A ROMANTIC COMEDY ABOUT STEVE

 

 FIRST 3 CHAPTERS BY RILEY AND JO 

                          

 CHAPTERS 4 AND ON BY JO  

 

 

NOTE:

(The beginning partnership set-up for this was different from anything I'd

done before.  In NanoCorp, for instance, I write particular characters and

Atonia writes others and I never put words in the mouths of hers and she

never does with mine.  But this Steve story, started quite a few years back

had a different set-up for the first 3 chapters I was writing with Riley before

she moved across the country and stopped her part and I took up the whole

thing with chapter 4. In these first 3 chapters I do basically write Steve and

she writes Holli, his love interest, but we did it in sections, which I've indicated

by dividing lines. In those sections she sometimes puts words in Steve's mouth

as I do in Holli's. I think it's rather obvious from who is the dominant character

in any particular section as to who is writing it, but I think I'll go through and

put either a J or an R at the beginning of the dividing line just to be sure. I do

begin the story with Steve's arrival in Pittsburgh. Both Riley and I, though we

never met, lived in Pittsburgh at the time. I still do. I was not really all that fond

of Steve from his movie and wanted to write a story for him in which I made him

more likeable to myself, gave him reasons for his behavior.  This is it and it worked

for me!)

  

PART ONE:


Pittsburgh? He couldn't believe it. Suitcase in hand, he stood at the railing

beside the incline, looking down at the city. "It could be worse," he muttered

to himself. "It could be Des Moines." He didn't really believe that, though.

He knew good and well nothing could be worse. Puffing his cheeks out with

a breath he was trying not to exhale, he set the large leather suitcase on the

platform and settled his rear on it.

 

 

Ignoring the buckles imprinting themselves on his buns, he leaned his chin on

the metal rail, eyes roaming over the river far below. "Des Moines," he sighed,

"with hills."



Of all the towns in all the world, how had he ended up in...Pittsburgh? He closed

his eyes. Maybe it wasn't real? Maybe he was actually still back in New York

City?


 

Something brushed his leg, followed by a sensation of stickiness on his left wrist.

Warily he opened one eye, peering at a small boy. The child was part of a family

of eight, all crowding up to the railing.



"Look, Mommie!" the boy cried, waving a large, dripping lollipop and pointing

through the railing at a coal barge floating sedately past the Point. Green glop fell

from the disgusting orb, plopping onto Steve's wrist, seeping under his watch band.

He closed the eye.



This is YOUR fault, Monica, he groused silently. One simple faint at a wedding and

she left him. Completely without reason! Now here he was in... Pittsburgh. And it

was all her fault.



He'd tried. God, HOW he'd tried. She wouldn't talk to him. He dated other women.

Somehow he'd lost his taste for photographing fruit. He couldn't look at a grape and

not think of her. Now he was in Pittsburgh. And it was her fault.



The goo dripped up his cuff, wending its way through the hairs on his arm. The family

left. He opened both eyes. Pittsburgh was still there. It would be. It was just the sort

of luck he'd been having. Idly, he wondered if it might go away when the sun set.

Probably not.

 

                                                            

Sitting up straight on the suitcase, he turned enough to look behind him. Grandview

Avenue. Obviously named by someone who entertained a somewhat more flattering

opinion of the city lying across the river from the top of Mount Washington where

he found himself. Found himself because of HER. It was all her fault. He looked

back through the rails, down the almost perpendicular slope of the hill that fell

away just beyond the railing. It was solid with a thick, tangled growth of green

stuff.


 

It looked positively...uncivilized. He expected there were probably Indians there,

though, hanging Indians...holding onto twisted branches with their tired fingers

beginning to slip. He cocked his head, waiting for the rising sound of falling native

Americans. When none came, he sighed. The French had probably got 'em all before

he'd  arrived.  Them...or maybe  George  Washington.  Oh, well.  So  much  for

entertainment in Pittsburgh. He might as well find the room he'd rented. Supposed

to be somewhere up here on Grandview... somewhere.



He stood, picked up his worn suitcase, and stared for a moment across the cement

platform at a towering building on the other side of the street. It was almost black

and each floor had angular balconies jutting way out, giving it a rather strange

appearance. He couldn't decide if it reminded him of a trout with its flesh stripped

off or....argh! Now that his hand was tipped down, holding the handle of the suitcase,

the lollipop syrup was running the other direction, creeping slowly between his fingers.

 


 

"It's all your fault!" he proclaimed loudly enough to turn several heads, then strode

grimly to the sidewalk and headed down Grandview.



Several blocks east he found it. It was on the wrong side of the street, of course, but

the trees across from it were low and the house where he'd rented a room was

tall, though very narrow. He stood on the sidewalk looking up at it. It was painted

robin's egg blue with white trim and the woman who owned it  obviously had a

fondness for wind chimes as a good seven or eight of them tinkled in various tones

from the upper edges of the porch. He frowned. The blasted things probably did

that all night. Well, what could one expect? It was all her fault. She'd probably

written ahead, arranging them.



 

Why was he  here?  Oh, yeah...steps.  He was in  Pittsburgh because he'd taken a

photographic assignment to find and take pictures of all the steps in the city. Not

just step steps, mind you, but the ones listed on the maps as streets. Pittsburgh was

so damn hilly that it had place after place where streets couldn't go...so there were

steps...long flights of steps...often up steep, wooded hillsides...steps that passed

themselves off as streets. And he'd been hired to find them...all of them...and make

a photographic record of them. He hoped at least there were no grapes lying about

on them.



Blowing out another breath, he went up the flight of 8 wooden steps that lay now in

front of him, crossed the porch with its array of white wicker furniture and way too

many potted plants, reached out his finger and rang the bell.

 

 

 R***************

 

 

 Her great aunt Tara Tittswell had bought the old house over twenty-five years ago,

before Holli was born. At sixty and freshly divorced (not something a woman that

age did in the Tittswell family back in the 1970’s), Auntie Tara thought it would be

fun to live alone and turn the old Victorian into a boarding house. Later, as times

and fashion demanded, the old place, pristine and perfectly refurbished for its era,

then became an official Pittsburgh Bed and Breakfast.

 

Holli never liked the place. It squeaked and crackled, groaned in a strong wind and

those damn wind  chimes gave  her nightmares even as a child.  She remembered

spending summers at Auntie Tara’s place; nights filled with scary ideas of ghosts and

strange goings on. The original stories about the place haunted her until she was

fifteen and found ways to avoid spending time up on Mount Washington. After all,

there were more important things for a budding teenager to do, right? So after that,

she spent her summers being bored in her parent’s house two counties away.

 

 

Life moved on. Holli married and divorced, build a career as an accountant and

lived quite peacefully . . . until Auntie Tara’s accident.

 

 

 Steps. Damn steps. There were steps to the porch. Several stone steps in the back

gardens under the Concord grape vines that made it hard to run from the bees.

There were back steps in the house and front steps in the house. Steps down to the

basement. Damn steps everywhere! Auntie Tara, now eighty-five said she had

tumbled down the last flight of the back stairs and landed sprawled on the hard-

wood kitchen floor. Holli’s guess? By the looks of the damage done, the woman

probably took a rolling dive from the widow’s walk on the roof all the way to the

basement. Broken ribs, broken hip, cracked wrist and a fractured leg. Needless to

say, Auntie Tara would be laid up for quite a while. And even though it was rational

to imagine that it was an accident, Holli couldn’t help but imagine a wicked ghost

tripping her Aunt and laughing that horrific laugh only a ghoul could cackle.

 

  

So now, with the Tittswell Bed and Breakfast winding down for its last hurrah as a

place of Hospitality Services, there were still a few loose ends to tie up. Holli, the

family accountant, was voted most appropriate to handle the details. There was the

selling of the place,  lock stock and  barrel as no one in the family  wanted it  or

anything in it. There were the final tax filings and of course, that one last irritating

issue. A guest. Some New York photographer who was staying two weeks. Until he

left, all Holli could do was tolerate him, smile, change the sheets in his room and

make him breakfast. Hell, she never ate breakfast herself but a woman’s gotta do

what her old auntie wants her to do. He was a guest. But, if she played her cards

right, she might not even have to talk to him.

 

 

Guilt ragged her nerves and she heard Auntie Tara’s voice, harsh inside her head.

“He’s a guest, missy! We treat guests like gold here!” Well, it was the last of the old

woman’s dream. The least Holli could do was make the man comfortable and get

him to sign the guest book, maybe even write a short note about how nice his stay

had been. It would make her auntie happy.

 

 

So, at the sound of the doorbell, a loud gonging that shook Holli to the bone, she went

to the door with a perfect smile plastered on her face. That smile dropped. Oh my,

this was a very handsome New York photographer.

 

 

“Steve?” She croaked, trying to remember the last time she’d looked in a mirror, if

she even put on her make-up that morning, what she was wearing.

 

 

“Yeah. I have a room here.” He shouldered his way inside with a scowl.

 

 

Oh well, Holli thought then turned and led him up the stairs. She was supposed to

chatter about the old house, tell him about its history as she took him to his room,

but damn if she could even remember her name. He followed her along the balconied

hallway and she turned to take the next flight of stairs. His footsteps had stopped and

she turned to see his pretty eyes squaring a glare on her.

 

 

 Holli shrugged. “Trust me. The higher up you are, the less you hear those damn wind

chimes.”

 

 

J********************************


"The THIRD floor?" he growled.  "You've got to be joking."  



When she merely stood there a couple of steps up, looking at him with a slightly

bemused expression on her face, he sighed, picked up his suitcase again and stomped

along after her.  This was doubtless her fault, too.  Not the gal who was leading him

up the endless, damn steps...HER.  He narrowed his eyes, a vision of her long, black

hair dangling as she smoothed a stocking filling his mind.  The gal in front suddenly

stopped at the top of the stairs.  He didn't notice.  That definitely was Monica's fault,

her and her damn long black hair.  He kept walking, his face ending up pressed

against something round and rather firm.  The black hair disappeared and he came

back to where he was...his nose indented into a backside.



"Ooof!" he oofed, startled, losing his balance and starting to fall backwards.



Quick as a cat, she turned, grabbing for him, managing to catch his collar.  A low,

ripping sound filled the stairwell, accompanied by the heavier thud, thud, thud as

his leather case somersaulted down the flight of stairs.  The rather remarkable

slowness with which his collar was separating from the rest of his light blue cotton

shirt enabled him to perform an interesting scrabbling motion with his legs, quite

like a toppling unicyclist on a high wire.  His arms flailed wildly, but as his left hand

passed, windmill-like, near where she leaned forward, she clutched at it with her free

hand.  A great and unexpected stickiness instantly bonded her flesh to his and her

brown eyes, which had already widened into fairly large circles, managed even a bit

more wideness.   He was staggering backwards down the stairs, not quite falling, yet

not quite not falling.  She, now attached, went with him. 



**WHOOM** He landed flat on his back atop the large leather case, the wind knocked

out of him.   She came down atop him and had he any wind left,  it would not  have

lingered long.  Her breasts crushed into his chest, her forehead smartly smacking the

bridge of his nose.  They lay there like that, limbs entangled, his nasal blood dripping

into her curly blonde hair that draped across most of his head like a mat of watercress

on a quiet pond.  His eyes were closed. 

 

 

"Yes," he thought, his unspoken words dodging a path among the whirling white stars

that streaked through the blackness surrounding him, "I have come to Pittsburgh and

it has killed me."  He was not surprised.  Being in Pittsburgh dead was probably little

different from being there alive. 



R******************************


Holli’s heart was in overdrive. Words like “liability”, “law suit” and “broken hip” flew

through her throbbing head. The moment she could gather her wits she scrambled off

his very nice body and began to run her hands over him, every part of him.

“Don’t move!” she gasped. “Don’t move anything!” Her hands ran over his face, his

neck, his chest. She flexed his hands, his arms, bent his elbows. She shifted to his feet,

rolled his ankles, pressed along his knees, then along his thighs. Suddenly his hands

clamped over his crotch.

 

 

 

“That’s just fine, thanks,” he growled.

 Holli sat on her butt and tossed back her mass of hair and blinked back tears. “Good

God, I am so sorry.” She watched him groan from the suitcase and sit across from her,

leaning back against the banister.

 

“Oh, don’t lean on that!” Holli squealed.

 

 

He straightened and glared down the distance to the carpeted hall below, then shuffled

his butt away. He pressed his handkerchief to his nose and looked at her. Was he really

looking at her? Did he think she was as pretty as she thought he was? Or was he thinking

about calling his lawyer?

“Please, I’m so sorry.” She babbled. “This place is my old Aunt Tara’s and I swear it’s

haunted. I swear it. All kinds of strange things happen in this house. Furniture moving

when you’re not looking. Pots falling in the kitchen. Doors opening. Strange stuff!  I

am so sorry. I can’t imagine how this happened."

 

 

 

“My face was in your rear.”

 

“Oh,” she slowly grinned. “Well, I guess in some cultures we’d be married then.”

 

 

“Dog culture?” He spat, but he was grinning too.

 

She stood and helped him to his feet. “Would you rather have a room on this floor?”

 

 

He nodded then shook his head like he wanted to get the cotton out of it. Holli opened

the door directly in front of them and he walked inside. Turning, she tripped over his

suitcase and ended up sprawled over the thing.

“Shit!” she whispered, stood, gathered the suitcase, slid into the door and took her

flaming red, embarrassed face and went downstairs, leaving him standing, bloody

handkerchief at his nose and shaking his head.

“I’ll bring ice for your nose,” she called from downstairs.

 

 

 

J********************************************

 


He sat on the edge of the bed, his knees still a bit wobbly, and closed his eyes.  The

downdraft of a large ceiling fan moved some of the longer strands of his hair, brushing

them back and forth across his forehead.  His nose hurt like hell.  Probably was broken. 

He expected if he looked in the mirror, Owen Wilson would now be looking back at

him.  Less than half an hour and Pittsburgh had already left its mark on him.

 

 

Opening his eyes slowly, he studied his own blood on the hanky.  Not more than 4 or 5

 gallons he decided.  Then his eyes moved to the wall facing him. Violets. Everywhere. 

Tiny springs of tiny violets.  He turned his head. He was surrounded, encased in the

little lavender things.  The old wallpaper positively reeked of them. That is, if wallpaper

reeked.  Which this probably did.  Around the top of the high-ceilinged walls was a

scalloped, matching border with larger violets.

 

 

"Just in case the little guys don't get ya, the big ones can leap on ya," he murmured.

 

 

 

He looked at his feet.  His shoes rested atop a thickly-piled, if rather worn, deep purple

carpet. It looked like a giant, flattened grape and he knew then, for sure, it was all

HER fault.  Sighing, he got up and moved toward the window, surprised he still felt a

little dizzy.

 

 

The tall, multi-paned window was open.  Gingerly he lowered himself onto the small,

overstuffed chair closest to it, slipped off his shoes, and propped his feet on the white-

painted sill.  Gauzy, lavender curtains blew slightly inward, their ruffled edges trailing

back and forth, back and forth, up and down his shins.  With some effort he separated

the fingers of his left hand.  Lollipop syrup should be used to hold serious things together,

like spacecraft.  He studied his left hand, resting now as it did atop the arm of the chair,

atop...why was  he not  surprised... the upholstery  with the  little bunches  of  violets

scattered through it. 

 

 

He closed his eyes, blocking out the sight. Damn but that felt good.  Just sitting there,

his head back against (was that an actual DOILY???), the curtains moving back and

forth.  He might actually live. But then he heard them.  The wind chimes.  Leaning

forward, he peered out the window.  He was right over the porch roof.  Wind chime

city lurked just below him.  Even he had not realized how truly diabolical her revenge

would be.

 

 

Resting his left elbow on the wide sill, he rubbed his chin.  He stopped. Crap!  Dried

blood was mixing with thickened lollipop syrup. He looked at his hand, his brow deeply

creased. This was probably gourmet in Pittsburgh. 

 

 

Just then there was a light tap on his door and the gal asked,  "Ice?"  He looked at his

hand again, picturing a melting ice cube clutched in his palm,  its cold waters carrying

lollipop effluvium and bits of dried blood as it dripped between his fingers, plopping

down, drop by hideous drop onto the giant flattened grape, disappearing into the fibers. 

 

 

He didn't answer and shortly the female voice came again.  "Steve? Are you all right?"

 

 

It dawned on him she knew his name.  Who WAS she?  He'd been feeling so like a

kitten in a burlap bag being taken to a river, that he hadn't really focused on her at

all.  There was some vague impression of wildly curly blonde hair.  Thank God it

wasn't smooth and black!  But he realized he couldn't quite picture her. When he

still didn't answer, the door opened a crack and the curls showed, surrounding a

concerned face. 

 

 

He must've had that "who are you?" expression still plastered on his face, because

she hesitated and said,  "Tittswell, Holli Tittswell." 

 

 

He couldn't help himself. Truly he couldn't, not when his nose hurt so badly and he

was so surrounded by violets and flattened giant grapes and the sound of wind chimes

so filled his ears.  He looked at her and this odd, boyish giggle rolled out of his mouth. 

He tried to clamp his lips, truly he did, but nothing on earth...not even in Pittsburgh...

could stop the giggle now that it had started.  His eyes dropped to her bosom.  With

a name like that, there was no way his eyes could help themselves. 

 

 

R**************************************

 

 

 Holli blinked, grinned. Oh, hell, he was fine.  Not addled or suffering from a concussion.

Just a normal man doing the same thing as every other man she’d ever met . . . look at

her chest right after hearing her name. Some just smiled, some blinked back wicked

grins, but this one had gone into a full throttle girly giggle. But in his defense, he had

just survived the stairs that tried to cripple him, so maybe he deserved a good laugh.

 “Go on, have your fun.” She gingerly handled the ice bag and slowly lowered it to his

nose.  The fear in his eyes as her hand moved closer broke her heart, but hey, fair is

fair.

 “Steve, you laugh like a girl, are you going to cry like a girl too?” She tenderly settled

the bag over the bridge of his nose.

 YESSS!” He hissed, his knees shaking and hands reaching for hers.

“Ew, what is that goo on your hand?”

 

 

Once he’d caught his breath and relaxed into the cold sensation freezing and numbing

the pain, Steve shrugged. “Lollipop goop.” It was a muffled answer.

“Hold that,” she instructed and walked through the door, returning with a wet, soapy washcloth. As Steve struggled to keep the ice bag in place, Holli washed his hand and

wrist the way she would for her small nieces or nephews.

 Well, she thought, looking down into his face, half obscured behind billowing blue

rubber. This has certainly turned out differently than I expected. For a guy I had no

intentions of even talking with, he’s already had his face in my butt, protected my fall

with his own prone body and permitted me to examine him for injuries . . . to an extent.

And now I’m doing the nurse thing, giving him a sort of sponge bath. And she wondered

where these two weeks would lead.

 Holli gently pushed the hair back from his forehead and sat on the arm of the chair.

He was calm, he was relaxed. Maybe he wanted to talk?

 

 “So, Steve. What are you doing in Pittsburgh?”

 Silence.

“Steve?” Was he breathing? Good Lord, was he dead? She slowly lifted the ice bag

to look at him, a cherub face, long lashes lying against a bruised cheek, black rings

growing under both eyes. “Steve?” She held her hand near his nose just as a loud

snuffling grumble blasted out.  “Steve?”

 Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

 Holli went down stairs and to the porch where she removed every last wind chime

and placed them in a box. At least his sleep wouldn’t be filled with ghoulish chiming

nightmares. She brushed off her hands.

 

 

 

J***************************************

 

 

His head rested against the back of the chair, the blue bag of ice obscuring the world. 

Might as well close his eyes.  So he did. Within moments he was standing again at the

rail by the incline, only this time he was on the outside, his heels balanced precariously

on the 3 inches of concrete ledge as he looked down the precipice. Giant snowflakes

pelted his face, large, heavy, blue snowflakes, freezing his cheeks.  His fingers curled

over the railing behind him as he tried desperately not to fall.  Suddenly he was sliding....slipping wildly and out of control through twisted branches.  He tried to

grab for them but they were coated in lollipop syrup and his fingers slipped, unable

to find any hold.  Indians crouched in the branches, ringing wind chimes at him as

he flew by. Then it was quiet.  All around him it was quiet.  George Washington was

floating by, gathering the chimes, laying them gently in a wagon alongside the body

of General Braddock.  George paused, just floating there out from the cliff, looking

at him, his powdered wig askew.  "Are you hungry?" George asked when he saw

Steve had ceased to hurtle and was staring at him.

 

 

Steve reached a shaking hand to his face, brushing away cold moisture still clinging

to his cheeks.  "H...hungry?" he faltered, wondering why George cared and what he

intended to do with a wagon full of chimes and a dead general. 

 

 

 

 

"Hungry.  You know...food?" George explained. "You slept for a good hour."

 

 

"Hour?"  He shook his head, trying to clean out the cotton that seemed to be stuffing

his skull.

 

 

 "Ahhh!" he cried as his shake instantly resulted in a collision of white sparkly things

behind his eyeballs. He was broken. He knew it. He'd broken his head quite in half on

his fall down the cliff.  Then he remembered the wagon and he squinted through one

eyeball at George. 

 

 

"Chimes?" he murmured, wondering if Native Americans buried enemy dead with

wind chimes. 

 

 

Before he got his answer, her face swam into focus, the powdered wig morphing into

blonde curls. "Oh!" he gasped. "You?"  What was her name?  His synapses searched

for it like the wizened fingers of an ancient postmaster running along small rows of

mail boxes.  Rose? Was that it? It had something to do with some sort of bush or

something.  Then he remembered her breasts and looked at them.  Rose Bosom?

Could that be right?  There was more. More about the breasts.  Something descriptive.

Oh, God...what was it? Rose Goodbosom?  His face hurt.  He had broken his face.

How could he be expected to remember names when his face was broken.  He felt suddenly...lost...and stood quickly, too quickly.  The room spun a bit and the bush

person grabbed his arm.  He was going to fall off the cliff again. "Don't...," he gasped

hoarsely, a bit desperately.  "Don't bury me with wind chimes."

 

 

 

 

 

R********************************

 

 

“That’s it!” Holli cried then scrunched her face at the excruciating pain on his.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “Let’s get you to bed. I’m calling 911. The ambulance will

 get you down stairs and . . .”

 

 

“Oh no, George. No steps. No way.” But he grunted to the bed. Sat and slowly lowered

his aching head to the ruffle covered pillow. Agitated at the crisp lace brushing his

face, he thudded a fist to press it away.

 

 

“Steve, please relax,” she lifted his head gently by the neck and removed the offensive

starched islet ruffle monster that was bothering him, then opened his shirt a few

buttons. She wanted him to feel more comfortable, but wasn’t willing to loosen his

belt for the same reason. Let the paramedics do that. “I’m not George, I’m Holli.”

 

“Right! Tittswell. Holli Tittswell,” he seemed thrilled to have yet another opportunity

to laugh his silly laugh.

 

 

“Enough. I’m calling the ambulance,” and she stood to leave but his hand gripped her

wrist.

 

 

“Holli Tittswell . . . giggle . . . giggle . . . um, Holli. No need for an ambulance. I’m fine.”

He blinked several times then tightened the grip on her wrist. “And Holli.”

 

 

“Yes Steve?”

 

 

“You are one pretty girl. The prettiest thing I’ve seen in all of bloody Pittsburgh.”

 

 

Holli blushed. “Um, are you hungry?”



His eyes were glowing; it didn’t look a whole lot like Steve, the New York Photographer

was hungry . . . for food.

 

 

 

 

“What did you do with the wind chimes, Holli?”

 

 

Good gravy, those eyes! Even circled with purple bruises, they were spectacular. “I

hate those chimes. I was thinking I’d bury them in the garden, under the Concord

grape vines.” Her hand smoothed his brow.

 

 

Again he blinked. “Grapes?"

 

 

J**************************************

 

 

"Yes, grapes.  The backyard is full of grapes."

 

 


 

He moaned.  He groaned.  He bit his lip and folded his arms over his head.



She reached for the phone, already punching in the 9 and the 1 before he grabbed her

arm.



"No," he gasped.  "I'm ok.  No little men in blue suits.  No sirens."



He lay back on the pillow again, his sudden phone-stopping motion having stirred up

the throb in his skull.  "It was just the...grapes. You mentioned grapes?"



"I did."

 


"Would they be...purple...grapes?"



"Concord," she nodded affirmatively.



He closed his eyes.  "How did you arrange that one?" he sighed heavily.



"How did I...?"



"Not you," he whispered through clenched teeth.



"Not...? Is someone else here?"



"You bury your wind chimes with...grapes?" he asked, not answering her question,

then further confusing her by adding, "I guess that's better than burying them with

dead generals."



"What ARE you talking about?" she shouted, one eyebrow rising much higher than

the other.   Much.



He giggled again.  He had no idea why he giggled.  It just seemed that sort of day. 

Either you giggled or Pittsburgh buried you....with grapes and/or wind chimes and

maybe a general for good measure.



"Why violets?" he asked, throwing her off completely.



"I beg your pardon?" she replied, eyeing the phone again. 



A wave of his hand took in the wallpaper, its border, and the chair.



"Don't forget the bedspread," she added, smiling with evil pleasure as she got his

meaning.


 

He bent his neck, beginning a serious investigation of the item upon which he lay. 

"Oh...God," he moaned. 



"Second floor," she explained.



It was his turn to cock an eyebrow.



"I'd planned to put you on the third."



"Ah, right," he nodding, making a lock of hair fall back over his forehead.  "And now

I must stay because I've violated the violets."



Her eyes widened slightly and he smiled.  "I've left my impression on the bed."  He

stood, turning back to face it.  "You see?"



Indeed, there was a definite Steve-shaped hollow in the middle of the covers.  He

shrugged. 

 

"You can...," she started, but he shook his head...carefully.



"This is fine, Holli.  Really.  Did you mention something about...food?"

 

 

R**************************************

 

 

“Just stay here and relax, I’ll bring up some lunch.”

 

 

 Holli left him alone in the violated violet room and trotted down the stairs, taking a

suspicious glance up and wondering about Steve. About grapes and wind chimes and

the largeness of his hand as he gripped her wrist. The lovely warmth of it. Wondering

when she’d last felt a warm hand on hers, when she’d actually had a date. She wondered

about his agitated mannerisms and if he had a concussion. Then as she entered the

kitchen, she shrugged. He was hungry and that was always a good sign.

 

 

It was her plan to eat alone, a simple wedge of the quiche she’d made earlier and

some fruit salad. But the salad was loaded with Concord grapes from the back yard

vines. That wasn’t going to work. She had no desire to fish out all the grapes before

serving him. Oh well, she had an irrational fear of ghosts and bumble bees; she

guessed Steve had a right to his irrational fear of grapes. Grapes. How odd was

that?

 

As she fussed around the kitchen, locating plates with little or no violets painted on

them and preparing a vegetable salad to replace the fruit salad she was really looking

forward to, she heard an odd noise. Tinkling. Wind chimes? No. Couldn’t be.

 

 

Dish towel in hand, Holli headed for the front porch; sure one of those hateful Tittswell

Bed and Breakfast apparitions had replaced the chimes. With trepidation, she leaned

her head out of the screen door and grinned. There was Steve, actually hanging one of

the chimes back on the hook where it belonged. He turned a brilliant smile her way.

 

 

 “One chime will be fine. Lunch ready?”

J************************************************


 

He'd felt so much better that he decided to wander down the stairs and see what was

going on about lunch. In the front entryway, he noticed the cardboard box with the

chimes.  Squatting beside it, he poked the top one with a finger. It slid a bit into its

neighbor but made only a dull, clonking sound.  He sat back on his heels, looking

silently in the box, thinking.  A wind chime had to be...what...free?  A wind chime in

a box was a lump of metal tubing.  Carefully he lifted out the top chime, circling his

 fingers around its tubes to keep it still.  Standing then, he carried it out onto the

porch, walking to the edge of the top step and looking out across Grandview.

 

 

Over the rooftops facing the B&B, he could see the city below, nestled into the sharp

triangle where the two rivers merged.  Here in the middle of the day, the sky was

brilliant blue with a few soft clouds scudding by.  He tipped his head, watching a hawk

high, riding the thermals without flapping its wings.  His eyes moved back to the wind

chime in his hand.  Still just metal tubing, he thought.  Nothing more.  He felt rather

like that a lot.  Like some giant hand had surrounded his life and was holding it still,

holding it so that he was only tubing, holding it so that he made no music. 

 

 

There was a low table near the white, wooden railing and he stepped up on it, reaching,

hanging the chimes.  Hopping backwards, he stood there, watching as the strings turned,

the tubing moving, settling.  The air was still a moment, then a puff of breeze blew by

and the tubing swayed, becoming more than tubing, becoming something that... chimed. 

He smiled at it, then looked back at Pittsburgh, turned just as Holli opened the screen

door a bit.  It made that sound all old screen doors make, that familiar scraping

screeching stretch and some long-lost audio memory flooded him with a sense of

vaguely-recalled comfort and security.  The chimes rang again and he flashed a

brilliant smile at Holli. 



She led him down the hardwood entry hall to the kitchen on the back of the house. 

Quietly, quickly, she slipped a large bowl off the counter and into the fridge as though

she didn't want him to see its contents, then returned to a cutting board where she

finished chopping celery. 



"Need some help?" he offered, leaning his elbow on the counter and peering into the

 large wooden bowl between them.



She handed him a colander filled with cherry tomatoes.  "You can rinse these," she

smiled.

 



He took it to the sink, an old, large white enamel one and turned on the tap.  Slipping

his fingers under the tiny tomatoes, he turned them as the cool water rushed through

the colander.  Not even realizing he was doing so, he began to hum. 

 

 

R********************************************

 

 

Holli smiled and pulled the freshly heated quiche from the oven, letting it settle a moment

on the counter. She turned a fond gaze to Steve. What was it about this guy? When was

the last time a man felt so comfortable to be with, to watch when he didn’t know she

was watching, to fall on top of? Quite an interesting start to his two weeks stay, and

she felt herself wishing he could stay longer.

Maybe it was the drama of their tumble down the steps. Maybe it was his contagious

giggle. Maybe it was the color of his eyes, but maybe it was just that she liked him. And

she liked him far more than she’d ever expected.

 

 

Plating their lunch and putting together the tossed salad, Holli found herself planning

wonderful breakfasts for her guest, the kind Auntie Tara would be proud of. Summer

berry loaded crepes. Fresh baked granola. Tomato and fresh basil frittata. And she

realized it was about more than pleasing and satisfying a guest. She wanted to please

and satisfy Steve.

 

 

They sat, comfortable as an old married couple and ate, launching into conversations

about family and childhood. Laughing about the third to second floor mishap and even broaching the subject of their love lives, or in this case, their lack thereof.

 

 

As Steve spoke of his broken heart, Holli watched his eloquent eyes. There was pain

there, hurt and even anger but something else too. He was trying to recover from that

loss. As his eyes settled on hers, she was suddenly breathless. When she fell on top of

him less than an hour ago, had she also done the unthinkable? Had she fallen for him?

 

 

 “So,” he dabbed his mouth with the rose embroidered linen napkin. “Holli Tittswell,

what’s your story?”

 

 

“My story? I’m not sure I have a story. My aunt owns this place, but she’s unable to

run it right this moment . . . well maybe for the rest of her life. She’s in the hospital.

She is in her eighties, after all.”

 

 

 “Why is she in the hospital?”

 

 “Um . . . she fell down the steps.”

 

 

“Ah . . . I see. So you’re taking care of things for her like a good niece?”

 

 

Holli gathered the dirty plates. “Sort of. You’re the last guest this place will ever have.

We have a buyer who’s interested in turning it into a parking lot.”

 

 

“That’s a pity.”

 

 She giggled. “Somehow I thought you might relish the thought of all those violets and

grape vines bulldozed flat.”

"No. Not really. They have a place, Holli. We all have a place. What’s your place in the

world?”

 

 

 

 “I have no clue.” She tucked dishes in the dishwashers and the leftover quiche in the refrigerator. “Let’s get out of here? You up for a walk?”

J****************************************


 

They crossed Grandview and headed east, just walking slowly, talking more than looking

at the view.  Very old houses were punctuated here and there by startling modern ones,

all glass and curves to get as much exposure toward the city as possible.  Once in a while

 a circular concrete platform jutted out beyond the sidewalk, hanging over the edge of

the sheer drop like some suspended giant mushroom.  They walked out on each of these,

leaning on the railings, conversation not pausing. He wanted to know about her, but she

took some drawing out. 

 

 

 

For some reason, he chattered away about himself...more than he believed he ever

had with anyone.  At last he stopped, just looking at her there on the platform.  The

breeze blew locks of her curly blonde hair here and there but she didn't seem to mind

or feel the need to corral them.  He studied her carefully with his photographer's eye. 

She was nothing at all like Monica with that olive skin and Latin beauty.  Holli was

lovely in an entirely different way, a more natural, easy-going way.  She seemed far

less self-aware of her beauty, as though it were of no real concern to her.  Something

in him liked that, liked it a lot. 

 

 

He leaned back against the railing, resting his elbows on it, lost for a moment in the

planes of noon light on her cheeks.  He wondered what she would look like in a softer

light, maybe... moonlight?  Then he realized he'd not heard her last question.

 

 

"What?" he asked.  "Sorry.  I was just thinking...um...photographic thoughts."

 

 

She, too, now leaned on the metal railing, but facing the opposite direction, toward the

city.  He half-turned so that she was in profile to him.  He liked her nose...short, straight, perfectly-formed with a delicate flare of nostril.  She hadn't repeated her question but

just stood there, looking at the city.

 

 

"What?" he repeated softly.  "What are you thinking?"

 

 

She wasn't ready to tell him what she was actually thinking, so she smiled and nodded

toward the most unique building on the skyline.  "Just noticing the reflection of the clouds....there."

 

He followed her gaze to a tall, sleek building entirely sheathed in glass, a perfectly

straight structure, very modern in form but for its amazingly gothic top. 

 

 

"What IS that?" he asked, never having seen its like.

 

 

"PPG," she explained.  "Pittsburgh Plate Glass.  Is why it's all glass like that."

 

 

 

It was, indeed, a remarkable building, but he was far more interested in trying to get

her to talk about herself.  He wasn't having much luck.  She always managed to turn it

back to him, getting him to reveal himself.  "Is that really what you were thinking?"

he asked.

 

 

She looked down at the railing before turning her eyes to his.  "No," she admitted. "I

was trying to picture you as a little boy.  Maybe it's your giggle." She smiled. "What

sort of little boy were you?"

 

 

"Me? Ah, well...," he ran spread fingers through his hair, "I'm afraid I made it my

business to torture my big sister."  He grinned and shrugged.  "And....I collected snails."

 

 

 

"Snails?  Whyever snails?"

 

 

He looked innocently at the sky.  "They...ah...they....fit...um...nicely in ballet slippers....

and under pink pillows."

 

 

"You DIDN'T!"

 

 

He giggled.  "I did."  Then he caught his tongue between his lips and shook his head.  She

was already getting used to his little mannerisms.  He seemed to have quite a lot of them.

 

 

R******************************************

 

What was she thinking? He’d asked twice and she had no way to answer him. She was

thinking about his eyes, not as swollen as earlier. She was thinking about his hair, how

it tossed in the breeze. She was thinking about where to take him for dinner, what to

show him in her city and how to get him to continue wanting to spend time with her.

But, Steve was a New York Photographer and he had a job to do. Whatever came of

their . . . friendship, simply had to be peripheral to his job.

 

 

“So, Steve. What is your photo assignment here in Pittsburgh?” She tried really, really

hard to sound interested.

 

 

 He turned, leaned elbow on the railing and stared down at the Point Park fountain.

 

“Trust me, you don’t wanna know, Holli.”

 

 

 

 

“No, I do,” she teasingly nudged him with her elbow and his arm, with the most natural movement one could imagine, actually lifted and draped over her shoulders then tugged

her close to his chest. It felt so good, so correct; she settled in and leaned her head under

his chin. Together they watched the fountain.

 

 

“Your assignment?” she repeated.

 

 

“Steps.” And together they burst into laughter, cuddling like life-long lovers on the

overlook. When the giggling calmed, after he blinked back tears of laughter, Steve

relaxed back into the semi embrace and sighed. “Tell me something interesting about Pittsburgh. No Indians and no generals and no forts, please. Just something cool I’d

never know unless a native told me.”

 

 

 “Okay. We have four rivers here.” 

 

 

 “I see three rivers, Hol. You’re pulling my leg, right.”

 

 

 “Nope, see that fountain?”

 

 

 

 Steve nodded, cuddling her even closer. Did he brush a kiss on her hair? Holli shook it

off and focused on her explanation.

 

 

“Um . . . well . . . the water you see, spewing from that big fountain comes from a forth

river, deep beneath the other rivers.”

 

 

He turned and leaned far enough to look into her eyes. “You’re kiddin’, right?”

 

 

“Dead serious.”

 

 

 At first his eyes were soft, then his smile dropped, then his lips moved closer and closer

and ...

 

 

ON TO PART 2

 

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