A cool wind blew in from Puget Sound, toward the northern end of Seattle’s docks. . . well, the stiff breeze was probably hitting the entire shore, but right now the temperature near Pioneer Square was of absolutely no consequence, at least to the people in this story.
I yawned as I waited for my companion on this trip to arrive. Not a morning person by any means, and still an hour away from a possible nap on the ferry, I was trying not to feel ornery, while wondering what in my childhood made me so obsessive about being on time, or rather, early to all appointments. Not like I had a German nanny, or any nanny, growing up. . .
Luckily those thoughts didn’t last long, and since my eyes were open anyways, I took out my camera to see if there was any possibility at all of finding a new angle from which to shoot the Space Needle.
And then the car arrived, and she stepped out of the back seat, trying with every bit of muscle control to make it appear smooth and effortless. I’d always liked that about her, that she somehow managed to be both strong and graceful. Look at what you’re missing, men of the world. I’m worth something.
Not that such thoughts were at all conscious in Alanna’s mind, but it wasn’t just my projections either. She was a fascinating stew of contradictions, a tightrope she walked as naturally and gracefully as she moved through the world.
She fascinated me. Forget about her beauty–it was her spirit. . .
All of which added to what I expected to be a fun trip ahead.
I did not hesitate on my way to a hug, ignoring the other gals coming out of the car. “I know I shouldn’t be thinking this, but you really smell good!”
“Thanks anyway!” she chuckled. Already having fun, she patted me on the shoulder while adding, “At least you didn’t lie about me being beautiful this time.”
I sighed. “After a while this false modesty shit wears thin. Now, repeat after me: I am a hottie.”
Grinning, and surprising her friends, who were still standing around gawking, she did. She truly was beautiful, she just couldn’t admit it to herself. Which I liked about her, but only so much.
Breaking into that wide smile that had given her some small laugh lines as a teen, she beamed, “I’m so happy to see ya I can’t think of one smart-alecky remark!”
Pleased that she felt the same way, I took advantage of my camera already being out to snap a quick shot, which caused her to stick her tongue out–I’d shot that tongue many times before–and then go back to her friends for a group mug.
Not that I saw any of the other gals, past making sure they were in the shot. Most guys would feel the same way, with Alanna being every inch of six feet highlighted by a blonde braid at least half as long, a waist-length plait of the most beautiful flaxen hair nature ever created. Striking eyes and relatively delicate features, considering the rest of her, only highlighted her beauty.
Finally she said her goodbyes and strapped on her giant backpack. I was already waiting for her at the ramp, bags secured and tickets in hand. She blushed a little, for reasons she’d never be able to explain even to herself, and joined me.
Once again, as she walked in my direction, I noticed the gracefulness of her strides that I had often tried to photograph, mostly without success. She was a six-foot ballerina, and as I let her go first and took in the braid, I remembered the first time we met, and the little joke I told her: she’d stared blankly for a moment, then gave me a smile that made me catch my breath.
“Oh, you’re a blusher! Good. My record for making a girl blush in one day is 43. It’s a late start this afternoon, but we can at least try. Good, there’s #2.”
“Still the same one!” she tried to squeak.
That had been so many years ago, but in many ways our relationship hadn’t changed.
“You remembering that first time too?”
She smiled; just like that, she relaxed.
A few minutes of silent walking later we’d found our seats, and she graciously gave me the window, since she knew Seattle very well and was planning to wander outside once we reached the islands. But of course we had to put our bags away first, giving me a chance to check out her muscular bottom and braid in the same glance. As was my wont, I reached out and lightly pulled on it.
I couldn’t see it, but knew she was smiling. “You’ve got a braid fetish, boy.”
“It makes you look innocent.”
She turned and raised an eyebrow, obviously trying to change said appearance. “Whadya mean, look?”
“You were never innocent.”
“I’m still innocent,” she insisted, but not that hard. “And you must have had the fetish before you met me.”
“You are not my first braid babe,” I acknowledged, waiting for her to smile before adding, “in Seattle.”
Her eyes widened, and she turned her body to face me.
Sighing, I knew there was no way he was going to tell her about that volleyball player, but luckily I had another place I could go with that, which would entertain her a lot more. And she knew the girl in the story too, an added bonus.
And of course at the end she had to ask, grinning, “So, did you sleep with her?”
I could only sigh, even though I’d expected it.
“That answers that, I suppose.”
“Wish it was that simple. She was giving me the hard-to-get routine, then finally came out and asked about you and me.”
Gasp. “Oh no!”
“Yep. I told her we were just friends, hoping that would put the issue to rest. But she actually became less interested after that. I thought she was one of those people who was only interested in the chase, or hated you and was trying to piss you off, but then I realized that she was assuming I was gay.”
She choked slightly on her water bottle. “You? You, of all people? Oh no!”
“Straight up.” I gazed back at her with a slight smile, sighing happily. “Guess you owe me one. . .”
That made her laugh hysterically for the next ten minutes, but I didn’t mind. Her body was fun to watch as it shook. . .
“Of course, it’s likely none of that would have happened if she went with a simple ponytail.”
A rolling of the eyes. “This is starting to sound obsessive.”
“You shouldn’t take it that way. I love your braid, but I don’t love you because of your braid.”
She didn’t think I meant love in that way, so she ignored that. Luckily the boat gave a jolt and she instinctively looked out the window. But then the woman who’d sat down on her other side gave a loud grumble, enough for the big blonde, always a good girl, to ask if she was all right.
“They told me I would get a great view of the pin, but the rain obscured it,” she whined.
“You know.” Impatiently she waved toward the back of the boat. “Seattle’s famous pin.”
Trying not to laugh and spoil the fun, I wondered at what point she would realize the woman meant needle, as in Space Needle. This could go on till we reached Victoria. . .
Then she looked over at me, saw me trying not to laugh, and got it in that instant.
“You’re too smart for your own good,” I sighed. “C’mon, let’s go upstairs.”
Up we went, her taking the stairs like a football drill and me following with considerably less enthusiasm. Luckily it was a small fast ferry, no cars, so we didn’t have to climb four stories to get to the open-air deck.
As I expected, as soon as we found an empty railing spot she started up with James Bond trivia, and with our extensive knowledge, and having watched the movies together so often, it took a while to get back on track, if an ocean-going vessel could be said to be on a track, outside of Disneyland.
“Whatever,” she finally huffed, though she should have anticipated I’d know more about redheaded Bond girls than her. On the other hand, she was still bouncing from the excitement of the trip, putting her forearms down on the railing and looking out at the water and the islands they we were already starting to thread through.
“Don’t break through the railing, big girl.”
She gasped in an unfamiliar girlish way. “You don’t think I’m fat, do ya?”
I smacked the back of her thigh, eliciting a more natural startled gasp. “Pure muscle. Anyone says different, I kick their ass.”
She grinned and wrapped an arm around my shoulders; yeah, she had quite a wingspan. “You’re a good friend.”
“There can be no greater honor in this world.”
She blushed, something she really wasn’t all that prone to doing anymore. . . so she kept telling herself. Bored, she told me she was going back down for a nap. By the time I joined her she was fast asleep, with a mischievous smile. She did not tell me her dreams when she awoke, which was much later than she’d expected; no power nap here. Yawing, she noticed I was playing a video game. . . blink blink. She must still be asleep, because she knew I hated video games, especially hand held ones.
Craning closer, she finally noticed it was chess. Okay, that made sense.
“Ex-girlfriend got it for me,” I told her absently. “Then she complained I’d rather play it than talk to her. Me, the guy she called sensitive!”
“It ain’t fair,” she laughed. “I gotta meet her.”
“That’s what they all say,” I muttered.
“Sure. Can that thing play two?”
“Yeah.” I flicked a few buttons and let her move first; she thought that was very gracious of me. The rest of the game was not, though she tried to convince herself she’d made a good showing. After eliciting a promise of another game soon, she consented to a scrounging expedition for breakfast.
On the way up she mused, “I wonder why they call it checkmate,” then winced at my grin.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Might as well.” Sigh.
“It comes from the Arabic shah mat, which literally means the king is dead.”
She brightened. “So that Iranian ruler who was called a Shah. . . he was really being called a king, right?”
Always happy at having learned something, she checked the menu with her usual big ol’ smile. Knowing something like pancakes and eggs was iffy in such a place, she stated that it was hard to ruin cereal, then watched in dismay as I sampled the bacon. Eager to change the subject, she went with, “Gloria really thought you were gay?”
“You’ll have to ask her. You can always tell her she doesn’t know what she missed.”
“How would I know that myself? Okay then, since I owe ya a gal, how ‘bout that chick over there?”
I sighed. “You’re perfect. I hold everyone to your standard, so I’m doomed to spend my life alone.”
She sighed too, though not dramatically enough to warn me before she said, “If only you meant that. . .”
“Eat your cereal.”
“Yes boss.” Seated by a big window, she watched more islands slip by. “I can’t believe I’ve never taken this trip before. It’s so beautiful. I could live here.”
“Sure, just takes a couple of million.”
“Yeah, I know a millionaire who lives on Orcas. Maybe we can visit her after this is done.”
“Her?” Blonde eyebrows waggled.
“You expect hints when you never give them?”
“Oh darn, ya caught me,” she deadpanned.
As though to punish her for not taking that seriously, I shrugged and turned around to converse with the German-speaking young babes behind me. I’d been following the conversation and had an instant in. . .
Alanna had childishly thought giving me the cold shoulder would teach me not to treat her in such a way, but so far I didn’t seem to be getting the message, damn him and all men. Why, I even seemed to be flirting with those tourists. . . in German! She tried to pretend the blondes were laughing because they couldn’t figure out what I was saying, but that didn’t work either.
Stop it! she told herself. You’re acting like he’s your boyfriend!
That was a cold bucket of water to the braid, or rather the scalp under it.
There, that should just about do it, I grinned to myself as I told the German gals I’d be right back. Alanna was good at learning lessons, and I figured this was enough to show her the error of her ways, and to keep her from being a “typical” woman, as I liked to call her whenever she annoyed me, because it never ceased to annoy her back.
Not bothering to wonder why a split–whatever that was–of champagne was listed under breakfast items, I bought some for the German girls and left them to their own devices, just to see if they’d get jealous when they saw Alanna.
Who was beaming as I returned to the table.
“I have been thinking,” she announced, then quickly continued before I went there, “and I know exactly what chick to give you as a makeup. She’s not even a chick, she’s my cousin. Her name’s Sharon and she lives in El Lay.”
“Is she anything like you?”
“I’m easily the tallest in my family, and she’s delightfully slim, but we do look alike, at least I think so. Look her up when you get back. You deserve it.”
I grinned, then mimicked her “You’re such a good friend. . .”
She hooted. “I was so sure you were going to say ‘Does she?’”
“I used that one last time.”
“Hard to keep track. For instance, every time I ask if they’re gonna make a movie about your life, you always tell me the perfect actor is busy, but it’s a different actor each time.”
“Who would play you?”
“Julia Roberts,” came the prompt reply, as if she’d been waiting for the opportunity.
My snort took her by surprise. “How ‘bout someone pretty? And blonde.”
“What’s your suggestion?”
“Daryl Hannah, Splash version.”
She was stunned. . . but I knew she loved it.
Hmmm, I knew a shop in Seattle that sold mermaid stuff. . .
The time slipped by quickly, mostly with another game of pocket chess, then listening to music with the double jack on my MP3 player when the ship made a right turn into the harbor, hopefully checking to make sure no float planes were coming in for a landing. Finding it fitting, I played On the Beautiful Blue Danube, timing it perfectly, the music swelling and building joyously and the final climax occurring just as we docked. She wondered how many times I’d seen 2001: Space Odyssey.
Well, maybe it only took one. . .
“I woulda hated the Victorian age,” she whispered, just to see if I smiled.
Because we weren’t lugging much gear, and because I knew the way so well, it was less than a ten minute walk to the hotel, and less than five minutes at the front desk, and suddenly we were in our room. She laughed at the fact I’d only gotten one room, but with two beds.
“I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m gay.”
She hooted at that one as she unpacked, as usual for a female staking out the counter space and drawers as quickly as she could. “I just repaid you for the other one, and I don’t have any other single gorgeous family members.”
“Hmmm. I might have to check that for myself. . .”
I saw her blush, but decided to leave it for later, since that was always a good tease. Despite her personality, she really wasn’t a girly-girl.
Knowing I’d noticed, but anxious not to go there, she quickly asked, “Did you know my middle name is Shannon?”
“But Shannon’s a redhead’s name.”
“Oh. Okay, I’ll bow to your expertise about redheads, especially Irish ones. Lunchtime yet?”
“Sure. On to the French fry place.”
Grinning widely, she hugged me from behind for knowing her so well. And I knew her so well he expected the hug, and therefore did not instinctively flip her over my head as I’d often done when surprised in such a manner.
“Just a few blocks away.” I knew her favorite food was French fries, but since I’d been planning to go that way anyhow. . .
“Did you say Big Mac cheese only?” came the voice from the back, once my order had been passed along and she’d remarked on how quickly we’d gotten there.
A short-haired blonde popped her head into the opening. “Hi, Paul!”
“Hey, Andy. Can’t believe you’re still working here.”
“Yeah, I get to study more than manage. Extra cheese, no doubt?”
“What’s all that about?” Alanna whispered. “As if I don’t know. She’s cute.”
“First time I came here, I ordered my usual. She found it most unusual–she likes to quote Audrey Hepburn–so she asked if I’d like extra cheese to make up for all the stuff I didn’t want. Of course I said yes. That’s never happened anywhere else. Just goes to show how Canadians are.”
She nodded happily. “I hope to someday be an honorary Canadian.”
“You already are. You just have to ace the test.”
Only a couple of minutes later the manager, who turned out to be shorter and thinner than Alanna had imagined, came out front to hand-deliver the Big Mac, giving me a hug and kiss on the cheek while still managing to throw a clinical eyeballing over his companion. “Not too shabby, you louse. Though some makeup would fix that washed-out blonde look; you really oughtta spend more than five bucks on a haircut. I don’t bother, but if I had your potential, I might make the effort.”
“Guys like me just fine,” Alanna replied through gritted teeth. “Besides, I have no time for dating right now, and this hair says no long before they ask. And I also want to set the record for longest blonde braid.” That was one of my lines, but she figured I wouldn’t mind.
The girl looked doubtful, making Alanna rethink the whole “honorary Canadian” thing, because that hadn’t been a nice thing for a Canuck to say. But she wouldn’t give in and lose her own niceness, instead smiling through her teeth and asking the way to the ladies’ room.
Remembering she was representing the entire multinational conglomerate, Andy pointed the way nicely, then grumbled, “What’s she got that I don’t?”
I smiled down fondly at my absolutely gorgeous local blonde friend. “About an extra foot, both in height and braid.”
She shook her head sadly. “You’re weird.”
“So I’m told. But no weirder than a McDonald’s with a chandelier.”
Embracing that supposed lunacy, she looked up and recited, “Thirty thousand dollars, American. Left over from when this was a bank.”
Unlike most women, Alanna was back quickly–it certainly couldn’t be out of jealousy, not wanting to leave me alone with a rival–and immediately munched on the first set of fries, waving bye-bye at Andy and walking out, not bothering to see if I was right behind her.
“That woulda been awesome,” I smirked as I caught up with her, after a big tight Andy hug, “had you actually been my girlfriend. But at least this proves, conclusively, that you are indeed a girly-girl. No denying it now.”
“How can you possibly think that?” she barked a laugh. “Look at me. My body’s so big and muscular. I’m a tomboy.”
“The fact that you’re obsessing about your body proves you’re a girly-girl.”
She grinned, though realizing she’d left that way too easy. “Okay, so we’re not going back there for dinner. I’m sure you know real restaurants in town.”
“There’s a place where you can get cockroach-of-the-sea for twelve dollars Canadian.”
“Breakfast, lunch, and dinner!” she whooped.
“While I go back there and study the chandelier.”
“And a certain blonde?” she asked with eyes narrowed. For some reason, she wasn’t feeling good about the thought of me wanting to return. She didn’t know why, although she wondered why the Gin Blossoms’ song “Hey Jealousy” kept playing in her head. Trying to get back on track, she perkily asked “Ever give her any of your happy juice?” much too perkily for a six-footer.
I thought of her as a closet gymnast. “A gentleman never tells.”
“And neither do you.” Grinning at beating me to the punch line, she quickly moved to the side to avoid the pinch she knew was coming, and ran into someone. Though she managed to hold on to the fries, she still felt the need to apologize profusely, despite the black woman smiling at her.
“Do not worry,” the woman told the tall blonde in such a refined accent that I instinctively knew she’d been raised in Africa or the Caribbean and received schooling in England. “Where I am from it is so crowded we. . .” She suddenly frowned, unable to think of an appropriate metaphor.
“I am from the former Abyssinia.”
“Wow, you’re a long way from home,” Alanna allowed, and the woman smiled again before bidding goodbye. I almost farewell’ed her in Italian, then decided against it.
Feeling better now, and looking around like a true tourist, Alanna asked, “So, where are we going?”
“A place I haven’t been to in far too long.”
“You gonna tell me?”
“I’ll tell the cabbie, if we find one. Cover your ears if you want to be surprised.”
She noticed the cab first, hailed it, and jumped in before I could say another word, then felt foolish as the driver grinned at her. But all was fine when she heard me say, “Observatory, please. And there’s an extra hundred if you wait for us.”
The cabbie got into gear and looked to be mentally calculating. “Deal.”
Alanna grinned for no reason, then said, “You’re the only person who knows me so well.”
“Don’t pretend. No one else believes me when they hear this English lit major likes to study the stars.”
“I question the first part of that statement, considering you only pretended to know what Abyssinia was. And no, you didn’t fool that lady either.”
“I know,” she laughed, “but I never claimed to be a geography expert, you geography expert you.”
“Don’t pretend,” I mimicked her well enough to make the cabbie laugh. “You know better.”
“Okay, I know,” she did her best contrite, which wasn’t much. “I admit it sounds damn familiar!”
“‘A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision I once saw; she was an Abyssinian maid, and on her dulcimer she played, singing of Mount Abora.’”
“Not so nice if you can’t remember what it’s from!”
“Wrong!. . . well, half right for getting the author.”
“Damn, I was gonna say that,” the cabbie groused.
tbc. . .