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First pages

CHAPTER ONE

At first, I think it’s a huge grub all bloated and draped over some dead leaves. As the three of us get closer, I see it’s a used condom on the side of the road. Ellie’s dog Oscar strains against his leash to get a sniff, his white, kinky-haired snout twitching.

“Ewww. That’s gross,” Ellie says.

“I don’t believe it,” Sarah says, bending at the waist to get a closer look. I think she’s just showing off her tight glutes since she started that intense 90-minute workout on YouTube. She straightens and looks my way. “Rachel saw one a couple days ago over on Twin Branches, didn’t you?”

I nod in agreement. But also because a little voice in the back of my head warns me that if I don’t do something with my own butt soon I’ll be requesting one of those extender seat belts on future airplane flights.

The three of us have been walking on Saturdays for a few years now so I’m kind of used to Sarah’s gorgeous body. I’ve even soothed my jealousy with the standards: Some women are just born beautiful. She’s got an amazing metabolism.

Lately, I’ve added a new rationalization; she’s five years younger than me. She’ll be struggling too when she gets to be . . . I can’t even bring myself to think . . . forty.

Ellie drags Oscar away before he tries to eat the damn thing. “Who would decide to have sex right in front of the Richardson’s house?”

Her question diverts me from depressing thoughts of my approaching birthday.

“Probably kids who can’t do it at home,” I say. “Teenagers who let their lust run rampant last night.”

I envision a high school boy with rumpled hair, a pretty girl with perky breasts, wrangling in the back seat of a car. Then the girl morphs into a trim, sexy me and the teenage boy turns into a faceless man with a bodybuilder’s bare chest and shaggy hair. We are entwined in each other’s arms. Soft music plays on the car radio as he kisses my neck; a gentle breeze blows through the open window as his fingers ruffle through my hair. Then as he slowly skims his fingers across my breast—

“That’s pretty desperate, in November,” Sarah says.

My face flushes.

“It’s been really warm the last week or so,” I stammer. “Maybe the Indian summer roused primal urges.”

“And they’re going to have sex on every street in the subdivision?” Ellie asks.

How many streets would that be exactly? And how many different positions? The faceless man’s hand roams up along my inner thigh. His breathing grows heavy as I run my fingers through the thatch of hair on his rock-hard abs. A perimenopausal flush ignites in my belly and heads south.

Sarah snorts. “Maybe it was Stan Richardson. He’s got a girlfriend on the side and she texted him to meet her out front.”

Ellie giggles, too. “I don’t see how Stan could reach around that gut of his to get a condom on.”

The vision of naked Stan Richardson replaces my bare-chested lover who unfortunately gets incinerated by my pseudo-hot flash and is reduced to ash.

“Maybe Marcy has had it with Stan and she’s got herself a boy toy,” Sarah says.

We all glance at the Richardsons’ house. It’s one of three basic designs in our starter-home subdivision. Like thousands of others, Brian and I bought into the American dream of owning a home in suburbia. Unfortunately it was right before the economy tanked so like most of our neighbors, we’re living in a house that’s currently worth less than our mortgage. It makes for lively conversation at community gatherings, particularly among the men. They hate getting caught with their financial underwear around their ankles.

Brian and I chose the floor plan of our house because it had a separate formal dining room. Don’t ask me why that was important. I guess I had visions of throwing elaborate dinner parties with exotic food and stimulating conversations. My background in journalism is partly to blame. Back then I just assumed everyone wanted to discuss Pat Conroy’s most recent book, or the situation in the Middle East. All these years later, we’re still in our starter-home but my dining room table is currently piled with clothes that need folding.

I count back to determine just how many years that is. Fifteen. Then I’m reminded that we bought the house when I was twenty-five, which means next month I’m going to be . . . forty.

“Maybe it’s some creepy single guy who still lives with his mother,” Ellie says.

Her suggestion gets my mind going in a different direction. Sound bites of television interviews play in my head.

He seemed like such a nice guy.

He was always quiet . . . kept to himself.

“Maybe it’s a serial killer,” I say. “He brings his victim here, rapes her, kills her, then dumps her someplace.”

Sarah gives me a scowl. Or at least I think she does. She’s just gotten a new facial treatment where they injected her own fat into the wrinkles between her eyes, so it’s hard to tell.

But her head definitely wobbles with skepticism. “I haven’t seen anything in the paper about any dead bodies.”

“Maybe he’s burying them.”

“Come on, Rachel. What about missing women in the news?” Ellie asks.

“They could be hookers, or runaway teenagers,” I offer. “We should save the condom for evidence. DNA.”

“Ewww!” Ellie says again. “You’re going to pick that up?”

“I’ll get a glove, and put the condom in a Ziploc bag. The police can keep it on file. This could be the most crucial piece of evidence in a heinous crime.”

Sarah glances at me over her sunglasses. “The only heinous crime here is your imagination.”

Oscar pulls on his leash, prodding us to move along.

At the corner, Ellie pushes the crosswalk button and the traffic light at the entrance to Hamilton Farms changes. We hustle over to Braxton Lane.

Ellie has Oscar trained not to take a dump until he gets outside our subdivision. His favorite spot is the first house on Braxton, a rental that has seen better days. The pressboard siding is buckled and mold has invaded giving the beige paint a green cast. The front porch railing is a bit askew.

We’ve been speculating lately that the house is vacant. It’s hard to tell because every single Venetian blind is drawn tight. Personally, I don’t know how someone can live with no daylight coming in, but Sarah insists that lots of people keep their blinds shut so the sun doesn’t fade their furniture.

Braxton Lane is one of those odd streets that started out as a country road decades ago. A few families built one-story ranches but still held on to their farming roots, adding small barns, and chicken coops, and turning the whole side yard into a giant garden.

Then urban sprawl oozed its way into Mansell County. The large farms were snapped up for subdivisions full of starter homes with two-car garages—that is if one of them is a sub-compact. And the connecting roads like Braxton Lane have become a hybrid of country and city with new homes right next to the old.

This first house on the street was designed to look like the homes in our subdivision: two stories, a token gable on the roof, but builder’s grade flooring, fixtures and appliances.

The original owners took some pride in their new home—added some landscaping, kept the lawn mowed—but they didn’t stay long and ever since the house has been a rental.

If you ask me, it’s the perfect site for a porn house. I ran the idea by Brian a couple weeks ago but he didn’t really get it.

“You know,” I said. “Where they fix up a bedroom in red velvet or black silk and shoot low-budget porn movies.”

At the time he was trimming his toenails over the wastebasket which I understand is extremely important so I wasn’t getting his full attention.

“The video might have two minutes of a couple chatting in a living room,” I continued, “and maybe some preliminary oral stimulation on a sofa, but the bulk of the action takes place on a bed.”

He dug a piece of crud out from under a nail and flicked it, missing the basket. That was the end of our conversation.

I decide to present my hypothesis to Ellie and Sarah.

“A porn house!?” Sarah screeches. “Where do you come up with these ideas?”

“Think about it,” I argue. “You never see anyone in the yard. They don’t leave garbage cans at the curb. I don’t think anyone lives in the house. They just come over late at night, or after work, and make porn movies.”

“And no one notices anything unusual,” Ellie chimes in.

“What’s there to see?” I say. “The blinds are all closed. It’s not like some drug house where there’s traffic at all hours.”

“You must have lived in some stellar neighborhoods before you moved out here,” Ellie says.

To back up my suspicions, I tell them about a custodian I knew who started dating a guy that was into kinky sex.

“He took her to an apartment where there was all this crappy furniture, but his bedroom was tricked out like a bordello with satin sheets and mirrors on the wall. He bought her sexy lingerie, and while they were going at it, he encouraged her to moan and scream.”

“So the guy liked sex,” Sarah says.

“It was more than that,” I say. “I figured the guy had hidden cameras to tape the sex.”

“That’s kinda sick,” Ellie says.

I nod. “Cheryl—the custodian—didn’t seem to mind. She got lots of expensive underwear out of the deal. And great sex, or so she claimed.”

Oscar hunches in the front yard of the porn house and poops.

Sarah clicks her tongue as she surveys the yard. “Look at all this crap. You should pick it up.”

“Why?” Ellie says. “Nobody complains. And I don’t have Regina from the Homeowners’ Association chasing me with a plastic bag.” She turns to me. “She’ll probably come after you when she sees you walking Oscar.”

Ellie and her partner, Joanie, are going up to New York for Thanksgiving week. Shows, dinners, the Macy’s parade. I’m Oscar’s designated babysitter and in return Ellie waters our plants when Brian and I are gone.

“Regina ought to investigate this porn house instead of bothering pet owners,” I say.

“Well for one thing,” Sarah says, “this house is not part of the subdivision. And I doubt if you could convince her that there’s something going on here either. She’s too busy measuring people’s American flags, and scrutinizing flower beds for edibles.”

We all chuckle. It took a specially-called association meeting to vote in favor of those purple ornamental cabbages that you see all the time. Regina was sure residents were secretly harvesting the stupid things for dinner. She’s still fighting the plain green kale.

At Ellie’s house, we all stand at the end of the driveway.

“So, listen,” I say. There’s no easy way to broach the subject. “Has Brian said anything to either of you about planning a surprise birthday party for me?”

They both give me non-committal head shakes that are tough to interpret. Are they trying to hide something or is there nothing in the works?

“Because I definitely don’t want a party.” The mockery of black balloons and adult diapers doesn’t sound like fun at all.

“Are you sure?” Sarah asks.

“Positive.”

“Because you can’t wait until the last minute and change your mind.”

“I’m not going to change my mind.”

Ellie and Sarah glance at each other but I still can’t read the look.

“This is a big event,” Ellie says. “Turning forty.”

I think they’ve been discussing it, probably trying to talk Brian into doing something.

“Come back when you’re about to hit that landmark,” I say, “and let me know how you feel.”

Sarah sighs and shrugs her shoulders. “So what are you going to do?”

“We’ll probably go out to dinner. Maybe go to a movie,” I say. “We’ve got a trip to Florida coming up after Thanksgiving. Maybe we’ll celebrate down there.”

Oscar yips and tugs at his leash. He’s exhausted his supply of lift-the-leg sprinkles and he’s smelled the other dog’s droppings. He’s ready to go home and eat.

 

Once I get back from my walk, I root through the fridge for lunch. I’m starving even though it’s only been three hours since I ate a bagel with peanut butter.

I swear the instant the temperature dropped in November, my fat cells jumped into overdrive. It’s a constant ‘feed me’ all day long and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, the official kick-off of the eating season. First it’s pigging out on dressing, sweet potato casserole, and pecan pie, then office holiday parties, neighborhood soirees, family gatherings and drunken late nights. There’s no hope of keeping my weight in check until after the Super Bowl.

I can’t decide between canned soup or a cheese omelet so I head up to the man pit to let Brian decide.

We both work for an outdoor/wildlife magazine called The Good Life, Brian as a photographer and me adding the local color of where to stay and what to eat while waiting for elusive wildlife to appear. Or not. We also cover the lesser-known scenic destinations, outdoor festivals, you name it. Our column is called ‘Off the Beaten Path’.

We work out of our home because the magazine is too cheap to supply us with office space or equipment. Each of us has our own work area in the two extra bedrooms.

Now when I call Brian’s room a man pit, I’m not talking about a cute little corner bar and tons of stereo equipment, or a massive TV with La-Z-Boy recliners. His home office actually is a pit. The closet has four shelves for storage yet his camera equipment is strewn all over the bedroom floor. And instead of using the file cabinet I bought him for Christmas last year, he has piles of papers that surround his desk chair like a Wiccan circle of protection.

The only way to retain my sanity is to keep his door closed and spend as little time in there as possible.

Lately, he seems to be morphing into The Thing from the Pit. Most days he sits at his computer in a tee shirt and boxers. When fall arrived, he added a ratty bathrobe I swear he’s had since college. He rarely shaves unless he’s going out but I can’t complain about that since I’m on my own hiatus from grooming my legs.

“What do you feel like for lunch?” I ask. “Chicken corn chowder or cheese omelet?”

He stares at his computer monitor with rows of pictures from our recent trip to the UK. Our assignment was the murmuration of starlings. That’s where thousands of birds fly in huge swirling clouds, constantly changing patterns and direction. While Brian stood on a pier in the blustery winds of Aberystwyth, I drifted from pub to shop in search of unique gifts and the best chips in the area. The pubs were not as cleverly-named as the ones in Martha Grime’s novels but the food was tasty and filling.

After a couple days, we left the West coast for Cambridgeshire in the East and Brian hunkered in bogs while I sampled lambs liver with bacon and onions. Believe me, I had to walk from one end of the village to the other to work off all I ate.

It’s all part of giving our readers the whole package.

“Is there any bacon?” Brian asks.

“In the freezer.”

“Can I have a bacon and cheese omelet?”

I click my tongue and wait until he drags his eyes from his computer monitor so I can give him the tortured wife stare. He gives me his version of the endearing smile. It used to work— those soulful puppy-dog eyes and crooked smile. Of course, that was when he wanted some nookie. Now when he uses ‘the look’ it’s for food or to get me to scratch his back so it usually just pisses me off.

He realizes it isn’t getting the job done and changes tacks. “Cynthia called.”

“Oh, brother. She wants to hear all about Kelly and Martin.” My eyebrow lifts into the ‘arch of disapproval’. “If she wants to get in on the drama she’s going to have to walk with us.”

“So what is the latest, Gladys?” he asks.

Brian gave me the moniker Gladys Kravitz years ago because he thinks I’m a nosy busybody just like a character from an old TV show called Bewitched that was popular in the ‘60s. Gladys Kravitz was the snoop across the street from Samantha Stephens who happened to be a witch.

“Hey, it’s the journalist in me, wanting to know the details, the facts.”

He taps his chest. “Don’t forget who you’re talking to here. I don’t buy that crap.”

“Right,” I snort. “You want to hear the dirt just like everyone else.”

His mouth opens like he’s going to protest but then he leans back in his chair. “So what’s up?”

So here’s the scoop: Martin is a shithead. He cheated on Kelly with some woman from work. He confessed to Kelly and we thought that was the end of it, but she just found out he’s been going back for seconds. And this time Kelly found out by accident instead of him manning up. She took her hurt pride straight to an attorney.

Unfortunately, when she and Martin sat down with counsel to discuss the division of property, they discovered neither of them has the assets or makes enough money to go it alone. The real estate market sucks and selling their house at a loss is not an option. Martin asked if he could live in the basement for the time being and Kelly has agreed.

Although according to Sarah, Kelly has laid out some rules that she posted on the refrigerator. Rule Number One: Don’t ever bring that whore into this house.

“Come on,” Brian groans. “You don’t really think Martin would bring his girlfriend home.”

I give him the sideways eye squint and the smirky mouth. “Who ever dreamed he’d cheat on Kelly after she forgave him the first time?”

“Good point.” He sits up in his chair. “So about the bacon and cheese omelet . . .”

I sigh. Why didn’t I just fix myself a bowl of soup? Now I have to thaw and cook bacon. It does sound pretty good though, so I back out of the pit and head downstairs.

As I get the bacon out of the freezer, I wonder if Brian has ever thought about cheating on me. I’m not sure when he’d even meet someone willing but he does go to the gym on a somewhat regular basis. Maybe some big-breasted hottie in tight yoga pants—who isn’t turning forty— finds him attractive.

I imagine some babe ogling Brian’s butt while I herd strips of bacon around the skillet. Does he give the girls at the front desk that same sexy smile when he’s trying to get a free towel for a shower?

What’s even more unlikely is that some woman could persuade Brian to stray. Ever since he turned 40 last March, I swear he’s entered male menopause. He’s never been one to initiate sex but he used to get whiney if he didn’t get it on a somewhat regular basis. And whenever I made the slightest innuendo—like an eyebrow wag or a flirty smile—he had his hand on his belt, ready to go.

Now he doesn’t even catch on when I make a suggestive remark. A couple nights ago we were watching one of those crime shows; a man was walking a woman to her front door. She smiled up at him, and in a sexy voice, she said ‘How about a little snack before you go home?’ In the next scene, they’re wrangling in her bed just before the program cut to commercial.

I turned to Brian and wagged my eyebrows. “How about a little snack?”

And do you know what he said? “Nah. But I’ll take a beer.”

CHAPTER TWO

It seems like the only time Brian and I get physical is when he’s tweezing the hairs on my neck or I’m rubbing Icy Hot on his frozen shoulder. If I’m in the mood for some nookie—like when I’m reading a steamy novel—I pretty much have to pounce on him.

Although to be honest, my loins don’t burn like they used to, either. We’re middle-aged and boring, I guess. I’m trying not to obsess about turning forty but I can’t help it; there’s just no excitement in our lives. And we’re together so much, both working at home and traveling, that there isn’t even much to talk about anymore.

His once full head of brown hair has thinned and gone gray at the temples. Even with all the walking I do, the sand is piling up at the bottom of my hourglass figure.

While I’m at the sink draining bacon grease into an empty can, I notice movement out the kitchen window. It’s Lisa Bradford cutting across the common area of everyone’s backyard. She slips up onto the deck of their house and in through the sliding door. She should be in school. I think she’s a senior. If she’s sick and coming home, why wouldn’t she use the front door? Obviously she is sneaking in and doesn’t want anyone to see her.

I stand at the window with frying pan in one hand, paper towel in the other, waiting. I figure some boy is going to dash across the yard at any moment. Then it occurs to me he might use the front door, pretending to make a delivery.

Brian plods into the kitchen and comes up behind me. He looks past my shoulder and out the window. “I’m planning on raking the rest of those leaves this afternoon.”

Interesting, eh? How guys are always wary of what women are thinking.

I give a little shrug. “I just saw Lisa Bradford sneak into her house.”

“Who’s Lisa Bradford?”

My shoulders slump and I turn to look up at him. “Really? The Bradfords have lived across from us for seven years and you don’t know who Lisa is?”

He knits his eyebrows and wrinkles up his nose. “Is that the wife?”

What a faker. The expression alone is a dead giveaway. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve walked into the family room and caught Brian gazing out the sliding glass doors instead of parked in front of the TV, mesmerized. He’s hoping to get a glimpse of the lovely Lisa with the tight butt and youthful breasts.

Catching her in a bathing suit, sunning in the back yard can get a man an envious pat on the back at a neighborhood gathering. I know several guys who come over here to watch sports on our crappy 36” TV just because of the proximity to the Bradfords’ house.

I back into Brian as I move away from the window and feel an erection in his sweat pants. Good night, he hasn’t even seen her and he’s got a boner? What has he been imagining?

After throwing away the greasy paper towel, I pick up my cup of lukewarm tea. And nearly blow a sip out through my nose.

Skipping across the common area like a wood nymph is a girl with long blonde hair and colorful leggings tucked into a pair of Uggs. Before she even gets to the Bradfords’ deck, Lisa has the sliding door open, a huge smile on her face. There’s a brief kiss before they both disappear inside.

That ought to get Brian’s stiffy at full attention. I’d take advantage of the situation but I refuse to profit from an erection produced by an under-aged teen.

* * *

Years ago, our relationship stumbled into existence while we were working on the campus newspaper. Brian hung out with the other photographers, usually with two cameras slung around his neck, and a backpack of lens and accessories sagging off his shoulder.

My friends were other writers who loved to smoke pot, drink beer, and wax philosophical over politics, the environment, the new world order, you name it.

Now and then, Brian and I worked on an assignment together, him taking pictures, me interviewing a student who had accomplished something phenomenal, like raising a couple hundred dollars to feed a starving nation, or a professor whose unorthodox teaching included not using a textbook. But we didn’t really connect until I started nosing around one of our fraternities.

There was nothing new about drugs on campus, but if you stopped the average student and asked them where they got their drugs, the answer was usually ‘the Delts.’ This was no big surprise. Every school has that fringe affiliate full of wasters and drunks. But why did so many students know about the availability while the administration seemed blind to the fact?

Okay, so this created a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, I was scheming to expose my local supplier—kill the golden goose—and probably piss off half the student body. I tried to talk myself out of it, but the sleuth in me couldn’t let it go. Little did I know that I was Gladys in the making even back then.

I didn’t expect to catch Eric Donaldson, the president of the fraternity, buying a cache of drugs in some seedy motel downtown, but I figured he was part of the Delts drug-selling business so I started following him.

This wasn’t some big-time stake-out. I had a life; I had classes to attend. What I didn’t have was a car to stalk Donaldson in my spare time. Not that having a car would have done me any good. Within fifteen minutes of parking, a campus cop would surely have given me a ticket. I imagined the write up in the student paper’s Police Beat column: Student’s vehicle was cluttered with empty Starbuck’s cups, Twinkie wrappers, and a mayonnaise jar filled with urine.

I did get a copy of Donaldson’s class schedule and instead of cutting through Leeds Hall to get to my Gender and Media Studies class, I’d take a longer route across Winston Park to see if he showed up for his Business Ethics class. Big surprise—he rarely did.

Between classes, I’d usually catch him hanging out at the student center where he was always chatting up other students. I’m amazed he didn’t wear one of those sandwich boards with the drug-of-the-day listed.

My first big break came one morning when I saw frat boy Donaldson standing at the side of Loews Hall in the shadows, arguing with Dean Stanley, overlord of fraternities and sororities. They both looked pissed.

Where did a student get off snarling at a dean like that out in public? And if a dean wanted to chew out a student, why not in his office?

This was back in the ‘90s, so I couldn’t just do a quick Google search on my phone to see if the two were related. But I could go through the archives at the newspaper, and I could also ask if anyone on the staff knew of a connection.

The office was empty except for one of our typesetters, a freshman wannabe sports writer, and Brian, who was sitting on a desk fidgeting with a lens. I decided he was better than nothing and posed my premise: The Delt house seemed to have immunity. Was there a connection with Dean Stanley?

Brian jumped at the chance to do some real investigative sleuthing instead of roaming the campus taking artsy-fartsy group shots of students being students. And that was a boon for me. How was I supposed to keep track of two people?

We compared class schedules so one of us could be at Pemberton Hall during lunch to see if Dean Stanley left the building. And whenever we had free time, one of us tailed Donaldson.

Each evening, Brian and I met at the food court for updates. I guess that’s when it started. We never had anything to report but we insisted on getting together. Our feelings for each other were so subtle that I don’t think either of us gave it a second thought.

There was no love-at-first-sight moment although the first time I watched Brian dip a French fry in barbeque sauce, I felt a vague shift in the universe. I’d never known anyone else who ate their fries the same as me. I guess he felt the same connection because from that point on, we were inseparable buddies. I know it sounds pretty sappy, like in the ‘Lady and the Tramp’ movie when they eat the same piece of spaghetti. But that’s how it happened.

Then one afternoon, Brian was tailing Dean Stanley; I was following Donaldson. Frat boy was lugging a beat-up leather briefcase I’d never seen before. Was he trying to impress a girl, or a professor? When he walked into the law library I was sure he was putting on a show for somebody. I mean, the guy was barely passing his business courses. I had his future pegged as either a night manager at a fast-food restaurant, or a cocaine kingpin who would die a bloody death in a hail of bullets.

I thought I might lose him when he got on the elevator. I scurried up to the closed doors and listened for the bell to ding on the second floor. It didn’t. So once the elevator came back down, I rode it up to the third and top floor.

As I ran on tiptoes past an aisle of reference books, I saw Brian crouched behind a row of red-bound legal briefs. I slipped in next to him and he jumped like a dead frog that had just taken a jolt of electricity. After glaring at me, he pressed a finger to his lips, like I was going to strike up a conversation.

Two aisles over, we saw Donaldson hand Dean Stanley the briefcase. They didn’t say a word during the pass but as frat boy turned away, Stanley hissed at him, ‘Don’t you ever stop me on campus again.’

I nearly ruptured my diaphragm stifling a yelp of glee. Brian dragged me to the end of the row and we each pressed against a bookcase panel until the dean and frat boy left. We followed Stanley, and the briefcase, back to the administration building but that was pretty much the end of the line.

All the way to the student center we hooted and stomped at what we had stumbled across: a pay-off of some kind. Over fries—our favorite ‘share’ food—we hashed through what we had seen. I insisted it couldn’t be just a pay-off. Even if it was a couple thousand dollars, there’s no way frat boy needed a briefcase to pass it along. If the case was full, it had to hold a lot of money, possibly all the fraternity’s earnings from drug sales for the month. Could it be a week?

Brian suggested the dean was laundering the money. Fraternities and sororities were always holding fund-raisers, but what did they do with the money? Sure enough, we discovered that all of the Greek houses had accounts with the same bank—except the Delts who had a second account at a small-time bank down by the airport.

After a few weeks of skulking around, Brian finally got pictures of both Donaldson and Stanley with the same briefcase and we broke the story. We didn’t have any hard evidence, just a lot of speculation; but we didn’t care. I mean, it was just the campus newspaper.

The day the article appeared on the front page, half the staff joined Brian and me at Mack’s Tavern for brewskis to celebrate. We talked about follow-up stories, and new angles. By four o’clock, we were drunk.

As Brian and I staggered across campus, we stumbled into each other more than once. Brian accused me of getting fresh with him, and I said something about ‘if I wanted to get fresh it wouldn’t be in Winston Park.’

He threw his head back and sang an old Clash song: ‘It’s always tease, tease, tease.’ He even affected a great British accent. And when he got to: ‘You’ll have me when I’m on my knees’, he actually dropped to the ground.

I laughed so hard I toppled down next to him, and the next thing I knew, we were rolling in the grass our tongues in each other’s mouths.

Someone from the paper broke up our love fest with the news that Dean Stanley was holding a press conference; speculation was that he was going to tender his resignation. The knowledge that Brian and I had brought about this cataclysmic event was not only sobering, but arousing as well.

With no discussion whatsoever, we hustled to his apartment. Before the door banged shut we were ripping each other’s clothes off. That was the first of what I classified as my ‘top five best sex ever’ romps. It has never dropped from its number one position.

Unfortunately, that was our last big story. Once we graduated, the only job Brian could find was with a Georgia tourism magazine. I hired on as a cub reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution where I covered city sewage problems and department of transportation street improvement schedules. Even then, I got busted once for embellishing a story about the recurring sinkhole on Tenth Street. All I said was that someone in city hall was lining their pockets at the taxpayers’ expense. My editor wanted concrete evidence of graft or at the very least a reliable anonymous source to back my claim.

Now, besides my job at The Good Life, I also write short stories for a couple magazines where I can exaggerate all I want and get paid for it. One of the publications is all about romance and my pen name is Lisa LaFlame. Sometimes the stories are sweet with a syrupy HEA. (That’s ‘happily-ever-after’ for the unromantic.) Other times I write torrid erotica. Needless to say, I haven’t told many people about my side job. I can’t have my mother reading about women penetrating men with dildos, now can I?

Another magazine I write for features mysteries and thrillers and I write under Rex Rogers. The stories contain brutal murders which would surely keep my mother up at night, so she doesn’t know about that one either.

One thing is certain. I’m about to turn forty and I’m a long way from where I thought I’d be at this age. The idea of covering the carnage of a war-torn country never appealed to me, but I thought for sure I would have exposed at least one crooked politician or corporate head by now. My visions of cleaning up a polluted river or getting a whole town growing their own produce are long gone.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

After 15 years as a school cafeteria manager, Marsha Cornelius turned in her apron for a bathrobe. Now she writes novels at home. Her first writing attempt was romance which was a dismal failure. She did increase her repertoire of adjectives such as throbbing, pulsing, thrumming, vibrating, hammering, pumping . . . Originally from Indiana, Cornelius lives in the countryside north of Atlanta with her husband and two molly-coddled cats who refuse to wear socks and dust the furniture.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I walk every day, so a lot of people in my neighborhood know me. We’re a close-knit community that prides itself on watching out for each . . . oh, fine. I’m a nosy neighbor. Okay? Some folks started calling me Gladys because I usually have the scoop on what’s happening in our area.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
I read once that there are only two hard parts to writing a book: starting and finishing.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Gladys will continue to stick her nose in other people’s business, make false assumptions, piss off her brother-in-law and exasperate her husband, all with comic results.

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