Janice and Ralph entered together, almost like old friends, chatting and laughing. In fact they had just run into each other, literally, on the way in. These past days Ralph had been milling about in a sort of dumbfounded state of mind, churning away indistinct and immaterial thoughts that never failed to include Peggy, but had the consistency and causality of white clouds on the summer sky. He was happy to bump into anyone that didn't move out of his way, and anything that was out of place, and equally inclined to apologize to either.
"Are you trying to bump into me?"
The crystalline voice startled him, and just in time too, because he was just about to walk past the club entrance, and that was where he was headed. Or at least that's where he was headed when he left the car... possibly. Janice had stopped and was leaning against the door jam, suggesting half of an ancient portcullis decorated with the usual bucolic statues.
"Oh, uh, Hi. Janice, right?"
"Yes. What do you think of my dress?"
She was wearing blue jeans and a denim jacket on top of a white stretch blouse with a rolled collar, definitely not a shadow of a dress there.
Ralph blinked, and studied the outfit for a second. He really had no idea about womens' clothes, but assumed he was expected to give her some sort of compliment.
"It suits you very well, the blue matches your eyes."
"Why thank you kind sir. Now tell me, why are you mopping and how come you are blindly walking about? You might end up under a car you know?"
"Mopping? Well, I guess it might look that way. I just seem to have a lot on my mind these days, can't get all the thoughts in order."
"Did you get fired?"
"Fired? Oh my job, no everything is ok with the job, just the same old stuff."
"So it must be a girl then. Are you in love?"
"Love? Well, I don't really know."
"Of course, if you weren't, you would know."
Ralph looked at Janice very confused and fumbled for words, but there were no words that would serve him.
"So where are the flowers?"
"Flowers? What flowers?"
Ralph was beyond confusion now.
"I simply don't think any girl you would fancy would be young enough to not care about her figure, hence you can't really be offering candy. Flowers is all that's left."
"I suppose that's right, but then I hadn't really thought of it."
"Didn't you just say you were having a lot on your mind? Are you thinking about things or aren't you?"
Desperately Ralph tried to change the subject at this point.
"Were you just arriving here or leaving? Haven't seen you at the club since story night."
"Oh, but enough about me, let's talk about you. It must be someone in the club isn't it? Only seen three girls there. Me, the nice woman and that evil harpy. I wonder who it is."
Finally Ralph saw the light, he laughed out loud and took Janice by the arm to lead her into the club.
Frankie lifted her eyes from the book, and lo and behold, there was Janice, and there was one of the dorks in tow.
"My my, look what the cat dragged in."
Frankie was cursing in her inner cursing place, wishing she would either manage to remember the guy's name, or Janice would slip and say it. Not like there was much chance of that, the pest knew what a horrible time she had learning people's names.
"I was just starting to think this place was deserted, or the men were drafted or something. Care to join me?"
Ralph mostly dragged a stomping Janice and sat her down on the other end of Frankie's couch, and he sat in between them. Obviously, not a very experienced man.
The sound of more people in the front attracted Peggy's attention in the kitchen. She stopped mid-dish and listened closely to see if she could tell who had arrived. In fact, she listened just in time to hear Ralph's distinctive voice, followed by something that sounded more like giggles than laughter.
"So, have you been dreaming recently?" Frankie was looking straight at Ralph, using an old trick people who can't remember their aquaintances' names often resort to, whenever they spot a possible they almost start a salute, if the person responds they know they were right, if the person just ignores them they know they were wrong. In this case, Frankie was using the same principle, trying to see if this is the dreamchart guy, without putting herself out.
As Ralph turned to face her, trying to get what she means, Janice's lips moved, as if to say "wrong guy" but no sound came out. It was another old trick they used almost automatically by now, whenever anyone was foolish enough to sit in the middle. It really allowed for two conversations to work at the same time, you just had to be patient and attentive.
"Dreaming? Yes, I did have an interesting dream last night, care to hear it?"
"Will it make us blush?" Frankie looked down shyly, but not fast enough to miss Janice's unspoken "as if".
"I don't think so. You see, I was on a peak, and there was a nice breeze that got stronger and stronger, and then I felt my shoulders strange and somehow powerful, and my wings unfolded. Next thing I was taking off the cliff and gliding around over a beautiful landscape... and the clouds were so beautiful, white on the blue sky, and lined by sunlight... and there was music, as from an orchestra, it was playing a lush theme and I would fly and fly and eventually I'd come past the clouds to this beautiful woman in flowing veils, ruffling with the wind, and so thin you could almost see through them, but not really. She was so beautifull and she was looking at me and maybe saying something, but I couldn't hear it, and then I sprang towards her, but I kept flying faster and faster and I would get no closer, and she'd be looking at me with this sad, almost melancholic look on her face, and saying something but I couldn't hear the faintest whisper... and then I woke up."
"I wonder who the lucky recipient of your dreams is?" Frankie seemed earnestly interested.
"What did the woman in your dream look like?" the always practical Janice was already alligning her shiny brass artillery guns.
"The strangest thing... I can't really remember. She was very very beautiful, but I couldn't tell you one thing about how she looked."
"Was she beautiful with blonde hair and green eyes?" Frankie was smiling as if to sell toothpaste.
"I'm sure she was beautiful with blue eyes, green eyes aren't beautiful." Janice was smiling as if to sell rifles and javelins.
Ralph's head was going back and forth as the girls spoke, noticing for the first time the respective color of their eyes, and his predicament slowly began to dawn on him.
"Green eyes are absolutely, definitively and indubitably beautiful, it even says so in Ovidius."
"Those were bull's eyes."
"Obviously you can't read Greek."
"Not that it would matter, Ovidius was a Latin author."
Ralph sat very quietly listening to this, practially praying they wouldn't ask him anything about classical Greek or whatever it was they were talking about. In fact Janice did seem to be just about to say something along those lines when Peggy walked in and inadvertenly rescued him from certain humiliation.
Faced with the recent expansion in the eligible fenotypes of supreme, indubitable and definitive beauty, according to Ovidius or Tacitus or Jimmy Swaggart, both girls paused for a second.
"How come everyone always walks in through the front door, but you always come in from the back?"
"How do you suppose all the coffee gets made around here?" Janice was smiling with malice.
Of course Frankie had known for weeks what precisely happened to her coffee that fateful day, but the club couldn't possibly have found that out, and there was little danger Frankie was going to blunder her part.
"You mean to tell me ..." Frankie stopped in mid sentence, and stared at Peggy fiercely, as if it had just dawned on her, that instant.
Peggy was slightly flushed, she was trying to avoid looking at Frankie because she couldn't stand the woman's gaze, and it made her feel very guilty. She was trying to avoid looking at Ralph, because she couldn't stand his rather bovine stare, and it made her feel very unconfortable. She was trying to avoid looking at Janice, because she couldn't stand her smiling, pleasant, friendly, treacherous eyes, and it made her furious to the point she might have started trembling. All in all a rather impossible position, and she mumbled something before darting back to the kitchen. At least there she could breathe.
A deep breath or two later Peggy cursed softly. This was really just too much, those women and Ralph at the same time, how was she supposed to cope with that. Hiding in the kitchen, yet again, there really had to be a better way. Still trying to get a grip on just what to do she started making coffee, it was almost a reflex action, the thoughts about what exactly to do would come later.
Ralph watched Peggy's back dissapperaring into the kitchen, he automatically started to get up and follow, half way off the sofa he thought better of it and settled back. The women on either side of him were laughing, he looked at each in turn puzzled a bit about what they found so funny. Were they laughing at him? Or perhaps at Peggy? Again, he started to go after Peggy, halfway up he felt Janice touch his shoulder and stopped to look back and see what she wanted. Janice was looking at him with a quizzical expression, or maybe it was surprise. Ralph realized it really didn't matter anyway, and continued after Peggy.
Behind him Janice winked at Frankie and gestured towards the kitchen. Frankie nodded and presently they were both up, walking quietly behind him, towards Cinderella's stove. It was a very amusing scene, with something of the air of Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits, you almost expected Ralph to turn around slowly and the girls quietly behind him... then he could maybe scratch his head and turn again.
"Ooo, it's so nice in here." Frankie was all smiles. In fact the four of them completelly filled the small kitchen, Peggy was pinned next to the stove where she could pretend she's making coffee, Ralph was two inches away from her, and she could not move without rubbing on him, and the two girls, like Scylla and Charybdis, were taking up the remaining space, towards the door, Ralph could not move left or right without physically going through one of them, and there was enough room for a cat to squeeze in between and through the door, but not for a Ralph.
Peggy looked desperately around. What the hell? Now she was trapped in the damn kitchen, practically chained to the stove, and all the result of a well intended guy she didn't have any intention to sleep with again, pressed from behind by two not so well intended gals. Great. Bah, the kitchen could never again truly be a sanctuary, she was done with being the victim here.
"Yes it is, isn't it Frankie? Ever been in a kitchen before?" Peggy said it with the sweetest smile she could manage but it really came across a bit more like the Chesire cat.
"Oh, so you are not just sitting there then? It's a way of being, all by itself? " she turned to Janice "Where have we been living all these years?"
Peggy's eyes narrowed and she studied the women for a couple of seconds before she replied.
"Well, Frankie, I am sure Janice has some knowledge on the subject, perhaps she can teach you a trick or two."
Frankie pinched Ralph's butt, which took the poor guy by surprise, he jerked forward suddenly, pushing Peggy nearly on the stove, and almost toppling the boiling coffee pot.
"I'm sure she could."
"Well, unless you really want to give Ralph here the same treatment Manny got, I suggest you make a bit of space." Peggy said with her hand resting on Ralph's chest, trying to stop the inevitable forward motion.
"Eager, isn't he?" Janice was chuckling.
"Come now, sir, there will be plenty of time for jerking later." Frankie got solid hold of Ralph's arm and left the kitchen, Janice gripped the other and the threesome sailed out and back towards the original sofa. Peggy could again breathe, at least for a little bit. Lately it seemed she was cursed, she can not have five calm minutes in a row.
Of course the source of at least some of that curse was now obvious. What were those two vamps up to here anyway? Should she warn Fred? Nah, she actually chuckled out loud, this would be much more fun to just watch from a sideline now, at least until she figured out what was going on.
As the girls sat their prey back on the couch between them, Fred had managed to muster enough nerve to come out of his office, or at least try to, he was stopped in the open door as if surveying the outside, to try and decide if he's to step out or go back in and get an umbrella or something.
"Hail, master." Janice bowed, deeply, obviously forgetting she is wearing a high collar today.
Fred was startled, having blue-eyes bow deeply and call him master was definitely, absolutely the last entry on his what's-likely-to-happen-next list. Frankie noticed and she was quick to follow suit, bowing deeply and saluting the master. Of course, she wasn't packing a roll collar, or a bra. She did have a belly jewel however.
The master of all that is red and flushed and pulsing and on the verge of turning blue and choking was considering stepping back in and closing the door, planking it shut and welding the handle, but somehow he just couldn't communicate with his own legs and hands, so he just stood there and sweated.
The girls were chuckling over their latest exploit as a pair of nasty and long captive imps would have, and Ralph was still trying to figure out the kitchen scene. Was Peggy upset with him? Did he do something wrong? After all he was only trying to go talk to her, that's what she had said on the phone, talk at the club, and then she didn't show up for so long and Ralph didn't dare call her again, he had this idea in his head that women really appreciate it when you do what they say they want you to do, and he always tried to do exactly that... but then somehow the pair clamping him on the sofa were in there too, out of the blue, he had no idea how they got to be right there, and then somehow it all went to Hell...
Just when it seemed like things could not get any worse, no more complications could appear in this picture, the front door slammed and in breezed Manny. Manny was in a wonderful mood and he shouted out a loud general hello before he even noted who was there. Stopping for a moment when he realized the place was full, Fred sort of playing door to his own office, soft sounds from the kitchen which could only mean Peggy was back there, and on the sofa Ralph with the two most beautiful women in the world, like bookends. Manny quickly assesed the space on the sofa, nope he couldn't squeeze in there. He settled for pulling over the closest easy chair so that it touched the sofa at right angles, effectively trapping Janice between himself, Ralph and the coffee table. Noticing his strategical positioning, Janice smiled and bent slightly to reach under the table. A second later she was kicking off her sneakers and, placing her white socks along with the small feet they contained in Manny's lap, she smiled sweetly and asked
"Do you mind?"
Manny was much too surprised and pleased to get out any words, instead his reply consisted of taking the closest foot in hand and beginning to carefully massage it.
"Oh my, a foot massage. Thanks darling." Janice was smiling even more sweetly.
Frankie frowned and turned to Ralph, who was still sitting somewhat dumb and pondering the kitchen scene.
"See? She's getting a foot massage ! How come you never give me a foot massage?"
Her chipmunk cheeks and squinty eyes might have fooled the naïve observer into thinking she is being silly in the company of her few-decades' husband. Ralph just looked at her and said nothing, with the expression of an Indian holy bull, thus perfectly satisfying his alloted part in the multi-millenar couple Frankie was playing out.
Seeing Manny move in so easily on what Fred discovered he had begun to think of as his territory finally got him moving again. He mumbled a hello to Manny and moved to complete the tableau, pulling a chair to the end of the sofa by Frankie, now there truly was nowhere to go. He extended his palms towards Frankie, as if to receive some valuable package, or maybe a birthday cake. She frowned a second, either not sure what he meant or not arriving to believe it was really the case, then smiled and, gesturing towards the small table, she asked in her sweetest voice, which was not all that much below Janice's.
"Do you mind?"
As it turned out Fred didn't mind in the least, he bent over and, carefully unbuckling Frankie's sandal straps, he softly removed the sandals and took her feet in his lap. Frankie considered for a second if she should part her knees just a little, but then decided there will be plenty of time to bring out all the cards, no need to rush things.
"MMMmaster" Frankie mumbled with very nasal M's, almost like a purr "that feels so good" then she turned to Janice and, in her best quality stainless steel catclaw voice,
"I'm sure yours is nowhere near as good."
"I'm sure it is."
"It can't be."
"How would you know?"
"Suppose we swap in a minute?"
"Yea, in a minute."
The dialogue seemed to motivate the men, judging by the concentrated expression on their faces and, in Manny's case, by the beads of sweat pearling his forehead. They were both rubbing away, and in spite of the fact neither had ever before the honor of the intimate company of a woman's feet, they were doing their absolute, if somewhat clumsy, best.
Janice was laid back and enjoying, propped on Ralph who was still sitting quietly and abstracted, Frankie had her eyes half closed, likely with genuine delight, and her chest was emitting a slight purr, likely with mischievious intent, when Peggy finally decided for a new attempt at leaving the kitchen and retaking her place among fellow women.
She had started for the sofa, thinking to try and regain the book surrendered to Frankie not so long ago, and was halfway there before she noted the scene. It looked like some modern attempt at an old master's painting, the tableau was almost perfectly symmetrical. Ralph in the center, the women leaning against him, their feet curled up to the sides, resting on the laps of the busy men. Peggy had to pinch herself to keep from laughing out loud. She turned back to the kitchen and re-appeared in a second with the coffee pot, this she set on the table and invited the trapped bunch to help themselves. She poured herself a cup and wandered idly over to the bookshelves to see what happened next.
"Oh please, oh please, pour us coffee." Janice had a perfect imploring face. Of course that was lost on Peggy, whose back was turned by now. Ralph saw it but had no way to extricate himself and serve, other than pushing the small table away. He pondered it for a second, but Janice's second imploring wail made up his mind for him, so he jerked errect with the intention of pushing the table away and serving the sweet angels their coffee. Left without support the girls collapsed, their shoulders missed each other and their heads banged together with a dry thud. Hearing the chorus of ouches and moans Ralph around turned quickly to see what had happened, and in the motion kicked the table, which moved a couple feet and set the blue vase it was supporting in a sort of undecided almost circular wobble. Peggy was contemplating the vase moving around, getting closer to the edge of the table with every passing, then getting a bit farther, then even closer than before, but she'd be damned if she would lift a finger.
While Ralph was alternatively mumbling things to both girls and doing strange gestures that were intended as attempts to help, both girls noticed the vase and its predicament, and yelled out "The vase ! The vase!"
Ralph turned sharply once again, and gripped the object, just as it was preparing to do a final revolution over the edge of the table. Both girls had their hands extended for it, and Ralph was holding the vase, caught. Was he to give it to the left? Was he to give it to the right? Was he to keep it and sit down? He couldn't move, he couldn't think, he was stuck, standing there erect with the vase in his hand, facing the sofa on which the most beautiful women in the world rested, with their heads supporting each other, and with a sidewise and out of order table behind him. Eventually he moved as by remote control, slowly, and placed the vase on the sofa, at the precise middle point between the girls and ran off. He needed a stiff brandy, urgently.
Janice had noticed the stiffness in Ralph's person, and it gave her an idea. She started to slowly, almost imperceptibly move her heel that was resting on Manny's lap, and pretty soon the entire sole of her foot had a new plaything. Manny was now sweating like a waterfall, and making small movements in his armchair like a mare on the way to the stud. Janice never changed pace, she was still moving her foot very slowly and almost imperceptibly, and she had no intention to ever stop, watching with the corner of her eye as the poor guy was fretting and frotting and itching and irking quietly in his seat.
"I'm getting slightly bored." Frankie whispered in her ear, so soft it was nothing more than the wind outside, or a fly buzz in a passing bus.
"I have a little surprise prepared for them. You saw they have a DVD rack?" Janice was whispering just as softly, keeping the pace with her left foot at the same time.
"Well I have in my purse a very nice DVD I aquired for this occasion. If you manage to replace one of theirs, let me know which and I'll ask for it."
Frankie sighed audibly,
"Guess I can break away to get us the coffee then."
She leaned forward a bit to retrieve her sandals, letting her knees fall a bit apart this time. Fred stopped massaging in surprise, and well he was much too busy looking while not looking to think about things like feet anyway.
Shoes safely back on Frankie walked over to the coffee table and started fumbling a bit with the cups, saucers and other required implements. She took her time, studying the angle between the group on the sofa and the DVD rack, in fact everyone was so preoccuppied with their own concerns at the moment she didn't think it would make any difference.
She stepped over, grabbed a DVD case, replaced the contents and stepped back to the refreshment table, confident it had not been noticed at all.
Feeling her playpeg suddenly going soft, Janice was quick to blurt out
"I think I need to go to the little girl's room." and she stood up, off to occupy the only bathroom on the premises.
Frankie whispered "Gone with the Wind" as she passed by, and Janice in turn managed a
"Go sit in my dork's lap, and don't be too still." Naturally Frankie put the coffee tray on the small disarranged table and, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and the millionth time she had done it, she went and sat down in Manny's lap. Noticing his dazed look, with shades of horror and something dangerously like rapture, she encircled his back with her hand so her side could rest on his chest, for safe measure. Then she noticed his lap is just a shade too slick for what laps usually are, and realised what Janice had meant, and what she had been doing. Her bottom couldn't sit still for one single minute after that, strangely enough. She bent over a bit towards his ear, and filling it with hot steaming breath she whispered,
"Now be a good boy and ask to see Gone with the Wind, the movie."
Manny nodded, barely moving his head. He was, in fact, at this point afraid to even breathe, much less talk. He swallowed, twice, cleared his throat and finally managed a,
" What say we all watch a movie?" in a voice that was at least a half octave too high.
Peggy turned at the sound of the squeak in Manny's voice and was not really too surprised to see just how far things had gone. Chuckling to herself she agreed,
"How about we turn down the lights and put on Gone with the Wind? That should take care of the rest of this night!"
"Indeed", Frankie barely contained the grin. "It would certainly take care of the rest of this night."
Janice was yelling from the bathroom.
"A movie, great, Gone with the Wind, great, hang on, don't start without me" and she was out in seconds.
Peggy went across the room to set up the DVD player, she picked up the film, which, as luck would have it, was right at the edge of the rack and loaded it in. Then she went to sit on the sofa, picking up the couple remotes needed on the way. She went past Fred's knees and sat down, carefully replacing the vase on the table.
Seeing the bathroom finally free Manny was almost about to stand up, he really really wanted to go. But Frankie gave no impression she would even consider moving, and he suddenly realized that for the next four or five hours, at the very least, he is definitely stuck there. Frankie, obviously leeching his thoughts, whispered in his ear
"Don't worry, it will dry eventually" as she sat there looking at him.
Ralph got his seat next to Peggy and she cursed in her mind her own blasted lack of experience, sitting in the corner of the sofa like that. But now it was too late, as Ralph sat down Janice was also taking her seat in the opposite corner, and Fred was already bent double and working her sneakers off. Peggy had to look away in disgust, the things these people would do. Turning her head she faced the smile of Frankie perched on top of a very mottled Manny and she knew for the next five hours she would only be able to watch the screen. Thanks god it was at least a decent film. She shuddered at the thought of having to sit in that alignment to watch one of Ralph's choices, for instance.
Janice clicked the remote and the screen flickered alight, and presently the distribution chain and producer logos were rolling along orderly, and then the title caption read "CALIGULA".
Peggy was too surprised to even talk, she had read a review once, this was the biggest porn film ever made, back in the days when the mob controlled the industry and Bob Giuccone was not yet having his pads forcibly auctioned off by court order. Just as she thought it might be some coincidence, the producer name flickered on, and she realised, it was all a set up. One of the cursed demons had replaced the DVD. Which, of course, is why it was at the edge of the rack. Knowing them they probably left it there on purpose, so whoever picks it up understands what happened, but only in retrospect.
Peggy opened her mouth to say something, then realized she would be admitting she knew a little something about the movie and closed it again. One could not admit to such things and still call themselves a lady. She glanced right and left, checking what she could see of the responses of Ralph, Fred and Manny. Nothing, in fact she was not even sure they were actually focused on the screen and reading the credits. Well, she wasn't going to be the one to spoil the fun, she settled back, eyes half closed, she didn't really care to see, not after what she read about it.
Frankie complimented Janice on the choice with a glance, Manny was paralyzed because, to his disbelief, his problem was starting all over again, and he had maybe a minute, maybe a half before Frankie would notice. But maybe two minutes if he was really still. He held his breath and started slowly listing the seasons's top pitchers in reverse order.
As the film slowly progressed into its business, Fred's rubs were more and more erratic, and his mouth was more and more open, and Janice was trying hard not to chuckle watching him.
Fred was a bit stuck, this was of course not Gone with the Wind', it was in fact a movie that should never have found its way into their club. Slowly, the notion that it was his responsibility, his job to do something about it formed in his mind. He had to do something. But what was he to do? He looked around for help. Manny had a fixed gaze and all the appearance of a statue. Peggy was watching the screen with a somewhat disinterested, almost bored expression, Frankie and Janice didn't seem to be having much trouble. Should he stand up and fumble for the remotes? What was he to do with the divine Janice's feet? Just push them aside? That would be rude, wouldn't it? Besides, what was that to accomplish? At the most he would have to lose his present situation of comfort. He decided, if it can be called so, to sit and wait for somebody else to object, if they felt like it. After all, it can't be his lot to always do all the work around there.
Ralph was trying for his part to decide if he should put his arm around Peggy's shoulder or not. On one hand, last time she didn't push him back at all, she just sat there for a second and then she seemed to relax and go with it, and the look on her face just before he tried it was very likely the one she had now, a bit distant and taken in thought. On the other hand, there were many people here. Then again, they were not exactly strangers, and if they were in a cinema it would not have mattered much, would it have? After all, you are supposed to put your arm around the girls' shoulders in a cinema just as much as on the home sofa. Besides, Frankie was sitting on Manny's lap, and Fred got to play with Janice, it would be unfair. With that he decided, and slowly, sneakily slid his arm along the sofa backrest, softly around Peggy's shoulders, softly enough that she didn't even notice it at first.
Peggy felt the slithering thing, Ralph was most definitely at it again. What was she to do? Make a fuss? Sit there quietly? Never, enough was enough, Peggy reached for the remote.
The screen flickered off, and the boys managed to retain a dissapointed awwww. Frankie turned to Fred, and asked in the most matter-of-fact voice
"Was that a pornographic film?"
Fred just sat there, turning stronger and stronger shades of red, and Janice decided it is her sacred duty to help squeeze an answer out of him.