The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 4

Maggie McGee’s was quiet at 2:30am.

Champ and Tex celebrated that silence with a beer in one of the back booths.  There was a chess board on the table, but only a couple of moves had been made.

The men were a sharp contrast in styles.  Champ looked content and at peace, while Tex appeared to have experienced the kind of things that change a man.  His shirt was half untucked, his hair a mess, and his face a mask stuck somewhere between shellshock and exhaustion.

Tex counted a large wad of cash in something close to a fugue state, while Champ excitedly studied the board for his next move.

“Champ thinks you did great for your first night,” the older man said as he moved a pawn.

“I’m not sure I actually survived.  I’m thinking I died and this is an outer body experience,” Tex blurted out and then chased the comment with a long pull from his beer.

“Champ can assure you that you’re alive.  Corpses don’t stink of sweat,” he replied with his trademark cackle.  “It looks like you made a lot in tips.”

Tex finally managed a smile and fanned out the bills in front of his weary face.  “It’s mostly singles, but it’s a nice haul.”

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“That’s why Champ told you to work as many shifts as possible with Maggie,” Champ pointed out.  “The owner doesn’t need tips, so she gives hers to the staff.”

“I still think you deserve a cut,” Tex insisted as he slid half his take across the table.  “You worked the entire shift with me, so it’s only fair.”

Champ shook his head emphatically and placed the bills back on top of Tex’s pile.

“Champ is well compensated by Maggie for his new position,” he reminded his protégé.  “Besides, some of the regulars slipped Champ a few bucks over the course of the night.”

Champ cackled again and Tex couldn’t help but smile.

“Thanks for teaching me everything I need to know,” Tex said and then moved his bishop.

Champ winced.  “Champ clearly has a lot of teaching to do when it comes to chess.  As far as the job goes, here’s Champ’s pearl of wisdom: When people are here, see them solely as customers.  It doesn’t matter what they do for a living outside.  In this bar, they’re just a customer.  The same is true of the company they keep.  Who they associate with is none of our business.  They come here to get away from the world, and they tip us generously to go along with that little illusion.”

“So this is like Fantasy Island with a liquor license?” Tex quipped as he pocketed his tips.

“Champ believes there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be someone else, even if it’s only for a few hours.  Champ bets your birth certificate doesn’t say Tex Bourbon.”

Tex chuckled at the unexpected comment.

“Ted Bergeron,” Tex confessed as he raised his arms in surrender.  “That sounds more like a Canadian newscaster than a rock star, so I decided to make a change.  What about you?  There’s no way Maggie writes out your paychecks to Champ.”

“That’s why Champ insists on being paid under the table,” Champ cackled with delight.  “But since you came clean, Champ will, too.  Just swear you’ll never tell a soul.”

Tex crossed his fingers over his heart to show that he agreed to those terms.

“David Berkowitz,” Champ whispered.

A puzzled look crossed Tex’s face.  “Why does that name sound so familiar?”

Champ shrugged and took Tex’s bishop with his knight.

“This is going to drive me crazy until I figure it out,” Tex growled and took a sip of beer.

Then his eyes lit up as it dawned on him.

“Son of Sam!” Tex blurted.  “You’re named after a serial killer!”

Even though the bar was empty, Champ motioned for Tex to lower his voice.

“Champ wasn’t named after him,” he clarified.  “Champ just has the misfortune of sharing the same name.”

“No wonder you want to be called Champ,” Tex laughed.

“Champ thinks it’s time to change the subject.  Tell Champ about this new gig you landed today and the intriguing young lady who made it all happen…”

flash fiction, humor, Modern PhilosopherAs instructed, Tex arrived at the café shortly after 2:00.  2:06 to be precise.

It was a bright, open space, with plenty of tables, colorful murals, and pieces of art by local artists for sale.

Only one table was occupied as Tex slowly made his way to the counter, guitar case in hand.

Aspen stood behind the counter, head down, entranced by a pile of invoices.  Without looking up she said, “Prompt and follows orders well.  I like that.”

When she looked up at him, a smile graced her attractive face.

Tex smiled, too, but tried to play it cool.

“I take my music very seriously,” he assured her.  “Please pass that on to the boss lady.  It’s important to make a good first impression.”

Aspen nodded her agreement.  “You’re hired.  What night are you free this week?  7:00 until 9:00 would be ideal.”

Tex was confused.  He was excited to get the gig, but expected there to be more to the process.

“I’m off on Thursday…”

“Perfect,” Aspen replied as she organized her invoices.  “It pays forty dollars, plus whatever you make in tips.  I suggest brining a huge tip jar to encourage generosity.  If you get here early, I’ll throw in anything off the menu for dinner.  Deal?”

“Sure, but what about the boss lady?”

Aspen waved off that idea.  “I spoke highly of you, and that’s all that matters.  You do know more than just that one song I heard you play earlier, right?”

“Of course,” he muttered.

“I’ll take care of publicity,” she assured him.  “The café has an awesome website, and a huge customer email list.  We’ve been promising live music for weeks, so I’m sure we’ll have a packed house.  I’m going to put up flyers, too, so I should get a picture…”

Before Tex realized what was happening, Aspen whipped out her phone and took a photo.  She looked at it and shook her head.

“Maybe lose the hat,” she suggested.  “We don’t want to give off a country music only vibe.  We want to reach as large an audience as possible.”

Tex nodded and removed his cowboy hat.  Aspen snapped a series of photos.

“I’m sure one of those will work,” she told him as she pocketed her phone.  “I’ll need your last name for the advertising.”

“Bourbon,” he informed her.

Aspen gave him a look.

“I agree that it might be time for a rebranding,” he conceded.

“It’s good to see you’re open to new ideas,” she replied with a sly smile.

“So that’s it?” Tex sought clarification.  “I get the gig just like that?”

“Life doesn’t need to be complicated,” she answered.  “If Thursday goes well, we can talk about making this a regular thing.  That is, if you’d like to go steady with Infinite Sheep…”

She giggled and Tex had to laugh because that was a sentence he’d never heard in his life.

“And I don’t have to meet the eccentric boss lady?” he asked.

“You’ve been talking to her the whole time, Cowboy,” she informed him with a wink.  “Now let me focus.  I’ve got a business to run.”

Tex had so many questions, but he realized now was not the time.  He had a feeling that getting to know Aspen Roark was going to be an exciting adventure.

“Wait…you own this place?” he decided one question had to be asked.

“Is that so hard to believe?” she countered with a raised eyebrow thrown in for good measure.

Tex shook his head.  “No.  It just makes me realize I’m not living up to my potential.”

Aspen smiled and basked briefly in the compliment.

“The more you get to know me, the more you’ll find I’m full of surprises.  Maybe I’ll even inspire you to exceed expectations.”

“Looking forward to it,” Tex admitted.  “I love surprises and inspiration.”

As he walked away, Aspen serenaded him with the chorus of her favorite Foo Fighters song:

There goes my hero,

Watch him as he goes…

Tex smiled and made a mental note to add that one to his set list Thursday night.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Be Sure To Stir The Brain Stew

“I really liked the new character you introduced in your serial this week,” Holly stated.

Aaron finished drinking his Snapple, but did manage to nod to acknowledge the compliment.  Once the drink was done, he lowered the bottle to reveal a huge smile.

“Thank you,” he replied.  “She was a lot of fun to write.”

It was Sunday in Maine and the best friends were seated on their favorite bench by the river.

“Is it easy to come up with new characters like that?” she asked and then took a sip of her coffee.

Holly had long been fascinated by Aaron’s creative process.  He was very secretive about whatever it was he was writing, but she always tried to get him to share.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“That depends,” he admitted.  “If I try too hard, it can be a pain in the ass.  But if I just let it happen naturally, it’s the most exciting part of writing a story.

Now she was truly intrigued, and turned her body on the bench so she faced him.

“Explain,” she requested.  “How does a character develop naturally in that big brain of yours?”

Aaron chuckled at the comment.  He didn’t think his brain was any larger than hers, so it amused him whenever she said it was.

“When the week started, I had an idea for a female character I wanted to add to the story,” he explained.  “By week’s end, when it was time to sit down and write, she had become something entirely different.  That’s because I put all the ingredients into a big pot and let it simmer in my brain all week.”

“Brain stew,” Holly suggested.

“Exactly,” Aaron agreed with a smile.  “All week long, I’d stir the pot, give it a taste, and add another ingredient when I realized it wasn’t quite right.  At one point, there was a best friend for the character in the mix, but then the best friend became the main character the more things simmered…”

Holly hung on his every word.  She had a job that wasn’t at all creative and used so little of her brain that she was all in on living vicariously through Aaron’s creative process.

flash fiction, ceative process, Modern Philosopher“That does sound exciting and cool,” she conceded.

Aaron nodded emphatically.  “Like I said, it’s probably the most exciting part of the writing process.  Especially now that I’m writing serials because I have to make sure something is exactly the way I want it before I post it.  Once a new chapter goes on the blog, everything in it becomes canon.”

“It’s not like writing a screenplay, where I can constantly go back and rewrite when I come up with an even better idea,” he continued.  “The story goes live and is etched in stone once I hit publish.  There’s no going back.  Can’t tell my readers to forget about everything I’ve written in the past four chapters.  I’ve decided to change that character’s backstory.”

Holly nodded in understanding.  “So the recipe for brain stew is constantly changing.”

Aaron nodded and smiled.  “I’m always working on an idea.  In the shower.  During a run.  When I’m driving.  I’m forever tweaking and refining.  My inner perfectionist is always demanding rewrites.”

“I hope you’re not working on ideas when you’re hanging out with me,” she said with mock hurt in her voice.  “I like to think I always have your full attention.”

“Trust me, you do,” he assured her.  “Although, I will admit I’ll often hear something in our conversation and think that it’s perfect to use in a story.  To be honest, our witty banter has been a major influence on my dialogue writing.  I suppose I’ll owe you a huge thank you if I ever win a writing award and have to give an acceptance speech.”

“You’re not only going to thank me in your speech,” she told him, “I’m also going to be your date to the awards ceremony.”

“Agreed,” he said and held out his hand.

Holly shook on it, and they both experienced the sensation of goosebumps running amok all over their skin from the other’s touch…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 3

Aspen Roark used to hate her name.  She had no idea why her parents would hang such a pretentious albatross around her neck, but her theory was that it had something to do with trying to ensure future popularity.

Someone named Aspen would inevitably have perfect hair, sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria, become a cheerleader, and date a jock who would go on to run a hedge fund.

Aspen had chosen an entirely different path.  She dyed her hair a spectrum of enchanting colors (it was currently jet black with streaks of purple and red).  She was the introvert who always sat alone in the cafeteria if she ever dared venture in there at all (who needed gross cafeteria food when the perfection of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich existed?).  She preferred coffee shops to pep rallies, and was drawn to musicians who rarely had twenty dollars to their name, let alone a bank account.

On the day that an angst ridden high school version of Aspen had finally confronted her parent about her name, she’d discovered she’d been way off base.

short story, humor, Modern PhilosopherHer parents had once seen pictures of Aspen, Colorado and declared it the most beautiful place they’d ever seen.  When their only child was born, they still hadn’t settled on a name.  Upon seeing her, however, and declaring her to be the most beautiful baby they’d ever seen, they knew that Aspen would be the perfect name.

After that, Aspen realized that her parents were pretty damn cool.  They encouraged her to walk her own path.  They totally supported her dream to be an artist.  They went to gigs to cheer on the musician boyfriend of the moment.

When Aspen told them she didn’t want to go to college because true artists needed real life experience, they responded that she could use her college fund however she wanted.

Aspen eventually went to community college and took a few business courses so she’d better understand how to promote herself and her art.  The remainder of the college fund was set aside for when she better knew how it should be spent.

Aspen loved to walk.  There were many reasons for this among them: her hatred of cars (driving scared her, cars were bad for the environment, and did you ever try parking one in the city?), her refusal to ride public transportation (don’t even get her started on the germs and the fellow passenger creepiness factor!), and her love of being out in the fresh air.

She took various routes to work, often walking far out of her way just to explore a new section of the city.  Aspen saw every moment of her life as potential inspiration for her art, so she tried to see as much of the world around her as possible to expand her horizons.

This particular morning’s walk took her past a street performer.  He played guitar and sang a Foo Fighters classic quite well.  There wasn’t much money in the beat up guitar case he’d set out on the sidewalk in front of him, but Aspen immediately decided that this had nothing to do with the guy’s talent, and was all about the lack of foot traffic on a January morning.

“That was beautiful,” she told him with a warm smile once the song was done.  “I admire your tenacity to hit the streets in this weather.”

The singer shrugged and returned the smile.  “It’s not that bad today.  At least it’s not snowing.  Besides, I do this for me.  I love to play.  It’s an added bonus if it attracts a crowd.

“I’m Aspen,” she introduced herself.

“Nice to meet you, Aspen,” he replied shyly.  “Cool name.”

“I know,” she replied with a wink.

serial, humor, Modern PhilosopherHe opened his mouth to say something, but either thought the better of it, or simply did not know what to say to this extremely confident and slightly intimidating woman.

“This is the point where you’re supposed to tell me your name,” she explained with a mischievous grin.

The singer’s cheeks blushed.  “So sorry about that.  I’m Tex.”

“That would explained the hat,” she quipped as she pointed at his cowboy hat.

Tex touch the brim as if to make sure it was actually there.  “It’s just something to keep my head warm.  It’s not like I’m some cowboy trying to chase his dreams in the big city.”

Aspen chuckled.  She considered herself to be an excellent judge of people, and she liked Tex.

“Well, if you ever want to play someplace with a roof over your head and some heat, I work at a cafe a few blocks down,” she nodded in that general direction as she searched through her bag.  “The owner is always looking for live music.  You should talk to her.  I can definitely put in a good word for you.”

She finally found what she was looking for, and pulled it out of her bag.  It was a yellow sheet of paper with black lettering and a drawing across the top.  She handed it to him.

“Infinite Sheep Cafe,” Tex read aloud.  “That’s a unique name for a coffee shop.”

Aspen nodded her agreement.  “The owner is a bit eccentric.”

“Let me guess.  She has insomnia?” Tex asked as he held up the flyer and pointing at the drawing.

It depicted a line of sheep waiting to jump over a fence and into an enormous infinity symbol that was surrounded by a rainbow aura.

“Gold star for the cowboy for correctly interpreting the name and the logo,” Aspen congratulated him with a quiet round of applause.  “Something about counting sheep to infinity and still not being able to fall asleep.  Like I said, she’s eccentric.”

“Cool logo,” Tex observed.

Now it was Aspen’s turn to blush.  “Thanks.  I designed it.  Art’s kind of my thing when I’m not hustling coffee.  But you should totally come by and talk to the owner about playing…”

Aspen’s inner alarm clock told her it was time to get moving.  More so because she didn’t want to be so drawn to this total stranger, than because she was worried about being late for work.”

“I will for sure,” Tex promised.  “What time is good?”

“What time is it now?” she asked.  “I don’t wear a watch.  Can’t deal with the constraints of time.”

She proved her point by holding out her wrists to reveal a slew of bracelets, ribbons, and beads, but no timepiece.

“A quarter to noon,” he provided a time check.

“Stop by a little after two,” she advised.  “That’s after the lunch rush, but before the after school rush.”

“Will I see you there?” he asked and flashed his most hopeful smile.

Aspen simply shrugged and winked.  Then she turned and headed off towards the cafe.

Tex played her off with the familiar opening notes of Pretty Woman.

Aspen giggled and waved, but did not look back because she didn’t want Tex to see that she was blushing again.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Good News Travels Faster Than I Can

I really love my new Garmin, Modern Philosophers.

I have been running and walking more because I want to make use of all its exciting features.  I don’t think I’m running any faster yet, but that’s more a problem with me than anything else.

Perhaps the coolest feature on my new fitness tracker, however, is the blinding speed at which it can change my life for the better.

On Thursday, I was very busy and stressed, trying to do a million things at once, when my Garmin vibrated.  I happened to be on the phone at the time, but out of habit, I glanced down to see what my fitness tracker wanted me to know.

I assumed it was telling me my body battery was drained or my stress level was too high, but I was happily mistaken.

It wanted me to know about an email I’d received.

I could see from my Garmin’s screen that it was from the one publisher I’d dared to send a query letter about my Detective Bruno novel.

The device’s screen is only large enough to display a part of the incoming email, but the part I could read was all I needed to get pumped.

I could see “I have read your interesting query letter and..”

query leters, writing, Modern PhilosopherThat had me scrambling for my cell phone to get into my email.

And what I discovered really changed the course of my day.  Maybe even my life.

The publisher asked me to send my full manuscript!!!

So Detective Bruno, Wally, Maggie, Michelle, Champ, and the rest of the gang have taken a major step to move off of this blog and onto the shelf of your favorite bookstore.

Of course, this is just one step in a long process.  I have a tendency to not allow news like this to get me too excited because I have been down this path many times before with my screenplays.

But this is the first time a publisher has asked to read my novel.

My fingers are crossed.  I wouldn’t mind if you’d cross yours as well, Modern Philosophers.

In the meantime, if you’re missing Detective Bruno and the gang, you should check out the new serial I’m writing.  The first two segments of The Undisputed Champions of Texas are available exclusively on this blog for your enjoyment.

I hope to have more news about the novel soon…

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Off Beat in the Rain

The rain had stopped, but the best friends had to wipe off their favorite bench before they could sit down and stare out at the river.

Aaron sipped his Snapple while Holly took a long pull on her coffee.  He loved the rain, so he didn’t mind sitting in its aftermath.  She wasn’t as big of a fan, but she’d never miss out on their Sunday chat.

“I saw you dared to undertake a Homeowner’s Biathlon in the rain this morning,” Holly commented once she had enough coffee in her system.  “For those viewers unfamiliar with what that is, why don’t you enlighten us?”

Aaron chuckled.  He loved it when Holly played color commentator and pretended that their actions were being followed by an audience all over the world.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“I’d be happy to, Holly,” he beamed in reply.  “The Homeowner’s Biathlon (patent pending) is a sporting event created by me, participated in only by me, and existing solely to make mundane weekend tasks seem more exciting.”

“Golly gee, Aaron, that does sound exciting,” Holly quipped.  “Tell us more!”

“The name gives away the fact that there are two events involved,” he explained.  “In the warmer months, it’s a run followed by mowing the lawn.  In the longer, darker, colder months, it’s a run followed by shoveling snow.  Essentially, I’m already sweaty from my run, so I double down and do the mundane task.  It seems a little more fun because I keep my fitness tracker running to get a time and step count for the activities.”

Holly nodded.  “Well, I’m not seeing any snow, and your front lawn is once again overrun with dandelions, so I’m going to guess today was a run and mow.  Is that correct?”

“Right you are, Holly,” he concurred.

“So how did it go?” she questioned.  “I’m no lawn care expert, as you well know from the status of my front lawn, but if I had to guess, I’d say mowing in the rain isn’t ideal.”

“It is not!” Aaron agreed.  “Only a moron would attempt to mow his lawn during a storm.”

“So I guess the question on everyone’s mind, Aaron is: Why?  Why get out there in the rain and make a miserable task even more so?”

best friends, relationships, Modern Philosopher“That’s why they pay you the big bucks, Holly.  You ask the tough questions!”

He chuckled to deflect from how flustered he was by being put on the spot by the question.

“I guess the reason I did it is because I’m a rebel,” he finally shared.  “I don’t give a damn if wet grass is going to clog up the blades on my mower.  I just wanted to have a relaxing Sunday, and there was no way I could do that with an uncut lawn mocking me from just beyond my front porch.  And no one ever became a legend by playing it safe.  Are you feeling me?”

“I think I speak for America, no, the world, when I say we all feel you.  We wish we could be you.  And you are our hero,” Holly remarked with a straight face.

Aaron hummed a few bars of Foo Fighters’ My Hero for dramatic effect.

“How did it all turn out in the end?” she followed up with another burning question.

“I got wet.  The lawn got mowed.  Life is good,” he answered.

“So there you have it,” Holly tossed it back to her imaginary audience.  “Another Homeowner’s Biathlon is in the books, and Aaron remains the World Champion.  Let’s go back to the studio to see what’s going on in the less interesting sports in the world…”

They both sat in silence as if waiting for an all clear.

Finally, Aaron turned to Holly and smiled.

“Life would really suck if you weren’t around to make it exponentially more fun and interesting,” he told her with a wink.

Holly raised her coffee cup for a sip in an attempt to hide the blushing attack that she knew was forthcoming…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 2

“I learned chess in high school, but was never better than average,” Tex admitted.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve played.”

Champ’s ancient face lit up in a smile.  “Champ will get you playing again.  Champ always needs new playing partners, but so few people are willing to learn.”

Tex nodded like that made sense because, as far as he was concerned, people were too focused these days.  They concentrated on only a couple of things and refused to expand their horizons.

“I’d love to take up chess again.  Just promise you’ll go easy on me.”

Champ cackled and shook his head emphatically.  “Champ isn’t going to take it easy on you because you’ll never learn if we do it that way.  Life isn’t easy, but Champ guesses you already know that since you’re here at this god forsaken hour learning how to do a recently homeless man’s job.”

Champ cackled even louder and slapped Tex playfully on the shoulder.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“I take it Detective Bruno filled you in on my situation?” Tex asked.

“Champ remembers something about a large debt related to your band.  What Champ doesn’t get is why the other band members aren’t helping to pay it off.”

Tex sighed and stared around the bar that was about as empty as he felt.

“They all bolted,” he replied with a shrug.  “You know how musicians are.”

Champ nodded.  “But you stayed.”

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with this hanging over my head, always on the run, and never able to come out of the shadows to do the thing I love because I’m afraid of going to jail.  I’m going to man up, pay what I owe, and continue on my journey.”

“Champ knew he liked you for a reason.  Champ also thinks there might be a song in there somewhere.  But for now, your journey continues out in the alley where Champ will show you how to unload the truck from the liquor store.”

Champ cackled again, and Tex had to smile.  That damn laugh was too infectious to resist.

flash fiction, serial, Modern PhilosopherMaggie McGee’s shared an alley with a yoga studio that never seemed to be open.  Bruno had his theories that the place was a front, but Maggie would laugh that off by pointing out that if something illegal was going on fifty feet from where she worked, she would definitely know about it.

It was your typical alley with a couple of dumpsters up against the side of the bar, some scattered trash, and random graffiti on the side of the yoga studio.  No one was foolish enough to tag Maggie’s place.

There was something atypical about the space, however, and it immediately caught Tex’s attention.

The area of blacktop that would normally be blocked from view by the delivery truck was exposed for all to see.  The space was covered by a colorful chalk mural nothing like anything the musician turned bar employee had ever seen.

There was an enormous rainbow that led to a pot of gold at one end and the side entrance to Maggie McGee’s at the other.  Beneath the rainbow was an Irish flag, the Emerald Isle itself, dozens of shamrocks, and a portrait of Maggie that was so spot on that it looked like a photograph.

“This is amazing!” Tex gushed as he stepped cautiously around the art so as not to accidentally step on it.  “Who did this?”

Champ shrugged.  “Champ’s guessing it’s a woman because no man could depict beauty so expertly.  Maggie calls they mystery artist The Chalk Angel.”

Tex could not take his eyes off of all the mesmerizing colors that made the otherwise dark and depressing space seem full of life.

“I need to find this person and ask her to be my Muse,” he mumbled.

Champ nodded and patted Tex gently on the back.

“Champ thinks you’ll have plenty of time to do research, Sherlock, because you’ll spend hours out here unloading trucks and loading that dumpster.

Tex just nodded.  He wasn’t really listening.  He was completely entranced by the drawing, and only looked up when the delivery truck rumbled into the alley and covered the urban canvas…

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Mow It Like You Own It

“I meant to compliment you on your lovely dandelion garden,” Holly quipped as she squinted out at the river.  “I drove past your house the other day, and the your front lawn was simply exploding with color from all those beautiful yellow flowers.”

It was a warm, sunny Sunday morning, and the best friends were gathered at their usual spot.

Aaron gave her a dirty look, but then smiled.  “Thank you.  I’m growing them especially for you.  I planned to surprise you with a gorgeous bouquet one Sunday.”

Holly nodded that she loved this idea as she sipped her coffee.

“That is so sweet!” she exclaimed.  “They’d look magnificent in that blue glass vase my Mom gave me.  I could set it on that little table in my living room.  You know the one, right?”

Aaron took a long pull from his Snapple bottle before he replied.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“Okay, wise ass, you’ve made your point,” he conceded.  “You’ll be happy to hear that I finally gave in an mowed the lawn yesterday.”

Holly raised her coffee cup in a toast, but Aaron did not return the favor with his Snapple bottle.

“How did that go?” she asked.  “I know that you hate mowing the lawn almost as much as you hate shoveling the driveway.”

Aaron nodded in agreement.

“It did not go well at first,” he explained with a sigh.  “It didn’t want to start, so I had to keep tugging on it until I could finally get it going.”

“I really hope you’re talking about starting the lawnmower, and not your technique in the bedroom,” Holly burned him without any hesitation.

She smiled and her beautiful face lit up.  Aaron just shook his head.

“You’re on a roll this morning,” he observed.  “Did you hire new writers, or did your old team finally figure out how to be funny?”

She punched him playfully in the arm.

flash fiction, best friends, Modern Philosopher“Don’t be jealous if I’m the funnier one every once in a while,” she replied.  “It’s not easy being best friends with a comedy writer.  For a number of reasons, when you consider that you’re the comedy writer in question..”

She giggled.  Aaron responded with some fake laughter.

“Being best friends with you isn’t exactly a cakewalk, either,” he remarked.

“Why not?” she challenged.  “I’m not at all a handful.”

Aaron chuckled and took a sip of his Snapple.

“Fine, you are a joy to be around,” he confessed.  “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

“Damn right you are.  Don’t ever forget that,” she informed him.

They both smiled and decided to leave it at that.  They knew each other too well…

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The Undisputed Champions of Texas, Part 1

“You’re probably going to be the first one here every morning, so don’t lose those,” Maggie announced as she placed a set of keys on the bar.

Maggie McGee’s, the bar that shared her name, reminded her of a church at this ungodly hour.  It was reverentially quiet.  The ancient wood was the same color as the pews in St. Patrick’s, the church she attended every Sunday.  The sun shone in through the stained glass shamrocks in the front window and made the hardwood floor appear green.

“Welcome to the team, lad” she said with a thick brogue that made it impossible to forget that she was as Irish as they came.  “Don’t make me regret trusting you with those keys.  My boyfriend is a big, scary detective, who will make your life a living hell if you do.”

She smiled, but Tex Bourbon did not.

short story, serial, spin off, Modern PhilosopherHe was well acquainted with his new boss’ boyfriend.  In fact, the man was the reason Tex was here.  If Detective Bruno hadn’t barged into his life when he did, Tex would probably be in jail.  Or dead.

Luckily, Hurricane Bruno had made landfall at precisely the right time.  Not only had the detective saved him from making one of the worst mistakes in his life (he still considered his short lived time as the front man for the Astro Cowboys to be his ultimate error), but he had also taken him under his wing and arranged for this job.

Sure, working in a bar wasn’t what Tex had in mind when he’d moved to the big city in hopes of becoming a star, but it was a means to pay off the staggering debt that hung over him like a storm cloud.

“Thank you again for this chance,” Tex said politely.  “And please thank Detective Bruno, too.”

Maggie smiled.  “You’re welcome.  Remember, this isn’t just about being a bar back.  I meant it when I said you could be the entertainment a couple of nights a week.  Just take this wee bit of advice: forgot about the space age country music, and learn a few U2 and Dropkick Murphys songs.”

Tex laughed.  He had no intention of reviving any of the songs he’d written for the Astro Cowboys.  No, those days were long behind him.  It was time to reinvent Tex Bourbon, even if that meant clearing tables, stocking beer, and unloading trucks in an Irish bar.

“Message received,” he assured her.  “Loud and clear.”

“Great,” Maggie responded with a warm smile.  “The whole point of hiring you was to give me more free time.  So, I’m going to have the man I just promoted to the newly created position of assistant manager train you how to do his old job.  Listen to everything he says because there’s no one wiser.”

flash fiction, mystery, Modern PhilosopherThe door opened behind them, and Tex turned to greet his new mentor.

The old man who slowly walked towards them had long white hair, a badly misshapen nose, and the warmest smile.

Of course, this was not the first time they’d met.  That had been on Christmas Eve when the old man had been dressed as Santa Claus, and Tex had been serenading a small group while dressed as an elf.

“Champ is happy to see you again, Tex,” the new arrival said as he extended his hand.  “Champ likes the looks of you.  Champ is very good at reading people.  Welcome to the team.”

Tex smiled and shook his hand.  They hadn’t had much of a chance to interact on Christmas Eve, but Bruno had warned him about Champ’s odd manner of speaking.  He’d also given him some background about his past as an amateur boxer and homeless person.  Then the great detective had sung Champ’s praises by revealing the integral role he’d played in closing a puzzling murder that had ended up not being a murder after all.

“Same here,” Tex replied with a smile and firm handshake.  “I’m looking forward to working together.”

“I’ll leave you boys to it then,” Maggie informed them as she made a bee line for the door.  “I’ll see you tonight after I figure out what to do with all this free time.”

She waved and then disappeared out the door.  The men sized up each other before Champ finally broke the silence.

“Champ has only one question before we start.  Champ needs to know if you play chess.”

Tex smiled.  This place was new, weird, and completely out of his comfort zone.  He had a strong sense he was going to love it here.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Enchanting Serenade of Uncontrolled Exhaustion

Life is exhausting, Modern Philosophers.

No big reveal there.  Just a statement of fact.

Now we’ve got the technology to prove this fact.  My new Garmin comes with a Body Battery feature that lets me know when the old tank is getting empty.

Very early in the day yesterday, it warned me that my battery was at 5/100.  That was not a good sign considering I still had almost the entire day to survive.

So I struggled.  I hadn’t slept well.  I was stressed.  There had been strange nightmares that I couldn’t quite shake.  There was no chance to relax and recharge.

I was concerned enough, however, to come up with a plan.  This is a big deal when you consider I really don’t like to have plans.  I just prefer that life follow the exact same path day after day.

Yeah, I’m weird that way.

health, fitness, Modern PhilosopherIt was a rainy night, so I decided there would be no after work walk.  I was going to whip up a warm, refreshing dinner and then curl up on the couch to watch This Is Us and the Yankees game.

I also decided that there would be no run this morning, which meant I could sleep in an hour later and really give my body battery a chance to recover.

Now I could write paragraphs here about how amazing this week’s episode of This Is Us was, but this is neither the time, nor the place for that.  All I’ll say is that if you haven’t watched it, you really should.

I got really comfy on the couch after I ate, and barely moved all night.  I had a purring cat sitting on me to provide warmth and companionship.  A friend texted, which put a much needed smile on my face.

I periodically checked my Garmin, and was pleased to discover that my battery was steadily climbing.

Apparently, the best way to conquer the enchanting serenade of uncontrolled exhaustion is to simply give in to it.  Why fight what I can’t control?  My body needed rest, so that’s what I provided.

relaxation, humor, Modern PhilosopherWhen I woke up, my Garmin informed me that my Body Battery reading was 98/100.

Mission accomplished.

Of course, that number could not be maintained for long.  After all, I had to leave The House on the Hill and be where there were people.  According to my research, people are the leading cause of stress in my life and a major drain on the battery.

At least my number steadily declined all day, rather than bottoming out early in the morning.  I’m tired now, but not run down like I was last night.

And look at me coping with the stress by writing.

My Body Battery might not always be full, but my Brain Battery can usually figure out a way to prevent a total crash of my system.

The last thing I need is for a system shutdown, which would require my being sent back to the factory for a total reboot.  I’m sadly all alone, so who would pack me up and send me to the factory?

That alone is enough motivation to keep me going…

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Changing The Bulb

It was the first Sunday of May.  The sun had returned, but the wind still refused to leave.  The best friends sat on their usual bench and soaked up the view of the river.

“Do I have an undeniably positive glow?” Aaron broke the silence.

Holly struggled not to spit out her coffee.  The question was not only totally unexpected, but also rather ridiculous.  Aaron hated people and emanated a cold, threatening aura that made this perfectly clear.

“Is this your creative way of telling me you’re pregnant?” she finally asked because she knew she couldn’t say all that about his threatening aura.

Aaron sighed and took a long sip of his Snapple.

“I’ll take that to be your diplomatic way of replying in the negative,” he scoffed.

Holly’s beautiful face contorted into a frown.  Aaron could be so fragile at times, and it was a challenge to say the right thing without lying to him or hurting his feelings.

short story, humor, Modern Philosopher“You’re not exactly radiating rainbows and unicorns, but I wouldn’t say that’s a negative,” she answered honestly. “Why do you ask?”

Aaron shrugged and took a long sip of Snapple.

“As bizarre as it might sound, I’ve been making an effort to be more social, but you’re still the only one who seems at all interested in spending time with me,” he confessed sadly.  “I read somewhere that the best way to attract new friends is to radiate positivity.  Needless to say, that’s been a challenge.”

To Holly’s relief, he chuckled at his self-depreciating humor.

“I don’t think you radiate negativity, either,” Holly clarified.  “You’re more like one of those houses on Halloween that doesn’t have its porch light lit.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow to the comment.  “Intriguing.  Tell me more.”

Holly blushed slightly as she powered on.  “Trick of treaters can’t tell if there’s anyone home, so most of them will continue on to the next house with the porch light on.  The more daring ones, however, will take a chance and knock on the door.  They might not get a reply, but what did they lose by trying?  Then again, they might discover that this is the one house on the block that gives out king size candy bars and the risk was worth it.”

Aaron grinned.  “So are you saying I’m the king size Mounds bar in your life since you took the time to get to know me?”

flash fiction, relationships, Modern PhilosopherHolly rolled her eyes and drank some of her coffee.

“Positive people have it much easier,” Aaron commented.  “People are more likely to approach them, and less likely to run screaming when approached.”

“But what you need to remember is that sometimes that super bright positive glow is everything a person’s got,” Holly reminded him.  “Once you get past the shiny surface, you discover there’s nothing inside.  That’s why we’re taught as kids to never take candy from strangers.  We absolutely do not want to find out what’s waiting inside that windowless van where the candy is kept.”

Aaron’s jaw dropped.  “This conversation just took a very twisted and dark turn.  Are you trying to warn me that your beautiful, welcoming, thoughtful outer shell is merely a distraction from the abject horror that lies beneath?”

Holly smiled.  When she did so, she somehow became even more beautiful.

“That’s for you to figure out,” she replied with a wink.

Now Aaron smiled.  “Actually, that was your way of almost making me forget that I’m socially awkward and not at all a positive person.  Just another reason why you’re my best friend.”

Holly pulled a fun size Mounds bar from her pocket and offered it to him.  “Plus, I offer you candy so you never have to be tempted by strangers.”

They both laughed.

Neither noticed that Aaron was letting off the brightest, most positive aura.  Just like he did every Sunday when the best friends met for their weekly chat…

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