Pandora’s 2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

And Now For Something Completely Different

We’ll call this edition of Watch This Space a shameless plug.

I’m beginning to believe that writers are a completely neurotic lot.  When I was writing Luke & Bella: Two Streets Over, which by the way currently has four 5 Star Reviews on Amazon, as I saw the end drawing near I began to feel a sense of panic.  What would I do when it was finished? 

So before I was actually finished writing it, I started a new project that became Rannigan’s Redemption.  Now, I’m in the same situation.  I see the light at the end of the Rannigan tunnel and I feel that same sense of anxiety. 

And I’ve started on what is apparently my next project, tentatively called For Sparrow.  It’s an erotic romance with a bdsm flavor.  Unlike Luke & Bella and Rannigan, I don’t plan to publish it serially on WP.  But I thought I’d float the first chapter just to see what happens.  I hope you like it.


For Sparrow by Pandora Spocks

Chapter 1

I buried my husband today.
The thought tumbled through Jessi’s mind over and over like clothes in a dryer. Voices around her sounded oddly muted, as though she were underwater. Occasionally, someone would touch her, a simple grasping of her hand, a gentle pat on her shoulder, and the sensation felt like burning embers showering down over her.
Following the graveside service, mourners had gathered at her home. Hers and Graham’s. Only Graham isn’t here. We left him at the cemetery. I buried my husband today.
Food had appeared in her kitchen. Casseroles, desserts, salads. There was even a brisket. An army of women had set up a command post and were making sure guests had plenty to eat and drink. Jessi wondered briefly if there was enough ice for the drinks. Maybe she should ask Graham run to out and get some more. I buried my husband today.
Since that day, her phone hadn’t stopped ringing. Friends and neighbors hadn’t stopped calling and dropping by. “How are you?” “What can we do?” “What do you need?”
Her business partner, Sarah Reid, had been a rock, taking over the events they had scheduled this week, returning calls Jessi didn’t have the strength to deal with. “You take all the time you need, hon,” Sarah had told her. “We’ve got it under control.”
Since that day. “Sparrow, I need to get the oil changed in my car. Why don’t you drive to the mechanic’s and I’ll meet you there? I’ll drop you off at your office and then we can do the reverse this afternoon.”
Jessi had waited at the mechanic’s shop. When an hour had passed, she tried his phone. A stranger answered. “This is Officer Brooks. The owner of this phone has been in an accident. Are you the wife of Graham Crenshaw?”
A police car picked her up and drove her to the hospital. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Crenshaw. It appears your husband suffered a fatal heart attack behind the wheel of his car. When the car hit the utility pole, he was most likely already deceased.” The doctor had an air of resigned sympathy. Jessi wondered how many people he pronounced dead on an average day.
Sarah had met her at the hospital and driven her home. Jessi wasn’t sure how her own car got back to the house. She’d somehow made the calls to Cara and Adam. “Something has happened. Your dad died.”
Cara, age twenty-five, had made her excuses at her job with the Weather Channel and taken the first available flight from Atlanta to West Palm Beach. Adam, age twenty-two, had driven from Orlando where he worked as a video game animator.
Jessi and the kids had gone to the funeral home the following day to make arrangements. “Mrs. Crenshaw, your husband has everything prearranged. You don’t need to worry about a thing, it’s all taken care of. He has requested that he be buried in a navy suit with a white shirt and a blue and red paisley tie. Do you know the things he means?”
Jessi nodded dumbly. What he described was her favorite suit of Graham’s. He always looked so handsome, he’d even worn it when they’d celebrated their anniversary a few months back. He had it all planned out. Why didn’t he mention it?
“We’re just so sorry for your loss.” The statement shook Jessi from her thoughts. It was a neighbor couple from down the street.
“Thank you,” she murmured, not meeting their eyes. She sipped her wine to have something to do and wandered into the kitchen.
“Hey, hon, how are you holding up?” Sarah asked.
Jessi shrugged and gave a weak smile. “I’m okay.”
“Can we get you something to eat?”
Jessi shook her head and headed back to the living room. I buried my husband today.
“Jessica. I was just chatting with your lovely daughter and son,” said Rev. Lyman. “Graham was a good man, taken before his time.” He looked at Jessi with slight reproof. “I hope we’ll be seeing you and your family on Sunday.”
“Maybe, Reverend,” Jessi replied softly. “If you’ll excuse me and my children.”
“Of course. Family has to pull together at a time like this.”
They watched him work his way across the room. “I’m not lovely?” quipped Adam.
Jessi smiled at her son. “You’re lovely to me. And you’re welcome.”
“Do you love the way Rev. Lyman tried to get in a plug for going to church?” commented Cara.
“My personal relationship with God is exactly that. Personal,” replied Jessi. “How are you two doing?”
“It’s hard,” said Adam, his voice breaking.
“I know. You don’t have to stay for all of this. I have no idea when people will decide to leave.”
“I’m here until Friday,” Cara said. “I don’t want to leave you alone to deal.”
Jessi kissed her cheek and then Adam’s. “Thank you both. I love you so much. Your dad loved you, too.” She felt tears forming again. She felt as though she’d cried out her very soul, and yet tears were always near. Cara’s here until Friday. What day is it again?
Cara and Adam moved out to find their friends. Jessi turned to look for a place to sit. She was so weary. She was stopped by a woman she vaguely recognized. “Jessica, I’m Harriet, from church?”
“Oh, yes, Harriet. It was good of you to come.”
“Sweetie, I just want to remind you that Graham is in a better place.” She beamed at Jessi as though her words bequeathed onto her some sort of miracle.
Jessi felt a twitch begin at the corner of her eye. If I don’t get out of here right now, I’m going to scream. “If you’ll excuse me, please,” she murmured, pushing past the woman. She hurried through the kitchen, ignoring Sarah as she called to her, and slipped out the back door.
The lanai and pool deck were blissfully quiet. The sun had set and the lights had come on automatically. She crossed to the far side of the pool and sat on the edge of the spa with her back to the house. Finally alone, she leaned forward with her elbows on her thighs and let the tears flow.
She’d only been there a few minutes when she heard a sound, the scuff of a shoe. She sat up abruptly and whirled around.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to bother you.” The man was tall and muscular, his dark hair cut severely, almost military style, his dark suit cut slim. His brown eyes were soft and sympathetic.
Jessi sniffed and stood, swiping at the tears on her cheeks. “I just needed some air. I buried my husband today.” She looked up at him, shocked. “That’s the first time I said that out loud.”
He smiled kindly. “I’ll leave you alone. I just wanted to say that Graham was a good man. He was my friend and I’ll miss him.”
“Thank you. Did you work with him?”
“No. We were friends. I’m Judd, by the way.”
Jessi nodded. “Thank you for coming, Judd. I’m sure he would have appreciated it.” She began walking back towards the house. Judd fell into step beside her.
“I thought maybe I could come back on Saturday, maybe help you with the lawn,” he said.
Jessi was only half-listening, wondering if Harriet had gotten the hell out of her house yet. “Mm-hmm,” she murmured.
“Alright, Jessi,” he said. “Take care, now.”
She nodded and went to find her children.

Invisible–Just One Chapter

Ever get something stuck in your mind and you just can’t let go of it?  This is a chapter from a story I haven’t written yet.  Just thought I’d try putting it down.  Maybe now I can go on with what I’m actually working on and come back to this later.


Henry sat across the table watching her devour his hamburger and fries.  When he’d asked, she’d said she wasn’t hungry, but when his food arrived, she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of it.

The impromptu meal started when he’d asked if he could buy her a coffee.  It seemed a small thing, seeing how she’d rescued him from an embarrassing predicament.  He never should have tried to go after Joanne.  He’d been a fool.  She hadn’t just now decided to break up with him, it had been brewing for a while.

He’d found himself trapped in the door of her building, the sleeve of his overcoat caught when it slammed shut.  He’d pulled and tugged, kicking at the door, but to no avail.  He couldn’t even manage to take the damn thing off and the driving rain was soaking him anyway.

That’s when she’d appeared.  “Are you stuck?” she’d called to him up the steps.

“No, I enjoy standing in the rain!” he’d fired back.

She’d shaken her head and bounded up the steps, pulling her soaked black fleece hoodie tighter around herself.  “No reason to be an asshole,” she muttered.  She began pressing all of the buttons beside the door.  “Let me in!  It’s rainin’ out here!”  The door buzzed and he was free.  She gave an exaggerated bow and hurried down the steps, stopping under the awning of the building next door.

Sheepishly, Henry followed, standing beside her under the awning.  She glanced down at him then resumed looking out at the rain.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to be an asshole.”  She continued staring toward the street.  “Can I buy you a coffee?  My way of saying thanks.”

She looked back at him again seeming to think for a moment.  Finally she sighed.  “I guess I’m not goin’ anywhere until it stops rainin’ anyways,” she said.  That was when he noticed her drawl.  She certainly wasn’t from around here.

She must be homeless, he guessed.  He figured her to be in her early twenties, twenty-three tops.  She was pretty, too, as far as he could tell.  Her long wet hair was plastered to her head, but it seemed to be brown.  She had huge blue eyes that were watchful, flitting all around the room as she ate.  He’d never seen a woman eat like that.  And she was skinny, too.  “I’m Henry, by the way,” he told her.

She paused, french fry halfway to her mouth.  “I’m Shelby.”  She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.  “What were you doing stuck in that door, Henry?”

He looked down at his hands.  “Acting like a fool, I suppose.”

She smiled knowingly.  “It was a girl,” she said definitely.  Henry declined to answer.  “So what do you do, Henry?”

“I’m a professor of English Literature at Columbia,” he answered.

Shelby’s already large eyes grew bigger.  “No shit?” she said softly, and she laughed to herself.

Henry felt his temper rising.  Having been born with dwarfism, he’d faced ridicule all his life.  “What, is it so unbelievable that someone like me could be a university professor?” he demanded.

Shelby stopped laughing.  “That’s a hell of a chip on your shoulder, there.  A chip that big ought to have its own name.”  She shook her head.  “What I meant was, who would have thought that someone like me would ever meet a professor, let alone sit and have dinner with him?”

“What do you mean, someone like you?” he asked, realizing that he owed her another apology.

She shrugged.  “I’m not very smart,” she said simply.  “I never even finished the eighth grade.  I don’t even know anybody who went to college, let alone anybody who teaches there.”

Henry let that thought sink in.  I’m not very smart.  “Where are you from, Shelby?”

She shook her head, grinning.  “You never heard of it.”

“Try me.”

“I’m from Pine Grove, West Virginia,” she said, watching him carefully.

Henry smiled slowly.  “You’re right, I never heard of it.”

She laughed.  “Count yourself lucky, then.  It’s smack in the middle of nowhere.  Everybody there works in the Hastings plant, processing natural gas.  They actually have red lights to stop the cars about a mile away from the plant, just in case the shit hits the fan.”

Henry nodded.  “Is that why you left?  You didn’t want to work in the plant?”

Shelby looked him dead in the eye.  “I left in the middle of eighth grade because I was tired of getting fucked by my mama’s boyfriends.”  She paused.  “I figured if I was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well be getting paid for it.”

Henry’s eyes widened.  “You’re a…” he stopped.

She narrowed her eyes.  “Now who’s judging?” she asked.

Henry backpedaled.  “No, I mean, I just…”

“I don’t do that anymore.  I quit three years ago.  I have a new gig,” she said.  “I take pictures.”  Henry noticed that she pronounced it pitchers.  “I have a friend who sells postcards and shit to the tourists.  He sells my postcards and splits the profits with me.”

“Really?” Henry said thoughtfully.

“I have a nice camera,” she said, for the first time opening up her jacket to reveal a small camera bag.  She placed it on the table, opening it carefully.  “It’s mine, I bought it at a pawn shop,” she said, slightly defensively.

Henry looked over the camera appreciatively before handing it back to her.  “It’s very nice,” he said.

“That’s why I came uptown.  Somebody told me that I’d like to take pictures at Columbia.  Said there’s cool buildings there.  I was pissed off and not thinkin’ straight.  It was dark by the time I got here.  Plus I didn’t know it was going to rain.  I wasted a whole damn trip for nothing.”

“Where do you live?” Henry wondered.

Shelby rolled her eyes.  “Long story,” she said, “but when I’m in between places, I usually stay at Grand Central.”  He thought of the train station.  “It’s pretty clean, and you can leave your stuff in a locker for two weeks before you have to move it.  There’s a guy who lets me clear tables for a few dollars.  Plus, you can eat what people leave on the trays.  You wouldn’t believe how much food people just waste.”

Henry listened, astounded.  He’d never known a moment when he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from.  “So you came uptown to take pictures at the university?”

“Yeah,” she said around another mouthful.  “Kind of stupid, I guess.  It was too late to begin with and then when I came out of the subway the bottom just fell out of the sky.”

“So are you going to go back to Grand Central?” he probed.

Shelby shrugged.  “I guess so.  I’d better hurry, though.  The good places get taken early.”

Henry sat back in his seat, picturing Shelby stalking through the train station dripping wet, trying to find a good place to settle down for the night.  His own words surprised him.  “You could stay with me for the night.  I’ll take you to the university in the morning, give you a tour.”

Shelby’s eyes narrowed.  “I don’t fuck for a place to sleep.”

Henry blushed furiously.  “God, no!  That’s not what I meant at all,” he stammered.  “I just thought, you’re all the way here, you’re soaked, it’ll take you, what, another hour to get back to Grand Central.  What if you can’t find a place?”  He cleared his throat.  “I’m just saying you could stay on my couch, go with me to work tomorrow.  You can get your pictures and get back at a reasonable time.”

Shelby popped the last bite of hamburger into her mouth, gazing steadily at Henry.  “Okay,” she finally said.

Watch This Space

Having posted my first serial novel Luke & Bella:Two Streets Over twice in its entirety on this blog, I wanted to do something different.  For one thing, I’ve been posting chapters of my second book, Rannigan’s Redemption. 

As I get closer to publishing Luke & Bella on KDP, I want to maybe move this blog into a platform for promoting other Indie Authors whose work I enjoy.  I suppose it will be a more expanded version of my Pandora’s Reading List page.

The first book I want to talk about is Second Chances: Sammy’s Story by Annie Edmonds.  Annie Edmonds is also the writer of the terrific blog, Sex With Annie, and I’d highly recommend giving her a follow as well.

In Second Chances, Samantha Raine, young beautiful widow and refugee from an unhappy first marriage, is doing a favor house sitting for friends in beautiful Siesta Key.  Is Master Jake Monroe her knight in shining armor?

Her friends the O’Haras think he is.  What’s more, they believe Sammie is the perfect submissive to Jake’s strong, confident Dominant. It’s a great romance with a BDSM theme. I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

It earns 4 out of 5 plugs.Crystal Premium Glass: Anal Plug (Medium/Purple) 3" (80mm) 100% Hygienically superior borosilicate glass.Crystal Premium Glass: Anal Plug (Medium/Purple) 3" (80mm) 100% Hygienically superior borosilicate glass.Crystal Premium Glass: Anal Plug (Medium/Purple) 3" (80mm) 100% Hygienically superior borosilicate glass.Crystal Premium Glass: Anal Plug (Medium/Purple) 3" (80mm) 100% Hygienically superior borosilicate glass.

Thanks For Reading

cropped-heart2.jpgLuke & Bella: Two Streets Over has been a labor of love for about two years.  If you’ve checked out the Just So You Know page, you know that in its infancy it was a role play on Twitter.  Later, I began to rewrite it as narrative and I posted chapters serially on Tumblr.  The Tumblr version was never actually finished and I made the move to WordPress, starting from the beginning and completing the story.  It’s run twice in its entirety here on Luke & Bella.

I can’t believe that I’ve written an actual novel of over 100,000 words.  The next step for Luke & Bella: Two Streets Over is publication through Kindle Direct Publishing.  As the publication date gets closer I’ll be removing the chapters from this blog.

But I wanted to take a moment to thank those who’ve been regular readers.  You have made me believe that I could actually do this thing.  Who knew?

As the the end of Luke & Bella drew near, I began to feel a sense of panic.  What would I do now?  The answer to that question is I’d begin a new story, which I did.  It’s called Rannigan’s Redemption and it has its own blog.  But I decided to begin reposting the chapters here as well.  Sort of a ‘while you’re waiting’ kind of thing.  I hope you enjoy.

Experiment–Just One Chapter

Ever get something stuck in your mind and you just can’t let go of it?  This is a chapter from a story I haven’t written yet.  Just thought I’d try putting it down.  Maybe now I can go on with what I’m actually working on and come back to this later.


Henry sat across the table watching her devour his hamburger and fries.  When he’d asked, she’d said she wasn’t hungry, but when his food arrived, she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of it.

The impromptu meal started when he’d asked if he could buy her a coffee.  It seemed a small thing, seeing how she’d rescued him from an embarrassing predicament.  He never should have tried to go after Joanne.  He’d been a fool.  She hadn’t just now decided to break up with him, it had been brewing for a while.

He’d found himself trapped in the door of her building, the sleeve of his overcoat caught when it slammed shut.  He’d pulled and tugged, kicking at the door, but to no avail.  He couldn’t even manage to take the damn thing off and the driving rain was soaking him anyway.

That’s when she’d appeared.  “Are you stuck?” she’d called to him up the steps.

“No, I enjoy standing in the rain!” he’d fired back.

She’d shaken her head and bounded up the steps, pulling her soaked black fleece hoodie tighter around herself.  “No reason to be an asshole,” she muttered.  She began pressing all of the buttons beside the door.  “Let me in!  It’s rainin’ out here!”  The door buzzed and he was free.  She gave an exaggerated bow and hurried down the steps, stopping under the awning of the building next door.

Sheepishly, Henry followed, standing beside her under the awning.  She glanced down at him then resumed looking out at the rain.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to be an asshole.”  She continued staring toward the street.  “Can I buy you a coffee?  My way of saying thanks.”

She looked back at him again seeming to think for a moment.  Finally she sighed.  “I guess I’m not goin’ anywhere until it stops rainin’ anyways,” she said.  That was when he noticed her drawl.  She certainly wasn’t from around here.

She must be homeless, he guessed.  He figured her to be in her early twenties, twenty-three tops.  She was pretty, too, as far as he could tell.  Her long wet hair was plastered to her head, but it seemed to be brown.  She had huge blue eyes that were watchful, flitting all around the room as she ate.  He’d never seen a woman eat like that.  And she was skinny, too.  “I’m Henry, by the way,” he told her.

She paused, french fry halfway to her mouth.  “I’m Shelby.”  She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.  “What were you doing stuck in that door, Henry?”

He looked down at his hands.  “Acting like a fool, I suppose.”

She smiled knowingly.  “It was a girl,” she said definitely.  Henry declined to answer.  “So what do you do, Henry?”

“I’m a professor of English Literature at Columbia,” he answered.

Shelby’s already large eyes grew bigger.  “No shit?” she said softly, and she laughed to herself.

Henry felt his temper rising.  Having been born with dwarfism, he’d faced ridicule all his life.  “What, is it so unbelievable that someone like me could be a university professor?” he demanded.

Shelby stopped laughing.  “That’s a hell of a chip on your shoulder, there.  A chip that big ought to have its own name.”  She shook her head.  “What I meant was, who would have thought that someone like me would ever meet a professor, let alone sit and have dinner with him?”

“What do you mean, someone like you?” he asked, realizing that he owed her another apology.

She shrugged.  “I’m not very smart,” she said simply.  “I never even finished the eighth grade.  I don’t even know anybody who went to college, let alone anybody who teaches there.”

Henry let that thought sink in.  I’m not very smart.  “Where are you from, Shelby?”

She shook her head, grinning.  “You never heard of it.”

“Try me.”

“I’m from Pine Grove, West Virginia,” she said, watching him carefully.

Henry smiled slowly.  “You’re right, I never heard of it.”

She laughed.  “Count yourself lucky, then.  It’s smack in the middle of nowhere.  Everybody there works in the Hastings plant, processing natural gas.  They actually have red lights to stop the cars about a mile away from the plant, just in case the shit hits the fan.”

Henry nodded.  “Is that why you left?  You didn’t want to work in the plant?”

Shelby looked him dead in the eye.  “I left in the middle of eighth grade because I was tired of getting fucked by my mama’s boyfriends.”  She paused.  “I figured if I was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well be getting paid for it.”

Henry’s eyes widened.  “You’re a…” he stopped.

She narrowed her eyes.  “Now who’s judging?” she asked.

Henry backpedaled.  “No, I mean, I just…”

“I don’t do that anymore.  I quit three years ago.  I have a new gig,” she said.  “I take pictures.”  Henry noticed that she pronounced it pitchers.  “I have a friend who sells postcards and shit to the tourists.  He sells my postcards and splits the profits with me.”

“Really?” Henry said thoughtfully.

“I have a nice camera,” she said, for the first time opening up her jacket to reveal a small camera bag.  She placed it on the table, opening it carefully.  “It’s mine, I bought it at a pawn shop,” she said, slightly defensively.

Henry looked over the camera appreciatively before handing it back to her.  “It’s very nice,” he said.

“That’s why I came uptown.  Somebody told me that I’d like to take pictures at Columbia.  Said there’s cool buildings there.  I was pissed off and not thinkin’ straight.  It was dark by the time I got here.  Plus I didn’t know it was going to rain.  I wasted a whole damn trip for nothing.”

“Where do you live?” Henry wondered.

Shelby rolled her eyes.  “Long story,” she said, “but when I’m in between places, I usually stay at Grand Central.”  He thought of the train station.  “It’s pretty clean, and you can leave your stuff in a locker for two weeks before you have to move it.  There’s a guy who lets me clear tables for a few dollars.  Plus, you can eat what people leave on the trays.  You wouldn’t believe how much food people just waste.”

Henry listened, astounded.  He’d never known a moment when he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from.  “So you came uptown to take pictures at the university?”

“Yeah,” she said around another mouthful.  “Kind of stupid, I guess.  It was too late to begin with and then when I came out of the subway the bottom just fell out of the sky.”

“So are you going to go back to Grand Central?” he probed.

Shelby shrugged.  “I guess so.  I’d better hurry, though.  The good places get taken early.”

Henry sat back in his seat, picturing Shelby stalking through the train station dripping wet, trying to find a good place to settle down for the night.  His own words surprised him.  “You could stay with me for the night.  I’ll take you to the university in the morning, give you a tour.”

Shelby’s eyes narrowed.  “I don’t fuck for a place to sleep.”

Henry blushed furiously.  “God, no!  That’s not what I meant at all,” he stammered.  “I just thought, you’re all the way here, you’re soaked, it’ll take you, what, another hour to get back to Grand Central.  What if you can’t find a place?”  He cleared his throat.  “I’m just saying you could stay on my couch, go with me to work tomorrow.  You can get your pictures and get back at a reasonable time.”

Shelby popped the last bite of hamburger into her mouth, gazing steadily at Henry.  “Okay,” she finally said.

Experiment

Ever get something stuck in your mind and you just can’t let go of it?  This is a chapter from a story I haven’t written yet.  Just thought I’d try putting it down.  Maybe now I can go on with what I’m actually working on and come back to this later.

Henry sat across the table watching her devour his hamburger and fries.  When he’d asked, she’d said she wasn’t hungry, but when his food arrived, she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off of it.

The impromptu meal started when he’d asked if he could buy her a coffee.  It seemed a small thing, seeing how she’d rescued him from an embarrassing predicament.  He never should have tried to go after Joanne.  He’d been a fool.  She hadn’t just now decided to break up with him, it had been brewing for a while.

He’d found himself trapped in the door of her building, the sleeve of his overcoat caught when it slammed shut.  He’d pulled and tugged, kicking at the door, but to no avail.  He couldn’t even manage to take the damn thing off and the driving rain was soaking him anyway.

That’s when she’d appeared.  “Are you stuck?” she’d called to him up the steps.

“No, I enjoy standing in the rain!” he’d fired back.

She’d shaken her head and bounded up the steps, pulling her soaked black fleece hoodie tighter around herself.  “No reason to be an asshole,” she muttered.  She began pressing all of the buttons beside the door.  “Let me in!  It’s rainin’ out here!”  The door buzzed and he was free.  She gave an exaggerated bow and hurried down the steps, stopping under the awning of the building next door.

Sheepishly, Henry followed, standing beside her under the awning.  She glanced down at him then resumed looking out at the rain.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn’t mean to be an asshole.”  She continued staring toward the street.  “Can I buy you a coffee?  My way of saying thanks.”

She looked back at him again seeming to think for a moment.  Finally she sighed.  “I guess I’m not goin’ anywhere until it stops rainin’ anyways,” she said.  That was when he noticed her drawl.  She certainly wasn’t from around here.

She must be homeless, he guessed.  He figured her to be in her early twenties, twenty-three tops.  She was pretty, too, as far as he could tell.  Her long wet hair was plastered to her head, but it seemed to be brown.  She had huge blue eyes that were watchful, flitting all around the room as she ate.  He’d never seen a woman eat like that.  And she was skinny, too.  “I’m Henry, by the way,” he told her.

She paused, french fry halfway to her mouth.  “I’m Shelby.”  She chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.  “What were you doing stuck in that door, Henry?”

He looked down at his hands.  “Acting like a fool, I suppose.”

She smiled knowingly.  “It was a girl,” she said definitely.  Henry declined to answer.  “So what do you do, Henry?”

“I’m a professor of English Literature at Columbia,” he answered.

Shelby’s already large eyes grew bigger.  “No shit?” she said softly, and she laughed to herself.

Henry felt his temper rising.  Having been born with dwarfism, he’d faced ridicule all his life.  “What, is it so unbelievable that someone like me could be a university professor?” he demanded.

Shelby stopped laughing.  “That’s a hell of a chip on your shoulder, there.  A chip that big ought to have its own name.”  She shook her head.  “What I meant was, who would have thought that someone like me would ever meet a professor, let alone sit and have dinner with him?”

“What do you mean, someone like you?” he asked, realizing that he owed her another apology.

She shrugged.  “I’m not very smart,” she said simply.  “I never even finished the eighth grade.  I don’t even know anybody who went to college, let alone anybody who teaches there.”

Henry let that thought sink in.  I’m not very smart.  “Where are you from, Shelby?”

She shook her head, grinning.  “You never heard of it.”

“Try me.”

“I’m from Pine Grove, West Virginia,” she said, watching him carefully.

Henry smiled slowly.  “You’re right, I never heard of it.”

She laughed.  “Count yourself lucky, then.  It’s smack in the middle of nowhere.  Everybody there works in the Hastings plant, processing natural gas.  They actually have red lights to stop the cars about a mile away from the plant, just in case the shit hits the fan.”

Henry nodded.  “Is that why you left?  You didn’t want to work in the plant?”

Shelby looked him dead in the eye.  “I left in the middle of eighth grade because I was tired of getting fucked by my mama’s boyfriends.”  She paused.  “I figured if I was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well be getting paid for it.”

Henry’s eyes widened.  “You’re a…” he stopped.

She narrowed her eyes.  “Now who’s judging?” she asked.

Henry backpedaled.  “No, I mean, I just…”

“I don’t do that anymore.  I quit three years ago.  I have a new gig,” she said.  “I take pictures.”  Henry noticed that she pronounced it pitchers.  “I have a friend who sells postcards and shit to the tourists.  He sells my postcards and splits the profits with me.”

“Really?” Henry said thoughtfully.

“I have a nice camera,” she said, for the first time opening up her jacket to reveal a small camera bag.  She placed it on the table, opening it carefully.  “It’s mine, I bought it at a pawn shop,” she said, slightly defensively.

Henry looked over the camera appreciatively before handing it back to her.  “It’s very nice,” he said.

“That’s why I came uptown.  Somebody told me that I’d like to take pictures at Columbia.  Said there’s cool buildings there.  I was pissed off and not thinkin’ straight.  It was dark by the time I got here.  Plus I didn’t know it was going to rain.  I wasted a whole damn trip for nothing.”

“Where do you live?” Henry wondered.

Shelby rolled her eyes.  “Long story,” she said, “but when I’m in between places, I usually stay at Grand Central.”  He thought of the train station.  “It’s pretty clean, and you can leave your stuff in a locker for two weeks before you have to move it.  There’s a guy who lets me clear tables for a few dollars.  Plus, you can eat what people leave on the trays.  You wouldn’t believe how much food people just waste.”

Henry listened, astounded.  He’d never known a moment when he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from.  “So you came uptown to take pictures at the university?”

“Yeah,” she said around another mouthful.  “Kind of stupid, I guess.  It was too late to begin with and then when I came out of the subway the bottom just fell out of the sky.”

“So are you going to go back to Grand Central?” he probed.

Shelby shrugged.  “I guess so.  I’d better hurry, though.  The good places get taken early.”

Henry sat back in his seat, picturing Shelby stalking through the train station dripping wet, trying to find a good place to settle down for the night.  His own words surprised him.  “You could stay with me for the night.  I’ll take you to the university in the morning, give you a tour.”

Shelby’s eyes narrowed.  “I don’t fuck for a place to sleep.”

Henry blushed furiously.  “God, no!  That’s not what I meant at all,” he stammered.  “I just thought, you’re all the way here, you’re soaked, it’ll take you, what, another hour to get back to Grand Central.  What if you can’t find a place?”  He cleared his throat.  “I’m just saying you could stay on my couch, go with me to work tomorrow.  You can get your pictures and get back at a reasonable time.”

Shelby popped the last bite of hamburger into her mouth, gazing steadily at Henry.  “Okay,” she finally said.