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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Lawrence L. Lapin

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Adam's wife Vera would be in San Francisco that evening. He missed having her as his confidant and alter ego. She had not wanted him to self-experiment with the super virus, and they fought over that. He craved the intellectual stimulation she provided before their cold war. That conflict now crimped their love life as well. Sex became a dutiful mechanical exercise just to maintain some semblance of marriage.

Maybe she was right after all. Maybe he had no right to play god.

Needing cheering, Adam went to O'Learie's Tavern, favorite hangout of medical students and staff. It was still early as he sat in an empty booth and ordered a pint of bitter. He was sipping on the ale, when he heard a familiar voice.

"Hello, Dr. Boatwright," Bonnie Burton said cheerfully. "I've never seen you here before."

"Hi Bonnie," Adam replied gratefully. "Why don't you sit? Let me order you something."

"Thanks. I'll have whatever you're drinking."

They nursed their Irish brews. Adam couldn't help noticing how beautiful Bonnie was, looking vulnerable in the lab coat that she still wore over the standard med student garb - jeans and T-shirt. Cold uniform for March.

She gave Adam a penetrating look with her large brown eyes. "I really enjoyed your lecture today," she said, breaking the spell.

"I was so embarrassed," Adam confessed. "I lost my notes. It was all off the cuff."

"You should leave your notes at home more often."

"We haven't talked since we solved Itzak's murder."

"I was glad to help. I'm sorry about your trouble with Saul. He got what he deserved."

They continued with shoptalk through another round of ales. "I'm hungry," Bonnie finally announced. "Why don't you join me for dinner?"

Taken by complete surprise, Adam agreed.

"Let me call home first. My son was going to his friend's for the night."

Adam admired her as she walked to the phone. She smiled at him all the way back to the table. "Okay, let's do Chinese. My treat!"

Bonnie was only in her late twenties, but so much more mature than the younger medical students. Adam found her to be a great sounding board. Throughout dinner, he talked about long-range plans for the three research projects. Bonnie listened with absolute fascination.

Bonnie then told Adam of her plans to be a pediatrician.

"So there's no man in your life?" Adam asked.

Bonnie looked adoringly into Adam's eyes. "There were several. The father of my son died before we could be married. I've had a couple of relationships since. But you and your colleagues are keeping me very busy. I hardly have time for a quick date."

Adam couldn't tear his eyes off her full lips as she spoke.

"Let's have dessert," Bonnie announced. "Apple pie!"

"I think they only have fortune cookies," Adam said, a bit puzzled.

"No, I mean my apple pie. Let's go to my place; it's only two blocks."

"Okay," Adam replied, not quite ready to end the evening.

Bonnie had a one-bedroom apartment, with the kitchen melding into the living room. "Nice place," Adam said, remembering the holes he had lived in while in medical school.

"It could be bigger," she apologized. "My son has the bedroom. Since I have such odd hours, I use the hide-a-bed in the couch."

After pie, they were having coffee, sitting on the couch. As they talked more about hopes and aspirations, Adam started to unwind, his cares sliding away.

"I have an early Led Zeppelin," she said. "Would you like to hear it?"

"Okay," Adam said, thoroughly enjoying Bonnie's companionship.

The music was familiar, bringing to mind Adam's med school days. As they sat on the couch, Adam was not even aware that his arm was resting on her shoulders. She planted a kiss on his cheek. He turned to look at her, and she kissed him full on the lips. A tingle ran up Adam's spine as Bonnie's tongue forced his lips apart, and he began to breath heavily.

Adam turned away. "Wow!" he exclaimed, automatically responding to the passion of her kiss.

"Is everything okay?" Bonnie asked, still caught up in the spontaneity.

"You are my student. We shouldn't be doing this."

"This is definitely not harassment. I feel very comfortable with you. I've been wanting for months to give you a passionate kiss."

Adam's head started spinning. The professor-student thing bothered him and he felt very guilty. He looked at Bonnie, who was so beautiful, so vulnerable. He told himself to stop. But Bonnie gave him another passionate kiss and Adam felt like he was going to explode.

"Not with that loud rock," he managed to say, coming out for air.

Bonnie jumped up from the couch and switched on the CD player. Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," began to play. "Oh, God," Adam whispered, as Bonnie headed for the bedroom. Adam's heart thumped loudly, almost drowning out the music.

Bonnie came out of the bedroom wearing the sexiest teddy Adam had ever seen. He stood as she walked toward him and grasped him in a hard embrace, smothering him with a deep kiss.

That was when the music changed, her CD player set on scramble mode. It was the third movement of the Brahms violin concerto. A vision of Vera playing the violin in front of the orchestra sobered Adam quickly and blocked out all other thoughts and feelings.

"Bonnie," he said, pulling away. "You're a beautiful, desirable woman. But you know I'm a married man. I need to keep the faith with my wife."

"I don't mind," Bonnie said, sensing an impending end to their passion.

"I just can't continue this," Adam said with finality. "Please. I'm very sorry."

"I understand," Bonnie said with obvious disappointment. "I love you, Dr. Boatwright. I'll still love you, no matter what."

"I'm sorry, Bonnie. I must leave right now, before something is said or done we'll both regret." Adam walked to the door. "Goodnight, Bonnie."

Bonnie's eyes were full of tears. But she gave him a big smile and waved goodbye with the fingers of her right hand.

Adam left in total ambivalence. His body ached for satisfaction. But he felt terribly guilty. Although he really felt tender toward Bonnie, his soul was aching for Vera.

Adam gasped when he saw Bonnie in the third row of the lecture hall, smiling down at him. She was striking in her red dress, her appearance contrasting sharply with the rest of the grubbily attired medical students. It had been nearly a week since that night in her apartment, and he hadn't seen her since leaving in a fluster.

Adam took a deep breath. He had been the target of numerous infatuations by female students and several co-workers, surviving them gracefully. But he was not married then, nor did he have feelings for any of those women. He gritted his teeth and began his lecture on the vascular system.

After class, Adam gathered his notes. As the room emptied, he glanced up. Bonnie was walking down the stairs to the podium, her black high heels clattering in the same rhythm as her gentle sway, exaggerated by the back and forth movement of the dress. Adam found it hard to breathe and could feel himself blushing outrageously.

"Hi, Doctor Boatwright," Bonnie said as she reached the floor level.

"Oh, hello Bonnie," he replied struggling to form his words and not look sappy. "Sorry about today, but I found my notes."

"We noticed. I'll give you a B+," she teased. "Please excuse my outfit. I'm going to a luncheon with the hospital auxiliary. They sponsor one of my scholarships."

"Aw, shucks," Adam shot back, mimicking John Wayne. "I was hoping this was for my benefit."

He was surprised at his flirtatious comment, which came directly from his subconscious, and he blushed noticeably, both from excitement and with anger at himself.

"I'll always be there for you," she smiled, her eyes almost fully dilated.

Oh, God! Now look what I've done! He looked into Bonnie's eyes, gulped, and said the first thing that came to mind. "I guess you won't be making it to the lab this afternoon."

"I'll be there later. I'm doing some workups for Rita Morales. Would you please tell her for me?"

"Sure thing," Adam replied, beginning his march up the stairs. Bonnie accompanied him, in silence, all the way up.

Adam's equilibrium slowly returned as he waited for the shuttle bus, trying to figure out why he felt this way. He had not blushed so hard since those early days when he and Amy met during their paper routes, holding hands and looking at the stars. At least then it was dark, and the poor light obscured his embarrassment. I've been working too hard. Adam thought about Vera, his heart leaping because she would be returning today. Maybe the problem was his taking her for granted. He vowed to try extra hard to restore the camaraderie they had before Itzak's death and the bad news about her sister Nora.

It was 7:55 P.M. when Adam pulled into the airport parking lot and rushed to meet Vera's 8 o'clock flight. He hated to be early for anything, even picking up his wife after a two-week trip. Fortunately, she was just walking into the baggage area as he arrived. "Hello, beautiful," Adam greeted, just before smothering Vera with a big kiss.

"Hi, Honey," Vera smiled, as they finally pulled apart. "Wow, I should travel more often."

"You can't possibly imagine how much I've missed you," Adam said as they walked down the long ramp toward the parking garage. They chatted about the concerts and tour social gatherings while waiting for the elevator. They continued talking all the way back to the car. When they finally began to drive away, Vera was the first to break out of the cold.

"Adam, I'm sorry. I've been such a bitch these past months. I really love you and admire you for the terrible risks you're taking on my behalf."

"You beat me to the punch. I've been thinking about your arguments. I'm persuaded the world isn't ready for virtual immortality."

"Oh, Adam," Vera gasped. "I've been such a fool."

"I was the fool. We've just been conjecturing. We had something to disagree about only if the experiment works. But that's still a very big 'if.'

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