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He didn't want to be there. The old veteran's home brought back too many bad memories. "I'll be there in a sec." "Hurry it up, Mike." Joe made an obvious check of his wrist watch, acting as though he needed to be somewhere at the moment. He watched as the young doctor tied up a few loose ends with the head nurse for the day. His little brother...a doctor. Joe was damn proud of the kid. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's exactly what Mike had done. As he waited, Joe looked around to see that nothing had changed. The walls were still a depressing dingy yellow, the brown shag carpet still....well, shaggy. The smells, the sounds, the feelings were all the same. "You look like a fellow fisherman." Joe turned toward the approaching elderly man. He didn't quite fit in with the rest of the scene. His eyes were a little too aware, his voice a little too strong, his gait a little too sturdy. "How could you tell?" Joe quirked a bit of a smile. "You've got the build for it," the old man shrugged, "And I saw you out on the lake last week." Only after Joe laughed, did the man crack a pleased smile. "Heard the doc call you Joe. I'm Rudy," the old man introduced himself and extended his hand. "Do you fish often, Rudy?" Joe smiled. Rudy had a surprisingly firm hand shake. "As much as possible. The assholes around here won't let me go until recess and I have to have a babysitter to go with me," Rudy growled, then lightened up a bit as he continued, "But I don't mind as long as Al's around...brings me lunch every time too. That kid makes the best food I've ever tasted." "I'm sure anything's better than the excuse for food they serve here." Rudy gave a hardy laugh and gave Joe a friendly slap on the back. Joe was starting to like the guy already. "If you ever have some free time and don't mind spending it with a crazy old fart, maybe you could join me and Al by the lake for a day of fishing." "I was actually planning on going out tomorrow. I wouldn't mind having company." "Sounds like a plan then. I'll have Al bring extra food." "I'm ready, Joe." Mike grinned as he approached the new pals. "See you at 9:00 am sharp, kiddo." Rudy gave Joe a curt nod, then turned to Mike. "You have a great evening, Doc." He saluted the brothers casually and headed off to the screened-in back porch. "You warmed up to him pretty quickly." Mike stated conversationally as Joe eased his beat up multi-colored pickup out of the home's parking lot. "Yup." Joe replied, not volunteering any information. "What's tomorrow at 9:00 am?" "Fishing." "Fishing? Rudy's ditching Al for you?" Mike sounded shocked. "I guess I'm just tagging along. Company, conversation, and free food, which I've heard is amazing. How could I turn him down?" Mike laughed. "You're always up for free food, aren't you?" Joe grinned. "Who isn't?" The old pickup sputtered and choked as Joe steered the dying machine onto the main road. Joe knew the poor old junker would be giving up the ghost before too long. “I think it’s about time for that new pickup I’ve been saving for.” Joe laughed when there was a gurgle from under the hood. “You think? I’m surprised that Miss High-and-Mighty would even consider glancing your way when you own a heap of junk like this.” There was a moment of silence. Joe knew it was coming and he didn’t have to wait long. “What do you see in her anyway?” The subject of Mike wanting Joe to break up with his snobby, rich, model-type girlfriend was starting to get real old. "Don't start, Mikey.” Joe sighed. “Why not?” “Because I’m sick of talking about it.” “I am too and if you break up with her, we won’t have to talk about it ever again.” Mike grinned. Joe rolled his eyes and quirked a half smile. “Smart ass.”

"Come on, Lexi! We're going to be late!" Brynn exclaimed as she pounded on the bathroom door. "There‘s no set time, so we can‘t be late." Lexi laughed in response from the other side of the door. "But your fans are waiting for you!" Lexi laughed again as she shook out the fresh curls in her hair. "Give me another minute to fix my hair and then we'll leave." When she finished, the image in the mirror still didn't please her. It never did. It probably never would. Her hair and eyes were a boring brown, her face too normal, her lips too pouty, she was too tall, and she was just a bit too plump. People always told her that she was a pretty girl or a good-looking young woman, but she had to wonder if they were just being polite. The only guys that ever seemed to be interested in her were either old, married, or mentally unstable. Quite often, she wondered if she would ever be married and have the children she so desperately wanted. One boy and one girl to read bed-time stories to, play games with, to watch them grow and learn and feel that for once in her life she had done something right. Was it too much to ask for? The incessant pounding on the bathroom door interrupted her tangent thoughts. "Come on! Somebody's going to steal our table!" Lexi heaved a big sigh and wiped away a lonely tear. "Oh baby, you look hot tonight!" Brynn exclaimed as Lexi strode out of the bathroom with a confidence she didn't feel. Both girls laughed and just as they headed for the front door, Lexi's cell phone rang. "Hello?" "Hey honey." "Rudy!" Lexi beamed, "How was that apple dumpling today?" "Absolutely heavenly. You should open up your own restaurant." "Glad you liked it." "How do you feel about having a tag along tomorrow?" Lexi frowned for a moment, feeling a little disappointed that she wouldn't have Rudy's undivided attention. She shrugged it off and smiled again. "Hm...if it means bringing more food, then forget it." Rudy could hear the teasing tone in her voice. "Good," he chuckled, "We'll see you at 9:00 am sharp, honey." Just as she was shoving the cell phone into her purse, the phone in her apartment rang. "Let the answering machine get it." Brynn suggested. Lexi grinned at her friend and followed her out the door as the phone continued to ring.

"Come on, Joe. I don't work tomorrow, so I want to go party." "You're a big boy, go party by yourself." Joe stared at his brother with his arms folded across his chest. "I want you to come with me. You need to do something other than work, fish, and hang out with the queen of boredom." Joe glared at Mike for the last comment. "What if I get drunk? I'll need a designated driver," he said smugly, thinking he had won. "Then don't drink." Joe began to walk away. "I'm getting wasted whether you're there or not." "Fine." Joe sighed and rolled his eyes, "Spoiled younger siblings," he mumbled. "I'm only spoiled because you always give in to me." Joe reached over and gave Mike a shove. "We leave in ten." Mike took a step toward Joe and shoved him back with a mischievous grin. "Don't start with me, Mikey. You know I'll win." Mike shoved again. "Last warning, kid." This time he poked Joe in the ribs. "Alright, that's it." Before Joe could even blink, Mike plowed into him, catching him off guard and threw him off balance. They crashed to the floor and rolled suddenly, Joe pinning Mike easily. "Give up yet?" Joe grinned. "Ow, ow, ow!" Mike yelped in pain. Joe quickly released him. "Hey, I tried to warn --" Joe's sentence was cut short when Mike executed a swift maneuver that sent Joe sprawling on his back, Mike pinning him with a successful grin. After Joe got his breath back, he gave a cocky grin. "Getting crafty there, kid." Joe reversed the situation in the blink of an eye, pinning Mike once again. "But not crafty enough." He flicked his younger brother's nose, then released him. "Ten minutes." "One of these days, Joe. One of these days," Mike chuckled.

"Hey ladies." "Hey Billy." Lexi and Brynn replied in unison to the bulky Sparkz bouncer. Billy was an ox of a man. Bulging muscles, extremely tall, and as handsome as they come. Men feared him. Women drooled over him. "You singing tonight, Lexi?" he grinned. "Of course! When don't I?" she winked. "You have to let me know when she's going to sing," he told Brynn. She forced a smile and nodded timidly, “You bet.” After they were situated at their usual table, Lexi decided to speak up. “When are you going to ask him out? You could at least let him know that you have the hots for him.” Brynn burst into laughter. “Yeah, right. Why ask him just to have the rejection confirmed? All he talks about is you. It’s obvious that he has a crush on you.” “He does not.” “Does too.” “Does not. Don’t argue with me, woman,” Lexi growled, holding a fist up threateningly. They both laughed. “On a more serious note: you should seriously ask him. He wouldn’t pass up the chance of a lifetime to go on a date with a sweet, funny, caring, beautiful woman like you.” Brynn smiled, “Thanks Lexi. You’re the best.” “I know. So, you’ll ask him?” “I’ll think about it.”

“Nice place. Cute girls.” Mike commented while nodding, “Sparkz may become my new hunting ground.” He leaned back with his elbows propped against the bar to give the place another good look over. “That’s not the way to do it, Mikey. Don’t be hooking up with floozies in a bar.” “Oh, come on. Not all girls that hang out in bars are like that, Joe.” A young woman with thick layers of make-up, tight skimpy clothing, and obviously looking for trouble, took that opportune time to sashay by the brothers, giving them both a smoldering invitation with her eyes. “But they’re not all like that, Joe. Besides, maybe I’m just looking for some fun too.” Joe simply looked at his younger sibling. “Alright, alright,” Mike rolled his eyes and followed his brother to a table, carrying his glass and their pitcher of beer. They spotted an empty table near the back of the small room and shuffled their way toward it. When they were closer, Mike thought he recognized a girl sitting two tables to the right. “Dr. Garvey?” He was right. She looked different dressed for a night out on the town. A huge leap from the ponytail, jeans, t-shirt, and oversized flannel shirt look she donned at work. “Hey there, Lexi! Wow, you look awesome!” Joe noticed her slight timid withdrawal and her faint blush. “Thanks.” Mike turned to his slightly taller brother, “This is my older brother, Joe Garvey. Joe, this is Alexa Bowser, better known as Lexi. She volunteers at the hospital to help with recreation.” “Nice to meet you, Joey.” Lexi smiled. Joe tensed. At first he had thought she was very pretty. Then he thought she was absolutely adorable when her cheeks had turned pink at his brother’s compliment. But she had to go and call him ‘Joey.’ He hated the nickname. “It’s Joe, and nice to meet you too, Alex.” Her smile faded and she narrowed her eyes slightly. Joe felt a little satisfaction that he had also hit a nerve. He imagined they had just drawn a line in the sand, daring the other to cross it.