After teaching high school speech and English for thirty-three years, Paul Lewellan left public education to teach at Augustana College, a small liberal arts school in Rock Island, Illinois. Since making the move he has published short stories in over sixty magazines including South Dakota Review, Opium, Watercress Journal, Word Riot, Iconoclast, Timber Creek Review, Porcupine, The Furnace, and Big Muddy.
Paul believes that writers should follow Martin Luther’s advice to “sin boldly.” Among the fictional heroes he has created are a nymphomaniac religion professor, a psychic real estate agent, Jesus and his twin brother, assorted, a flock of chickens, and the Queen of Bass Fishing in America. Paul’s wife and best critic, Pamela, admits that his fiction sometimes frightens her
Paul is an Adjunct Instructor of Speech Communication and Business Administration at Augustana College. His latest novel, Twenty-one Humiliating Demands, chronicles an aging assassin who takes a sabbatical to teach Atrocity Studies at small Mid-Western university. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
John Whalen turned the corner from Gaines onto West 7th Street and began the half-block walk up the hill to his home. He stopped. Bromley, his six-year-old shih tzu, kept walking until he ran out of leash. There was a red Jeep Wrangler with Wisconsin license plates parked in front of his house and someone was standing by the door, obscured by the tall bushes that lined the steps leading up to his front entrance.
By the time John reached the steps, two young women were coming down them. There was a hesitation, and then recognition—they were ex-students. He knew their faces, but not their names.
“Mr. Whalen,” the tall one said brightly. “Remember us? Vicki and Beth!”
“Of course I remember you. How could I forget?” Vicki Raider and Beth Morgan graduated more than a dozen years ago. During their four years of high school they had been inseparable. Now here they were together again. “Come for a visit?”
“We wanted to stop by,” Beth explained in the methodical way she always had. “We hoped you were at the same place.” She turned to Vicki for help.
“Actually we don’t have a lot of time now. We need to check into the hotel, change, and get ready. It’s our fifteenth class reunion.” Vicki was wearing red straight cut jeans, calfskin Tony Lama boots, and a pale blue sleeveless western blouse. John imagined a Stetson hat in the jeep.
Beth cleared her throat. At 5’ 10” she was two inches taller than her friend. Rubenesque. She wore a peasant blouse, Torrid jeans, and wedgie sandals. She nudged Vicki. Vicki hesitated. “We wondered if we could stop by later tonight? If your wife wouldn’t mind?”
John unlocked the front door, opened it for them, and motioned them in. “I’m divorced. Two years now.” He unhooked Bromley from his leash, and the small dog immediately rushed over to Beth.
Vicki looked down the hallway to the formal dining room with its panoramic view of the Mississippi. “You’ve done amazing things with this house since the last time we were over.” She glanced at Beth.
“When was that, maybe a decade ago?”
“Our five-year reunion,” Beth said as she scratched Bromley’s belly.
“That was before you met your second wife, I believe. You were single parenting.”
John said nothing. He remembered that night. Parts of it anyway. There was an awkward silence.
“Well, we’d better get going.” Vicki said, but she made no move to leave. “Do you want us to bring
“No. I have snacks.” He looked from Vicki to Beth and back again and wondered what they were thinking.
“Sorry we can’t stay,” Vicki said firmly. “We need to check for eligible male survivors from our class.”
“Make all the married men regret they didn’t snag us when they had the chance,” Beth said confidently.
Then they both laughed.
John knew it was his turn to ask. “So no husbands?”
“I divorced mine on my thirtieth-first birthday,” Beth said acidly. “Vicki’s dumped hers three months ago.”
“That’s why we need to scope out the remains of the class of 1998.” She turned to John and put on a big smile. “We will take no prisoners.”
“Well, good luck,” he said, ushering them out the door. “I’m looking forward to catching up with you tonight.”
And that last line wasn’t totally a lie. Actually he wasn’t sure what he felt about seeing them again.
Fifteen years ago when he was teaching high school and coaching debate, Vicki and Beth were varsity debate partners. They were bright. They were competitive. They had desire. Judges liked them. But they lacked the focus of his top two teams. Boy problems. Family troubles. Beth had difficulty with AP Calculus.
Vicki broke an ankle the night of the winter dance. Rumors said that she had been drinking.
John could enter two teams at the State Tournament that March. Vicki and Beth stayed home, even though the year before they’d advanced to the Quarter Finals.
The girls blamed him, of course. And they were right in one respect. It was his decision. Five years passed before they were willing to forgive him. By that time he’d won another two State Championships, and his wife had died in a car accident leaving him a single parent with two children under ten. The team understood why he’d quit coaching.
Around ten o’clock that evening, Bromley began barking. Moments later there was a knock. When he got to the door the young women were arguing, but stopped as soon as they saw him.
Vicki wore a white crepe sheath, sleeveless with a V-neckline. She had small breasts. The dress was cut several inches above her knees and she wore patterned white nylons and three-inch heels to draw attention to her legs. Her curly auburn hair that had been styled up now cascaded to her tanned shoulders.
Beth wore a simple black dress and dark hose. The dress hugged her hips. The scooped neckline exposed her cleavage and a glimpse of her black lace bra. Her face was flush. They had been drinking. With one arm she cradled a brown paper bag from Eckerman’s Market. In her right hand she carried her black stilettos. She held them up when he opened the door for her. “My feet hurt. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Make yourself at home.”
Beth followed Vicki’s lead and walked straight down the hallway to the dining room and its large bay windows looking out over the Mississippi River. Down the hill from the house the two women could see the lights of the Centennial Bridge. She set the bag down on the table and her shoes beside it. She lifted a six-pack of Schlafy Kölsch.
“Nice beer,” he told her.
Beth smiled. “The last time we came over I brought such horrible stuff. I wanted to make up for it.”
Ten years ago Beth and Vicki had shown up on his doorstep at 3 a.m. with two twelve packs of Milwaukee’s Best. The three of them had gotten very drunk and the girls fell asleep on the floor in his living room. “We finished that case of beer.”
“Yes we did,” Beth said.
“A six-pack is safer,” John assured them.
Vicki laughed at that. “The rest of the case is in the car on ice.”
John could no longer pretend that this visit was casual or impulsive, something the women had decided to do as they came into town. “You knew I liked the Kölsch?”
“You ‘liked’ it on your Facebook page.” Beth looked at the dining room table. “So, do you have snacks?”
Vicki turned on her. “Beth, you can’t be hungry. We just ….”
“I eat when I’m nervous. We hadn’t seen those people for a decade. They creeped me out.”
“I have snacks,” John said.
“Crisis averted,” Vicki said sarcastically. She pointed to the dining room table. “What’s all this?”
There were a dozen bottles of gin, assorted tonic waters, an ice bucket of cubes, a half-dozen clean glasses, slices of lime and cucumber, and assorted glassware. “A little experiment. Let me put the bruschetta in the oven.”
When John returned Vicki and Beth were standing in front of the bay window looking out into the night and whispering. “How was the class reunion?”
“Disappointing,” Beth said flatly.
“Actually, the reunion wasn’t so bad, it was the men there who were disappointing,” Vicki corrected.
“Especially Tommy Baskins.”
Vicki stopped her. “Before you say another word about Tommy Baskins, I am going to need a drink.” She looked first at the beer they’d brought, and then to the gin collection. “Tell me about these,” she said, motioning to the liquor.
“I’ve been a beer snob for years. Hell, we talked about that when you came over a decade ago. You started out trying some of my craft beers, but then we got into those stupid contests, chugging the cheap stuff, racing to see who could get drunk the fastest.” Contests? Even as he spoke about that night he got flushed and embarrassed. How could I have let that happen? He shook off the images from that evening.
“Well, I’ve always liked a good gin and tonic. I decided to explore what it would take to become a connoisseur. Plus, I’m a freelance writer now. Gin seemed like a good topic for a piece.”
John chose his next words carefully. “When you said that you might come over tonight, I thought we might need something to take the edge off.”
“Something to wash away the earlier part of the evening,” Vicki added.
He frowned. “Was it really that bad?”
Beth sat down across the table from John. “How can I put this delicately?” She leaned forward slightly, treating him to a better view of her breasts. “The usual pack of men that once followed Vicki found out that she isn’t the easy woman of loose virtue that she was ‘back in the day’.”
“It takes more than a few free drinks and a stock portfolio to get inside my panties now.” Vicki nodded ruefully. She sat down on the other side of Beth. “My ex-debate partner on the other hand, was just giving it away.”
“I did no such thing. I was merely proving my point.”
“Which was?” John asked. “I missed the point.”
“You always did in high school,” Vicki said sarcastically. “Why should you change now?”
“You probably didn’t notice what was happening with us because you were too busy with the rest of the team,” Beth added.
“Don’t start that again,” he warned.
“Anyway. Vicki and I were always very competitive.” Beth thought about how to phrase this. “When we started experimenting with sex, our junior year, about the time Vicki’s parents broke up, we made bets. We had contests.”
“Ancient history,” Vicki said, trying to dismiss her. “Do we get a drink or not?” She looked at the assortment of gins. “What do you suggest?”
John reached for a couple glasses. “Let’s go right to the top of the class. Later you can try others for comparisons.”
“What’s the top of the class?”
“Henrick’s Gin. Distilled in small batches in Girvan, Scotland.”
“Better than Bombay Sapphire?” Beth asked.
“Different from Bombay Sapphire.” He reached for the dark apothecary style bottle of Hendrick’s. “This is smooth and slightly sweet. It’s been infused with cucumber oils and Bulgarian rose.” He added ice to the glasses. John opened a fresh bottle of Schweppes tonic water and poured. Next came a shot of Henrick’s and a fresh cucumber slice.
“A cucumber?” Beth asked.
“Trust me on this one.”
“Because of the cucumber oils?” Vicki offered.
“Yes.” She took the first glass from him and sipped. Vicki smiled, and then motioned for her friend to try. “Shouldn’t you check on the bruschetta?”
When he came back the three of them settled into an easy conversation over the food and drinks. John talked about his son and daughter. He told of his second wife’s African odyssey, the man she’d met in Cairo, and the divorce.
Vicki and Beth talked about their ex-husbands and about the reunion: how different the men seemed from their Facebook profiles, how old the other women looked. The teachers present weren’t at all like they remembered.
“John,” Vicki said, politely, “may I trouble you for another one of those?” She pushed her glass in his direction. He obliged.
As he stirred Vicki’s drink, Beth finished hers. “I’m not a fan of the cucumber. What else do you have?”
“Leopold Brothers Small Batch Gin.” John reached for the clear hand-numbered bottle. “They make it in a 40-gallon copper still. The orange zest is grated by hand and they distill the ingredients separately so each is at the right temperature.” He grabbed a fresh glass, filled it with ice and a shot of the gin. Then he reached for a small bottle of blackberry liqueur and poured in half an ounce.
“You’re kidding, right?” Beth said looking at the dark liqueur.
“Nope.” He motioned to the lime wedges on the table. “Lime is optional.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Go with the lime.” He added the wedge and handed her the glass. “A Leopold’s Rocky Mountain gin and tonic.”
Beth’s skepticism gave way to pleasure as she sipped. “You may be on to something.” She took a more generous drink. “Now where were we?”
“You were telling me about your competition with Vicki.” Out of the corner of his eye he saw Vicki shaking her head.
“Right.” Beth giggled. “On the trip down here we got arguing about who had the most boyfriends in high school. I mean, sure, Vicki got all the guys that liked scrawny little bitches with killer legs, but the ones who liked breasts were all mine.” She took another drink.
“Beth,” Vicki said firmly, “maybe you should slow down a little with the drinks.”
“Look,” Beth said, pointing her index finger at her friend while still keeping a firm grip on the glass,
“Monday through Friday you are my boss, but on a road trip, I don’t take orders from you.”
There was a brief interlude while John passed around the last of the bruschetta and Vicki explained that her father had offered her a temporary job five years ago when she was between positions. He wanted her to help out at the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, office of his security firm.
Vicki spent a month filling in for a secretary’s maternity leave, and then served a stint as the office manager. When he’d come to visit branch, he fired the HR person on the spot and put Vicki in charge. Her first assignment was to hire part-timers who could work the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire football and basketball game security, a contract she’d raided from a competing firm. Within a year she became the branch manager.
“We’re the fastest growing office in the firm.” John could see how the responsibility had aged her, but he doubted the other branch managers were in their mid-thirties. “When our accountant was hired away from us by Per Mar, I called Beth. We’ve been working together ever since.”
“Anyway,” Beth said, setting down her glass. “We decided on the way here to have a contest to see who could collect the most cell phone numbers. One point for anyone we’d dated before. Two points for guys who didn’t give us the time of day in high school, with a half-point deduction for any man divorced within the last six months.”
“Three points for anyone married whose wife wasn’t in attendance,” Vicki added.
“Five points if the wife was present.” Beth set down her drink. It had been reduced to ice and a lime slice. “We weren’t sure what to do with Tommy Baskins.”
John shook his head. “I don’t remember a Tommy Baskins. There was a Tammy Baskins. She did Lincoln-Douglas debate and extemporaneous speaking. She was kind of ….”
“Homely?” Beth suggested.
“Butch?” Vicki offered.
“I was going to say, plain,” John said cautiously.
“Well, Tammy went to NYU, and then University of Iowa Med School. Then she got a degree in Psychiatry at the University of Chicago,” Beth sighed. “Followed by a sex change.”
“Now he, Tommy, specializes in gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered patients.”
“He’s really quite handsome man.”
Beth stared at the ice cubes in her glass. “I was quite taken by him.” She pushed the glass over to John. “Turns out he’s not a boob man.” She sighed again. “He was more interested in Vicki.”
“But he wasn’t my type.”
“There was a scene.” Beth glanced at her friend. “Vicki isn’t as tolerant as I am. She said some things.”
“The whole thing took me by surprise is all,” she said in her defense.
“We were kicked out.”
John was still trying to figure it all out. “So you drove here?”
“Not without taking our blood alcohol level on my portable unit.” He laughed until he saw Vicki was serious. “No way you can get a DUI and keep any credibility in the home security business.”
John watched as Vicki reached for the ice bucket and Beth grabbed a fresh lime. “But you’ve got to be over the limit now. How will you get back to your hotel?”
“We’ll call a cab,” Vicki said.
“Or sleep on your couch like the last time,” Beth suggested.
Vicki got up to find something to mix the drinks in. “You know, maybe we should just make a pitcher to share and move the conversation to the living room.” She looked to John for confirmation. He nodded.
“I’ll see what’s in the fridge while you do that,” Beth already making her way into the kitchen.
Later that evening they were well on their way to finishing the half-gallon of gin and tonic Vicki had mixed
up when Beth blurted out, “I really miss him.”
John looked up. He’d gotten distracted by Vicki’s tiny feet. “Who?”
“Brad. My ex-husband.”
The current conversational thread concerned former debaters, but he must have missed something. “I don’t remember a Brad.”
“Oh, he wasn’t on the team. We met at college. He was in my Rhetoric class. His argumentation skills were pathetic,” she snorted. Beth was sitting on the loveseat. She’d pulled it up to the large oak coffee table so she’d be closer to John’s toasted onion sour cream chip dip. John’s dog, Bromley, was curled up next to her with his feet in the air, his belly exposed. Beth alternated between scratching his belly, sipping on her gin, and using kettle-cooked potato chips to scoop up the dip.
“Our senior year Brad asked Vicki to help pick out my engagement ring at Kay’s Jewelers, and they ended up drunk and disorderly at a strip club in downtown Rock Island. I had to use my graduation money to make their bail.”
“It was a huge misunderstanding,” Vicki said apologetically. It wasn’t the first time they’d had this conversation. “Entering Amateur Night certainly wasn’t my idea.” Vicki was stretched out on the couch.
John sat on the floor at her feet. “What are you staring at?” she asked him with some irritation.
“Your toe cleavage.”
She laughed at the expression on his face. “Why would you do that?”
“I can’t help myself.”
Vicki understood that.
“Beth is trying to make a point, John. You need to focus.” He reluctantly turned his attention back to Beth.
“Do something useful while you listen.” Vicki swung her right leg off the couch and lowered her foot into his lap. “Massage my foot.”
“When you came over the last time, you and Brad had broken up. Things seemed all right with you and Vicki.”
“Unlike my dear best friend, I am a very tolerant person.” Beth ignored their foot play and the soft purring sound that came from Vicki as John massaged her foot.
John tried to focus on the conversation. “But obviously, you and Brad got back together.”
“When Vicki moved to France for two years, she became a non-issue. I called him up and three weeks later Brad and I moved in together.” Beth sipped her drink. “When I got pregnant, we finally set a date.”
“She requested that I not come home for the wedding,” Vicki said indignantly. “Her sister was her maid of honor. Can you believe that?”
“At least she never fucked the groom.”
“You don’t know that,” Vicki said under her breath, and Beth pretended not to hear her.
“I miscarried a month after the honeymoon, but Brad promised me another baby.”
“He promised other things, too.” Vicki’s eyes were closed, and she was cooing softly and squirming on the couch as John continued to massage her foot. “How did those work out?”
“We were all right together. More than all right. We were good. For almost six years. Good years.” Beth’s voice trailed off. She leaned over for more dip.
Every time she did this John got an eyeful of Beth’s breasts down to her nipples. At some point, either in the kitchen, or the last time she’d excused herself to the bathroom, she’d removed her bra. “Then he got the vasectomy.”
“A vasectomy?” John stopped rubbing Vicki’s foot. He looked up from Beth’s breasts. “Did you decide you didn’t want children?”
“Brad decided he didn’t want children,” Vicki corrected without opening her eyes. She stretched out her hand for her drink. John picked it up from the coffee table and handed it to her. “Frankly, I think he was sleeping around.”
“He wasn’t sleeping around! You didn’t know him like I did. You weren’t there, ” she said adamantly. “He just didn’t want kids.” Beth looked over to John staring down her dress. She jiggled her breasts slightly and smiled. Then she sat up and popped the chip in her mouth. “But I did.”
“So you divorced him?”
“Yes.” Beth got very serious. “I wanted a husband who could love me. Bless me with a child. And be a good father.”
“That was two years ago,” Vicki corrected. “Now her goal is to find a sperm donor.”
“What better place to find one than a high school reunion.” Things finally made more sense to John. Beth had been on a hunting expedition. He leaned back against the couch as he continued to massage Vicki’s tiny foot. “Too bad the evening was a bust.”
“You don’t know that,” Beth told him.
“What do you mean?”
“The night isn’t over yet,” Vicki pointed out. She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head in Beth’s direction.
“Oh, no you don’t.” John let go of Vicki’s foot. He glanced at Beth leaning over the dip, her breasts on display. “Is that what this visit is about?”
John started to get up, but Vicki pushed him back down. “I can explain.” She pulled her foot from his lap and sat up. “Let me refresh your drink first.” She filled her glass with gin and tonic, and then topped off his with the last of the pitcher. “Just hear us out.”
Beth jumped up. “I’ll get a refill while you do that.” She grabbed the empty pitcher from Vicki.
“Try the Blue Ribbon London Dry Gin,” John suggested.
“With fresh limes,” Vicki called out. “And be careful not to cut yourself!” When she was gone, Vicki motioned for John to sit on the loveseat across from her. “We need to talk.”
He picked up his drink and moved to the love seat next to the dog. “Was this your plan all along?”
Vicki shook her head. “No. We did have a contest. I thought it would be an incentive for Beth. She thought it would be fun. But it wasn’t. So we came up with plan B.”
“I’m not an option,” he said firmly. “I don’t do things like that with students.”
“If we thought you did, we wouldn’t be here.” Vicki added, “But we haven’t been your students for fifteen years. And we’re all consenting adults.”
Vicki held up her hand to suggest that she wasn’t done. “When I first met you, I was fourteen, and you were twenty-eight. Right away I liked you. I thought you were a wonderful man, but frankly, you were twice my age. Ancient. And you were happily married. And you weren’t about to touch one of your students. Now I’m thirty-three and you’re forty-seven. Healthy. Interesting. Attractive. I don’t see that age is a problem.”
John shook his head. “I thought we were talking about Beth?”
“We were. I am. But before she gets back I want to talk about us.”
“Us. What us?”
“Ten years ago. The night Beth and I came over. You kissed me. We’d been fighting about that whole State Tournament fiasco. We got drunk. And you kissed me. What was that about?”
“Ten years ago you’d just gotten out of college. You were talking about moving to France. My wife was dead, and I hadn’t been with a woman in over a year. And as you have pointed out, we were very drunk. So I kissed you. And if I’m not mistaken, you kissed me back.” He looked at his drink, reconsidered, and set in down on the coffee table. “I still shouldn’t have.”
“I’m glad you did. I thought I made that very clear when I wrote you that note from Paris. I always had a crush on you. I wasn’t sure I’d see you again. I wanted to know what it would be like.” She knew she shouldn’t say any more. “You kissed Beth, too.”
He nodded. “I did. She was rather insistent.” He laughed. “But you…. I wanted to do more than kiss you.”
“Instead you tucked us in on your couches and went to bed and probably jacked off like a banshee.”
“I have no idea how a banshee jerks off,” he said flatly. There was some truth in what she said.
“Beth is my best friend. Do this for me. Take her upstairs and give her a baby.”
“You’d be all right with that?”
“Yes. I think I am. She’s ovulating. She’s horny. She is really quite frisky in bed, so I don’t think you’ll regret it.”
“Then what happens?”
“Let her sleep. She always falls asleep after sex. When she does, come back to me. I’ll make coffee, and we can talk.”
“You and I knew each other fifteen years ago. We both know there was an attraction. I think there still is. But we don’t know each other anymore. I think it’s time we started a conversation.”
“And if I say no?”
“Why would you?” John shook his head. He wanted to talk as much as she did. He never thought he’d have this chance.
“If I did have sex with her, it would be all about lust. I don’t have feeling for Beth.”
“I think she’d be more comfortable knowing that. She still hopes to get back together with Brad. And who knows, maybe it will work this time.”
“And your plans?”
“My father is getting ready to retire. He’s made a bucket of money. He’s thinking about running for office. He wants me to come back here so he can train me to run the company. Three months from now I’ll probably be back in town. We’ll have time. We can take things slowly. Get to know each other.” She noticed John was starting at her legs. “Introduce you to my left foot.”
“You suddenly sound very sober.”
“I feel very sober, but if you go upstairs with Beth to fuck, I can guarantee you I won’t be sober when you get back.”
John laughed, but Vicki wasn’t joking. “You’ll need to make me a pot of coffee as soon as you come down, and take my hand, and reassure me that it was a horrible experience that you didn’t enjoy at all. And then we’ll sit on the bench in the bay window and catch up on a decade apart while we wait for the sunrise to creep over the river.”
John remembered sitting with her in the bay window ten years ago, but so much had changed since then.
“And when we are both sober, and the time is right, we’ll kiss again. And we probably won’t stop until it’s time for me to drive Beth back to Eau Claire. And she’ll just have to deal with that.”
“What will I have to deal with?” Beth said loudly from the doorway. She had a fresh pitcher of gin and tonics in one hand and her glass in the other. Somewhere on the way back from the kitchen, she’d misplaced her dress. She stood there, topless, wearing only her pink lace panties and thigh high stockings. She’d put back on her heels.
“This man’s lust for you. You’ll have to deal with it.”
“No problem.” She looked at the front stairway. “Is your bedroom up there?”
She started for the stairway. Then she turned and saw he hadn’t moved. “So, are you coming?”
“Just getting my glass.”
“How about you, Vicki?”
“I’d only get in the way. You know that three-ways aren’t my thing. Wake me when you’re done.”
“You’ve got that right.”
Vicki watched them climb the stairs. Bromley hopped up on the couch beside her. She heard laughter. Then sensed the moment the two of them settled on the bed on the floor above her. She tried to imagine John naked. She wondered what he would taste like. Wondered if the real man he was would ever match the imagined one she’d created for him. She suspected that after a time it wouldn’t matter.
She heard the bed creaking and the moans drifting down from upstairs. “Go, John! Fuck her good!” she said softly. “Do it right the first time so I don’t have to go through this again. Make Beth a baby.” She didn’t think she could stand it doing this again.
Vicki got up in search of more gin. There would be plenty of time later for coffee.