Field of Dreams

Dear Reader: Previous installments of this continuing story are here. 

Part 1: Tessa Takes a Walk in Her Party Boots
Part 2: The Man in the Fedora Hat
Part 3: Tessa is a Messa
Part 4: Joelle Meets the Guy from Last Night
Part 5: A Walk Down Memory Layne
Part 6: Hacking with James
Part 7: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
Part 8: Coffee, Tea or Lipstick
Part 9: Remi Presents A Business Card

Thanks again for reading!

************************************

“What did you just do? Why? Why?” He grabbed his hair at his temples, staring at the ground. “How could you do this?” He got quiet, slowed his speech. “Tessa, you don’t know what you’re dealing with.” He held his arm across her chest in a clutch hold. “Do you think this is some kind of joke?”

“No, no, I just figured you could get another one. You’re a Formulation Chemist, aren’t you?” Her voice shook.

Pulling both her arms behind her against his chest, he tugged. “You will find me this lipstick.” He let her go and pointed ahead.

They marched in unison with him clipping at her heels like a rushing tide closing in. They both witnessed the flying lipstick, but he expected her to show the way as if in the act of throwing it she alone determined its destination. Not true. She hadn’t a clue. From the looks of things, it probably landed in a bush of thorns.

Tessa chose a direction for the sake of having one, making her feel more aimless. She launched it with the hope that she’d never see it again, not that she’d be retrieving it seconds later. It may as well have been hours. Remi smirked and sighed at her every turn. With blood patches smeared on his face, he made Tessa squirm, compromising her search and backtracking when it didn’t show up in places she had hoped.

Remi tagged closely behind, about to snap at any second, breathing out his nose in uncomfortable bursts. He held her forearm gently as if she were a robot guiding him, doing the dirty deed, so as to never get his hands wet. He mostly observed her like the scientist he claimed to be; as she kicked mud at her feet, Remi couldn’t be bothered to bend at the waist.

Her eyes focused solely on the dirt in front of her, searching for the shiny band of gold encasing the pink prism. Thin blades of grass creeped higher, dotted with shrubs. Several times Tessa picked up shiny things, a lifesaver wrapper, a soda cap, rocks, only to toss them aside like broken pieces of her life. Tessa contemplated maybe she didn’t throw the lipstick at all and patted her pockets, hoping it was there, in reach, in her grasp. She feared the searing disappointment of Remi’s face burning into her, and continued her search.

Tessa heard herself sighing every time she had a question for Remi she knew she shouldn’t ask, including anything about her sleepover the other night. The loaded silence between them made Tessa want to bolt. What would happen if she couldn’t find the lipstick? It dawned on her that the lipstick might never be recovered and she wrung her hands free and took a new course farther away from the projected target. Remi wandered away from her in a new direction with his back to her. For a microsecond, she thought she might run, but she saw him concentrating, looking painstakingly under every rock. Tessa fantasized they would simply drift away together, and the missing lipstick, a figment of their imagination. Then she saw the pink triangular shape muddied in a puddle, and snatched it up.

“Found it. I found it.” Tessa felt the plastic in her hands for mere seconds before Remi tore it from her, flopping his arms around her, picking her up, and dotting kisses on her nose and cheeks. Tessa smiled meekly and he planted a firm kiss on her lips, slipping his tongue in her mouth and performing a series of swift figure eights, swimming in a pool of saliva. Tessa reveled in the strangeness of it and that he tried so hard. They collapsed on the hard dirt, falling into feathered weeds as if they were on a flowery hillside, not in the middle of stray, urban field, unattached to a business plan.

They laid there for what felt like hours, watching the sun glean a brighter day. A passerby might wonder if they were having a picnic sitting there in the dirt with gnats playing in their hair. In all his talk about the glories of science, the evening at The Crush never came up. With science as the centerpiece, her questions of sex on hold. Occasionally, Tessa’s mind drifted there, most mostly hung on to Remi’s every word. For all its focused attention, the lipstick faded into the background and out of sight, stashed inside Remi’s pocket. He spoke a few words about changing the formulation, a mention of a few ingredients, and then hummed a few bars of a classical piece Tessa had never heard. Just another day in the field of dreams. She moved in closer to his side.

“Scientists are like artists, Tessa,” he tousled her hair, and then stared into the alley before them and the backsides of apartment dwellings. “Science will save the world.”

photo credit: Theen … via photopin cc

 

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Remi Presents a Business Card

Dear Reader: Previous installments of this continuing story are here. 

Part 1: Tessa Takes a Walk in Her Party Boots
Part 2: The Man in the Fedora Hat
Part 3: Tessa is a Messa
Part 4: Joelle Meets the Guy from Last Night
Part 5: A Walk Down Memory Layne
Part 6: Hacking with James
Part 7: Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing
Part 8: Coffee, Tea or Lipstick

Thanks again for reading!

************************************

“Hey, I’m just looking out for your best interest.” He took her by the shoulder and nudged her towards him. “I’m a fucking scientist. All right?” He produced a wallet and gifted her his business card.

Tessa held the card he passed to her and dropped it at his feet, staring into his bloodshot eyes. She could turn around and lose this guy, be back at her apartment in minutes, but she needed answers to her questions. Questions, she couldn’t ask as her mind drew a blank. She felt stage fright, and all the many things she had rehearsed over and over in her head were a no show.

“Hey, hey,” he caught up to her. “Okay, I deserved that.” He held out his empty hand to her instead, “Rembrandt.”

She shook his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Rembrandt.”

“No. It’s Rembrandt Livingston,” he wiped his sweaty hands on his pants.

“Okay. Rembrandt.” Tessa stared at him up and down. His dark, unruly hair hid unstable, flickering eyes prancing up down and down Tessa.  “Oh, you must be an artist. Or, a soap opera star. Or, the asshole that drugged me and left me stranded in a deserted building in the middle of fucking nowhere,” she raised her voiced incrementally. “I’m sure that’s in your best interest, too. Thanks for the coffee.” She walked ahead of him, shaking.

“I owe you an apology,” he bowed his head. “I was kind of hoping you’d forget all that stuff.”

“Forget it? Oh, really? I might forget it all if I understood what it was I was forgetting.”

Rembrandt nodded. “I know, you’re right. I got it.”

“And you were honest with me,” she pulsed ahead in small steps.

He caught up to her, and they walked side by side in silence as questions gnawed inside of her. The air was cool and he seemed harmless like a moth fluttering toward the light, a scientist even. He only wanted what he could use and needed. She meditated on the thought and slid deeper into herself than she wanted. He slowed his steps to match hers. The asphalt met a dirt path, leading to a field full of weedy flowers disguised as the real thing.

“Please can we just start over? Call me Remi.”

“Let me guess. Your parents are artists and they’re terribly disappointed you turned out to be a scientist. To call you Rembrandt. I can’t even believe it’s your real name.”

He smiled at her. “Gee, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. It’s okay, really. It gives me hope in a human race that can name a painter from the seventeenth century,” he clasped his fingers into his and kissed her hand. “Congratulations.” Tessa flinched, and then regretted it. To make matters even more awkward, he produced the crumpled card she had thrown on the ground. “Look for yourself. It says it right here.”

His name appeared above the title of “Formulation Chemist” for a company called Volotex. It passed as legitimate, although simplistic. The card looked low budget; an environmental company practicing cost-cutting measures, perhaps. No address, only a phone number, completed with a printed logo that read “VT” in scripted blue and green raised letters.

“A Formulation Chemist,” she said. “What do you want?”

“I can explain. I will explain. But first I really need you to give me that lipstick before anyone else gets hurt.” His lips quivered with the mention of the word lipstick.

“Who’s been hurt? I haven’t read about anything.”

“So, if you haven’t read about it, it must be perfectly safe and has your golden seal of approval,” he said, talking faster as their gait assumed an accelerated speed. “Just give it to me. The lipstick. Now.”

“Fine.” And she stopped to look in purse, recently cleaned out of trash. Her fingernails skimmed the brown and pink oily gunk of makeup on the lining of her purse. The lipstick revealed itself and she gave Remi, who was practically panting, one more glance. “I’ve never been so unhappy as when this lipstick came into my life.” She held it up to her face and rolled the plastic container in her fingers.

Remi relaxed enough to display a charming dimple on the side of his mouth, an innocence which encouraged her own playful game. She stretched her arms as if in a yawn, and held the lipstick high. “Give it to me,” he said.

She ran ahead through the weeds and tangled thorns. “Tell me, did we?”

“Did we what?” Remi was not in the mood for her diversions. The lipstick consumed him, and rage drove him to stumble and trip on a rock, falling to the dirt. Blood spilled out his nose, while Tessa twirled across the field.

“Did we sleep together?”

“Give me the lipstick and you’ll have your answer,” he said, calling out to her, wiping dripping blood with his sleeve.

“It’s me or the lipstick.” She crushed through brittle branches to be at his side.

“What?”

“You want to start over, let’s get rid of this fucking lipstick. It has caused nothing but problems.”

A cool breeze blew past between them, fanning the weeds and a curl on the top of Remi’s head. Tessa chucked the lipstick into the field as far as she could throw. Her internal parachute opened mid-fall and she floated, mindless and free.

Remi’s face locked into a frozen scream.

photo credit: Matt Bernius via photopin cc

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

Dear Reader: This is a continuing story. If you like, you can check out these previous installments. 

Part 1: Tessa Takes a Walk in Her Party Boots
Part 2: The Man in the Fedora Hat
Part 3: Tessa is a Messa
Part 4: Joelle Meets the Guy from Last Night
Part 5: A Walk Down Memory Layne
Part 6: Hacking with James

Thanks to all of you for reading.

******************************************

Tessa let her head sink into a monster-sized pillow, and stared at the mystery phone containing photos from the previous evening. Since Joelle abandoned her, the task of discovery was up to Tessa alone to unveil. With each tap on the phone, Tessa felt dragged further into a foggy dissonance, each new face a nameless body unknown beyond the confines of the photograph, and her role, undefined. She wanted to know these people, but she couldn’t fake it to herself.  She studied body language instead. In a photo of her and Layne, he looked uneasy, his arms folded across his chest with a full drink in his hand, and stood slightly behind her like he was waiting for an elevator.

The next screen revealed a wide group shot at a table with a pitcher of beer in the middle, only Tessa and Joelle had fancy lemon drop martinis in front of them.

“Oh yeah,” Tessa said. “I remember the lemon drops,” she said, calling out to Joelle who was in the bathroom with the door closed.

“Did you say lemon drops?” Joelle turned on the lava lamp, and proceeded to turn on the other two in the room, and knelt next to her. Orange and bluish hues danced across the walls, creating an ambiance best suited for the post-hack chill recovery. James tried to keep his cool, and concentrated on the sound of Joelle’s voice, as they chatted, pressed their heads together and stared at the photo. In it Joelle was the only one looking at the camera. Everyone else appeared in mid-sentence or drinking. Tessa stared across the table at a new face on the scene who didn’t appear in any of the other photos; he had a head of shaggy curls , but with set of deep and narrow eyes that resembled Layne’s, under an umbrella of thick eyebrows. He wore a black tie and a grey jacket, overdressed compared to his fellow clubbers, but not quite up to the task. He looked more like he’d just rolled out of bed. Shaggy chic, Tessa thought, and realized that this idea had occurred to her before.

“The real question is who does the phone belong to,” James said, stepping up to protect his girls.

“Maybe it’s this guy,” Tessa said, holding the phone up above her head. “Layne would have asked for his phone back. You know, when you came to see us.”

“You mean, you. Don’t you?” Joelle flipped back and forth between pictures. “They could be brothers maybe. Maybe James will figure it all out for us. ” Joelle came up from behind James and snuck her arms in around him. “Work your magic, James. Do it.”

Typically, Joelle didn’t support James’s job choice, but her approval sealed the deal. It was the only time Tessa thought she could accuse Joelle of being a snob. James, all in good favor, had saved friends from paying a few parking tickets, changed grades from failing to passing, nothing too greedy after all. Not all hackers were bad, James would say softly to Joelle. Just some of them, and not all the time. Hacking could be a precarious business, not knowing who to trust. James preferred performing his part and looking the other way. A social security number was the key to unlocking most doors, and passwords were easier to crack than a can of soda. People weren’t as complex at they made themselves out to be, relying on a few choice words to fall back on when their memories failed them. A pet, a car, a mascot of their favorite team, the names of their kids, all the things they are told not to use. The simpletons that humans are among machinery baffled James on a daily basis. He wanted a challenge of retrieving data with sweat dripping down the sides of his face.

Joelle spooned next to Tessa by the pillow, and stroked her hair. Tessa acted like it was a normal event, but James pretended they were putting on a show for him. He got busy on his keyboard. Shaking his head, he plugged the cable into the phone and transferred it to the port.

Meanwhile Tessa searched through her purse, and eventually dumped all its contents on the floor. She set aside her wallet, sunglasses and brush, and combed through a pile of gum wrappers and receipts “There it is. I thought I lost this.” She picked up a lipstick and generously applied it to her lips and pouted juicy lips at her friend.

“Nice. It’s a little bright. I don’t think it’s your color. Where did you get this? Not Sultrix,” Joelle lifted it off the floor and turned it on its side. “No, I’ve never seen this brand.” It puzzled them into a quiet stupor borne out of exhaustion and digestion of thick-crust pizza in their bodies, their reflexes and mental processing slowed to a standstill.

“Well, I only have the latest and greatest,” Tessa licked her lips, on display for Joelle’s benefit. Their chatter sounded more remote as James stared at strings of numbers scanning his screen. Together they laughed and put on the lipstick for each other, remarking it was a strange consistency, and that it had little chips in, sparkles they called them.

“Look in the mirror. It’s sparkling. Really,” Joelle passed a compact mirror to her.

“What is this? Wasn’t it pink? It looks greenish now,” Tessa charged for the bathroom to apply more lipstick to get the pinkish hue back. “Joelle, I need your expertise.”

The two of them together applied more lipstick at the bathroom mirror, remarking it was chalky like no other lipstick they ever tried. James thought if he heard the word lipstick one more time, he’d puke, and he remembered why he preferred isolated activity. He blared out to them he was a serious man at work to deaf ears. They came out arm in arm, singing into a brush, their lips a lime green and slightly bubbling.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing.

“What’s wrong with your lips?” James looked over at them, his concentration lost completely. “You got some kind of voodoo thing going.”

“You don’t like?” and they blew James a kiss, and he wrapped his finger around his neck and play choked himself for full effect.

A red skeleton flashed on the screen and blinked, “What?” James said under his breath. It flashed a few times and then disintegrated into blackness. James mouth hung open. “What just happened?” Equipment in the other room sparked and popped, and the unmistakable smell of smoke had everyone coughing and panting.

The whirring and blurring of his computer shut down into a deadened silence.

“It’s wiped. It’s gone,” James hid his face under his hands. “Whoa. What the hell just happened? This was deliberate. No doubt about that.”

“What? Just now?” Joelle looked at the dark computer screen. James nodded. He took it personally, and raised his eyebrows at the dark screen.

“This is freaky,” James said, staring deadpan at his screen. The machines popped and buzzed and then fell to an eerie quiet like nothing he had ever experienced in the walls of his apartment, and the stillness put him on edge. He pulled on his spiky hair and paced the room in circles. “Shit. Shit. Shit,” Falling, he writhed on the floor, banging his fists on the hard carpet, until he splayed into an “X” formation, and then sprung up in unfashionable quickness for his size and fled to the window.

“It’s pink,” Tessa said, blurting out to James. It was no consolation. “This lipstick is pink.”

“It’s green, actually,” Joelle said. “I don’t see any pink.”

No one had heard her. Pink. The lipstick was pink. Once.

“Don’t you see? This is what Layne wanted. Look what it did. It blew up the computer.” Tessa’s hand shook as she stared at the lipstick like it was a crystal ball.

“Lipstick? You think this, this, is because of the lipstick?” James shook his head. “No, don’t. Don’t blame yourself, Tessa. I’m positive lipstick can’t blow up a computer.”

As soon as James said it, she dismissed the idea, but apologized anyway.

“I think you girls should sleep here tonight.” As if on cue, the dark sedan skid away burning rubber. No, they weren’t trying to hide. They wanted to see the job done. In the orange glow of the street lamp, James saw a pale, gangly face throw a cigarette to the sidewalk.

Tessa shook her head. “Nice try, James. This girl is going to bed. I’m really tired.”

“No, really,” he said. He felt his lips quiver. “I’d feel better if you stayed here. You guys can take my bed, the couch. Sleep next the lava lamp. Whatever.” He could disclose the men he observed on watch outside, but they left arm-in-arm out the door leaving James alone with the damaged goods.

“Just make sure you take that gunk off your lips. It’s giving me the creeps,” he said to them as they stumbled out the door.

He stared at his laptop, dead as a fossil, and as he paced through the room, sparks flew out the machines. “Piece of shit.” James hurled a piece of equipment across the room, smashing it to bits. The lava lamp applauded with oozing globs of bulbous bubbles.

photo credit: Superfloop via photopin <a