by Charlie Chin. Posted on October 20, 2023.
After we had made love, Paula whispered in my ear that she liked the taste of my semen. Which, of course, was a lie. But like all men, I chose to believe it. Later I found out she might have been lying about everything. But I didn’t know that when we first met. I was working on some important research in a lab in Livermore. You remember when A.I. first hit the scene? Well, this was beyond that. Everybody and his brother were in competition, a lot of big money was involved, and there was a bunch of shady stuff going on. I was considered a leader in the field, but the daily pressure was immense. Total burnout was always just a step away. My girlfriend Glenda left me last year because I was at work for days at a time with no explanation. Heartbroken and lonely, I needed something to clear my head.
https://www.vecteezy.com/free-photos”>Free Stock photos by Vecteezy.
I signed up for a writing class at St. Mary’s College. I had been a decent essay writer in college and felt I needed something creative and positive to pull me out of the doldrums. The teacher, Mr. Mohammed Ramanda seemed competent. On the first day, Mr. Ramanda called out the students’ names and their seat number. The guy to my left was Harry Bell, a scruffy nerd who kept scratching his groin, but who seemed friendly enough. I declined to shake hands. A woman named Paula Scott was assigned to the seat next to mine on the right. She smiled and asked,
“Hi, what’s your name?”
“I’m Peter, Peter Wong, and this is Harry Bell.” Harry smiled broadly.
“Harry Bell here. You like Hockey?” I tried to be casual and not let her see me checking her out when she was looking the other way. Tall and lean, she had sun-tanned skin and wore the tight hair bun of a dancer or swimmer. When the first class ended, Mr. Ramada passed out the curriculum. Harry let out a sigh and muttered,
‘Man, this is going to be a trip.” As Paula and I both stood up to leave, she gave me a glance. Then she waited a second to see if I would say anything. I was rusty when it came to conversation, so I just left. But I counted on the fact that we’d be back in class the next week.
The following week Mr. Mohammed Ramanda wasted no time and jumped right in. Standing in front of the class, he gave out some outline information first.
“A short story is between 1,500 and 7,500 words. The most popular short stories are about Love, Mystery, and Horror. If main character is the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning, you have a plot problem.”
Then he gave out a sheet with the template for a short story with a few comments added. I studied it for a minute. It seemed simple.
A short declarative sentence. Its purpose is to grab the reader’s attention.
The Exposition. It should contain when the story is happening, where, and with whom, this is normally about 5 to 10 sentences. Its purpose is to get the reader to make an interest investment. Getting the readers’ attention is simple but getting them to care about a character takes more work.
The introduction of the Main Character and Characters of Support and Opposition. The Main Character must have a problem, mystery that needs to be solved, or a goal they wish to achieve.
There needs to be a reason for everybody to be in one place. For example: a wedding, birthday, or a funeral.
Point Backs. These are imbedded in the story but should be considered as unimportant or incidental by the reader until they are revealed later to be clues.
Rising Action and Complications. The Classic approach is that first things are interesting, and then, they get more interesting, or more commonly, things are bad and then they get worse.
The Climax. Something is said, something is done, and the original problem or mystery has been solved and the Main Character undergoes a transformation.
The Resolution. Questions are answered and loose ends are tied.
The writer must signal to the reader that it is alright to terminate their interest in the story.
The Implied Future. This allows the reader to move on as they now have an assurance that they don’t need to know any more about the story or characters.
AI image created by Midjourney.
While it wasn’t brilliant, it was a usable system and it worked. The next week, I showed up early to class. Harry Bell was already there and seated. He smiled and greeted me with a warm handshake. To be polite, I shook hands. He asked,
“You know what kind of sound a grape makes when you squeeze it? I shrugged.
“There’s no sound, just a little wine.” He chuckled to himself for a minute. To be honest, I sort of liked Harry Bell, he was simple and generous, dumb as brick, but with a heart of gold. He peered over my shoulder.
“Hey Pete, that girl Paula just came in.”
“Huh? Oh really?”
“Hey man, she hot.” I pretended to be unaware of it. When Paula Bell came over and sat down next to us, Harry smiled,
“Hi, how ya’ doing?”
She made a forced smile at Harry, glanced at me and slowly shook her head. Mr. Ramada was writing something on the whiteboard. Paula leaned over a little too close to me.
“Can I see your notebook for a minute?” The scent of her perfume filled my nostrils. It was the scent of coconuts and hibiscus. I smiled and passed the book to her. Then I turned and pretended to be interested in something Harry said. A moment later she whispered,
“Thanks.” And returned the notepad to me. She was smiling and reached up to gently press back a strand of hair that had slipped out of her head bun. I wondered if she was flirting with me. I looked down at my notes and saw she had written her phone number on the top of the pages. I shot another look at her smiling face. As the session ended, we all stood up to leave. She gently put her hand on my shoulder.
“Call anytime. We can do coffee.”
We got friendlier over the next two sessions, and then I got the courage to ask her out for dinner. The restaurant was Turkish and dark. A few times when we were laughing about something Harry had said, she patted my hand when it was on the table. Then we went for drinks at a popular bar. Maybe it was tequila talking, but when we stepped outside, I gave her a little kiss. She didn’t seem to mind. Afterwards, we went to my apartment, got comfortable on the couch and watched an old Black and White Movie from my collection called “Casa Blanca’.
When I asked what she did for work, Paula smirked.
‘You wouldn’t be interested. Just some boring stuff.” I pressed her some more, but I gave up when it became obvious, she wasn’t going to tell me.
I felt a little unsure of myself, so I tried to tell her a few jokes, all of which bombed. She shook her head with a smile.
“You don’t have to impress me. Why don’t you just tell me about your work? Do you like it?” I was afraid it would be boring, but she seemed interested,
‘Well, we do something like A.I. research but it’s more, ah, well I’ve said enough. We’re always trying to develop a better program.”
“That sounds fun.”
“Is the money good?” I wanted to impress her.
“Oh yes, if somebody has a more efficient program, they’ll make a fortune.”
“Are you working on one?”
“I can’t say, but there’s a lot of security at my office.”
“Other companies will do anything just to get a clue as to what we’re working on over at Gilbert and Ross. Whoever gets to the market first with a working model that fits the needs of the market will make billions.” Paula didn’t seem to be listening. She smiled and placed her hand on my knee. The touch sent a wave of electricity into my body. Staring into my eyes, she did a slow blink.
“Sounds fascinating. But it’s getting late.” She gave me a significant glance and waited for me to speak. I screwed up my courage and spoke.
“Do you really have to go?” She gave me a broad smile and softly shook her head.
The next morning, she called into work and left a message saying that she was sick, nothing serious, but she needed a couple of days. For the next three days I was in heaven. We laughed, we ate, we made love. It was on the morning of the fourth day. I got up early because my head was splitting. Might have been the six margaritas I drank the night before. I forced myself into an upright position and walked to the bathroom. I was doing my morning business when I heard a soft clicking sound coming from my living room. I got up slowly and walked barefoot to the door to see what was going on. It was Paula. She was running some of the files on my computer and was taking pictures of the work notes with her phone. I coughed gently and she spun around.
“Oh, I was just looking up some stuff for my work on your computer, I hope you don’t mind.” I walked over to the work desk as she tried to escape from the program that was running. She looked like a kid with her hand in the cookie jar. I tried to control myself.
“I think we both know what you were doing. Why don’t you explain?” She sat down on the couch and put her head into her hands. She was trembling.
“I hate myself for doing this. Especially doing this to you Peter. I really do like you very much.”
“Last night you said you loved me.” She moaned out loud,
“Oh, very well, yes, I love you. But I work for the company Max Dolphin, your competition. They promised me a promotion and a large bounty with no questions asked, if I could get a copy of your work. That’s all I thought about first, but after I got to know you, I…” She moaned again and began crying in earnest. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her shoulders. It seemed so natural. I began to think very fast.
“Paula, maybe there’s a way around this.” She stopped crying for a second.
“What do you mean?”
“I love you, and I believe you love me. I’ve decided that I’m sure I want to spend the rest of my life with you. No matter where that might be. I’ve got some money stashed away. And rather than having me get fired from my company for losing those files, and you spending the rest of your life regretting something that you’ve done, why don’t we sell my work to a third company and start a Bed and Breakfast in the Caribbean?” Her brow furrowed and she wondered,
“Can’t Gilbert and Ross simply have you arrested and brought back for prosecution?’
“I know a small county with no extradition treaty with the U.S.”
“https://www.vecteezy.com/free-photos”>Free Stock photos by Vecteezy.
Nine months later, Mr. Harry Bell received a postcard. It was an advertisement for a Tropical get-a-way hotel on the island nation of St. Anthony off the coast of Belize. The front showed sun-drenched palms with coconut trees and a smiling couple who stood behind a Tiki Bar. They were toasting the camera with Mai Tais. The message on the back was handwritten. “There will always be a room ready and waiting when you come. Love to see you. Paula and Pete.”
Author’s Bio: Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).