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In Stereo Where Available

Phoebe Kassner didn’t set out to become a 29-year-old virgin, but she is, and, having just been dumped by her boyfriend, she doesn’t see that situation changing anytime soon. Meanwhile, her twin sister Madison—aspiring actress, small-time model, and queen of … Continue reading »

Plum Blossoms in Paris

When he told me he no longer loved me, I fell to my knees. I know. Even I was conscious of caving to melodrama as I collapsed toward the pea-puke, paisley carpet. I offered my forehead like a fallen prayer to the floor, and when my new roommate, smiley Selena, came in, that’s where she found me—nose to spit, prostrate with misery. She took the scene in, and since we never had much to say to one another (her bumper sticker cheeps, Abstinence Rocks!), she just as efficiently turned to leave. I never appreciated anyone’s callousness so much in all my life. Where was the mysterious lover, the dumper, in all of this? Five hundred miles away, numbing his nerves with alcohol—or so I want to believe. He could have been taking a nap, jacking off, or studying for a test. It was not within my power to know. I should have mentioned, from the start, that he was a slippery, sucker-punching coward. He broke up with me, in spite of a six-year relationship, by e-mail. A nice, clean channel of cyberspace, where messy conflict does not compute. He apologized for this, of course. I know I should tell you this myself, but I’m afraid the sound of your voice might prevent me from speaking the absolute truth. I know you would only want me to be honest; I respect you too much for anything less. I felt very respected by that chummy, conjugal semicolon. So respected, I nearly vomited on Selena’s pile of Cosmopolitans stacked neatly against the couch. After a moment, or a lifetime, I looked up. My laptop blinked sanguinely at me from the coffee table. The mouse was grimed up with powdered cheese from the chips I still tasted. There were other artifacts of a familiar life—my favorite coffee mug (Naturally Selected to be Awesome!), a worn Neuroscience textbook, a framed picture of Irene and me swooning for Bono, and the latest untouched offering from my father—W. Somerset Maugham’s A Razor’s Edge. But I mostly just saw Andy’s words. In brutal black and white. I felt assaulted. But, if I’m honest, also the faintest exultation. My body, unaccustomed to anything but the paperwork of living, flickered to life. My stomach bubbled. Senses sharpened. I was conscious of the smallness of my hands braced, like bird’s feet, across the carpet, as my lungs tugged for more oxygen. The room’s molecules swirled in a chaotic dance while the faint scent of chemicals floated off my lab jacket and scratched at my nose. None of it could save me. Destruction can be the spark for a rebirth by fire, but I knew that all my body’s heightened defenses couldn’t keep me from just feeling burned. Not reborn. Read more. . .

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“Declined.” “Excuse me?”  Afia blinked at the quasi-Euro sales associate, a black-rimmed spectacled, chic-suited man who three minutes before had been all smiles and pleasantries. “Your privileges have been revoked, Ms. St. John.” The woman standing behind her in line snickered.  Afia blushed.  Exclusive shops such as Bernard’s treated their patrons like royalty.  So why did she suddenly feel like the rabble?  “There must be some mistake.” The associate retained a deadpan expression.  “Perhaps you’d like to try another card.” Her business manger, Henry Glick (a financial wizard according to her mother), had asked her to make all of her purchases on one specific credit card until further notice.  Something to do with interest rates and consolidation.  So seven months ago she’d handed over the bulk of her cards to Mr. Glick, except for the American Express that she’d tucked away for emergencies.  As her dignity was at stake just now, she considered this a genuine crisis.  Fishing her Gucci wallet out of her matching handbag, Afia handed the sales associate her backup card.  He slid her platinum plastic through the gizmo next to the cash register, starting the process all over again, leaving her to ponder the mystery of her “declined” Visa.  Obviously, the card was defective.  As soon as she got home she’d call Mr. Glick and have him order her a replacement. The clerk glanced up, with one haughty eyebrow raised, and a trace of a smirk playing at his glossed lips. Afia’s stomach clenched.  Stop looking at me like that. I haven’t done anything wrong. Continue reading »


He knocked. The door swung wide open. “Hi!” Even through his sunglasses, her smile was as bright as her neon pink lipstick. Her dimpled cheeks shimmered. Her brown eyes sparkled. Her pixie face, decorated with artfully applied glitter and rhinestones, radiated pure joy and whimsy. A crystal tiara winked at him through an upswept mass of wild, golden curls. She wore a pale pink, floor-length gown—corseted bodice, the skirt a voluminous mass of stiff crinoline. A gown befitting a princess.


A fairy-tale version anyway. “Hello,” Murphy said, hoping to hell she didn’t expect him to add Your Highness. “I’ll be with you in a minute.” She waved him inside the foyer and then turned and limped to the far side of what he assumed to be the living room. The only hints—a couch and a nineteen-inch television. He moved into the obscenely cluttered room, sliding his sunglasses to the top of his head for a clearer look. Scattered stuffed animals. Piles of books, videos, and dog-eared magazines. A Hula Hoop. Pink-wheeled roller skates and a Twister game. Walls of theater posters and cartoon art. Broadway meets Nickelodeon.


To top things off, the place reeked of lemons and bubble gum. Could a man OD on sunshine and lollipops? He focused on the princess, who was searching for something. Considering the disorganized state of the room, she could be looking forever. “Where is it?” she mumbled to the underside of a chair, its style and color indistinguishable as it was heaped with bolts of multi-colored, multi-textured fabrics—all of them accented with glitter or sequins or some sort of metallic trim. He sidestepped an overflowing sewing basket. “Can I help?” She straightened, red-faced and winded, her tiara askew. “That would be great.” She pursed her lips and her gaze darted from one pile to another. She’d yet to focus on Murphy. Yet to ask him who he was or what he was doing here. He could be a murderer or a rapist, and yet she’d invited him in without hesitation. No peep hole. No chain lock. No “Who’s there?” Just opened the door and invited him in. If Bogie was right, if she was in danger, she was oblivious. For the moment, he allowed her the fantasy.


“What are we looking for?” “A glass slipper.” “You’re joking.” “Well, it’s not really glass. More like acrylic or plastic. Whatever, it’s see-through.” She hiked the hem of her gown. “Pretty, huh?” Pretty sexy. Murphy admired her naked foot through the transparent pump. She stood lopsided, one shoe on, one shoe lost, her left heel elevated a good three inches above her right. Her toenails painted a frosty shade of pink. Cotton candy came to mind. “Where’s your bedroom?” She pointed to the staircase. “Second floor, third door on the right. But I already looked in there,” she shouted after him in her little girl voice. He did a visual sweep of the adjoining rooms, ascertained she was safe, and then jogged upstairs. He was back a minute later, glass slipper in hand. Navigating her bedroom had been amusing.


He’d been particularly intrigued by her queen-sized bed. Or rather the rainbow assortment of underwear piled next to a colorful collection of teddy bears. Tearing his mind away from her lingerie, he focused on the enigmatic princess. Stretched flat out on the floor, she groped under the sofa for her missing shoe. The hoop beneath her crinoline bowed up, allowing him a full view of her backside. Unfortunately, for him, she was wearing knee-length, ruffled bloomers. The scene struck him as comical. This woman struck him as comical. Bogie’s message did not. “Princess.” She whipped her head around. Though flushed, she looked exactly as she had when she’d greeted him at the door. Adorable. “You found it!” She bounced to her feet and hobbled toward him. “Where was it?” “Under your bed.” Continue reading »


Superstition Mountains: Arizona


Snake dead ahead.” “Rattlesnake. Just veer off and don’t provoke.” “Do I look like a bonehead?” Joseph Bogart peered over the rim of his UV shades at his adopted brother, Colin Murphy—former Marine/current protection specialist AKA major badass. The man not only veered off, but scaled a six-foot boulder in the rock-choked gully to bypass the basking serpent. Joe adjusted his own path, navigating a dense patch of desert chaparral and cactus, before delivering a good-natured rib. “Since when are you afraid of anything, let alone a snake?”


“Since a slithery bastard swam up my shorts in ’97. Don’t ask.” Murphy quickened his pace, borrowed hiking boots eating up the challenging terrain of the Siphon Draw – Flat Iron Trail despite the steep loose slope. “And I’m not afraid, just cautious.”


“Wuss.” Without turning, Murphy flipped him the bird. Smiling, Joe snagged his water bottle from the side pocket of his lightweight backpack and drank. Some things, gratefully, never changed. Even though their chosen careers had kept them apart for extended periods over the last twenty-odd-years, they were still in best buddy sync. “Gotta say, I miss you, Murph.”


“Easy fix.” The Irish-born, Italian-reared man turned and bullied him with one of those I’m-six-months-older-than-you-hence-I-am-wiser brother gazes. “Come home.” Damn, Bogart. Set yourself up, why don’t you? Just the thought of heading back to the east coast, dealing with family and ex-coworkers at the Bureau, bunched his neck muscles. He rolled his head to ease the kinks, pocketed the water bottle, and took the lead. “We’ve been through this.” Continue reading »