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Happy Birthday, Marie!
From Rachel

 

The Fall of the House of Ward

"Put it down, Maria. Put it down!"

A glint came to her formidable eye; she advanced a step farther towards him.

"Why? Are you scared, Paul?" A mad smile slowly gleamed on her face.

Cautiously, Paul took a step back, slowly raising has hands upward. His breathing began to quicken. "Put it down, Maria. You're not going to kill me, but I'd feel much better if you would put that down."

She frowned. "Like hell I will-I'm tired of you being so domineering. I'm not going to let you subjugate me."

His mouth opened wide in outrage, and he spoke hotly, forgetting the butcher knife in Maria's hand. "Subjugate you? No, it's you who subjugate me! You keep bullying me about-what do you think you're doing now?"

She started forward. "Don't test me, Paul-I wouldn't advise it!"

"Maria, stop it! You're acting crazy!" Paul shouted, stepping away.

"Shut up, Paul!" she cried, advancing, raising the knife.

A little scared, he took to his heels and began to run, with Maria taking up the chase. Their paths wound about the table, the counters, and the chairs in the living room-back and forth, up and down the apartment. Paul desperately snatched the phone as he raced through the kitchen. With a glance, he swiftly broke out in the direction of the bathroom, and once there, shut and locked the door, with Maria right behind him. With shaking hands, he dialed the police.

"Hallo, officer," he managed to reply between short breaths. "I need your help . . . my girlfriend is trying to kill me! . . . Well, we were having a little spat when she picked up the butcher knife she was using to cut watermelon, and waved it in a very threatening manner . . . damn it, man, she's trying to kill me!" Paul shrieked. Taking a deep breath, he managed to give the man his address before hyperventilating.

"Paul . . . Paul, open the door! Paul, open the door now!" Paul listened with trepidation, shaking as she banged upon the door. He was not a man who generally ended up in these sorts of situations, and he was quite worn out. Several times, he had to use his sleeve to wipe the perspiration off of his brow.

Then came a sound that made Paul sigh with relief-the sound of knocking on the door.

"Miss Bertram? . . . Miss Bertram, will you please open the door?" the voice came through the door. Maria raised her head in amazement, then began to furiously rattle the doorknob.

"How could you call the police, Paul? How could you? Just wait until you come out from there!" she hissed.

After a few more minutes of quaking, the officer's voice could again be heard, with the landlord as well. There was a rattle of keys, then the sound of keys in the door. When the officer came in, he found Maria still twisting the door handle, the forgotten blade lying innocently upon the parquet floor. Carefully, he picked it up and laid it aside on an endtable behind him before calling her name softly. She turned towards him, looking very young. He found it hard to swallow for the moment, but dutifully put the handcuffs on her wrists.

"You may come out, Mr. Ward. It's all right," he called out, securing his grip upon Miss Bertram, in case she should try and lash out. The door opened, and a very harassed-looking young man stepped out. At the sight of the girl, he paled and looked somewhat queasy. Tears brimmed in his eyes, and without any warning, he burst into loud sobs. He fell into a wing-back chair nearby, wailing. The officer was loath to disturb him, but he wasn't sure what he should do-or could do. Uncomfortably, he coughed, and took a brisk tone.

"Excuse me, Mr. Ward-I can see that you are not ready to give a statement yet, but one of the men will come by tomorrow and take one," he said to the limp form before him.

At this, the young man only started to cry harder, and this was more than the officer was prepared for. He merely nodded at the unobservant mass, and led Miss Bertram from the room, shutting the door securely behind him. What he got for this was a swift kick from Miss Bertram. His head whipped around, but his expression softened when he heard her angry reply.

"Why did you do that? You only made him cry more! Paul isn't good for these sorts of situations-he was much more gently raised than I was, which is amusing on one level, but he's very sensitive, and that means that you just can't say such blunt things to him, for they distress him much more than they would me. I know that he'll be probably crying all night now!-thanks a lot!"

"I'm sorry, Miss Bertram. I was trying to be comforting, rather," he commented as he led her out of the building. For some reason, they were greeted by the flash of cameras from the papers. Maria straightened, and held herself very erect. Coolly, she seemed to disregard the flashes-she seemed not to notice them as she confidently walked past them to the police car. The officer opened the door for her and helped her in, gaining some more respect for her.

As they settled into the car and drove away, Maria spoke. "I never thought modeling would prepare me for being arrested, but you learn something new every day," she said, a hint of laughter in her voice. "But to reply to what you said about trying to comfort him-that's bosh. You just wanted to get the hell out of there. You bobbies-" she said with a dismissive sigh. "You all are so insensitive."

Once they were at the station, she was photographed, fingerprinted, and put into a cell of her own. She seemed to take the whole situation in good part, only asking if she could call Paul to comfort him. The officer wondered if that might not be a good idea, but felt obliged to refuse her. Paul would just have to recover on his own.

The next day, the policemen were surprised to find that this very humble arrest was on the first page, towards the bottom, with a color photo of Miss Bertram looking very tousled, but still elegant. They also were surprised to receive so many phone calls-her father, Sir Thomas Bertram, called very early, demanding her immediate release upon pain of losing their jobs. Her brother called them later, congratulating them on such a worthy capture, and demanded that they 'throw away the key' on pain of losing their jobs. Next to call was the father of the victim, demanding specifics, and chewed out the poor officer who answered the call, threatening a lawsuit against the whole police force for emotional damage to his son, who didn't pick up the phone this morning.

The men were very tired of these calls and of being queried any time they stepped out for a smoke by inquiring reporters, who wanted more on the Bertram arrest. When Mr. Ward came to the office, they were pleased to notice that he was not currently crying, and count it as a stroke of good fortune.

The men were very tired of these calls and of being queried any time they stepped out for a smoke by inquiring reporters, who wanted more on the Bertram arrest. When Mr. Ward came to the office, they were pleased to notice that he was not currently crying, and count it as a stroke of good fortune.

"May I see Maria?" were the first words out of his mouth as he walked in. When a policeman asked him for a statement, he refused to give one. Amazed, the policeman asked if he wanted to press charges.

"Press charges? Are you crazy? I want to get my girlfriend out!" he cried hotly, which completely confused the policeman, who realized that now they couldn't keep Miss Bertram. Informed of this, Mr. Ward was very pleased and contentedly sat down as the policeman went to let Miss Bertram out of her cell.

"Where am I going now?" she asked, and was happy to hear that Mr. Ward was awaiting her, that she was free to leave. She rushed down the hall towards the front of the building, and threw herself energetically into Mr. Ward's arms, who was quite happy to receive her there.

"Maria, I'm so sorry I called the police!" he replied.

"Oh Paul, I'm so sorry that I waved that knife at you!" she cried, and planted a passionate kiss upon his lips. Happily, they left together soon after disentangling themselves, leaving a very confused but satisfied police force behind them.


"OK, I've had it, Maria!" Paul cried as he went through the mail. "There are eight invitations to parties that you insist upon attending-and I know that you don't settle for a few minutes at each, you have to spend all night partying. Well, I won't have it! I've had enough of watching you throw yourself at starved young men who look like something you would see on the telly in some newscast about Rwanda or some place like that. I'm also tired of being dragging along to these 'select' gatherings, getting in around three o'clock and being forced to wake up four hours later to go to work! These invitations, along with any others that I find, are going straight through this," he said, running an invitation through his paper shredder.

"What?" cried Maria, stunned, as she watched him run several more through the machine.

"I'm not going to let you lose yourself in a vortex of dissipation every blasted night! I'm not being unreasonable-you may still go to these parties on the weekend, but only one a night."

"How dare you?" she cried, grabbing the rest out his hand. "I won't let you control me, Paul Ward. It so happens that I care about you, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let you to make these heavy-handed decisions about my life and that I will meekly accept them. If I want to party, that's my affair."

"Since you're living in my apartment, it certainly is my affair."

Maria's nostrils flamed. "Well, fine, then," she replied, marching out of the room, slamming the bedroom door behind her. Paul sighed with relief; it had gone over much better than he had expected.

Later that night, as Paul was working on some pasta, he realized that they had run out of basil. "Damn it, now I have to go to the store," he said, reaching for his coat.

Maria stilled his hand. "No, I can do that," she replied with a sweet smile.

He grinned back. "Thank you, darling," he said, and kissed her softly on the cheek. She then went back to the bedroom, and came out wearing her coat.

"Do you have your wallet?" he asked.

"Yes, dear," she replied in a mocking voice, then smiled back at him as she left, blowing a kiss back at him. Contented, he continued to stir the pot, feeling very warm.

However, twenty minutes later, the pasta was ruined and Paul was not feeling warm. He was feeling hot-the heat of anger. A short investigation of the room showed that the invitations which Maria had taken were gone, as well as a pair of shoes, a stylish handbag, and one of her slinky black dresses. The frown on his face hardened as he examined the room, and with a resigned sigh he trudged back into the kitchen to make himself some dinner, hoping that she wouldn't stay out too late.


Maria giggled as she let herself and Tony into the apartment. She was feeling very triumphant; she had outsmarted Paul and had a good time into the bargain. "Here is my place," she said, grandly waiving her arm. "Here is the bathroom, here is the kitchen, the parlor, and the table," she said, gracefully falling down into a chair.

"Nice," the youth commented, sitting down nearby.

"Would you like a drink?" she asked, getting up.

"Sure," Tony slurred, his London accent thick.

Maria walked over to the sidebar, and picked up a decanter of brandy that was sitting there. "How about this?" she said, exhibiting it to her companion.

"I'd like some, too," a cold voice replied. She turned, and saw Paul, attired in a bathrobe, taking the seat across from Tony, offering his hand to the lad. Sullenly, she picked up an extra glass and the decanter, and poured a drink for them all.

"Thank you, my dear," Paul said coolly. He then leaned over, with his eyes on Tony, and kissed her on the cheek protectively. Maria stiffened, and watched the boy's eyes widen as he absorbed the situation.

"Thanks, Maria," he said, accepting the glass and swiftly gulping down the stuff. She then quickly engaged him in conversation, forcing him to remain in his seat for five painful minutes as Paul merely sat there, putting a damper on the conversation.

Finally, Tony rose. "I really have to go-I've got a shoot tomorrow morning," he said, and made it out the door after Maria stalled for several more minutes, first begging him to stay, then warmly wishing him good-night. As soon as the door shut behind him, Paul was up out of his chair, grasping Maria's arms.

"If you dare pull another stunt like that, Maria, I'm going to throw you out of this house."

The apology that sat on the tip of her tongue was quickly swallowed, and she was easily able to reply angrily, "If that's the way you feel, are you sure that I shouldn't leave right now?"

Paul's face softened, and he quickly replied, "Of course not, darling-I love you; I could never want you to leave me."

Maria also softened, and wrapped her arms around him, feeling sorry once more, but remained determined to show Paul that he was not the boss of her.


"Oh, my . . ." Maria whispered to herself, reading an invitation. She glanced up, self-consciously, but all was safe: Paul was at work.

She looked back at the words again. Rushworth. Jim Rushworth was back in town, and despite what she had said to him at the last Dior function, he wanted her to come to his party, to be with him. Probably he thinks that I'm single again . . . after all, usually my relationships don't last this long. She considered for a moment whether she would go or not . . . and laughed to herself, knowing that she would go. Here in these words was the opportunity to show Paul that though she might love him, she would not let him make decisions for her. He might help her to make decisions, but that was for later.

She straightened up, and rose from her chair to look for the perfect outfit amongst her collection, hoping to find something that was both demure and sexy. After all, she really had no serious intention of encouraging Rushworth-just mildly alarming Paul.

When Paul came home from after a business dinner, he discovered the apartment to be empty except a note from Maria. "Fancy! An old friend has come back to town, and receiving his invitation, I felt I could not refuse him. After all, who refuses Jim Rushworth? I'll come home before you go to work. Maria."

Her note was calculated to make him feel angry, but somehow he didn't have enough energy to be angry with Maria. He just felt even more tired than he had a few minutes ago-so tired that he longed to go to sleep, to hide in bed and escape, but he knew what he had to do. With shoulders sagging, he walked into the bedroom and reached up on the shelves for a suitcase.


Paul walked into the ballroom, knowing that he did not look out of place in his business suit, but that in his somber attitude was the cause that he was being stared at by many. Without hesitation, however, he ignored the looks and walked straight to the platform at the opposite end of the room, and walked up onto it. He was able to take a microphone standing up there, and tapped to see if it was on. It was.

"Excuse me, excuse me. I just came here to tell Miss Maria Bertram that her things will be awaiting her outside the door of my apartment, and that she may pick them up whenever convenient." The audience gasped, and quickly fell into gossip as Paul put the microphone back into its holder, and walked down the stairs and away.

Maria, from her place at the side of Jim Rushworth, was quick to loosen his grasp upon her arm. She raced across the room, trying to call out, but Paul had left. She hurried towards the elevators, but he had already caught one and was on his way down. She insistently pushed the button for the other, cursing. As soon as it opened, she hopped in and pushed the button to go down. When she was forced to stop at other floors, she dug her nails into her palms, trying not to scream. As soon as the door opened at the bottom, she pushed every other person out, her head whipping around as she looked for Paul's head. Finally, she caught sight of it, walking out.

"Paul!" she screamed, and began to run . . . however, her heels were uneven in height, and unfortunately, she tripped and fell to the ground. Immediately, she turned on her knees and began to crawl, trying to pull her heels off. She paused a moment later to do this, and then ran across the floor towards the doors. She jumped down the stairs to get onto the street, but Paul had disappeared. She looked around desperately for a few moments, then collapsed onto the steps and began to weep.


Paul sat dumbly before the computer in his office, not looking at the day's trade, not doing anything but staring off into space glumly. His phone beeped; it was his secretary.

"Mr. Ward, there is a lady here who wishes to speak with you."

"That should be Mrs. Mandalsen. Send her in," Paul said, gathering his papers together, preparing to convince her that her monies should be invested differently. He glanced at a mirror nearby and practiced a charming smile.

The door opened, and he looked over to see a very poised Maria Bertram, hesitating at the threshold. His eyes opened in surprise, but he quickly turned away, saying, "Go away, Maria."

This seemed to convince her; she closed the door behind her, and sat down in the chair across from his desk. "I will not-not yet, anyway, Paul. We have to talk."

"There is nothing for us to speak of, Miss Bertram," he said, his eyes still averted from her face. "Our relationship has ended, and so there can be nothing further to discuss."

"You look so tired, Paul," she said, changing tone. "You don't look like you're getting enough sleep."

He closed his eyes, and looked at her. She did not look very well, either; the bags under her eyes were dark and heavy, the clothes were wrinkled, and her hair looked as if it might not have been washed the other day. He looked away again determinedly. "Go," he repeated. "Just go."

"Paul, please don't say that . . . you don't want me to go, really, do you?

"You said that you would never want me to leave you . . .

"Paul, I love you," she said, desperation creeping into her voice as he did not answer. His face was hard, set in patiently frustrated lines. She waited, waited for his face to change, for him to react, but he did not. He continued to look emptily away from her.

Her heart sank, but she spied a notepad nearby. "Well, Paul, if you change your mind, here is an address and phone number; you can reach me there for a while. I hope you call me, Paul; please call me." She scratched the letters and numbers onto the pad quickly, and placed it across from him. She leaned over to caress his face, but he flinched, and so she drew her hand away. After a moment of staring, hoping he would look at her again, she gave up and walked out of the room.

As soon as the door closed, Paul raised his eyes and hungrily watched her walk away. He looked back down at the notepad, considering. He turned quickly back to his computer, pulled up an electronic white pages and typed in the address and phone number, waiting. His instinct was right: both address and number were property of Jim Rushworth. He did not feel better, knowing he was right-he merely sat for a painful moment, then suddenly reached for a paperweight which Maria had given to him, and hurled it at the wall as hard as he could. A loud crash sounded as the object hit the wall; next he heard the tinkle of breaking glass.

I won't call her . . . I won't.

However, one night, alone at home, he was staring at that number again with a glass of wine in his hand. Cringing at his weakness, his stomach groaning, he swallowed his pride and dialed the number.

"Hello?" replied the voice at the other end; a male voice.

Paul swallowed again, and said, "May I speak to Maria Bertram?"

"I'm sorry, man, but she's gone."

Paul sat up, alarmed. "Where has she gone? Where is she?"

"Is this Paul?"

"Just where is she?"

"If you're Paul, I guess she'd want you to know where she is. She's staying at her father's place in Northampton; Mansfield Park."

"Thank you," he replied gratefully, and hung up. He quickly jumped up, and rushed for his room, throwing a few things in his bag. Closing it securely, he walked out and called a taxi.

"Could you take me into Northampton?" he asked before hopping in.

"If the dibs are in tune," replied the cabby securely.

"Here's 100 for starters," Paul said, reaching into his wallet. "I hope you have a map, because I don't know where it is precisely, but I need to get to Mansfield Park, the house of Sir Thomas Bertram."

"I've got some maps; take 'em, and see what you can find," the cabby offered, and as soon as Paul had shut the door, he pulled off.

Hours later, they were in front of the long drive. "This should be it," the cabby replied to Paul as he turned into the drive.

"Thanks a lot, Robert," Paul replied. "Let's hope that we're better navigators than we fear we are!"

Robert laughed. "Aww, Paul, don't fear. I'm sure that we've got the right place-what you need to be thinking about now is what to say to Maria."

As they pulled up, Paul took out his wallet, and handed the man the rest of the money for the fee. The cabby looked it over, and began to crow.

"Aww, don't give me this, Paul," the cabby said, pulling out a 20. "I don't need a tip."

"But you deserve one!" Paul insisted. "If it hadn't been for you driving tirelessly, I wouldn't be here now."

"Nah, I don't need it. It was great fun," Robert insisted, forcing the bill into his hand. "Now, stop arguing with a man who is both older and wiser than you, and get in there!"

Paul laughed. "Fine, fine! Just go, then!" he cried, using his hand to go behind his back and tuck the bill into the fabric, so that Robert might see it later. He picked up his bag, and got out, waving the cabby along. He then turned towards the house, and walked to the very grand door. Tentatively, he fingered the knocker, then decidedly grabbed it and rapped it against the door.

Finally, the door opened, and Paul was greeted by the sight of a disapproving butler.

"I wish to speak with Miss Maria Bertram," he said, feeling a trifle abashed.

"Miss Bertram is not yet downstairs," replied the butler formally. "If you were to give your name, sir, perhaps Miss Bertram could be informed that you stopped by."

"No-I must see her. I insist upon it," Paul asserted.

The man stepped back slightly, and so Paul entered the hall. The butler took his coat and his bag, and asked, "Whom shall I say is calling?"

"Paul Ward," he replied as he was ushered into an informal breakfast room. The sunlight shined through the windows, increasing the cheery atmosphere of the yellow room. He sat down as the door shut behind him, noticing the food spread out. Thirsty, he poured himself a cup of coffee, put some creamer in, and stirred the coffee, the spoon chinking loudly against the china. He took a sip, looking around, hoping that Maria would come soon.

The next moment, the door opened, and Paul looked up, feeling like a trespasser. However, it was a bleary-eyed Maria, attired in pajamas with her hair sticking up in different places.

"Maria!" he cried, standing.

"Paul?" she croaked, rubbing her hands across her sleepy eyes.

"Maria!" he cried, and rushed over to her, throwing his arms around her. She gratefully accepted his clasp, and for the moment, their problems were forgotten in the bliss of reunion. They might fight often; both might do outrageous things and goad the other to similar acts, but it did not matter. For some reason, they cared for each other, and they would keep coming back to each other for more.

 


The Brookston-Crawford School of Rakedom

 

As he stepped off of the bus, the sunlight caught his eyes, impeding his view of his surroundings. As the bus pulled away, he put down his bags to protect his eyes from the glare; thus did he obtain his first view of the campus which he was to make his home. It was a decidedly well-favored place. The buildings were constructed of a gray stone that had been quarried nearby in a passed time, the lawn was neatly trimmed and of an excellent green verdure, and the trees were very old and of the first quality. He took a deep breath; the crisp October air filled his lungs and made him quiver his nose for a moment. However, voices sounded behind him, and he was forced to pick up his bags and make for the registration office.

"Good day, young man. And what is your name?" the gentleman at the desk asked.

"Harold . . . Harold Lowe," the young man replied, offering his hand.

The man at the desk ignored it, merely writing down his name in a book, then turning around to find him room key. Harold withdrew his hand, feeling semi-self-conscious.

"Here you are then, lad. Room 246 at the main hall. You know your way?"

"Oh, sure," Harold said confidently, without a clue.

The man at the desk seemed to perceive his hidden ignorance, and with a smile, handed him a campus map. "Now, you see, you're here at registration, and you want to go there, the boarding hall."

"I see," Harold replied, red-faced but relieved.

"Be off with you, then," the man replied, giving him a warm smile before turning to the next in line. "Now, what's your name, lad?" Harold could hear him ask as he gathered up his baggage and walked outside. A quick glance at the map before putting it in his jacket gave him surety, and he walked with a confident step towards the boarding hall.

"Be off with you, then," the man replied, giving him a warm smile before turning to the next in line. "Now, what's your name, lad?" Harold could hear him ask as he gathered up his baggage and walked outside. A quick glance at the map before putting it in his jacket gave him surety, and he walked with a confident step towards the boarding hall.

Stepping inside, he was greeted by the sight of a hallway filled with bags, young men shouting and yelling, which comforted Harold slightly: it was a familiar sight. He started up the stairs, and once there managed to pull his way through the chaos, where he found his room. It was well-appointed-a bed, a desk, a small shelf for books, and a tiny closet near a chest of drawers. There was a lovely view of a tree outside, and Harold smiled as he began to unpack.

Once that task was done, he started to look over his schedule: The Early Rakes of Literature, French I, Rhetoric, Romantic Poetry, Dancing I, and Acting I. He sighed as he meditated upon this: did he make the right choice, coming here? Would he succeed? He didn't know; he supposed that he would find out tomorrow, during class, whether he would be able to succeed as a rake.


"There is a long tradition of rakes in literature . . . from the first novels, the rakish gentleman was always an essential part of fiction. He has taken many guises, many names, comes from many countries, but he is always a classic seducer of women, and here at the BCSR, we believe in the study of our ancestors, from which you may learn the techniques of seduction. Now, you young fools, you may think that this is unnecessary. You may feel that you could seduce any woman that you like," snorted Sir Edward Denham, the professor of Harold's first class, at his last statement.

"That's just nonsense. There is an art to seduction; it is a science!" cried Sir Edward, slapping his hand down loudly on his desk. The sound reverberated loudly throughout the audience, silencing the gigglers.

"Now, you young fools, forget any of your notions about raking. I dare say you have such notions, as I did when I was your age, but they are undoubtedly nonsense. Here at the Brookston-Crawford School of Rakedom, you will learn how rakishness is done, and you will learn it through the careful study of the Fine Art of Seduction."

Harold walked out of his first class feeling a little nervous. Sir Edward had spent the first class period entirely dressing the class down, and Harold had been reduced to an inept, unattractive, idiotic pile of jelly. He certainly did not feel that he would ever be able to seduce anything.

In his next class, however, he felt more comfortable. He had taken several years of French during his younger years, and the Professor, M. Devalmont did not yell, even if he did seem a little icy. In Rhetoric, he listened attentively and took notes, but did not feel very confident about the moral fibre of Professor Wickham. The man made him a little uncomfortable, which worried him. If this man was qualified to be a rake, shouldn't he respect him, and like him? Perhaps he was not cut out for this line of work.

The next day passed in another blur, more agreeably this time. The only class that stuck out in his mind was Romantic Poetry with Professor Willoughby-he was very dedicated to his subject, Harold could tell, and felt sure that he would enjoy that class. After all, Professor Willoughby seemed much more agreeable than Professor Wickham, for all of the former's Rhetoric. Dancing and Acting seemed to be easy, and Harold went back to his room on the second night feeling much more confident than he had the first.


Time passed, as Time does, and Harold took many more classes for the Attainment of the Apex of Rakishness. He learned every trick of the trade, from climbing trellises to carrying off a reluctant damsel without suspicion. He was able to quote direct sections from Richardson, Fielding, Thackeray, Austen, as well as the poetry of Byron, Shakespeare, Browning, and Burns. He could speak excellent charming French, dance almost any dance that he could ever be called on to dance, act pathos with as much flair as apathy, sing any medley or romantic durge, but he wasn't sure up to what did all of this add. He then learned how to duel, how to use both a pistol and a small-sword, how to manipulate a crowd in order to get alone with a girl without suspicion, as well as how to successfully avoid both women and the brothers of the women. Through these classes, he began to see a purpose; the knowledge gathered together and connected. By the time that he came to the capstone course, he was able to confidently take his seat in the front and listened to his illustrious Deans, Professors Brookston and Crawford with attention.

"You young men have spent several years now, learning all of the finer points of Rakism. You have learned many things; some of them have probably seemed odd, some normal; some useless, some useful. Now, in this last course before you attain your degrees, you shall have need for all of your knowledge and put it to use. Yes," said Professor Crawford in reply to the murmuring of the class, "now you will be allowed to actually meet young women, and you will have to succeed in an actual seduction."

Harold smiled at his classmates. Finally! Finally, he would be able to tell if he was cut out to be a rake or not. The long hours of study, strategic planning, and science could be put into practice, and he would have to seduce a real, living, breathing woman.

"You shall begin work soon; next Friday, you gentlemen shall go to certain clubs--but you will not seduce any girl. Your objective is to first find your territory, to look for a girl -you will be required to discover how often she comes to the club, her name, anything about her without asking her anything, or making anyone suspicious." Crawford looked about at the class, staring into their eyes cautiously.

"Class dismissed," he replied, and turned around to his partner, Professor Brookston with the faint smile that had previously delighted the hearts of many women.

"So, Tim, what do you think? Do you think that any of them can manage it?"

"I don't know," Tim replied. "After all, we've never really seen these boys before. They have passed all previous training, so theoretically they should be able to do it, but you know, Henry, that we never know until the end who will succeed or not."

"Indeed," Henry commented with a smile. "I had no idea that you would turn out the way that you did, after all."

Tim smiled, and said nothing.


That night, Harold dressed up in a white shirt and khakis, determined to find some young, impressionable girl and impress her with his stunning talents. He ran a comb through his slightly damp, dark curly hair and examined his reflection with satisfaction. He did not mean to be impolite, but he knew that he was a very good-looking young man, and so felt some confidence that he would easily be able to pass off a seduction, and get his degree in Rakism.

Looking at the list of clubs, he decided upon one called The Side of the Road that sounded promising. Giving his shoes one last polish, he shrugged into a navy blazer and started off towards his destination. Easily he got in, and took a seat at a small table to one side of the club. He ordered a gin and tonic, and sipped this concoction as he watched the girls walk past, seeing if he could find the right one.

There . . . there! He sat up, appreciatively taking in his first view of the girl that he knew he was going to seduce. Her blond hair and friendly smile attracted him, and he realized that now he had to observe carefully. He pulled out his notepad and pen, ready to take notes as the girl talked with her friends.

"So, I am done with him!" the girl said with a smile to her giggling friends. "I shall remain Sophie the Singleton forever."

"Forever, Sophie?" a friend remarked with a raised brow.

"Well, for a day, at least," Sophie replied, causing the group to giggle even harder, and Harold to smile. Yes, here was a girl that would be interesting; not much of a challenge, if he could judge, but it would be amusing. Happily for him, Sophie and her friends took a table nearby, so he was able to sit and make notes as their conversation revealed much to him. Sophie's last name was Cooke, she was working on her degree in chemistry, twenty-one, and single. Once Sophie prepared to leave, he was able to slip out and watch her walk down the street to a boarding house. Harold jotted all of this information down, interested.

A week or so later, he decided to approach her. At The Side of the Road again, he approached her once as she sat alone.

"Hallo," he said, coming up to her. "My name is Harold," offering his hand.

"Sophie," she said, shaking his hand.

"Would you like to dance?" he asked.

"No, but thanks," she said with a small smile.

Harold shrugged. "All right, then. It was a pleasure," he said, and began to walk away.

Sophie laughed, and called him back. "No, wait! Why not?" she asked, as soon as he turned around, getting up from her chair.

Harold smiled. "I was wondering the same thing."

"So, Harold, are you usually this confident?"

"Why-am I overconfident, do you think?"

"I really couldn't say. After all, I don't know you very well-but what you last said, it sounds very much like you are very confident about your attractions."

"What?-oh, you mean why I said I was wondering the same thing? But why would you think that that means that I am overly-self-confident? Perhaps I was questioning which bad quality of mine you had discovered merely through a handshake, wondering what could have repelled you. After all, you haven't really had the opportunity to see my bad qualities yet."

"Indeed," she laughed, "certainly not."

"That would require a closer acquaintance, I believe."

"Oh, worry not, Harold! I have no intention of pursuing such a closer acquaintance, so you will not have to expose your faults to me."

"Nor yours to me. After all, you do have faults, do you not?"

She grinned. "Some, I should imagine, but I require you to protest that."

"But why should I?" asked he, surprised. "After all, you do not intend to pursue a closer acquaintance with me, so it would be singularly fruitless for me to try and make a good impression upon you as for you to make a good impression upon me. As likely as not we shall never see each other again."

"You are a singularly wise man, but perhaps if you charmed me enough, I might be induced to see you again."

His eyes danced. "Really? Oh, and had I but known! But surely, I would have disgusted you in the beginning with my eagerness to please, and it is much better as it is, I suppose."

"I can see that I shall be convinced to give you my phone number-you are charming me, and it is awful of you to do it!"

"Really?" he said, his face looking crestfallen. "Well, perhaps I should leave you, then, if I displease you so. Certainly, I would not wish to charm any girl against her will."

"Then stop making that face, and behave like a sensible human being!" Sophie replied energetically.

"I don't know if I will! Actually, I begin to feel sure that I do not want to further my acquaintance with you. You are quite a shrew-first you accuse me of being conceited, then of being rude, then wicked, and now insensible! Certainly, I have my faults, but you are equally rude to tell me about them all."

She laughed, then looked apologetic. "Oh, I'm sorry. Certainly, I did not mean to be rude!"

He sniffed. "Well, perhaps I could forgive you . . . but then, I would have to further my acquaintance with you, and we would have to meet several times in which you were very abject in your apologies and very charming, and perhaps after such an intervening interval, I could be moved to forgive you for wounding my self-esteem."

She laughed. "All right! All right! I see that I cannot help myself! I am compelled!"

"So am I, I think," he commented quite truthfully.


Thus required by both inclination and school, Harold furthered his acquaintance with Sophie, and found in it many rewards for his labor. She was witty, bright, elegant, eloquent, everything that a person could require in a companion. She was well-read, could sing with a light voice, disliked Dickens fiercely (as did he,) very pretty and charming. Her only fault in Harold's eyes was that she was too charming, for though he was succeeding in charming her, she was succeeding in charming him. As he looked into her eyes during their meetings, he saw a joy that matched his own. He felt his resolves slipping away. It became impossible: he had to seduce her or fail, but how could he seduce her? It wasn't right; he became desperate to find some way to resolve his situation, but nothing came to him.

After much struggle, he decided that he couldn't do it. Sophie had shown him that he was not cut out to be a seductive rake, and he did not want to be one any more. He was content to be Harold Lowe, the unseductive. After his decision was made, he went to the Deans' office to speak with Professor Crawford, to tell him that he would not be able to pass his course. Hesitantly, he stood in front of the door, nervous and scared. Finally, however, he summed up Sophie's image in his mind, and managed to knock upon the door.

"Enter!" a voice cried out, and Harold threw the door open to see Dean Brookston sitting at a desk with some papers. He looked up, rose from his seat with a smile, and Harold's stomach churned. He did not know what to do, he did not know Professor Brookston well enough to tell him anything, he thought.

"Come in, Mr. Lowe-and yes, I know who you are. Dean Crawford might do all of the speaking in class, but you will find that I do pay attention to what goes on around this campus," Brookston replied with a smile. Nervously, Harold gulped, managed a faint one of his own, and took a seat across from him at his desk.

"Now, what did you wish to speak of, Mr. Lowe?"

"Well, Professor Brookston, I wanted to speak with Professor Crawford about the class."

"What about it?" he replied, refusing to be abashed.

"Well, sir, I don't think that I will pass it."

"Why not? You seem to be a promising young man."

"Well, sir . . . it's a girl."

Brookston smiled warmly. "It always is."

Harold gulped again. "Well, sir, I met her on assignment for the class, and since I've gotten to know her . . . well, I've fallen for her."

"She's wonderful, I am sure."

"Very wonderful," Harold asserted boldly. "She's a lovely girl, and I realized that I just couldn't seduce her like that, cold-bloodedly. She deserves much more than that-she doesn't deserve to be left, and I wouldn't want to or be able to do that. So, I fear, I will fail."

Brookston smiled. "No, you won't."

Harold looked outraged. "You can't make me seduce her, you know! And I don't want to seduce anybody else!"

"I am sure of that . . ." the Dean replied with a larger smile, a warm glow in his eye. He looked back at Harold, and gestured for him to come. "Now, come here, young Lowe. I want to show you something."

Harold came over to Brookston's side of the desk, and looked at a picture that was on the desk that Brookston had picked up and now held in her hands. "Look at this girl," Brookston said.

"Yes, sir," Harold replied, observing. "She's a very pretty lady," he said finally.

"So she is," replied Brookston, his smile fading.

Harold observed this change of expression with concern. "Your sister?" he asked.

"My wife," he replied.

Harold's eyes widened in shock. "Your wife, sir?"

Brookston was amused. "We've been married for nearing seven years now . . . happily married." He looked up at Harold, and caught his eye. "I wouldn't trade any moment of any of those years for anything; no seduction could give me one little crumb of the pleasure I have thinking of my wife: and I'm sure that you feel the same way about your Sophie."

"Well . . . yes, sir."

"Of course; otherwise you wouldn't be here, speaking to me about her," Brookston said neatly. "Now, Harold, I want to tell you something. Only a few men are cut out to be rakes-and so much the better for society! I've long since learned that a rakish life doesn't offer real fulfillment. Men who are rakes are rakes because they can't be anything else; they can't establish a true relationship with a girl and feel the kind of love that you and I feel. Don't feel bad that you can't seduce that girl; feel proud that you can't. Most young males nowadays at your age could do it, and leave her without a thought. However, you're better than that, and you've proven that right now."

Brookston reached over for a pad of paper, and wrote a number down upon it. "Since obviously you have decided not to pass this class, here is the phone number of a fellow I know down at RADA. His name's Johnny Yates. Tell him that Tim Brookston says hello, and tell him to call me. I'll recommend you, and you can put your talent for acting to good use. When you accept your BAFTA, be sure to thank me for it, or I shall be very put out!" Tim replied, ripping the note off its pad and handing it to him. He smiled up at the happy boy, and patted him on the back. "I recognized you from the start to be a talented boy-now put that talent to good use."

Harold smiled, shook Brookston's hand warmly, and confidently walked out of the office with a clear conscious and a happy future awaiting him.

 


Being Edmund Bertram

It was a hard life, being Edmund Bertram. However, no one seemed to appreciate that-not even Edmund Bertram himself. He never meditated on his difficulties, for he merely lived his life as he thought befit his duty. He was a very moral man, full of good principles, and very often he found himself failing his principles. Often did he chastise himself for his failings and did his best to overcome them, but to no avail. He resolved to behave better, to let himself remain strong in the face of his attachment to Miss Crawford, but to no avail. Whenever he sat by her side, and listened to her, he found himself in disagreement with her expressed opinions, but he could not help but listen and smile at her witticisms. He didn't know what to do-often he sat by himself in his room, thinking and praying for strength, for wisdom. If only he knew that he it could work-if she would accept him, if they could make it work-he could be happy with her, despite their differences. He loved her, in spite of everything he loved her, and he wished that he could figure out what to do. With a small moan, he began to rub his temples.


She sat on her sofa, flipping through the channels on the TV. However, there was no program worth watching-nothing to entertain her. She finally turned off the television, and sat for a moment, inert. Suddenly, she sat up, and with a small moan, began to rub her temples . . . and suddenly, she looked at her hands, and realized that she was looking at the hands of a man, listening to the sound of a man sighing.

She saw before her a wooden floor-she tried to look up, to figure out what was going on, but her line of vision did not move. Confused, she merely waited, and her head eventually raised. She rose without any effort of will, and walked over to a small dressing table where sat a jug of water and a large bowl. The body she seemed to occupy poured the water into the bowl, and she felt cool water on her face. A towel quickly rubbed the water off, and the body looked into the mirror. The mirror reflected back the image of a handsome young man, his blond hair neatly clipped, his eyes woeful. She felt interested in the fate of this sad, lonely face, wondering what misfortunes could have befallen it. She could hear his thoughts, and suddenly realized who this person was . . . it was Edmund Bertram!

Edmund rubbed a hand over his cooled forehead, with another sigh, staring at himself in the mirror. A small smile came to his face as he noticed the bags beneath his eyes; certainly if he tried to propose to Miss Crawford now, she would not let him into the house, for he certainly looked very ragged. His smile widened, and he picked up a brush to straighten his hair, and once done, adjusted his shirt, vest, and coat to look more respectable. Once satisfied with the results, he decided to go downstairs and perhaps take a walk outside, or find a book from the library to read. As he started down the stairs, however, he felt his leg twitch oddly, and he paused. Then, for some reason unknown to him, he hopped onto the banister and began to slide down it towards the bottom.

Yes! she laughed merrily to herself. Somehow, she had figured out how to work Edmund, as it were, and joyfully rode down the railing towards the bottom steps. She could tell that Edmund was terribly alarmed, but she did not particularly care. Nearing the bottom, she noticed a large carving piece at the end which it would be rather painful to slam into. At first there was resistance, but just in time she managed to force him to jump off. He stumbled down a few steps, but managed to stay on his feet and keep his balance. With an evil giggle, she then induced him to try out a few celebratory disco steps.

Edmund was excessively worried now. His body was out-of-control-first it had jumped onto the railing, and now it was forcing him to dance to some unheard beat in a way that he had never danced before. Stiffly did his arms move and his hips sway; he tried to stop, but he could not until somehow the force that had entered him stopped. Slightly shaking, he managed to step away, heading for the library when suddenly, he heard Fanny's voice behind him. He swung around quickly, hoping that she had not seen that display-from her expression, it did not seem so.

"Hello, Fanny," he managed to say.

"Cousin, are you all right?" she asked. "You look unwell."

"I-I am fine," he managed to say before suddenly, he was down on his knees before her. His mouth opened, and began to move soundlessly as Edmund asked himself, Why is my body doing this?

Out of nowhere, a voice very different from his own answered him. You are going to propose to her, you silly! Mary Crawford is not the girl for you-Fanny will make you happy. She's been in love with you for years now, if you haven't noticed.

Edmund's eyes widened in bewilderment as Fanny knelt beside him, her eyes full of worry, her hands gentle as she helped to raise his body into a kneeling position. "Edmund, what is the matter?"

"A sudden fit of weakness," he managed to say faintly, his brow creased in distress by not only the fact that he was hearing strange voices in his head, but also what the voice had said. Could it be possible? Am I mad?

She sighed. No, you're not mad, Edmund. You are perfectly sane, she assured him, but you might make me mad if you don't listen to me. Did you understand what I said?

That Fanny loves me; I know.

What? You've known all this time, and never-

No! I meant to say that I've never known that Fanny was in love with me. I am her cousin; some affection she certainly must feel for me, for we have been close for years-but Fanny? Loves me? She would like to be my wife?

What do you think I was trying to tell you? That she felt a cousinly affection for you? Edmund, you have been her mentor, her guide, her sole protector ever since she has come to Mansfield. You were there was she was lonely; you comforted her when she was scared and helped her to feel at home. You formed her taste and guided her judgements; can you imagine that any woman would not love the man who served as her friend in so many ways?

I never thought-never thought that Fanny could feel-that . . . I just never thought of that at all! . . . and I've talked to her about my feelings for Miss Crawford! How could I be such a fool? Poor Fanny-poor sweet, innocent Fanny-she has looked to me as her best friend, and all I've done was wound her.

Now, Edmund, don't feel bad. You made a mistake, sure, but a lot of men have made worse mistakes. Yours was innocent in comparison.

No, do not try and comfort me with so many false phrases. I have done wrong all this time-I begged her to act; I almost betrayed her by forcing her to betray herself. I have neglected her, I have injured her most grossly; I have done all this to the most lovely, virtuous girl that I know: I do not deserve pity; Fanny does.

Lovely?

She is an angel; she has listened to my complaints without a word of centure; I have betrayed her, and in her quiet way, I am sure that she has forgiven me. I am not half so generous-I cannot forgive even Miss Crawford for her faults.

Don't start in again about Miss Crawford! Miss Crawford does not deserve a moment of your time, Edmund; how often do I have to try and drum that into your head? You have already acknowledged that Fanny is more worthy than Mary-thus, is not Fanny the more desirable wife? She would love to be a clergyman's wife; there is no joy more dear to her than the privilege of walking at your side, serving as your companion. She would be an excellent helpmeet to accompany you upon life's journey.

But . . .

But what?

I . . . I don't love her. I love her as my sister, as my best friend. She is one of my dearest objects in the world, but despite that she might be less worthy of my regard, I love Mary more. Perhaps, like Fanny, I am inclined to love those that I can help. I could never help Fanny-Fanny needs not my help; I need hers now.

Then call upon her to give it! If you would confess everything to her, leaving me out of it, I am sure that eventually Fanny Price could make you forget that any Mary Crawford existed.

But . . .

"Edmund? Are you well?" Fanny asked nervously, her gentle voice recalling Edmund to his situation.

"Yes, Fanny, I am well. I just felt a little dizzy for a moment, but I am better now." He smiled kindly at her, shaken when he noticed the concern in her eyes.

See? I told ya!

"Do not let me bother you, Fanny-if you have something to be about, I shall be well."

She smiled shyly. "Actually, Aunt Norris required me for some sewing, but I fear that you need me here. If I do not trouble you, then I shall be very happy to sit here with you."

Edmund's heart thumped painfully as his eyes met her own gentle ones. Sitting here with him now was probably a joyous misery for her, just as it was for him when he was with Miss Crawford. The misery of Fanny's situation struck him deeply; she had no one to whom she could confess, and she could never admit the truth to anyone. Such a girl did not deserve such a fate-he wished that for her, he could make her happy . . . if only I could love her . . .

Why can't you? What's to stop you?

Mar-

Now don't give me any of that bull, Edmund! Why don't you really try and love her? Talk with her, spend time with her and see what happens. Perhaps you would fall in love with her, if you would give her a try.

Edmund sat for a moment, then rose. He held out his hand to Fanny, and helped her to rise. "That would be agreeable, indeed," Edmund replied with a smile, and offered her his arm. "You have not gone walking today, have you, Fanny?"

"Not yet, Cousin Edmund."

"Well, then I believe I shall accompany you. The weather is so very fine, and you look very pretty today. Surely, you shall be able to bring cheer to my heart."

Her musical laugh sounded softly, and her cheeks reddened a little as her eyes darted away. "Oh, Edmund," was all she was able to say as he guided her from out of the darkness of the house into the light of the day.

 


Just a Gigolo

"Fifty! Do I hear fifty-five? Fifty-five, fifty-five, fifty-five, fifty-five! C'mon, give me fifty-five! Fifty-five, anyone? Fifty-five!" The auctioneer paused to lick his lips. "All right, fifty! Fifty going once . . . fifty going twice . . . and fifty, sold! Here you are, ma'am, here is your prize."

The audience obediently clapped, but somehow Marie couldn't manage it. Frankly, she was bored. Her friends had dragged her to this place, but she hadn't been very interested. It reminded her of too many county fairs, too many bingo-tables, too many 4-H exhibits, and too many quilt sales. She was only able to pay the most cursory regard to the dealings, throwing a glance at the merchandise every mow and then, but speechlessly turning her head away, without interest.

"Ladies, ladies, now here is something to make you grab your checkbooks!" the auctioneer cried merrily as the lot was brought out. Marie's head began to turn with a smile, wondering what new object deserved such fulsome praises. When her eyes met the goods, her jaw dropped in surprise. Now here was something, indeed! Unbelievingly, she found herself reaching for her purse, calculating how much money she had in her checking account. She hoped that it would be enough without having to empty the entire thing. Judging by the reaction of the audience, she believed it to be possible.

Tactfully, the bidding started at fifty, and was quickly passed. However, as the amount reached 150, the bidding started to die down until only Marie and an older woman in her sixties were left standing. The woman was confidently bidding, cool and composed as she responded to 160. A little sweat crested Marie's forehead . . . what if she did not win? Quickly, she asserted 165, hoping to quiet her.

As the amount increased, the replies came more slowly as each stopped to contemplate the answer, weighing the amount against the object for which they were bidding. Finally, reluctantly it was Marie's turn, and she weakly replied, "200!"

The auctioneer was pleased. "200! 200! Twoooo-hundred!" his voice lilting and reaching from its highest heights to its deepest depths, caressing the words. "Now, do we have 205?"

Marie sighed deeply, and crossed her fingers. 200 was all that she could go; theoretically, she could bid more, but to do so would close her checking account, as there was a $25.00 minimum. She cursed herself for every other unnecessary expenditure she had made, every payment of monies that she did not have now. Her breathing was shallow as she watched her opponent. Would she? or wouldn't she?

"200 . . . 200 going once . . ."

Marie crossed and recrossed her fingers.

". . . 200 going twice . . ."

Marie bit her lip, and closed her eyes tightly, her body tense, her nerves taut.

Then, after an excruciatingly long moment . . . ". . . 200 sold! Congratulations to the lady in green-it appears that that's her lucky color!"

With a gasp, she opened her eyes wide, her mouth full of some indescribable that made it impossible for her to speak. She panted, tried to swallow, her breathing heavy. She blinked, her eyes ready to shed tears of joy and relief. She tried to stand up and tottered, her legs weak beneath her. A moment later, she walked over to her property, and extended her hand towards it.

"Hello. Marie Leifheit-I guess that you're my gigolo now."

"Tim Brookston," the fellow replied urbanely, shaking the offered hand. His tones, like his blond hair, were closely clipped, and precise. He wore a pair of pressed khakis with a collared blue shirt that complimented his eyes, and was vastly pleasing. "It's a pleasure."

"Well, certainly for me," Marie replied with a broad smile. With Tim at her side, she went up to the desk and paid the clerk her $200 by check. Once she put her checkbook back into her handbag, Tim offered her his arm, which she eagerly took. Pink with pleasure, she smiled as they walked across the college campus, noticing how every girl was checking out her Tim.

She looked up into his face, which was nonchalant. "Do you ever stop and think about how attractive you are?"

"Oh, all the time!" Tim replied, and suddenly glanced over at a window, brushing a piece of lint off of his fitted shirt. He smiled widely at his reflection for some moments before turning his head back to her.

"Really?" asked Marie, surprised.

"Of course! I am astonishingly handsome, you know," he said by way of explanation.

"So I see. But it's not very common to hear such things said."

"Well, yes," he agreed. "But then, you know, people can be so unobservant at times."

"You must be joking!-you are, aren't you?"

Tim then laughed loudly. "What must you think of me? Undoubtedly, you must think me vain, but I assure you, I truly am not."

"Actually, I must agree with what you said: you are excessively pleasing, and I can approve further now that you have shown your good sense," she replied. "But I am also convinced that it is a good thing that you are my gigolo, and our roles are defined. You are under my control."

"Indeed, it is a very good thing for you, considering that I am a very wicked and base character."

"Do you usually speak to your mistresses in this manner, Tim?"

He thought for a moment, smiling creases forming in his brow. "Not generally-but you are younger than all of my previous mistresses. I'm not quite sure what I should do in this situation."

"Let me boss you about while you look attractive?" she suggested tactfully.

He nodded. "That's always an idea."

"Hmm . . . then, I guess I get to decide what we do now?"

"Your wish is my command," Tim said, inclining his head.

"I'm so tempted . . ." Marie grinned, casting a speculative glance at her companion. As Tim laughed, she subsided. "I think that I'll limit myself to merely proposing a drive back home."

Tim raised an eyebrow. "Is this your attempt at coy seduction?"

"No! she cried hotly, trying not to laugh. "I was just trying to suggest something innocent, but obviously as long as I'm with Dr. Freud, I won't be able to do that."

Tim quickly apologized in a very humble manner, and cheerfully approved the driving idea. "I should like to see some cornfields."

"Not if I can help it," Marie replied, unlocking her car-doors. Tim hurried over to the other side, opening the door. He looked quite abashed as she opened the other door, as if to get in.

"You can't do that: I wanted to open the door for you!"

"Well, come over here and open it!"

"But I wanted to drive you about, like a chauffeur. You know, your humble servant," he said with an small bow.

"And I think that since I know where I want to go, and what is more, what side of the road to drive on, I should drive."

Tim glumly crossed over to the other side and opened the door. "You are so mean," he said, his lower lip prodding its way out.

"Yes, now get over it," Marie replied. "You're not my only victim, so get in the car."

Tim looked at her, slightly skeptical as he buckled himself into his seat. "You're really this way to everyone?"

She smiled. "Yes, I really am quite as wicked as you. I can see that I've comforted you," she remarked, turning the key and taking off the break.

Tim looked at her, slightly skeptical as he buckled himself into his seat. "You're really this way to everyone?"

She smiled. "Yes, I really am quite as wicked as you. I can see that I've comforted you," she remarked, turning the key and taking off the break.

"Not really," he said at the nearest stoplight. "After all, I'm still stuck with you for the day."

"How true-unflattering, but true." She laughed, and as they started to pass a Steak and Shake, Marie asked, "Hungry?"

"Famished," he replied as she pulled into the drive-through. There was no line, fortunately, and so Marie only had to wait for Tim to make up mind. After three impatient minutes, however, Marie finally spoke.

"Look, Tim, just make up your mind."

"But I don't know what to get!" he whined. "Should I get a single steakburger, or a double?"

"Well, what are you hungry for?"

"But I don't want to eat you out of your car!"

Marie laughed shortly through her frustration. "Don't worry about that, Tim. Just pick something."

Noting her expression, Tim quickly made up his mind on the double steakburger. "And can I have a large chocolate shake too, please?"

Happily did Marie order the shake, but she was soon moved by another urge to hit him. As Tim poked the straw into his shake, he murmured to himself with a sigh, "I'm going to get fat." With a resigned look did he suck greedily on the straw as Marie almost choked on a pickle.

"What?" she finally managed to say after much coughing. "Tim, you are not going to get fat!"

"Not this moment, no," Tim agreed, "but think of it, Marie: I'm 24. Already, my body is deteriorating. By the time I'm 30, my stomach will be the size of Surrey. From 21, you know, it's all downhill. A man's prime is past."

Marie sat for a stunned moment in silence, then her sides began to shake as she laughed. The further Tim's words sunk in, the more she laughed until she was hysterically cackling. "Good grief, Tim; tell me that you don't believe that?!" Her laughed rose again, and she was forced to stop the attempt to speak for a few minutes.

"Good gracious, Tim," she managed to say, "I hate to ask you this, but I have to know-at what age is it for girls where 'it's all downhill,' as you put it? Eighteen?-if so, I'm afraid that I'm already 'downhill'."

Loudly did Tim attempt to disclaim any such sentiment. "No, no!" was all he was able to say before Marie jumped in again. "What? Do you think sixteen, then? Well, Tim, I can't say that I agree," she said thoughtfully. "Surely, girls mature faster, so their ruin must start earlier than the male ruining, but not younger than eighteen-after all, Tim, girls younger than that are jailbait!"

"I didn't mean that," Tim responded warmly. "I didn't say anything like that at all-you're just twisting my words about. Older women are often perfectly lovely."

"Oh! So you see the prime for ladies coming later? Why, I've never heard anyone express that before, but it's a very gallant notion, and I'm sure many of your former mistresses would agree to that."

His brow furrowed, his mouth pinched into a pout, and he looked quite vexed. After a moment, however, his mouth relaxed and he began to laugh. "I see you have confounded me!" he replied. "I suppose that I must not say anything in reply."

"Indeed, that would be very nice," she replied as the car turned off of the highway onto a smaller road.

"Oh, you misuse me past the endurance of a block!" he cried in between bites of his steakburger.

"I won't dispute that. However, as I have paid for both your company and meal, it would be decidedly more politic if you refrained from criticism."

"Perhaps-but then, wouldn't that be a waste of self-restraint?"

She laughed. "And you have actually had success as a gigolo?"

"Quite-as we have agreed, I am one stunning lad."

"But certainly, your mistresses are interested in more than sexual activities?--Tell me about these mistresses of yours. What kind of women sought your company?"

He laughed. "Really, I couldn't say. Besides, it would be very ungentlemanly in me to expose their faults for your pleasure."

She gave him a look out of the corner of her eye, and a smile slowly grew on her face. "I'm turning, Tim-turning into a cornfield."

"But then, as it is my object to please you-" he said with laughter. "Well, the first woman who hired me out did so for that very motive, I fear-but it just so happened that once she caught me reading Chaucer, and then she realized that I was more than just a pretty face. We began to have serious discussions thereafter, and we went to many ballets together before we happily parted company."

"And the next?"

"She came to me upon the recommendation of my previous mistress, and so we had an excellent start. She favored the opera very much, and after several weeks, I noticed that when we entered our box, she would always scan the place first, and if so, she would proceed to hang all over me, as it were. I found out later that she was trying to make her wandering husband jealous by going about with a younger, more attractive man-and actually, it worked!" Tim blushed as he remembered some detail, and said, "Look, let's stop here!"

"Finish the story, and we will," Marie said, slowing down.

Tim grinned. "Well, actually, it ended up that one night he came to my flat and warned me to stay away from his wife very loudly. He berated me for several minutes, trying to goad me to respond-when I eventually agreed, I think he was a little taken aback, for he asked if his wife wasn't good enough for me, and that I was a dirty, disgusting weasel and other choice phrases. I then told him that I wasn't good enough for her, and that seemed to settle the matter. I assure you, my neighbors were very curious later whenever I passed by on the stairs. One person actually asked me if it was an older woman; when I unwisely said yes, he then handed me the card of a psychologist and told me that it seemed like I had a 'mother complex'." He blushed slightly at the memory as Marie parked the car.

"Well, Tim, here is life in Illinois. Supposedly a lot of kids come up here and get drunk."

"It's a good thing we have our milkshakes, then!" Tim said, picking up his shake. They then hopped out of the car, and laid down on top of the car-hood, looking out at the corn.

"It's quite lovely," he said, looking about him.

Marie grimaced. "If you like corn," she replied, then said, "but continue, Tim! I want to hear more about your mistresses-it's very amusing."

"Well, I still won't tell you about them all, but I think that I'll tell you about one more of them."

"All right-then tell!"

"Let's see-well, the last mistress I had was a bit odd. She liked to dress up as a boy all the time, and she always wanted to go out to places dressed up in male clothing. She also liked dogs; I went once to her country-house, but I never went again because the place smelt of dogs so badly that I couldn't stand it. She also liked the opera and ballet, and often went there and made dismissive comments, because formerly she had been a dancer, still practiced and danced very well. However, I tolerated her faults, as they were, because she was very good-natured and kind."

"How interesting!" replied Marie. "How old were your mistresses, usually?"

"The youngest was about 35, actually, and the oldest was somewhere in her sixties, I believe."

"Do you like older ladies?-you seem to charm them very well, at least. That granny at the auction would have given up her Social Security check for you!" she remarked, causing them both to laugh.

"Not really, if you're wondering . . . I've just taught myself to appreciate their company," he said, turning his head. Catching her eye, he smiled at her before turning his head back forward.

"And could you learn to appreciate a younger girl?" she asked, causing his head to turn back, and look at her. "After all," Marie said with a faint grin, "I should not want you to be miserable today and tonight."

He pushed himself upon his elbows, and a lazy smile crept onto his face as he said, "I don't think you have to worry about that, my dear." His smiled widened as he continued to look there, and his tongue passed over his lips. He started to rise up as Marie started to giggle, and he leaned back, somewhat nonplussed.

"Oh, Tim, how funny you are!" she replied. "It's almost like you were trying to seduce me! I thought that was my job!"

"Well, actually, I'm still waiting for you to do it," Tim managed to reply.

She laughed. "Nah . . . too much work. So, what shall we do now?"

"As you said earlier, you have the control. I leave it for you to decide."

"Hmm . . ." Marie thought. An idea came to her, and she then asked, "Would you like to see the train park?"

"Train park?" asked Tim, confused.

Marie grinned. "Well, a lot of trains pass through our town, and a lot of people have come to our town to observe the trains passing by. Eventually, the town built a train park for the tourists, as it were." As Tim laughed, Marie tried to defend her town. "Well, it sounds weird, Tim, and certainly I've never been there, but many people like many different things."

Through his laughter, he replied, "No, no! I wasn't meaning to insult-it's just I've never heard of such a thing."

"Well, actually, I believe that the Rochelle Train Park is the only Train Park in the United States-but would you like to go?"

"I think that I must see the Rochelle Train Park, especially if it is the only Train Park in the United States. I cannot resist the opportunity."

"All right," Marie said, and they quickly hopped off the roof of her car and drove towards the town. Arriving at the park, they happened to catch sight of a passing train.

"Whoa!" Tim replied as they started to take a seat on a bench. It looks like this place is hopping!"

"Indeed-we have many trains pass through here," Marie commented. "It can be noisy."

"So I should imagine," Tim commented, amused. "I dare say that these trains lower the property value, too."

"Perhaps-I really don't know, though," Marie remarked as the sound of another train could be heard, clacking along the tracks. Silently, they watched the train pass, and another. Marie then lifted her hand to her mouth as Tim yawned; they both laughed.

"Well, it's very unexciting," Tim said defensively. "If it were peaceful, then it would be nicer, but these trains pass by too often for that."

"I wasn't criticizing you!" Marie said with a laugh. "I can't blame you-I suppose we shall have to entertain ourselves, then." She looked out into the distant horizon before her, and said without looking at Tim, "Put your arm around me."

"What?" Tim asked, surprised.

"Put your arm around me . . . I have an idea how we can be amused," she said, slipping her hand into Tim's. With a grin, he put his arm around her, and she leaned on his shoulder. They sat like this for some moments before Marie noticed a woman taking a picture of a passing train, shifting her legs as she wore dress slacks.

"Hello!" Marie said, causing the woman to look over with a smile. She stood up then, and gestured at the bench. "Sit down, ma'am-you look tired."

With a grateful smile, the lady sat down. Marie then nudged Tim, who started rise, but was pushed back down onto the seat. "No, Tim, sit down," she said, and promptly deposited herself onto Tim's lap. Tim was a little startled by this, but the woman next to her showed herself to be even more startled. However, both quickly recovered as Marie wrapped her arm around Tim.

"From where do you come, ma'am?" Marie asked politely, stroking Tim's back.

"Ohio," the lady commented. "My husband has a fascination with trains, so we came together," she said, her voice trailing off as Marie planted a few kisses on Tim's cheek. She smiled warmly, and said, "And you?"

"Oh, I live here, but Tim has never seen the Train Park, so I brought him," Marie said, moving her hand to stroke Tim's hair lovingly, who was quite enjoying himself.

"Are you dating, then?" the woman asked.

"Oh, no, Tim's my gigolo," Marie said finally, causing the woman's face to contort in surprise. "Isn't he just splendid?" she asked deliciously.

"I . . . uh, well . . ." the woman said, then Marie jumped up.

"Get up, Tim," she said, patting his arm. Obediently, Tim rose, and confusedly began to turn slowly at Marie's command.

"Now, isn't he just darling? I admit, I'm very proud-he's my first gigolo, you see," Marie said offhandedly.

"Yes, he is very . . . attractive," the woman said, casting a desperate eye around for her husband. Tim's expression did not change, but it was hard for him to keep from laughing.

"And British, too! I consider him quite a find."

"I don't suppose many British gigolos come around here," the woman commented, slightly ironic.

"I dare say it's because of Chicago and O'Hare being so near," Marie mused as Tim sat back down and she sat in his lap again. Tim, realizing what part he was supposed to play, started to absently stroke her arm and kissed her cheek warmly. However, when Tim started to run his other hand along her thigh, she smacked his arm playfully.

"No, Tim! You bad boy you!" she said with a huge grin, causing the woman to rise up from her seat.

"It was nice meeting you, but I think I see my husband now," she said, and began to quickly walk away. As soon as she was far enough away, Marie and Tim burst out into laughter.

"Oh, Marie, you wicked girl you! I think we should leave, before the park-people kick us out for indecency."

"Well, Tim, I didn't see you shrinking from your part!" she defended.

"But then I am under your control! Your humble servant, as it were! Besides, it would have very badly done of me to not help you."

"Well, then that's settled," Marie said with a grin, then hopped up, and extended her hand towards Tim. "Shall we be going, then?" she asked.

"Why not?" he replied, and wrapped his hand around hers. Then did they walk to Marie's car, and drive to her house. Once there, they made turkey sandwiches and watched the movie Hackers, as Marie was interested in knowing his opinion of the movie.

"Interesting," was what he said afterwards.

"Really?" Marie asked. "And what did you think of Dade Murphy?"

"Huh?"

"Crash Override."

"Oh, him. Well, he's OK, I suppose." After a moment's thought, he asked, "Is that Jonny Lee Miller?"

"Yes."

"Fine actor."

"I think he's rather good-looking myself."

"Really?" Tim asked, mildly surprised.

"Why not? A lot of girls drooled over him in Trainspotting."

"Well, yeah, but. . ."

"But what?"

"His blond dye jobs look so fake . . . and he's got really thin lips."

Marie couldn't stop giggling. "Thin lips?"

"Hey, it makes a difference when you're kissing!" Tim replied defensively. "Ignore me, then; he's an OK guy, I suppose. I just don't think that he's stunning or anything."

"Not like you, eh?"

"Well, no, actually," Tim said, lifting his chin, slightly pursing his thin lips. Marie dissolved into helpless giggles, and did not stop even after the doorbell rang. Tim jumped up, and dragged her along towards the door.

"Who could that be, I wonder?" he asked pointedly, then remarked in a more normal tone, "Stop giggling, you silly!"

Marie managed to recover her sobriety as Tim opened the door, and she looked out to see a limousine in front of her house. She straightened up, and asked Tim, "What is this?"

"Well, a part of this is a trip into Chicago and dinner there," explained Tim.

"Cool beans!" Marie cried. "I suppose that I need to dress up."

"Yes-quickly grab some stuff; you'll have time to put on your makeup in the car."

"Well, I'm going to put on my dress, at least!" Marie cried, dashing to her room. As she was scanning her eyes across her selection, she heard Tim shout from the other side of the door, "Wear something formal!" Acknowledging this to be accurate, she finally settled on a dark blue dress that suited the purpose as well as anything would. She snatched her woolen dress coat from the closet with her shoes as she walked out the door.

"You look nice," Tim commented mildly as they headed for the limo. As they settled in, Marie looked at his outfit and asked, "Well, what are you going to wear?"

"This," he said, gesturing to a tuxedo hanging from a hook. As she started to pull on some hose, he averted his eyes and took the tuxedo out of its plastic wrapping and began to take off his pants. A few minutes later found Marie's hose on, and Tim's pants on as well. As she glanced over to ask him where she could find a mirror, she saw him taking off his shirt, and couldn't help but stare, gape-mouthed, until Tim happened to turn.

"What?" he asked, and Marie could only close her mouth and cast her eyes from his open shirt.

"Nothing," she forced herself to say, and Tim placidly went back to buttoning up his shirt. He tossed the coat, tie, and cummerbund across the vehicle, and stretched out his legs comfortably. They managed to keep up an animated conversation as they drove down Interstate 88. Once they reached Interstate 290, they began to scramble themselves into readiness. As they continued into the town, Marie managed to coax Tim to open the sunroof and they stood up, looked out, and waved to the various people they passed along the way to Bellevue Place, and the hotel.

They decamped and walked into the restaurant, taking a seat at a table reserved for them. After making their orders, Marie cast a glance at the crowd of people in the middle of the place, dancing together.

"Would you like to dance, Tim?" she asked.

"Why not?" he replied, and they hopped down to the middle of the floor and began to dance. The music was swing, and Tim turned out to be an accomplished dancer as they jived to the upbeat tunes. Flushed, after several dances they returned to their seats.

"I didn't know you could dance like that, Tim," she replied.

"Well, you never asked-but I did take lessons."

"Dancing, seducing, driving, eating, modeling-I'll bet you sew, too."

"And play the piano-I am also accounted to be a fair singer as well."

Marie laughed. "Is there nothing that you can't do, Tim?"

"Well, my knitting isn't all that great, and I can't play rugby very well."

"Do you play soccer, then?"

"Yes."

After a moment's thought, Marie asked, "Have you ever thought of having a business card? Something like, 'Tim Brookston-Master of Many Trades, Jack of One?'"

"And what trade would that be? the one that I am only a jack of, I mean."

"I would say . . . prostitution." To Tim's raised eyebrow, she said, "Well, Tim, no offense, but you're not really a great gigolo."

"Are you so sure about that?" Tim asked. "After all, you haven't had the chance to sample all of my talents."

Marie took a wobbly breath, and forced a smile. "Nah, Tim, I think I can easily refuse that," she said with a self-conscious laugh.

"Are you sure?" Tim asked with a wiggle of his eyebrows, causing Marie to laugh more naturally.

"No, I'm sure that somehow, I'll manage to survive without."

Tim snapped his fingers together, sadly resigned. "Darn!" he replied. "Well, I suppose I'll just have to seduce you, then," he replied with a smile that made Marie smile back somewhat foolishly in return.
"A man needs to make a living, after all," he mused aloud.

"I'll recommend you to the manager at McDonald's, then," she replied succinctly, and for a moment, Tim did not react.

He began to laugh. "Oh, how you wound me! That was badly done of you!"

"I thought it was very well done myself."

"Well, it was well delivered, but I am most seriously hurt. You must recompense me, you know."

"Does this mean that I have to pretend to be seduced?" she whined.

He sniffed. "Well, if it wouldn't trouble you too much, you might just dance with me again."

 

"Why not? After all, you can dance," she admitted, rising. However, the meal came, and they were resigned to eating it before they danced. At point, the mood had relaxed and as they stepped to the middle of the room, one of many slow songs came on. Tim's arms wrapped early around Marie's waist, and it was not too long before she leaned against him for support.

After a while, Tim whispered "Marie?" into her ear, his warm breath on her neck sending a shiver down her spine.

"Yes, Tim?"

". . . Have you thought about . . . well, you know . . . when this is all over?"

"Yes?" Marie breathed.

"Well . . . perhaps we could . . . see each other again."

Marie pulled back from his arms. She looked at him for a moment, his lips clenched together, and then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Tim, but . . . I just don't think that it's right." She then headed back to their table and retrieved her coat, with Tim, slightly crestfallen, at her heels.

"But you don't have to go home yet, you know!"

She looked at him again. "I think so."

His head dropped for a moment, and when he raised it, a small smile was upon it. "Well, may I accompany you to your vehicle?"

"You may," she replied.

They walked down together to her waiting chariot, and Tim kissed her hand gently. "Have a lovely life," he said.

"And you too," she replied.