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Rainy Days and Writer’s Block: a Served With tale

Thank God for rain.

If it hadn’t been coming down in cats and dogs all morning, I’d have just given in to the writer’s block, gone rock climbing, and pissed off my agent a little more.

The summer monsoon forced me to stay inside. Well,sort of. I left the house long  enough to get to Sufficient Grounds, my favorite coffee house. It’s my favorite because of two things: white chocolate mocha and the Loft, the upper level of the place where, on weekdays like this, I can commune with my Muse in peace.

No laundry begging to be folded. No bathrooms to clean. No floors to be vacuumed.

And because Mother Nature was so kind as to create today’s frog strangler, I had not only blown through the writer’s block and completed chapter three, but chapters four and five as well.

I removed my square framed glasses and rubbed my eyes, and then pushed my hair out of my face. A glance at the clock in the upper right hand corner of my iBook tells me I’ve been here for two and a half hours. From the knot in my neck, I’d have figured more like five hours.

“Ouch,” I winced, as I straightened and stretched.
Parts of my spine crackled.

It was then I noticed I was not alone.

Halfway across the Loft, between two piles of books, a pair of bespectacled blue eyes glanced up at me from a spiral notebook. Their owner offered me a soft smile.

“I was wondering when you were going to come up for air,” he said, before returning to his task of jotting notes.

“You were?” I grinned.

“You have to be one of the most incredibly focused people I’ve ever seen,” he continued, though his brow furrowed and he rifled through papers before finally sliding a folded sheet out of one of the books.

“You’re catching me on a good day. Normally I’m somewhere out around Aldebaran.”

He froze in his task. His head snapped up at the word Aldebaran.

I raised my eyebrows. “Was it something I said?”

“Uh, no. Not really,” he said, closing his eyes and shaking his head. “I thought you said you were from Aldebaran.”

I laughed.

“No, sir. I just visit once in a while.” My answer only seemed to confuse him more. “I’m a science fiction writer,” I clarified.

“Oh,” he smiled. “Do you have a military background?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

“Well, you did just call me ‘sir.’ And your clothing…”

I was a little amused he’d noticed that much about me. I glanced down at my black sleeveless t-shirt – sleeveless because I’d cut the sleeves off of it and
removed the neckline as well – olive cargo Capri’s, and bright blue waterproof sandals.

“Well, let’s just say it’s reminiscent of an Air Force uniform,” he concluded.

“I don’t think it’s standard issue,” I laughed. “And neither am I, for that matter.”

“I kind of figured that.”

I could feel the heat of self-consciousness rise in my cheeks, and I just smiled, looking anywhere but at him as I stood up.

“I’ve studied martial arts for ten years,” I explained in a rush. “It’s always sir or ma’am in the dojo, and it’s become a bit of a habit with me.”

I walked quickly past him and down the stairs for another round.

MJ, the petite blonde barista, was already at work on another mocha.

“I’m impressed,” she said in a conspiratorial fashion.

“About what?”

“You actually got a conversation out of him.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Jackson.”

“Doctor?” I echoed. “Doctor of what?”

MJ shrugged. “Not sure. He usually has books on foreign languages with him though.”

I glanced up toward the Loft. “Interesting.”

“He’s been here before when you have.”

“Really? Dang, where have I been?”

“Anywhere but planet Earth. Whipped cream?” She asked.

“Hey, this is me you’re talking to!”

“I know. Force of habit. I don’t know how you stay so skinny drinking these things.” MJ swirled two inches of the white stuff on top of the mocha. I picked up
the 500-calorie caffeine bomb and was about to head back upstairs when I asked, “What’s he drinking?”

“Café Americano, grande.”

“Make another one,” I smiled.

Three minutes later, I trotted back up the stairs. He now had two books open in front of him, apparently cross-referencing something. As I walked past the mysterious Dr. Jackson, I slid the Americano into his peripheral vision. He did a double take, looking at the coffee then up at me. I glanced over my shoulder and winked at him, flirt that I am.

He’s got some nice biceps on him, I thought, admiring the way the navy blue t-shirt showed them off. I had to remember to check out the lower half on his way out the door. I’ll be those khakis did wonders for him.

I tucked my left leg under me and sat down.

My screen saver had activated, which struck me as odd because I hadn’t been gone that long.

I ran my finger over the touch pad.

The sliding images of galaxies and planets disappeared revealing large blue letters.

Hi, I’m Daniel. Can I take you to dinner sometime?

It took me a minute to piece together who “Daniel” was.

I looked up at my fellow loft dweller, who now sat with his arms crossed on his table, a benign smile on his face.

I noticed that the rain has stopped, and the sun had come out.
 
LizBeth
 
*****

I was only in prison for about eight days.

Oh – I’m sorry! I thought that was all you needed to know. You see, about three months ago our local governor went mad, declared himself a god if you can believe it, and began passing decrees banning whatever offended him on any given day. One of those was "any holy order which does not worship me", and since I’m a Brown Priest, well... I mean, we officially shut the monastery, but of course we continued to serve our community as best we could. I was caught distributing fruit from our orchards in the poor quarter of the city. In any case, an uprising had been in the planning stages for a while, and I was jailed only about a week before it was scheduled to take place. The governor was arrested and hanged, and I was released – the prisons were emptied, actually – only
about eight days after I was taken in.

The new guards on duty, the ones who had replaced the governor’s men, were surprised that I turned around and went farther into the prison once I was released, instead of leaving. What can I say? I was a priest, I had vows to uphold, and I was needed. I was tired, hungry, and in dire need of a bath, but I can’t really say that I suffered. There were prisoners who had been in there since the beginning of the entire nightmare, beaten or starved or both, people who had gotten sick, who were too weak to walk out of the jail now that they were free.

So, with my first steps out of the jail, I carried a little girl (a child! in prison!), and led about a dozen other prisoners up the street to the monastery. Half of them were leaning on one another for support; it was slow going, but we made it. Not all of my brothers and sisters had been arrested, so by the time we got there the buildings had been reopened, and by evening, we had turned our little chapel into an infirmary, and filled the inner courtyard with about sixty people who still needed shelter.

There was one prisoner – I shouldn’t call him that, it makes him sound like a criminal – there was one man who had been jailed with us who stands out in my memory. He was foreign, that much was obvious. His hair was cut wrong, his skin was too light, he was too tall to be one of us; I wonder now if that was why he’d been jailed. But what I really remember about him was the way he seemed to turn up everywhere that I went. When I was in the prison, guiding people out the door into the light, he was right there – and I made at least three different trips down and back that day. On the walks in between, when someone stumbled, weak with hunger or illness, half the time he got to them before I did, helping them to their feet. Back at the monastery, I remember we were getting pallets out of storage and bringing them to the chapel for the sick and the wounded – and there he was again, lugging piles of blankets down, moving prayer benches out of the way, and anything else that we monks and priests were doing. He didn’t understand a word we said, but he certainly understood what needed to be done.

By midnight, we’d managed to get everybody pretty well organized, and I was looking around to see what else needed to be done when I suddenly found the abbess’s hands on my shoulders, steering me bodily toward the monastery kitchens. "Enough," she said. "I’ve set up shifts, and yours just finished. I don’t want to see you again until you’ve gotten a meal, a good sleep, and another meal into you." Well.

Standing alone in the kitchen, the stillness rolled over me like a prayer of blessing. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and as I exhaled I went from "alert and ready to serve" to "weaving on my feet." I guess the abbess knew what she was talking about. I rinsed my hands at the pump; then, with a yawn, I shuffled over to the cupboards and started rummaging. Bread, I thought. Bread would be good, right before bed. There was a noise behind me, and I turned to see the abbess pushing the foreign man through the doorway. She sat him down at the kitchen table and shook her head at us both. "He’s as stubborn about quitting as you are," she said. "And probably starving. Could you see that he eats, and find him someplace to sleep when you go?"

So I handed him the hunk of bread I’d torn off the loaf, and started to turn back around and go hunting for drinking cups, but to my shock the poor man fell on the bread like it was the first food he’d seen in weeks. His hands were filthy (actually he was filthy from head to toe), and his wrists were bruised and scraped as if manacles had cut into them, and I realized, he’d been chained up like some kind of animal, for who knows how long. I hadn’t been chained... And now here he was, literally shoving bites of bread into his mouth as fast as he could chew them; he made this sound, this desperate little noise in the back of his throat as he ate. My jaw dropped when he started picking the crumbs off the table and eating them, too.

I handed him a cup of water from the pump, and gave him half the loaf to eat while I looked for something else to give him. On the shelf I spotted some fruit that had come in from our orchards, fresh and juicy, and as soon as I smelled that I realized that I hadn’t had a decent meal in eight days. Now I was flinging the cupboards open and pulling out everything I could find – there was cheese, mild and soft, and here was a crock of milk that the farmers must have delivered as soon as we’d reopened our doors, and HERE was a pot of broth that hadn’t completely cooled off yet, and I was ravenous and I wanted it ALL.

So did he; we stuffed ourselves together, and he ate three times as much as I did. Well, no surprise there, I suppose; every man I’ve ever met could eat double my usual share without even trying. He sliced the cheese, I peeled the fruit, we took turns refilling our bowls with broth and our cups with milk... and somewhere along the way, we became friends. Don’t get me wrong; neither one of us could understand a word the other was saying. Maybe it was just the food making us both mellow, or maybe it was the celebration together of finally, finally being in a place that was safe and peaceful again. It doesn’t matter. I believe we became friends, and I think he felt the same thing.

At some point I started teaching him the names of the different things we were eating, and he smiled at me... and oh, my goodness. Yes, he was foreign, but his blue eyes were bright with intelligence and kindness, and his smile – half shy, almost – oh, that smile could draw in anybody, if he wanted it to, I think. I remember being very grateful, just for a moment, that my order doesn’t require its priests to become celibate. Silly thoughts in an exhausted head. At long last, we pushed ourselves away from the table and staggered off to the courtyard to find him an empty pallet to sleep on. By the time we got there, he was nearly asleep on his feet, but as I turned to go, he roused himself enough to tap me on the shoulder.

"Cup," he said. His hands made a little bowl shape.

"Yes. Cup," I answered. He pointed to me and looked a question... oh, of course, I thought. "Hanis," I said.

"Hanis." He smiled at me, and touched his own chest.
"Daniel."

"Daniel," I answered. How foreign-sounding. "Good night, Daniel."

I made my way to my little chamber, and right before I lay down, I remember thinking, "Daniel. That’s a nice name." And then I was asleep.

Peaceheather
 
*****

I work in a hospital. It's nothing like the glamorous doctors and nurses on TV. No, I'm a file clerk in medical records. We're still in the stone age with paper charts. But that's not the story here.

I'm also the kind of person who always knows where they are and how to get to places. People stop me on the street and ask for directions. At the hospital, I direct the lost-looking people to where they need to go. There are signs, but between the old building and the new, it's easy to get turned around. Add to that the seismic retrofit that's going on, and even those of us who work there get lost!

I'm getting away from the story again. Sorry.

I was on my was to work when I came across a man with that desperately lost look on his face.

"Can I help you?"
"Yes! Please. My friends were in an accident and taken here. I'm trying to find their rooms," he told me.
"Do you know where they're supposed to be?"
"Ah, something called 'third west'? Does that mean anything to you?"
"Yes. That's third floor, west wing. Take the elevator at the end of this corridor to the third floor and turn right."
"Thank you!"

It was after he hurried off that I realized how cute he was! Tall, with blue eyes and glasses. (I tend to like men with glasses) He was well built, but not too muscled and not too skinny and rather nicely dressed. Oh well, I never get a break with the cute ones.

At lunch, I went up to the cafeteria for something to drink with my meager sandwich. Soda was out of the question since it's always too sweet to me. I grabbed a carton of milk and got in line to pay for it. I felt a touch to my arm and turned, expecting a friend from another department. to find the cute guy with blue eyes behind me. It looked like he came for a cup of coffee.

"I want to thank you again for helping me," he said.
"Hey, it was no problem. I'm always glad to help. How are your friends?"
"Not as bad as I was lead to believe. They're being kept overnight and will be discharged tomorrow."
"That's good news!" I said and then it was my turn with the cashier.
"Do you have to get beck to work?"
"I'm on my lunch break, but my lunch is back in my break room. I just came up here for some milk."
"I would like to tell your supervisor how helpful you've been to me."
I found a scrap of paper in the recycling bin and wrote the name of my boss and her phone number on it.
"This is her name and phone number. She's the Assistant Director of Medical Records. She's got voice mail if you can't talk to her personally."
"I'll need your name too."
I felt so stupid. I probably blushed as well.
"It's Nancy. I'm the only one in the department so she'll know who you're talking about."
"An what time do you get off work?"
"She knows what time I get off."
"I don't. I'd like to take you out to dinner if I could. Will you join me? I'm only in town for my friends and I'd hate to eat alone tonight," he said with both his mouth and his eyes smiling at me.
"I get off at 4:30."
"How about I pick you up where you rescued me this morning?"
"Sure. Do I get your name?"
"It's Daniel."

I'm glad this was a Friday night because I didn't quite make it home at a decent hour.

Katie

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