I wrote this in 2009 and looked it up for my new hubby to read to him.  I still like it, though LA is probably a bit different than this perspective of 20 years ago.

 

“Hello, Richard.” Tara said my name like I should be ranked among the infamous killers of the ages; Stalin, Hitler, and whoever that guy was who rode the elephants into Rome. I was a barbarian. Standing outside the door to my apartment, she twitched to go inside, but I remained immovable, blocking the way. I wasn’t the one who moved out to shack up with a brain-dead model/actor.

Until Tara, I thought that being fucked was something that would only happen to me if I got thrown in county jail. She gave the word new clarity.

I was surprised that she didn’t call me Dick. There must have been some sense of decency left in her.

“Hello Tara,” I said and flashed one of those quick, fake smiles that meant ‘I’m being polite, even if we both know you’re a skank.’

Tara had a great body. I didn’t need to love her to enjoy her attributes. I would have married her just for being beautiful. But she had a problem that made loving her unlikely: She never smiled.

Oh, she would do the same sort of quick, fake smiles that I was doing now, but she never really smiled. Even when I tickled her, she’d keep the corners of her mouth tight.

“So…” She stood there, looking at me, like women do, expecting me to read her mind, just like women do.

I waited for the rest of the sentence, because I’m a man and can’t read minds. Even if I could, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to try to read the mind of an ex-girlfriend.

She stepped a little closer and I caught the scent of the musky, spicy perfume. The one I bought her last Valentine’s Day. It still turned me on, just like her body and I hated myself for it.

“Did you forget something?” I asked.

Tara was a coward. She was so gutless that she moved out while I was working a double shift in the ER. She sent me an email to break up.

She flipped her hair over her shoulder and my eyes were drawn to the brown, silky strands. It was the part of her body I’d loved the most. “I was just wondering …”

She was going to ask me for a favor. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe that she would. It was that she had no sense of diplomacy. If she was going to ask me for a favor, she shouldn’t have said my name like I was the next Mussolini. Not that they studied history in Cosmetology School. Still, I was already calculating what I could get for this favor. Something to end my six months of celibacy, I hoped.

I opened the door a little wider. Yeah, I’d hate myself afterwards, because like I said, I would probably be fucked, but at least I’d break my sexless streak.

“…you work for the county right? Kyle got arrested for not paying his parking tickets and–”

Kyle, the model-actor she cheated on me with. Model-actor, just the description made me want to sneer.

“I’m a doctor, Tara, not a bureaucrat.”

“But you know about these things, right? You are telling me all the time about talking to this cop or that cop.”

“I work at a county hospital in emergency medicine.”

Tara was deliberately dim. She remembered only what she knew she had to. The only reason she didn’t call me Dick, was because the one time she allowed her friends to continue to tease me with the name, I planted a fist in somebody’s face.

All my friends from elementary to med school knew that the only fights I ever got into were over people calling me that name. Everything else washed off my back.

“So?” she said, looking at me like that little lost penguin in the Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was waiting for the tears that turned into ice cubes, though in Tara’s case, it would be ice cubes that turned into tears.

Ten years ago I was a geek who could hardly imagine dating a girl like her. But I was smart enough to know that if I could make big money, I could win pretty girls away from the jocks and stoners. So I stuck to my studies.

“You didn’t want anything to do with me ever again, remember?” I raised my brow at her, hoping I looked too intelligent to be taken advantage of.

When I finally burst out of internship and started making decent money, I bought things. Not necessities, but desires. I had a cool car, great clothes, a kick-ass apartment, and the only accessory missing in it was the model-type girlfriend with firm tits and a tight ass. Tara fit the bill. We met at a charity show in Burbank. She was doing make-up and I was pretending to be interested in the show. She moved in three months later and I thought my life was complete.

I was content.

Being content was okay for me. Having grown up with smile-less people (and what can you expect from a father who prefers to be called Dick?), living with artificial ones was tolerable. That was until I got fucked. Then I wanted to find happiness for the sake of revenge.

But I had no idea how to be happy. Who ever heard of a happy surgeon anyway?

“Can’t you help me out, Rich?” And there it was; the soft play. “I have no one else to turn to.” She was giving me the big amber eyes that had punched me in the gut the first moment I saw her.

I gave in. Like the complete wuss I had been in high school giving into a pretty face and the big eyes and the ‘please be my Prince Charming for the day, because the real one I have is a loser and doesn’t know math or science so can’t help me pass this class.’

I wouldn’t get another piece of that ass and I still gave in.

Kyle was out of jail on bond and probably screwing Tara while I drove home wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

I must have been deep in self absorbed pity. I didn’t see the oncoming vehicle. My California stop turned into a full on fender bender. I slammed into the little blue Malibu. The passenger side was crushed, the tire and wheel both off kilter. The car was pushed sideways and all I could see of the driver was wide eyes.

I jumped out of my car. High on adrenaline, I pulled open the driver’s door. It was bent, difficult to keep open, and still too close to my bumper. “Are you okay?” I asked.

Being in ‘the Greater Metropolitan Los Angeles Area’ I’d fully expected a sock in the eye. Hell, I got sucker punched all the time at County trying to save people’s lives! And it did feel like a sucker punch when the driver’s big brown eyes turned to me.

The woman behind the wheel shook and I watched her for signs of shock. I told her that everything was my fault and the insurance would cover it all. Taking her hand and leading her out of the car, I kept babbling, because that’s what I do in the ER. It’s habit.

Cars started to slide by us, honking and shouting. I focused on the woman, checking for signs of trauma. “I’m Richard Green. I’m a doctor.”

She laughed.

Those little lines appeared at the corners of her eyes, her mouth turned upward, her lashes fluttered and she brightened.

I laughed too, not because it was funny or I was panicking as people were flipping me the bird and shouting obscenities in Spanglish, but because her entire face lit up and her laugh was contagious.

Looking at her, I thought that she would make a wonderful mother and her children would be smiling toddlers with big eyes and wide smiles. Everyone would want them for advertisements, but she’d turn them down. Her children wouldn’t need to be on a box of cereal to prove to the world that some smiles were real.

“Richard Green?” she asked. “You don’t recognize me?”

My eyes widened then narrowed. She was pretty, thin, with high cheekbones and perfect hair. I hoped that she wasn’t a friend of Tara’s, or worse, an actress. That would be my luck. “Are you a model?”

She laughed and shook her head. I found myself taking comfort in the fact that her nose was a little too wide and she had a tiny chip in her front tooth. “I had a crush on you Junior year, Banning High School.”

Rapidly blinking, I mentally recalled the faces in my high school yearbook. Most of the people I knew then had left LA, and even when they hadn’t, I’d rarely run into them. And never literally into them.

“Oh my God, you really don’t recognize me?” If it was possible, her smile grew. She was absolutely stunning while she smiled. I hadn’t noticed what she wore. I hadn’t scanned her body, still stuck on her face. She laughed and it tickled through my body like a drug.

I stood there, probably looking like an idiot, staring, trying to place her.

Banning High School wasn’t huge for an LA school, but I was sure I noticed every single pretty girl at school. My friend Alex and I even had a grading system. We never bothered with anything under a C, and this girl had to be on the A list.

“Were you in one of my classes?”

“I was in SIX of your classes, junior year and three senior year. I asked you if you wanted to go to the prom with me and you said-” She paused to put up airquotes with her fingers. “-‘I don’t go on dates with girls who act like guys.’ And then you said something like: ‘besides you smile too much.'”

My stomach dropped to the ground where it joined my jaw. It took a long time before any words came out of my gaping mouth. “Katie? Katie Lynwood?”

“Bingo! Give the doctor a prize!” She put her finger on her nose and with her other hand, marked an invisible point in the air.

A motorcycle cop drove up, lights flashing. He took pictures and reports. After at least an hour of the entire rigmarole, tow truck driver and LAPD officers flirting shamelessly with Katie, the little Malibu was being loaded on the tow truck.

I could tell Katie didn’t know that the men found her beautiful. You could see it in the way she moved, like there was no problem touching a stranger and smiling brightly at him. She had no idea how magnetic she was and that each smile was a huge turn-on.

My car still functioned perfectly. The bumper didn’t even look dented. “Can I give you a ride home?” I asked her before the tow truck driver could.

She shrugged and nodded. “It’s the least you can do.”

While she made calls on her cell phone, I escorted her to my car.

“Katie the Tomboy, pony tails and sneakers…” I said to myself after I closed her door, shaking my head.

I remembered Katie as a bright girl with only slightly better than average looks. Her athlete’s thighs and calves had looked more dangerous than sexy. She was aggressive and stubborn. And though she never called me “Dick” I was sure it was because she was too church-girl to bring herself to utter a name that was also a curse.

I took my seat beside her and started the engine. “I’m sorry I hit your car.”

“It wasn’t mine.”

I smiled. I don’t think it was possible not to smile when she did. Not when she had grown so beautiful and I was a man who really wanted to get laid in the near future.

She told me where she lived, gave me very precise directions: Take I-10 to the 57 to the Bonita exit in San Dimas.

“So… a doctor, eh?” She tilted her head at me and I wondered if she could read my mind.

“With a ton of school loans to pay on top of insurance, car payments, rent, utilities.” For a moment, in my LA induced paranoia, I thought she was looking at deep pockets for a lawsuit. Or maybe she thought I could get her free drugs. Tara had hinted at that once. There were other things she might want. There were gold-diggers of every sort in the city. I could feel my brow shadow over my eyes.

“You are still far too serious, D-.”

“Richard,” I corrected her before she could finish. “Don’t call me Dick.”

My father’s name is Richard and his father’s before him. I’m the third. No one calls my father Richard because he’s earned the name Dick. He lives in Santa Monica, but he might as well live in Siberia for all I see him.

“I wasn’t going to!” she insisted. “I was going to say ‘didn’t you learn how to lighten up in college?'”

I frowned, feeling a little juvenile.

“Are you scowling? God, you look the same.” She laughed.

“You don’t,” I said before I could stop myself. She hadn’t been a fat girl who lost a lot of weight, but she really did look different. And since I couldn’t stop myself, I kept going. “You look great. What happened?” Immediately I cringed. How tactless was that?

She laughed that tinkling little giggle that ran through me like an I.V. on quick drip. “I stopped wearing sports bras.”

For the first time since I re-met Katie, (and I know guys won’t believe this, but I honestly had been stuck on her face for the last few hours) I looked down at her bust. It wasn’t like she had been flat-chested in high school. She’d been a buxom tomboy, but with the little cami under shirt thing she had going on, she looked perfect. She didn’t look as well endowed as I remembered. Her biceps no longer looked strong enough to break a geek in half.

“Not bad,” I replied, because I had to say something, I was looking at her breasts.

She smirked.

“So what were you up to? Before I interrupted your trip.”

The smile melted off her face. I had made it disappear. Immediately, I felt like… well… a dick.

“I go for follow ups at the Cancer Center at USC.”

If I had any semblance of a smile left on my face, it was gone.

“Cervical cancer,” she said softly. The vision of bright eyed toddlers that had their mother’s eyes faded from my mind like watercolors left out in the rain.

“I missed my check up today.” She smiled again and then she laughed. “Thank you very much.”

The dick-o-meter was slowly rising. “It was the first time I could make a trip on my own. I’m in full recovery… so far. They try not to let you get too optimistic about it.” She laughed softly.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.

“I couldn’t wait to tell my doctor the good news, but I guess you’ll have to sub for oncology today.” Grinning, pulled off her wig. “Ta da! My hair’s growing back!”

I don’t know why I was laughing. She looked alien without hair. I’d seen cancer patients before, of course, but I wasn’t sure how to deal with people who were facing, or had faced, their own mortality unless I was stitching them up, cracking their ribs open, giving a prognosis or prescription. Despite what people may think, being in the ER hadn’t taught me how to deal with humanity or mortality, only trauma.

“Congratulations.” I was smiling and chuckling with her. She played with the wig in her lap like it was a docile kitten. “That’s why I didn’t recognize you.”

“You would have recognized me like this?” she asked, her eyes turning back to me while she rubbed her hand over her brown, peach-fuzz hair.

“I think I would have,” I told her. “I always thought you’d join the military.”

“Ha, ha!” She put her wig back on.

“…kill men with your thighs.”

“Oh my thighs…” She sighed wistfully and got a far away look in her eyes.

I suppose it was a testament to the ridiculousness of fashion that I had mistaken an emaciated cancer patient for a model. She wasn’t quite as innocent-faced as a runway model. The wisdom and sadness in her eyes were too mature for them to duplicate. And the smile… that smile. There was nothing artificial about it.

“I thought you’d be running NASA by now.”

“Nope, just a lowly ER doc.” I turned onto highway 57, trying to think of any way to prolong the conversation, the drive, just keep her near me. “Still beating up guys that try to cop a feel?”

“The only guys who cop a feel now are doctors,” she replied, her lips almost permanently crooked with a smirk.

“Then I guess I have nothing to worry about?”

“I thought you didn’t like girls that act like boys.”

I liked this conversation and that was damn bizarre. “I’m rethinking my policy on tomboys.”

“I don’t smile too much for you then?” she asked with a hum in her voice. The funny thing was she sounded exactly like Tara when she said it. The smile was in her voice. Her eyes would be sparkling. I didn’t have to look over to see.

“Your smiles are within acceptable limits. I think I might actually date you.”

“That’s magnanimous.”

“I should probably marry you. Quick.” I could see her children still, those toddlers that always smiled. They wouldn’t have her eyes, they’d be adopted, but they’d have her smile.

“Vegas is only four hours away…” She grinned playfully and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her smiling this much at school. Of course, I had made it a point not to notice her too much then. She was on the C list.

“I should do it, just to wipe that smirk off your face.” She had always been stubborn, never one to give in on a challenge or debate.

Once I thought I could bring myself joy by surrounding myself with the semblance of happiness. I filled my life with the things Dick, my father, was too self absorbed in his white trash life to provide me. But there was no joy behind those objects. I realized that I had no idea how to be happy. Until I learned, I knew I would just fumble around unless I came on it by luck. Maybe Katie was that lucky break. She knew how to be happy. Maybe she could teach me.

“Tell you what…” she said and leaned toward me. The closer she leaned, the wider my smile grew. I really had to date her. How else was I going to keep smiling like this? I was grinning like an imbecile when I felt her breath on my neck. “I’ll let you marry me when I fall in love with you.”

I glanced sideways at her, trying my damnedest to watch the road for the exit in San Dimas. The truth was I didn’t care if I missed it. I didn’t care if I ever got her home. “I’ll get right to work on that.”