyone really reads books anymore other than to find one worth making into a movie. I mean it was great that that last book was on the best seller list, only problem is, I could see this one not making it, especially if people are expecting something else. And it was probably too early to take a risk like this; I mean the publishers probably weren’t expecting this. But the truth is I didn’t have another international thriller left in me. Besides if I kept on writing them, by the time I wanted to write something with some substance, people would just assume I was a hack and not take it seriously.”
“Yeah, I get that. That makes sense. It’s great though, I really liked it.” Nodded Savannah seemingly riveted.
“Good, hopefully lots of women will have your reaction, even if I may lose some male fans.” added Morris.
“So,who’d you dedicate this book too? Did you pick anyone yet?”
Morris sat up a bit more intently, “What? Why do you ask that?”
Savannah shrugged. “I don’t know, just kind of a girly question, I guess.”
“Actually, I’d rather not say. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“Why? Oh, now I have to know, who? Who is it?” she was almost shaking Morris in anticipation of the answer.
“No, I mean, it’s not really a big deal, it’s personal, you know?”
Chip leaned in and gave him that look, the one that let Morris know he couldn’t lie to him. “Um, dude, we’re all going to find out soon enough, I mean you are going to publish the book right?”
Morris closed his eyes and whispered, “Persephone.”
Savannah cried indignantly, “Martin?”
“Actually,” added Chip, “it’s Vanderwal.”
Early the next morning, Morris awoke with a headache, which he immediately regretted. Taking a few seconds to compose himself he realized that he was in a New York City hotel room. Dueling the throbbing in his head he showered and shaved and went to his suitcase for his clothes. He couldn’t remember which clothes had been packed and which had been sent to his mother’s house with the movers. He tried on a couple pairs of pants and eventually settled on a pair he liked. The same happened with his shirts. Eventually he was able to get together an outfit suitable; dark blue Jeans, an old crew neck prep school t-shirt and a corduroy blazer with brown Timberland boots.
Morris repacked his bag by unceremoniously shoving everything back inside and forcing the zipper up, sleepwalked to the elevator and went downstairs to check out.
Before he had even gotten two steps out of the elevator, he heard the voice of his personal editor and literary agent, Kevin Reynolds. Looking up, he watched as Kevin hustled toward him, less than pleased.
“Jesus Christ, Morris, let’s go. We’re going to be late!”
“I know; I want to be fashionably late.” he mumbled. “Hey, is that coffee for me?”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” he said rolling his eyes. Regardless, he handed him the coffee. “In case you haven’t noticed, Morris, this not some Hollywood party, we’re going to sell your book, you know the one so you can be secure and teach or whatever other stupid shit you want to do with your life.”
Morris wasn’t the most confident human being but he spent enough time in Los Angeles to eventually learn the game and how to play it. At least a little. He still played confidence as well as any actor. Plus Morris found it amusing to mess with Kevin, who was the consummate worrier. “Oh, please, with the way my last book sold, I could’ve written a postcard and they’d publish it.”
“I’m not so sure. This crap you’re making me sell is not exactly the stuff of best-sellers.” said Kevin, attempting to shuffle him through the lobby.
“Ha,” laughed Morris at Kevin’s attempt to insult him. “Don’t say things you don’t mean. You love my writing.” he said before asking the cute check-in girl for his bill. “Hi I’m checking out.” He smiled.
“Mr. Mahoney. Thank you for staying with us.” she smiled back. “By the way, I loved your movies.” she added leaning ever so slightly toward Morris.
“Thanks. I also enjoy your work.” he winked, signing his bill.
“You know, that has nothing to do with whether or not it’s what publishers want, Casanova.” commented Kevin, leaning over the counter in a desperate attempt to get Morris to look at him.
“Don’t worry about that, I have an ace in the hole.”
“Really?” cried Kevin, his voice almost cracking.
“Yup.” smiled Morris, turning to face his friend. It was obvious that he was particularly pleased with himself.
“Would you care sharing this information with me?”
“Michael Stein already bought the movie rights.”
Kevin nearly fell down in excitement. “Oh my God, that’s great! Really?”
“Yeah… no.” he said “He and I still aren’t speaking. I haven’t heard from him in months.”
“So you’re going to lie?” Kevin was completely perplexed.
“If need be.”
“I really hate you.” blurted Kevin frustrated.
“I know.” Morris just gave him a confident nod and headed for the door.
“78th and 6th please.” Morris ordered to the driver. He turned back to Kevin. “Do you think that they’ll be down for some big promotion of this book?”
“I honestly don’t know. It’s going to depend a lot on the reviews with this kind of book, starting with the New York Times Review this Sunday.”
“This Sunday, already? Who’s reviewing? Do we know?”
“Yeah, Adrienne Cohen.”
“Adrienne Cohen? That’s great she’s their lead critic. How’d you pull that one off?”
“Don’t thank me just yet, if she trashed you, we’re done. You’ll just be the next one hit wonder and you’ll be writing movies for the Hallmark channel. You really shouldn’t have written off Hollywood so permanently, there were tons of people who wanted to work with you. You didn’t have to only work with Michael Stein, you know?”
“Yeah, but if I stayed out there I’d never write, I’d just get a string of scripts to write, or worse yet, be the guy they hire to spruce up a bad script like Paul Haggis. I want to write something that’s going to transcend generations, something students will write papers on and rich wives will discuss in book clubs for years. I want to be in the Norton Anthology of American Literature.”
“Dude, it’s 2009, the novel is dead, or at the very least in a permanent vegetative state. Much less the kind of novel you’re talking about. You’re not the next Vonnegut or Phillip Roth or something. In this day and age, no novel will ever enter the lexicon like those guys’ did. You’d have been better off being the next Robert Ludlum or Dan Brown or something. And you’d be far richer and more famous. That last book was great. With this book, you’re Nicholas Sparks… at best.” He sighed, exasperated. “Actually that wouldn’t be so bad.” he said aloud to himself.
“But not happy.” sighed a dead-faced Morris from behind his sunglasses.
“What is your real goal here? I’m here to help, tell me what it is you’re doing back here. You wrote your first novel in Los Angeles and you sold tons of copies, sold the movie rights and made a fortune on the advance for this book. You didn’t even have to write another book. You and Michael Stein’s second movie is a classic, so you have the immortality thing going for you. So tell me, what is it that you really want? Don’t bullshit me. I know you.”
Suddenly Morris seemed to wake up; he turned and looked at Kevin. “You’re my friend right?”
“You know I am.” He meant it.
“I’m here for Persephone.” It was said barely audibly.
“Um… Persephone? Who is Persephone?”
“Who the hell is Persephone Martin?” he thought for a second. “Oh you mean Persephone Vanderwal.”
“She’s still Persephone Martin to me.”
“Ah, I see.” This was just weird to Kevin. “Do you even know her?”
“Yes!” he responded, slightly perturbed, “I told you she and I were friends in high school.”
“Right, right.” He said, assuring his riled client. Kevin took a deep breath. “You realize she just got engaged right? To probably the next mayor of New York? Hell, maybe the future Governor.”
“Yeah, that could be an issue. But when this book puts me on the map, I’ll be able to enter her world. Believe me; she’ll give me an opening.”
“Ok well, let’s just first make sure this book gives you that platform to start from, right?”
The cabbie pulled over and asked for the fare. Morris looked intently at Kevin without emotion and stared him into paying. Kevin, rolling his eyes with an exasperated sigh, fumbled into his back pocket arching his back as people do and handed the cash to the cabbie. Upon Kevin’s exit, the two men stood outside at the foot of a very serious looking black skyscraper.
“Look can you just behave? I can handle this ok? ” he said straightening up Morris. Kevin was desperate to keep him from being an embarrassment. For all of his class and charisma, there was a part of Morris which was massively immature and it usually manifested itself as a form of outlandishness. “Are you sober yet?”
“I’ve been sober since I woke up. But I do have this splitting hangover.” Morris joked.
After going through security and checking in with the lobby receptionist, they wandered over to the elevator lobby. Morris stood there calmly staring at his feet in cold silence. Morris’ calmness unsettled Kevin,
Turning toward Kevin, Morris stated calmly “Don’t worry; this is going to go well.”
Kevin smiled, “I think I’m supposed to be the one telling you that.”
“Eh, just saying.” shrugged Morris regaining his gaze upon the floor. Kevin chuckled in his head. Morris was flaky, goofy, occasionally irresponsible, immature, and projected the best false bravado of anyone he had ever met, but he was always capable of sensing when it was time to calm down and do the job at hand.
The elevator rang upon arriving at the ground floor and they stepped in and rode up to the 38th floor in silence.
The Dedication fiction by Jonathan Penney
An excerpt from: Chapter 2: Much Reviewed
Persephone Vanderwal was glad to be eating quietly on this Sunday morning in her Manhattan apartment. Her young daughter, Cassandra, was still asleep for once, tuckered out most likely from annoying her mother all night. Persephone had not gotten much sleep after her daughter came into her bedroom at 3am. Although unable to sleep in, she at least still had the morning to herself. Persephone was eating a bowl of Special K and some peach yogurt while reading the Sunday Times, which these days she never got to do. After a few minutes perusing the headlines, she quickly headed to her favorite section, the book review.
Immediately one of the headlines caught her eye. “Jersey Shore by Morris Mahoney”. Her heart surged. She was no longer in touch with her former schoolmate but she felt proud nonetheless. Persephone remembered the days she spent with Morris back at school and she smiled remembering how big his crush on her was. She had followed his career carefully the last few years as he made a name for himself. She had thought of calling him several times, but never knew when was right. His first book was entertaining, she thought to herself. She had seen both his movies as well and enjoyed them too.
Persephone flipped ahead to page eight; she wasted no time getting to what she wanted. She felt nervous for her old friend, she didn’t know why, eager to see if he got a positive review. Persephone had no idea he was releasing a book and had no idea as to the subject of his new novel.
Reading the author’s byline, Persephone already felt angry towards Adrienne Cohen. Who was she to judge her friend, she thought? As if Ms. Cohen was reviewing Morris on a personal level. Eventually, Persephone was able to compose herself and read the review.
Books of the Times
“The Birth of Suburbia”
A Review of Morris Mahoney’s Jersey Shore
by Adrienne Cohen
If you travel to the Jersey Shore today, the setting of Morris Mahoney’s second novel, you’ll hear the locals refer to the summer seasonal tourists from New York and Northern New Jersey as BENNY’s and the term is far from one of endearment. But if you listen to Mr. Mahoney, he’ll tell you the locals are actually BENNY’s themselves. The people who after the war moved from the cities of Newark, Jersey City, and the outer boroughs to the rural towns of Monmouth County. But these folks are not merely founders of the new towns along the Jersey coast line, but according to Mr. Mahoney, founders of the next great American cultural frontier: the suburbs. And he certainly makes a compelling case.
But his story is neither a history of Central Jersey’s development, nor a description of the suburban dynamic; it is a far more intimate portrait. One that I’m sure is set to stand the test of time.
At the sunset of the 1950’s a small cornucopia of peoples flee the urban cities and settle the banks between the Shrewsbury and Navesink Rivers in an attempt to find that safe white picket fence suburban lifestyle we all associate with today’s bedroom communities. But Mr. Mahoney in no way subjects himself to the mostly negative view of suburban culture portrayed by American Beauty, Desperate Housewives, or Weeds that is so popular today. Instead it is a more conflicted depiction. It is clear the inhabitants of the story all desire to live like the Cleavers but find themselves in many ways losing that battle. By the time they establish their picket fence, Main Street USA type of town, the prospect of the sixties bearing down on them have made the people uneasy.
Jersey Shore’s story centers around high school junior Carlos Gomez, “the kind of boy in which everyone sees potential in, except himself.” writes Mr. Mahoney and the girl who finds him fascinating, Contessa Campbell, who as Mr. Mahoney says, “was so disgruntled with what Carlos thought a perfect life, he thought that she must be crazy.”
Much like Nixon and Kennedy defined the 60’s, so too do Carlos and Contessa represent the differing philosophy of each of the men, albeit you may find it odd which one is which. Carlos, the blue collar conservative doesn’t understand how a WASP who has their life so perfectly set up for success could seek to demand change in the very fabric of the country which created her advantage.
This story very much on its own is a defense of the various ways one can go about achieving an “American Dream”. The first example of this comes from the retroactive love story of Charlie’s parents. Mr. Mahoney cleverly uses a Chicano, Fernando Gomez, to play the role of the prototypical American while Charlie’s mother Esperanza, a Cuban, represents the immigrant experience. But ironically it is Esperanza’s urban experience that inspires Fernando to move east toward the city in search of the American Dream.
Mr. Mahoney, an Oscar nominated screenwriter, has made the transition to novelist quite seemlessly. The author of two independent cinema hits, “My Last Five Days” and “Summer of the Clam”, Mr. Mahoney exploded onto the best seller list last summer with his debut novel. He alleged in interviews that after failing to sell the screenplay of the story, he reshaped it into a novel and published it. Well, Mr. Mahoney had the last laugh as his book “The Red Ghost”, a tale of international intrigue and corporate espoinage rose into the New York Times bestseller list. This book, however, according to its author was a work in progress since he was eighteen years old.
Well, Morris Mahoney’s labor of love has certainly paid dividends. This books is so masterfully crafted and written with so much heart that it is sure to appeal to a mass audience. But what really seperates this novel is its perfect combination of historical relevance with captivating story. Like Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, people will be looking at this book for years to come as a tale of what life was like in a certain time in a certain place. Also like Lee’s masterpiece, fans will read and reread the book for its tender love story…
As Persephone continued with the review, she suddenly found herself stunned with pride. She was smiling and had no idea how long she had been doing so. It was amazing to realize her old friend was about to achieve a lot of success.
There was a tinge of jealousy, since it was she who had been the talented writer as a youth as well as in her college days. Overall however, she was excited for her former friend.
Immediately, she felt like connecting with him, but quickly realized that she did not have any idea how to do so. Persephone smiled as she recollected Morris’ crush when the two were schoolmates. She was always so flattered by his unwavering fascination toward her. She couldn’t help but wonder if maybe his crush on her still lingered.
Her impulse to reach out to him grew, she tried to think of someone she could call who would know how to get in touch with Morris. After some quick contemplation, she figuered perhaps her old mentor and high school English teacher, Ms. Mena might have his information.
She already knew her number by heart, having relied continuously on her old schoolteacher for everything from teaching techniques, academic debate, and romantic advice. She reached for the phone and dialed so quickly that she didn’t even stop to worry if it was too early to call, especially on a Sunday.
As the phone began to ring, she eagerly awaited the opinion of the person she admired most outside of her father and mother. She heard the phone click and the hustle and bustle in the background would have subsided any fears she might have had that it was too early to call.
“Hello?” answered a stressed out male voice.
“Mr. Banks? Hi, it’s Persephone.”
“Well hello, Ms. Martin! Nice to hear from you again.” He smiled through the phone. “How’s my most famous student doing?”
“I’m great, I’m just eating breakfast. And you?”
“Oh, I’m trying to get the kids off to church. They are not cooperating. Would you like to speak to my wife?”
“I would, thank you.”
Persephone could hear Mr. Banks place the phone down onto the counter and yell “Cyra, Persephone is on the phone!” up the stairs. After a few moments, she heard Ms. Mena’s comforting voice come on the end of the line.
“Hi, Ms. Mena, I hope I didn’t call to early.”
“No, not at all! It’s perfect timing actually, Jonathan is about to leave with the kids to church so we can have some time to talk.”
“Everything’s good with you?”
“Yeah, everything’s great. Cassie’s still asleep, so I was reading the Times.”
Persephone heard Ms. Mena chuckle quietly on the other line. “Oh yes… Morris’ review came out today. I must admit that I forgot. Did you get a chance to read it?”
“Yes, I just finished it. The review was absolutely glowing.”
“Well, that’s not a surprise, it was a wonderful book. I knew they would like it. It’s exactly the sort of thing the Times adores. I’m probably going to wind up teaching it to my students within the next couple semesters.”
“You’ve read it? How? It’s not out yet.”
“Morris sent me a transcript.”
“He always sends me his transcripts, his headlines, articles about him, etcetera.”
“Since when?” asked Persephone increasingly curious.
“Since always. Since college I suppose, ever since he began publishing in college literary magazines.”
“Why does he do that? That’s silly.”
“I have no idea. I just figured he just wants me to know that he didn’t deserve all those C’s I used to give him when he was my student.” Ms. Mena laughed
“How come you’ve never told me you talk to him so often.”
“I don’t know; no reason. I always presumed you kept in touch. Do you not talk to him?”
“When was the last time you spoke with him?”
Persephone just remained silent on the other end.
“Not since graduation.”
“What? Really? That is no good, why on earth have you not spoken. Did something happen between you two?”
“Did he ever try and talk to you?”
“Maybe a couple times here and there.”
“Oh, Persephone, that is dissapointing. You really ought to call him.”
“I couldn’t, it’s been so long.”
“Don’t be silly Persy, I’m sure he would be thrilled to hear from you. I have his phone number if you want it.”
Her gut told her to say yes. But it’s not what came out of her mouth. “No, it’s ok, I don’t think I should. He’s probably very busy with promotion and all his Hollywood stuff.”
“Are you aware that he just moved to New York. You should definitely call him. Look I’ll just give you his cell number and you can either call him or not. But I think you should. Meet for lunch or something.”
Persephone refused to acquiese. She wouldn’t take the number from her former teacher. Ms. Mena allowed her to drop the subject and the two continued to chat for another few minutes before saying cordial goodbyes.
As Persephone hung up the phone, she found herself still staring at her phone. She should have taken the number she thought.
She was about to call Ms. Mena back but just as she was about to press the send button she heard the front door to her apartment rustle open.
“Honey?” came the call from out in the hallway.
“I’m in the kitchen.” responded Persephone. She placed the phone down on her table as her fiancé walked into the kitchen. She looked up to greet him.
“Hey Percy, good morning.” he said as he wandered over and gave Persephone a kiss.
“Hi Noah. What are you doing here? I thought you’d be on your way to Albany already? Don’t you have a meeting with the Governor first thing tomorrow morning?”
“Yeah, but it’s still early. I might even head to the office and do some work before sending for the car.” he said grabbing a glass and heading over to the refrigerator, “I think I might’ve left some papers here too; and I definitely left a pair of shoes here I want to take with me.”
“Oh, yeah, those brown ones? I slid them under the bed on your side.”
“Thanks Persy.” he smiled as he poured himself some orange juice.
Noah Spiro was a handsome man; he had short curly hair and a confidently handsome disposition. He was tall, dark and the golden boy of New York City. He was from one of the most prominent Jewish families in Manhattan. His father Jacob had been a U.S. Senator from Connecticut for three terms in the 80’s and 90’s. He was recently elected as the District Attorney for the City of New York and was already being discussed as a frontrunner to run for mayor inside Democratic circles.
Although Persephone’s first husband Ruud Vanderwal was from a wealthy socialite family, he did not have nearly the exposure Noah possessed. While marrying Ruud frequently earned Persephone mention on the high society pages, it was dating Noah that got her ink on Page Six. It was no doubt a curious and copy-selling story that a modest woman from Louisiana could come to Manhattan and be attached to two of the most eligible bachelors in the city.
Noah was older now, but had in his younger days been a Page Six darling with his high profile bachelor lifestyle. Upon graduating from Columbia law school at the top of his class, he was recruited heavily by all the top New York law firms. He joined WilmerHale and quickly shot through the ranks as a corporate lawyer making partner by age thirty. Howver, feeling the pressure from his family and the media to someday run for office, he abandoned the corporate world to enlist in the opposition by opening his own practice as a union lawyer. The move paid off. He grabbed plenty of headlines as a consciously driven crusader for the working class, so much so that he was able to run for attorney general, despite a complete lack of criminal law experience by the young age of thirty-six.
It just so happened that while making a public appearance at an elementary school in the Bronx he met Persephone. She was then teaching 4th grade. Immediately she charmed him and he was smitten. He had crossed paths with Persephone before at various functions when she was married to Ruud, but had never really met her until that day. He continued corresponding with her afterward and before long his romance with the widow of Ruud Vanderwal was splashed across the tabloids. But what the tabloids didn’t know was that Noah knew right off Persephone was the kind of girl who made it worth abandoning the bachelor lifestyle. Her debutante manner and sweet Louisiana drawl realed him right in.
After Ruud’s death, Persephone attempted desperately to maintain a low profile, especially for the sake of Cassandra. So she did the most natural thing she could think of. She went back to teaching. Although she used her late husband’s substantial wealth to spearhead one of the most lavish fundraisers in Manhattan once a year, for the most part she tried to be a mother to her daughter and teacher to her students.
“Anything interesting in the paper this morning?” asked Noah always expecting either his or Persephone’s name to be in the press.
“Actually yes.” she smiled.
“What is it this time?” he huffed.
“No it’s good. Remember I told you I went to school with Morris Mahoney? He wrote a new book and the Times reviewed it today.”
“Really? That’s nice. Was it a good review?”
“Yes, it was glowing, they called it the next great American masterpiece.”
“Wow, that’s pretty bold. I must admit his first book was awesome. Then you told me he was obsessed with you in high school and I got very jealous!”
She laughed, “I never said he was obsessed with me, I just said we were good friends and he had a big crush, that’s all. No need to be jealous. Although I’m flattered.”
“Jealous of some writer? Please, I’m the one who actually snagged you. I must have done something right. Or else just gotten real lucky.” And with that he went over and gave his bride to be a kiss.
“Uck, I’m such a mess.” she whined. She felt ugly in her robe and with her hair quickly tied up with a rubber band.
In reality, Persephone was a beautiful woman whose Southern charm was the foundation of her beauty. Her confident yet understated personality tended to win everyone over, from her late husband, to her fiancé, to Morris, and most importantly to the press and public.
Persephone was not tall by any measurement, but her presence in any room was unmistakable. She had long mastered the art of conversation, her natural ability to schmooze, charm or carry on any level of intellectual discussion could win over everyone from her fourth graders to politicians and celebrities. It was an art form she had been cultivating since she was fourteen, cleverly balancing both personas of a prom queen and a valedictorian.
At the urging of her parents, she decided to apply to several prestigious Northeast boarding schools after her freshman year after the local public school seemed to leave her bored. Her father the braing professor and her mother the patient nurse both saw so much potential in their daughter, and tried to find any which way they could to push her. Despite her brilliance, she was only admitted to one, a small school in the backwoods of Delaware. One that she knew hardly anything about. But she headed off with confidence nonetheless. Despite joining the school as a sophomore, she fit right in, made some great friends, and was a faculty darling. She went on to win a myriad of academic prizes but was still surprisingly rejected to the Ivy League colleges she desperately desired to attend. Stunned by this, she was still able to land on her feet by earning a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Despite the school’s prestige, Persephone was always disappointed with having to remain in the South. She had always felt a pull toward the Northeast. Persephone always felt a pull to New York that to her was nothing less than destiny. It was the only place where big dreams could be acheived, the place where she could validate all her slights.
The Dedication fiction by Jonathan Penney
An excerpt from: Chapter 4: Midnight at the Ball
“Are you ok?” the woman interrupted, feigning interest.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m just being a baby.” Morris turned to look at his attentive neighbor. His mouthed opened a little too wide as he got a good look at the woman. He was clearly taken aback by his fortune. But she too seemed to react at looking at him for the first time.
“Good, we’re supposed to be having fun, it is a ball.” she smiled.
Morris’ manhood suddenly kicked in, “So, can I get you a drink?”
“Are you hitting on me?” she was really amused by the ferocity with which he utilized the grandfather of all cliché pick up lines.
“That wouldn’t be inappropriate would it?” He really was obvious.
“Well, no, it’s just that it’s an open bar.” She was almost laughing at him.
“All the better for me right?” Morris thought he had played that one off rather well.
She giggled sincerely. “Ok, I’ll have another Mojito.”
After getting the bartender’s attention, Morris placed two drink orders. He swung back to face his new target. Her face was gorgeous. But she had an accessible familiarity about her. Her blue eyes glittered through the dim lights. Her blonde freckles danced as she wrinkled her nose and smiled. Looking at her lips, he caught himself fantasizing about what a kiss she would be. Her lips were full and she seemed to be smiling, even when she wasn’t.
There was awe in his gaze and he made no secret of it. If ever his pseudo-celebrity was going to pay dividends, now would be a good time. Persephone was suddenly a distant memory. Far from that, she did not even register on Morris’ radar at this moment. He had never, even in his time in los Angles, seen a more beautiful woman. Even with her almost rust colored hair tied up in a simple updo, she looked wonderfully glamorous in her short purple dress.
She grabbed it daintily. “I know, Morris Mahoney.”
He was stunned as she shook his limp hand. “You know me?”
“Of course, I’ve read both your books. I’m a big fan.” Her face lit up like she was backstage at a rock concert.
“No way.” Confidence can be a fickle thing. One second he was determined to use his ‘celebrity’, the next he was shocked it was a factor.
“Okay, I haven’t.” she shrugged looking back at her drink.
Morris looked over his shoulder. “Did Chip put you up to this?”
“Who the hell is Chip?” the woman seemed to be growing annoyed.
Morris really needed to learn he was a bestselling author. “I’m sorry; sometimes I forget people actually read my books. This quasi-celebrity thing is still new, well, to me at least.”
“I forgive you. It happens.” She smiled, amused by his humility, “I recognized you from your little dust jacket photo.” She smiled.
“So, really, you already read my new book?” he asked, too eagerly. The bartender placed the two drinks on the bar. Morris did not even acknowledge his drink.
“Yup.” She pronounced it with two syllables. She sipped her cocktail gleefully.
“That was fast. It’s only been out a couple weeks.”
“Well it’s funny you know, I went to kindergarten and they taught me how to read.” She seemed offended as if he thought she was stupid or something.
“I didn’t mean it like that, you know.” Oh crap, he was not one for the backhanded compliments.
“Sorry, I can get a little defensive sometimes.” She got visibly angry at herself for allowing herself to insinuate a crass answer to an innocent question. “No I read it, between subway rides and down time, I got through it pretty fast. It was really good.”
“Thanks, honestly, I appreciate it.” Morris decided it was time to talk about himself. “Without being a completely vain douche, can I ask what you liked about it?” Morris, despite his book earning waves of early accolades, still found himself asking approval for his book from regular people. He didn’t trust critics to judge how good his book truly was.
“Everything. I totally loved it.” She leaned forward and grabbed Morris’ forearm. It was obvious her enthusiasm for the book was sincere. Morris had never felt so happy to be a writer. “I thought it was a very interesting defense of suburbia. I don’t think anyone’s really done that before. And the love story was so sweet. I can be sucker for a good romance, and yours completely melted me. I mean, I’m a chick, so I guess I like romance.”
“Well I wrote it as a romance, so I’m glad you liked it. And that’s great that you saw it as kind of a pro-suburban theme, I was totally going for that.”
“Well I grew up in the suburbs, and I liked it.”
“No, the Bay Area.” She said, motioning west with a nod, as if it was just on the other side of the Hudson.
“I really like San Francisco, been there many times.” He lied; he’d only been there twice.
“You are way too conservative to like San Francisco.” She said it with a resolute conviction that disarmed Morris.
“How do you know?” he countered with a contrived resentment.
“Like I said, I read your book.” She smiled pleased to be able to prove it. “You bashed Berkeley and you painted the whole Bay Area as a cesspool of liberalism.”
“Not exactly.” Morris hated Berkeley.
“Yes.” She said punching his arm.
“Actually Stanford was my reach school and I desperately wanted to go.” It was time to concede the point. “Maybe I’m just bitter about being rejected.”
“Ok, I believe you.” She did.
“Are you upset because you went to college out there?” he smiled ready to tease her more.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh where’d you go to school?”
“I didn’t go to college.” she stated simply.
“Oh.” Morris didn’t like this line of questioning.
A new thought suddenly arose, and Morris didn’t really know how to bring it up this late in the game. He just tactlessly went for it. “I’m really sorry; do I have your name yet?”
Morris was thoroughly embarrassed. “Wow, I’m really sorry.”
“I know. We were talking about you the whole time.” she mocked.
“Please don’t make me feel worse.” he begged.
She was amused by his sincerity. “It’s ok. I’m Cali.” she giggled as she reached out her hand toward Morris. Morris gladdly reached out and shook it.
“Cali…” he repeated slowly. Bells were beginning to ring in his head at the sound of the name. He kept his gaze fixed upon her face as he thought deeply. Suddenly, it just clicked, and her face became instantly recognizable.
No fucking way, thought Morris. “Wait… Cali Taylor? Oh my God.” Morris was at once in shock and horror. “I am so sorry.” How do you tell someone you know who they are after you just talked to them for five minutes without noticing, thought Morris? He just went with an unabashed compliment “Now I get to tell you I’m a big fan… really big.”
“You didn’t even recognize me,” She was half insulted half amused at his late realization. She added with a half-wink, “and let’s face it; recognition is kind of my only asset.” Cali had been thinking that maybe he was unaware of her, but no. Everyone seemed to react so differently after they realized what she did for a living.
“In all fairness, you’re a brunette now.” How could he have been so daft? Morris was punishing himself in his head. In college she was his biggest celebrity crush. He remembered seeing her for the first time in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and thinking how beautiful she was despite being so young, even younger than Morris.
“I know. I’ve got my real hair now.” She paused. “For once.”
“You know in law school you were my desktop wallpaper for almost two years.” Morris could almost hear his heartbeat; he was legitimately worried Cali could too. So much for having the upper hand in the fame department, thought Morris.
“I don’t believe that for a second.” She didn’t.
“No, it’s totally true. My old roommate can attest to that. Hell I could tell you exactly which photo it was.”
“If you’re such a fan, you’d think you’d have recognized me.” She placed her face in her hand and stared curiously at him.
“I should have. When I lived in LA I was always bad at recognizing people. Don’t let anyone convince you I’m actually intelligent.”
“Well, you’re ability to write says otherwise.” That just slipped.
“Oh, thank you,” he blushed, “and really, I am a fan. Actually it’s kind of funny I didn’t recognize you when you think about it.”
“It’s ok; I don’t get approached all that often anyway.” She wanted more praise. “You know if you were already writing in college and you really are a fan of mine, I could take credit for being a kind of muse for you.”
“You absolutely could say that.” Morris smiled. It was the first confident thing he’d said since learning her name.
“Cool.” It was dark at the bar, but Morris swore he saw Cali’s cheeks flush a little red.
“Well, this is actually my first one. I can’t say I’ve been giving to charity at the three thousand dollar a plate rate often enough. And I didn’t even get the ticket. Someone got it for me.”
“Really? Me neither, it’s hard to get these tickets, and of course insanely expensive. Who got yours?”
“Some music exec. He called my agent and said he wanted to take me. I swear people think that I’m some sort of professional escort just because I don’t model anymore. When I lived in Los Angeles, I can’t tell you how many times people would ask me out via agents, like how romantic is that? Oh, hey, douche bag so and so wants to take you to the Grammy’s. Like fuck off, right? Anyway, I just really wanted to come to this event, so I said yes.”
“Yeah, not exactly the fairy tale. So where’s your date?”
Cali leaned in towards Morris. Her face became indignant. Morris could smell her. She smelled like a woman should smell. “I don’t give a shit where he is. He’s barely said a word to me since we got here and I am taking myself home. He’s probably a fucking homo anyway and I’m just his beard. I just hope I didn’t piss off his boy toy by showing up with him”
Morris didn’t know whether or not to chuckle, but he did anyway. “Well he is a music exec, which should tell you something.”
Cali smiled, she could tell that Morris didn’t judge her at all, he was just making conversation. It didn’t even seem like he was trying to hit on her anymore. It was as if he was just chatting with a nice person whom he found interesting. She was confused. “So who paid your way?”
“Oh, do you know Persephone Martin?”
Cali shook her head no.
“She’s the chair of the event. We went to high school together, so she gave me two tickets. But I donated my ticket’s value anyway. Then, on top of that, I got two tickets from my publisher, but I gave them to my friends Chip and Savannah. That’s them over there.” He pointed towards his friends.
“Persephone Martin? Is she the same Persephone you dedicated your book too?” she seemed very interested.
“Wow, you really did read my book. Seems that page is drawing a lot of attention.” huffed Morris in frustration. “Yeah she is.”
“How’d you pick her.” Cali found herself holding her breath.
“Well, she’s had it rough with the death of her husband, who also was a high school friend of mine, so I thought it’d be nice, you know?” He hadn’t rehearsed that answer, but it certainly worked.
“Oh. You’re not romantically involved or anything?” she was amazed to feel herself rooting for a specific answer.
Morris did not want to talk about Persephone to Cali. “Oh, no. just friends.” Persephone took a relieved sigh. Morris continued, “Speaking of which would you like to meet my friends, Chip and Savannah?”
“Yeah, sure. I don’t really know anyone here. I only just moved to the City.”
Morris waved his friends over to him and they obliged upon spotting him.
Cali chuckled, “Thank you.” She looked right at Morris, “See, he recognized me.”
Morris’ head slumped in equal measures embarrassment from Chip’s overselling and Cali’s dig. “Yes, I noticed. This is my good friend Chip. He’s an accountant for Goldman Sachs.”
“How rivetingly boring.” She teased.
“No, it’s not so bad.” Chip was too star struck to care he had been slighted.
Savannah lagging a couple steps behind arrived and Morris introduced her. “Cali this is Chip’s wife Dr. Calloway. Savannah this is Cali. We just met.”
“Hi, I’m Savannah.” she said offering her hand.
“Oh wow, what kind of doctor?” Cali seemed impressed.
“I’m an OBGYN.” she responded leaning on Chip.
“Looks, like you could use an OBGYN yourself.” Cali said pointing towards Savannah’s belly.
“Oh, yeah, I guess so.” she smiled.
“How far along ar you?”
“I’m about five months.” she responded with some weight.
“Congratulations, you must be so excited, is it your first?”
“Yes it is, we are very excited.” Savannah rubbed her belly. “So do you know Morris?”
“Nope.” She said turning to say it to Morris. “We just met.”
“He’s really nice isn’t he?” pushed Savannah.
“Eh.” She waived her hand as if to say more or less.
“Hey, c’mon, I’m better than your date.” he offered. Cali nodded approvingly.
At that moment an announcement came over the loudspeakers to let everyone know they had ten minutes until salad was served and dinner commenced.
Savannah was so eager to promote her friend and jumped upon the opportunity presented to her, “So, Cali, are you here with anyone?”
Cali thought about it a few moments. “Um, no not really, I’m kinda of on my own.”
“Well we have an extra seat at our table if you’d feel more comfortable eating with us. Morris didn’t bring anyone, so feel free to come sit with us.”
Morris was aghast at the embarrassment Savannah was bringing to him.
“Really,” Cali said smiling at Morris, “No hot date? You were just going to eat an empty ticket? What kind of celebrity are you?”
“I’m still learning, remember?” this was worse than being embarrassed by your mother in the schoolyard.
Cali hesitated for a moment. She checked around looking for her date for the evening and couldn’t see him. “You know what, Savannah; I’d love to join you guys. I need to make more friends in this city, you know? I just got here from L.A. a few months ago.”
Savannah almost skipped with glee, “Great, see Morris, everything works out! Ugh, I’m so hungry!” she added in desperation while rubbing her belly. And with that she and Chip headed inside toward the dining room. Morris and Cali were left to finish their drinks and get up from the bar.
Morris although failing, tried to play it cool, “Savannah really likes to look out for me.”
“Yeah, I can see that. Must be nice to have such good friends isn’t it?” Cali was completely sincere.
“Oh my God, I love them; we all went to high school together.” Morris seemed so excited in his proclamation, it caught Cali off guard. She immediately was jealous. Thinking to herself, Cali could not think of a friend she could say she loved the way Morris just did.
It suddenly dawned on both Morris and Cali that they were getting along quite well and making friends rather quickly. Morris ran as many thoughts through his head to help him find something to talk about, but couldn’t find anything interesting enough to actually say. What does a guy say to a world renowned beauty for small talk? He felt like he was in high school again. All Morris kept telling himself was that she must like him or else she wouldn’t have chosen to sit with them.
On the other hand, Cali for the first time in a while felt a little nervous. Men had never really given her all that much trouble, but to meet such a down to earth celebrity was refreshing. She had met many in her life and the results were mostly negative. She already knew she admired him for his writing; it connected to her on such a personal level. And, she could not deny that he was handsome, certainly more than she had imagined. He was also innocently charming, even when he was failing to be suave.
Cali had bought his first book in an airport on her way to a shoot. She had never heard of him when she saw his hardback on the new releases table. But the blurb on the inside flap sold her on it. Proclaiming it as a first effort of an Oscar-nominated screenwriter of a movie she had really liked piqued her interest. Its promise of a fast paced story set across various exotic locations around the world further appealed to her. It was such an engrossing story all wrapped around a subtly sweet romance. By the time she had hit the beach for her first shoot, she had it almost finished. It was immediately one of her favorite books of all time.
By the time his second book was released, Cali was well on the lookout for it. Although not what she expected, she adored it. The story was deeply layered and she found the romance sweeter than what Cali thought life could offer. Yet, she thought it realistically plausible all at the same time. She had gone back and seen the other movie he had screen written and by the time she met him had a bit of a crush on him whether she knew it or not.
The two walked into the dining room and it was more than a mad house. Hundreds of people, most of whom were a who’s who of New Yorkers scrambled to their tables all the while schmoozing with one another. Everyone you bumped into was someone who needed to be chatted up. Morris tried desperately to look confident in his search for table number twenty-one and was failing miserably until he spotted Chip flagging him down in the corner. He nodded to his friend and turned to Cali and said “Over there in the corner.”
Ducking and weaving through the crowd they eventually reached their seats and Morris helped Cali into her chair. The salad had already been served.
Immediately Savannah was back at it again. “So Chip tells me you’re a model?”
Cali nodded, “I guess so, I mean technically that is my trade for lack of a better word.” she laughed.
“Who have you modeled for?”
“I’ve been around. Everything you know? When I started out I took what I could get, everything from car shows to brochures, eventually I was lucky enought to graduate to department store catalogs and men’s magazines. I did Sports Illustrated a couple times, that was really exciting, I can’t lie. It is an honor. But I don’t really do much of that anymore. I’ve saved up all I need and I just try and travel and paint. I’m taking art classes now, that’s my real passion. The design classes I’m taking as well are fun, but it’s hard.”
“Well, you’re very beautiful that’s for sure.” Savannah complimented.
“Thank you.” Her intentions were so sincere it was impossible not to be gracious. Cali already knew she liked her. “You know I don’t want to be rude, but I thought that you all went to high school with Persephone.”
“We did.” said Chip between bites of his spinach salad.
“So why are we as so far back from the podium as is humanly possible?” Cali jabbed.
“Hey, I told you I was only a quasi-celebrity. And there are certainly some big time people here who donate a load more than the the $3,000 we all donated.”
Cali chuckled, satisfied enough by the answer, “What are we like a combined $12,000 donation.”
“Yeah, add two zeroes and you get Sean Zimmerman’s donation.”
“Well, now that I’m looking, the guy that brought me here is sitting right in front of the stage.” She pointed to an older bald man stumbling around staring, searching for his ‘date’.
As he began to look in their general direction. Cali slouched down in her chair so as not to be seen.
Savannah was almost laughing, “Who is that guy?”
“Technically, he’s my date.”
“Really? Who is he?”
“Some exec who thought he could buy my company for the evening.”
“Well if you wanted a better seat, you sure have one available to you.” Morris said it as a joke but prayed that she wouldn’t act on it.
“No, forget that. I need to take a stand with what I’m doing with my life, it’s starting right now. That jerk off is not getting the pleasure of my company.” Cali peered over the table and saw that it was safe to come out. “Sorry to get all existential on you guys, just talking to myself, you know?”
Morris was so impressed with Cali, he was completely smitten. She seemed to take such a relaxed approach to her career and seemed to want more from life than the glamour that could easily be afforded to her.
Cali knew that she had created somewhat of a lull in the conversation, so it was up to her to restart it. “Do you have a private practice Savannah?”
“Yeah, it’s me and another doctor I met in my residency. We’re up in Riverdale. Why? Do you need a doctor?”
“Kinda, haven’t found anyone since I was out here. Is it weird that I’m asking you to be my doctor?” asked Cali.
“No, it hot!” Chip quipped.
“Chip!” scolded Chip’s wife with a smack on the shoulder. He recoiled from his scolding. Morris laughed like a teenager at his schoolmate’s misfortune.
“Here’s my card, at the very least we can discuss some other good doctors in the City. Do you live here full time?”
Cali took the card and placed it in her handbag. “Yeah, just moved here last September. I really like it. It’s more real than LA, I like that. You can see wealthy business people in suits eating dinner at a pizza joint. In LA, God forbid you weren’t seen at the hottest restaurant in town, you know?”
“So, it’s pretty much like they say?” Chip asked.
“Yeah, pretty much.” interjected Morris.
“We’ve been trying to get Morris to tell us about the LA life for weeks, but he’s mum.”
“Oh that can’t be?” Cali smiled. “His buddy, Michael Stein from what I know is quite the playboy. Surely Morris, you have some stories to tell.”
Morris cracked a smile, amused by what was quickly becoming an all out press for details. “When you’re a big time up and coming Hollywood director, it’s not hard to be a playboy if that’s what you want to be.”
“C’mon, Morris, you’re Stein’s right-hand man, an Academy Award nominated writer. You’ve got dirt.” Cali spoke to him like a teacher who knew her pupil was lying. “I know all those down and out actresses think writers are hot. Tell me you didn’t use that as a pickup?”
Savannah and Chip exchanged glances; they were amazed by the warmth with which Cali treated Morris. And as for Chip, it was obvious to him he was fascinated by her. They hadn’t seen Morris like this since they were in high school.
Morris blushed, “First of all, I’m certainly not Mike’s right hand man anymore, he’s made that clear. And believe me, it’s not easy convincing someone you were an Oscar nominee. They get that line all the time.”
“Really? Because it’s written all the back flap of your books.” teased Cali.
“I’m really not that kind of guy. Parties and hook-ups based on false promises, not really my thing.”
“Wow! What a knight of chivalry. Where were all the guys like you when I was out there?” Cali continued, “What I want to know is, how did we not meet out there at some point? God knows I spent way too much time at those parties.” Cali huffed in frustration at her own wasted time to no one in particular.
Chip was first to comment. “These are the entrées?”
“Yes sir.” responded the waiter.
Savannah was devastated. The food was served in more than meager portions.
“Oh my, this is not going to do. I’m eating for two, what am I supposed to eat?”
“Well, at least we know the money is going to charity.” Morris poked his chicken with his fork half-heartedly. “What did you get?” he asked Cali.
“I got the fish.” Cali too was a little disgusted by the portions, “I think this is the bite size.”
“Not quite, but this better be the best din…”
Cali interrupted, “Let’s see…” And with that she stabbed her fish and put the whole piece in her mouth. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but she got it in there.
Chip and Savannah were taken aback. Morris thought it was hysterical and immediately cracked up.
Cali mumbled through her food. “Just about bite sized.” Although barely able to chew, Cali was obviously smiling behind her puffed cheeks. “I gotta say, this is amazing.” she mumbled.
That got Chip and Savannah laughing. It wasn’t everyday that a supermodel stuffed food in their mouth.
Savannah was laughing so hard she had to put her hand on her mouth to prevent herself from spitting out her bite of food.
The others at the table and some of the people from the surrounding tables took notice and began shooting the the four laughing persons looks usually reserved for children.
If there was any doubt left in Morris’ mind that this girl was not for real, that moment alleviated all of his concerns. Cali was tearing up with equal parts laughter and embarrassment. Eventually they were all able to compose themselves and go about eating their dinner, or in Cali’s case eat some of her side vegetables.
The Dedication fiction by Jonathan Penney
An excerpt from: Chapter 5: Rescued
The great evening at the ball with Cali might have been only a dream if not for her intervention. Morris’ spent too much time worrying about what he couldn’t have; he ignored a night with Cali which flashed so much potential. No doubt love for another is a wonderful thing, yet it can so often screen the love-struck from being loved back.
The rest of the weekend came and went and Morris went back his teaching at Columbia for the rest of the week as if all was normal. He was grading papers on this Friday afternoon as if that was the most fun thing he could think of to do—until Cali saved him.
Two knocks on the door frame.
Morris looked up.
There staring in the doorway was Cali wearing jeans, sneakers, and a white t-shirt. She had her hands in the pockets of her black jacket.
How it was possible is a mystery, but with the way he looked at her, one would have thought he had forgotten just how beautiful she was.
“Hey there.” She said with a smirk.
“Cali. Hi.” Morris almost killed himself climbing out from behind his desk to greet her. He moaned as his knee banged the hard wood. Of the desk.
“It’s been a week, you know, Morris.”
“A week since what?” Morris was puzzled.
“Since we hung out.” There was a sense of frustration in her voice.
“Oh yes.” As if he really had to try to remember, “That really was fun, huh?”
“I thought so too, so I was wondering why it is that I hadn’t heard from you? I wanted to make sure you were still alive.”
“Do you make a habit of assuming that you are irresistible to all men?” Morris smiled with his eyes. He whether wisely or unwisely, restrained smirking as if he had been dealt a good poker hand.
“Yes. I do.” Cali said, stepping towards Morris. “You know Morris, my ass has sold a lot of magazines.”
“Your ass is certainly something special.” Morris swallowed nervously. How does someone flirt with a girl this good looking, thought a suddenly very confused Morris.
“Don’t you think I’m pretty?” Cali had stepped so close to Morris, that he found himself almost pinned against the front of his desk.
“Most definitely.” He said nodding his head meakly. He was hilariously intimidated by this point.Why he ever tried to play games with a super model was quickly lacking clarity.
“Don’t you want to see my ass in person?” she was practically throwing herself at him.
“Was this really happening?” he thought to himself.
“I’d be crazy to say no, right?” Morris asked rhetorically. Attempting to resist her was a pointless endeavor.
“Then say yes.” He could smell her now she was so close. It was intoxicating as his attraction to her rushed back to him.
He paused for a second. “Yes….” He realized quickly he hadn’t been enthusiastic enough, “Hell Yes.” Morris stared at her eyes. He could see himself. “So… um Cali… are you free for lunch? My schedule suddenly cleared up.”
Cali smiled what was almost a diabolical smile. “I guarantee you that’s the smartest decision you’ll make all week.”
“Patricia, could you cancel my 2:30 class?” Morris yelled out to his secretary over Cali’s shoulder.
“Where are we going?” Cali asked. She really liked her power over men.
“I’ll figure it out.” He whispered.
Almost simultaneously whilst Morris opened his door, Cali grabbed Morris and kissed him. The two barged through the door like some bad romantic comedy cliché. Morris threw the take-out rather violently on the entry table.
He used his newly freed hand to grab Cali by her rear end and threw her onto his couch. She pulled him on top of her with her legs. He moaned with surprise at her ability to pull him. Cali laughed with a muffled chuckle as his full weight landed on her.
The two were locked in what was certainly a wrestling position, until Morris was able to break free so that he could take off his blazer. In the most fierce and hurried manner he discarded it to the far recesses of the room as if Cali were going to leave the room if he didn’t get his clothes off immediately.
Cali, herself used this time to pull off her blouse. She was sporting a sexy red bra which accentuated her already flawless breasts. Walking back sexily toward Morris, she grabbed his tie. She led Morris along toward the bedroom as if he were a puppy on a leash.
Once at the bed she yanked him toward her, send them both sprawling on top of the covers.
The two continued to kiss as if their mouths were sewn together. Cali reached down and took her pants off in what seemed like one fell swoop. She was already nearly nude and yet Morris was almost still fully dressed.
Morris liked this scene. He felt confident in his appearance. But, he knew his partner was a far better looking person than he and he got to exam her body for the first time.
Obviously, she was gorgeous. Her rarely brown hair and lack of make-up gave her a modicum of normalcy, but it was clear this was a woman whose beauty was unparalleled. In fact, her unglamorous appearance only added to her sexiness in this moment. As if Morris was getting the rawest form of this miraculous specimen.
Cali’s build was more than athletic. She combined a taught trim frame with voluptuous accessories. She had physical attributes that regular women only dream of. It was her gift. Her legs were endless and her thighs tight. But already, Morris was enjoying the nuances of her body the airbrush didn’t allow the public to see. His hands explored her as if he was reading Braille, there was so much to like. He could feel his partner enjoying his touch and the electricity was transferring back and forth. Cali sat up to kiss him and he reached around her back to unhook her bra. Once Morris had it unlatched he sent it to the same corner he had sent his jacket. Quite simply her body was heaven. Everything about her body was perfect. Even her imperfections gave her character. Her every beauty mark, every freckle was like a private exhibition. From her playfully devilish smile, to her full pouty lips, to her dazzling blue eyes and the expression they revealed, everything only added to her charm.
This was not just some chick at the beach with a skimpy suit, or the hot bartender who showed to much cleavage. No, Cali was living, breathing, human art.
Certainly God was a sculptor because there was no need to create something this beautiful except to add to His world’s beauty. Morris was very much self conscious about his appearance and just tried his best not to think about it; to lose himself in the moment and enjoy it.
If Morris was being honest with himself, he knew that it had been a long while since he had been with a woman. Just the smell of a Cali alone was enough to get Morris revved up. He began to take off his shirt and tie; he was far behind and needed to catch up.
Morris wanted to speak, but his lips were tied up on Cali’s. He was finally able to pry away. Cali’s eyes were closed; she wanted to feel the passion. Morris’ eyes however were wide open. There was so much to take in; he wasn’t going to let the moment pass without memorizing every fleeting moment.
There was something almost fantastical about the scene Morris found himself in. “I’m not going to owe you like a thousand dollars tomorrow or something am I?” he said in the most playful way possible.
Cali opened her eyes and punched him extremely hard on the shoulder. Morris groaned in pain. The two rolled over so that Cali was now looking down on Morris. She saw the smile in Morris’ eyes. He chuckled. “You fucking jerk.” She leaned in really close. “I’d be a hell of a lot more than a thousand dollars.” She was dead serious.
Morris gazed deeply at the face which looked back at him with such a warming affection. Continuing the inspection of his new lover, he was thrilled to see the sparse blonde freckles sprinkled gently across her nose and onto her cheeks. They reappeared on her shoulders and drifted down toward the top of her breasts. “I love your freckles. They’re gorgeous, why would you ever let the magazines cover them up?” He had never seen anything like them.
She kissed him as a thank you. Morris was in Nirvana. To be desired this way was something so refreshing. His attraction to Cali was so much more than physical attraction. She represented something he had never felt before. Desire was such a palpable emotion. And it was directed at him and he ate it up.
Morris had dated women before and been in relationships before, but he awaited this day his whole life. The day in which a woman, a truly attractive woman, both inside and out, came to Morris, pursued him, and actually wanted him was here.
Cali was scared with how forward she had been with Morris. Suitors had never been an endangered species for her and many of them were not what she needed. What was it about this one that made her the aggressor, something she had never been before? Morris was a lot of fun, a total gentleman and treated her more like a person than a photo.
Opening her eyes, she was surprised to see Morris staring right at her.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, nervous she had done something wrong.
“Nothing.” Morris was surprised to be asked that question. But then, something clear, an epiphany came to him, something he could never in a million years thought would have been the case, namely, that he was in charge.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” the look of concern was particularly amusing to Morris considering he figured he was the one who should worry how he looked.
“How am I looking at you?” he asked, restraining the smile, but maintaining the look.
“I don’t know. Is it good?” To have someone look at you so intensely after revealing yourself to them so intimately, left her vulnerable.
“Oh my God. Cali, you’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever been around.” How could she not be? If only she could know just how much Morris respected her.
“You’re having fun?”
“Of course, how could I not? You’re an amazing kisser.”
Cali finally smiled content with Morris’ approval.
Morris spoke again, “C’mere,” he pulled her gently by the forearm. “Just lay on me for a moment.”
“Ok.” Cali climbed on top. Her breasts lay on Morris. They were so cool; he loved feeling her full weight on his chest. Her breasts were the only thing about her body which was soft besides her lips; the rest of her was so taut. “Am I going to crush you?” she worried.
“Oh, yeah,” Morris kidded. “You weigh a ton, what are you like 190, 195?”
She was getting more comfortable now with Morris’ innocent teasing. “Two-ten.” she said dead panned.
Morris let out a stifled chuckle and Cali joined in the laughter, breaking her stone face. They sat there for a few seconds but the amount of thoughts that raced through each of them was enough to keep them occupied for days.
Morris stroked Cali’s hair gently from the nape of her neck. It was such a delicate moment in the midst of such sexual passion.
“Do you like my hair brown?” she wondered aloud.
“Yes, it’s much better this way than blonde.” commented Morris.
“I don’t know, it’s been blonde for so long I feel like it’s ruined sometimes.”
“Believe me when I tell you, it looks great.” he sounded so definitive in his praise, Cali gave him a half smile. Inside she was throbbing with desire.
Morris was completely infatuated with his partner and suddenly realized he wanted to know so much more. He had the opportunity to fulfill the fantasies of men everywhere and all he wanted to do was ask her more about herself.
Cali on the contrary was burning up inside. She needed to release this passion building inside her and Morris was constantly slowing things down. Nervously she wondered if he was as into her as she was to him.
“How long were you a blonde for?” asked Morris.
“Oh God, from when I was nineteen until about three months ago.”
“I actually prefer this. Why’d you do it for so long?”
“Wasn’t my choice. If the photographer’s and companies want it, they get it. They blonde everyone these days, it’s awful.”
“So, why’d you go back?”
“I wanted to. It’s easier to deal with.” Morris loved it when she allowed herself to sound so independent. “But I’ll tell you I feel self conscious about it sometimes. I mean if they preach to you enough that brunette isn’t the thing to be you start to believe it.” Cali sat up, straddling Morris. Cali tried to make her way back to the foot of the bed so she could finish undressing her partner.
As Cali sat up, an ambulance roared down the street. Cali looked toward the window, startled. Each and every movement by Cali was beautiful. Her profile while she was frozen looking to her right was statuesque. She turned back to look at Morris.
“Turn back toward the window a second.” he asked.
Cali was confused, but she complied.
Turning her head to the side, Morris raised his hands as if he was miming taking a photograph.
“Click.” He said. Cali turned back. She was smiling a wry smile, amused by Morris’ flattery. Morris continued, “I have to make sure I capture this moment for myself, God forbid I ever forget it.” They looked into each other. “Women like you are the reason man created art.”
“Oh. Really?” Cali was laughing, pleased by the attempts Morris felt he had to make. He was sweet for sure, and she liked that he was not taking her attraction for advantage. He truly tried to make sure she felt wanted. But, Cali was getting more than a little restless. Quite frankly, she was turned on, and felt an intense attraction to Morris. Morris sat up to try and kiss her. Pulsating inside, she then did something that completely surprised both of them. Extending her hands full out onto Morris’ chest, she pushed him as hard as she could. Shocked, Morris fell in a heap back onto the bed with his head on the pillow.
“Would you relax.” laughed Cali. She was so playful Morris had to laugh too. Not only was she the best looking girl he had ever been with by a large margin, but her spunk was the sexiest bedroom attitude Morris had ever encountered. He laughed, despite being nervous as hell, but she had seen his restraint as a possible dislike. He had taken the most beautiful woman he’d ever met and had gotten her to lust for him albeit accidentally.
“Holy crap, you are a tomboy! I think you’re stronger than me.”
Making a silly face, Cali snickered, “Oh yeah, right!” Now Morris’ pants stood no chance. In one fell motion Cali had his pants off and onto the floor.
Now, even Morris couldn’t resist any longer. With Cali-like vigor he grabbed her and pulled her into him as he rolled her underneath him. With her hands all over his back she urged him into doing what they both wanted. She moaned with delight as the two began one of the most fun afternoon’s in either of their lives.
Exhausted, yet exhilarated Morris collapsed in a heap beside his newfound lover, attempting to catch his breath. Cali rolled over and buried her face in his chest, panting heavily and desperately trying to cover her inexorable smile. The sex itself had been secondary to the way her heart had pumped uncontrollably throughout her time with Morris.
Morris looked down at the top of her head; her copper brown hair playfully sprawled over his body. He stared at the ceiling wondering what it was that was happening. Was this a dream? Could any man really go through such a memorable moment such as this where he had been actively pursued by a woman the caliber of Cali?
Those thoughts were merely a manifestation of the fleeting sensations of pride which flashed through him, next came the rush of questions which were typical to Morris and his over-thinking ways.
What was going on here? He had been seduced by one of the most beautiful women on the planet and predictably hadn’t been able to put up much resistance. Did he want to be in a relationship with this woman? He smiled that his instant gut reaction was yes. But was she worth putting aside the dream of Persephone perhaps forever? It was a daunting question. He had finally reconnected with her after all these years. Finally he realized he had better say something.
“How are you feeling?” Morris huffed through his heavy tired breaths. It was the first real sentence that had been said in what felt like forever.
Morris could feel her muffled giggle and she lifted her head and pulled her hair out of her face and finally looked at Morris. Cali was embarrassed. She was now placed in an unwise position of vulnerability and she had no one to blame for it other than herself. She had come on to Morris so strongly, without checking to see if he really cared for her. He mustn’t have, she thought, after all he hadn’t called her all week and she practically had to throw herself at him to have sex. Was it possible that she wasn’t that attractive anymore, like she had been in her twenties, before she was diagnosed with cancer? She was angry for giving Morris the chance to walk away and leave her devastated.
“Really good.” She failed miserably at playing it cool.
Morris too would’ve been smiling unabashedly except for his own confusion. He wanted to put Cali at ease but couldn’t think of anything new to say. “You really are an amazing woman.”
Cali ’s heart sank into her gut. To Cali , they felt like code words, the euphemistic clichés that people used before revealing they had no real interest. The words guys said as they were notching you off on their belts as they hustled out of the apartment while simultaneously pulling up their pants to look for their next prize. Her heart was beating a hundred miles an hour. Not wanting an answer but wanting to get things over with she uttered. “But…?”
Morris showed a look of confusion. “But nothing. You’re perfect. You’re so good looking it should be illegal, you are one of the funniest women I’ve ever met, you’re brilliant and you don’t even know it, and you eat like a guy.”
“Oh my God! Stop…” Cali was appalled at the fool he must think her to be.
He finally smiled. “Not to mention, you’re pretty damn good at sex.”
Cali put her head back into his chest and screamed. “Ugh!” looking back up she added, “You must think I’m such a slut!”
“Why? Because you’re good at sex?”
“No, because I like mauled you. You must think I’m super slutty… or desperate.” she paused for a second, “Or both!”
“No, you’re neither. We were just two people who really felt an instant connection; there wasn’t any point in fighting it.” He laughed to himself, “I mean we did things a little backwards, but that’s ok, we’re adults and don’t have to apologize for it.”
She looked back up nervously, with her most helpless puppy dog eyes. Morris continued. “I’d like to take you out on more of a proper date, if you’d let me.”
“Yeah, really. You want to?”
“Of course, where do you want to go? When?” She was instantly furious at herself for speaking so eagerly.
“Right here, right now seems like a good time to me.”
“What?” now she looked like the totally confused one.
With that, Morris bound out of bed, and put his boxers back on as he hopped out of the room and into the den. Persephone rolled over and desperately attempted to look out to where he was going. Before she could even check, he popped back in, take-out in hand.
“I promised you the best Chinese in the city didn’t I?”
Cali laughed; she felt a sense of relief.
“You want to eat in bed? That is so gross.” she said making a face.
“It’s my bed; I can do what I want.” He began to unfold the boxes and checking to see what was in which. “Here’s my noodles.” he said putting the box down precariously onto the bed. “And…here are your dumplings. This must be the rice here then.” Cali just stared at him completely smitten by his kindness. He seemed such an amazingly genuine human being; she had never met anyone like him before. Everything about him was so charming.
Cali rolled out of bed and quickly put her underwear back on and grabbed Morris’ dress shirt and put it on. Morris completely preoccupied with the food looked up to see what Cali was doing.
“Wow.” Morris found it unfathomable that he could be stunned by the way Cali looked right then after just being with her, but it was true. Seeing her in his shirt with her hair completely disheveled sent through him such a volt of energy he worried if his heart might stop altogether. “You look beautiful.”
Cali smiled wide. She tried to hop back in bed without disturbing the food which was placed on it.
“Here’s your chicken and broccoli and an egg roll.” He said handing her the carton. “Do you want to use a fork or chopsticks?”
“I’m from San Francisco ; you think I don’t know how to use chopsticks?”
“Ok, chopsticks it is.” He said reaching into the bag. “So San Francisco is totally Asian huh?”
“Pretty much.” she said sitting up against the headboard.
“How long did you live there?”
“Until I finished high school. Then I moved to LA.”
“My mom thought it’d be best. So I went down there.”
“Yup. I mean my mom stayed for a while, but she went back, she was married so, she left after a few months. I did stupid stuff like car shows to pay the rent and spent most of my time going to auditions or surfing.”
“Yes. I love, love, love, surfing. It’s the only thing I completely miss about California.”
“You didn’t enjoy the modeling?”
“Yeah, it was fun for a while. But after I got cancer, things changed and it was never the same for me. Besides, it was really my mom who wanted me to do it more than anything. I wanted to go to college. Did you know I got accepted to USC, UCLA, and Berkeley?”
“No. I didn’t know that. But that’s really impressive”
“I was really good at volleyball in high school and my grades were pretty good too. But my mom always used to say, ‘Honey, you can go to college at any age, but you’ll only be young and beautiful once.’ And I thought she was right and I just thought it was the thing to do, because that’s what I was told. And what’s funny is that I only modeled about 12 years or so. It all went so fast.”
“What was your big break?”
“I was surfing one day when I was I guess twenty, and some photographer saw me on the beach. That was it. He got me into some catalogs and finally a Guess jeans ad. Two years later I was in SI and in the Victoria Secret Catalog. And when I was twenty-nine, I got cancer, and that pretty much stalled my career. I had to spend all my time in the hospital. All I did for about a year and a half was read books. And I kind of realized then that I didn’t really want to model anymore.”
“What are you doing now?”
“Not much. Thankfully I have a good amount of money put away. I never really had time to spend it. I mean the cancer treatments cost a lot. But other than that, my apartment is the only expensive thing I own. I’ve been taking some designing classes and I’ve designed a couple bathing suits for Victoria’s Secret. That’s really the only income I’ve made in years. But you know what I really want to do?”
“No what?” Morris smiled happily. It was impossible not to devour Cali’s enthusiasm.
“I really want to open up little boutique surf shops in beach towns that specialize in women’s bathing suits. Then just lay back and focus on my painting.”
“See isn’t this great, what a lovely date. I’m learning all the things about you that are normally learned before you have sex with someone. ”
Cali leaned across the food and punched Morris hard enough that he almost spilled his noodles on the bed. “Don’t be a jerk, it’s not who you are.”
“Oh no, don’t say that.” protested Morris while miming stabbing himself in the chest.
“That I’m a nice guy. It’s like a dagger in the heart.”
“What’s wrong with being nice? You’re so much nicer than any of my ex-boyfriends.”
“Exactly. Because nice guys don’t get girls like you. I usually get called nice right before a girl says she won’t go out with me, and before she goes off to have sex with some asshole.”
“Well clearly, It doesn’t seem as if that’s going to be the case here, now is it?” pointed out Cali with a devilishly playful smile.
Morris thought about it for a nanosecond and realized that his worry was pointless now that Cali had already slept with him. He couldn’t believe that someone had finally rewarded him for being the man he had always wanted to be. He had lost out on so many women because none of them were able to choose Morris over whomever it was that seemed to have more ‘game’. It had gotten to a point in Morris’ life where he assumed that would never happen, namely, that a woman would be wholly attracted to him for his gentlemanly manner. Morris finally allowed himself a big unabashed smile. “No.” he chuckled. “I think I can tell you like me.”
Cali finally was able to poke Morris a little. “Yeah, you’re ok. Sometimes you come off a little too nice though.”
“Really?” he began to look worried.
Cali felt bad. “No, I’m kidding. Come here.” She leaned over and gave Morris a kiss.
Instantly his nerves were calmed. Her lips were like a soothing toxin to his racing heart.
“You don’t like your resume of exes?” asked a curious Morris.
“No not really.”
“Who was the most serious?”
“Name sounds familiar. Is he in music?”
“Yeah, he’s a producer. Indie Rock stuff mostly, some rap also.”
“How serious were you?”
“We were engaged for over a year. All total, we were together for over three years off and on.”
“Really? What happened, why didn’t you marry him?”
“I don’t know. It just never seemed to materialize. I think he only proposed to me to keep us together. But eventually we got in a big fight and called it off.”
“Well what was the attraction?”
“Oh, I don’t know—lots of things. First of all he was ten years older than me and really successful. He was so rich and everything about him was cool. He was like a teenage girls dream, cool clothes, cool hair, knew everyone. We used to go to Hawaii together a couple times a year. I mean I was young, I thought everything was perfect. But I can see now that I was never in love. I just was infatuated with his coolness. Plus, he was not the most faithful person.”
“Eh. It was what it was. Learning experience, I suppose.
The Dedication fiction by Jonathan Penney
An excerpt from Chapter 7: Southern Comfort
Artemis playfully shoved him away giggling. “We’re just going for a walk. Nothing else.”
“Ok I’ll see you back at the house later. Don’t get lost.” worried Percy, incapable of seeing her now twenty-eight year old sister as anything other than a little girl.
“Ok. Bye Sis!” And with that the two newly engaged young kids ran off into the woods leaving Persephone and Reese alone along the riverbank.
“Hey, what’s the matter cuz? How can you possibly look so blue?” said Reese pacing the bank.
Persephone looked up and gave him a fake smile “What are you talking about.”
“Persy, c’mon, don’t insult me, I know when my favorite cousin is sad.” he said grinning. Persephone allowed herself to release the energy used to force the fake smile and instantly felt better. Reese bent down toward the cooler. “Hey, have a beer.”
Without even waiting for a response Reese had tossed her a beer. “I can’t remember the last time I had a beer.”
“I know. You’re so Waspy now, I can almost hear you buzzing!” laughed Reese.
“Since when I have I ever been a wasp? I’m still a good Southern Presbyterian girl, just like always.” protested Persephone, taken aback.
“Honey, the only thing that separates a redneck from a WASP is the Mason Dixon Line and the quality of the liquor. But even if I have to do it myself, I’m gonna exorcise that Yankee out of ya, one Busch Lite at a time.”
“I am not a Yankee!” screeched Persephone with much offense. And as if she was transported back to her college days, she chugged the beer just to be contrary if nothing else. “See! I’m a Southern girl through and through!”
“Percy, please! You haven’t been Southern since you were fourteen. You don’t even have a drawl anymore unless I get a couple drinks in ya.” He said tossing her a second beer.
“I take offense to that! That is just not true! I totally have a Southern accent.” She said exaggerating her voice to reflect her claim.
Reese laughed, “There ya go! That’s the twang I was lookin’ for—the one that makes all those Yankee boys swoon.”
Percy smiled sheepishly. “Don’t make fun.”
Reese picked up he had hit a nerve. “Why? What’s the matter?” he went over and sat beside his cousin and joined her in staring at the river.
“Nothing. I just…” she couldn’t articulate what she wanted to say. She took a sip of her beer and started with something new. “So you know who I had coffee with recently and they asked about you?”
“Morris Mahoney.” he responded.
“How’d you know?”
“You’re mom told me about what happened.”
“Oh.” she only looked at the ground and drank her beer.
“I read his book you know.”
“Since when do you read books?” she giggled.
“Just because I wasn’t a straight A student my whole life like you, doesn’t mean I don’t read.”
“Sorry. I’m just teasing.”
“If an old friend of yours wrote a bestselling book, wouldn’t you read it?”
“You didn’t read it, did you?”
“Because he’s a jerk.”
“Who Morris?” He seemed confused. “Why is he a jerk?”
“Because he dedicated the book to me so it would sell more with a tabloid scandal. Which is exactly what happened.”
“Is that what you think?”
“Of course, there’s no other explanation”
“I can think of another.”
Persephone looked up at Reese for the first time all conversation. “What’s that?”
“Because he’s in love with you.”
“What? No, he told me he wasn’t.”
“Trust me. He is. He loved you from the second you stepped onto campus in the 10th grade.”
“Well, yeah in high school maybe he had a big crush on me, but not now. He’s dating a supermodel now or something.”
“First of all…wait,” he interrupted himself, “really? Who? Do you know her name?’
“I think her name is Cali Taylor.”
Reese let out a huge roar of laughter. “Holy shit!” Reese could hardly believe it from what he remembered of his old schoolmate. “She is fucking gorgeous. I never would have thought he could pull that off.”
Persephone huffed approvingly. “Me neither.”
“Is that jealousy I hear?”
She turned quickly to face Reese. “No!”
“Yeah, ok.” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I’m engaged. You know.”
“Yea, but you can still be jealous.”
“I am not jealous.” she said with her emphasis on the word not.
“Well either way. What was I saying?” He sipped his beer to help him remember. “Oh, and secondly, he didn’t have a crush on you in high school; he was in love with you.”
“Don’t blow things out of proportion.”
“Persy, trust me.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, curious.
“I remember at one of our graduation parties, you got pretty sick, trying to drown that good girl image of yours in beer.” said Reese making Persephone grin. “You went to bed because you didn’t feel well and I tried to mess with you, but Morris wouldn’t let me. He sat against the wall near your bed, making sure nobody bothered you.”
“Yeah, seriously. I don’t know what it is you think of him, I mean I know you guys used to be really close, but from a guy’s perspective, we always loved Morris. He was a definite stand-up guy and he was bat-shit crazy about you. I doubt he would ever do something to that would take advantage of your fame. That is not something he would do.”
“How could he still love me after fifteen years? We were just kids.”
“Look, all I know is, I’ve known you my whole life and there is no one I would trust you with more than him.”
“Oh my God!” Persephone cried frustrated, “How is it that everyone thinks Morris is so great?”
“Because, he’s just a nice guy.” was Reese’s simple reply.
Persephone closed her eyes in embarrassment. “OK, now I feel bad, because I kind of let him have it the last time we spoke.”
“What’d you say?”
“I might have told him that he was a selfish asshole who needed to leave me alone.”
“Ouch. That probably stung him pretty good considering he was probably thinking it was a great romantic gesture.”
“Ugh? You don’t really think that’s what he was doing, do you?”
“Maybe. I mean I don’t know for sure. But that’d be my guess.”
Persephone paused; thinking about the merits of an apology.
Reese spoke again. “I think you should apologize to him.”
“Why are you telling me this? I’m getting married in October. Obviously I’m marrying Noah. Why forgive him, what if it just encourages him to try and pursue me?”
“So what if he does? Let yourself get romanced. You owe it to yourself. I mean I like Noah’s fine. He’s certainly on the course to vast political success. But…”
“But what? Let me guess. You don’t like him.”
“No, on the contrary. I like him plenty. Even if he is a Democrat.” he said jabbing his cousin with a genteel elbow.
“So, what is it then? What don’t you like about him?”
“Nothing, he’s seems like a good guy, I mean I only met him the one time when he came down here last summer, but I just…” he took a deep breath, “didn’t get the impression you guys were like in love.”
“We love each other plenty. What were we supposed to do? Act like bratty school kids? Run around giggling like Dean and my sister?”
“Look. I love you to death Percywise but, you’re whole life you’ve been consumed by being this girl with the perfect image and you’ve been attracted to men who are successful and seemingly perfect on paper. And now you couldn’t have a better image.” he turned toward to Persephone to make sure he looked at her in the eye when he spoke. “The things you’re doing with Ruud’s charity are amazing. And also with the teaching programs you work with. Why do you keep dating these boring men who date you for your resume and not for that sparkling personality? I mean when Ruud passed away that was the first time you were single since you were fifteen years old. And now you’re going to get married again four years later.”
“Are you saying I’m remarrying too soon? I haven’t forgotten Ruud. I still love him as much now as when he was alive.”
“I know. Ruud was awesome, he loved you like crazy. Just like Morris has always cared about you. Did you know that anytime we talked over the years, he would always ask me how you were doing? All I’m wondering is does Noah like you like that?”
“I don’t know. I know we should be perfect for each other.”
“Oh Percy, you’re so smart, you’re forgetting that it’s ok to be illogical about some things. I know you should be perfect for each other, but are you?”
“I don’t know. I’m thirty-four. I have a daughter. I should be married.”
“Isn’t it more important to be happy?”
“I was happy with Ruud. And God took him from me. I shouldn’t even have to be dealing with this.” said Persephone as she started to cry.
Reese sidled up next to her cousin and placed his arm around her shoulder. The two just sat in silence drinking beer until Persephone was up for walking back home.