Contemporary Fiction

“You have something on your chin,” Chayce shouts over the electric pulsing of the deep house music. The beat is about to drop and the crowd is roaring wildly. I’m moving in my not-really-a-dance-move sway. Chayce and I come to the Underground in downtown Seattle after our night shift at the docks every Friday. 

“What?” I shout back at Chayce. 

“Your chin!” he yells. 

“WOOOO!!” the drugged up candy-kid next to me yells and pumps his fist. His jaw churns side to side and his eyes roll along with the beat of the music. I smile. I remember when I used to let myself go like that. With the beads and the glow-sticks. 

Awe, to be young and stupid again. 

But now, I mean, I have a full-time job and a wife and kid on the way. But, I still can’t pull myself away from coming here on Friday nights with Chayce. I have too much respect for the music. 

“Yeah, Mabel put some of her homemade skin cream on it,” I respond when the crowd quiets down after the bass drops. 

“Cool. It glows in the blacklight,” Chayce replies before the music starts building up again, lifting the crowd as it goes. I think of Mabel and rub my chin. 

My sweet wife. 

You really have to see her to understand. She literally is sweet-- she owns a bakery, if you can call it that. It’s more like the ground floor of our apartment. I converted it for her, you know. There’s a custom window I built and fitted with a counter so she can open it up to the street. She sets up a chalkboard sign that she carefully hand chalks fresh every morning describing the baked goods she’s selling for the day. Sometimes they are a hit, sometimes, they aren’t, but people still buy them. Support Local Business, you know. Sometimes she makes organic skin care and a few edibles and sells those too. Like the cream I used this morning-- to cure eczema. 

The plague of my existence. I’m covered. 

The blacklights in the Underground are lighting up my skin in patches. But, it doesn’t matter. The cream is actually giving me some relief. What doesn’t help is that I’ve still got my work clothes on and I’m sweating. Jeans, steel-toed boots and a flannel. 

Not exactly club attire. 

But underneath I’m wearing a tight black tank top and two sports bras to hold my enormous chest in place, so I take my flannel off and tie it around my waist. I’d get a breast reduction tomorrow, but Mabel, she loves my big boobs. Says God made me this way, so who am I to change it? She really is a sweet gal. 

“I need a drink,” I yell to Chayce. He looks at me and laughs.  

“Right behind you, leopard woman.” 

I look at my arms, neon splotches everywhere. Leopard woman is right! I didn’t realize just how many eczema patches covered my arms. I shrug at Chayce and head to the bar. 

“Hey Charlie,” Roxy replies. She grabs out a Redbull and pours me a heavy handed Redbull and vodka. My Friday drink. She’s been working here nearly as long as me and Chayce have been clubbing. 

“Hit me with an NA tonight Rox,” Chayce says. Roxy raises an eyebrow and grabs Chayce a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. He’s been sober for years. But usually gets one of Roxy’s famous iced espresso shots. 

“Everything okay?” I ask Chayce. 

“Yeah, I need to get some sleep tonight. I’ve got that thing tomorrow with Jade’s parents. They already think I’m not good enough for their daughter, I don’t need to look like I haven’t slept in days,” he replies. 

He looks at his watch. 

“We can go man, I promised Mabel I’d work on that new shelving unit in the bakery. She’ll be thrilled if I’m up before noon.” I tip back my drink and pound it in one quick swallow. 

“You sure Charlie? I can stay a little longer.” Chayce takes a swig of the fake beer. 

“Nah, it’s cool. Thanks for the drink Rox. See you next week.” I give Roxy a salute when I set my empty drink down. A hold over from my Army days. I did 4 years out of high school before coming home to work at the docks. 

Chayce is always the DD on Friday, so we carpool. I don’t live very far, just past Pike Street in a mixed zone for residential and businesses. We could never afford it on our own. My Aunt Stephanie gave the place to us as a wedding gift right before she died. Yeah, I know, crazy cool of her. But-- it was extremely rundown. Like boarded up with plywood. Like we found skeletons of dead animals in several rooms. We’ve put more blood, sweat, tears and cash into the place than we’d ever imagined. 

But, now, it’s our home. 

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“Come by Sunday if you wanna watch the game,” I tell him when he pulls up and I jump out of the car. “Good luck tomorrow with Jade’s parents.” 

“Thanks Charlie, see you Sunday. I’ll bring Jade. Her and Mabel can do whatever it is they do while we watch the Seahawks.” 

I nod and wave him off. 

It’s only 2:30 a.m. I’m never home this early on a Friday. I’m pretty wired now from chugging the vodka Redbull. I know it’s super tacky and Mabel hates it, but I’m like the last person in Seattle to still smoke real cigarettes. I decide to have one, okay two, and just hang outside for a while enjoying the peace. There’s no one around. During the day, this area is packed with tourists, people from our neighborhood, kids riding skateboards and the bustle of city life.

But now, it’s silent. 

It’s the time when ghosts are out. Or so says Mabel. I don’t believe in all--

“Hey, can I bum a smoke off you?” 

“Sure thing soldier,” I say and turn to face the person (or ghost) who has walked up behind me. I’m surprised I didn’t hear footsteps.

“Thanks dude-- I mean,” the man starts, then backs up when he sees my chest. “I mean lady, thanks lady.” 

“No sweat. I’m surprised you want one. Most people see me with these and hiss,” I joke and hand a Marlboro to him. He pulls a lighter from his pocket and lights up.

“Menthol?” He coughs. 

“Oh yeah, sorry. Should have warned you. It’s what all us ladies smoke these days,” I tease and bat my eyes at him. 

“Funny.” He takes a big drag then looks over at the window to Mabel’s walk-up bakery. She has a cute sign hanging up.  

Hold your biscuits, I’ll be back tomorrow at 10 a.m.

“That’s funny too.” He nods at the sign. 

“Yeah, that’s my wife. She’s pretty clever. That’s her bakery there, she makes all kinds of Seattle themed treats. Her coffee flavored toffee is epic. If I didn’t work down at the docks all day, my teeth would probably rot out.” I laugh. 

The man nods in agreement. Then he blows a perfect smoke ring and we watch it float into the night sky. When my eyes come down I focus on him for a second. 

“You’re awfully dressed up to be out wandering around alone this time of night, is everything alright? Do you need to come inside or use a phone?” I ask.

“What, this old thing?” He’s wearing a sharp black suit and polished dress shoes. “I just took a wrong turn, I’ll be okay.” He looks around. I can’t tell if he’s nervous or trying to figure out his bearings. 

“Seriously, I’m normal. I won’t hurt you.” I put my hands up. “We live above the bakery. You’re welcome to come up. We just finished pouring our heart and soul into renovating the place. We have a guest room, it’s really no trouble if you need a place to stay,” I offer. 

Something my Aunt Stephanie used to say, “You never know when you might be a stranger looking into someone’s window cold and hungry. So be kind when you can.” 

The man doesn’t answer. 

He looks at me thoughtfully. 

“You need another smoke?” I ask. He’s finished the first one I gave him and butted it out on the sidewalk. Another faux pas these days. Good thing Mrs. Gaylen isn’t outside right now. She’s that one neighbor, always nitpicking and pissed off when there are wrappers and crumbs outside from Mabel’s bakery customers. For a city so self-obsessed with recycling, I don’t know why no one uses the trash/recycle combo I built and hand painted.

“No, no, I’m fine-- one menthol was plenty, a habit I should have kicked a long time ago. I didn’t catch your name,” the man finally replies. 

“I’m Charlie.” I stick my hand out to him. 

“Bray Stanslin. Nice to meet you Charlie,” he says and grabs my hand in a firm shake. I barely have time to blink when I hear knocking on the bakery window. 

“Charlie! Come to bed!” 

I turn and see Mabel’s sleepy face. She’s got her hair up in sponge rollers with a silk bandana around to hold them in. My heart skips a beat. 

“Looks like you better go,” Bray says and smiles. “Thanks for the smoke Charlie. I won’t linger out here long. You go. I wouldn’t keep a beauty like that waiting if I was you.” And I know he means it. Mabel is a true beauty no matter the time of day. 

Or the state of her hair. 

There’s a car horn off in the distance and headlights coming up the road. 

“Is that your ride? I hate to leave you out here alone--” I wave off Mabel who’s knocking again. 

“You’re too kind Charlie. Yeah, I think that’s my driver. Don’t work too hard down on the docks. You should enjoy some of that toffee once in a while, I bet your wife would appreciate it,” Bray replies and takes a few steps down the sidewalk towards the approaching vehicle. It’s a limo. Of course it is…  

Bray Stanslin. I should have recognized him. 

Owner of the Seahawks. 

Founder of the Seattle technology mecca.

I had no idea he smoked. 

“Hey Charlie, I like what you’ve done to the old place,” he says as he opens the door to get in the limo. 

“You know this place?” I ask. 

“Yeah, when I was a kid, I lived here for a while. I always wanted to buy it back and fix it up. But, the woman who owned it, she’d never sell. Said it was meant for her niece. I offered her ten times what the building was worth. But, she held firm.” 

“Mmhmm,” I manage to croak out. Bray Stanslin offered to buy this from my Aunt Stephanie for ten times what it was worth? But instead she saved it, boarded up and practically falling down to give to me and Mabel as a wedding gift before she died? 

God what was she thinking?

“Charlie-- your Aunt would be proud.” 

Without thinking, I give him a salute. Then I smack myself in the head. Sometimes I’m such an idiot. Bray laughs and ducks into the limo and it speeds off into the dark leaving me alone. I look around, I mean, really? Did that just happen? How many vodka Redbulls did I have at the Underground tonight? 

The window to the bakery slides open and I spin around to look at Mabel. 

“Now, are you going to come inside and tell me why you and Bray Stanslin were out here smoking together?” Mabel pushes one of the rollers up and tucks it back into the bandana. The smell of chocolate and vanilla bean buttercream floats out of the window. 

“Babe, are you making stuffed cupcakes?” 

“Yes, now get that raver butt inside and tell me what the hell that was all about! And for your information, the cupcakes are going to be double-decker with a layer of raspberry jam.” 

I let my mouth slack open.

“Stop drooling Charlie.” Mabel laughs and shuts the window. I reach into my pocket for my keys to unlock the front door. Mabel is fumbling in her bakery window. She takes the sign down and uses her robe to erase it. I watch as she writes something else on it and places it gently back into the window. 

Hold your biscuits, we’ll open at noon today! 

“So, you’re telling me that Bray Stanslin, owner of the Seahawks and half of Seattle, was outside smoking with you Friday night?” Chayce asks as he cracks open a bottle of Coke. We’ve got the game on. Mabel and Jade are downstairs trying out an angel food cake recipe Jade found in a vintage magazine.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you.” I make myself a Jack and Coke and plop down on the couch. “Oh come on you asshole! His knee was down!” I shout at the screen. 

“Well hell, Charlie, that’s a pretty cool story. You know no one at work’s gonna believe you,” Chayce replies. 

“CHARLIE!” Mabel shouts up the stairwell. 

“GO! GO! Block dipshit,” Chayce is yelling at the game now. My random encounter with the owner of the team is already forgotten. Probably for the best. Chayce is right-- no one would believe me at work. 

I get up to go see what my wife is shouting about. 

“What babe? Can this wait-- it’s almost half-time.” 


“Ah fuck. Chayce pause the game.” 

“But Charlie--” he whines. 

“No need to pause the game, keep it on.” A familiar voice is walking up the stairs. 

“Bray, hey man. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the game?” I ask when I see Bray Stanslin come around the corner at the top of the stairs. I walk over to shake his hand. 

“Shut the fuck up Charlie. Like Bray Stanslin is in your house, you turd,” Chayce yells over his shoulder towards us, he hasn’t unglued his eyes from the game. 

Bray laughs. Loud. 

“Charlie’s not a turd young man. She’s a very kind soul. Not too many people out there would offer to put up a stranger in their guest room at 3 a.m.” 

“Wait, what?” Chayce jumps up. He looks like he’s seen a ghost.  

“I just wanted to stop by and thank you for your kindness Friday night. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I walk around in the city. My driver usually stays close by, but Friday I guess I turned one too many times and he lost sight of me. So I wandered here, where I lived when I was a kid. I think what you and your wife are doing-- revitalizing the old and unwanted and starting your own business, it’s commendable and an inspiration to other young people in Seattle. Your Aunt knew what she was doing when she held on to this property and left it to you.” Bray looks around admiring my handy work. He rubs his palm across the antique wood on the window sill. It took me at least a hundred hours of painstaking work to sand and stain all of the original wood.

It’s hard not to show that I’m proud. 

My chest puffs up. 

“Well thanks Bray. You want the full tour?” I offer. And before he knows what he’s gotten himself into, I’m pulling him around the entire house. It’s narrow and tall, four stories in all. It had been chopped up into little apartments and we connected everything back into one big house with the bakery on the ground floor. 

By the time we get up to the rooftop terrace, I’m out of breath.

I’m sure Bray Stanslin wasn’t prepared for me, hyped up from football and Jack and Cokes. 

“You’ve got a hell of a life here Charlie-- the bakery, the house, the beautiful wife and child on the way. Your Aunt would never sell and I was often bitter about it, because I wanted this place to be brought back to life. You and Mabel have done that. I know it must have cost you a small fortune.” Bray hands me a pack of Menthol Marlboros and an envelope. “Here, take this, as my gratitude.” 


Don’t do it.  

Take money from Bray Stanslin? 

My heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest. My ears are pounding harder than they do at the Underground on Friday night. 

“You two want to try my latest creation? I’m calling it Emerald Dream Cake.” Mabel’s voice is nearly at the top of the stairs. I can hear Jade and Chayce right behind her. Oh God! What do I do? Bray’s hand is still there, tempting me. So, I close my eyes and grab the envelope and smokes from Bray and shove them into my back pocket. 

There, decision made. 

When I open my eyes, a grin spreads across his face. 

“Well Mabel, that’s a beautiful looking cake, I would love a slice,” Bray says and walks over to take the tray from my wife. “Have you considered expanding your little walk-up window bakery? I think it’s the quaintest idea. Brings real life to older Seattle neighborhoods like these.”

“What a lovely idea! Charlie, are you hearing this? I mean, we could do something like that, you know people are always asking me how to install a window like that. Around here, they could sell anything! Coffee, jewelry, organic homemade things. I mean, anything you could imagine.” 

Awe, my wife. 

She really is the sweetest. 

Bray winks at me. And I give him a salute.

June 05, 2021 21:22

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