Novels

Muse (2)

September 1, 2015

sand

Playing Along

Two days passed, Leon tidying up his apartment, his desk cleared and rearranged, making it functional. Some unknown substance stuck to the wood floor beneath, a butter knife needed to remove it; Leon was not handy and didn’t own even a screwdriver. He bought food for the refrigerator and even washed the piles of dirty clothes sitting dormant in the closet. It was okay since it gave him time to think about his new book. The time would have been better spent writing, if he had anything to write. Mia didn’t do much of anything except point out items he had not finished or overlooked. It felt a little like his mother bossing him around.

 

What the hell, he thought. With the place cleaned maybe I can ask my mom to drop by. I know she’ll fall over dead to see it this clean.

 

His mother was fastidious to a fault with coasters on tabletops and doilies on the sofa and chairs. She blamed herself for her son’s shortcomings as a cleaner. He had never been a clean child, his mother spending most of her waking hours picking up after him. Some say a child grows out of it but Leon’s mess just became more sophisticated, electronic gadgets instead of toys. His mother recognized his flare for creativity, writing for the school paper. Her hopes had been squashed when he got his first job as a car valet working for an expensive restaurant. That job lasted for a year when he took on another dead end vocation as a gardener.

Before he had reached the age of twenty-one he moved through seven jobs, none of which had a future. His last job before becoming a published author was in a computer store. He didn’t know squat about computers but had memorized his spiel so customers thought he did. That was where he met Meg, who asked technical questions he didn’t have the answer to. She was charmed by Leon’s ability to know nothing about computers yet sell people on obscure software. Still, she liked the energy Leon had and befriended him in a computer social network, expecting nothing but idle chatter. Their exchange of thoughts and ideas led to a blooming relationship, which lasted until she moved out.

Meg was history as well as Sara from the look of it. Leon couldn’t say he felt sorry about the latter, only disappointed that their professional relationship had become clouded by physical lust. Nothing was official yet but he could hardly play second fiddle to her boss, who was older than his grandfather; Mia had been accurate in her assessment.

“Okay Miss Muse, what now?”

“We are going to go for a walk,” she said. “While we do this I want you to look closely at everything; there is a story out there, everywhere, in fact. You just have to recognize it and write about it.”

“Yeah, right!” he answered skeptical it could be that easy. “Where to?”

“Out of the city, that’s for sure,” she replied. “There are stories here but they’re not your style.”

“How do you know what my style is?” he questioned. “I don’t believe you’ve even read any of my books.”

“Didn’t have to,” she returned rolling her eyes at the question. “I know what you need and that should be enough.”

“There is that small problem of my publisher,” he added. “With things as they are, I doubt I’ll get anything from them now whether I write a good book or not.”

“Who said you have to go to the same publisher?” she said. “They are not the only publisher in town. Besides I think I can get you a better deal somewhere else.”

“A muse and an agent? How interesting!”

“You are a known commodity,” she replied. “Don’t think for a moment other publishers aren’t interested. Of course, some of them will ruthless and want you for almost nothing. Before any of this, you have to get writing.””

“The royalty checks won’t last forever. I need to come up with something soon or I’ll be back working for McElroy Computing; I really hated that job,” said Leon pressing the heel of his hand to his forehead. “PC, Mac, They’re all the same to me. I was terrible.”

“First we need to get you relaxed,” announced Mia. “Rent a car tomorrow and we will get on the road to inspiration.”

“Where are we headed?”

“Her, there, nowhere, everywhere!” she responded. “Just get in the car and drive until we find what we need. And get a nice car with a good sound system and soft seats; we might be driving for a while.”

“I take it that as a muse you need creature comforts? Odd since you can move about without any problems,” he replied squinting his eyes at her, skeptically.

“Well, since you expect me to be visible, we may as well shoot for something comfy,” she said. “I do have feelings, you know.”

 

Road Trip

A convertible, he thought. Why not a convertible? The weather’s nice and my crazy muse can let her auburn hair blow in the wind, assuming it is still that color. Nice hair, too. Odd how she can change it so quickly, I wonder how she does it?

 

“Would you like to have an insurance rider for additional drivers on this rental?” asked the clerk behind the rental car agency. “You understand, you must be the only operator of the vehicle under the contact.”

“No, no one else will be driving, thanks.”

“A major credit card and you can be on your way,” continued the clerk in an artificial perky tone. “Your car will be in space seventy-six, the green convertible with the rally wheels, a cost-free upgrade since that is the only convertible available.”

 

Business completed, he went to the lot where he found the car bright and shiny, Mia sitting in the passenger’s seat minus luggage. How could she have known which car he was going to get; he only discovered that fact a few minutes before?

“I don’t know what kind of magic you use,” he said. “I suppose I shouldn’t be so surprised; there are magicians who can make an elephant disappear. I saw that once at a show in town.”

“That’s not magic Leon; that’s a trick. Everything can be explained one way or another, the magicians keeping their secrets from everybody.”

“Yeah, right!” he offered.

 

The duo headed out of town, the weather warm yet humid, the movement of the car creating a slight breeze, very relaxing. A question popped into his mind as they moved along a rural road.

“Mia, how are we going to work out the sleeping arrangements? I’m not sure I can afford to get two rooms when we stop.”

“Just get one,” she said. “You’ll need the rest.”

“Don’t you need rest too?”

“Not really, though I can cat nap when we’re not busy,” she answered. “Technically I don’t need to sleep or have a room to myself. A muse does not need to sleep unless she chooses to.”

“So are you saying that all these so-called muses are women?”

“They could be; I really don’t know. We’re always so busy we rarely get to see one another. I’ve only seen twelve or so; they were all females. It makes sense when you think about it. Men are so linear; they limit the imagination. Women on the other hand see a bigger picture.”

“I don’t know whether I agree with that,” replied Leon. “I wrote three books before I met you; that took a lot of imagination without the help of a woman.”

“You think it was your imagination but whether you knew it or not, I was there planting the ideas.”

“I suppose you’re going to take credit for everything now,” he complained.

“No, not really,” she answered. “Think of it like a seed; I plant it, you tend it and it grows. That’s the short version of how this works.”

“I don’t believe it for one minute. I never saw you before now and you claim it was your idea.”

“Simple, Leon. I was in your head and didn’t need to be here. You stopped writing, so I had to take drastic measures by appearing to you in person.”

“If you say so.”

“I just did.”

“When should we stop?” he asked scanning the open fields on either side of the road.

“Right here is good,” she said without winking an eye.

“Glad I asked,” he said. “If I didn’t say anything we’d be miles down the road before you let me know.”

When he found a place to pull to the side Mia explained it wasn’t about a specific destination but about getting a sense of what was there for him to see. One place might be just as good as another to redefine his purpose and get what was needed.

“Wheat!” he said strolling through the waist high fielded. “Nothing here but a bunch of wheat. What am I supposed to see?”

“Look closer,” she instructed.

“Still looks like wheat to me,” he replied. “Nothing special.”

“Geez!” she exclaimed. “Am I going to have to spell it out for you? There is a whole world in this wheat field, bugs animals and tiny dramas played out every second. That’s what I mean about being observant. Take the car, for instance. What do you see when you look at the car?”

“It’s a car, what else?”

“It’s green and has shiny metal parts with beautiful upholstery and a new car smell,” she stated. “There’s even more to see if you study it a little longer; the same exercise applies to this wheat field.”

“Hmm! Can we go now?” he said. “Something is biting my ankle in this grass.”

“Biting can be good,” she voiced with passion. “Use it! What can you conjure up about something biting you?”

“It tells me to get the fuck out of this field,” returned Leon. “I don’t know about any drama but now my ankle is beginning to itch.”

Exasperated, Mia threw up her hands in frustration; Leon was proving to be a challenge. He noticed how graceful her arms appeared as she raised them, utterly feminine and beautiful, like a ballet dancer, though he had never been to a ballet. Was he falling for this spacy chick, a woman under the illusion of being a magical muse? That made no sense; she was nuttier than a fruitcake, hardly the kind of woman he would be interested in.

The only reason he went along with this charade was because there was nothing better to do, other than stare at an empty screen. His writing ideas were in the realm of zilch, hours of nothingness articulated by the crunch of junk food and stale coffee. He did find it curious how this woman managed to get into his world without resistance, one minute she’s there and the next she’s gone. Careful handling of the situation was necessary; Mia could be a clever con artist.

They drove on for several miles, the countryside whizzing by at forty-miles per hour, when Mia instructed him to pull next to a stand of oak trees.

“Sit and eat the sandwich I made for you,” she insisted. “It’s nice and shady here; nothing will bite your ankles.

“When did you make the sandwich?” he asked. “I know there wasn’t anything in the car when we left.”

She exhaled deeply a hint of a groan escaping. “Why do you ask questions with obvious answers? I may not clean apartments but I am capable of manifesting a ham and cheese sandwich without a lot of hocus-pocus.”

“A trick?” he posed.

“No, real magic by your way of thinking,” she answered. “Just sit and eat.”

The ground was soft around the base of one tree, a string of ants parading up the trunk. Leon positioned himself to avoid interfering with the tiny creatures unwilling to share his snack with any of them. Sliding open the sandwich bag he examined the sandwich, lean ham and gouda cheese on good rye bread, the exact combination he loved, lots of mayo but no mustard. How did she know? He never told her the kind of food he liked and there was nothing in the apartment to make a sandwich like this.

 

Whatever, I’m not even sure why I’m doing this, he thought. Maybe I’m crazier than she is or hopefully I’m asleep, dreaming.

 

Without him paying much attention, she managed to change her clothes, though she hadn’t brought anything with her. It was a complete mystery since they’d been together the whole time, Leon turning his back on his for less that a minute or two. Her hair was darker too, more of a brownish color. Her jeans and blouse were replaced by a flowing dress, sheer, catching the breeze as she stood with her back to him. Suddenly the picture fit the place they had stopped at, all natural, teaming with buzzing and leaves rattling if you stopped long enough to listen.

 

His thoughts went back to a picnic with Meg years ago. She was a nature kind of girl, always wanting to explore every rock and stand of trees she encountered; nature could not hide from her inquisitive eyes. That was one of the reasons she was with him; due to his restricted interest, a born city dweller, she encouraged him to see things beyond his nose. And her enthusiasm worked. Leon produced a string of stories with Meg as his cheerleader.

It had been different then, Meg and he played like puppies, his sedentary life lifted into a world reaching beyond Main and Mission Street. It was a window she opened to him, seeing a world, a life with so many facets and possibilities. Until Mia, he hadn’t been out of the city since Sara arrived on the scene. That was the winding down of his creativity, a return to his four walls and the corner grocery store for inspiration. No wonder his mind had dried up and turned to dust.

He decided it was good to get out and flush out the stale coffee and dried up pizza of his life. Those things held him down, kept him in place. Meg would have told him the same; he was sure of that.

“Mia?” he uttered softly.

“Yes?”

He hadn’t noticed it before but this woman moved like a dancer on stage; even turning in place was a dance to her. For a brief moment he could see Meg, though they were very different in many ways.

“This muse thing,” he began. “How did you become a muse, if there is such a thing? Is it like a dead person coming back as an angel?”

“Mmm, not exactly, but I’m not sure I have a good answer,” she replied. “Consider yourself for a moment. You were born and have two parents, a biological reality to say the very least. It’s easy to explain your existence in that respect. Consider who you might have been before your parents met, what assignment might have you stepped into if they never were together. Would you cease to exist, a biological miss?”

“I guess I wouldn’t have existed at all.”

“Or maybe you would exist but somewhere else as someone else,” she added. “We are all bits of energy seeking, a shell, a host or place to flourish as some kind of entity. Energy! It’s in the physical world and cannot be destroyed only redirected. You following me?”

“Yeah, I think.”

“I’m not a ghost or an angel; that much I know,” she continued. “My energy or soul, if you like, is assigned as a muse, my very being used for something other than physical shell, though I can manifest one if I so desire. I didn’t choose it; it chose me. Your parents chose to have a child and you were it. You didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

“How do you know the choice is the right one?” pressed Leon. “Is it God who makes these decisions? Don’t I have anything to say about it?”

“I knew sooner or later we’d get to the God thing,” she said with a sigh. “Russian writers are obsessed with the idea of God or the absence of one. Take Mikhail Bulgakov for instance; his novel, Master and Margarita, continues to argue over the theme of God and the Devil. Though there seems to be considerable evidence regarding the Devil, not much is said about God, not directly at least.”

“I thought you might know more about a deity, if you are what you claim.”

“I’m a muse; I know no more than you do about God. I suppose on one level you can believe it is God who makes things happen but what if this is all random? What if we are nothing more than a cosmic mistake? I don’t have all the answers Leon.”

“Does it bother you, my doubt? I know you’re a quick-change artist and a mind reader but the rest is a stretch for me.”

Mia sighed, running one hand through her hair.

“You’re not the first person to say that, Leon. You have to have a little faith; just go with the flow, as they say. By the way, I helped coin that modern phrase. Someone used that before, though a different meaning. It meant letting something drift in the current of a river, the Nile I believe, in Egypt.”

He’d allowed himself to be taken this far by this young woman. If it was some kind of scam, Leon couldn’t see where it was leading. Mia asked for nothing. He didn’t have any money to give nor did she ask for any royalties if he produced another pulp fantasy novel.

“I’m curious,” he injected. “You said you manifested your physical self. Is that like a projection or hologram?”

“No, I am very real at this moment,” she answered.

“May I?” he said leaning forward to touch her hand. It was soft and warm, like any other woman’s hand, making it possible she was a real woman not mythical person.

“You have a nice touch,” she commented. “I knew that, though. I know everything important about you, whether you realize it or not.”

“How could you know anything?” he questioned. “You don’t even know me.”

“It’s too complex for you to understand, just tell me what you’re feeling at this moment.”

Leon didn’t like being told what he understood and didn’t but decided it was better to humor Mia than argue. There would be time enough to sort out her problem once he complied with her harmless suggestions; a break in his routine might help.

“I’ve been watching these ants on the tree,” he said. “They follow a perfect trail up the tree, very few drifting more than a fraction of an inch from the trail. I don’t know what they are getting out of the tree but they seem absorbed in the task. The ants remind me a little of the mythical beings in my last story; they were only a sideline, nothing major in the story. The Banashka worked like this because they were afraid the world outside would be destroyed, a little the ants preparing for winter. Gives me an idea I might be able to use in the next story.”

“I knew it would,” she returned.

 

Believing and Not Seeing

Leon jotted down a few things on a notepad before they drove on. He wanted to say his dry spell had ended but there still wasn’t a storyline in his head, only fragments. Continuing the idea of Banashka and a few other pretend creatures, he might make a break-through to another fantasy fiction and get Sara off his back. The hero and heroine of his last book ended up together; it was a happy ending but not an easy beginning for a new story.

A small town loomed on the horizon as the sun cast long shadows on the ground, trees forming human type shadows, another idea for his story. A motel, close to the edge of town, looked clean and affordable, the only criteria necessary for Leon at this point. Unaccustomed to driving much he felt totally wiped out from the air and sitting so long.

The Ashgrove Motel consisted of a series of cottages with plastic flowers in the flowerbeds, a parking area besides each and a patch of artificial grass with a torn umbrella and rusty patio chairs. Contrary to the name there were no ash trees anywhere, though stumps of some kind of trees spread throughout the place. He stopped in front of the office, a sign blinking vacancy on the building. He stood for several minutes preparing to explain his female companion; this was a very conservative area where people looked poorly on casual unmarried relationships. Mia sat in the car, her eyes shut, avoiding the glare from the setting sun.

“I’d like a room for the night please,” said Leon to the skinny, squinty-eyed clerk with a hint of gray hair. His plastic nametag sported the name Roy.

“Got my best cottage number nine available,” reported Roy. “It’s got a tub; the other only got showers. The women like that, though I can see there ain’t nobody with you, so I guess it don’t matter then. I’ll let you have that cottage for the same price as the others since things is been slow lately.”

Leon turned back to the car; Mia was still sitting there as before, plain as day.

“You don’t see anyone in the car?” asked Leon.

“Not unless you got ’em in the trunk,” he answered with a smile. “Hardly any room in these new cars anymore; you ask me, car makers just want to make ‘em cheaper, one or two suitcases if you’re lucky. My daddy had this Buick that could hold two whole people in the trunk and some luggage. That was quite a car. Burned gas like crazy too.”

“I’m sure it did,” returned Leon eager to curb the small talk.

“Oh yea, there ain’t no smokin’ in the cottages either, including them funny cigarettes, marijuana. You need to light up, sit out on the porch. No invitin’ women to spend the night, this is a respectable place. Have a nice stay and put the key in the slot by the office when you leave. Mama will get it in the morning.”

Leon was really freaking out when the clerk said he did not see Mia sitting in the car. Could it be, she is what she says she is or was he going crazy? Vampires don’t cast shadows or reflect in mirrors. He wasn’t sure about the shadow thing but now that he thought of it, he hadn’t noticed. Which would be dumber, believing in vampires or muses? Vampires weren’t real; they were only in the movies. Besides, Mia said no one else could see her except Leon, which was the case. Maybe the guy behind the counter had bad eyesight; It could be, though Leon could imagine how the clerk could miss a whole person less than ten feet away from him. Leon strolled back to the car trying to look nonchalant.

“He didn’t see me, did he?” announced Mia. “I told you so.”

“No,” he replied. “I beginning to think you’re nothing but a wild, made-up person of my imagination; that I could accept.”

“Touch me again,” she offered. “I am not made up.”

With her recent confirmation regarding invisibility, he had to consider if he should touch her, his brain trying to find a rational explanation. She sat perfectly still while his hand reached out to touch her arm, careful not touch anything else. The arm felt as real as any live person with skin so soft it was hypnotic, not unlike the sensation the hand he felt earlier. For a brief moment he felt a sense of pleasure doing it.

“I am real to you and to no one else,” she added. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’d like to take a look at that bathtub the clerk spoke about. Yes, I heard about that; I think I’d like to try it out.”

“But if you are a muse how can you take a bath?” stuttered Leon. “I thought you guys were all self contained, no food, no nothing.”

“Yes, that’s true; we usually are,” she replied. “There are circumstances when we can experience a few of the mortal comforts, physical sensations, you know, when we manifest ourselves in the flesh. I dare say, strawberries and ice cream are my weaknesses, though they are not always in season when I’m working and poor artists don’t have freezers. All of this is in the handbook for muses; we have to pass the test before going on duty.”

 

As noted by the clerk, Mia didn’t have any luggage, Leon carrying one small suitcase into the cottage, she, already sitting on the full size bed watching.

“You act as if I’m going to do something awful to you,” she said. “I’m not, you know. As soon as I’ve done my job I’ll be on my way, nothing to worry about.”

“Uh, there’s only one bed,” volunteered Leon. “I could sleep in the chair if you wanted to have the bed.”

“Don’t be silly,” she returned. “We could share it if I decide to rest; I never really sleep, you know. Besides, you have to drive tomorrow and I don’t want you sleep deprived, dangerous. Now I’m going to take that bath I mentioned; strawberries would make it perfect but not necessary.”

He heard her run the water, steam beginning to drift out of the open bathroom door. The impulse stuck him to see if there was any place to buy strawberries.

“I’ll be back in a little bit,” he yelled over the cascading water.

“Okay,” she yelled back. “I’ll be fine here.”

The thought of a naked woman in his bath was a bit unnerving. How does one respond should she come out accidentally in the buff? It was ridiculous to speculate. Mia was a muse or so it seemed at this moment. Was a muse like a nun?

 

Coincidences

After a brief discussion with the skinny clerk he found a store a few blocks into town. It wasn’t much of a store single brands of one thing or another and produce that appeared wilted and dry. Leon couldn’t imagine anyone eating the stuff. Strawberries must really be bad if they had any.

“Welcome to Bonne Hollow, sir,” said a young man working near the shelves. “You on vacation? Haven’t seen you around and I know every local.”

“Uh, not really, just out for a drive,” returned Leon. “Passing through, you might say.”

“Where ya headed?” said the young man eager to strike up conversation, the tiny store not offering much entertainment.

“Nowhere in particular, just driving,” answered Leon.

“Funny. Most folks have some place in mind; they never come here unless they’re going someplace else. So what can I do for ya? Just say the word and I’ll point ya in the right direction,” added the man. “The store ain’t that big.”

“I doubt you have any strawberries, ones that aren’t antiques by now,” replied Leon.

“Funny you should ask,” said the man. “Just got a bunch of them in a few hours ago, fresh from the farms in the south. We don’t get a lot of stuff like that here in Bonne Hollow. The owner, Mr. Cross happened across them when he was traveling down there; says the farmers offered him a real good deal on them, though not many people ask for them. Myna Ledbetter tried growin’ them in her yard last year but they didn’t do so great because of the lousy soil and birds eating what was left.”

The young fellow had been correct about the freshness of the strawberries; he could smell them before he could saw them. He tried one to see if it was sweet and tasty, the ones in the city often didn’t taste like anything, picked too early. It was the tastiest strawberry he’d had in years. Buying two baskets of the fruit he headed back to the hotel to surprise Mia. He hadn’t felt like this in a long time, surprising a woman for the fun of it. But then again Mia wasn’t really a woman or at least not one that would stick around. It was a pity since he felt drawn by her and by appearances was quite striking.

The little cottage had the last glimmer of light filtering through the trees, non-Ash trees. The door wasn’t locked so he walked in with the strawberries in hand. The steam from the bathroom was less now, no sounds coming from inside. Leon didn’t want to disturb Mia, the bath luxury he hadn’t enjoyed himself in a long time. Showers were quick and easy though they lacked the relaxation you got in the tub. He waited for quite a long time, no noise coming from the bathroom. Mia could be done or something was wrong.

 

The water can’t be warm anymore, he thought. Something is not right; I better check to see if she’s okay.

 

His muse was not a real person; he didn’t know what to expect upon entering the bath enclosure with steamed walls. Would she be normal? She would be naked creating an awkward moment if surprised.

“Are you okay?” he called entering cautiously. “It’s awfully quiet in here; I don’t want to disturb you but I’m worried.”

There was no answer; his eyes focused on the naked woman in the tub to his right. It was Mia with her eyes closed and her hair a bright red instead of brown. She didn’t seem to hear him and he wondered if that was a normal thing for a muse. He stared at her for several minutes noting the rise and fall of her chest, an indication she was alive, though she claimed not to need to do any of the normal human things. She was beautiful, stunning in fact, her body more than pleasing to the eye. Leon couldn’t take his eyes off of her but also didn’t want her to think he was a voyeur.

But if she wasn’t real then did it matter? A man can appreciate a woman without it becoming a full-blown sex thing. He reached over to test the temperature of the water, now very tepid in comparison to what it had been. Mia appeared to be asleep or in some form hibernation, if that could be said about condition. So perfect yet so far from his reality. It would be easy to touch her like this but would she object? Suddenly her lips moved, though her eyes remained shut.

“Leon it’s perfectly fine to stare at me,” she said. “You’re a man and that’s what men do, only natural. And I know that you’d like to touch me to see if what you see is real. I can assure you, it feels exactly the way you expect.”

“Sorry!” he blurted out stepping away from the edge of the tub. “I was only checking to see if you were alright.”

“Yeah, I know,” she replied. “If you’re wondering, I’m not getting cold; muses don’t get cold; I’m not sure why. It did feel good when the water was hot; I felt that.”

“Well, I’ll let you get dressed,” he responded, moving toward the small table with the strawberries in place. He hadn’t noticed any discarded clothes or clean ones for her to put on.

“Your hair,” he called back to her.

“Yes, I thought you might like it red for a change,” she yelled back. “I can change it back if you hate it.”

He heard the splash of water as she began to exit the tub, the sound of the drain gurgling, sucking water out. In is head Leon could imagine what she looked like standing there naked and perfect, droplets of water dotting and rolling off her soft skin. What was he thinking? Mia had to be a crazy person or really a muse. In any case, he should not entertain casual relations with her.

“Mmm! These towels are delicious,” she cooed. “Roy’s mother must do these at home not a commercial laundry.”

“Yeah, I get the impression his mother is the brains of this outfit,” replied Leon unsure what to expect next.

A second later Mia casually appeared in the doorway of the bathroom a towel wrapped around her waist, her breasts completely exposed. Leon turned away, though he wanted to look upon her a while longer.

“It’s okay,” she announced throwing her head back, breathing in the cooler air of the main room. “You can look all you want. I knew what you were thinking; it’s not stretch of the imagination. It might be an inspiration of some kind, though your heroes in your books tend to be a little uptight and your women overbearing or wimpy. I think you need to loosen them up a little; make the men aware of the women in your stories, maybe even have a woman protagonist who rules. That would bring even more readers.”

“I wish you’d put something on,” he muttered. “I’m not really a prude but this is unsettling, a naked woman and all.”

“I could put something on but I thought you might like me this way,” she suggested. “From what I sensed, Sara wasn’t doing much for you these last few months. A kiss on the cheek hardly constitutes a love relationship with anybody. When was the last time you saw her in the buff? I’ll bet along time ago, in fact, I know so. She’s playing you because she gets a commission from your books. The sex is just her way of bribing you; isn’t t obvious.”

“I guess,” returned Leon unable to stop thinking of Mia inches away from him.

“Tell you what, Leon. I’ll have a little fun and put some of your clothes on. They’ll cover everything but be kind of sexy at the same time.”

A few seconds later he turned back to find Mia dressed in a pair of his boxer shorts and the flannel shirt he brought for the trip. He was about to say something when there was a knock on the door.

“Sir! It’s only me,” said Roy on the other side of the door.

“Quick!” whispered Leon. “Go hide in the bathroom.”

“What for? He can’t see me,” she answered, turning the doorknob to let Roy in.

“Damn! That door just opened by itself; lock must be busted or somethin’; I’ll have to tell mama. Anyway, hope you’re enjoying the cottage,” began Roy. “Them strawberries smell real good too. I could swear I heard you talking to someone. You know we have to charge extra for two people and we don’t allow guests, you know what I mean? Hookers! Mama won’t have nothin’ to do with such things.”

Although Mia was standing in the room, Roy failed to see her. It was as if she wasn’t there at all, though Leon could see her smiling at him flexing the elastic in the boxer short waistband.

“Uh, I was talking to myself,” replied Leon. “I’m a writer and I like to hear what my stories sound like. You know, like pretend I’m a woman speaking and then a man. It really helps; a lot of writers do that.”

Suspicious, Roy walked across the room and peeked into the bathroom to be sure. He saw nothing but wet footprints and a damp tub, though Leon was dry as a bone.

“We had a famous writer here once, from the New York Times, he was kinda strange too,” said Roy. “Had himself his own pillow; claimed he couldn’t sleep without it, poly-something fiber, he said.”

“Was he writing a story about Boone Hollow?”

“Nah, he was lost and ran out of gas,” reported Roy. “Only gas station in Boone Hollow closes early and he had to stay the night. He wasn’t very friendly and told me I talked too much; I thought that was a little rude. Don’t you think so? Elvira told me I should charge the fella extra for the comment but I told her I didn’t want him to write no bad things about the Ashgrove in his fancy New York paper. Elvira’s got a ladies dress store, ya know, mostly for old ladies. A lot of them are fat too, extra large sizes. Elvira made a dress out of some fancy flower sheets for Millie Stubs. Millie been big all her life so I guess she really ain’t fat, like some. Whole family were big people, genes, I think.”

“Thanks Roy but I need to get to sleep early,” said Leon. “Was there something else you needed to tell me?”

Mia stood there with a smile on her face, her presence unknown to the rambling Roy. Leon continued to look unnerved about her standing in his clothes, making fun of the skinny manager.

“Oh yeah, we got coffee and some pastries in the office in the morning if you’d like to grab something to eat before heading out, the continental breakfast thing; Mama said it’s a tax right off and we get to eat what’s left over. Only place to eat in town is Sally’s Chalet if ya gotta have somethin’ different; food ain’t that good, if ya know what I mean. Besides Mama likes company; she’ll be in the office in the morning. Her best friend, Bessie used to be a contortionist. Lord o’ mighty, Bessie could put both legs behind her neck and walk on her hands. You imagine that? Mama used to laugh until……”

“Thanks again Roy,” Leon said, cutting him short. “I’ll keep Sally’s mind.”

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