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“Unexpected Love”

boyd lemon cover short stories

A Short Story from Unexpected Love and Other Stories

FLAWED

 A Short Story by Boyd Lemon

          Mark and Lauren sat at a table at L’Espalier waiting for their entree. Lauren, Mark’s yoga

instructor, wasn’t very chatty. She rarely made small talk. Mark liked that.

After a few moments of silence, Mark asked her what she did besides teach yoga. “My real love is art, “ she said. I paint, but my passion is writing–poetry and fiction.”      She said she’d started writing when she was nine, after her mother died.

“Sorry about your mother,” said Mark. “Did your father remarry?”

“Yes, unfortunately,” she said. “I didn’t get along with my stepmother. I ran away and lived with my grandmother. I owe her a lot. So…I’m really blabbering, aren’t I?”

“Oh, not at all. I’m interested,” said Mark. “Go on.”

Lauren, totally immersed in the conversation, looked straight at Mark, not distracted by the commotion of patrons and servers. “Well, to round out the story, I put myself through U. Mass, Boston, English lit major, and I’ve been writing and waitressing ever since. I started teaching yoga three years ago.”

“If you don’t mind my asking,” said Mark. How old are you?”

“I don’t mind. I’m 30. I can’t believe I’m that old. How old are you?”

“I’m 50,” Mark said. Lauren nodded.

When their entrees came, Lauren savored every bite of her salmon, as if it were a flavor she had never tasted before.

Mark, chowing down his lamb shank, was a little nervous.   He had given Lauren a short story he’d written. She had critiqued it, and agreed to read it again. The revised manuscript sat on the table to Lauren’s right. She picked it up.

“It’s better,” she said, “but the ending is too melodramatic. Why not end it here?” She drew a line on the third page from the end. “I’ve marked passages that don’t ring true.  I hope you keep working on it.”

They had met at the restaurant at her request, so Mark was surprised when she asked him to take her home.

He parked the car in front of her house. “Would you like to come in?” She asked.

“Sure,” he said.

She unlocked the door and they stepped into an entryway with ocean blue walls and burnt orange ceramic tile. A rot iron chandelier bathed the area in pale yellow light. Mark looked around as Lauren stepped into the living room.

“This is my roommate Joe’s condo. He decorated,” said Lauren.

The living room’s color scheme was green. It ended in floor to ceiling windows with a panoramic view of Boston Harbor. “Wow, that’s quite a view,” said Mark. He wondered how a part time yoga instructor and waitress afforded to live there. She must sleep with her roommate, he thought.

“Yeah, I love it,” she said. “Sit wherever you like.” She laughed. “I sound like a waitress. Can I get you a cognac?”

“Yes, thank you,” he said, as he sat on the black leather couch.

Lauren walked over to a wet bar in the corner and poured drinks in brandy snifters. She handed Mark his and sat next to him, tucking her leg underneath. She took her cell phone out of her skirt pocket. “Excuse me. I need to listen to a voice mail message. Grandma calls every night before she goes to bed, so I know she’s okay. She’s 86 now, and she’s in good health for her age, but you never know.” She listened for a moment and then closed her cell phone.

“Is everything all right?” Asked Mark.

“Oh, yeah. She’s fine.” Lauren glanced over at a closed door next to a built-in floor to ceiling bookcase. Her blue eyes, darker in the dim light, darted around the room, as if she was waiting for something to happen. She smiled and looked straight at Mark. Her left eye twitched, and she scooted a little closer. Their knees touched. She rested her hand on his knee. Her scooped neck blouse revealed cleavage, as she leaned forward and pulled her leg out from under her. Her long natural blond hair fell across the right side of her face. Mark smiled back at her and put his hand on top of hers. He touched her cheek and hesitated. She smiled. He kissed her. She pushed her tongue between his lips, but a moment later pulled back.

“Mark, I feel I have to show you something. You’re too nice a guy to deceive, and I’m attracted to you–I’ve always been attracted to older men–but I don’t want you to think I’m somebody I’m not. She got up and led him toward the closed door. She opened it, grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her. At the back of the small room stood an antique, glass top table–a pile of white powder in the center. Mark’s eyes widened, but he didn’t make a sound.

“Joe and I have a little business here. I don’t have to tell you what that is, do I?” She asked.

“No,” he said softly. “I assume it’s cocaine.”

She asked the question Mark wanted to ask. “Why do I sell cocaine? Well, my grandmother has no means of support, and she gave up ten years of her life for me. I want to go to graduate school. I want to be a writer; that means everything to me. Teaching yoga and waitressing part time don’t cut it.”

Mark was stunned. He stood staring at the cocaine, then turned to Lauren, not knowing what to say. Though he had never known one, he pictured a drug dealer as a shadowy, greasy man with his own pitiful drug addiction, not a beautiful, creative young woman with everything going for her.

“Let’s go back to the living room Mark, she said, turning toward the door. “…Oh, unless you want some coke.”

“No, thanks,” he said.

Mark sat down next to Lauren and took a sip of Cognac. “Just so you know, I don’t use the stuff,” she said. “It’s strictly a business.” They looked at each other.

“Well, I don’t know what to say. I‘m not really judging you, but I have to admit I am shocked.”

“I understand, and I’ll understand if you want to leave.” She looked down at her lap.

Mark looked at her. Damn, she’s beautiful, and smart, he thought. She seems to like me. Except for this one not so little problem, I’d love to pursue a relationship. “I have to say, Lauren, I’m not comfortable here, but I like you. I’d like to get to know you better. Why don’t we hang out at my place in the future?”

“I like you too, Mark. We could do that.”

“How about Tuesday after my yoga lesson? We could take a walk along the Charles, and then I’ll cook dinner for you,” he said.

“That sounds wonderful Mark. I’m so glad you understand.”

“I don’t know if I do understand,” said Mark, “but I don’t judge you. I have no right to criticize the way you run your life. God knows I’ve made some bad decisions running mine.”

“Okay, it’s settled. I’ll see you Tuesday,” Lauren said.

Dating a drug dealer is out of my comfort zone, Mark thought, as he drove home. But, as long as she doesn’t use drugs, and they stay away from the place where she sells them, there doesn’t seem to be any harm. Lauren’s really talented, he thought. She could help me; and besides, she’s hot. He felt ready to escape the solitude that engulfed him since he had moved to Cambridge.

He hadn’t dated much since his marriage disintegrated three years before.  The hedge fund he had started when he left his high-pressure job at Merrill Lynch in New York was successful immediately, and the hours were less. But he didn’t just sit around or play golf. He took classes in creative writing and started writing fiction.

Mark was happy and relaxed, as they cleared the table Tuesday night. “Come over to the couch, and we’ll finish the wine,” said Mark.

He pulled Lauren to him and kissed her. Eventually, he caressed her breast over her yoga top. “Sorry to interrupt the lovely, romantic ambiance,” he said. “I really want to undress you, but I don’t have a clue how to get this yoga outfit off.”

Lauren laughed and kissed him. “How about if we go in the bedroom? I’ll undress you first, and then I’ll show you how to get a yoga outfit off.”

After they made love, Lauren pulled up the covers and sighed. “Now I know why I like older men,” she said. “That was awesome.”

“You were terrific too. Thank you.” He meant it.

Lauren stayed the night. It became a regular thing after his yoga lessons. One night they wrote and read aloud to each other. That became a regular thing too. Soon she was coming over Sunday afternoons. They took a long walk along Massachusetts Avenue past Harvard Square. One Sunday they cooked seared yellow fin tuna, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, despite Lauren’s claim that she didn’t know how to cook. Another Sunday afternoon, they jogged to the river and back. She asked if he minded her running on ahead. “Not at all,” he said. He was pleased he was almost able to keep up with her. He felt younger, more alive.

He fell in love. In bed, after they disengaged, he told her so.  She looked away and then back at him. “I’m flattered, but I don’t fall in love that quickly, probably because I’ve been burned too many times. The last man I loved was sleeping with my uncle. People aren’t always what they seem.”

One Saturday night Mark awoke to the sound of the tune on his cell phone. As he staggered to the dresser and picked it up, the clock said 3:32 AM. The screen on the cell phone flashed “RESTRICTED.” Better answer it–in case, he thought.

“Mark, this is Lauren. I need your help.” Her voice cracked. “I’m in jail. Please come and bail me out. They arrested Joe too, or I woulda called him. It’s his fault, the asshole. It’s awful here. They strip-searched me, and everything. I feel like I’m in a bad movie. Only this is real. Please help me.”

Mark called a bail bondsman and arranged to meet him at the jail. Three hours later he drove Lauren to his apartment. He made coffee. Lauren slumped on the couch.

“I can’t believe this happened,” she said. “We were so careful, and then Joe blew it. We always said we would only sell to people we knew. Joe broke that rule, only once as far as I know, and that was it. The woman with the buyer was a cop.”

“I’m really sorry,” said Mark.

“I don’t know what to do now. How can I keep supporting my grandmother?” How can I pay for graduate school?” She sobbed. Mark sat down next to her on the couch and hugged her until she stopped.

“You can get student loans to pay for graduate school. You can live with me rent free and teach yoga to pay for your other expenses. As for your grandmother, Lauren, it’s not your responsibility to support her. You shouldn’t throw away your life selling drugs to do it. She wouldn’t want you to. I bet she doesn’t know you’re selling drugs to support her, does she?

“No, of course not.”

Lauren began to sob again. When she stopped, she stood up and walked to the kitchen and back. “Mark, this isn’t the first time. I was convicted three years ago for possession and got probation. I also have a prostitution conviction. I used to be an escort for wealthy, older men. I’m screwed.”

Mark couldn’t think of anything to say. He stared at the wall. After Lauren went home, he walked down to the Charles River Esplanade, where he and Lauren had jogged. She was trouble, he thought. But he enjoyed being with her so much. He had never had such deep conversations with anyone. He had never felt so vibrant, so eager for the next day. Anyway, he couldn’t abandon her now.

Lauren moved in with Mark. Except for her phone calls and meetings with her attorney, their normal lives went on. She was as passionate about her writing and his, and it was contagious. They didn’t talk about the future. One day Lauren bounded in the door, smiling. “The prosecutor’s going to accept a plea to possession. My attorney says they’re worried about the entrapment defense.”

“That is good news,” said Mark.

“Yeah, the bad news is that because of my prior, I’ll still go to prison, probably for a year. With good behavior, that means about eight months.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” said Mark, hugging her, “but it could be worse.” He could feel her tears on his cheek.

“I know. I know,” she said.

When Mark visited her in prison the first time, as their time to talk had almost expired, she said, “Mark, the only thing that keeps me going in here is dreaming about getting out and going back to you. Every night before I go to sleep I picture us in bed together in the condo. I love you.”

“I love you too, Lauren,” he said.

Driving home Mark felt tense. He knew he had to make a decision about Lauren, and in fairness to her, soon. He needed the peace of a decision too. He felt whole and alive with her. But…it wasn’t just the cocaine. She sold her body too. What else would she do to get what she wanted? She didn’t learn from previous crimes. Why should he assume that she had from this? He couldn’t live with such risk and turmoil. Was she trouble, or was she just flawed, like everybody else? How flawed is too flawed?

The next time he visited her he pulled up the chair and waited for her to walk through the cream colored door on the other side of the partition. The guard stood next to the chair she would sit in and stared through him. When she saw Mark, she smiled with her whole face, wrinkling her temples. He didn’t smile. He knew it would look fake.

“Hi, Lauren.”

“Hi, sweetheart,” she said.   “…Is something wrong?”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s best if we deal with what I have to say right away. I fell in love with you Lauren, but when I did, I fell in love with somebody I didn’t know. You have many wonderful qualities, and you’ve been very good to me. I’ll always love you for that. But I can’t deal with what you do that isn’t so wonderful. I can’t handle it. So… I’m saying good-bye now. I won’t be seeing you anymore. I…I’m sorry.” Tears filled Mark’s eyes. Lauren’s lower lip quivered. “Take care of yourself,” he said, and turned around and walked away.

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