The King's Crown
Two weeks later, Alex was deeply engrossed in building a complicated database for one of her new clients when the sound of insistent knocking pulled her back to reality. She rolled herself back from the workbench and headed toward the front of the house. As she neared the front door the knocking ceased. Just as before, Alex looked through the peephole at a broad back. She smiled.
Pulling the door open she shouted “Wait!” and was rewarded with a glimpse of one of the most gorgeous men she had ever laid eyes on. Michael was as tall as she remembered, but somehow the low light and barely veiled anger of their previous meeting had over shadowed how incredibly handsome he looked. Alex inhaled sharply.
“Hi! I was beginning to think you weren’t home.” Michael said, “Let me guess, you were deep in thought again.”
“I’m afraid I get that way. I was working. Is there something I can help you with?” Alex asked. She thought about the morning after when a flatbed tow truck had come and hauled his car away. That was the last she had thought about that awful night.
“Actually, I was thinking that there may be something that I could help you with.” He replied.
“Help me with? As I remember the last time I saw you, you were recovering from a couple of accidents caused by my dog. I can’t think of any reason why you should want to help me with anything. In fact I am quite surprised that you never sued me for the damages.” Alex looked at Michael suspiciously. “Now, why did you really come here?”
“Really? Well, I’d say I was in the neighborhood, but you don’t really live on the way to anywhere. So I guess I’d better come out with the truth. I wanted to repay you.” Michael grinned at the disbelieving look on Alex’s face.
“Repay me for what?”
“Repay you for letting me use your phone that night and for not calling the police to come get me when I was done.” The two of them stood on the front steps of Alex’s three story Victorian mansion staring at each other. “But I would like to request one more favor from you.”
Alex nodded her head as if she were sure her suspicions were confirmed. “And just what would that be?” The tone of her voice was designed to turn away the most insistent of men, but Michael just smiled.
“I’d like for you to tell me your name,” he said, “I’ve been wanting to call you for the past couple of weeks but in the morning after the accident it occurred to me that I had never asked you your name. So, I drove up here on the first opportunity I had to ask you for your name and to repay you.” Michael stated.
She shook her head, “Alex.”
“Alexandra McKenzie. Alex for short. Al for very short, but there are very few people who call me Al. Look, why don’t we talk inside where we can sit down?” They moved up the steps and into the foyer. “We can walk back to the kitchen if you’d like something to drink.”
“No, that’s all right. I only came here to ask you to dinner tonight.” Michael looked Alex up and down; he liked what he saw. From her long dark hair, to her green eyes, to her long shapely legs, she was every bit of the dreams he’d been having about her every night. “I know a little out of the way restaurant that serves the best steaks.” Alex shook her head. Misunderstanding, Michael said, “Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, they also serve very good salads.”
Alex continued shaking her head, “It’s not that. I can’t join you tonight. I have a great deal of work to do. I’m under a dead line and I’m afraid I can’t spare any time until after I’ve completed the job. Maybe I can take a rain check,” she said doubtfully.
“Nope. No rain checks.” Michael said quickly and pushed past Alex. She watched his figure stride down the sidewalk, like some great cat. She was so dumbfounded by his reaction that he made it all the way to his car and down the driveway before she came to her senses. She called for him to come back, but it was too late. Dejectedly, she shut the door and wandered back to her work room. Eight computers gleamed at her from the interior of a large room. At first the room appeared to be dark and foreboding, but she walked to the far wall and pulled a cord allowing the afternoon rays of sunlight to bathe her. She sighed. She really didn’t feel like returning to her work but then she thought about the consulting fees that her clients were paying and she sat down at the nearest monitor.
Shortly after nightfall, Alex was shocked to hear faint footsteps from the interior of her home. She cursed herself for not locking the doors and crept around the workbench toward the phone located at the far side of the room. She tiptoed the few yards, hoping that one of the old boards wouldn’t creak. It did.
Alex froze in terror. She could just imagine some common criminal walking into her house, going through her things, stealing from her, thinking she wasn’t home. She cursed the fence around Cargo, wishing he were inside with her. Slowly the footsteps came closer to her. Standing in the middle of a bare room, Alex knew she was a perfect target. As the workroom door was pushed open, Alex dropped to floor and scurried for the one phone at that end of the house. She could only pray she’d make it before they caught her. As a hand closed around her upper arm, she could almost here them chuckling cruelly. She came up screaming at the top of her lungs face to face with...Michael.
He was laughing softly. “Its okay. Its just me.”
“Its not funny.” Alex sulked. “And how dare you break into my house in the middle of the night.”
Michael slowly shook his head, “Its only eight and I didn’t break in, your door was unlocked. I knocked, but when you didn’t answer the door I guessed that you may be working so I let myself in. I was looking for the kitchen when I heard movement back here and came back to let you know it was me.” Michael smiled, “Next thing I know you’re commando woman, crawling across the floor to call in the cavalry.” He wrapped her still shaking body into his arms. “Its okay. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just didn’t want to disturb your work again.”
She pushed herself out of his arms. “I am not scared.” she denied. “Why did you come back? I thought it was no rain checks.” Alex walked over to her workbench and began the task of bringing her computer systems down.
Michael walked up behind her and watched as she went through the slow process of shutting down each program and logging out of the network. “Why don’t you just turn them off?” He inquired.
“Because I could lose valuable data and disk space that way. Its a long story, but the computers are just happier if you shut them off properly.”
Michael chuckled, “The computers are happier?” he said. “I always thought they were just machines.”
“They are.” Alex replied, “But it helps to personify them a little bit, you get a better understanding of them that way. I mean, I haven’t given them names or anything.” She said, catching look on his face that meant he was beginning to doubt her sanity. “They just have glitches and quirks sometimes that make them seem almost human.” Alex shut down the last system and turned to Michael. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“There are no rain checks, that’s why I didn’t wait for another night. But in deference to your work schedule, I thought I’d compromise. Follow me.” Michael turned and walked out of the work room. Alex followed him as he meandered through her house toward the kitchen. She was amazed he managed to find his way in her maze of a house. As they neared the kitchen, the smell of oregano and tomato sauce was almost over powering. She smiled at the thought of a meal cooked by someone who actually knew what they were doing. Tonight’s dinner would be a huge step up from her usual burnt grilled cheese or cold cereal.
“What is that glorious odor?” She asked as they entered her spacious kitchen.
“Baked mostaciolli, fresh spinach salad with a light vinegar and oil dressing, garlic breadsticks sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and a light Chianti.” As Michael spoke he pulled various take-out containers out of a brown paper bag and laid them out on the counter. “I have certain connections who assure me that the sauce is made from scratch by little old ladies from a tiny village north of Venice.” Smiling, he began to open the cupboards. “Where is your tableware located?”
Alex pointed to the left of the sink and walked around the cutting block to assist him in the preparation. Giggling she pulled out her finest red checked picnic table cloth. “I hope this will do. I let the maid have the day off and I can’t find a thing.” She joked.
“Of course it will. I found some paper cups for the wine. I guess your ‘maid’ must have hidden the champagne flutes too.” He jested in return.
Together they settled down to her dining room table. They enjoyed the finest Italian food in upstate New York out of Styrofoam boxes and paper cups. Laughing all the while, they ate until they were both too full to move.
“Ugh! I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” Michael groaned pushing away an empty mostaciolli container. “Luigi’s is too good. I eat like this every time I go there, then I have to do two thousand push-ups just to get rid of the weight.”
Alex looked at the broad chest of the man across from her. With his muscular build, she could never imagine an ounce of fat having the nerve to stick to him. “I’ll bet.” she scoffed, “You have never spent an overweight day in your life.”
“And you have?” Michael spent a moment in stern appraisal of Alex’s lithe figure. Boy, she had curves in all the right places. Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually undressed a woman with eyes but he was getting to the point of mentally unbuttoning her blouse.
“You bet I have. I remember when I was sixteen, I was madly in love with the drum major in our high school band. When he backed out of a date with me to take the captain of the debate team to the homecoming dance, I spent the evening with a gallon of ice cream, a can of Hershey’s syrup and a spoon. I must’ve gained ten pounds that night. I spent my whole sophomore year with people like Betty Crocker and Sarah Lee.” Alex shook her head at the thought of those days. “You wouldn’t believe what first disappointment can do to a young girl’s ego.”
Michael frowned at the thought of how hurt Alex must have been all those years ago. “I understand. And that’s why you spend your time now with IBM and Compaq. Nice guys.”
“Yeah.” Alex smiled, “And don’t forget Packard Bell.” Michael smiled in return. They sat for a while in companionable silence. Marveling at how easy it was to be with each other, they began chatting. They talked for hours about their lives, their jobs, and any number of topics.
“So you own your own publishing house. I’ve heard of Crown Books. You stick mainly to popular fiction, don’t you?” Alex remarked. “I don’t get much of an opportunity to read books, Well, except for computer manuals, that is.”
“You should give yourself some time to sit down and relax. Read a book just for enjoyment.” Michael thought about that statement for a second and chuckled softly. “Actually, I should take that advice myself. Since I opened Crown, I only read books to evaluate their marketability. I can’t remember the last time I read for enjoyment.” He smiled and Alex marveled at how smiling lit his face up. She remembered the night they met. The scowl on his face then and the smile he was wearing now almost made him into two completely different people.
“I like this you.” She said.
“This me? I didn’t realize there was another me.” He said laughingly.
“There is. The you that showed up on my doorstep that night was too gruff and foreboding. I much prefer this you.” Alex spoke softly, as if she wasn’t sure how he’d react to her revelation.
“I’m glad you like this me. But you know, that guy you met two weeks ago is as much the real me as this is. I can be a real bear.” Michael looked into Alex’s eyes, “I sincerely apologize for my behavior that night. It’s no excuse, but I was rather shaken up that night.” He took Alex’s hand in his and started caressing the backs of her fingers with his thumb.
“I understand. Anyone would be under those circumstances.” She looked down at their hands. It was nice to hold hands with someone again. She really liked this man. If she wasn’t careful she could easily fall in love with him. Love! She hastily pulled her hand free. Embarrassed, she babbled, “Would you look at the time! I can’t believe we’ve been sitting here for so long. I really should be getting to bed. Tomorrow’s a work day for me, you know.”
She began picking up there dinner dishes and tidying the room. He assisted in carrying cartons to the kitchen. He didn’t know what had gotten into her so suddenly but he would abide by her wishes. After they finished cleaning, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.
“Well... I had fun tonight. Thank you for letting me treat you to dinner.”
“Yeah. I had fun too. Thank you for treating me to dinner. It was nice to take a break and eat a good meal.” Alex grinned and opened the front door for him. He hesitated and looked at her for some kind of reassurance. She smiled at him, but he could see that something was holding her back.
“Well, have a good night...” he said as he walked through the door.
“Yes, you too. Have a safe drive home.” Alex watched as he walked to his car, got in and backed down the driveway to the road. She watched his car until she could no longer see his tail lights. She watched him drive away and then she sat down on her front step and cried.