Home - Bookapy Book Preview

The Ugly One

Big Ed Magusson

The Ugly One

The Ugly One

A Compassionate Courtesan Universe Story

Big Ed Magusson

BE’s Place Books


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen


About the Author

More From Big Ed Magusson

Chapter One

The shirt didn’t fit, of course. I sighed. I didn’t have time to get a new custom one, even if I know where to find a good tailor in Carson City. I stared at my old shirt. No way I was going to get that stain out either. I tugged at the right sleeve of the new one, trying to stretch it over the remaining inch to my wrist. No go. Maybe I should have bought the larger shirt, I mused. Except that the extra length on my left wrist got in the way, which was far more annoying than being too short on the right. I sighed and continued getting dressed.

Some anthropologists once did a comprehensive survey of what human cultures considered beautiful. There was one consistent trait—symmetry. Every human culture in existence said that the person with symmetric physical features was the beautiful one.

I’m the ugly one.

Of course I’d done what I could to fix that. The braces had cost a fortune in my early twenties when I was barely making a dime. Years of experimentation had finally found a decent treatment for the acne that had threatened to overwhelm every inch of my face as a kid. I’d learned to dress to hide most of my deformities. But some things just couldn’t be hidden.

There was nothing I could do about my eyes or ears. They were uneven in opposite directions—the left ear and right eye both higher than their partner and unevenly spaced from my nose.

My nose. I sighed thinking about it. The plastic surgeon had quoted a very high price due to issues with my septum. I hoped today’s use for that money was worth passing that up.

At least modern fashion helped. I’d shaved my head as soon as it became fashionable for men. True, I had a lumpy skull, but it was better than the patchy straw hair that stuck every which way. The mustache and goatee concealed the deformities in my lips. I’d missed a cleft palate by the barest of points in the genetic lottery.

I gave up tugging on my shirt sleeves and reached for my pants. Clothes were my saving grace—they had to be since they had to be custom made. The extra heel height in my left shoe balanced out my height and helped my walk look more normal. The extensive scars across my abdomen from childhood surgeries were discreetly hidden away. I put my glasses on and I glanced in the mirror. I looked as good as I ever would.

I found Kit Kat Lane with little trouble. Parking the rental car, I headed up the walk. I took a deep breath before ringing the bell. The gate buzzed and swung open. I swallowed my nervousness and headed up to the main building.

They were still assembling the line-up as I entered. The house mom almost covered her shocked look on seeing me. Not all the girls were as successful.

“Welcome to Fantasy Ranch,” the house mom said, stopping just far enough back to discourage any handshake or other greeting. “May I introduce our ladies?”

I nodded and she began.

I really didn’t track their names. Ten courtesans had lined up, in various ethnicities and hair colors and clothing styles. I scanned their faces. Most avoided meeting my eyes. Two had pasted on obvious plastic smiles. Finally a brunette actually looked at me and didn’t look away. I pointed to her and the line dissipated much faster than it had formed. I followed the brunette to her room.

“So what would you like, handsome?” She almost kept the irony out of her voice on the last word.

“I’d like a blowjob and intercourse with multiple positions.”

“Condom’s required for the blowjob.”

“I know Nevada regulations,” I replied. “I was thinking doggie and cowgirl for the positions.” Two positions that didn’t place her head close to mine. I’d learned. When I took my glasses off, her face would be enough of a blur that I could pretend she was enjoying the sex.

“Sounds good,” she purred. “Two thousand dollars.”

“Two thousand! That’s five times the usual rate for that type of party!”

She shrugged. “I’m worth it.”

“Porn stars are less!”

She studied her nails. I realized that she didn’t think I had a choice.

“Take me back to the bar,” I ordered. She looked mildly regretful but didn’t argue.

I sat and fumed at the bar through two beers. None of the other girls approached me. Finally I loosened up and started looking around. Actually, there weren’t that many ladies in the parlor, I realized, and those that were were sitting and talking with other clients. If I was being shunned, it was by women who had the decency to at least flee to the back.

A petite Asian’s laugh caught my attention. She was blushing and starting to stand along with her conversation partner. He was grinning as she took his hand and led him towards the back. They squeezed past a busty blonde I hadn’t seen before. She had just emerged and was surveying the room. Her eyes met mine and she smiled. Something made me look away. I took another swig of beer and studied the wood grain of the bar.

“May I join you?”

I glanced over at her and nodded. The blonde slid onto the stool next to me.

“Waiting for someone?” she asked.

“Nah. I got price walked and I haven’t decided if I want to give up and go home yet.”

“Did you try one of the other girls?”

“No. She was the only one that looked interested in partying with me in the line-up, and I wasn’t ready to get walked a second time.”

“Hmmm,” she said.

A glass of something had appeared in front of the blonde while I was staring ahead, talking without really looking at her. It was clear, with bubbles. I guessed 7-Up. She toyed with it, as if in no hurry to go on with the conversation nor no hurry to leave. I pushed my empty beer bottle away and tugged at my sleeves again.

“So what type of party were you looking for?” the blonde casually asked. She sounded genuinely curious instead of merely opening negotiations.

“Pretty much a straight half and half,” I replied, and then added, “she wanted two grand.”

That stunned the blonde.

“Two grand? Outrageous! You needed to walk for that!”

“No kidding,” I said. “But it’s not the first time I’ve been quoted a high price.”


I sighed. “I’ve been here—Nevada that is—twice before.” The words were starting to spill out.

“The first time I was twenty-five and I was so desperate to lose my virginity that I went ahead and paid far more than I should have. The second time, I got smart and did a lot of research over the internet first. I toured the brothels and talked to maybe a dozen ladies. The lowest price I was offered was twice the going rate. I gave up in disgust and went home.”

“Ouch! So why did you come back?”

I swallowed hard. I was saying more than I intended but the words weren’t going to stop.

“Today’s my thirtieth birthday. I was hoping to make it something to remember.” She nodded in understanding.

“So what would make it memorable?”

I paused and thought for a while.

“Well,” I began, “obviously getting laid would be part of it. I’ve had sex only four times in my life even though I’ve got a high hormonal drive. Past the basics, it would be nice if just once the woman would initiate things. Mostly I just want to be able to pretend she’s enjoying it.”

“Did the other women?” she asked, almost innocuously.

My throat caught again. Why was I telling her all this? She was asking, I realized. An attractive woman was asking me something.

“The first time, in a brothel, no. Her acting was a little too transparent. Two of the other times, the woman were drunk. They seemed to enjoy it at the time, but made a fast getaway in the morning. I found out later that the last woman had slept with me on a dare.”

The blonde stiffened, but didn’t say anything immediately. “Doesn’t sound fun,” she eventually commented.

“Nope.” I motioned to the bartender for another drink. The blonde took another sip of hers and we sat in silence for a while.

“You know,” the blonde began, “I bet you could get a reasonable price if you asked around,” I whipped my head around and stared at her. She was obviously serious.

“Would you give *me* a good price?” I challenged.

“Sure!” She was smiling.

I sat, stunned a little.

“My name’s Tamara,” she said, extending her hand. I grasped it.


“Well, John, shall we head to the back?”

I nodded dumbly and then let her lead me toward the hall.

Tamara did give me a good price—right on the internet average. While she went to book with the house, I sat and surveyed her room. It was very tastefully but generically decorated. Whatever personal effects she might have were tucked away. Except for an anatomy textbook. I picked it up and thumbed through it, noting the extensive highlights and margin notes up to where the bookmark demarcated virgin text. The door started to open so I quickly set the book down and tried to look innocent sitting on the bed.

Tamara smiled as she approached. She pushed my knees apart and stood between them, inches away. I started to breathe harder.

“So, John, would you like to undress me?” I gulped and nodded and began fumbling with her top. When I’d gotten it off, she pulled my head to her breasts, encouraging me to kiss and lick. I sighed in delight at her softness and taste. After a few long minutes, Tamara gently pulled my head back. She flicked her eyes lower, reminding me I had more to do. I unhooked her skirt and let it fall. Tamara squirmed a little as I fondled her ass, apparently enjoying it, which surprised me. Then I slowly slid her g-string down. She stepped out of it and backed up.

“Do you like?” she teased, striking a few poses.

“Oh yes!”

“Your turn!” she reached for my shirt. I started to take my glasses off but Tamara stopped me.

“No, you’ll want to watch.”

I bit my lip to avoid arguing and then my misgivings were shoved aside as Tamara finished removing my shirt. She saw my scars and gasped. I looked away, studying the far wall.

Then I felt her hand on my chest. Tamara was lightly touching me.

She was tracing my scars with her fingers.

I looked down. Tamara was intently studying my chest, her eyes full of wonder.

“Childhood surgeries,” I said. “My bones didn’t grow right.”

“The surgeries helped?”

“Well, there’s a lot of metal in me now,” I admitted.

“Wow,” was all she said.

I sat, feeling more and more uncomfortable as she studied my deformities. After a moment, Tamara noticed my discomfort.

“Lie back,” she commanded.

As I did, she quickly stripped my pants off and then crawled onto the bed. We shifted around until we were lying side by side. Her head was near my shoulder and she was still smiling, which felt strange. It was uncomfortable to see her so close. I still had my glasses on, I realized. I started to reach for them but Tamara’s hands on my chest distracted me once again.

“May I?” she asked.

I nodded, confused, but Tamara took that as a sign of assent. She began tracing my scars, muttering under her breath. I caught snippets of medical terms. She slowly worked her way south.

“Now here’s a bone that’s in good shape!” Tamara said, grabbing my erection.

I groaned. Yes, I was hard. Tamara grinned up at me and then displayed a condom she’d gotten from nowhere. In a flash it was on me and then so was her mouth. I sighed and laid back, staring at the ceiling.

I still didn’t get blowjobs. What Tamara was doing felt good, really good, but more like a special massage than something that was going to make me come. Maybe I hadn’t had enough of them, I mused. They were just so prevalent in the porn I’d read that I couldn’t imagine not asking for one. And they did feel good enough to get me hard.

I realized Tamara had stopped. She’d sensed my mental checkout and was patiently waiting for my return.

“Should I continue?” she asked.

I gave an ambivalent nod and Tamara gave me a few more sucks before quitting and straddling me.

I gasped as she sank down, the warmth and slickness around my cock a near shock. She squeezed her Kegel muscles, causing me to gasp again. Then she slid up and down. In just a few strokes, it was over. I was gasping and coming and shooting like a madman.

I closed my eyes. Gawd, I couldn’t believe I had come so fast. How embarrassing. This wasn’t at all like it was supposed to be! I could feel Tamara removing the condom and cleaning me up while I brooded. I should have asked for multiple comes, I realized. Damn. Damn damn damn.

Tamara’s weight pulled the bed down, as she lay beside me.

“John,” she whispered, “it’s alright.”

“Not it’s not!” I cried. “How the hell am I supposed to get any good at this if I come within 30 seconds??”

“It’s still alright,” she said, and then slowly began rubbing my chest.

“God damn it! No it’s not! If I can’t do it with you, how the hell can I ever be good enough for anyone else?”

Tamara snuggled in, never taking her hand from my chest.

“I… I’m here… I’m here not just because it’s my birthday, but because I was hoping to get a little better at sex. I thought that maybe some skill could compensate for my looks!” Oh gawd, once again I couldn’t stop the words.

“A lot of it is my therapist’s advice,” I continued. “She says I’m not as ugly as I think I am and that what I really need is some more self-confidence around women. She said it was my body language and not my body that was unattractive.”

“Your therapist suggested you come to a brothel?”

I shrugged. “I thought it would be a good practice run before spending some time with real women.”

I blanched at my unintended insult but she wasn’t perturbed. “Besides,” I quickly continued, “it is my birthday.”

I must have looked pathetic and all hang dog just then because Tamara did something that completely shocked me. She kissed my cheek. Then she just cuddled in and held me.

We lay there for a long time. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed being held until that moment. Just her skin against mine. Her warmth. The gentle touch. I ached at the thought of it ever ending.

But of course it had to. The buzzer sounded. I looked over and saw the speaker for an intercom. Tamara took a deep breath and looked apologetic.

“We need to either extend or call it an evening,” she said.

“Well… I’d like to extend,” I admitted, “but I don’t know how long I can afford.”

“How much do you have?”

I hesitated. Then I remembered the way she had caressed my chest. I wanted—no I needed—more of that kind of touch.

“Three thousand,” I admitted.

“So you could have afforded that first girl,” she mused.

“Yeah, but I wanted something more than getting ripped off.”

Tamara smiled. “Let me see what I can do,” she said, bounding out of bed and throwing on a robe. She nodded and murmured a thank you when I handed her the cash.

“Back soon,” she said as she slipped out the door to go talk to the house mom.

I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes. What was I doing? Handing over all my cash in one shoot because a hooker had been nice to me? Because she hadn’t been repulsed by my hideousness?

She’d reached over and caressed my chest. She’d traced my scars with her fingers. She’d touched me. I hadn’t paid her for that.

I was still lying there lost in my thoughts when the door opened. Tamara stepped in and smiled.

“Can you stay until morning?” she asked.

I checked the clock and did a quick mental calculation. She was offering me a deal!


“Good. Now in honor of your birthday, I’ve got another surprise. Close your eyes!”

I did and heard the door open and close once again. Moments later there was weight on the bed and I could sense Tamara kneeling beside me. She began caressing my arms and chest. Then she ran one hand behind my head and began lightly stroking my skull. Another hand played with my right nipple. Fingers began to dance along my shaft and another hand lightly cupped my balls.

Wait. Too many hands.

I opened my eyes. Tamara was indeed kneeling next to me, caressing my head and chest. Crouched between my legs was another blonde I’d never seen. I looked at Tamara in surprise.

“Happy birthday,” she said. “Meet Summer.”

“Hi,” Summer said, still fondling my now hard cock. “May I?”

I nodded and she produced a condom which she proceeded to roll onto me using her mouth. She began to bob and suck with such skill that I couldn’t tell that there was any barrier between us. Then Tamara leaned over and began kissing my chest. She worked her way up to my face, and removed my glasses. Then she held her breasts within reach of my mouth. I didn’t hesitate.

While I was nuzzling Tamara’s breasts, I felt a shift down below. First a tightness and then a greater warmth. I let out a gasp and Tamara pulled back so I could watch Summer raising and lowering herself on my cock.

Of course, I couldn’t see her clearly, but her enthusiasm, from what I could tell, was first rate. She was gasping and breathing deeply as she continued to fuck me hard. Tamara reached out and began caressing Summer’s breast. I reached up and stroked Tamara’s thigh. She parted her legs, giving me greater access, but she never let up on touching my upper body with her fingers. Then Tamara leaned forward and began lightly licking Summer’s nipples. Both Summer and I groaned simultaneously.

“You go, girl,” Summer growled, now clearly grinding me to her own rhythm instead of mine.

I watched as Tamara slowly kissed and suckled every inch of Summer’s cleavage and the curve of her breasts. Summer leaned back, pulling Tamara off balance. She shifted and straddled my head.

I gulped as Tamara’s pussy filled my view. I tentatively kissed her thigh and she wiggled slightly. So I pulled my head up and stuck my tongue out for a taste. She tasted fine—salty and juicy. I started to lick haphazardly until my neck got sore and I had to flop my head back on the bed.

Tamara pulled off of me. “Not bad,” she said with a grin.

Summer was still grinding. “Ready for a new position?” she asked. I nodded and then Summer pulled off of me and stretched out to the other side of me from Tamara. Somehow she slid the condom off, replacing it with a new one.

“I want to watch you fuck Tamara,” she purred into my ear.

“Oh yeah,” Tamara purred into the other one. I gulped and rolled to look at Tamara. It was jarring to see her face this close, but she was smiling. Her eyes had a devilish twinkle, but she was still smiling.

“Roll on top of me,” she demanded.

I pulled myself onto my hands and knees over her. I started to sweat. This wasn’t familiar to me. I felt Summer lining my cock up with Tamara’s opening.

I shifted my weight onto my elbows, which brought my face inches from hers. Tamara was still smiling. She started to clench and release my cock. I groaned and began to thrust. Then Summer lay down beside us. She too was grinning. As I started to build a rhythm, Summer began whispering in my ear.

“Doesn’t Tamara’s pussy feel great? Don’t you love fucking her? Isn’t she hot?”

I initially tried to reply, but only gasps came out. Summer continued whispering in my ear and Tamara clamped down hard on my cock. The combination was too much and with a gasp, I was coming again. This time hard—my vision fuzzed and I barely caught myself before collapsing completely on Tamara. Finally I rolled to one side. Summer leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Then she kissed Tamara on the lips. I could only watch as she quickly dressed and slipped out the door.

“Wow,” I panted, finally recovered enough for words. “That was incredible!”

“Well, happy birthday,” Tamara replied, obviously pleased.

“I really don’t want to go home,” I sighed.

“Where’s home?” she asked.

“Denver,” I said.

Tamara did a double take.

“What part?” she asked.

“Lakewood. Near Red Rocks.”

“I live in Wash Park,” Tamara said quietly.

It was my turn to do a double take.

“I’m going to the CU med school,” she continued. “I work here during the summers and vacations to pay for it.”

I continued to stare at her in surprise.

“That’s why I find your scars interesting,” she continued. “You must have been through a lot as a kid.”

“The surgeries were rough,” I admitted, “but ultimately not that bad. I mean, they were painful and all, but I learned to deal with the physical pain. They had pretty good drugs for that and I always knew it was going to end. Also, the doctors were pretty good about explaining each surgery before we began. The medical establishment treated me better than other places.”

“What other places?” she asked.

I sighed. “Junior high was hell. In high school we read Lord of the Flies and I thought, ‘Golding has this wrong. You don’t need to go to a deserted island to see this. You just have to go to an American junior high school.’”

Tamara was incredibly tense as I spoke. She stared off into space, lost in her thoughts. Then she turned and looked at me.

“John,” she began, “can I ask you for a favor? If I give you my personal phone number, will you call me in two weeks when I’m back in Colorado?”

“Uhhh… sure, I guess.”

“Thanks,” she replied, squeezing my hand. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

I nodded, a little confused by this turn of events.

“I’ll give it to you in the morning,” she said, reaching over to turn out the light before snuggling in.

I lay there in the dark for some time. An incredibly beautiful woman was snuggled against me when she didn’t have to be. I hadn’t paid her for this. And she wasn’t repulsed.

I lay there. She still didn’t pull away. Eventually sleep arrived.

Chapter Two

I didn’t know what to do with my hands. After I caught myself tugging on my shirt sleeves yet again, I shoved them into my pockets. Then I started rattling my change, which led to stares from a woman entering the library. I backed up towards the side of the entryway, trying to make myself a little more inconspicuous. I realized I was tugging on my sleeves again. Maybe I should have brought a book. Standing in front of the Denver Public Library holding a book wouldn’t seem too strange. Which of course I was.

Tamara had indeed given me her phone number the next morning, after another round of sex. After two weeks of trying to guess her motives, I’d finally called. She’d asked me to meet her in front of the library on a Saturday morning. She said she’d explain more once we’d met. I’d arrived early and was now growing more nervous with each passing moment.

Finally I saw her coming up the sidewalk, an older woman and a boy with her. Tamara was surprisingly plain. No makeup, baggy clothes, her hair pulled back and loosely bound. The juxtaposition with my memories from the brothel was striking. The older woman looked grandmotherly, with grey coiffed hair over pretty functional clothes. The boy looked about ten and was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans but looked a little…

Oh. Down’s Syndrome. High functioning, apparently from the way he moved.

Tamara saw me and smiled and waved. I waved back and they were soon close enough to talk. The grandmother hung back a couple of steps.

“Hi John!” Tamara exclaimed. “John, meet my son, Billy. Billy, this is my friend John.”

He hung back a little shy, but his mother urged him forward. I extended a hand and he gave me a handshake. In doing so, he looked me up and down and his eyes widened.

“You’re funny looking!” the boy stated.

“Billy!” Tamara said.

The boy looked embarrassed and started to cling to his mother. I bent down to bring my eyes level with his.

“Actually, Billy, I’m not funny looking. I’m The Ugly One.”

He heard the capital letters and stopped scrunching up his face and began staring at me in curiosity.

“Yep, The Ugly One. That’s what the kids called me in school.”

“They didn’t call you Sped or Dummy?” he asked.

“Oh they called me lots of things. But somehow The Ugly One was what they called me the most.”

I extended my hand again. “Good to meet you, Billy.”

Billy tentatively reached out and took it. He shook hands hard this time and then let go and looked up at Tamara.

“Now you go on to story hour with Grandma,” she told him.

Billy nodded and allowed the older woman to scoop him up and lead him into the library. When they’d disappeared through the doors, Tamara looked at me.

“That was great,” she said. “You were really good with him.”

“Is Billy who you wanted me to meet?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Let’s grab some coffee and I’ll tell you about it.”

So we walked across Civic Center Park to the south end of the 16th Street Mall and located a coffee shop within a few blocks. After we’d ordered and settled into our chairs, Tamara paused to collect her thoughts.

“I had Billy when I was young,” she began. “His dad took off as soon as he saw he had Down’s. I struggled on and finished college with some help from my parents. Then my dad died and mom couldn’t help me out financially anymore. We did okay until I decided I wanted to go back to school and become a doctor. I didn’t know how to afford med school though.”

I raised an eyebrow when she paused, and after a sip of coffee she continued.

“I’d been working in a pharmacy as a cashier and gotten to be friends with this one girl just before she quit. A month later she stopped back by, flashing a bunch of cash. We went out that night and after a few drinks she told me how she’d earned it. She’d started working for an escort agency.

“Now I grew up in a pretty liberal household. My parents taught me there was nothing wrong with sex and didn’t mind when I started sleeping with boys as a teenager. In fact, they used to let me take them to my room as long as they didn’t spend the night. They didn’t say anything when I went through a lot of boys really quickly, though I think my dad was disappointed in me. The fact was, I liked sex and I liked boys, and I didn’t see anything wrong with having a lot of either.

“So after my friend spent the evening talking about the fun she was having and the cash she was making, I started thinking. I asked her a lot of questions later and the only thing I could see wrong with what she was doing was that she could be arrested or beaten up because she was working illegally. That’s when I started looking into Nevada.”

I nodded at that.

“Mom wasn’t too thrilled, but she said she’d support me, which included looking after Billy while I was off working. That meant I could concentrate on school while I was back here instead of having to work full time as well.”

“What about traditional financial aid like loans?” I asked.

Her face turned sour.

“We tried, but even accounting for Billy’s disability, it wasn’t going to be enough. Unless I was willing to go into debt for the rest of my life.”

“Besides,” she continued, “I still like sex and working let me be with men without the hassles of a relationship.”

I didn’t quite understand that but the expression on her face when she said “hassles” discouraged me from asking more.

“So where do I come in?” I asked.

Tamara sighed. “They’re mainstreaming Billy at school. He got picked on before but I’m scared it’s going to be much worse. Also, he’s not talking to me or his grandma as much as he used to. Last spring he would run home from school and barricade himself in his room and not tell me why. Sometimes I could hear him crying. Once when I asked him what was wrong, he said I wouldn’t understand because I was a girl.”

Tamara looked pained. She struggled to catch her breath again at the memory.

“I spent a lot of the summer wishing his dad hadn’t run off, or that he had an uncle or something,” she continued. “I thought that maybe if there was a guy he could talk to, he’d open up a little more and share what was happening at school. Then when you said you were from Denver and that you’d been picked on in junior high too…” Anxiousness covering her face as she looked at me.

“You want me to be his friend,” I stated.

“Yes,” she said. “She reached out and took my hand. “I’ll pay you back, of course. Just not in money.”

“By having sex with me?”

“If that’s what you want.”

My dick stirred at the thought. The memories of her body straddling mine and her breasts under my mouth sent my blood racing. God this was tempting. Unfortunately, my gut was queasy with the thought. I sat, thoughts churning. Tamara waited patiently.

“As much as I would love to have sex with you regularly, I can’t do it,” I said. “Sex with you was good a lot because you didn’t have to do what you did. I don’t want you to have sex with me because you have to. I don’t want to destroy those memories.”

Tamara’s face fell. She pulled her hand back from mine and took another sip of coffee. I had an idea.

“How about if instead you fix me dinner on a regular basis?” I suggested.

Her face brightened.

“Remember how I need some practice being around women? You could be my pseudo-date, helping me learn how to act before I go on a real date. It would also give me a reason to see Billy on a regular basis.”

Tamara was now nodding her head at the idea.

“How about Thursday evenings?” she suggested.

I nodded affirmatively and Tamara reached over and grabbed my hand again, squeezing it hard.

“Thank you John!”

The delight in her eyes made me squirm a little, but I smiled back. Then Tamara asked me about my food preferences and any allergies. From food the conversation flowed to drinks and restaurants, of which I knew very little, but it felt relaxed and even fun Finally, Tamara checked her watch.

“We need to get going if we’re going to be back by the end of story time,” she said.

I drained the last of my coffee and we headed toward the door. All too soon, we were back at the library. We paused, apparently a few minutes early.

“Uh, John,” Tamara began. “There’s one other thing. Tamara’s my working name. My real name is Lynn.”

That struck me as odd, before I remembered that a “stage name” was common practice in Nevada. I realized I felt tense with her revelation.

“Can I still call you Tamara? I think I’d feel better.”

“Sure,” she said, “but not in front of Billy. I don’t want to confuse him.” I nodded in response.

Just then Grandma and Billy emerged from the library. Tamara/Lynn moved forward to give her boy a hug, which he took with all the mixed emotions of a pre-teen. I stood by while she asked about story time, which got me wondering if he was too old for that. He seemed to have enjoyed it though—a little child still mixed in with that growing body. It hit me how much junior high was going to truly be hell for him when he got there, with no place to really fit in. I closed my eyes to dismiss the images.

When I opened them, Tamara was standing in front of me holding Billy’s hand, Grandma once again discreetly distant.

“Thanks John,” she said, pressing a piece of paper into my hand. “My address,” she said when I looked down at it.

Then Tamara leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. I was too surprised to react before she’d pulled away.

“See you Thursday, around six,” she said as they began to walk away.

I stood, watching them go, still surprised, lightly touching my fingers to my cheek.

I was early to her place. I sat in the car, drumming the steering wheel with my fingers, watching the clock. I figured it would take two minutes to get up to her door. At 5:58 I slid out of my seat and was on my way.

After ringing her bell, I caught myself fiddling with my sleeve again. I should have brought something, I realized. Wine or flowers or something that I could hold. Fortunately I stopped fidgeting just before Tamara opened the door.

“John!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around me and giving me a hug. She smelled of flowers, I noted.

“C’mon in!” she said, leading the way.

I tried not to peek at her ass as I trailed after. I’d been second guessing my decision to not take sex as payment for the past week. Oh I wanted it badly; even when I knew I’d hate myself for it later.

“I’m not quite done cooking,” Tamara said, as we entered the dining room. “Billy’s in the back bedroom, watching a video. Perhaps you could join him?”

“Sure,” I replied, nodding. I headed toward the sound of the music.

Billy was watching Disney of course. He looked up as a girl in a yellow dress entered a mansion on the screen.

“Hi Billy, remember me?”

“Yeah, you’re The Ugly One!”

I suppressed the stab of pain.

“That’s right Billy,” I replied, “but my name is John. Can you call me John?”

“Okay,” he said, before turning back to his video.

I sat down beside him.

“Do you like this movie?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied, not tearing his eyes from the screen. “I’ve seen it before. Lots of times.”

“Must be a favorite.”

“Yeah, but it’s a little kid’s movie.”


“Mom won’t let me watch big kid movies.”

“Oh? Are there any you want to see?”

“The kids at school are all talking about how cool the final Matrix movie is gonna be.”

Figures. I wondered how many of them would see it the weekend it opened, despite its R rating.

“They say the fight scenes are gonna be cool.”

“You like fight scenes?” I asked.

“Yeah. Sometimes I wish I could fight like that.”

I sat in silence, groping for topics. I didn’t know anything about martial arts and very little about popular movies. Then I remembered my friend Jerimy had taken Kendo in college.

“Do you like sword fights?” I asked.

“Oh yeah! They’re really cool! I gotta sword! See!”

With that, Billy bounded towards the closet where he grabbed a plastic sword which he began wildly swinging about. I nodded approval as he showed me some of his moves. Then I borrowed his sword and swung it as Billy told me what I was doing wrong. We passed the sword back and forth a handful of times before we realized Tamara was standing in the door, watching.

“Time for dinner, boys,” she said.

We put down the sword and followed her into the dining room.

Dinner was quite good. As we ate, Tamara tried to get Billy to talk about his day at school. Billy, however, kept changing the subject. He wanted to talk about swords and knights and sword fighting and musketeers and swords and samurai and sword fighting and anything but school. I became amused at Tamara’s exasperation at her son’s antics but could tell she didn’t want to put her foot down. I suppose I contributed to that once I told Billy that a friend of mine had done some Kendo and the conversation became permanently derailed from school. Eventually we hit a pause after the food had been all consumed and Tamara reminded Billy of his chore of doing the dishes. Together we cleared the table and then Tamara and I sat on the couch while Billy clanged pots into the sink in the other room.

“Thanks,” she said.

“For what? He wouldn’t talk about his day.”

“But he did talk,” she replied.

“Yeah,” I said. “I like the kid.”

“He likes you too.”

We sat for a moment before I started to feel uncomfortable with the silence.

“So,” I began, “now what?”

Tamara shrugged.

“You said you wanted to get comfortable around women, by spending time with me. So we spend some time.”

I realized I was drumming my fingers on my thigh. I clenched my fist to stop. Then I realized I was hunched over. I sat up straight. Tamara never took her eyes away from me. The silence pounded on me. I stared down at my fingers.

“Relax, John,” Tamara said, causing me to look up. “We’re not going to do anything but sit here and talk.”

“I don’t know what to talk about,” I admitted.

“What would you talk about if this were a date?” she asked.

“I don’t know. On the few dates I’ve had, we didn’t talk much. I usually sat there wondering why she was out with me and what I should do.”

“Well, you know why I’m here with you and that what you should do is talk. Don’t worry about making a pass at me—just get comfortable talking.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Whatever you want to talk about.” When she saw the discomfort on my face, she continued. “Ask a question about something you’re genuinely interested in.”

I thought for a moment. The first things that jumped in my head were questions I already knew the answer to. Why me? Why wasn’t she repulsed by me? Would she be willing to sleep with me? I already knew them all. I sorted past them for a different question.

“What’s it like?” I finally asked. “Working in a brothel?”

Tamara shrugged. “It’s a job. It pays well. Sometimes you get good clients, sometimes bad. Some coworkers are good to work with, some are not. Some days I hate being there and sometimes I have a lot of fun. It’s not much different than other jobs.”

“Except you screw your clients.”

“So do lawyers,” she shot back.

I grimaced in response.

“Sex is not the most intimate thing you can do,” she continued. “Sometimes it’s a kiss on the lips or the pillow talk afterwards.”

She’d done neither with me, I realized.

“Besides, most of my clients are genuinely nice guys. Like you. I like being with them.”

“Even the old or fat ones?” I asked, avoiding adding the obvious word.

“Even the physically unattractive ones,” she said, filling it in herself. “My clients are people, not bodies.”

“People, eh?”

“People. Let me tell you about a few of them.”

Which she proceeded to do. I could tell she was being circumspect and self-censoring as she spoke—assiduously protecting their identities or any detail that could be used to identify them. She was also surprisingly discreet about the acts they had done together, but I learned of the farmhand saving up a year’s spare pay for one expensive night of celebration, the lonely widower who just wanted to be held, the guy whose wife sent him to the brothel because of a fantasy the wife didn’t want to help him fulfill, and several others. She spoke of each of them with tenderness or a dash of mischief in her eyes (the coworkers not always so). Eventually one of her stories reminded me of one of my cousins—both had spent a lot of money on jewelry that turned out to be fake. That led me to telling a few stories of my own, with Tamara constantly drawing me out with questions and more mini-stories of hers. She only broke off when Billy appeared in the door.

“All done mom!”

“Great, Billy! Say, have you shown John your MechWarriors?”

“You wanna see my MechWarriors?” Billy asked me.


With that, he motioned for me to follow him back to his bedroom. Opening the closet door, Billy carefully pulled out K’nex MechWarriors he’d constructed. He had a story for each one. He described when they’d bought it or who gave it to him, how he put it together, and all of its abilities. He started to tell me about the battles they fought and soon we were recreating them on the floor, climbing around the bed and shooting at each other’s warriors. We played for some time, following ever changing rules of battle that Billy would explain as we went along. Eventually, I noticed Tamara watching from the door. She didn’t say much—just grinned as she watched a thirty year old man crawling around on the floor with her young son.

“Yes?” I finally asked.

“Oh, nothing.”

“You sure?”

“Just thinking of something one of my teachers once said.”

“Which was?”

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

I rolled my eyes but before I could retort, Billy’s warriors were swarming my fort behind the nightstand and I was forced to return to the flow of the game. Instead her words stuck with me for some time.

September went much as the first night. Every Thursday I would arrive at Tamara’s for dinner. I’d have up to a half hour or so to hang out with Billy before the food was ready. We’d watch videos or play games—often ones we were inventing on the spot. After dinner, Tamara and I would talk while Billy did the dishes. I got more and more relaxed as we did so. Then sometimes Billy and I would play another game before Tamara shooed him to bed and walked me to the door. She’d give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. I would walk into the night, floating on the memory of her touch.

I didn’t know about a second childhood, but I was happy.

Chapter Three

When you’re happy, you’re willing to take risks, right? Humph. I was still nervous when I rang her bell, but at least I had something to do with my hands. After a month, I’d finally worked up the courage to bring Tamara some flowers. Her expression was pure gold when she saw them.

“Oh John! Thank you!” she gushed, taking them out of my hands and beckoning me in. Tamara continued to make glowing compliments as she tracked down a vase and got them firmly ensconced as the dining table centerpiece.

“Thank you!” she said again, standing back from the table. Then her face fell. She turned to me, very serious.

“Billy came home crying. He won’t tell me or his grandmother why.”

I let out a deep breath. “He’s in his room?”

She nodded. I steeled myself and headed down the hall.

I knocked and quickly called out “Hey, Billy! It’s John. Can I come in?”

“No!” was the resounding reply through the door.

“Aw, C’mon! Dinner’s not ready and I want to spend some time with my buddy!” I emphasized the last word a little, which seemed to do the trick. The door opened and Billy looked up at me, his eyes red and swollen. I pushed the door open further as he trooped over to his bed. I saw one of his MechWarriors in pieces on the floor. I scooped up the biggest part of the wreck and sat down next to Billy. I turned it slowly in my hands, looking at the damage.

“Hmmm,” I said, he looks hurt.”

“Jesse smashed him!”

“Really? Why?”

“Because he’s mean!” The tears started again. “He’s mean! He and Frank took him and smashed him!”

I reached down and scooped some more pieces up.

“We can fix him,” I soothed.

“No we can’t! See!”

He pointed to a plastic part that was snapped. More than minor surgery was going to be needed to bring this warrior back to his feet. I continued turning it in my hands.

“Sure we can,” I said. “We just need to get some new parts.”

Billy’s sniffles started to slow.

“Mom won’t let me!”

“Did you ask her?”


“Why not?”

“She said no more Warriors last time we were at the store.”


“Well,” I said, “this might be different. Why don’t you ask her?”

“Frank said I was a baby if I went to my mommy!”


“Frank and Jesse! They said that only babies played with Warriors! Then they took him and smashed him! They said I was a baby that would go crying to my mommy!” He was starting to cry again.

“I’m not a baby!” he repeated.

I reached out and put an arm around him and he turned and started hugging me, crying into my shirt. I held him and just let him cry.

“No, you’re not a baby,” I reassured, when his sobs had again faded. “You’re not a baby for playing with Warriors or a baby for talking to your mom,” I continued.

I felt him stiffen.

I’m not a baby, am I?” I continued, “and I play with Warriors.” He pulled back and looked at me. “We play together, remember?”


“And I talk to your mom all the time.”

“But she’s not your mom,” he challenged.

“True,” I replied, “but I talk to my mom a lot too.” Okay, not quite true, but I didn’t want to confuse the kid.

“Besides,” I continued, “you can talk to me.”

That seemed to calm him down.

“Tell you what,” I offered, “I’ll bring you a new Warrior next week.”

“You will?”

“Sure! How can we have a good battle if we don’t get a replacement for this guy?”

I got up and, using exaggerated care, placed the Warrior on Billy’s desk. I straightened him out, getting him as near to lying in state as I could. Billy came over and looked at him.

“He’s a fallen comrade,” I said solemnly.

Billy and I looked at him in silence.

“Dinner’s ready,” came from behind us. Tamara was at the door. We obediently followed her to the table.

The meal was a quiet affair. Billy mostly just ate and watched as Tamara and I had adult conversation. I’d gotten more at ease telling her about my week and asking about her classes. Since it had been a dull week for both of us, there were long pauses of silence. They were less uncomfortable than those I was used to in the past, but I still wondered if I should fill them. After dinner, Tamara and I adjourned to the couch as Billy started doing the dishes.

“So what was wrong?” she asked.

“Some kids at school were teasing him, calling him a baby who would run home crying to mommy.”

“Oh.” She looked troubled, then resigned.

“They also broke one of his MechWarriors. I said I’d bring him a new one next week.”

“Ah. Umm. There might be a problem with that. I’m going to work a long weekend next week, including Thursday. Midterms are over and I could use the money.”

“Oh.” There was a huge sinking feeling in my stomach. I didn’t want to think about it.

“What’s wrong, John?” Tamara asked.

“Nothing,” I lied. Then I realized she’d catch me at it. “I just wanted to give Billy his Warrior next week.”

“You can still do that. Billy will be at my mom’s. I’ll give you the address.”

“I really don’t want to have dinner with your mom.”

Tamara stared at me for just a moment--enough for me to know she’d caught on that there was more beneath the surface of my response.

“Why don’t I just drop it off?” I suggested before she could say anything.

“Sure,” she said with a nod.

Billy appeared in the door just then, announcing the dishes were done. I suggested a game and escaped from the room before I could think much more about Tamara and Tamara’s job.

That Saturday I headed out for some toy shopping. Billy’s MechWarrior turned out to be more difficult to find than I’d thought. I did eventually get one, but in the third store I discovered something else I thought he’d like: a Robin Hood bow and arrow.

True, it was just plastic and didn’t have much pull, but I talked the sales lady into letting me try it anyway. It must have been a slow day because she didn’t hesitate too long before letting me untie it. The suction cups at the end of the arrows didn’t stick, but it shot straight enough for me to be convinced that Billy would love it.

Which he did. I hadn’t wanted to stay for dinner at his grandmother’s place that Thursday, but Billy’s exuberance kept us shooting at targets in her backyard until it was dark and then some. Dinner itself was stilted with me unsuccessfully trying to hide my discomfort until I finally stopped trying to be polite to Grandma and just talked to Billy. She actually seemed relieved. After dinner, Billy wanted to shoot some more but his grandmother refused to let him shoot in the house and it had grown dark outside. I promised him we’d practice some more the following week at his mom’s.

When I showed up the following Thursday, Tamara greeted me at the door with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she whispered in my ear, right after the kiss. “Billy’s been happy all week. He even checked out some books from the library on Robin Hood.”

Before she could quite release our clench, Billy was in the doorway.

“John! John! Let’s go practice!” He already had his bow in his hand and somewhere along the line had acquired a pointed green felt hat.

“Sure thing Robin!”

With that we were pell mell out the front door. We picked a tree down by the curb and took turns emptying the plastic quiver at it and then running up to it to find the wayward arrows. Despite being three times his age and theoretically better physically coordinated, Billy was hitting the mark as often as I was. We laughed when one actually stuck to a nearby parked car, but I hastily pulled it off in case unseen owners noticed. I kept calling Billy ‘Robin’ and soon he was calling me ‘Little John.’ We then began picking other targets in the yard and street and daring each other to shoot further and at smaller targets. We usually missed, but the laughter at the occasional strike was wide and loud. Eventually I noticed Tamara, sitting on the porch, watching us, smiling.

The following Thursday was more of the same. Billy wanted to play Robin Hood before I was even in the door. He had obviously been practicing during the week as he easily outshot me with target after target. Once again, Tamara gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek when I arrived, with just enough extra to make me wonder if the toy bow had been a better present than the flowers a few weeks before.

Later, as Billy did the dishes, Tamara confirmed my guess by sitting next to me and leaning in. I hesitated a moment before wrapping my arm around her in a gentle hug.

“Thanks, John. Billy is so happy. It’s really nice to see.”

“He’s a great kid,” I replied.

“Yeah, he’s my life. When things get rough for me, seeing him happy cheers me up.”

“Have things been rough?”

She sighed. “School’s been tough this semester. I’m passing, but I’m not getting A’s. Also, money’s a little tighter than I’d like.”

“Are you going to have to work another weekend?” I blurted out before I could stop.

She didn’t notice my tension.

“Maybe. I don’t know when though. I have a paper due next week so this weekend doesn’t work. The weekend after that is the Halloween party…”

Tamara pulled back up to sitting straight. “John,” she began, “One of the other non-traditional students in my class is throwing a Halloween party and families are invited. Billy wants to go and be Robin Hood. Would you be willing to come with us?”

“You want me to come to a party with your friends?” I finally uttered. I was stunned at the suggestion.

“Classmates,” she corrected. “And yes, it would be good for you to spend some time socially with women other than me. Besides, Billy would love it if you came as Little John.”

Ugly John, really. Trying to impress a bunch of strange women who’d be trying to run away from me.

“What are you going as?” I asked.

Tamara smiled.

“Well, if you are Little John and Billy’s Robin Hood, I’d better be Maid Marion. I think I have a dress that will work and isn’t too revealing.”

She smirked and my imagination began to run a little wild.

“So will you come?” she asked.

I struggled with my answer for a while. On the one hand, I was terrified of what she was suggesting. My gut was already in turmoil. On the other hand, I knew Billy would like it, and I suspected I’d like Tamara in her costume. I began wondering where I’d find a Little John costume in time. That made me realize I’d already decided.

“Sure,” I said.

Which resulted in me knocking on Tamara’s door nine days later, my hands firmly wrapped around a second toy bow to be part of my costume. The costume itself was inside—Tamara had graciously agreed to do some tailoring after seeing how poorly the off-the-shelf shirt and vest had fit. She opened the door and dropped to a curtsey.

“Greetings Little John, and welcome!” she said.

She was already in her dress and the angle gave me a great view straight down her cleavage. She caught me staring and I blushed. Tamara grinned saucily but didn’t say anything. Billy bounded into the hallway in full regalia and we were soon off to the party.

The drive over found me drumming my fingers on my thigh again. I should have offered to drive, I realized, as Tamara focused on the road and Billy played by himself in the back seat. Being a passenger gave me too much time to think.

She didn’t mind me looking down her dress but she wouldn’t do more than kiss my cheek. I’d had sex with her, but she didn’t treat me as anything more than a friend. Even when I’d brought her the flowers. Now she was taking me to a party to meet other women. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

I didn’t get any choice. Billy sprinted off to the backyard where the other kids were while Tamara dragged me around to meet the other partygoers. We seemed to have the longest conversations with the single women. I tried to just fade back and watch, but Tamara would constantly pull me in with little hooks like “What do you think, John?” or “Billy just loved the bow and arrow John got him, didn’t he?” I’d have to smile and murmur a few polite words as the woman strained to smile herself. Most of them avoided looking at me. I kept looking around the room. There weren’t many single guys here—several sets of married couples and some women that seemed to be the hostess’s friends. My surveys kept getting interrupted by Tamara saying hello to another guest and bringing me into another round of small talk. Finally I couldn’t handle it anymore and fled to the restroom. On the way back, I doubled into the kitchen so as to avoid Tamara. I figured I could claim I was looking for a drink.

Unfortunately, the kitchen wasn’t quite empty. A short mousy woman in a long red cape was standing at the sink, watching the kids in the backyard through the small window. She turned when she heard me enter. She gave me a half smile.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” I replied.

We stood there for a minute.

“Robin Hood?” she asked.

“No, he’s in the back yard. I’m Little John.”

“I’m Little Red Riding Hood.”

“Nice to meet you Ms. Hood.” I smiled.

She looked nervous.

I must look like a wolf. Or a monster.

An awkward silence fell.

“So how do you know Amy?” she asked. Amy was our host.

“I don’t. I’m here with a friend, who’s one of Amy’s classmates.”

“Oh. So am I.”

We hit another pause. Dammit, I was supposed to start becoming comfortable around women! I racked my brain for small talk topics and then remembered Tamara’s words from our first evening: ask something I actually wanted to know the answer to.

“So why Little Red Riding Hood?”

She shrugged. “I had the cape. It was easy.”

Another pause. We heard children’s voices being raised and she glanced toward the window.

“Do you have a kid out there?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation going.

“Yes. My daughter Ashley. She’s only six but she wanted to play with the bigger kids.”

I nodded, remembering my own experiences at that age, constantly chasing after older children and other kids my age, who constantly ran away. They’d never let me join their games even though they let me follow them around the neighborhood.

Just then we heard a shriek. We both hurried to the window. Billy was in a shoving match with a boy while a handful of other kids stood off to one side watching. Another boy seemed to be working up the courage to join the kid against Billy. A little blonde girl was sitting on the grass crying. Red Riding Hood turned to dash towards the door. I grabbed her arm.

“No. Let me.”

With that, I strode towards the door ahead of her, but kept it to a walk rather than a run. When I actually emerged in the backyard, Billy had picked up his bow and was holding it in front of him. The second kid had joined in and they were trying to wrest the bow from Billy’s hands.

“Now hold on there!” I loudly commanded.

The kids all froze. Then noticing my costume, the two boys released Billy’s bow and backed up a couple of steps.

“What seems to be going on here?”

“They tried to take my bow!”

“He was shooting arrows at us!”

“Was not! They ran in front my target!”

“Was too! He almost hit me!”

“He almost hit me too!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

“Did too! He aimed at us on purpose!”

“Did not! Their stupid tag game ran through my shooting range!”

“Well it was stupid of you to have a shooting range!”

I realized letting them talk it out wasn’t going to work.

“Okay, okay. One at a time. Who was playing tag? Hands up!”

I scanned the assembled children, making it clear the question was for all of them. Hands went up for all of them except Billy and the little blonde girl.

“And Billy, what were you doing?” I asked, turning to him.

“I was showing Ashley,” he indicated the young blonde girl, “how to shoot.”

“Giving her lessons?” I probed. She was only six, after all.

But Billy shook his head. “No, I was just shooting at that tree and telling her what I was doing.”

The tree was a decent distance away, but well within his range. I could easily see that while he’d picked a target that kept him out of the middle of the yard, it would be easy for the tag game to spill over.

“He shot at me!” the first kid interjected with.

“Really?” I asked. “Did he hit you?”

The kid shook his head.

“Hmmm. Billy’s pretty good. I think he would have hit you if he was shooting at you.”

The kid’s faced scrunched up. I could tell he was thinking that I was trying to pull one over on him.

“Tell you what, Billy will show you.”

I looked around and saw a spot that was twice the distance from the tree than where Billy had been standing. It was still within range though.

“Billy, go stand over there. That’s right. About a foot further back. Now shoot at the tree.”

I motioned for all the kids to get back a bit and Billy took a deep breath after gathering three arrows in front of him.

All three hit the tree. The third one, miracle of miracles, stuck. The other kids started cheering. I turned to the now embarrassed boys.

“He wasn’t shooting at you, just near you.”

They looked over as Billy retrieved his arrows. The other kids started to crowd around him. Then I had an idea.

“Why don’t you ask him to show you how to do it,” I said to the two boys.

They grumbled and looked down at their feet. Obviously they didn’t want to have anything to do with this.

“Tell ya what,” I told them, “If you can hit the tree once, from the same distance that Billy shot from, I’ll give you twenty dollars.”

That caught their attention. The other kids started calling out “Me too!” “Can I shoot?” “I wanna shoot!” Billy was besieged by them. I waved my hand, indicating they were all included, and escaped to the porch where several other adults had gathered to watch. Red Riding Hood was up front, but Tamara wasn’t too far behind.

“Wow,” Red Riding Hood said. “You didn’t yell at them or discipline them, but got them all playing together.”

I blushed a little. “Well, I’ve been in Billy’s shoes. Yelling at them would have just increased his ostracism.”

“So where did you learn that?” Tamara said, having pushed forward.

I shrugged. “I had a gym teacher in elementary school who used techniques like that. Unfortunately, he couldn’t follow me to junior high. When I got to be an adult, I remembered his techniques.”

I didn’t add that my therapist had been instrumental in helping me remember those techniques as part of why elementary school hadn’t been as bad as later years.

“Thanks,” Red Riding Hood said. Her eyes flicked over to the kids where Billy was letting Ashley shoot, while the rest of the kids stood impatiently by.

“I’m Lynn,” Tamara/Lynn said to Red Riding Hood. “My son is Billy—Robin Hood.”

“I’m Angie,” Red Riding Hood replied, “Ashley’s my daughter. I’m here with Barb.”

“Oh yes! Barb’s in one of my classes!” With that, Tamara/Lynn started drawing Angie out about her daughter and her life.

I only partially paid attention—I was too busy keeping an eye on the kids. There was some squabbling about who would get to shoot next but they seemed to be able to sort it out without my intervention. I was still watching when one of the boys that had been in the pushing match with Billy actually hit the tree. A small cheer went up from the kids. I trotted over, pulling my wallet out on the way.

“Here you go!” I said, handing him a bill. A quick glance in my wallet showed that I couldn’t afford more than one or two more successful hits.

“How many haven’t shot?” I asked.

Three hands went up. I backed up behind the watching kids as they took their turn. None of them hit the tree, though one came very close. The kids started clamoring for more chances, and I laughed in agreement. I said I couldn’t afford to pay them if they shot all night. They wheedled and pleaded. In the end, I agreed that I’d pay five dollars for anyone who hit the tree on their second try. This time it cost me fifteen. When the kids started going for round three, I wished them luck and walked back to the gathered grown ups. The clump of children was starting to break up as well, though Billy continued to hold the attention of Ashley and a couple others.

When I returned to the adults, Tamara/Lynn and Angie were starting to step apart, apparently the conversation over. Angie went back inside.

“Nice woman,” Tamara said when I’d rejoined her.

I nodded in assent, but didn’t ask for more details.

“Can I get you a drink?” she asked.

I nodded and Tamara turned and headed into the house. I sat down on the edge of the porch, watching the kids. Slowly the other adults wandered away as well, leaving me alone, watching.

I let out a deep breath. They didn’t realize the risk I’d taken. If one of those boys, bigger and more athletic, had been able to outshoot Billy, the whole gambit would have failed. Instead of being the hero, he once again would have been the chump. I would have added to his pain and humiliation, instead of making it better. Just as had happened to me the second time my elementary school gym teacher had tried the tactic.

My palms were sweaty but I calmed myself. Billy and Tamara’s happiness was worth the risk.

Chapter Four

I spent most of my waking hours during the week after the party replaying it in my mind. I didn’t spend too long second guessing myself about Billy or the other kids, but I couldn’t get past how I’d interacted with the women. Tamara had introduced me to how many women? Four? Five? I couldn’t remember the number, much less their names. Angie was the only one that stood out and that conversation hadn’t gone well.

Of course I talked to my therapist about it. She got under my skin. Every time I described how a woman had turned away from me at the party, she’d interrupt me. Had the woman really turned away from me, or had I turned away from her? Had they made an effort to have a conversation with me or not? Angie had tried, I realized. She had tried to have a conversation with ugly freakish me and I’d been too crappy a conversationalist to let it happen.

A notion that Tamara challenged the next time I was over for dinner.

“Did you ask her any questions?” she wanted to know as we sat talking in the living room, Billy banging away with the dishes in the other room.

“Well, yes. I asked her about her costume. Oh, and whether she had a kid at the party.”

“That’s good,” Tamara reassured me.

“Then we got cut off by the commotion in the backyard,” I said.

“So you had good reason to not finish the conversation.”

“Well, I could have talked to her again on the porch.”

“True. Why didn’t you?”

My gut wrenched. This was feeling way too much like another therapy session. I didn’t want to be having a therapy session with Tamara. I wanted to be…

“I dunno,” I said, cutting off that train of thought. I started flailing, because I realized I couldn’t really answer her question. Tamara’s face was expressionless. I must have looked more pathetic than I thought.

“John,” she began, “I was talking with her. You could have joined us but you wandered off.”

“I know, I know. I could have. It’s just…” I hung my head. I almost snorted at the irony. Sometimes I couldn’t stop the words from coming out. Now I couldn’t get them out at all.

Tamara put her arm around me. Somehow she knew not to ask anything more. She started stroking my upper arm--a gentle caress that reminded me of our time in Nevada.

I let out a deep breath.

“Sometimes it’s easier not to try,” I finally said. “That way I can’t get rejected for my looks.” She held me tighter. “I wish you could understand what that’s like, to be rejected for your looks.”

“What do you think happens in a line-up?” she asked sharply, pulling away from me.

I looked at her in confusion.

“A customer comes into the brothel and asks for a line-up,” she continued. “He’s probably going to decide in a few minutes whether to party with me or another girl. He hasn’t talked to us. He hasn’t interacted with us in the parlor. What does he have to go on other than looks?

“There are a lot of line-ups where I don’t get picked, John. And if I don’t get picked, I don’t earn my tuition money.”

I met her eyes. They burned in back, like coals freshly stoked.

“The reviews can be worse though,” she said. “Sure, I get a lot of good reviews on the Nevada brothels boards, but the bad ones… one guy wrote that I was pudgy.”

My mouth dropped open. The guy must have been looking for Kate Moss to think that Tamara was fat.

“Another guy wrote that I had a bad attitude, when what really happened was that I refused to blow him without a condom.

“And then there’s Billy. Do you think I don’t feel everything he goes through? Every cut, every insult, every rejection?”

Tamara seemed more angry with the memories. She turned her head away. I put my arm around her. She gently pushed it off. She took a deep breath, which seemed to calm her. Then she met my eyes again.

“I understand rejection for looks, John. What I don’t understand is self-pity.” With that she stood up.

“I’m going to go check on Billy,” she said. Then I was alone in the living room.

What the fuck? I’d reached out to Tamara for support and sympathy and she’d all but slapped me in the face! Hey, I’d tried to talk to those women!

Yeah, right. Hadn’t I just admitted that I hadn’t really tried?

I ground my fingers into my thigh, and began balling my hands into fists and then noticing it and releasing them. I was still stewing when Billy ran into the room.

“John! John! Let’s go play!”

His smile was wide and I didn’t want to make it go away, so I let myself be pulled back to his bedroom where a MechWarrior fort was already under construction out of notebooks and other school supplies. At first, I just hid my simmering emotions, but as we played, they seemed to dissipate. How could I stay angry when a ten year old was making shooting noises as he marched robotic men across the floor? I started smiling when the hisses of rockets and resulting kabooms began. We played for a long, long time.

“Time for bed, Billy,” Tamara said from the doorway.

I checked my watch. It had gotten later than I’d thought. Billy protested and whined, more for form than anything else. When it became clear that I was indeed leaving, he dutifully began putting his toys away. I said goodnight to him and headed into the hall, Tamara a step behind.

When we got to the door, she stopped me.

“I’m sorry I was harsh, John,” she said. “It’s just that you’re not the only one who gets rejected for your appearance.”

I sighed and nodded.

“You’re more than your looks, John. You’re a better guy than you think.” With that, she rose up and kissed me.

On the lips.

It was nothing more than a quick soft peck, like she’d done to my cheek for some time now. I was too surprised to kiss her back.

“Go home, John,” she said. “Get some sleep. And next time you’re at a party, don’t stop trying to have conversations.”

With that she opened the door. I mumbled something and headed out. For a few moments, I didn’t think of anything at all.

Of course, my mind was racing for most of the following week. Racing in circles.

Which the following Thursday did not sort out. It was starting to get dark just about dinner time, so Billy and I went out and shot his bow until Tamara called us in. Afterwards, while Billy did the dishes, I was too scared to ask about the kiss, so we just had a regular conversation. At least regular for September. Somehow I’d lost the confidence gained in October. Tamara’s goodbye was also back to routine—a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

I continued to mull it over for most of the following week. The wise thing to do would be to let it go and just let things happen however they did. I didn’t want to do the wise thing.


That was a preview of The Ugly One. To read the rest purchase the book.

Add «The Ugly One» to Cart