Chapter 1: The Perfect Circumstances:
My hometown is a barely-acknowledged, slightly hidden society by the name of Kicksburg, located in the middle of nowhere, Montana. It is a small yet pristine town, completely bereft of chain establishments and obvious tourist traps, thus making it the only town in America to my knowledge that doesn't have a McDonald's. And it's so small in fact, that you could invite the entire population over for Thanksgiving dinner. That being said, I would not recommend doing so unless you own a mansion or at the very least a big yard.
Simmons Manor is a mansion located on the outskirts of said town, and just so happens to be my residence. I step inside, exhausted from yet another day at work. I occupy a spot on the local journalism team, whose base of operations is within the town's borders, and I've been holding that job ever since I was eighteen. I don't technically need the job, but for me, working is just something to do. I also find it helps me keep my ego in check and understand the plight of the working class. I could easily cruise through the rest of my existence, living lazily and mooching off my late parents' fortune, but that's just not my style.
After changing into more comfortable attire, I immediately head into the kitchen to prepare lunch, like I always do after work. While I'm digging into my Cuban sandwich, I nearly jump out of my chair as the home-phone rings, sounding especially loud due to the house's echoey nature.
"Not to worry, sir! I'm on it!" a man with a heavy Russian accent calls from the living room.
I say nothing in response, recognizing the voice as Vladik Phillips, who has served as my family's butler for almost as long as I can remember. I continue to eat, paying no attention to the phone conversation until...
"Er… Mark? Sir? The recipient wishes to speak with you," Vladik says.
I swallow the last bite of my sandwich and walk into the living room without a word. After I take the phone for myself, Vladik slowly and formally retreats into the kitchen.
"Hello?" I ask tentatively.
"Excuse me, sir. Um, is this Mark Simmons speaking?" the man on the other end asks, in a common African-American accent.
"Yes, this is Mark," I calmly reply.
"Great! So uh, how 'bout I just cut to the chase? One of my talent scouts passed through Kicksburg and picked up a newspaper, and he was very impressed with the quality of your articles. Seeing how we at the San Francisco Chronicle are in desperate need of some more journalists - especially some with talent like yours - I'd like to formally offer you a job here," the man explains.
That explains the letter I got yesterday, I think to myself.
"Unfortunately, I'm gonna be too busy for an interview during the next month, except for tomorrow at 3:45pm Pacific time. Sorry about the short notice, but if you're willing to pay me a visit at that time, that'd be great. If not, I'll call you again the next time I'm free," the man continues. "Oh, and by the way, I'm Walter Malone, the CEO of the place!"
At this point, I'm rendered absolutely speechless. It seems almost bizarre how I've been offered a bigger job in journalism when I've been considering one for a while now, but I'm much too overjoyed to question it. Jittering faster than a hummingbird on a six-pack of Red Bull, I non-hesitantly reply:
"That sounds wonderful, thanks. I'll see ya' then."
For the rest of the day, my entire being is conquered by thrilling excitement, and who the hell knows how I manage to get a good night's sleep afterwards? The next morning, I don't hesitate to pack up my briefcase and get into my red-wine-colored 2015 Cadillac Escalade ESV. While out front in my circular driveway, I overhear a rather backhanded conversation between some neighbors, but I don't dare to boost their egos by giving them words or looks.
"Well, well, well, look who's finally leaving the nest," a man jeers. "I knew it would only be a matter of time before he got sick of living in that mansion. Heh! Didn't we all?"
"Testify, brother," an old woman replies. "Probably too many painful memories of his parents in there."
"Or maybe he's just leaving for a bit to find love?" a second, younger man chimes in. "I mean, he has dated almost half the legal women in all of Kicksburg, so..."
Before long, all three bystanders go about their own business and I set off, taking a scenic, forty-minute drive to the airport. Traveling to San Francisco is a rather uneventful blur until my plane lands at the airport at 2:00pm Pacific Time. Once given the all-clear, I dismount the jet and follow the signs until I reach the taxi-stop, skipping the baggage-claim, as I have no bags with me except for my briefcase.
Then, it happens. It's almost as if this setup was destined to occur. My retro-style cab pulls up and its driver is revealed almost dramatically as the tinted, passenger-side window is lowered at the speed of molasses on ice. A thin cloud of mist seeps out due to the car's air conditioning, before I'm greeted with the sight of a woman about my age, who is unquestionably the most gorgeous person I've ever laid eyes upon.
"No luggage, sir?" she asks.
I don't respond, too fixated on her face to even hear what she says. A particular quirk about me is that whenever I meet someone new, I always think of which celebrity they resemble the most and subconsciously think of them as "the person who looks like so-and-so" until I have their name memorized. In this case, the sight before me reminds me of Amy Winehouse, who used to be one of my celebrity crushes even though I never cared for her music. Something tells me this person gets that comparison a lot, so I refrain from commenting on it. Obviously there are some differences here, such as a complete lack of tattoos or winged eye-liner. Not to mention a vastly different manner of speech.
"Yo, George Michael!" she snaps her fingers a few times, speaking in a thick and slightly gravelly Brooklyn accent. "I know I'm hot, but can ya' please move it along? I'd like to get outta here, so we can stop holdin' up the line."
"...Oh, pardon me, ma'am! Heh heh! ...Eh, no I didn't bring anything else, I'm only staying for one meeting and then flying back as soon as possible," I reply, making a conscious effort to look her in the eye and avoid stuttering.
"Do I look like a ma'am to you?" the driver asks in an irritated fashion.
"Oh! Uh, er...well, sorry again!" I stammer.
"Fuggetaboutit," my driver mumbles in reply with an eye-roll.
I briefly glance back towards the line behind me. Surprisingly, nobody appears to be too irritated by my bumbling, and most of the people aren't even looking my way. With a quiet sigh of relief, I casually slide right into the front seat and shut the door.
"Where ya' headed?" the driver asks, somewhat calmer than she was a few seconds ago.
"To the San Francisco Chronicle," I reply.
"Will do," she replies in a borderline emotionless tone.
Before we can pull away from the curb, however, one of the airport shuttles proceeds to slip past us, stopping about halfway as if they feel bad about not letting us pass first, even though there's no chance that the cab could fit through the gap he's left us. My driver
proceeds to aggressively honk the horn.
"C'mon, man, just go!" she yells, using her hands to signal to the driver, who doesn't budge. "Go! Go! Move it! Stupid shit."
The driver switches to muttering as she says the last two words. I don't say anything or even look at her for a short while, slightly intimidated by her tougher-than-expected personality. Eventually, the shuttle leaves and we are granted a safe passage onto the road as I take the opportunity to examine my surroundings.
Despite my immediate affection for my cab-driver, I can't deny that the interior of the car is a mess. Countless crumbs are stuck in the upholstery on the floor, small boxes are strewn everywhere, and what appears to be a flat, half-consumed soda is sitting in the cup-holder between the two front seats, still inside a 64-oz. cup with no lid on it. There's also a subtle yet lingering scent of fast food, mixed in with Jennifer Lopez' self-titled perfume - both scents completely overshadowing those of the three cardboard air-fresheners on the rear-view mirror. Even so, I'm too euphoric to care about any of this. As I casually shift the boxes away from me with my feet, I briefly read some of the labels, which include Marlboro and Tampax Pearl.
"Sorry 'bout the mess. It's complicated," the cab-driver sighs.
"Huh? Oh no, it's not an issue at all. Trust me," I reply, trying my damnedest to avoid making her feel bad.
She says nothing. The two of us remain silent for the next short while, with my reason being to allow her to concentrate given the situation outside of our ride. While she's focusing on the traffic-cluttered airport roads, I take the opportunity to sneak another look at my driver. It's a very quick glance, but it provides me with so much detail. Her figure perfectly matches the stereotypical one that adolescent boys are thought to be attracted to. It's a body-type that a lot of women achieve via elective procedures, yet this one seems to have been naturally blessed with it. She seems to be fully aware of this too, judging by her choice in wardrobe. I take in the sight of her mid-rise black leather pants tucked into fuzzy brown uggs, meshing quite nicely by her burgundy short-sleeved turtleneck that stops just a few inches above. Not to mention the olive-green lace thong peeking above her pants like the fin of a great white shark.
As she steers with her left hand, her right hand maintains a strong grip on the clutch, and the way she clenches and vigorously shifts it around turns me on to no end. Before long, I can feel the area below my stomach seize, though the constrictive nature of my slacks causes it to hurt a little. And it doesn't help in the slightest that "We Belong Together" by Los Lobos is playing on the radio at that very moment. What can I say? I'm a twenty-seven-year-old virgin.
"Y'know, it's funny. No one's ever told me that I look like George Michael before," I point out after a few seconds more, secretly amazed that she might have a similar psyche to myself.
"I dunno. Ya' kinda' reminded me a'him when ya' walked up… specifically the way he looked during his Wham days," the driver replies.
As she speaks, I sneak another glance at her, where a long, loose, thin, and slightly curly lock of hair catches my eye. It dangles precariously in front of her face and stops just short of brushing the tip of her nose. It's also then that I take notice of her exhaling a fairly large puff of cigarette smoke - with no windows open.
"Um, if you're gonna do that, could you please open the window?" I ask as politely as I can.
She grunts and douses her cigarette, before setting it in the ashtray that occupies one of the cup-holders. I wonder if she's irritated that I've made her stop smoking. She must see the embarrassed and apologetic look on my face, for I nearly jump out of my skin as she speaks up again.
"Eh, no, it's not an issue, really. I ain't a full-blown addict," she replies. "At least not yet."
I can tell that my cab-driver seems a bit more relaxed at this point. I decide to get a bit more friendly while she's feeling better.
"Honestly, it's kinda' awkward to strike up a conversation without exchanging names," I say. "My name is Mark Simmons. What's yours?"
"The name's Katrina," the driver replies. "Katrina Vicciotelli."