Ollie's was crowded every Saturday evening, but tonight's reading filled the place to near standing room only. The coffee shop was a favorite in the area and was gaining notoriety as the alternative for the alternative crowd. Shane watched unenthusiastically as people jostled for a place near the chair that was tonight's podium. Carol would soon read from her unpublished "work in progress" as she referred to it. Her close friends, Shane among them, had watched her develop her talent beginning in their 10th grade English class. She'd go on to become an important poet. At least that's what the critics kept writing about her. So far she hadn't gotten out of the coffee shop and bookstore-reading scene. Her last book, A Poke In My Relationship Eye, had some success but everyone who knew Carol knew that she was devastated by it's lack of sales.
Shane eyed Corrie as she pushed her way through the bodies toward their table. He moved over so she could squeeze into the chair beside him. "Hey, quite a crowd," she said as she started to sit down.
"Ooww!" Shane leaped up pulling his tail from underneath Corrie.
"Sorry? You practically broke it!" Shane flicked his tail up to inspect the tip. "Look, you flattened my fur," he pouted.
"Oh give it here." Corrie reached out quickly grabbing his tail and pulled it towards her nose to inspect the damage. "Give it a shake," she said.
Shane indignantly ruffled his tail, shaking the fur back into standing position. "There," said Corrie kissing it gently like a mother would a child's scratch, "Shane's booboo all better?"
"Yes, thank you," Shane replied with unleashed sarcasm. Trying to milk Corrie's sympathy he pulled his tail back and began stroking and blowing on the end gently.
"Get over it," she said dryly. She wasn't going to play. "Have you seen Carol yet?"
"Ya, we talked about an hour ago. She's in back going over her piece."
"What's she reading tonight?"
Shane looked at her with raised eyebrows and a smirk.
"Not again!" Corrie groaned. "Christ I'm getting sick of this. How many times do I have to listen to the despair of her broken relationship?"
"I don't know, but I wish she'd write about their happy reunion for a change."
"Is Jenny coming?" Corrie asked hesitantly.
"They didn't have another fight did they?"
"Of coarse they did. I can just imagine the creative juices flowing out of Carol like a river after this fight. She should be hot tonight."
"I can't figure out why they're still together," wondered Corrie rhetorically. They were both still shaking their heads when the crowd went silent.
Carol walked across the small clearing that acted as the stage and sat quietly on the chair. She was dressed plainly and her hair had an unwashed look. She refused to dress up for these events, choosing instead to compliment the nature of her reading with what she wore. As was her custom at these events no one introduced her nor did she make any effort to welcome or thank the people that came to hear her read. She tried to feign calmness but Shane could see the end of her tail twitch quickly a couple of times. She was always nervous before reading. She would walk off immediately after she was finished without a backward glance. She said it was part of her poetic air. Apparently all of the great literary figures had some kind of quirk that they were remembered for and this would be hers. Settling herself and adjusting her tail she opened the folder that housed all of her work. Pages stuck out in every direction, all of them written in a pencil scrawl that only she could decipher. Doctor's prescriptions looked like calligraphy compared to her penmanship. Which was just as well given the painful nature of what Carol wrote about. Most of her poems detailed the suffering of relationships gone sour. Unfortunately, most of the suffering she'd experienced first hand with her present girlfriend. Shane often asked himself why people came to hear Carol read about such depressing topics. Carol had said once that the people who came to hear her read didn't really care about her or her work so much as they cared about themselves and how her poetry brought them to a place that they'd all experienced in the past but weren't experiencing now. In the beginning it didn't make much sense to Shane, but the more he showed up to Carol's readings the more he realized that the audience was made up of mostly happy, or what appeared to be happy, couples. Maybe Carol was right. Maybe they came here to remind themselves of what could go wrong in their own relationships and left happy and content knowing that their relationship was paradise found compared to what Carol described. She started as inconspicuously as her entrance.
"Pain seers my heart as I struggle to regain my balance. The blow to my emotions is like nothing I have experienced before. How could she? HOW COULD SHE!!" It's taken her only a few sentences to start screaming. Initially stunned by her aggression the audience is slowly being drawn in by her voice.
Corrie rolled her eyes at Shane giving him the here-we-go-again look. "I have to take a piss," Shane said and quickly got up from the table.
"Get your ass back here," Corrie hissed under her breath. "If I have to sit through this so do you!" Her attempt to reach out for him as he jumped away from the table was half-hearted. She knew he wasn't going to relieve himself. He had other things on his mind.
Weaving his way through the crowd Shane scanned the bodies for one he liked. "Ah, hello Gorgeous," he mumbled to himself as he zeroed in on an unsuspecting 27ish year old guy trying to see over the heads in front of him. Shane preferred more interaction during Carol's readings and found that it was a great place to browse for men. The only problem had been the couple thing. It was definitely true that not many singles came to the few poetry readings that he had attended. This one though didn't have his arm draped over anyone, and he wasn't really standing by anyone either. Sure there were people all around but he didn't get the feeling that they were there with him. "What's a single guy doing here anyway?" he thought to himself as he got closer. "Probably the same thing I'm doing," he answered himself with a smile. Shane slowed down as he approached his target and slowly brought his tail up. Passing closely behind him he brushed the back of his prey's neck slightly with his fur.
Startled out of his trance of listening to Carol, Gorgeous turned around to see what had touched him. Shane turned to meet him coming very close to his tanned face and whispered. "Sorry, it's so crowded in here."
Looking over Shane's shoulder Gorgeous gave him a great smiled and whispered back, "There's hardly anyone behind you," He looked over Shane's shoulder again and nodded to indicate that Shane had plenty of room.
Shane glanced back to confirm what gorgeous had said. Leave it to me to find the one guy that's standing with no one around him, he thought to himself. "Well," he said quietly, "they must have all moved closer to the action." His face reddened somewhat as he became increasingly clear that he had taken a big chance. Maybe he was getting too bold for his own good. He suddenly caught Carol's voice booming in the background, "Does it matter to you that I'm stuck here cleaning up after you when your out FUCKING SOMEONE ELSE!!! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU ….."
"What do you think of the reading?" Shane asked trying to change the subject and acutely aware that Gorgeous was staring intently at him with his big eyes and smile to match.
"The what? Oh! The reading. Well, ah, it's interesting." It was Gorgeous' turn to blush.
Shane could tell instantly that he didn't know anything about Carol or what she was reading. "Really, what part do you like best?" he asked intently.
Gorgeous looked to the ceiling trying to come up with something to say. "Ah, well, I ah," he gave in defeated. "Truth be told I haven't the slightest idea what she's trying to say. I'm not really into poetry," he confessed.
"What are you into," Shane asked making his move. They stared at each other for longer than straight men would dare confirming Shane's initial instinct. "Would you like to join me for a drink with my friend?" Shane nodded toward the table where Corrie sat resting her elbow on the table with her chin in her hand.
"Your girlfriend?" Gorgeous asked smiling.
"Funny guy." Shane brought his tail up and curled it around Gorgeous' wrist. He pulled him along behind him to the table where Corrie was beginning to close her eyes. "Corrie wake the hell up. I want you to meet a friend of mine. Corrie this is …" he leaned closer to Gorgeous, "I didn't catch your name," he whispered.
"Nick," Gorgeous whispered back.
Shane smiled. "I'm Shane." He loved the man already. Turning back to Corrie he continued the introductions. "Corrie, this is Nick. Nick, this is Corrie, a dear friend and long time pain in the ass." Nick laughed as they sat down.
"Don't mind Shane," smiled Corrie taking Nick's hand, "he's only recently been released from the institution." Shifting her attention off of Nick for a fraction of a second, Corrie gave Shane the squinty evil eye. She turned back, "So Nick, what do you think of the reading so far?"
Carols voice streamed in to accent Corrie's question causing Nick to look toward the chair in the crowd. "What do you expect me to do?" Pause. "I ASKED YOU A QUESTION BITCH!!"
"I'm not sure why she's so angry," Nick replied looking back at Shane and Corrie shaking his head.
"Well you haven't met Jenny yet," Shane said smiling. Nick looked confused. He pulled Nick's face down close to his own by wrapping his tail around Nick's neck and reeling him in. "Jenny is the long time lover and partner of Carol. Carol is the poet up there screaming, and Corrie and I are friends of both of them. Jenny is the grist for Carol's hate mill. She says Jenny gives her the realism she needs to write what she does."
"You know her?" Nick asked them both.
"We've all known each other since high school," Corrie admitted. "It makes for close and interesting friendships."
"Would you like to be my close and interesting friend Nicky?" Shane asked quietly. Corrie groaned slightly but did the best she could to ignore Shane's request.
"It might take some time," Nick teased back, "I need to get to know you first." He brought his tail up and wound it around Shane's. The two of them stared at each other oblivious to the happenings in the rest of the room.
"Oh for Christ's sake! Get a goddamn room!" Corrie had enough.
Shane looked at Nick. "What a good idea. My place is couple of blocks away. We could be there in 15 minutes. It's a nice walk."
"Won't your friend be mad that you didn't stay to hear her read?" questioned Nick.
"No, she won't even miss me. Corrie will cover for me." Shane put on his best pleading look. "Won't you Corrie? Please?"
"Why do I do these things for you?" She sighed loudly, "Nick it was nice to meet you. Maybe I'll see you again some time." She turned to face Shane. "Be good!"
"Always." Shane smiled, kissed Corrie on the cheek as they got up and waved as he led Nick to the door.
Corrie watched the two of them walk away tail-in-tail. "Why does he always pick someone up at these things? I don't think he's ever sat through a whole reading," she said to herself. Carol's voice suddenly screamed over the crowd.
"Get out of my house! GET OUT OF MY GODDAMN HOUSE!!!"
Corrie winced in recognition of the emotion that was about to be dumped on the audience. She let herself focus on the crowd and scanned for a potential interest of her own. Setting her tail gently on the table she began stroking it lovingly hoping someone would take up her invitation.