Fools Don't Die
written for Envision at

    When I was fifteen I picked up a book called “Fools Die” and read it straight through, cover to cover, in two days.   It was by that crazy mafia-obsessed author—the one that wrote the Godfather and put the fear of Our Lord Jesus Christ into countless men and women everywhere.

    I thought it was an appropriate title but a lousy premise for a book.  I mean, come on.  Gambling?  Being a life-altering event?  Coupled with an elaborate bribery system involving the US Army and by the way the narrator is supposed to be a brilliant writer?  Please.  I devoured it anyway, and found myself coming back to the same story premise again and again and again.  I think maybe it’s because I read it that summer…that same summer I turned sixteen.  The summer which, I realize now, changed my life inexorably.

    Now, I’m not saying it was one of those “coming of age” rapid-fire dramas that everyone reads.  I’m not that dumb.  Yeah, I did meet a girl and yeah, we did fall in love, but that’s not to say that I’m a better or wiser or happier man because of it.  I say it because it’s the first summer I can ever remember being unhappy.

    There’s something to say for mediocrity.  And anonymity.  I played the part of the shy little schoolboy for ages, even though when no one was around I’d strike poses in mirrors and practice my lines and dream of the days when the chicks would fall all over me, like Michael Jackson.

    That’s why now, countless years later, when people ask me how I first got involved in that whole show-business nonsense, I told them it was on a dare.  I was shy.  I didn’t like it when the bulk of the attention was on me.  It was all a magic fluke. Or so I told them.  The truth is, I jumped at the chance to steal the spotlight.  I LIKED it when I looked out into the audience and saw them wide-eyed and staring at me, enrapt with the notes that would pour from my mouth.

    I felt my first tit that summer.  Yup.  Beneath the linen sheets at Ashley Harmelin’s house, with her parents away on a grocery errand and the portable fans whirring on high, she slipped open the silky fabric of her shirt and rocked my world.  I remember playing my fingers along delicate lace, and the way she would shudder when my tongue traced around plump mounds of flesh.  She had always been embarrassed about her breasts before; when most of the other girls around were still worrying about whether they were “big enough,” Ashley stood with a stooped posture and kept her books in front of her, with her eyes cast to the ground.

    That didn’t stop me from noticing her.  That cupids-bow mouth and those legs that ended in Vegas practically begged for attention.  She liked to wear preppy clothes, stuff she got at the Limited or Express or Gap or wherever daddy’s credit card happened to take her.  Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t a snob, but she had this air of sophistication, of hands-off purity, that brought out the carefully hidden carnal urges to which I occasionally submitted.

    She always had a ratty red notebook tucked under her right arm, and a black pen hidden in the twisted spiral of metal that held the pages together.  She would write often, in black ink only, her chocolatey hair spilling onto the papers as her left hand scribbled furiously.

    She liked to talk, if you let her.  She had big plans.

    “Rolling Stone, Josh…that’s where it’s at.  Did you know they pay two bucks a word PLUS grats and expenses PLUS killfees?  And it’s not just music, either, it’s movies and politics and…”

    Now, I tried to listen to her.  I really did.  But the fact of the matter is she portrayed herself as Ms. Unattainable and to be perfectly frank, I was a horny sixteen year-old cocky motherfucker who wanted nothing more than to see what was hidden under those Jordache jeans.

    I never expected her to let me.

    We, after all, traveled in different circles.  Her dad was an AD for Disney and he worked long hours at the studio, and although people said she had a mom, Mrs. Harmelin was never mentioned to anyone and when someone would say something to Ashley, she’d always brush it off.  I was a lowly mousketeer, trying to make some money before my mom yanked my ass back to Maryland.  I would confide in Ashley all of my secret desires to be rich and famous and sitting pretty with some multi-million dollar record deal, and she’d smile that secret smile and whisper that I could do it.  Not many people believed in me…but Ashley did.

    And it was Ashley.  Not Ashlen, her given name.

    “It feels lighter that way, don’t you think?  It flits around on your tongue and just seems to dance.  Ashlen sounds like a     schoolmarm.”

    She said that to me one Thursday afternoon when we were hanging out by the pool at the Contemporary Resort.  I wasn’t supposed to be there, really…it went against some sort of clause in my contract but when Ashley mentioned that she was going for a swim it conjured images of pink gingham and golden flashes of flesh, so I said what the hell.

    I began to swear that summer, too.

    I guess what I’ve been trying to spit out is I was a little pansy trapped in a hood’s shell, and it took me until that summer to figure it out.

    Of course, I took the hood thing a little too far.  I broke her heart.  To be fair, she took my virginity…but I never told her that.

    Anyway.  I’m getting off-track here.

    Summertime.  Ninety degrees.  The parents on the lam and Ashley and me under those linen sheets.  I was sweating like a pig…groaning and grunting and my cock rock hard and begging for some action, but of course I had the “gentleman” card to play and I wasn’t about to pop that cherry until I was sure that I had done it right.  So I lapped at her…let my tongue tease those little cherry nipples…took in the rapturous look in her eyes and absorbed those breathy little moans that would send the little tufts of hair just sprouting at the edge of my forehead swaying slightly.

    Oh God, my hair was bad back then.  Thick and wavy and I swear to God I had half a jar of dippity-do slathered on every fucking day.  It was like a work of art.  Now, give me some credit.  It was the early nineties and if you didn’t have mall hair and you weren’t into the hairband scene you had the parted-down-the-middle longish Beatles-wannabe crop.

    So I guess, in a way, I was in.

    She kept threading her carefully lacquered nails through that hair, teasing my scalp and sometimes scratching the skin a little too hard.  And she was panting.  Heavily.  I tried to take it a little further, and slip my all-too-eager fingers under those little white virginal panties but she grabbed my wrist like a storeowner would a shoplifter and gave me the look God must have given Moses when those stone tablets clattered to the ground.

    So I casually, slowly, pressed a kiss to the damp spot concealed by that scrap of ivory fabric, and she stopped breathing all together.

    She was on me like a hurricane, forcing me to my back, ripping open my classy Bauer button-down and exposing my chest to her watchful gaze.

    Can I just say I was nervous?  Just a little?  I tried to work out a few days a week and I was growing a nice collection of soft little hairs that started just above my sternum, but compare me to Rick Daugherty from across the street and I’m about as appealing as Steven Q. Urkel.

    She didn’t seem to mind, though.  She just threaded those sparkly nails through the sparsely populated forest growing across my pecs and placed those pouty lips around my nipple.

    Oh sweet Jesus, I saw stars.  I saw stars and moons and exploding crescent skies, and my hips bucked upwards trying to push those panties aside and the next thing I know, I feel that tell-tale stickiness sliding down my thighs.  Uh-oh.

    Ashley went absolutely still.  She stared at me like a professor would a science project, her eyes scrutinizing the wet mess against my boxers.  She looked from my groin to my face and back again, and gave a soft little sigh that formed a single word:


    It took me exactly three minutes to get the hell out of there.  Beet red, riddled with embarrassment, feeling my cheeks burn with shame and humiliation, I cleaned up the remainder of the mess with some Puffs Plus tissues and hastily fastened my pants, all the while ceaselessly repeating my abject apologies.  I ran out of her house and jumped on my bike and pedaled for what had to have been two miles before I realized that my body had stopped shaking and I had escaped the wicked clutches of the awkward situation.

    She didn’t talk to me for weeks after that.  Being a guy, I thought it was because I nearly scared her to death by squirting all over my Calvins and her Laura Ashley bedspread.  It never occurred to me that she assumed I thought her undesirable, that I was using her for just a quick romp in the hay and nothing more.

    I would catch her sitting under the wooden trellace just beyond the asphalt prison of the studio.  She would be waiting for her father, her backpack thrown haphazardly against her slender legs, her nose buried in that infernal notebook.  I would watch her as long as the shield of privacy would allow, but she would always catch me watching, and like a fool, I’d turn away.

    “How could you?”  She’d whisper, and I’d pretend I didn’t hear her.  Of course, I couldn’t react and throw myself at her feet like I really wanted to, because a guy has pride to worry about and an image to uphold.  Of course, on that afternoon, on that blazing, sweltering, steamy afternoon two weeks later, my image was about to change…among other things.

    I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I had just committed to three months of that godawful “MMC Rocks the Planet” charity tour, and holy HELL was it cheesy, but I was going to make enough money to buy a car and get the hell out of Orlando before my mom kicked in.  I had hoped to go to Nashville to cut some demos (country music, in case you didn’t know, is where the dough is at) and hopefully get myself signed, but of course I didn’t have the cha-ching to do any of that…until I scrawled my name across that neatly typed document.


    So I was feeling like pretty hot shit because I was finally going to have the cash to REALLY go for my dreams, and I stole a bottle of JD from one of the executive offices just to celebrate my remarkable feat.

    There was a garden hidden between the studio sets, a little hideaway of lush greenery that no one really knew about.  I liked to spend some of my afternoons there, reading scripts or really getting those dance moves down sharp, with no one watching.  I took that bottle and my shit-eating grin and went to sit in the garden…but as I sat there, getting ready to slip on my headphones and point my pale face to the sky, I heard it.

    Soft, like rushing waters or gulls in the distance…quiet, shuddering intakes of air punctuated by little mewling noises.

    Tears.  Someone was crying.

    I don’t know what made me stay there, whether it was the gentle, sensitive, mature man that spends 90% of my life hiding in shadows trying to surface, or just a wanton curiosity, but I had to know where that sound was coming from.  So I looked…and I found her.

    She was curled up on her side, her pink sundress bunched and wrinkled around her hips, those same virginal panties peeking up at me.  I could see dirt and blood and snot on her face, but beyond that I could see such agony, such excruciating pain on her normally doll-like features that it contorted her face into something hideous.  I swallowed.  Hard.

    “Ashley?”  I said softly, approaching her warily, as one would a ticking package with no return address.

    She sat up with a start, recoiling from the sound of my voice and scrambling to put some physical distance between us.  Her blue eyes were as wide and round as pumpkins and rimmed with angry red lines.

    “Josh…” She stuttered, and then, clinging to her pride, fixed her face into a sneer.

    “Ashley…what’s wrong?  What…what happened?”  My capacity for speech came to a screeching halt as she turned away from me, and I saw the jagged rips in her dress.  I saw the blood trickling down her thighs and I saw the torn flesh of her lip, as though she had tried to bite through it.

    “What do you care?”  She asked softly, bitterly, trying to ward off a shudder but acquiescing when it ripped through her like an earthquake.

    “Ashley,” I swallowed again.  “You’re bleeding.  Who did this?…Who hurt you?”

    The walls she had erected shook slightly under my prodding but did not crumble.  “Nothing.  No one.  I’m fine.”

    Nothing?  FINE?  I couldn’t believe she would use such a term when there were tears in her eyes and blood on her skin.  Did she not see the state of her body?  Did she not feel the pain from the bruises that littered her flesh?  Was she not there when…I trembled slightly, my mind conjuring horrific images of what must have happened.

    I’ll admit it.  Somewhere beneath this jaded exterior, I have a protective streak.  Even now, ten years later, when I know the way I use women and I am completely aware of my destructive habits, I still have a bit of that “shining armor” complex in me.  And on that afternoon, the blazing sun slowly baking the blood on Ashley Harmelin’s skin, it was in full force.

    “Come on, Ashley.  Let’s get you home.  We’ll find your father, okay?”

    With these words she scrambled to her feet, trembling and stumbling and pushing her way out of the garden, clawing at the wooden lattice when it wouldn’t give under her desperate fingers.

    I knew then what had happened.

    I grabbed her and held her close to me, murmuring stupid, childish words of comfort and promising to get her out, get her away from whatever monster had grabbed her in the shadows.  She just gazed up at me with those bloodshot eyes and in that instant, pilfered my heart without my consent.

    It’s a sad story, right?  One of those life-altering events that probably ends in marriage and 2.5 kids and a dog named Rover in a suburb of Connecticut.

    It didn’t happen that way.

    I haven’t seen her in ten years.  I mean, I know what she’s been up to.  I know that she never became a writer, never took that job at Rolling Stone and didn’t really go on to write the number-one best-selling novel in America.  She turned into one of those corporate thugs, a chessmaster with a board of thousands, the white queen with her army of pawns, moving from one side of the board to the other in any direction she chooses.  She has made a name for herself, and she knows it.

    Ashley Harmelin is my new boss.

    I came to Rayman-Meyers six months ago.  I never did make it to Nashville to cut those demos after the MMC.  For some strange reason I let my friend Justin talk me out of it, and I ended up getting a piss-ante accounting degree from GW.  Four years of partying and late nights spent writhing under the sheets, and I got a little piece of paper saying I’d learned enough to earn the title of “bachelor of arts.”  My parents were so proud.  I, like the thousand of other little white mice in my class, was recruited by some of the top firms in the country, and when Rayman-Meyers, with their glitzy modern offices and generous benefits package, came a-callin’…I answered.

    So I found myself in the middle of Madison Avenue in New York City, barely twenty-six and wearing the white-collar prisoner’s uniform of corporate America, working as an accountant for an advertising agency.  I became a bean-counter, a penny-pusher, something I swore to both myself and Ashley that I would never, ever do.

    She still takes my breath away.

    We work in different offices, the two of us.  I’m in amongst the peons with their little tiny cubicles, clacking away with my     calculator for eight hours a day, listening to the muffled drone of the rest of the worker bees, praying for an escape.  She has a corner office with a view of the city.  I have a corner cubicle with a view of her perfectly shaped legs.

    She’s polished herself like a shiny penny, in both appearance and mannerism, always the consummate professional. Sometimes I wonder if beneath all the Prada and Armani there still beats the heart of a beautiful, frightened girl who allowed me to take the most precious of gifts from her, all those nights ago.  I allow myself, sometimes, to indulge in the memory of her legs wrapped so tightly around my waist, her moist breath hitting my neck in just the right location to make me quiver with need.  I almost feel ashamed because just as quickly, my mind conjures images of her in that torn dress, looking so scared, so alone…

    I shudder to think about it.

    It doesn’t matter anyway, I guess.  She has a boyfriend.
    Joey Fatone is everything Ashley swore she never wanted.  He’s a stuck-up pretty-boy, landing in the lap of luxury by way of his daddy, the new CEO of Rayman-Meyers.  For such a prestigious firm, you would think the top brass would have some idea of how to be diplomatic.  Fat fucking chance.

    “Hey baby!” He’ll bray across the room, causing everyone present to look up in wonder.  And he’ll saunter across the polished marble floors with his Gucci shoes clicking expensively, and slap Ashley’s ass before dragging her into a wet kiss.

    It’s at times like that when my fingers curl tightly into fists and I can feel my blood pressure skyrocket by the second.

    Joey has his own executive suite right down the hall from where Ashley is.  The kid doesn’t have a degree, or an air of common sense, or the dignity of a banana slug, but he has money, and that’s enough to get him respect around here.  He’s also strikingly handsome, according to Brenda, who works in the cubicle next to mine.

    “Oh yeah, Josh,” She’ll say earnestly from time to time.  “Boy be FINE.  He just ain’t got no sense.”

    Why then, Ashley, do you let him be with you?

    I fooled myself into thinking she’s waiting for me to carry her away, to sweep her up in my arms or pin her to my desk and have my wicked way, all the while listening to her breathy cries…”Josh! Josh!  Josh…!”


    Shaken from my reverie by the urgent voice of my coworker, I turned around to find an elfin face and mischievous eyes staring at me, one eyebrow cocked suspiciously.

    “Get over it, man.  That girl ain’t never going to be yours.”

    Chris Kirkpatrick is my best friend, and the whole reason I had made it here it Rayman-Meyers.  He’s New York, through and through, though he’ll tell ya he’s a farm-raised Pennsylvania boy, busy schmoozing the rest of the staff in accounting even though he’s lower on the totem pole than I am.  Everyone wants to know how someone from data entry got himself a cushy cubicle up with us bean-counters, but Chris just sends them a flirty little grin and doesn’t say a damn word.

    I’m one of the only people who knows that Chris deals in information, and made himself quite a killing when he found the senior account executive in a compromising position with the mailboy.  Seems like that psychology degree he grabbed a few years back has it’s perks.

    We laughed for days about that one.

    Anyway, Chris laughed at me again and again for saying that someday I’d end up with Ashley, but I honest to God believed it.  I just wished she knew who I was…

    I’d begun making stupid little excuses to walk by her door…taking the long way to the water cooler, going to visit HR, which is right down the hall…dumb shit like that.  Anything to catch even a glimpse of her…but it wasn’t enough.  And her looks have changed a bit over the years… She’d lost weight…and that Hershey’s hair had been sucker-punched by a Clariol bottle, because it was bright fucking platinum blonde.  The ratty red notebook was nowhere to be found, but in its place was a sleek alligator attache and a mont blanc creation that looks like it weighs half a kilo...but her eyes…mmmmm…her eyes were just the same as always.


    My daydreaming interrupted yet again, I turned, annoyed, at the sound of Joey’s voice.  He was standing in Ashley’s office, his arm slung carelessly around her waist.  I bristled and forced myself to plaster on a fake smile, and walked in their direction.

    “You do accounting, right?” Joey asked, his hand moving dangerously close to Ashley’s ass.

    “Yes sir,” I replied through clenched teeth.  “I believe that’s why they hired me.”

    “Good, good,” He waved, dismissively.  “Ashley here needs some help with some figures.  You gonna give her a hand?”

    Our eyes met for the first time in ten years. Cool and thick like cream, she extended her right hand, keeping her expression neutral, watching my face for any sort of reaction.

    “It’s a pleasure, Mr. Chasez,” She said smoothly, “I’ve grown quite interested in your work over the years.”

    “I’ll bet you have,” I muttered.  Okay.  I was bitter.  And jealous.  And confused.  And so disgustingly guilt-ridden I couldn’t even breathe.  But I wiped the sneer off my face and tossed her the “Chasez stunner,” and with a promise to meet about “the figures” over lunch, I promptly excused myself.

    Now I could feel their looks on my back so I tossed the one-fingered salute their way after rounding the corner, where they couldn’t see, and stalked out of the building, smiling grimly as the muggy New York heat knocked me backward a few steps.

    She had grown INTERESTED in my work.  MISTER ChasezWhat the hell happened to the frightened little girl that felt so vulnerable and soft and heartbreakingly beautiful in my arms?

    She’s grown up, you dildo, I chided myself.  She moved on.  She didn’t need you the way…

    I stopped myself right there.  I didn’t need her.

    I stalked around the city for a few hours, not really caring that I would probably be disciplined for such childish behavior, thinking over and over again the times we spent together, longing to recreate the magic, the innocence we had lost.

    It was just past one PM when I returned to the office, nervously walking through the hallways, psyching myself up for what I knew was to come.  I finally stopped just outside her door, knocking politely and entering shyly when she bade me to come in.


    I slunk into that room like a repentant teenager who’s been bagged for truancy.  Her back was to mine, the elegant lines of her suit just hinting at the body I knew was underneath.

    She didn’t say anything at first, and it took me awhile to hear it but eventually I did—that same soft sniffling from years ago, and the same tremors in her shoulders and hands.

    I walked around the heavy oak desk and pulled on the swivel chair she was slumped in, but she refused to move.

    “Go away, Josh.”

    That did it.  She remembered.  The floodgates thus opened, I began to pour out ten years of longing and remorse.  “Oh.  So now it’s Josh.  Well, Ashley, you mind telling me what’s going on?  Why you chose not to acknowledge that you even knew I existed all this time?  While we’re at it, how ‘bout you mention why you chose ME to help you with those ‘figures’ in the first place—you could have any one of the hundreds of accountants in this whole damned building!”

    “Just because,” She whispered quietly, offering the simplest of sentiments, her tiny hands trembling.

    And with those two words she managed to make me feel like the biggest ass to walk the planet since Jose the furry burro.

    “Just because?”  I repeated, suave-like, waiting for her to turn the light on over my head.  I didn’t understand.  Truly.  I was hurt and jealous and wanted so badly for her to forgive me for everything.  I wanted to kiss and tease and play and learn the way I used to, when things weren’t quite so complicated.  I felt old…like light-years had passed and of course it didn’t help to see the tiny lines pulling on my skin, marking the days as they passed.

    “I wanted to see you again,” She said meekly.  “After you left me….”

    “Ashley I didn’t leave you,” I said emphatically, grasping those hands in mine, pulling them away from her trembling lips.

    “You went back to Maryland,” She whispered quietly, accusingly, her eyes downcast.  “You left me,” She repeated, and I was at a loss for words.  “You left me, and you found someone new…I asked Justin about it.”


    “It’s always like that with you, isn’t it Josh?” She continued, “You find something new that you like, someone who you think will rock your world but then you never trust them enough to truly let them get close…”

    “I was scared?”  I offered softly.

    “YOU were scared?!”  She repeated incredulously, and suddenly I could see the spark of fury flashing in her eyes.  “What about ME?  Jesus!  Did you know what it was like to come home to my dad and… She shuddered, not able to finish her thought, before taking a deep, shaky breath and continuing.

    “He would ask about our dates,” She said quietly, eyes fixed on the horizon, her voice wobbling dangerously.  “He would ask me where you touched me…and…whether I liked it…”

    I was frozen in place, my tongue heavy and thick like cotton in my desert mouth.

    “And then he would do…he would touch…”

    I slowly wrapped my arms around her from behind and she skittered away, her whole body recoiling in defense.


    “You’re sorry?  Damn it, Josh.  Sorry doesn’t CUT it.  Sorry doesn’t begin to cut it.  I needed you…and you weren’t there…you didn’t stop him…why didn’t you stop him?!”  She dissolved into agonizing sobs and before I even realized what was happening I was moving steadily toward the door, my mind trying to shut out the scene in front of me.  I needed to get away…

    And so I fled.

    I wandered the streets for hours, as I had done early that morning, looking for something and unsure how to find it.  I was positive I had lost my job, that I would have to return to Maryland with my tail between my legs, the way I had done years before.  I was sure I could find another job; hell, the world always needs another skinny freak willing to crunch numbers day in and day out…but…there was something about working for Rayman-Meyers.  Something that the name evoked…images of power and glittering capitalism.  It was being a part of something more than I was alone.

    I stumbled into my apartment well after midnight, picking up Magnet, my cat, and cuddling him close.  I wanted a dog in the worst way but the building I chose only allowed cats, and so I found Magnet on a thorough investigation of the ASPCA.  We’ve become close, for whatever it’s worth, and I could tell he knew something was wrong by the way he curled in my lap and started to purr.

    I sat on my couch, the television on mute, for what felt like forever, until I heard the buzzer ring.

    “Who is it?” I asked, wearily.

    “Josh…it’s…it’s Ashley.  Let me up?  Please?”

    For several long moments I waited, desperately searching for a way to turn her down.  It didn’t come.  I sighed, buzzing her in, returning to the couch to wait.


    Even now, I don’t ever remember her looking quite so beautiful.  Vulnerable…a cottony white sweater clinging to those lush curves, and tattered jeans hugging her hips.  She walked toward me, tears in her eyes, and sat, abruptly, on my lap, pressing her supple body to mine, her intent clearly evident.

    “Ashley…I…” I protested quietly as she drew her fingers over my lips.

    “Shhhh…” She murmured.  “Just let me…”

    And with that, her head descended toward mine.  Suddenly, I could taste her kiss again, heady and wet and delicate all at once, and feel her fingers threading through my hair.  I moaned, softly, into her mouth, and she smiled against my lips.

    “Come on,” She whispered, standing up and drawing my hand toward her, leading me to my bedroom.

    “Wait…Ashley wait…” I said shakily, my head spinning and dizzy with her kisses.

    “Don’t you want this, Josh?” She coaxed, her fingers moving against the zipper of my pants, drawing a dull whimper from my throat.  “Don’t you?”

    I wanted so badly to say no…

    The next morning I woke up alone, her scent clinging to my sheets, my skin still coated with an intimate mixture of the sweat from our bodies.  I glanced at my shoulders, red from where she had drawn her nails down the tender flesh.  I sighed and stretched languidly, a delicious soreness settling in my muscles.  It had been so good…so painfully good…I smiled.

    I made it to the office in record time, whistling cheerfully and smiling at my coworkers, even causing Chris to look at me     skeptically.  “What happened to you, boy?” He asked, half-knowing the answer and half afraid of knowing.

    “Eh…nothing,” I said off-handedly, shooting him a smirk, my grin widening when his jaw dropped.

    I saw Ashley walk in twenty minutes later wearing a cream colored suit, and I practically flew across the room, eager to see her again.


    I stopped dead in my tracks, resisting the urge to roll my eyes, and turned around.  Joey always knew how to screw up a great sense of timing.

    “In my office.  Now,” His voice was low, growling, anger clearly flashing in his eyes.

    I looked at him, perplexed, and shot a questioning glance at Ashley.  She wouldn’t meet my eyes, and I knew in that instant that something was very, very wrong.

    I was packing my belongings forty-five minutes later, an overwhelming sense of numbness violating my gut.  Sexual harrassment.  Indecent conduct.  Coercion.  One after the other lies spilled from Joey’s lips, painting a grim picture of a helpless executive cornered by a slimy, lowly accountant who wanted nothing more than what he could take behind closed doors.  I was being fired.

    “Josh!  Josh, man…you can fight this!”  Chris pleaded as I emptied my drawers methodically, his eyes a mixture of anger and pain.  “She’s just some stupid bitch!  You don’t have to take this!”

    “Shut your mouth,” I snapped.  “Don’t ever call her a bitch!”

    He stared at me, incredulously.  “Josh, she just got you FIRED, over something you didn’t do.  You mean to tell me she isn’t a bitch?!”  He was breathing hard, his cheeks pink with anger, and gradually his expression changed to one of disbelief.  “You love her, don’t you?” He said slowly, deliberately.  “That’s why you’re doing this…”

    I said nothing, tossed my blue ceramic coffee cup into a flimsy cardboard box, and walked away.  As I passed Ashley’s office, our eyes met for the last time, and I could see the tears that swam in their depths, and the shame written all over her beautiful face.

    “I’m sorry,” She mouthed, before turning away.

    Me too.  Fools DON’T die.

2001 ~A.