A ROMANTIC COMEDY ABOUT STEVE
FIRST 3 CHAPTERS BY RILEY AND JO
CHAPTERS 4 AND ON BY JO
(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
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,
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
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.
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
It looked positively..
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
"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,
his leather case somersaulted down the flight of
stairs. The rather remarkable
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
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
shirt enabled him to perform an interesting scrabbling motion with his legs, quite
a toppling unicyclist on
a high wire. His arms flailed wildly, but as his left hand
a toppling unicyclist on a high wire. His arms flailed wildly, but as his left hand
windmill-like, near where she leaned forward, she clutched at it with her free
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
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
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
more wideness. He was staggering backwards down the stairs, not quite falling, yet
not quite not falling. She, now attached, went with him.
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
**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
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
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
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
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.
on a quiet pond. His eyes were closed.
"Yes," he thought, his unspoken words dodging a path
among the whirling white stars
"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
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
it has killed me." He was not surprised. Being in Pittsburgh dead was probably little
different from being there alive.
different from being there alive.
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
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.
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.
just fine, thanks,” he growled.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
nose. The fear in his eyes as her hand moved closer broke her heart, but hey, fair is
the bag over the bridge of his nose.
“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.
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.
He was calm, he was relaxed. Maybe he wanted to talk?
“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?”
and placed them in a box. At least his sleep wouldn’t be filled with ghoulish chiming
nightmares. She brushed off her hands.
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
"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
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."
“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 . . .”
his aching head to the ruffle covered pillow. Agitated at the crisp lace brushing his
face, he thudded a fist to press it away.
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.”
to laugh his silly laugh.
He blinked several times then tightened the grip on her wrist. “And Holli.”
His eyes were glowing; it didn’t look a whole lot like Steve, the New York Photographer
was hungry . . . for food.
hate those chimes. I was thinking I’d bury them in the garden, under the Concord
grape vines.” Her hand smoothed his brow.
"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
"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?"
"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
"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
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
"You can...," she started, but he shook his head...carefully.
"This is fine, Holli. Really. Did you mention something about...food?"
“Just stay here and relax, I’ll bring up some lunch.”
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.
fruit salad. But the salad was loaded with
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
We have a buyer who’s interested in turning it into a parking lot.”
grape vines bulldozed flat.”
"No. Not really. They have a place, Holli. We all have a place. What’s your place in the
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?"
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."
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.
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
hard to sound interested.
He turned, leaned elbow on the railing
and stared down at the
“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
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?”
At first his eyes were soft, then his smile dropped, then his lips moved closer and closer
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