Gene handed the note to his wife and let out one last breath before he completely vanished. Mr. Puffins straightened his frame, put on his seatbelt, and calmly instructed Chrys to do the same. He smiled grimly as he turned the car around and headed out of the complex. Chrys sat back and watched the trees pass as they drove out of the mountains. As the drive stretched out bringing them closer to Theodore Roach’s dwelling, the tension in the car began to loosen.
“He has no morals, you know.” Chrys said casually as though continuing a conversation.
“I’m not surprised.” Mr. Puffins murmured with icy contempt.
“Reasoning with him won’t work. He thinks he’s god.”
Mr. Puffins smiled and kept driving. Chrys tore her eyes from the dark trees and looked over at her husband whose features were lit by the dashboard lights. His smile looked almost serene. Then Chrys finally did something that she had not done for the entirety of their acquaintance: she admitted to herself that she did not fully know or understand him and she wondered,
“What are you planning?”
Mr. Puffins glanced at her, mildly surprised, “I’m going to get our son back, of course.”
“I don’t know…I suppose I’ll have to kill him.” His voice was calm and his face clear.
Chrys stayed silent for the remainder of the drive. Mr. Puffins did not stop but drove straight to Theodore Roach’s mansion gate as the rays of the sun bathed the sun, then drove through it, and the alarm was set. As Mr. Puffins pulled the car up in front of the mansion, Theodore Roach stood waiting for them on his porch; he and a circle of about fifteen men.
The couple got out of the car and Chrys ran up the stairs and was easily taken by one of the men, “Where’s my baby!” she screamed several times as she was dragged into the house. Theodore never looked at her once, his eyes stared coldly at Mr. Puffins who still stood by the car.
“I see you got my message.” Theodore said almost cordially. He smiled and spread his arms in welcome, “Glad to see you could come.”
“Thanks for inviting us. I see you didn’t bother to clean up your yard much. Grass is a bit long.” Mr. Puffins looked around disdainfully as he slowly mounted the stairs. The smile slipped off Theodore’s face as he looked at his grass.
“Take him inside,” he growled, “and somebody call the lawn service.”
They were put into two different rooms to be beat up. Puffins supposed the torturers didn’t want to get into each other’s way. Still he knew Chrys was close, he could hear her cries as they struck her as well as a crisp slapping down, probably a belt against naked skin. He himself had been stripped (but not of his underwear) and tied to a chair. They did not use a belt on him but long plants of wood. Wood with splinters. They were careful not to him in the head too much. Theo Roach had said not to kill. The man himself stood in a corner of the windowless room smoking a cigar, watching. Puffins cried out against his will at the pain of the blows and he let his head hang low, knowing if his head were in the way they would not beat so much at his chest. The beating lasted only ten minutes but he was bloody all over with small pieces of wood wedged into his skin. When they stopped Puffins silently thanked God as he trembled uncontrollably. He could no longer hear Chrys and his own tears made everything blurry.
The whipping men left the room leaving Puffins alone with Theodore Roach. The handsome, rich man ambled slowly over to Mr. Puffins talking cheerfully,
“That was a nasty trick the two of you played on me last year, wasn’t it?” He took a long drag on his cigar and blew smoke on the confined man. Mr. Puffins willed himself not to cough. He still stared at the floor.
“Raise your head and look at me.” Roach’s voice was angry. When Puffins didn’t move Roach tapped his cigar and dropped hot ashes onto Puffins’ leg. The bleeding leg jerked in pain, and to Theodore Roach’s surprise Mr. Puffins began to laugh. He raised his head.
“You wife has quite a sharp tongue! I really dodged a bullet losing her to you. Nothing you can do will take away my gratitude to you for that. Where is Amanda anyway? Was she over there watching Chrys get beat? She’s got to be proud of her husband. You ruin careers, you kidnap babies, and you tie people up and beat them. You definitely are a winner.” This was delivered with so much cold sarcasm and a narrow contemptuous look that Theodore Roach took a step back, breathing hard.
“I was just going to teach you a lesson but now—none of you are getting out of here alive. That includes your son.” and Roach slammed out of the room.
The baby was wrapped snug, as usual due to the mountain air, into an old fashioned black buggy with large bicycle wheels. Mr. Puffins would stroll to the campus mailbox not just for the outing but to retrieve the mail also. The campus mailbox was a large stand alone, metal wall of sectioned boxes with locks on one side. Mr. Puffins would roll the buggy up to the mail box completely, fish the key from his pocket, and quickly take the mail out of the box.
The evening in question Mr. Puffins was not the only one at the mailboxes. There was a woman in a tight green dress that Gene did not recognize as a faculty member. Not a particularly curious man, Mr. Puffins nodded to her with a quick smile then focused his attention on the boxes. He parked the buggy on the opposite side of the himself, away from the woman. He was keenly aware of being watched but he pointedly ignored her; the woman was showing much too much skin for his weakened state. There was no point in staring at bulging breasts he couldn’t have, and Mr. Puffins hated frustration.
“Are you Gene Puffins?” her voice was deeper than he would have guessed and the sound of his name on her sultry tongue drew his complete attention. He turned his head toward her.
“Ma’am?” his voice was deeper than he intended it to be. She took a step forward and leaned against the mailboxes.
“Are you Gene Puffins of the Platt School?” her voice lowered, as did her eyelashes but at the name of the school Mr. Puffins became alert. Perhaps she was a parent of a student. He was all business and faced her fully.
“I am Gene Puffins, an instructor at the Platt School, yes. How can I help you, ma’am?” a short coo resounded from the baby in the buggy behind him. Gene began to turn his head when the woman whipped a hand onto his arm and spoke rapidly,
“My son has said you used to abuse him.”
Mr. Puffins faced her fully with wide, angry eyes.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you are speaking about but I would recommend that if you are under any such suspicion that you go to the authorities so that they will do a thorough investigation. If I believed someone was a threat to my child I would not want to alert the culprit first. I would want him captured. Now excuse me.” He did a quick about face to check his own child but stopped cold.
The baby was gone.
Unbelieving, he lifted the covers in the buggy completely.
Mr. Puffins spun around. No one there.
‘They can’t have gotten far.’
He ran around the mailboxes from one end of the street to the other, his long legs covering ground like a greyhound. At the end of the street he’d been facing away from to talk to the woman, a car drove away with a screech.
He knew where the street led and the lights along the way. Mr. Puffins cut across the small grounds and went directly into a patch of trees headed to the first traffic light.
He arrived too late. Though the car had been given a red light it drove straight through. He ran hard for a block or two but could not catch the increasing speed of the car. He seared the model, color, and license into his memory. Chest tight with emotion and hard breathing, he jogged back home, passing his mailbox with its door left carelessly open, mail still inside.
Chrys rattled questions at him, each one getting more urgent until she was shrieking, but his grim face heard not a word. He headed straight for the phone and dialed the police. He quickly and competently gave all the information and agreed to go to the station to fill out a formal report while an APB was put out for the car. Chrys bustled to go with him, no longer trying to get information from the solemn figure, but determining to get the facts when Gene told the police. What little she heard while he was on the phone shut her mouth in horror. It could not be her little baby was gone. Yet here was Gene moving about with a deep frown as though he couldn’t see or hear her, and no baby with him. He’d left and had the little cherub tucked safely in the baby carriage just as normal but he was now headed to the police station to claim a kidnapping. She wanted to see the carriage, which had been left beside the mailboxes, and check it. Perhaps the baby had just been momentarily misplaced, and Gene just would not admit it. If she could just—but he was getting into the car and she must do the same.
The drive to the police station was silent, so filled with tension that is pushed all words out. Chrys did not cry. It was all just an elaborate prank by her crueler than usual husband. Gene did not cry. He knew the police would find the car in this small town and would have his child back with them and the kidnappers in jail within the hour.
The police did not find the car within the hour. The car must have sped right out of town. It was registered as stolen thirty minutes after the Puffins arrived.
Chrys collapsed. Gene went grey. The police assured them they would do all they could in their power to get the child back. Police in the entire state had been given the license number. Cell phones throughout the surrounding counties were put on amber alert on the vehicle. They assured them everyone would be looking for their baby. If the couple was willing to go on air with the local news and show a picture of the baby—
The numb man and wife drove slowly home to get a picture of their baby boy. As they drove past the mailboxes Chrys saw the baby carriage and came to life.
“Stop the car! Stop! The carriage. We have to get his carriage.”
Mr. Puffins still unseeing and unhearing his wife continued to pass the carriage and mailboxes. Chrys snapped and hit him hard on the arm, then again, and again, covering his shoulder, arm, and side of the head with six puckish blows before he raised his arm to protect himself. The car came to a jerking stop. Chrys jumped out and ran to the carriage. She hesitated then pulled the blanket back a little at first, then held it high in the air, staring confusedly into the baby’s empty carriage.
“He’s gone, Chrys.” Gene stared sadly at her pathetic figure searching for a missing baby in an abandoned carriage. Her green slitted eyes looked at him, standing just outside the car. He felt the cut of the glare and steeled himself for the hatred he knew would spill out of her mouth. The hatred that had been building for three months. He swallowed non existent spit and looked down at the ground, sighing deeply.
This sigh was different from all his other sighs of the previous months, not filled with condescending tolerance, but submissive defeat. He looked like a lost child himself and reminded her of her own lost child. How her baby must be feeling at that moment! Tears filled her eyes and she brought the baby powder and vomit blanket to her face to cry out her fear. A choked sob made Gene lift his head in surprise. The sadness etched deeper into his face as he watched her, knowing no hug from him would bring her comfort. For activity he walked to the mailbox and retrieved their undisturbed mail. He touch her gently on the shoulder and pulled the blanket from her hands.
“Take this and get in the car. We need to get his picture. I’ll put the carriage in the trunk.”
Both shuffled their feet as if sleep walking. Gene folded the carriage efficiently and slowly. He ducked into the still running car and was immediately addressed by Chrys in a sharp voice, “Read this.”
She pushed an unfolded piece of paper in front of the steering wheel. Gene’s tired eyes squinted at the sight of glued words on a page. He read and slowly took the short note from his wife.
“I have your son.” Pasted under the mixed words was the picture of a cockroach.
Marriage and a baby
One month of bad times is not enough to completely erase all love between two people unless there was little to no love there to begin with. Love is, after all, eternal and it takes at least two years before its brilliance begins to fade. Having a baby can speed time, by doubling stress. Gene and Chrys had lost the brilliance of love, after one month of marriage. The other two moths they were just trying to hold onto liking the idea of living again. By the end of three months both were convinced that only through living apart would they be able to like life again. They were unaware of what each other were thinking, otherwise they would have run straight to a lawyer and had a divorce dinner to celebrate their new freedom. But both were hesitant to disturb the brewing hurricane for one reason: fondness for the child.
All of the stress that the child caused was blamed automatically on the other person. Gene could never calm the baby. Chrys did nothing but hog the boy to herself. Neither could get any sleep because ‘the other one’ never knew how to properly take care of the child (which if they could, then the boy would never ever cry—but cry all the time he did).
For the entirety of their acquaintance they’d only had sex once: Chrys was unimpressed and Gene was underfed. Chrys gladly held onto the excuse of forbidden intimacy before the six week postpartum check up. But the appointment had come and gone with flying colors. The doctor had given Chrys the green light on sex, Gene had seen it. And yet abstinence still lingered. Gene was angrily perplexed. The woman did nothing, nothing at all, except complain of tiredness. She didn’t do anything all day but watch the baby. He at least went to work all day and got little sleep at night. He ought to be the one to decline due to tiredness. Yet each time he lay down with a heavy sigh from exhaustion, visions of her large milk filled breasts came into his mind and he felt a second wind coming. She bemoaned the weight gain and still pregnant looking body that he was eager to hold. She would hold the baby tightly to her, kiss all him over, lovingly smooth his bald head, and offer him a suckle at her breast any time he so much as yawned. Gene watched with hungry, angry eyes.
‘Why should I not get the same treatment? I married her! I take care of her! She should at least kiss me in gratitude!’ Gene thought to himself, but he never spoke the words, just watched moodily for a moment or two then turned his attention to a household task. The dishes were always sparkling clean.
Though they were miserable, they had managed to maintain a strict schedule to their day. It was some comfort to do the same thing at the same time everyday even if it came with frustrations. They ate all meals together; Chrys waking early to eat breakfast with Gene, Gene returning during the midday to attend lunch, and Chrys postponing dinner until Gene returned for the night. Chrys cooked all the meals, badly, but she did it. And after dinner, at which, the baby would get a bottle of breast pumped milk, Gene would take his boy for a walk outside. The walk was short and only consisted of Gene and the baby walking down the street to the campus mailbox and back. It is vital to this story, though, as that was where the baby was kidnapped.
Gene changed his mind about getting up early and decided to sleep in the Saturday morning Monty Spade came to town. He snuggled down into bed and refused to acknowledge the sun. So it was the familiar smell of burned toast and burned coffee that made him pop out of bed that morning.
He walked with quick steps from his room to his small living room that was separated from the kitchenette by a bar. He stopped and stared at her through the narrow opening,
She turned and raised two plates in her hands, “Hungry?”
He looked at the plate, burned toast, burned eggs, burned sausage, and burned ham. He really must teach this woman that cooked didn’t mean blackened. He politely took a seat at his two seat table.
She came around the corner with the two plates and a very swollen abdomen. His eyes widened, and his mouth went dry. She was chubby all over, as per the norm, but her stomach was noticeably protruding.
“Are you pregnant?”
“Yes.” She set the plates down and grunted into a chair.
“I have another two months, tops.”
That would be seven months…but it had been eight and a half months since he saw her. An unreasonable anger filled him. He glared at her face as she briefly closed her eyes over her food. He cleared his face as she raised her slightly bowed head. She dug in without hesitation and seemed to enjoy her dry, overcooked food. He watched her smear butter and jam onto the toast. Perhaps if he did the same he could choke it down. He followed suit, mostly to give himself something to do besides sit and stare at her. He took a bit of dry jelly toast and chewed slowly. She paused and shook her head at her plate.
“I never knew so much could be achieved in 3 minutes.” She looked up at him directly, “I have been in misery for the last eight months. Morning sickness has ruled my life. And I have to hurry now or it will show up again.”
He put his toast down and sucked the bits out of his teeth. He had looked for her for six months. He had had so many questions. Now that she sat before him gobbling down charred meat and bread in what appeared to be a flowery pregnancy tent, he had nothing to say. He could feel a coldness coming over him.
“Who and where is the father of the baby?” he asked as calmly as he could.
“You are and you are sitting at the table.” She glared at him and put her fork and knife down. Within seconds there were tears in her eyes, “You are being very hurtful and…” tears fell as she choked on her words. Hot embarrassment warmed the chill in his heart. He got up and stood beside her, alternately rubbing and patting her back.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry. It’s just that…it was eight and a half months ago that we… were together, so I would expect you to be further than seven months.”
Chrys pushed his hand away irritably, “I’m eight months!”
“But you have two months to go.”
“Women are pregnant for a full nine months and give birth in the tenth month. Really, Gene, I thought you read books!”
Gene went contritely to his chair and mumbled, “I don’t read those kids of books.” He continued eating his toast. Inside, he felt a quiet secret happiness. Burned toast and jam wasn’t so back afterall.
Quickly, his old curiosity rose.
Chrys sat staring at him morosely. She sighed deeply. Her plate was half eaten.
“Go on and eat your food before your blood sugar drops.”
She murmured rebelliously but ate slowly anyway.
Gene put his butter knife to the ham. It bounced off. He redoubled his effort and managed to get a hunk off. He put it in his mouth and chewed the salty rubber with determination.
“Why did you leave me at the carnival?”
Chrys sighed again and refused to look him in the eye. “I got scared.”
“I told you we weren’t doing anything illegal.”
“I got scared of you.”
“Scared of me?”
“Yes. I just knew you would fall back in love with Amanda Sloan and leave me alone and in love with you…”
“No need for name calling.”
“Amanda is a Roach now.”
“Well, I supposed you can call her names.”
“No, she married Theodore Roach. She is Amanda Roach. Remember the banner? ‘Happy Birthday, Meg’? That’s their daughter. And she’s insanely happy to be married to him but mostly insane. Somehow I missed that ten years ago.”
She began eating her food again but with more interest.
“I looked for you for six months.”
She looked at him finally. Her eyes were hopeful.
“I called anybody I thought might have had contact with you. Did you burn absolutely every bridge you ever built? Your mother was particularly vitriolic.”
Her eyes widened, “You called my mother? I don’t think she likes me.”
“I’m definite she doesn’t like you and because I asked about you she doesn’t like me either.”
They stared at each other.
“Where did you go?
“EllieMae Fairburn in Backstown?”
“Yes. She’s my mother’s mother. They don’t talk. My mom doesn’t like too much of anybody.”
“I had plans to visit her this weekend.”
“I thought you stopped looking for me two months ago.”
“I did, but a man’s allowed a hobby, isn’t he?”
It would be very pleasant to say that they married (and they did) that they had a healthy, happy baby boy (they had), and that they lived a happy, peaceful life from here on out. It would be ideal to wrap up the story with a delightful slice of their marital bliss, to show how well they got on and how well suited they were for one another. However, divorces often occur within the first few tumultuous years of a couple’s creation. It would be unfair to sum up the worth of their marriage and of each character when both were still so full of themselves that they could barely see past their wants to provide the other’s needs. Gene, or rather Mr. Puffins, had married Chrys because it was the right thing to do not because he felt a deep abiding love for her. She agreed because it was the best thing for the baby (what she’d called love was really just infatuation). Both were correct in their theories but unfortunately they also hung on to being romantic martyrs that was bound to work against the marriage. Deep within them grew resentment turning bitter and cold and neither knew the true meaning of compromise and only delivered superficial agreements and support, but chalking up another tally for ‘their side’.
It would be wonderful to end the story with a ‘happily ever after’ but reality is rarely so. To say that everything fell into line and that Chrys and Gene got on well, perfectly, would be a big fat lie. It would also be a lie to say that Gene did not slip, unconsciously, back into being Mr. Puffins, minus the excess alcohol. Being newly married and also with a brand new baby is a strain in itself but add to it their conflicting personalities spelled trouble for the existence of their marriage, never mind ‘happily ever after’. So as things spiraled toward divorce, Chrys and Mr. Puffins were looking forward to the end. The pain of sleepless nights, thanks to Junior, the constant battle of wills, and small character flaws of each doomed the marriage after only three months. The real ending to their marriage wouldn’t be ‘happily ever after’ but ‘bitter and angry vows never to be repeated’.
Thank heaven for vindictive people.
Mr. Theodore Roach was not a man to forgive easily.
Gene looks for Chrys
Chrys was not at the hotel from which they’d driven. She had not checked into the ritzy hotel they’d reserved for later. As far as Gene could tell, Chrys was nowhere to be found. And she’d taken his car with her.
So, unbeknownst to them, the Roaches funded Gene’s trip from the city back to the Platt School in the mountains by cab. The cabbie didn’t mind, being a happy go lucky talkative driver. Gene didn’t mind the talkative driver since he didn’t require feedback from his audience. The driver talked and drove and Gene rode and stared out the window alone with his thoughts. He searched around his heart and found he was not angry or hurt or even desiring drink to forget the day, not much anyway. What he found was calm, relief to be gone from there and knowing Amanda was a psycho that would eventually drive Theodore mad…but even if she didn’t he didn’t care. Oddly, he wished then well, which meant good health and financial calamity. Gene smiled to himself, what an adventure he’d had. He got to scare the pants off Theodore Roach and he got to call Amanda a horrible person. Yes, closure was good. Only…
What happened to Chrys?
She may have known that Theodore and Amanda were married but that didn’t explain her leaving him in a lurch. If only she’d been there when he’d arrived. They couldn’t gotten into his car to leave Theodore in the dust. They probably could have blackmailed him with the pretend tape they’d made. It was a brilliant impromptu plan on his part and it could have earned them a couple of million…and Chrys wouldn’t have had to worry about finding a job as an ex-con. But her absence had ruined it all and left him with bruises.
Where was she? He had some questions for her.
He got back to the Platt School just as his suspension ended but found he could not slip back fully into Mr. Puffins as he had assumed he would. Instead, when he went back to his classes with a black eye, large lip and very noticeable limp it was his attitude (or lack thereof) that shocked the students most. He greeted each boy by name as they entered, and more frighteningly, he smiled, a genuine ‘hello’ smile. They’d expected him to come silently rolling in and order a test straight away to see if they had been lax for the entire month he was gone. Or they expected he would go down the aisle one by one with questions after which he would ridicule with a withering glance or one line quip. Some had even supposed he might actually bring a bottle to class, stagger about and talk incoherently, and very closely, in every boy’s face. So to see him beat up and smiling was a shock. Many a boy dismissed the bruises as Mr. Puffins finally offending someone taller and thicker than he and finally getting his come uppance. They had wanted to smile at the thought of Mr. Puffins getting beat up but his smile creeped them out too much. Curiosity won out over fear and someone gathered up the nerve to ask outright, just as they’d sat down and class was about to begin,
“What happened to your eye, sir?”
Gene had turned toward the old fashioned eraser board and wasn’t sure which boy had asked. When he turned to answer he saw all sat forward in great expectation.
“I was beaten up by a billionaire who believed I had a recorded some admission of criminal activity that he’s perpetrated against me ten years ago.” Feeling his answer was sufficient he turned to write.
“Is that why you left; to go get a confession?” Gene could tell the voice was from an older boy, probably Matthias Walters. He turned again and addressed the class smoothly, careful to hold back his grin.
“No. I left to go seduce the billionaire’s wife. I changed my mind after her husband beat me up though. I didn’t know they’d gotten married. I thought they were only engaged. Regardless of revenge, I couldn’t bring myself to commit adultery. That and she wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I remembered.”
Gene waited a moment to see if there were anymore questions but the room was silent. He turned around and began writing on the board. The marks squeaked loudly in the quiet room.
“Was she the lady that came here?” a quiet voice asked. This time Gene did not turn around, nor did he stop writing. He only answered loudly to the board, “No.”
Considering the calm, rather cheerful, demeanor that had greeted them into the room, this response was the closes to the old Mr. Puffins that they knew. They knew not to ask anymore questions about Her, to avoid changing this relaxed, clean shaven, bathed person back into the glaring man with the sharp looks. Still there was one more thing…
“Do you plan to leave, Mr. Puffins?”
Gene stopped writing and turned around slowly, his face reflecting light confusion.
There was a breath of silence before Jimmy Stalwart spoke up to clarify what someone else had started.
“We heard the parents wanted you out because of what happened at the restaurant with Monty Spade. They suspended you and then you just left. Some think you’d left for good, happy to be gone. But now you’re back but…you seem different, happier. Are you planning to leave?”
Gene hadn’t given his job much thought. He was different, lighter somehow despite all the drama he’d been through, and he couldn’t see himself slipping back into academia with much success. He was there because he was supposed to be. He would do his job because it was his duty to handle the position he was given with the best of his ability. It never occurred to him to leave but now that the carrot dangled before him…
“I’m not sure, Jimmy. You are right. I am not the same and I don’t think I can go back to what I was before. I don’t want to go back. I will have to see, by summer’s end—before the new year begins—if this new me can fit in this old spot.”
Gene then taught the class with as much animation as he could muster and to his surprise the students were interested in everything he had to say. Instead of following the book from word to tedious word, Gene took the concepts and brought them out into real life. For once in his ten years of economics classes, there was participation and occasionally laughter.
‘This looks promising.’ Gene thought to himself at the end of the day.
He would have been fully satisfied with the day and with life in general if the curious behavior of Chrys Trickum didn’t still tease him. He decided to push her out of his mind and concentrate on reintegrating back into the school.
Weeks passes and Gene did not revert to Mr. Puffins as the faculty had expected he would. They all still fully hated him but the hate was now bathed in envy—he obviously gained the boys respect and adoration. Where other teachers may have struggled with behavior problems from the boys, Gene straightened out hard core delinquents with a quiet talking to and then odd off hours with the boy he would call ‘mentoring’. Some accused Gene of pedophilia but that was wholly unfounded and an obvious vicious attack. They did not understand this about face and didn’t trust it. One or two faculty invited him out for drinks, knowing his true colors would shine then, but he either declined or more surprisingly went, only drank soda, and ended up driving the invitor home. His reformation was embarrassing. If the worse drunk in the school could clean up his act, what were the rest of them expected to do? Some parents heard of Mr. Puffins not being fired after the suspension and went to the school to complain and wield threats. Gene talked to them personally and afterwards they commended the principal for hiring such a genuine caring teacher and a few gave donations to be used at the schools discretion.
The boys were in seventh heaven. At last, someone loved them! Students flocked to Gene, whether they had his classes or not. They wanted to know what he thought about this, what he suggested they do about that. Gene gave out advice on subjects ranging from savings accounts to avoiding jock itch. He began a boxing club, a debate team, a bible study, and even a baseball team. He did everything he could to keep their testosterone filled bodies busy, and they groping minds filled with higher things. Though he never invited any of them, one by one, the boys began to show up to Sunday morning services at the school chapel. And when he saw them there he just nodded as though their presence was normal not a priviledge. For the boys, it was finally great to become men.
Gene was still given alone time, despite his superstardom, every night at his house on the outskirts of the campus. The boys had intruded upon his privacy once or twice, finding him distracted and a bit slow. They respected his privacy and did not want to shatter any rapport they’d built with him, so they left him in peace. It was a dream of a relationship and they did not want it to end.
At nights Gene was distracted. He was sitting for long periods at his computer and searching, searching for Her.
He typed the name Chrysanthemum Trickum into the computer millions of times and he was always led down the same rabbit trail only to come to a dead end over and over. He looked for contacts and he made calls. No one had seen her. No one knew where she was. Few had very positive things to say about her. She owed this one money, she ran over than one’s cat. Everyone would like to speak to her one last time and find out why. He found her family—but after speaking to her irate mother, deemed it best he not try anyone else. Apparently, Chrys had even burned bridges at home. At the end of the summer, he was mildly discouraged. He renewed his contract at Platt (to the boys delight) and continued this search online at night. He bought a new car and went to towns where she’d lived in the past. Sometimes students went with him. He never told them where they were going or why. His demeanor stayed calm and charming but he was obviously closed to them. They never asked because they knew why.
Unconsciously Gene would scribbled Chrys’ name on a pad of paper and a new line for searching. One of the boys saw the name and related it back to the others. None of them recognized the name, so into the search engine it went. Within minutes the boys were gazing at a smiling photo of Chrysanthemum Trickum. It was Her.
“He’s searching for her.”
Gene was frustrated after the first month of fall classes, but he was bordering madness after searching and finding nothing for six months.
Finally in the seventh month, sick from trying and suddenly badly wanting a drink, Gene got on his knees and prayed, “Not my will, Lord, but your will be done.” and he got up and let it go.
It had been eight months since Gene had seen Chrys Trickum and his mind was finally at ease. He prospered at the Platt school and because he did well the school did well. The principal went out of his way to try to hire more positive instructors. The boys were growing, learning to behave themselves bit by bit, and in time their parents actually wanted to see them at home occasionally.
It had been over eight months since the town of Panga Gruff saw Monty Spade, and considering how blessed the publicity did for the town, they wanted him back. The town petitioned to have him back with the lame excuse of hoping to have less drama with the new visit. It was just early spring in the mountains and out of control fires were unlikely to happen, afterall. Perhaps they would be blessed with some other catastrophe that Monty Space could stop.
With sagging ratings from his latest blockbuster, Montgomery Spackle badly needed an ego boost. He agreed to another public visit to Panga Gruff. Another spectacle was planned with the reason of awarding Mondy Spade of medal from the mayor.
It would take place in front of the town hall where there was the most space and opportunities for picturesque photos. The mayor wanted the boys from the Platt school to give a small speech and for as many as possible to be present at the event.
The principal was beside himself with delight. Of course not all the boys could go, there were too many of them. And he was understandably reluctant to let the precious boys attend such a large, grand assembly (especially after the last time). It was decided only the boys with the best behavior would go—in the last two years—and only few from the proceeding time would go. Newspaper articles of the Motivi de Sole tent fire rescue showed the principal what faces the public might remember and expect to see. The principal was hesitant to have Mr. Puffins chaperone, despite the recent long time model behavior. Considering the last episode he did not wish to link Mr. Puffins to another outing with possible problems. He also wisely decided to send a sizeable amount of chaperones for the best behaving boys in the school. Their reputation was on the line.
He announced his decisions to the faculty as a whole to avoid an unpleasant conversation with Mr. Puffins. To appear diplomatic he asked first for volunteers to Town Hall, fully expecting he would have to put down Mr. Puffins gently in front of everyone. He secretly hoped that being in front of so many people would disable any drama cause by his decisions. Mr. Puffins was never a talkative teacher but of late he seemed to gain more of a confidence about him and he spoke up more. Gene had easily and very publically disagreed with the principal on a few matters at faculty meetings but he was even worse when they spoke one on one. So it was with some nervousness the principal asked for volunteers and he mentally prepared himself for push back.
However, the principal was to be let down with relief. For Mr. Puffins did not raise his hand to volunteer and seemed uninterested in the topic.
Gene, of course, thought about the last Monty Spade parade but he was not thinking of the fire. He had no wish to ‘accidentally’ bump into any old coworkers. He planned to spend the afternoon locked in his home reading a very exciting mystery novel. In fact, he couldn’t wait to wake up early that morning and miss the entire business.
When Gene got back to the cart, Chrys was nowhere to be found. His little blue Gep was gone. Gene stared at the space in disbelief.
Did he…did he just get abandoned?
“Puffins.” Theodore Roach’s hard voice was behind him. Gene turned around and was promptly knocked out.
He came to with Amanda frowning as she leaned over him. He was comfortably laying on a cushy white couch in a sedate room.
“You shouldn’t have scared Theo like that. He really thought you were wearing a microphone.” She fussed as she tucked a pillow behind him. Gene looked down at his half exposed chest. His shirt had been ripped open to the waist but carefully pinned back together halfway with two safety pins. There were splatters of blood on the white frilliness. Amanda saw his gaze and said, “It was only when he opened your shirt and saw nothing there that he calmed down and stopped hitting you. It was a very foolish prank.”
As she spoke his body sent a multitude of messages to his brain: his ribs think they were broken, one leg, his left, had a knee ache; the right ear was ringing instead of listening; and his bottom lip hung pitifully as it throbbed.
“It’s all behind us now and he is willing to forgive you, as long as you get off the property within the hour.”
Gene tried to sit up and groaned and grimaced. Amanda looked pained but did nothing to help.
“I’ve called a cab for you. You don’t have to worry about the fee; we’ll pay it.”
Gene watched her with his growing puffy eye. “Is it fun to be married to a mobster?”
“Theo is a legitimate business man and he did nothing illegal in protecting his assets.”
“He did nothing…?! He just beat me up simply because I happened to be in town! He ruin two people’s lives with his cowardice!”
“Yes, cowardice!” Gene sat up despite the pain, “Instead of facing me like a real man over you, his fear caused him to commit several crimes to secure your love. Which is completely stupid, really, since all it required was money. All he needed was to have the money he already had. Instead he framed an innocent man and his own accomplice.” With effort Gene stood.
“His insecurity was natural and just. For some short, insane moment I thought more of you than anyone needed to.” Amanda said.
“You thought a lot of me, did you? Then why weren’t you horrified by what he did to me when you found out?”
“It was a terribly romantic gesture!”
“You don’t know what romance is. You couldn’t recognize love either. I loved you with all my heart, Amanda, and you ‘thought so well of me’ that you gave me over for a megalomaniac that you knew ruined me.”
“If you had cared half as much as you think you did you would have fought back! But you didn’t, did you? You threw up your hands and said ‘he’s too rich to beat’. I think maybe you had more respect for his money than you ever had love for me.”
“What are you talking about? I came to you. I told you how I felt…” he began to limp to a door he hoped was the exit.
“Talk, talk, talk. I already knew how you felt, Gene. You’d said it a few times before, remember? Theo saw you were a threat to our relationship so he fought to keep me. You saw that I intended to marry Theo so you sat quietly at your desk and licked your wounds. How romantic!” He stopped and stared at her in wonder. She crossed her arms and raised her chin, “Let me guess. For the last ten years, you haven’t changed one iota. You’re still working hard to help people that could care less about you. You claim money is the root of all evil but you still worship it. You pride yourself with being better than everyone else and you still lord it over everyone else. Do you still do that with a smile or has smiling become beneath you?” she leaned forward as she asked. He stared at her shocked.
“You weren’t that great, Gene. It’s funny how we paint ourselves as complete angels who are wrongfully being attacked by devils. Theodore is far from perfect but he isn’t a hypocrite. I can respect him.” She ended her speech with a sigh and a shake of the head.
Gene limped back over to her and stood still a moment before he slapped her hard across the face. “You are a horrible person and I never want to see you again.”
He limped out of the room and found his way to the front door, leaving a gaping Amanda behind. He hobbled out to the waiting cab and said back to a fuming Amanda standing in the doorway,
“No need to send your mobster husband after me. I don’t ever plan to come back.”
Amanda came out from the doorway, stepping toward the cab. She raised her finger and opened her mouth.
“Don’t you dare say another word or I swear I will punch you in the face. And I’m more interesting in saving all of my punches for Chrys Trickum.” He got into the cab and rode away.
The Roach Carnival
The remaining time at Mr. Puffins’ house on the Platt campus was spent working out details, disguises, and their love back story. Their time spent together was pleasant enough, both focused as much on the task as possible. Four or five times their conversation slipped and the sexual tension rose. Nothing ever came of the episodes so we won’t be bothered with the frustrating ourselves with tense distractions. At the end of their weeks together they were satisfied with their plan, and definite of its success.
Mr. Puffins, more commonly feeling like Gene nowadays, felt an energy as he packed for the planned reunion. He hadn’t felt that excited in years. Even if he failed, he was still pleased to be actually doing something the anger he had hidden in his heart. They loaded the car at evening and drove the four hours from the mountains down to the rich outskirts of Downtown. They chose a rundown hotel to stay one night, planning to rent a more expensive room after the bait had been taken. Gene curled up on his side of the queen bed and recited the many different preplanned comments to casually toss at Amanda. He fell into a deep, happy sleep. Chrys tossed and turned the entire night. Her constant movement awoke the blissful Gene. He rolled over and groggily asked the cause.
“Nothing.” Chrys said under a muffle of covers. Gene blinked to clear his sight and saw only her green eyes and a tumble of curls peeking out from under the covers. He moved the covers back with one finger.
“You look very awake.”
Large eyes blinked at him, “I’m just…nervous, I guess.”
Due to financial strain, they’d opted for only one room and though that was the first time they’d ever shared a bed together, Gene didn’t keep his distance when she seemed disturbed. He snuggled across the invisible ‘do not cross’ line with two scoots and wrapped one arm around her shoulder.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. We are doing nothing illegal. Relationship sabotage, may be immoral, but it cannot get you put back into jail.” He massaged her shoulder. “I’m the one who ought to be hesitant. Theodore Roach threatened to completely ruin me if I ever set foot in the city again.” He rolled onto his back and put his hands under his head. There was a starry look to his gaze. “I am anxious. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he sees me on his private property…”
Chrys sat up on one arm, “Gene, we talked about this! You really ought to stay in costume while we’re at the carnival.”
Gene looked at her with some Puffian irritation, “And I told you I can hardly sweep a woman off her feet in a handle bar mustache!”
“You look very handsome in that mustache and one earring!” she argued back.
“Amanda is looking for Gene Puffins, not Gypsy Gene. I have to take it off no matter how dashing I look. She wouldn’t recognize me.”
“I recognized you and I was in a crowd of people looking for a glimpse of a superstar!”
Gene stared at Chrys very steadily. When he spoke he began slowly and his works picked up speed as he went along.
“But… you were looking for me…weren’t you? I mean, it honestly seemed like a chance encounter but you came to me talking about Amanda and a second chance at true love…” he stopped then sat up on both elbows. “Everything you told me at the beginning was a complete lie…” he turned his head to one side and squinted, “I feel like I missed something…”
Without warning Chrys leaned forward and kissed Gene full on the lips. The kiss was harsh at first then softened. She pulled back reluctantly. His wide eyes watched her with one eye brow raised.
“I had to…just one last time. It’s probably the last time we’ll be close…since you’ll be…”
Her eyes were cast down as she spoke, her look shy but suggestive. She ran one finger up his arm nearest her and he shivered.
“How do you intend to seduce her? Perhaps we should practice…” she ran her finger across his collar bone and up his neck.
Mr. Gene Puffins had not made love to a woman in much longer than ten years and he thought her idea of practice to be an excellent one. Though his partner would be an affectionate-starved, newly released prisoner, he did feel as though he was going into a thick jungle without so much as a pocket knife. Or maybe he was anxious from arousal, he couldn’t tell. Whatever the trumped up justifications the couple fell to heavy breathing and hot kisses.
They fell into the bed, tearing at one another’s flimsy night clothes with an urgency that was in no way romantic. Gene seemed dimly away of this and he snatched his lips form hers, “Maybe I should slow down. This hardly seems seductive but more panicked.”
“No, you pace is good.” Chrys pulled him back to her and he was satisfied with the desire to continue at the fast trajectory. Unable to keep his logical mind from totally turning off, Gene—or rather Mr. Puffins—surmised that at the rate they were going the whole practice would be over in ten minutes, on the high end. With effort he pulled away again.
“You’re really killing the mood, Gene. This won’t be your plan with her will it?”
“I just firmly believe we ought to take it slower. Otherwise things will go too far, too fast.”
“We want things too go too far. And the faster the better.” She encircled his neck and pulled him back down. He pulled away again.
“Would you really be satisfied with only three minutes of enjoyment?”
“Right now I’d be satisfied with 30 seconds of enjoyment!” She hooked him downward again and her legs entrapped his hips and disallowed him to resurface. Gene gave in heartily. Mr. Puffins sighed and fell to.
It was a glorious three minutes for Gene Puffins and just a bit too short for Chrys Trickum. She could not complain to him, however, as he promptly fell into a deep sleep afterward only to murmur compliments about her breasts if shaken very hard.
The next morning they drove his beat up Gep down a smooth lane flanked by blooming magnolia trees. Giant white blooms waved to them as they wound through a narrow path to the unseen destination. At the end of the twisting tree corridor, it opened up to reveal a wide, green lawn with a circle driveway in the middle of which was a spurting fountain. A gigantic two story house, white, with six columns, and an immense wing on either side stood proudly behind the driveway. A large banner hung between two columns over the wide oak double doors to the entrance. It read: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MEG!”
“Who’s Meg?” Gene asked.
“I dunno. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.” Chrys answered. They were already in costume and Chrys drove. She headed to a neatly dressed man that waved to them. He glanced at them, and without question, directed them to drive back around the circle to the tree corridor. They were to take the first road to the right before the trees ended to find their way to the backyard. Another corridor of forever curving road led them to an open expanse of land with the large house showing its regal back. Not much was seen of it, however, due to all of the carnival rides and attractions set behind it. They drove slowly to avoid hitting people milling about, setting up shop, a pair of guided elephants, and machinery still being set up.
Chrys found the fortune teller’s station beside the ferris wheel. They drove behind the old, but large, enclosed gypsy wagon, painted garish red, and parked.
The party was not due to start until evening but the day for Gene Puffins would be short. He was fumbling with connecting power to the cart from the main transmitter when a familiar voice snapped at him in irritation.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? You can’t insert the transistor there…” the fussing continued but Gene was frozen with shock. All at once all of the old feelings rushed back to him. If he could only get this woman to leave with him he would never abandon her. He slowly turned to gaze at Amanda.
She looked just the same, tall, slender, beautiful…with slight bags under her eyes.
He wanted to rip the mustache off his face and look his best, be recognized for who he was; the real love of her life, but it was unnecessary.
“Gene? Gene Puffins?” her returning look was anything but flattering. In fact, it read, ‘Oh Gene, poor Gene, look at you’, quite loudly.
Gene removed the mustache anyway.
“Hello, Amanda,” he said in his most deeply romantic way.
“What are you doing here, Gene?”
“I’m just helping a friend out.”
Amanda looked him up and won, “Is your friend paying you well? Theodore tries to see that all the help gets paid fairly, you know, for their occupation.”
“I’m not being paid at all. It’s all volunteer. My friend is actually more than a friend…”
“Oh, he is?” Amanda tried not to look more uncomfortable, and failed.
“It’s a woman.”
“And she’s my fiancée.”
Amanda finally came alive and smiled grandly, “Oh Gene, that’s wonderful. If I remember anything about you I know you will love marriage. Take it from an old married woman. Marrying someone you were really meant to be with enhances your life so much more than you could ever imagine. Remember how sad and pathetic I used to be at PWS? Oh those days disappeared the day I told Theodore ‘I do’. These last ten years have just been bliss. You know, you were my one regret…”
Gene’s heart finally beat then stopped again when she continued,
“I felt so bad for leaving you alone and lonely but it had to be done. You don’t know how much of a wreck you were, Gene. And look at you now…” the words were out of her mouth and she visibly regretted them but valiantly continued on, “I am very glad to hear you found someone who suited you more. I tell you, you couldn’t look anymore natural than you do right now in your red pants, pleated blouse, and spotted handkerchief. Those gray suits never suited you at all. That hoop looks like it was made to be in your ear!”
She seemed quite proud of her speech and Gene felt any romantic feelings he had for her must have been a mistake. He didn’t know who she was and she obviously thought less of him than the students back at Platt. She considered him a natural born gypsy. They at least considered him a worn down old bachelor teacher. Chrys believe the highest of him, but why was he thinking of Chrys now? Ah yes, his mind finally understood what it had ignored last night. Chris lied about everything when she met him and the first lie she told him was that Amanda had not married Theodore. Then it struck Gene, did Chrys expect him to break up their marriage?
Gene felt Amanda waiting for some response. Instead he just smiled and asked, “Who’s Meg?”
“My darling baby! She turns 9 today.”
Theodore and Amanda had a child. Gene wanted to sock Chrys in the nose.
“Wish her happy birthday from your old friend.” He said smoothly. He quite admired his own ability to adjust to the situation.
“I’ve got to get back to Chrys and tell her she sent me to the wrong place…”
“Would that be Chrysanthemum Trickum?” came the stern voice of Theodore Roach. He stepped from behind a popcorn cart looking solemn. Gene’s smile to Theodore was genuine. He felt a thrill go through him knowing he was defying the big man’s ten year old orders—and speaking to his wife, no less. Gene also knew Theodore had to remember Chrys after all these years too. The rich man had to be suspicious and nervous, Gene wanted to drag that out for as long as he could.
“Yes, indeed! Do you know her?”
Theodore Roach stepped closer and he spoke in an angry tone, “I suppose you know she’s the person I used to alter your account and accuse you of stealing.”
Unable to resist, Gene smiled extra widely, a smile reserved only for overly obnoxious boys on slow, hard hung over days, and pulled at his collar and spoke into and imaginary microphone, “Did you get that, Chrys? I’m on my way back. You know what to do.” and he turned and ran full speed back to the gypsy cart.
Mr. Puffins reverts to Gene, outwardly
By the time Mr. Puffins and Chrys drove from the restaurant to his home, his libido was crushed by exhaustion and the hang over from the night before. The thirst for alcohol returned but even that was overruled by tiredness. A full belly had done him in. He just managed to stumble through the door, toss his keys onto the kitchenette bar counter and fling himself into his recliner. He closed his eyes and gave a deep sigh.
Mr. Puffins was not a loud snorer, so it took Chrys a few minutes of talking to herself before she realized what had happened. She watched him a moment, tempted to shake him away, then shrugged and went to settle herself in his bed.
The next morning Mr. Puffins awoke stiff and sore from the chair but his head fully clear and full of the preceding evening. He went in search of Chrys, trying not to wake the woman if she was still asleep or trying to catch her unawares if she was awake. There was no sign of her. However, her recent presence was evident. His bed had been completely stripped. He went back to his kitchenette bar counter to grab his car keys and saw they were missing. At that moment, the key turned in the lock and Chrys Trickum swung the door wide to stagger in with bags of groceries.
“Good, you’re awake. Could you get the other bags in the car while I start breakfast?”
Mr. Puffins went obediently to the car, curious of the purchases as Chrys banged around the kitchen making good her threat.
Chrys Trickum was a terrible cook, by Mr. Puffins’ estimation. She made burned eggs, burned bacon, and burned toast. Mr. Puffins wondered how she’d created that plump little figure. He crunched on his burned toast and egg sandwich and shot toast dust in his lap. It was dry and the burned coffee didn’t help it.
“I just love dry toast!” Chrys said then smeared hers with butter and jam. Mr. Puffins nodded out of politeness understanding the weight gain. She crunched happily and began to outline her plan. Mr. Puffins listened with half an ear as he studied her appearance. She wore fresh clothes, though he’d seen no suitcase earlier when he looked for her. She was dressed in an all white dress buttoned down the front. She looked like a sanatorium nurse, her hair pulled back in a fat, tight ponytail of curls. Mr. Puffins watched her eat, wondering if she would mar the whiteness of the dress with a glop of jam. She was very adept at nibbling away at the potential disaster and chatting quickly. Her green eyes were bright and moved around constantly, checking for the order of things: toast, coffee, Puffins, jam, toast, Puffins…
Mr. Puffins considered her plan: it was hairbrained at best. The woman had obviously watched too many soap operas or reality shows. Didn’t she know life was nothing like those programs? It was all purely bad entertainment. He was to come in on a whirlwind, secretly whisk Amanda off to a deserted isle where a romantic weekend awaited them, seduce her, and beg her to run away with him. He would shower her with flowers, candies, gifts aplenty, and incredibly passionate love making. Then, when Amanda agreed to leave Theodore for him, he would have her write a letter of goodbye exposing all of her own sins, then go to wait for him at a train station.
It was completely ludicrous and Chrys seemed so proud of her over the top expectations that would require a billionaire backer to fund. She paused at the end, waiting, probably for applause, he thought.
“I can only supply the incredibly passionate love making. You will have to come up with the flowers, candies…deserted isle…”
“Do you have any cheaper ideas?”
“Only this: she is wanting Gene Puffins. All she gets is Gene Puffins, nothing else. She left me for money. I’m not going to use money to get her back. I’ll just use Gene.”
Chrys sighed, “From where I’m sitting, Gene is dead.”
“Is that so?” he stood, “Please clean up this mess. I’ll return after you’ve finished.”
“I’m not your maid.” She was stung by the imperious tone.
“You did make this mess and no one asked you to cook. No one asked you to come stay in this house. And what did you do with my sheets?”
At the question Chrys jumped up, grabbed the car keys, and ran out of the house.
When she came back one hour later with a basket of clean linen, Chrys found a well dressed, manicured, youngish man in his 40’s sitting in Mr. Puffins’ recliner reading a book. He looked up at Chrys and gave her a bright smile. He stood and took the basket from Chrys.
“Hello, Ms. Trickum, good to have you back. I guessed your reason for leaving but it was rather abrupt.”
“Gene?” Chrys was certain but uneasy. He looked like Mr. Puffins but yet not like the craggy, middle-aged drunk she’d left behind to get the laundry. He was clean shaven, hair washed and brushed back with a sheen, and in a nice gray suit. Chrys leaned toward him, he smelled of soap and light cologne. He maneuvered around her and carried the basket to his room. Chrys noted that the kitchen was already clean and followed behind him. He was assembling the bed.
“Where do you have this meeting taking place? And who is she expecting to see?” Gene asked lightly without stopped his task.
“What are you talking about?” Chrys said in a slow slurred voice. Gene straightened up and looked at her. She seemed alright, just a bit spacey. She stared at him with such intensity he could tell she wasn’t listening and wouldn’t listen until she came out of her dreamland. He continued to make the bed and hummed to himself until he was done. When he finished he sat at the foot and patted beside him. She came and sat down in a daze.
“How’d you like the bed last night, eh? Nice, yes? I may be a worthless, old drunk but I’m a worthless, old drunk with an excellent bed!” He laughed at himself heartily and she gave a faint smile. Gene sighed and draped an arm around her shoulders, “Come on, snap out of it, Chrys. We’ll never be able to convince anyone we’re lovers if you continue acting this way around me.”
“Lovers?” Chrys squeaked.
Gene pulled her over closer and said with a devilish smile, “Now let me tell you my plan…”
His more toned-down approach at wrecking havoc was for the two of them to pose as lovers, fiancées, if she like, and for him to pretend to be taken with Amanda again, against his will. He would plan an elopement with her and Chrys would be sent to tell the news with a trumped up letter he created. He would take Amanda half way across the country and then leave her without a word or a sign. He’d hate for the two to have too easy of a time reconnecting after her defection.
There was one hiccup. How would Gene and Chrys meet up with Amanda and Theodore? They moved in very different circles.
“So, I wanted to know where your meeting was and who Amanda was expecting…because I naturally assume you didn’t mention me at all.”
“At a carnival.”
“Theodore Roach is having a carnival set up for…for somebody’s birthday on his private estate.”
“He’s got that much room, huh?”
“Acres and acres! Anyway, I will be Madam Chrys, fortuneteller. I can get you in by having a trusty assistant. You’ll need a disguise though, maybe a handkerchief tied on your head, a hoop in one ear, and a handlebar mustache! I’ll be wearing a black wig and my gypsy wench dress!” she clapped her hands in excitement.
Suddenly, with a drooping of the eyelids and a tightening of the mouth, Gene looked like the old Mr. Puffins. It cleared after a moment and Gene gave Chrys a side hug and a kiss on the forehead, “We’ll make it work, Chrys. We’ll make it work. You did good. You did very good.”
“Thank you.” She said happily. The moment of obvious contempt not bothering her one bit.
Chrys Trickum tells the truth
The most private, delectable restaurant with magnificent ambiance was the Motivi de Sole. The restaurant, which was an hour and an half drive from the Platt school campus, was a large two story building with its own dining hall. Many wedding receptions were planned at the restaurant due to the beautiful old world charm of the décor. There was a mixture of stucco marble baroque, sometime barococo, style. The ceilings were high and the lights were dimmed. It was wholly romantic and warm, the perfect place to uncover a lie. Any lie would look lovely and welcoming in that atmosphere.
Mr. Puffins and Chrys were seated in a snug corner with a shaded window on one side and a large thick red curtain hung between their booth and another table. Mr. Puffins checked under the curtain and under their booth table. Privacy was theirs.
A waiter in black and white attire appeared and offered a wine list. Mr. Puffins looked at the small outstretched black booklet bound in leather longingly, then decided with a shrug, “I’m on the mend.” he said and waved it away. The thirst was still present so he looked to quench his mind with information. He turned his attention to a nervous looking Chrys. Now that they were settled in a quiet, private place, and the food was on order, she fiddled with her napkin, her utensils, her water glass, anything than to return Mr. Puffins’ stare. He smiled, enjoying her discomfort, and sat back to savor the silence that must be agony for her. Mr. Puffins studied her lovely downcast face. It was only his second day of acquaintance with her but she looked as though this was the roughest day in her life. Her hair which was earlier piled precisely ontop her head now slung to one side with more than a few escaping tendrils on either side. The hairs closest to her face were plastered down by sweat. Her lime green shirt had a light yellow orange tinge fading the gaudy colors to a duller gray. Her cleavage still bulged and Mr. Puffins just nodded at it. He sipped his lemon water wishing it were fire water instead of plain, but he decided not to complain. He was going to enjoy Ms. Chrys Trickum’s crow-eating confession regardless of sobriety. In fact, sobriety would make it better, making it easier to remember her exact words instead of blurs of reality. Chrys sighed for the third time. This was going to be such fun!
She looked up at him with big puppy dog eyes. He had a strong impulse to bounce a fresh roll off her smooth, sensitive forehead. His smile vanished, “Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on with it!”
“It’s just that I want your help so badly and I know after you know the truth you won’t want to help me.”
“Stop being pathetic and spill your guts.” Mr. Puffins took another sip to hide his smile. Her story must really be interesting. “What do you want with Theodore Roach?”
Chrys squared her shoulders and then shrugged in defeat, “Revenge.”
“I’m sure you remember when Theodore Roach first transferred to PWS. He chose you for his accountant and insisted the company wouldn’t get his business unless he could work solely with you. Well, he came to me shortly after being set up to work with you. He’s a very persuasive man and he had an obscene amount of money…” She took and unnecessary sip of water. “Deep down, I am a romantic, you know. And I always thought that you were a really wonderful guy, we all thought that…but it was really wrong, your attachment to Amanda and her attachment to you. Theodore made that clear to me. What you two had was really more of an obsession with one another—and you deserved so much better. You really do and I’m glad you realized it. Amanda was a little slower than you. She was…unsure about her engagement to Theodore. He seemed so sincere about it all and how he just wanted to have all of the drama end in his life. His idea was simple, to discredit you through your finances. All I had to do was input more than was actually received on your end and I would get three times the difference. He assured me what I was doing was the right thing and I was getting rewarded for it…”
The food arrived but Mr. Puffins hardly noticed. The waiter asked twice if the steak fresco was his but Chrys had to answer for him. Mr. Puffins kept his eyes on her, staring without blinking, his mouth slightly ajar. She received her seafood alfredo with a plastic smile and dug into it when the waiter left. She ate in silence, not looking at him for a few minutes. Then she took a drink and continued, “He told me that he was only trying to get you fired and your reputation ruined. But once you were gone it mysteriously came to light that I had somehow cooked the books…on a different account, of course.” She stuffed a shrimp in her mouth and ground it to pieces.
“I went to him and I begged and begged for help. He shrugged and said all loosed ends needed to be tied.” She snorted softly, “You know, when I altered your records I made it so they couldn’t actually prove anything against you in a court of law. Maybe you were stealing, maybe it was some weird computer glitch causing problems. That’s really why he dropped his case. Maybe that made him angry. I told him I could understand making you lose your job but to put a man in jail over a woman? That’s a bit much, you know?” she looked at his stone face and smiled but it faded. “There was no such luck for me. Whoever worked me over did quite a job. Eight years in the Upstate Penitentiary.” She began eating again. “I got out last year. Couldn’t find a job. When you’re a payroll clerk that steals from accounts no one wants to hire you in payroll anymore. Luckily I stashed the money I made off of you. It was cash. I still had friends at PWS and they told me Amanda was pining for you after all these years, said she made a big mistake. Apparently, the dingbat is still with Theodore Roach. You think she would have looked you up. I did. You were pretty easy to find. Not a lot of Gene Elijah Puffins around. Anyway, my idea was to have Gene Puffins come and sweep Amanda Sloan off her feet and crush Theodore Roach’s heart. It was my best, and only, shot at revenge.”
Mr. Puffins unfroze and cut into his steak, slightly congealed in its fatty goodness.
“Well, I’m glad you went to jail.”
“It was completely unfair—I didn’t alter that account!”
“No, you altered mine. But since you paid your dues, I should forgive you. I can’t say I’m that angry…” Mr. Puffins took a bit and grunted in appreciation, “I knew someone in the company had to have been bought off. I never thought I would meet the person though. And I thought you would be a man…with a mustache…and a squint…and you’d be very, very punchable.” He continued to eat in silence. Chrys watched him while biting her lip. Finally she burst out,
“Are you going to help me, or not?”
“Help you what? Stir up my past like a hornet’s nest so you can giggle in a corner with your big breasts bouncing? Only half of that sounds appealing.”
“I know I’m the instrument of your downfall but I’m not the one that ordered it. Aren’t you even a little angry at him?”
Mr. Puffins didn’t respond but kept attention on his steak.
“Look at how your life has altered! You teach young ungrateful boys. You work with people that don’t appear to respect you. And at night you go home to your lonely little shack at the edge of the school and slowly kill yourself with alcohol.”
Mr. Puffins sighed as he ate but otherwise did not respond,
“How can you stand it?”
“I endure it by enjoying the misery of others.” Mr. Puffins looked at her with irritations, “And there’s plenty of that to see at the Platt School.”
Chrys dismally twirled creamy noodles around her fork, “How can people send their children to that school?”
“They have desires and they have children. The two cannot reside together. Either do what you want or take care of your kids but you can’t do both. If you’re rich enough you send them to a place like this, and give them an expensive education on how to go to jail. If you aren’t rich, well, the track to jail is a little faster.”
“That’s a horrible view of things. According to you most people are headed to jail.”
“Jail or poverty.”
“But I’m sure you wouldn’t wish that for your own children.”
Mr. Puffins looked at Chrys with a triumphant grin, “That’s the beauty about being a lonely old drunk; I’ll never have any children!”
There! He’d won the argument but he didn’t much like his win. He turned his sour triumph back to his plate and attacked it. Chrys regarded him sadly for a moment then said softly, “Is this the life your parents wanted for you?”
Mr. Puffins snorted without pausing, “My parents wanted me to be an astrophysicist. I disappointed them long ago when I became an accountant.”
Chrys tossed her fork down in a fit of temper, “Fine! Forget about your sensitive side since you’ve done everything you can do to kill it. What about causing Theodore Roach some misery? Wouldn’t you like to see him squirm?”
Chrys noticed that his fork moved a little slower, “How would you like to see big, fat tears bubbling up in that rich man’s eyes?”
Mr. Puffins chewed very slowly.
“Blotches of red in his cheeks, snot running down into his hanging open mouth…”
Mr. Puffins stopped chewing and stared mesmerized at his plate.
“A long strangled cry coming from his throat…”
Mr. Puffins looked at Chrys with great intensity, “You really are quite perverse…and it’s working.”
Chrys leaned in with an impish smile. “You and I can giggle together in a corner.”
She leaned in close to his ear, “Imagine, Amanda in tears as she realizes you weren’t sincere; their whole world together shattered by her infidelity with you; and finally Theodore Roach on his knees in…”
“Stop.” Mr. Puffins raised his hand, “You had me at ‘Amanda in tears’.”
This took Chrys by surprise, “You mean…you don’t still love her in your heart?”
“That woman spat in my face over money! She called me a pauper and I was not a pauper! I may be a pauper now but I wasn’t back then. She acted as though money were the only thing that mattered, not talent, not personality, not compatibility, nothing else—and I didn’t have enough to suit her. Of course I did love her with all my heart, that’s why it hurts so bad, going from day to day knowing that she was going to marry someone else because I didn’t have enough money in my pocket at the time. And I know, even now, I’m still not good enough for her. She loved me, I know it—but love wasn’t enough. I’m not enough. I never will be.” Mr. Puffins lost appetite for the over half eaten steak. He pushed his plate away and wondered where the waiter was. He needed a drink.
Chrys saw his eyes searching and guessed what it meant.
“Let’s go back to your place and talk about my plan.”
He gave her a hard look, “I need a drink.” His voice was even harder. He began searching again, his eyes angry.
“You don’t really want to see her in tears, do you?” Chrys asked.
“Lazy waiters always take a smoke break at the most inconvenient times. The man should be fired.” He fell back against the booth defeated but still looking for any sigh of life near their little corner. He could grab anyone that happened by or maybe he could just walk up to the bar…He felt a hand on his knee.
“Hey…you don’t have to be afraid.” She said.
“Afraid of what? Your hand on my knee? I’m not afraid of that but you can remove it nonetheless.”
“Afraid that you’ll fall in love with her all over again and she’ll hurt you even worse.”
“Oh that, well, I’m not afraid of that either. I’ve practically killed all of the sensitivity out of me, remember?” he gave her a tight smile.
“Then come with me to your place and we can discuss plans…” her hand moved higher and higher on his leg until it was just inside his thigh. He looked down in wonder and commented,
“You know, you get sexual with me awfully quick.”
Chrys pulled her hand away a little irritated. She answered in rapid fire, “I have been in jail for eight years and then I’ve been looking for employment and plotting revenge for the last year. I’m lonely, too! Besides, you started it this afternoon with the semi-hug and then again with the makeout session in your kitchen! Women have libidos, too, you know! You can’t just jerk me around like that and expect it not to affect me!”
“Oh…um…sorry.” Her looked at her with wide eyes.
“Sorry? I’ll give you sorry!” She seemed to want to say more but she stopped abruptly and began sipping her water. The waiter appeared as Mr. Puffins was studying his would be accomplice and considering raunchy sex with an ex-con.
“Can I offer anyone a coffee or a drink?”
“Hmm?” Mr. Puffins drug his mind out of the gutter and back into the regal Italian restaurant. “Oh, no, thank you. Just the check please. We’ll be leaving directly.”
Chrys visits Mr. Puffins
If Mr. Puffins thought his evening with Chrys Trickum would be an electric sexual interlude, hindsight taught him he was a fool.
There is nothing sexual or titillating about quitting alcohol.
Having a woman, even if she is physically desirable, come into your house, handcuff you to a recliner (under false promises), and then root through all of your belongings to destroy bottles of alcohol is anything but sexy. She even found the false floorboard in his bedroom and smashed its contents.
Mr. Puffins would have been justifiably angry if he didn’t think he could replace all of the alcohol at a moment’s notice—and then enjoy it all for the next 30 days. Then came a large, nasty surprise. Chrys Trickum had heard of his suspension and she intended to stay with him to help him ‘beat this thing’. If Mr. Puffins had been in a better mood, he might have laughed at the obvious sexual innuendo, but he was not in a good mood and he practically shook his reclining chair to pieces in his fury.
Mr. Puffins was not in denial and knew he needed help. Mr. Puffins was not suicidal and actually wanted help. But to have help forced upon him was unbearable. Who was she to sober him up? He had half a mind to drink himself to death just to spite her the moment she uncuffed him.
As she squat in front of him, the seams of her skirt holding on for dear life, watching him shake with anger, she said with a serene smile, “You look like a bratty little boy who’s had his favorite toy taken away. It’s probably best we keep you handcuffed to the chair for a little while longer.” Mr. Puffins blew raspberries at her while she spoke. He looked at her sullenly as she stood up. “I’m doing this for you, for both of us.” She looked around at the giant mess she’d caused.
“What about Amanda and Theodore?” he asked drily.
She turned her eyes back to him, “Hmm? Of yes, of course. Them, too.” She turned her attention back to broken bottles, ruffled furniture, books on the floor, and liquid, liquid everywhere.
“I’m going to clean this mess up. You sit there…”
“As if I have a choice.”
“…and calm yourself. When I’m done I’ll undo the handcuffs and we’ll talk like civilized people—but only if you’re calm!”
When Chrys finished cleaning, two hours later, Mr. Puffins looked reserved so she undid his handcuffs. He smoothed back his hair, stood, and walked with stiff dignity to the bathroom to relieve himself. He returned to find Chrys in his kitchenette putting water on to boil.
“I’m making tea…and a plan.”
Mr. Puffins just stood watching sedately, wondering what she would do if he bodily picked her up and threw her out of the house. She took out two mugs.
“Do you have honey?”
She looked at him, “What do you take with your tea?”
“I don’t have any tea.”
She pointed to a glass canister on his counter, “There are tea leaves over there!”
“That’s not tea. It’s marijuana.” Mr. Puffins began to smile, “Perhaps I should have just told you I liked my tea plain. The conversation would have been more relaxing after we’d had our ‘tea’.”
She snatched the canister up, dumped the contents into the drain, and rinsed it down. She turned the pot of water off. “It looks like I need to go to the store.”
“Could you pick me up a bottle while you’re out?” Mr. Puffins still smiled and he leaned on his counter pretending to be calm. She looked him up and down and sighed.
“You must be famished. You didn’t touch your lunch.” She looked into his refrigerator and tcched.
“I was going to come home and fill my belly with drink. It has a greater effect when my stomach is empty.” He straightened and walked toward her quietly, slowly. If he was quiet enough, perhaps, he could grab her without her suspecting anything and keep her from reaching any weapon she had on her. She spun around unexpectantly and came nose to nose with Mr. Puffins. She didn’t shrink back but blinked rapidly.
“There isn’t a thing in there to eat.”
He craned his neck and looked over her shoulder, “I was sure I left cheese in there.” He took another step forward.
“It’s all moldy.” She said softly into his ear.
He looked back into her face, his eyes meeting hers in a smile, “What? That’s the best part.”
Her eyes became wide pools as she said softly, “That’s disgusting.”
The smile slipped off of his face as he angled his nose out of the path of hers, “I usually eat out anyway.”
She brought her mouth up to meet his and made a small noise at the contact. A shock went through Mr. Puffins as a soft wetness invaded his senses. Unable to resist after a few seconds, Mr. Puffins wrapped both arms around her shorter, plumper frame and crushed her toward him and pressed his mouth deeper into hers. She complied willingly, her arms drifting upward and encircling his neck, one leg hiking slowly up his thigh.
‘Oh Amanda…’ his mind moaned as he slid one hand down to her buttocks. His mind paused, ‘Wait, this isn’t Amanda. This is that psycho that just dumped all of my liquor.’ Mr. Puffins’ ardor cooled and his grip slackened but hers strengthened. She broke the kiss to plant another and another, then kissed beside his mouth, his chin to his neck. Mr. Puffins smiled to himself as her kisses tickled his neck. He knew exactly how to calm her down. He leaned toward her ear, gave a loan moan, and whispered,
She froze and Mr. Puffins forced the smile off of his face. He left his hands lightly caress her back and she pushed them away and stepped back, not meeting his eyes. Mr. Puffins watched her disappointment with a burning glee; now she knew how he felt about all those broken bottles. Then his hardened heart knew of a way to get rid of her.
“I think maybe you should go, I can’t help but think of Amanda whenever I think of a woman…in that way. And I’m sure I made you think of Theodore.”
“Actually, you made me think of a wet seal that licked me when I was four years old.” She closed the refrigerator door. Her voice was flat. “Really, Gene, did you kiss absolutely no one in the last ten years?” she turned and looked at him with one eyebrow raised. He was flabbergasted. “Well, you seemed to like my wet seal kiss! You didn’t stop with the one.”
“I was trying to improve the whole sloppy situation. Is that the way you kissed Amanda? Goodness knows we all like our own thing. She must really have been in love with you. She might not be that impressed now though. That’s really something we should work on before the meeting.”
“Meeting?” Mr. Puffins chose not to acknowledge how Amanda might have taken his kisses since she’d never had them.
Chrys walked past him back into his small living room. “Yes, I’ve set up a meeting for you with Amanda in 3 weeks. And I’ll need every second of those weeks to get you fit to be seen.”
“What are you talking about?”
The smile that Chrys flashed made Mr. Puffins uncomfortable. It said that she intended to change much more than just his drinking.
“There’s no need to look afraid. In three weeks every woman within ten miles of you will want you, just like when you worked at PWS.”
Mr. Puffins squinted his eyes, “What exactly do you get out of this?”
“I told you. I get Theodore Roach.” She was no longer smiling and her voice was hard. Chrys did indeed sound as though she wanted Theodore Roach, but not for romantic reasons. That was intriguing.
Mr. Puffins folded his arms, “Just what are you planning to, ah, improve about me?”
Chrys faced him squarely and looked him up and down with her hands on her hips, “Besides stopping the flow of alcohol, you look little thin; you need fattening up. A different suit of clothes, maybe a haircut. And of course, we need to work on your kissing.”
“You intend to feed me, dress me, and kiss me daily?”
“Something like that. Will you agree?”
“No.” Mr. Puffins snapped. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to his front door. “Get out.” He tossed her through the opened door.
“But love is waiting…!”
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear anymore of your nonsense about fighting for love or second chances or anything. You’ve played up to my loneliness for way too long! I haven’t believed a word you’ve said since you told me you were in love with Theodore Roach. I don’t know what any of this is all about but I’m sick to death of your lies. You bust up all my booze, the least you could do is keep me entertained with the truth. You! Miss I-can-barely-stay-in-my-clothes-but-I-like-to-act-like-a-nun, you want to teach me how to look. You want to feed me, dress me, and teach me how to kiss! You?! You liked that kiss in the kitchen, admit it. Admit it!” Mr. Puffins had been shouting and gesturing wildly and ended with a sharp pointing in Chrys’ face. “Admit it!”
She stared at his finger with a twisted mouth. “Alright. I liked it.” He voice was low and flat but he heard it clearly. He lowered his finger and straightened his appearance. He felt quite wild. It took a moment to swallow the delirious laugh of triumph that came into his throat. As he smoothed his shirt, his breath came more easily and he felt more himself, “Be honest now, there is more to all of this than lost love, isn’t there?”
“There is more.”
Mr. Puffins nodded with satisfaction and put his hands in his pockets.
“Please, Gene, I’m hungry. Take me to dinner. Some place nice and quiet where we can talk privately.”
Love refuses to give up
There were summer classes at the Platt School for Boys. Mr. Puffins’ class was available year round and every student always had his course at least once during the year. During the summer all the miscreants and rejects congregated there and took turns trying to enliven the deadpan teacher. Monday morning was no different, only…Mr. Puffins didn’t seem to react, not even in his condescending, cold manner, to any jibe, prank, wrong answer, anything! And that day was a test day.
Most teachers, having a heart, might postpone a test due to the traumatic nature of the passed weekend, but not Gene Puffins. He’d stumbled in as usual, bleary and mumbling about getting ready for the test. Some boys had begged to be given a break, not having had time to study due to the many imagine injuries from the passed Saturday. But Mr. Puffins didn’t respond, didn’t acknowledge one word, in fact he didn’t even look at them. They did look at him, though, and saw he’d been drinking too much the night before. So they resorted to talking extra loud, slamming books on the floor, causing as much auditory noise as possible, all to no avail. Mr. Puffins didn’t so much as shrink from the noise unconsciously. It was as though he were embracing the pain. One student got a brilliant idea and opened all of the blinds in the classroom, flooding the space with light. Mr. Puffins paused only momentarily as if forgetting what he was doing then resumed bringing out the test worksheets.
He ordered desks to be cleared then handed out pages before the task was completed. Some boys did not clear their desks at all but watched with fox eyes what would happen. Mr. Puffins only sat down. The naughty boys opened their books and began to consult them for answers, sending nervous glances to the head of the room. Mr. Puffins merely sat staring at them all with a bland look, saying nothing, showing no emotion. More boys pulled out books and flipped through, happy at a chance for absolute excellence on at least one test in the class. Though they brazenly searched their books for answers and a few bravely whispered to one another, trading answers, the noise never rose above the rustle of paper or occasional whisper. There was a general hurried satisfaction rippling through the room; this was going to be the best test for all of them.
The knock on the door was soft but everyone heard it, except for Mr. Puffins. He kept his eyes blank staring at his students. The knock came twice before one of the boys ventured out of his chair to open it. To his and the entire class’ surprise, in walked a curvy woman. She wore a tight shirt and skirt of marching red and lime green, if two such colors can match, and she seemed to make it work. Her hair was piled up on her head and a cascade of brown curls toppled down the back and both sides of her head. She had no bangs but a fine forehead that would have shown the boys she was a sensitive soul, had any of them been looking at her face. She had a busty chest and that is where all eyes stuck. She wore sunglasses but she took them off when she entered, not that anyone noticed. She glanced nervously at the stunned boys in the classroom and then the statue sitting at the desk at the head of the room.
“Mr. Puffins? Gene?” Chrys Trickum called softly.
The sound of a soft feminine voice pulled Mr. Puffins from his dreary depressive thoughts and as if in a dream, Mr. Puffins slowly turned his bloodshot eyes to her. She skittered over to his desk, bouncing a little and casing a few gasps with her quick movement. Mr. Puffins rose slowly and adjusted his clothing.
“Ms. Trickum. Good morning. I—I wasn’t expecting you.” He put on as kind a smile as he could.
It was then that one of the boys noticed Mr. Puffins, and how the pretty bouncing-boobed woman got him to do more than mumble or grunt. He pssted another boy who shoved another boy and so on and so forth. Soon the whole class was delighted to see a faint coloring to Mr. Puffins’ face.
A balled up piece of paper sailed through the air headed for Mr. Puffins’ head. The middle aged, hung over man caught the wad just before contact. Mr. Puffins turned and said,
“Jimmy, meet me after class.”
There was an appreciative murmur through the class.
“That’s enough. Get back to your open book test. You have twenty-five minutes remaining.”
Mr. Puffins returned to smile at Chrys,
“I am very glad to see you again, Ms. Trickum. Ah, now is a bit of a bad time…can I meet you at a different time?” he said.
“Oh yes, of course, I am sorry. I just had to see you again. How about noon at your cafeteria? That is your lunch time, yes?”
“Yes, that would be fine.” He nodded and smiled widely. She briefly touched his arm and said, “Thank you for seeing me.”
She jiggled over to the door then waved to the boys, “Good luck!” and she was gone.
For the rest of the morning Mr. Puffins was snippier and snappier with an undeniable flush to his cheeks.
Mr. Puffins and Ms. Trickum met in front of everyone, shocking faculty and students alike. The passing stares and stopped whispers weren’t hidden and caused Ms. Chrys Trickum to glance at the gawkers momentarily. Mr. Puffins did not mind in the least; he had work to accomplish and he was determined to do so.
They sat at a back corner booth out of the way of all foot traffic (though everyone found reason to blatantly walk slowly by the booth and stare). Though out in the open, the corner still afforded them some privacy and Mr. Puffins was sure to keep his voice gentle and low. Their words could not be overheard, to everyone’s dismay. There were some who were so insistent on knowing, that they devised a way to find out.
It was an elaborate plan built by the nosy little boys concerning a hairbrained distraction in attempt to get the conferencing couple up and away from the table just for a moment.
Jimmy Stalwart, who was already in trouble for having thrown the wadded paper, volunteered to sacrifice more of his freedom by perpetrating the distraction. His brilliant plan consisted of pouring a pitcher of water onto Ms. Trickum’s bosom by some strange walk-by accident. He was to dump, give quick apology, and run. He was a tall gangly thing and thought he could give Mr. Puffins a run for his money. His mistake was being unaware how the sight of wet breasts in a tight wet shirt would affect his ability to run. He splashed the poor unsuspecting woman, began his apology, but one glance at her glistening cleavage froze his voice and feet. Mr. Puffins rose sharply from his chair, grabbed the unmoving, stammering boy by the back of the shirt collar, and lifted him from the floor.
“Jimmy.” Mr. Puffins said Very Sternly and he shook the miscreant slightly with a grimace.
“Ms. Trickum, I will get you a towel directly.” He left, dangling the boy in front of him.
The distraction worked as a distraction, but left the woman sitting in the booth. The boys regrouped and replotted. A mass of them grabbed a mess of napkins and went to the table where Chrys Trickum dabbed fretfully with her own lonely napkin. The group crowded the table, unnerving Ms. Trickum somewhat, as they did not speak, only handed her napkins one by one. The silent offering lasted two to three minutes, giving little Jeremy Dithers (aka Mouse) time enough to crawl on the floor on Mr. Puffins side, to crouch at the far end under the table of the booth.
The entire faculty, who had been watching the proceedings, saw all of this, of course. Being just as nosy as the boys, the administration decided to allow the boys their “prank” then would capture them afterward and grill them about the secret conversation. In the meantime, all adults turned a blind eye and pretended intense interest in meatless tacos.
The mass of eerily quiet boys moved off as one just before Mr. Puffins came back with four fluffy towels. Mr. Puffins watched the small group synchronizedly sit at a table and stare back at him with very large eyes. Mr. Puffins narrowed his eyes at them.
“They didn’t…do…anything, did they?” he asked Ms. Trickum without taking his eyes off the boys.
“They piled napkins in my lap. In silence. I don’t trust those boys. They seem rather slow-minded and prone to mischief. It’s quite a dangerous mix.”
Mr. Puffins smiled down at Chrys Trickum and handed the towels to her.
“Ma’am, I must warn you. I will be forced to fall deeply, madly in love with you if you say anything like that again.”
Chrys giggled and dabbed away the water on her exposed neck and cleavage.
“Seriously, though, Ms. Trickum…”
“Please call me Chrys.”
“Chrys, I am very sorry for their behavior toward you. I don’t know what Jimmy was thinking. Perhaps it was love at first sight. Boys do quite stupid things when they like a girl. Last summer one of the boys saw a girl in town that he took a fancy to. Instead of simply telling her, he chased her around throwing small pebbles at her. She tripped and broke her arm, delicate little thing. Her parents almost shut the place down; they were pretty high and mighty, burning hundred dollar bills to light cigarettes. But the girl begged them not to. Appears the girl had a thing for the boy too. I believe they write each other letters now.
“Strange, boys do stupid things to try to impress girls and girls encourage them to do so. I don’t know who’s dumber.” Mr. Puffins began to muse moodily over his cold lunch.
Chrys watched him for a minute, as he slipped into angry silence. She wrapped a towel around her shoulders.
“We all make bad decisions. Love is an excellent reason to forgive and carry on.” she said. He lifted tired eyes to her.
“Have you ever been in love, Chrys?”
“Deeply. He didn’t even know I was alive. But I won’t give up on him. And I won’t let you give up on Amanda Sloan. Love is always worth fighting for.”
“Is that right? And this oblivious lover of yours, where is he now?”
“He’s trying to convince someone that doesn’t love him that she does love him.”
“And who is he?”
Mr. Puffins straightened up completely in his chair, “Is that right?”
“But she doesn’t love him; she loves you. Do you know they are always on the verge of getting married—have been for years—YEARS!—and then she always cancels at the last minute?”
“They are still engaged?”
Chrys slowly shook her head, “Not anymore.”
They sat in silence and stared at one another. Mr. Puffins leaned toward her and said gently, “Chrys, I can’t guarantee that he’ll notice you just because I get Amanda back.”
Chrys waved a hand and laughed outright, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I know how to get a man to notice me.” She pushed up her breasts and he turned away his eyes with a small cough. “Yes, well…”
He looked back at her wide-eyed.
“Is it my imagination, or are your eyes bloodshot?”
Mr. Puffins lowered his gaze back to his plate. “I did not sleep well last night.”
“Yes…and you have a scent…a slight smell of alcohol about your person…”
Mr. Puffins did not reply but pushed food around his plate.
Abruptly Mr. Puffins looked up and asked, “Exactly how did you come to know Theodore Roach anyway?” It was obviously a diversion, but Chrys’ stuttering made his curiosity rise.
“Well, he came to the offices pretty often, as you know. I saw him, and, well, uh, most girls were pretty batty over him, you know? And-and-and I am a woman, just-just one of the girls that is, uh, highly influenced by intelligence, good humor, tall, commanding stature….”
“Theodore was five foot six. I’d hardly call that tall or commanding.”
“He, ah, he did command people a lot.”
“Granted. But he certainly wasn’t gracious or kind about it. Only fools like me think something like that was important. I always thought my great personality would get me noticed, appreciated.” He snorted and looked back down at his plate, “Girls don’t like nice guys though, do they?” he dismally continued to bully his food with a pristine fork.
Chrys leaned forward, put one hand on his lax hand that lay beside his plate. Her soft gaze caressed him as she spoke gently, “There are women who would love to take you into their arms, hold you, and never let go.”
With a sardonic smile Mr. Puffins glanced up at her and did a double take at the warmth emanating from her. His pink eyes widened a little, the sarcasm slipped out of his face, and he sat up fully as he regarded her.
Chrys coughed, let his hand go, and leaned back, then said quickly,
“And Amanda Sloan is one of those women.” She readjusted her towel, which had slipped off her shoulders, as she readjusted her face to look cooler. His own seemed calmer, his eyes hooded. Feeling safe, she looked him in the eye again,
“That is why I am here. Because I believe love deserves a second chance and you deserve happiness. Are you happy, Mr. Puffins?”
“Call me, Gene.”
“Are you happy, Gene?”
“No.” his admission was short and clipped but Chrys did not register any extra anger about it. His face was still calm and guarded. He raised one eyebrow slowly and spoke in a measured logic, “With all your concern for me, it is a wonder you did not fall in love with me instead of Theodore Roach.”
Chrys Trickum’s face filled bright red and she could not keep from swallowing loudly.
“You and I, uh, we…there never was a chance, ah…” Chrys fumbled for words. She diverted her eyes in embarrassment.
“I’m just messing with you, Chrys.” She looked up to see a wide smile on Gene Puffins’ face though his eyes were still hooded. Chrys laughed nervously trying to calm her racing pulse. Her mind rushed around its corners looking for a topic in her favor. Due to her own discomfort, the question she decided to ask came out harsher than she intended.
“Are you an alcoholic, Gene?”
The smile left him and his face closed completely. Chrys waited but he simply didn’t answer. She opened her mouth after a minute to speak, but a small sneeze, coming from neither of them, stopped her. Mr. Puffins frowned then sighed and blinked slowly. He looked under the table and pulled out a little boy rubbing his nose.
“Jeremy Dithers.” Mr. Puffins growled at the terrified little boy.
“Sir!” the child squeaked. His eyes were impossibly large and pleading but the effect was lost on Mr. Puffins. It was not, however, lost on Chrys. She put her hand to her bosom and felt compelled to defend the snooper from the menacing Mr. Puffins.
“Oh, I’m sure he was just…curious…”
Both pairs of eyes looked at her, one angry and dissatisfied with her reasoning, the other pair large and grateful.
So grateful was little Jeremy Dithers that he blurted out to Chrys,
“Mr. Puffins is a terrible drunk, miss. He’s hung over two to three days during the week and always on the weekend. He’s mighty bad off and could use your special help…if you got any.”
Mr. Puffins would have immediately snapped Jeremy’s neck like a twig had the lady not been present. So he got up to go do the deed in private. To his chagrin, Chrys got up with him and followed him out of the cafeteria. Just outside the lunch room doors Mr. Puffins dropped the little vermin on the ground. The boy began to run off but Mr. Puffins warned, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” And Jeremy stopped. Presently one of the administrators walked out to ‘find out what was going on’.
In clipped tones Mr. Puffins told the VP that the boy had hidden under his table with the intent on spying on his conversation with Ms. Trickum. Ms. Trickum begged mercy for the boy, he couldn’t have meant any harm. Mr. Puffins look at curvy Ms. Chrysanthemum Trickum and decided he would hate her for the rest of his life. Ms. Trickum caught his glance and understood its meaning. She sent one of her own but it was impossible to read. The vice principle was apt to agree with Mr. Puffins that the boy needed strict discipline (though Mr. Puffins hadn’t said anything of his sentencing yet) and the shorter, fatter man grabbed poor Jeremy Dithers by the arm and pulled him in the direction of the main administrative building. The vice principal threw a casual apology over his shoulder to Ms. Trickum but was much more anxious to get that young man to his office for a stern talking to. Mr. VP was certain the boy could enlighten all of the faculty as to who the curvy woman was and what she wanted with Mr. Puffins.
Mr.Vice Principal was desperate for scandalous information on Mr. Puffins. That morning there was a newspaper article about the Motivi di sole restaurant tent fire concerning all of the boys. The school needed to blame the irresponsibility of the entire incident on Mr. Puffins before the flood of parental calls came in after getting wind of the happening. The faculty already knew to disclaim any knowledge of Mr. Puffins taking the boys out all by himself. They knew of the trip, of course, but Mr. Puffins was to have arranged the details all on his own…but the school needed solid bad behavior from Mr. Puffins that amounted to more than drinking in excess when off duty.
Mr. Vice Principal shook little Jeremy around til his teeth rattled. The story that came from the boy’s mouth was hardly helpful to the school’s plight. A vague love story was no credit to anyone, not even Mr. Puffins. The man ought to be embarrassed to be discussing such things as love and that fighting for it nonsense. There were much more important things to discuss, money to be made, and he and his eccentric girlfriend needed to find other times-and more appropriate places- to be romantic. The vice principal was so disgusted that he sent Jeremy Dithers on his way without even a lecture.
Mr. Puffins was eager to end his acquaintance with Ms. Trickum since the curvy muffin had dared mention his current love: alcohol. Sure he would have loved to reclaim an old lost love, but the thought of having to give up his more giving amour, Lady Jack Daniels, repulsed him. What was Amanda Sloan to him anyway? His relationship with her had only caused pain. His affair with Lady Jack healed all wounds. What maniac would give that up?
A whisper at the back of his mind said: you would.
He did not want to remain a drunk until the day he died.
The thought was the truth but even as it was realized he felt a strong thirst. He needed to quickly get to his bungalow for an afternoon delight.
Oh, that’s right. Ms. Trickum. Ms. Fight-for-love-that-ended-ten-years-ago-Trickum. Ms.-I’m-in-love-with-a-Boob Trickum.
Mr. Puffins turned his full attention to Chrys and gave a wide smile. He did not want to continue the conversation but instinct told him if he played good he could probably get away faster. He glanced at her soaked outfit. That one pitcher of water had wet her up good. Her lime green and red shirt clung to her and he could see the outline of an overly full brazier. Her tight lime green and red skirt was tighter and he could see a frame of underwear, bikini style. Mr. Puffins wondered if he played perverse would she run away faster. She had looked at him at the table with such interest. Would she run or would she invite him to meet her friend in the tight bikini?
“Yes, Chrys?” he replied absentmindedly.
“Do you want more?”
Mr. Puffins’ eyes widened and he looked left and right before leaning in and saying, “Well, honestly, yes, I do.”
Chrys walked very close to him and took both of his hands. She looked up into his eyes and he admired her deep sea green sincerity.
“Alcohol is not going to give you more.”
Immediately his warm fuzzy feelings dispersed and he pulled his hands back. Chrys stepped closer pressing gently against him and grabbed both of his upper arms.
“Gene, please. I can help.”
“Can you get rid of the thirst?” he gave a lopsided smile down at the curly little baked good with deep cleavage. His previous thoughts nudged him and his desire for a drink egged him on. His next class was not until two. If he hurried, he could get a full hour to drink. He leaned down to her ear and whispered, “You have very nice breasts.” He put one hand lightly on her lower back and applied light pressure.
She didn’t move.
He strengthened the pressure and continued, “And you have a very nice, round…”
“Mr. Puffins!” came the warning shout of a faculty member.
Mr. Puffins straightened immediately and mortification washed over him. A very large, very wide-eyed, very deep breathing, and very silent group of boys had crowded around Mr. Puffins and Ms. Trickum. They stood still as statues trying to fuse their gazes with Mr. Puffins’ hand or his chest, earnestly wishing, for the very first time in school history, that they were he.
Mr. Puffins could feel the blood rise from his neck to his ears to his cheeks. He glanced down at Chrys but she stared downcast at his chest, a deep blush on her cheeks. He could do nothing but sigh. He’d not only given her the wrong impression (to no avail); he’d given every one in the school (he knew the incident was going to shoot around faster than the flu) the impression of…what exactly? He wasn’t sure what the students would think since Ms. Trickum still clung to his arms and had not resisted his…his clumsy idea at frightening her.
The faculty member who shouted from the back of the crowd had finally worked his way to the front and surveyed Mr. Puffins and Ms. Trickum severely.
“Mr. Puffins!” the short man said again. This shout said more than the economic teacher’s name. It said: Mr. Puffins, how dare you display such wanton behavior in front of these young impressionable boys! You should be ashamed of yourself—deeply ashamed. No one should be so exposed to such perverse behavior! Something, some discipline, should be done about this!
Another administrative personnel heard the shout and came to see what caused the call and the crowd. He, slightly taller and slimmer than the other man, peered at Mr. Puffins and Ms. Trickum with deep curiosity. Ms. Trickum was still holding onto his arms, unmoving.
“Mr. Puffins?” was the question which really conveyed: What’s going on here? Why are they standing here watching you? The young lady, is something wrong? I heard Mr. Tilly, he called your name. Is assistance needed?
Mr. Puffins only shook his head at the admin and ignored Mr. Tilly. He gently pulled Chrys’ hands from his arms.
“Ms. Trickum, under the circumstances I think it best we part for now.”
Chrys snapped back to attention and said to Mr. Puffin while looking him directly in the eye,
“Gene, I will visit you at your place this evening so we can discuss what can be done.”
She stepped back abruptly, causing the close circle around them to shuffle backward. She face a gawking pimply boy with a solemn face, “If you will excuse me.”
He moved to the side as did the person behind until she had a narrow corridor of young men through which she walked with quick dignified steps.
Left alone, the students lost all interest in Mr. Puffins, giving him only a slight glance before wandering away to find another student who had missed the spectacular beginnings of a mating ritual. Many were the grumbles about Mr. Tilly’s interference. They could have learned so much more! There was an even divide over how Ms. Trickum would have reacted. Was she going to slap him or embrace and kiss him? If such lame moves could work for the Gep…
Lunchtime is only a pause in the school day. Mr. Puffins had three more classes to torture with a test that would torture him with their whispered discussions of the lunchtime love scene. Mr. Puffins was sure to receive a lecture on appropriate public displays of affection at the end of the classes. Instead of being able to wash away the days worries with a thirst quenching whiskey or cognac, Mr. Puffins would then be subjected to another lecture from a source which he had not yet gotten used to hating quite so thoroughly as he did the other. Considering the mishap at lunch, Mr. Puffins decided it best to remain on campus, without a drink, and await his execution all afternoon.
After his behavior to her at lunchtime Ms. Trickum decided to come to his abode close to night time, alone! He nervously drummed his fingers during all three testings. What was she thinking? He bounced his knees. What was she expecting? He paced about the room. What was he expecting? A lecture, a lecture. Nothing but a lecture. He sat back down. She obviously intended to stop his drinking. He pushed his hands through his hair. But she couldn’t force him to stop. He chewed his nails and rocked in his seat. Unless she stayed all night. He got up, circled his chair, sat down, popped back up, and walked to a window to stare out at the rose bushes outside the window. All of the students in the afternoon classes failed the test. Mr. Puffins put on such a wonderful display of nervous antics and they all knew why. How could they do otherwise?
The administrative lecture held a surprise: a suspension. A 30 day suspension, due to his lack of supervisory skills the Saturday before which allowed for a near fatal fire and had completely destroyed parent’s trust in the school…as long as Mr. Puffins remained undisciplined. Within those 30 days the administrations would be considering his dismissal. Though it could not be proven, past behaviors had shown Mr. Puffins loyalty to be with the bottle instead of his place of employment. Though it was not evident, it was believed Mr. Puffins’ addiction may have come before the students safety hence he was unable to do what a B-rate actor did and save the children in his charge. It was noted that Mr. Puffins was seen with Ms. Tricky by a few of the students during the fire, talking and smiling. And today, in front of faculty and student body, Mr. Puffins had practically made love to a woman.
There had been parents in the room listening to the entire spill. Mr. Puffins knew that meant the words had been very carefully measured and weighed and he was not to show any fight to them. He did not. He played his part of red handed fiend and sat stonily silent. The parents were apologized to profusely and then allowed to leave prior to Mr. Puffins (with understanding that the flogging would continue once they were gone). At their disappearance, the principal plopped into his chair and took out two glasses and a sniffer of alcohol. Brown liquid poured paltry amounts in glasses. He handed one to Mr. Puffins,
“Gene,” he said after a tiny sip of drink (Mr. Puffins drank his down in one gulp and banged the glass on the desk). “You really should have told us about that fire on Saturday! We were blindsided by calls from parents today. We had to come up with something or they would have had the school shut down.”
“So I get hung out to dry for 30 days without pay.”
“Oh no, you still get paid.” The principal sipped his drink.
“But I lose my job?”
“Nah!” The principal finished his drink then sighed. “You need to wrap up that business with Miss Tricky, whatever it is…”
“Right, that’s what I said, Tricky. It’s not that I don’t understand the interest, I am a man. But we don’t need the boys seeing a lot of that kind of thing. It would devastate the towels and heaven knows there enough of a mess as is!”
The way things Were
Amanda Sloan had expressed very different feelings to Gene Puffins when he’d arrived at her home.
She’d received him coldly. He spilled his heart to her about his deep love for her. She remained cold, unmoved by his words. He told her of all of Theodore’s dealings with his downfall at PWS. She did not seem to want to answer, but at length she said,
“I already knew that.”
Gene stood shocked; it must have shown on his face.
“What do you want, Gene? A fairytale? You want the pretty princess to fall for the pauper? You want the rich king to be really evil to make the good pauper appear even more good? He is not evil and I’m not going to leave him for you.”
Gene stood silent knowing that she would be miserable. He could have argued that he was not a pauper. He could have said anything in warning. Instead he decided,
“He deserves you and I deserve better.” And he walked out, and left town.
Despite his bravado, he kept his eyes on the newspaper wedding announcements. Theodore Roach’s wedding would surely garner attention since so much money would be thrown around for it. The announcement never showed, not after one year, not even two. Gene assumed something must have happened to either put Theodore off of Amanda or put her off of him but Gene decided he no longer cared. By that time he was fully engrossed in becoming a drunken professor to young, stupid boys.
Return to things as they are
“That is all in the past.” Mr. Puffins brushed off his arm in absent dismissal. His eyes searched the crowd. The green tide was on the move behind Monty Spade.
“If you will excuse me, ma’am. I am not on holiday. I have work to do.” Without giving her another glance, he walked in the direction of the front of the building, cutting around the restaurant, hoping to reach the front before the tide. He made good time and was able to separate the boys off to the side, close to the buses. They complied without complaint, chattering amongst themselves about the exciting afternoon events. Some had actually gotten to touch Monty Spade and the actor had smiled at them. One smallish boy walked happily with a limp, recalling how their idol had tossed him away from the fire into a rocky patch of grass. He bled with pride.
Mr. Puffins bullhorned them onto their buses, marked starkly in black against the white: Plat School for Boys. He got onto the first bus when all was loaded and ordered the driver on without a backward glance. He pushed the entire episode out of his mind, including the fire and, almost horrific, demise of the boys in his care. He kept his mind perfectly still and quiet, determining to have an extra dose of alcoholic binge that evening to compensate for the irritation of his nerves. Nothing quite calmed the nerves like a numbing agent. He could barely wait for the sun to go down. In fact, he decided to drop the boys off and go directly to a bottle.
He had one ready for himself on his kitchenette counter waiting. There was a cola and lime to mix with the drink, but why dilute the medicine?
The hour and a half drive back was a long journey for Mr. Puffins but almost instantaneous for the boys. They traded stories about the day, embellishing with every telling. They worked hard on perfecting their storytelling abilities so that they would be able to paint an impressive picture of the circumstances for their parents. Never had so many been so excited about writing a letter home.
The buses arrived and relieved themselves of very happy occupants. Each went about his business with purpose; the boys to their papers and pens, and Mr. Puffins to his drink. No one thought to report to the school administration the day’s happenings. The bus drivers shook their heads and minded their own businesses.
It was early Saturday evening so Mr. Puffins had plenty of time to try to drown his insatiable thirst. He only managed to drink himself into a stupor within one hour and sat in a large chair mumbling snatches of conversations from bygone years, for the rest of the night refilling the numbing agent as needed. At approximately one the next morning his body could take no more and he threw up on his living room floor. He stared bleary eyed into the vomit for what seemed like eons and learned great wisdom from the lumpy, smelly liquid soaking into the carpet. Then he collapsed beside the pool into deep unconsciousness.
He awoke much too late to make himself presentable for the school chapel. He sat melancholy on his haunches smelling of vomited alcohol and knowing his behavior was going to forever curse him to damnation. He snorted as he grunted to get up and knew he was already living out his sentence.
The vomit stain was dry and still on the floor. He half-heartedly rubbed at it with a warm, damp cloth. Then it was abandoned, another addition to the pock marked floor.
He spent the day refusing the silent cry from his body to imbibe more medicine and make the pain go away. He refused because it was Sunday and he’d made the carnal mistake of missing church. He must flog himself somehow and abstinence was his most effective method of self-torture.
At night, still under self-inflicted punishment, he tossed and turned in bed, sober and fighting the voices in his head.
‘You had a shot with her.’
‘I’m not going to leave him for you.’
‘She harassed everybody to find out where you’d gone.’
‘What do you want Gene? A fairytale?’
‘She said she made a horrible mistake.’
‘I already knew.’
‘She needed to find you and tell you.’
‘I deserve better…
I deserve better…
I deserve better…’
Mr. Puffins sat up in his bed. What had he been thinking to dismiss his one chance at love? What does a middle-aged drunk really deserve, anyway, but death?
Everyone who had anything to do with him hated him or had nothing but contempt for him. And they all had good reason. He wasn’t worth anything. Amanda saw that…but she had changed her mind! She had loved him in spite of it and he’d not grasped at the one chance he had in the last ten years. Ten years! He’d lived alone and miserable believing all love was just a lie. And when his love had come looking for him he’d brushed it off his sleeve like dust from a passing car.
He could feel the tears welling in his eyes in the dark. He rushed out of bed to the kitchen cupboard and shakily poured a drink. Better to be intoxicated than alone and crying in the dark.
Things are they Are
Mr. Puffins forced his mind back into the present; the past memories being too painful to relive. He was suddenly acutely aware of light flowery perfume and Ms. Trickum’s bulging cleavage leaning toward him. His eyes modestly turned away. Chrys glanced into his slightly flushed face. She repeated her words slowly and clearly, unsure if he’d heard her over the excited crowd gathering around Monty Spade and shouting his praises about saving careless boys lives.
“I said ‘Amanda Sloan never married Theodore Roach’.” Her words were husky with just a trace of contentment. She looked further into his face with a smile, her eyes searching for a sign of happiness in his. To her surprise he turned cold eyes to her.
“I am well aware of that.” He said in the more regular calm and condescending voice of Mr. Puffins. Chrys felt the cut of the words and visibly gave a hard blink at them.
“Oh. I—I—I thought…”
“You were mistaken. She was not truly my type.”
Mr. Puffins straightened his back completely, towering over her in at least a foot. He returned his attention to the crowd around them, searching for the neon sea of green in particular. They all appeared to be moving toward the front of the restaurant. Monty Spade’s smiles were still wide and genuine but worn at the corners. Mr. Puffins was certain the actor was trying to make a get away. Perhaps he needed a cigarette to calm his adrenaline frayed nerves. This thought cheered a downward spiraling Mr. Puffins and he gave a small smile to himself. The middle aged school teacher desperately hoped the shorter man smoked and was rotting to death slowly from the inside out.
Chrys saw his small smile directed at Monty Spade and raised a brow.
“Monty Spade is quite handsome. I have a bit of a thing for him myself.” She commented politely. This startled Mr. Puffins into looking at her in surprise; he’d quite forgotten she was there.
“That so?” he murmured forgetting to add ice to his words. He looked at her curved lovely face and began to hate Monty Spade just a little more.
“Mm-hm. You’ll note I’m wearing an outfit from one of his nemesis in Forever Your Hero.” She opened her aviator’s jacket completely and proudly exposed a top just as frilly as the bottom of her skirt, only bringing further attention to her deep cleavage. She’d readjusted her cap and put on goggles, then put her hands on her hips, and jut out her chest, making her breasts bounce a little. Her face was quite stern and she obviously took her look very serious. Against his will, a smile spread slowly along Mr. Puffins mouth, starting from one end to the other. Her peacock display was more amusing than Monty Spade smoking his lungs away.
“What was the name of this nemesis?” he asked in an attempt to suppress a rising chuckle in his chest.
“The Fluffy Cock.”
There was a pause as Mr. Puffins eyes widened before he began babbling loudly hoping his words covered up his broad smile and that his words didn’t trip too hard over the undeniable laughter.
“Well, I must say I am really quite take, over taken, with surprise and the delight of it. Your outfit is really something. I thought that the moment I turned and saw you. No wonder I didn’t recognize you right now. Dressed as you are as a male villain…”
“The Fluffy Cock is a woman!” Chrys whipped off her goggles and looked affronted.
“Is it really?” Mr. Puffins asked in a very high pitched voice. “Well, who cares for gender appropriate names for villains anyway?”
Chrys snatched off her cap and curls bounced. Her eyes were narrowed,
“You are laughing!”
The fluffy little muffin looked so cute when it was offended that Mr. Puffins felt chastised enough to stop laughing outwardly. He straightened his face but it still held amusement.
“No, no, I was just…”
“Monty Spade isn’t gay, you know, so you don’t have a chance with him!” she snapped.
Mr. Puffins’ humor evaporated in confusion and he frowned, “What?”
“Monty Spade may be truly your type more than Amanda Sloan but you don’t have a shot with him. You at least had a shot with Amanda!”
Understanding replaced Mr. Puffins’ confusion with cold contempt.
“I am not a homosexual. And I never had a chance with Amanda Sloan, whether she married Theodore Roach or not. She made that quite clear to me before I left town.”
“I don’t know what she said to you before you left but after you’d gone she harassed everybody she could at PWS to try to find out where you’d gone. She told everyone that she’d made a horrible mistake and she needed to find you and tell you so.”
Background Part 3
Gene Puffins continued forward with his life but work had become stale. He no longer spent any time with Amanda and rarely did he spend time with anyone. He made quite clear to HR that he was no longer available to help new hires as his own schedule had picked up pace. He worked harder on his degree. Amanda pointedly avoided him. This was noticed by everyone. If she needed any simple worked done that could only be done by him she sent her assistant with details. She did not even communicate through email. Then Theodore Roach transferred his business to PWS and he began showing up to the office on a regular basis. The management happily welcomed his millions and granted his request to have his account handled personally by Gene Puffins.
Gene could not help but see Amanda then and deeply register her ignoring him. Theo even noticed,
“Wow! She’s pretty cold to you in the office, isn’t she? I mean, when she first started talking about you it’s like you could do no wrong. I even felt a bit jealous. I thought maybe she had developed a little thing for you, you know? But I had no idea your professional relationship was this professional. I was just a man in love, seeing fire where there was none, right? But she’s so distant, I don’t know how you get anything done. I can’t have a relationship with anybody and not talk—but I guess you can see that.” Theodore laughed and patted Gene companionably on the back. Gene gave a tight smile and began talking about taxes.
Then the straw that broke the camel’s back happened. Gene was going over numbers on Mr. Roach’s account and something was amiss. There had been double payment for his services when there should have only been one. However, Gene knew he had only received one payment. He went to the Payroll Services to ask for a copy for his last three months transactions.
The curvy woman with bright green eyes and wide smile happily fulfilled his request. She had chatted to him happily about nothing in particular but he was too distracted to take note of her name. He had been so busy ignoring her but pretending to listen that she had to touch his arm just to get his attention even though he had been staring directly at her.
“I said ‘Are you engaged’?”
“I’m sorry, I was thinking about something else. No, I’m not engaged.”
“Really? I thought they said Amanda was engaged. We were all invited to an engagement party in this department. Amanda is such a sweetie!”
Gene stared at the woman for a moment making her bright smile die away.
“Amanda is engaged. She is engaged to Theodore Roach.”
“Oh…” the word was drawn out excruciatingly slow. Gene took his paperwork and left.
According to the print out of his file, he’s only received one payment. Yet there were two subtracted from Theodore Roach’s account. When Gene reached his desk he received note that Pat Benton, the chief accountant, wanted to see him in his office. Gene left the print out on his desk and went to see Pat.
Pat and Green had been on friendly terms ever since Gene began work at PWS and Pat acted as his mentor. The two men had a great rapport, and before Amanda began occupying Gene’s time, they would have lunch together on and off to catch up and act as support for one another. It had been a few months since Gene had seen Pat. Now he was glad that Pat had called him in, he was interested in going over the discrepancy of Theodore Roach’s account with him. Gene walked into Pat’s office without greeting, as he had many times before, simply starting in on the conversation already in progress in his mind. Pat cut him off with one hand raised and a shocking question,
“Gene, have you been stealing from Theodore Roach?”
The questions caught Gene so off guard that he tripped, caught himself, then plopped down into a chair.
“No!” Gene said in incredulous confusion. His head was swimming and he stared wide eyed at Pat.
“I didn’t think so but that’s what all the uppers are thinking. Yesterday Theodore Roach went to an auditor to clear up what he says looks like a mistake on his account.”
“I saw today his count says he paid me twice but my account says I only got paid once. Why didn’t he come to me?”
“He didn’t want to insult you.”
“Right. It isn’t insulting to go to someone’s boss to show a mistakes you believe they made.”
“It is a large mistake and it has happened ever since he began with our company.”
“His records show double payment every month for the last three months.”
“But my account only shows one payment received each month. Where is the other payment going?”
“That’s what we’d like to know.”
The men sat staring at each other.
“You don’t seriously think I’ve been taking it, do you?”
“I don’t, no. But there are those that do. Look, we all know about your…attachment to Amanda Sloan and your need for funds to impress her but taking the cash from her fiancée is not the way to go about enriching yourself.”
“You don’t sound as though you believe I wasn’t taking it.”
Pat sighed and leaned forward, “Gene, sometimes love can drive a man a little crazy and he can do some careless things…”
“I wouldn’t use Theodore Roach’s money to impress Amanda. It’s unethical and down right stupid.”
Pat sat back and put up a hand, “I know, I know. But that money has to be found, Gene, and fast. Otherwise…”
But the money never was found. All signs pointed to payments made to Gene Puffins. They were quickly cashed. All under Gene’s name.
Theodore Roach prepared to take Gene to court and sue PWS. The lawsuit was dropped due to the pleading of his fiancée Amanda Sloan. She never once spoke to Gene of the account or the lawsuit and soon after she quit her position at Peabody Wilson and Signh.
Gene was allowed to resign due to his faithfulness to the company in previous years—and the firm wanted to keep as low a profile on the internal scandal as possible. It kept it’s professional reputation and Gene lost all of his. He finished his degree in economics, contacted his cousin that was starting a prep school for boys upstate, and packed up for a new life.
Gene was loading a moving truck when a sleek gray car pulled up beside him. The window of the car rolled down and to his surprise he saw a smiling Theodore Roach.
“I’m glad to see you’ve moving on with your life. I’m told you got a teaching position at a boys school in the mountain country. Good, good.”
Gene stared at the smooth friendly man in numb shock. The last few times he’d seen Theodore the man had refused to look in his eyes and was surrounded by beefy accountants. Now he stared at Gene warmly, happily.
“You know, none of it was personal. What happened between you and I. Nothing personal, really. I just had to tarnish that sterling reputation of yours and when you’ve got money, well, you can make people dance.”
Gene’s eyes grew wide with shock, all of the warmth left Theodore’s smile.
“She’s mine, all mine. There was no real anything between you two, you know. If there had been she wouldn’t have believed any of what happened.”
Then Theodore Roach frowned. It was the fist time Gene had seen him look malevolent and he picked up a packing tape dispenser just in case.
“I keep what’s mine. You don’t get to where I am by letting some little destitute nobody take anything that belongs to you.” Theodore leaned forward out of his window, “If I ever see you in this town again I will destroy you.”
The shaded window rolled back up and car drove on.
Gene watched the car drive off then finished packing the moving van. He got into the van and drove directly to Amanda’s house.
Background Part 2
Theodore Roach was a self made millionaire. He owned a mansion and a yacht. He had thick wavy hair and a zeal for succeeding. He spoke money a good deal of the time and Gene barely got a word in when Theo spoke. He would talk in long monologues about progress and the future. He knew he and Amanda were part of the future; all who weren’t interested in progress and success were not.
Amanda sat watching Theodore with adoring eyes; she was an avid fan. She nodded frequently at all her fiancée had to say and laughed quite loudly at his witticisms. She was in awe of the man and Gene could not understand why. They sat in a ritzy restaurant in the middle of downtown, used to exclusive clientele, for two hours drinking over-priced bitter tea and breaking molars on over cooked under sweetened biscotti. Gene was working hard at not being bored. He’d arrived earlier with Amanda. She came with him, otherwise he would not have been allowed entrance. Theodore waited for them at ‘his table’. The moment Theodore was in her sights, Amanda had eyes for no one else. Gene was immediately abandoned for the self important man in the expensive suit.
Gene could not complain of the man much; Theodore Roach was more than polite he was downright friendly, even likeable. He shook hands with Gene warmly and engaged him so deeply in conversation that for a short while Gene forgot Amanda was there. An abrasive laugh at one of Theo’s jokes brought her back to his attention.
Gene thought briefly of their own private moments of laughter. Her laugh was deep and rumbled gently in her chest. If she was really amused she made barely a sound and she cheeks turned bright pink. Gene looked at her across the table on Theo’s other side. She had her hand on her chest and she was giving and impression of a high titter. It was completely fake. Was she trying to impress Theodore?
Gene found himself disliking the man despite his powerful charisma. The conversation had become dry and brittle for him.
After the meeting, Theodore shook Gene’s hand warmly again and said how it had been a pleasure to meet one of the true masterminds at PWS.
“Amanda always talks about how brilliant you are. I was thinking of transferring all my accounting needs there. After meeting you I know that is definitely the thing I need to do. I didn’t want to favor the place just because my sweetie pie was there.” Theodore put on finger under Amanda’s chin, leaned forward, and kissed her softly on the mouth. A lightening bolt shot through Gene and he was too numb to reply to Theo’s happy goodbye. Gene watched Amanda watch Theodore walk away until he was gone. Mr. Roach didn’t turn around once.
Once Theodore was gone Amanda came out of her trance. She noticed Gene watching her and she blushed.
“Well, you met him…what did you think?”
“Why do you love him?”
“Why do you love him?”
Amanda folded her arms and looked a little irritated.
“Haven’t you been here for the last three hours? He’s really a great guy and he was more than nice to you. He’s pretty busy, too, but he was willing to meet you because I asked him to.”
“He’s really nice but it hardly seems like a reason to marry the guy.”
“No, he’s not a nice guy. You’re a nice guy. He’s incredible.” She snapped, “You’re just jealous because he’s managed to accomplish more in his life at such a young age and you’re just an accountant. Jealously isn’t attractive, Gene. It’s pathetic.”
“I don’t want anything he has…other than you.”
Amanda dropped her arms, “You’d have to work really hard to get where he is.”
“What does it matter how rich he is? Life is more than just earning money!”
Amanda laughed, a genuine rumble but it sliced him, “Gene, that’s what poor people say.”
“But what about love? Real love is not just admiration for someone’s success. Doesn’t genuine affection and compatibility mean anything?”
Amanda’s face softened and Gene moved closer, but the look quickly melted into pity and she slowly shook her head.
“I think we should take some time off from our friendship. You seem a bit…emotional.”
“It wasn’t my imagination.”
“What wasn’t your imagination?”
Amanda shook her head slowly again, “I need to go.” and she turned and left. Amanda Sloan did not pause or look back once.
In a moment Mr. Puffins’ mind raced back twelve years to his younger self, no longer Mr. Puffins, but just Gene. He was an eager accountant working at one of the biggest accounting firms in the world. Peabody Wilson and Singh had offices all over the world: clientele and employees of every nationality. He’d had the very lucky fortune to get a job there in the downtown district straight out of graduate school and he worked his way up the ladder the five years he had been there. At just the tender age of 30 he was close to becoming a senior accountant with the firm.
He was highly admired by all of the staff, admin upper management, and his coworkers. HR loved to send new accountant hires to him because he was the go to man for all knowledge and experience. There just wasn’t a kind more helpful man around. He enjoyed the fellowship with his compadres, as he called them, and working numbers was his avid hobby. If he wasn’t working on his own workload, or helping others with theirs, he was working on a degree in economics to better effectively advise his clients.
When the company had taken a publicity hit due to the faulty and immoral business practices of one of the senior stock holding accountants, there were to be massive cuts due to a crash in the bottom line. Gene had willing taken a pay cut and tackled extra clientele to help restore the reputation and honor of the company.
“One man’s faults should not destroy the alma mater of honesty and prudence from which Peabody Wilson and Singh sprang. One tiny spider poisoned the body but one million drops of blood will save it. Add your drop.” Those words, penned by an inspired Gene Puffins at church service one Sunday, inspired the rest of the company as they read it in the company wide email he sent out the next Monday morning. Thus encouraged, the company rose from near bankruptcy to being the number one company to work for.
Gene Puffins became more sought after for management than ever. When the new accountant recruits flooded in he was charged with the job of welcoming them all. Amongst the eager new group was Amanda Sloan.
Amanda had transferred from another firm and was no stranger to the business. There was little Gene could offer or say to Amanda that she did not already know. This dismayed Gene since the first time he laid eyes on the tall, aloof, efficient woman his heart exploded with an unnameable emotion. Gene had never felt such admiration and respect, coupled with attraction, for a woman. She was truly like no one. In meetings she initiated ideas that were practical and highly successful. She never complained about work load, clients, staying late, and never ever ever gossiped about coworkers. She was lovely within as well as without but held such a cool reserve and confidence that everyone stayed apart from her. Somehow she managed to move to higher management before Gene.
He was not angry or jealous of her but congratulated her greatly. They went out for drinks as his treat. Not a regular drinker, Gene became quickly intoxicated after two glasses of wine. Amused, Amanda took him home. Gene talked quite easily and happily about his hopes and dreams. He truly enjoyed every bit of his life and all that he did in it. He asked her about her life and she was considerably more subdued in happiness and enjoyment. She acknowledged than she had a good job and great coworkers but she paused and her face became troubled.
“But this can’t be it?”
“What can’t be what?” Gene asked confused.
“Life. This can’t be all there is to life. Working, earning money, saving, spending, working, earning money, saving, spending… doesn’t it feel like one big gerbil wheel to you?”
“Is that really all you do?” Gene snorted.
“What else is there…but it really feels like something is missing. It’s so empty, isn’t it?” She worked about his kitchen, looking for all she needed as she made him coffee. He watched her a moment then grabbed her arm suddenly. She looked at him, startled. He smiled at her in a dizzy, lazy way.
“You need to add a little life to your life.”
Amanda snatched her arm away, annoyed with him and at her own confession of dreariness. Gene laughed and walked slowly out of the kitchen and returned moments later wearing a ball cap, low over his eyes.
“Join the PWS league. We’re calling ourselves ‘The Client Stealers’.”
“’The Client Stealers’?”
“Baseball team. The company is putting one together to play against other firms for fundraising and just for fun. You should join.”
“For what purpose?”
“It’s not working, earning, or spending.” Gene spread his arms wide and gave her a wide grin. “It’s just living.”
Amanda handed him his coffee with all seriousness and wished him a good evening. She left quietly.
The next morning Gene went directly to her office and apologized in a very charming way.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest you actually enjoy your life. It’s clear you enjoy your misery and one has to admit…” he looked around her office with a sharp eye, “it does appear to be taking your places.”
Amanda jumped out of her seat, incensed. “Anything I may have told you last night was under the depressive influence of alcohol! You, yourself, were hardly capable of coherent thinking. How dare you come in my office and insult me? I am your better. Now take your fake apology and get out of my office.”
They stared at each other for a moment, then Gene calmly closed her office door to shut out the curious ears that congregated by a nearby file cabinet.
“You may have a new office, a new title, and a few bucks more than you used to have but that does not give you power. And it certainly doesn’t make you better than anyone. I was offered this same position a few years back, when my new ideas weren’t so brilliant but more of a managerial threat. This is where they put the people they want to watch. Your new position is just to assure them you will do whatever they say and not make any brilliant moves that isn’t credited to them.” Gene spoke low and serious. “I love my job and enjoy my coworkers but in every office there will be politics. You’re a bit too new to know all of ours and you didn’t take the time to check out the trap before you jumped in it.” Gene paused to look at a photo she had of herself and a young man. He picked it up and examined it closer. “They don’t quite trust you, you know. You came with great credentials…from a rival firm. They aren’t really sure you won’t defect back to them, since you gave no solid reason for having left in the first place. Who is this?” Gene flashed her picture at her.
“My fiancée. Theodore Roach.”
“Hmm. Must be true love, with a name like Roach.” He put the picture back, then looked back at her, “Join the baseball team. Show a little more commitment to us outside of work. We’re due to play against your old employer in a couple of months. Might make management feel a little better about hiring you on if you physically fight against their archnemesis, your former boss. Show them you play for our team now.”
Amanda gave a short sigh and said shortly. “I can’t play baseball. I’m not an athletic person.” She looked a little ashamed of herself. Gene raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
“You’re in great physical shape! What do you mean you aren’t athletic?”
“I exercise, yes, but I’m clumsy and I have horrible aim.”
“All it takes is practice. Meet with me on Saturday mornings before the team meets and you’ll be fine.”
“Do you think I have nothing better to do with my Saturday mornings?”
“…No. What time should we meet?”
They agreed to meet at 7am on Saturday even though it made Amanda shudder to think of such a time. Gene signed her up for the team.
She found him running in place and full of sunshine that Saturday morning.
“Why on earth are you so happy and energetic? What have you been drinking?”
“I’ve been drinking life! And once you start drinking it you’ll be happy too!”
“I want to shoot you with an elephant gun.”
They began practicing swings. Amanda truly was horrible. She swung way before the ball reached her and with such force that she hopped forward a step or two and was repeatedly hit with the ball.
“Let it come to you. Stop leaning forward so much.”
After she was struck for a third time, she threw the bat down in anger.
“Stop hitting me with the ball!”
“I’m not; you’re running your body into it!”
Gene took Amanda to a nearby batting cage where the automatic machines’ balls pelted her much harder when she jumped into their path. After the second hit Amanda allowed Gene to come into the cage with her, surround her on the back, and inevitably refuse to let her thrust herself forward.
“I can’t hit, you won’t let me!”
“The ball is supposed to come in contact with the bat, not your arm, shoulder, or side. Just twist your waist to hit it, don’t pull forward.”
They practiced that way for a full hour, with Gene flush against her trying to get her used to not moving her feet but standing still and swinging the bat. In the end, Amanda complained,
“We never hit one ball and I’m extra sweaty since you were pressed up against me!”
“You didn’t hit the ball but at least the ball didn’t hit you either. Besides, we came close a few times.”
Amanda lifted the side of her shirt up to expose her toned laterals. Gene blinked then saw what she was trying to show him; she had two distinct circles, dark red, turning darker, on her side. Gene whistled low.
“That’s thanks to you.” She said.
“Oh no, that was the pitching machine. My mark is just the general redness of this entire area.” He lightly touched the larger pink circle on her side. She wiggled away from his touch when he circled a third time.
“Did I hurt you?”
“No, it tickles.”
The team met for practice and Amanda was declared the absolute worse player on the team. Not only did she leap forward to be hit by balls, she couldn’t catch flyballs. She simply covered her head with her mit and screamed. She couldn’t throw, somehow the ball would be propelled behind her instead of forward. And though she was good at running, she didn’t appear to know when to stop and was put out every time.
“I thought we had to run for home every time we hit the ball.” She hadn’t actually hit the ball but the ball hit her four times which, in pity, her team mates allowed her to walk. Instead she had tried to run for home. Every time.
She was quite battered by the end of the first team practice but Amanda was beaming with delight,
“I did quite well, didn’t I?” she said to Gene. Two coworkers stopped walking and talking and stared at her incredulously. Gene put an arm around her and walked quickly away before she could notice her teammates glare.
“And you’ll only get better from here!”
Amanda did get better, remarkably better, but she was still a bad player. Instead of getting hit by balls, she struck out every time. Instead of covering her head and screaming at flyballs, she simply moved out of their way and picked them up off the ground. Instead of throwing forward and pitching the ball backward, she turned around to throw away from the game and therefore pitched the ball forward back into play (unfortunately she couldn’t attempt to aim that way and it was often just tossed to someone lateral her). She was very pleased and looking forward to the game against her former employer and proving her worth to the PWS Client Stealers.
The game came and went. They lost by a landslide all with the help of Amanda Sloan. They went on to play nine more games against six other firms, two pizza parlors, and a retirement home. They lost all the games.
Truth be told, they all were horrible players, Gene Puffins included, but they couldn’t be told that. First in sales and service must also translate into first in intercompany games. But after the first three games Gene saw a pattern and, to keep morale up, he made sure everyone always looked forward to the after-losing party. At the end of the ten game season they were declared the all time best losers in the game. They were awarded honor seats beside the winning team of the season, at the all encompassing company banquet. The winners were The Dough Tossers of Tony’s Pizza Parlor. They silently agreed amongst themselves that youth and dexterity were on their side, making them natural winners. The Client Stealers quietly agreed that losing wasn’t so bad if it meant you didn’t have to take a job that paid only $10 a hour, in management.
Amanda thanked Gene heartily for his advice. She was delighted to have joined the company’s baseball team and come to be liked by her peers and trusted by her management. Gene laughed,
“The staff doesn’t like you and the management doesn’t trust you.” Amanda looked crestfallen but Gene cheered her,
“But that was just the first step! How about we discuss it more over lunch?”
From that point until four weeks before he resigned they shared their lunch together. At first it was to strategize the best company participation to get everyone to respect and trust her. Eventually that became a pretense as the two grew to genuinely enjoy one another’s company. There was not a company team or fundraiser that they did not join together. They facilitated programs together, won awards together, and thanked each other excessively.
The grapevine is an amazing human invention. Much information can be transported, anonymously, from one party to another without any direct contact ever being made. For even though two people can spend all of their time with each other sometimes they were too shy to impart the most important information to one another. Enter the grapevine.
There was an unseen force in the nonexistent relationship of Gene and Amanda: her fiancée, Theodore Roach. Although Gene had never met Theodore, and Amanda never directly spoke of him, besides the one time she’d given his name, the shadowy figure’s existence ruled the amount of time the two were allowed to spend together. Amanda always had to get back home before it got to late. When asked about passed time in activities apart from Gene, Amanda would always say ‘they’d’ had a wonderful time. At times, Amanda was unable to participate in an event because she had a previous engagement. What a mysterious sounding commitment that was: she had a previous engagement. It explained so much really. Why she could never be totally with him in mind and spirit. Why when her smile grew a little too wide and her eyes too star gazey she had to turn away. She had a previous engagement.
Enter the grapevine.
He said and she said. In the bathroom they thought she said. He always thought. She wouldn’t doubt it but they weren’t sure. When he talked to him on the phone, she told him. Finally everyone knew: Gene Puffins and Amanda Sloan were in love. The only ones that didn’t know it were Gene Puffins and Amanda Sloan. The grapevine decided to break the news to each in its sideways way. Casually mentioned in conversation and mock shock. ‘I thought it was the truth; everyone is talking about it!’
Their lunch was an uncomfortable affair. Both showed intense interest in their food and could barely look the other person in the eye. Gene decided to face the white elephant.
“I heard the strangest thing today.”
“Yes. It appears that people have been saying, that is, everyone thinks…”
“We are in love.”
They gazed at one another just a little too long. Amanda broke contact first.
“What did you say?” she asked distractedly.
“I said everyone thinks we’re in love.” Gene said low never once taking his eyes off of her. Amanda began to breathe deeply.
“Where did you hear that?”
“From a few different people.”
“And what did you say to them?”
Here Gene finally chuckled and looked down at his food again, “I told them you were engaged.”
“Is that all? You didn’t mention anything about your own, uh, attachments?”
Gene became serious again and looked up at her, “Well, they were right about me; I do love you.”
Unwillingly, Amanda drew her eyes up to meet his. Her eyes shone brightly and she trembled, a little. She looked down at her food again. “I am very confused.”
Gene lived with her confusion for three straight days. The he went to her office in the morning and demanded, “I want to meet him.”
“Your fiancée, Theodore Roach.”
Three hundred boys cannot fit into three buses but they can cram into four. Mr. Puffins rode the first of the four buses; he wanted to be the first on the ground as everyone else got off. They were all required to wear a neon light green t-shirt and ball cap. Mr. Puffins had the presence of mind to call ahead to the Motivi di Sole restaurant for easier corralling of the eager, energetic boys—and to just give the poor restaurant a warning that 300 under stimulated boys were headed their way for autographs.
For projection, Mr. Puffins carried a bullhorn, and he kept his eyes keenly trained on the bobbing, every moving tide of bright green.
The Motivi di Sole Italian Restaurant was a very well to do establishment with lots of very breakable glass. It was understandably nervous about having so many young energetic bodies near the dinnerware. The management concocted an idea: a tent was set up just outside the restaurant’s hall to hold the boys. Beside the tent was a line of tables stacked with plastic cups and iced water. Summertime in the mountains is generally a cool affair but the staff knew the boys’ sheer numbers would warm them to boiling. They prayed fervently the cool liquid would calm them some.
It was agreed upon by staff and Mr. Puffins that only a small about of students, say 20, would approach at the time for autographs. It seemed a bad idea to overwhelm the man with all of the boys at once. Mr. Puffins would stand with the boys for the autographs and a staff member would stay with the remainder, roughly 280+, to protect the restaurant from restless ideas.
On the third rotation, Monty Spade recognized Mr. Puffins and asked, “Just how many have you got?”
Mr. Puffins lied, “Oh, only a few more.”
Around that time the tent caught fire. No one is sure how the fire started or how long it took for the restaurant staff to notice the flames, but by the time it was addressed it was roaring out of control and the boys were in very real danger. Their danger was mostly self caused. To many boys the fire was just another toy and they began to tease and play with it, spreading the fire in the grasses around them. The news was brought to Mr. Puffins while he spoke to Monty Spade and the young actor reacted quickly. Just as in the movies, he moved quickly and decisively, jumping over the signing table, rushing out of the hall into the open to see the blazing flames. The foolish boys were still playfully causing small fires near the large one. Monty warned them away and they obeyed, amazed to see and hear from their hero. There were a few boys trapped near the tables under the soon to fall tent roof. Monty dashed into the flames, tossed boys out of the danger, and barely got out before the tent collapsed completely.
The media went crazy, as well as the boys. They all crowded around the hard breathing star. Cameras flashed showing Monty Spade being mobbed by the boys. A kitten materialized in the pictures somehow. Mr. Puffins watched it all with tired eyes. He’d followed after Monty Spade with considerable space allowing media and fans to push him further back. The boys hugged on the star with admiration in their eyes. He smiled down at them with patience. His smile for the cameras was picturesque. His good looks, his brave deeds, his millions…this man could have any woman he ever desired and Mr. Puffins stood there and coolly hated him.
The noise made about Monty Spade to the rescue was deafening but the words still came clear to Mr. Puffins’ ear,
It was his name and said by a feminine voice. It only occurred once and Mr. Puffins thought it was just his imagination, perhaps a memory haunting him from the past. The sounds of Monty Spade Praise refilled his ears and he dismissed his own name.
“Gene Puffins, is that you?”
There was no mistaking the voice that time; it was closer and had a bit of a smile in it. He turned his head to where the call emanated. A short curvy woman in an aviator cap and white and red spiral patterned glasses bounced toward him with a wide smile. She wore a leather jacket but Mr. Puffins still assumed it was woman; the chin was delicate, there appeared to be cleavage, and no adam’s apple was visible on the smooth neck. Sure, she wore a skirt that frilled at the bottom but that was no indication, there were unlaced combat boots. Mr. Puffins sighed within, why had society made it so difficult to tell the sex of a person? The person, looking more feminine than masculine, stopped in front of him. He faced (for simplicity’s sake) her with a wry smile.
“Hello. Do I know you?” he tried not to sound too condescending but his words were a little too calm and slow.
“You don’t recognized me?” she cocked her head to the side but she understood Mr. Puffins’ quick once over and small smile. She whipped off her spiral glasses and shook long curls out from under the aviator’s cap. Mr. Puffins genuinely hoped she was a girl since he found her attractive in a dumpy, little muffin sort of way. She refreshed her smile and stared up at him with ivy green eyes.
“We worked together at Peabody, Wilson, & Singh…”
Mr. Puffins’ aloofness evaporated and he tilted his head down and stared at her unabashedly. A wisp of memory flashed and showed him the same smile, same full bouncy curls, and bright green eyes. Mr. Puffins recalled feeling a moment of appreciation back then too. He had been in the payroll department gather information for something…
“Yes.” He said slowly, “You worked in payroll, right?” She nodded, extended her hand,
“Chrys. Chrysanthemum Trickum.” She smiled so widely that her eyes crinkled and she looked as though she were fighting not to shut them. Mr. Puffins, definite no one was watching them, gave her a genuine kind smile. She gave him her own long look over and then commented with satisfaction, “You look a bit ruddy here and there but you are aging well.” Mr. Puffins straightened up an inch or two.
“Yes, well, you look fine yourself.”
She heartily thanks him and offered a complimentary blush. She confessed to not being surprised at his preservation being that his past character was so meticulously healthy and not prone to excess in such as drinking or drugs. Mr. Puffins only smiled modestly and did not update her information. She assumed life had treated him well since his resigning from PWS.
“You certainly have a glow about you, rosy cheeks and all. Are you newly married?”
He was not.
There was no one. Chrys watched him for a moment then leaned forward and spoke up to his shoulder.
“There was a rumor that you’d left because of Amanda Sloan’s engagement.”
The smile slipped off of Mr. Puffins’ face and he focused his attention on the ground. Chrys moved a little closer to him, her breasts very lightly pressed to his arm. She strained upward to his ear.
“She never married him, you know.”
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Mister Gene Elijah Puffins was the economics teacher at the Platt School for Boys in the prestigious north county. He was spitefully known as ‘The Gep’ by the inmates. They constantly tormented him with pranks, incomprehensible jokes, and disrespect, with an energy only early teenaged boys can have. What irked them was the patience he bore their foolishness as though it were just his lot in life to handle idiots, coupled with a deep emotion felt, but never completely said, of pity mixed with contempt for them. At times he would stare hard at them with his large colorless gray eyes and murmur, “You have no idea.” Then coming out of his trance, he would continue with whatever task was at hand ignoring their jibes or forgetting that a piece of paper was taped to his back.
There’s something very disappointing about a taped “Old Fart’ on the back of a minimally old fart when he doesn’t care enough to remove it. Many of their pranks fell flat in the end and they just felt dirty for having tried. This only made them angrier and vow to try harder. They toilet papered his small bungalow that stood on the outskirts of the school’s expansive grounds. He didn’t remove any of it—not even after three fines and a threat from the principal. Only driving rains and a flash flood washed the wispy ghosts away from his place. They spray painted ‘Gep’ all over his gray sedan. He never had it repainted and drove about in the vandalized car as though he never saw the markings. The principal threatened him about this also (“We have a reputation to uphold Mr. Puffins!”) but the principal soon stopped.
The truth was Mr. Puffins was a superb teacher and hadn’t ‘lost a student yet’ as the school’s president remarked on Mr. Puffin’s record. No matter their attitude, or appearance of idiocy, Mr. Puffins simply did not tolerate educational ignorance. If a student did not appear to understand a lesson, Mr. Puffins would drill and lecture that student or students (as the boys, like most, tended to hand out in cliques) in and outside of class. He would find their lodgings on the campus and wake them up in the morning with lectures, lectures at mealtimes, sporting games. They weren’t even safe in the bathroom. He once lectured a young boy through a bad case of diarrhea. Seeing his calm tenacity, the boys picked up their books in his class and learned with all their might.
The Pratt School for Boys claimed to be a preparatory school but never specified what it prepared the boys for. It was prestigious, meaning it was expensive and bent toward snobbery, but due to its youth couldn’t quite reach it. It would have loved to have been nestled in the northern mountain trees for hundreds of years but it could only quietly claim ten years in a winery estate development. Mr. Puffins had been present when it first opened its doors, and perhaps that is why it tolerated his rather sad existence on its campus. There was a rumor that he was the president’s cousin and no one could kick him out on reputation alone. Regardless, the blip of Mr. Puffin’s presence did not mar the grandeur of the lands. The school was built on the hilly grounds of the Motivi di sole vineyard estate, just recently purchased by the current owner that got the 400 plus acres for a steal at three million dollars. The previous owner had gone bankrupt trying to fill the land with premade Italian villas for wealthy homeowners. It boasted the vineyard and villas as well as a seven star restaurant lost somewhere on the sprawling hills. The boys never saw any of these things just the campus laid neatly out before them with nothing but trees and open land.
Occasionally a boy would run away from school, intent on returning to the home that had abandoned him there, but within six hours he would come wandering back, thirsty and frustrated. For many, they lived in a well-hydrated colony on Mars and hope for escape was unlikely.
The boys had nothing to run from except work, discipline, and teachers that genuinely hated them. The purpose of working at the prep school was simple: money. Rich parents paid well to have their children removed from their care and put into a state approved institution that did not have the bad connotation of jail. In fact, many parents were congratulated for sending their innocent boy to the mental jailhouse and wouldn’t hear of it if junior begged and pleaded to come home. In love, they shook their heads at their weak child’s whining then threw the letter away without a response. ‘He’ll toughen up.’ they would say, and they were right. The boys, once sensitive and desiring some semblance of morals, would soon bleed their emotions away, rally together in a misery brotherhood, and denounce all morals as hypocrisy in action. It was in school they learned promiscuity to be the only true expression of sexuality and if one was truly brave and strong that promiscuity would be with one’s own sex. It was in school they learned the government was right, no matter what side spoke. It was in school that they learned that the only important thing in the world was money, and this they learned from Mr. Puffins.
Mr. Puffins, though intent that his students should learn, was not a pleasant teacher. He did not appear to care for the lost boys anymore than the rest of the faculty but he was consistent with his presence and opinion. He never failed to be present for class; for him there was no such thing as a contagious cold or inclement weather. He berated all of the students one harsh winter when the building had been buried in snow six feet deep. They complained of the snow drifts and he snapped, “Will none of you ever become men? What? No one had a shovel?” He cupped one hand and held it high, “My shovel was right here and I made it in fine. Come on, you can’t always expect servants to take care of you.” He put his hand down and said in acute disgust, “Money doesn’t make you strong; it makes you weak. I can only hope none of you actually apply the principles you learn in my class and you all become paupers.” The boys had been shocked by all the strong emotion in Mr. Puffins’ outburst that they only sat gaping, memorizing every word. The force of emotion was more than Mr. Puffins exhibited normally and he reverted back to his sighing passive aggressive drollness.
Normally, when Mr. Puffins shared his opinion it was with great condescension and much looking down of the large, sharp, thin nose. The boys hated Mr. Puffins’ looks, not because he was particularly unhandsome but his features were sharp, hawk-like. Even simple sentences like, “I see.” felt like a cut. He would make no comment when an answer to his question was correct, but if they were wrong…
“You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
“That, of course, is incorrect.”
“No, no, and again no.”
These were all said in a calm enough voice but his accompanying withering stares shrank them. At times he would say nothing at all and just give them the stare. That was when he was in a particularly bad mood or had been drinking too much the night before and had a hangover.
Mr. Puffins was a notorious drunk. He never drank during class hours or even in public but all the campus knew of his alcoholic binges on the weekends, sometimes on an odd Tuesday or so. His eyes were perpetually bloodshot with heavy lids, the tip of his nose was always pink. Due to his unrelenting way of tutoring students, many a young face had been breathed on with his alcoholic rank. Most drunks toddle about and slur words but Mr. Puffins did not ever stumble or slur. He would simply reek and speak much slower. Principal Rothchild insisted Mr. Puffins not show himself to the students in such a disgraceful manner but Mr. Puffins did not listen, and the principal soon stopped complaining.
“It does some good for the boys anyhow. Showing oneself drunk is disgusting but it does lower the chances of the boys trying to sneak drink, since it is Puffins. No one wants to be like him.” The principal reasoned.
To add to Mr. Puffins’ unpleasant smell was his unwillingness to change clothing on a daily basis. He had four suits that he would wear for the month, one for each week. He always smelled his most stale on Saturday evening when he still wore the same suit all week, stains and sweat marks all along with the drifting cologne of excessive alcohol. He was always at his best, cleanest and most serene on Sunday morning, when the suit was new and the alcohol washed away. Gene Puffins cleaned himself thoroughly every Sunday morning so that he could go and sit in the back of the school chapel, listen to the sermon, and sit with his eyes closed, head bowed until no one was in the place. The holier students and teachers simply ignored his presence, but the majority of the passersby wondered what the man had to pray about.
Mr. Gene Puffins was universally disliked by students and teachers alike and he treated them all with cold contempt. There were a few sturdy teachers that had threatened to physically do Mr. Puffins harm but it always came to nothing. By far, Mr. Puffins was the tallest of the faculty but gaunt and boney. He never stood up straight but walked with a shuffle and a slouch. Every society needs its scapegoat, the one on whom most of unwanted miscellaneous assignments went to. And since all of the faculty disliked Mr. Puffins and the boys, it fell on his shoulders to chaperone the boys anywhere they went. Both Mr. Puffins and the boys hated the arrangement. The boys hated to be seen with the angry skeleton and Mr. Puffins was very specific about rules whenever it concerned the boys. Mr. Puffins hated outings; there were too many people and usually too much light.
The Pratt School had a yearly trip to the beach, Mr. Puffins accompanying. Because they’d had a paper fight on the bus, Mr. Puffins forced them to only sit on the beach in their full uniforms, all in a row. There had been rumblings of outright rebellion but two loads of vacationing college girls tumbled onto the beach and set up a rousing game of volleyball. For the boys it was very rousing and they switched from angry mumblers to still statues patiently sweating in the sun. Mr. Puffins was pleased with their behavior, despite himself, and embarrassed at the barely dressed college students bouncing around the beach. Some were even quite flirtatious but, Mr. Puffins proudly noticed, none of the boys reacted to such wanton behavior. The boys were too stunned; they just stared. On more than one occasion, seven in fact, the volleyball slipped and slammed into a boy, knocking him clean over. The girls giggled all at once and crowded round the boy in sympathy. Mr. Puffins dutifully shooed the fast birds away. At the end of the beach visit, many a concussed boy happily stumbled onto the bus. The ride back to the school was quiet and contemplative. So, despite his presence, the boys enjoyed all outings. There were those that swore the Gep’s presence, painful as it was, actually improved their excursions. He was an extra stinky, dried up, complaining, old, good luck charm.
Whatever the case may be, the middle-aged teacher of neat morals and high alcohol tolerance always went on the field trips with the boys, and field trips were numerous since all the boys couldn’t go at once with only one man as chaperone. In one month during summer Mr. Puffins went to the beach twenty-eight times. He’d gotten sunburned badly because he didn’t tan well and had become dehydrated every week since he drank too much alcohol. It was the month of a volleyball competition, however, so the boys were in very fine manners.
None of the students or faculty were from the nearby small town of Panga Gruff, built around the main road of the same name. The town had a population of two or three thousand, depending on the season as there were many seasonal renters in the hilly country during the summer months. The town did not gain income from the Motivi di sole grounds and the boys had little interest in visiting. The town had little notoriety beyond country mountain village and being the birthplace of Montgomery Spackle, better known as Monty Spade.
Monty Spade was a well-known, well-admired film star that played in mostly sci-fi adventure blockbusters. Girls and women went crazy for his honest arrow good looks, boy-next-door manners, and his luscious hair at 37. Boys and men wanted to be him. Producers wanted him in their movies as often as possible. His hometown wanted his visits as often as possible, but he usually snuck into town, visited family briefly, and then snuck back out, all without one publicity shot for Panga Gruff. Mrs. Spackle, alive and well, chastised her son for being negligent of his own hometown.
“You tour and give appearances in so many places but you can’t show your face here? For shame Monty! Would it kill you to get Panga G a little business?”
Monty Spade did not want to show his face in the only town that knew him as Montgomery Spackle. Every time he stepped into the town, even covertly, time went backwards and he felt like the scrawny, pimple faced nobody he had always been. He was an action hero hack and thought sure the townspeople would crowd together and chant it at him. Unfortunately, soon after her first chastisement, Monty Spade now had only two choices: 1) don’t go home or 2) get attacked by his mother every visit. Publicly showing his face in his hometown became the choice. He organized a meeting with the mayor to organize an Organization of a meaningful group to support. There was a lot of phone calls and paper involved. Much head nodding and agreement. Yes, cancer was good, and so were orphans. Perhaps he could come in support of orphans stricken with cancer. It was settled. Monty Spade would make a spectacle going to his hometown, show his face, give out autographs, and then give a short lecture about the need to help cancer laden orphans in the mountainous countryside of Panga Gruff. There had to be at least two of them. For now. The fund raiser needed to be held soon, one of the orphans was gravely ill.
A whirlwind of media advertising went into affect. One of the top stars in the country was coming to town—but there was no hall big enough to house all of the fans and supporters that would show. It was decided the fundraiser would be held at the great hall of the Italian restaurant on the Motivi di sole grounds.
The boys at the Platt School for Boys were ecstatic. However, the faculty at Platt hardly saw reason for a fieldtrip to see a movie star. What would the administrators tell parents was the reason for the trip? No sensible parent would want their child to become an actor, so socializing with one was an absolute waste of time. The boys whined about the educational lecture to be given about terminally ill orphans in need. When this did not work, the boys resorted to normal tactics; they became a solid group of unholy terrors wearing down the faculty’s patience and raising the general desire to get the boys out, anywhere, to be rid of them.
Mr. Puffins saw the inevitable and drank a little heavier during the week in preparation. He had no love for movies or movie stars. The stories they told only encouraged false expectations and reinforced delusions. People like Monty Spade worked diametrically opposed to Mr. Puffins. The man never had a realistic job, nor did her ever spend wisely, in any of his films. All movies made a mockery of life and its true tragedies; comedies and romances were dressed in much drabber clothing and had less witty, straight-to-the-point lines in reality. Pain wasn’t pretty and didn’t turn you beautiful but coming from the view of the movie that was hard to tell.
The administration retracted their dissent a week before Monty Spade came to town. The boys began model behavior and study habits. Admin met with Mr. Puffins and described the circumstances to the tall, aloof man. The press conference/fund raiser would last three days with a chance of autographs on all three days. Mr. Puffins would not need to attend all three days to take the groups of boys. Since the trip was just an hour and a half away from the school, Mr. Puffins would be escorting a large group of boys alone. He would be given a cell phone in case he required back up. Luckily the event was occurring during the summertime when most of the students had been sent back home. He would only take the left-behinds, the ones that normally cause trouble (numbering only a little over 300).
Mr. Puffins only blinked. He was being sent to a crowded outside gathering to chaperone 300+ teenage boys with only a phone for help. He sniffed and sincerely hoped something horrible would happen to get the administration into legal trouble with all of the parents. Aloud he said, “As you wish.” in such a quiet and growling way that he conveyed his thoughts clearly. Regardless, the administration brushed off their fears and dismissed him.
The principal was certain everything would turn our alright and no parent would find out about this discrepancy in supervision.