I'd like to thank fdk262 for all of his help and insights in developing this story; it was invaluable to me.
Love (understood as the desire of good for another) is in fact so unnatural a phenomenon that it can scarcely repeat itself, the soul being unable to become virgin again and not having energy enough to cast itself out again into the ocean of another's soul. (James Joyce)
My name is Charlie Flowers, and yes I was teased about it a lot in high school. Until I met my wife to be, more about her a little later, I had never considered it, but I think my name may have had something to do with the way I turned out psychologically and emotionally, even socially. If you remember that old Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sioux you'll have some idea of what I'm talking about.
I never went to college, never learned how to drive a car let alone owned one, never played football in high school, never gave my slightly less than five inch dick a second thought, and never worried much about what other people thought or said about me. I was and remain my own person; Jack Kerouac could have written a book about me. I was a physical clone of my dad: five-seven, 148 pounds, unruly brown hair, a fast smile, and a steel hard body.
We never had much money, but dad made sure there was always food on the table, clothes on our backs, new shoes every Christmas, and a loving home.
Dad worked for Ardmore Building Materials: rock, sand, hollow block et cetera. He always worked hard, too hard as it turned out; he died of a heart attack brought on by overwork at the age of forty-three. His death made life hard for mom and me. There was some insurance from the company he worked for, but mom did have to get a job. One upshot of his death was my mom's determination to see to it that I didn't die young like my dad did. There would be no second generation working for ABM.
In high school I dated some, I was fairly good looking. Got serious with Betty Biggler—and she sure was. But upon graduation I had to get a job, and they were scarce at the time. My mom helped out there though. The building she worked in as a receptionist had openings on its maintenance crew. I was hired three weeks after graduating; my nineteenth birthday was only a week away.
Being on the crew was rewarding for me. Jack Spires, the crew boss, knew everything there was to know about keeping a high rise office building operating at maximum efficiency. Our job, as one of the four full time maintenance crews, was to keep our floors of the building clean and running smoothly, and, as unobtrusively as possible. I was a quick study and learned as much as I could from Jack and that was a lot: carpentry, electrics, welding, plumbing, and yes how to swing a mop and make the building's bathrooms shine. Oh, there were other floor crews, mostly women, who took care of the office cleaning and the like; but none of them handled electrics, plumbing, carpentry and stuff like that; that was our job.
I may not have gone to college, but I sure as hell "twernt" no ignoramus. My lineage may have been one hundred percent blue collar, but I saw that as a plus.
My interests outside of work included girls, reading, music, and Okinawan martial arts. I learned the latter from a neighbor who took pleasure in teaching a few of us neighborhood boys what he knew, and it was a helluva lot. My love of good books and classical music came from my mom. My success with girls was a direct hand-me-down from my dad; he got hit on more than my mom did, and she was a mighty nice lookin' lady for damn sure.
After my thirteenth year on the job at the Hobbes building Jack retired, and I took over as crew chief. I was thirty-one and making forty grand annual; times were good.
I was sitting in the fifth row at the Cultural Center behind a bunch of men dressed like undertakers most of whom were escorting women too young for them. I didn't own a tux, but I was wearing my best dockers, long sleeved white shirt and tie, and my corduroy sports coat. I looked pretty good, I thought, but I did stand out.
It wasn't so much that I noticed her; it was more that she noticed me. Like I said, I kinda stood out dressed as I was. It was intermission as I recall now, and I had just gotten a cup of joe from the refreshment table in the foyer. I had stepped out onto the adjacent patio and was sipping it when she came up to me. She had laughing eyes that were absolutely captivating. Her dark, two-inches above the knee evening dress had to have been created to go with her hair and complexion. She was gorgeous.
"Hi, my name's Marylou, Marylou Keynes," she said extending her hand. I took it.
"Mine's Charlie," I said. Suddenly I was FFT, flustered, flattered, and turgid. This was a very high tone gal, I thought to myself, way out of my league economically and sure as hell socially. Hell even I could see her dress was worth more than all of the furniture in my living room—including my new sound system.
"You enjoy opera?" she said.
"It's not opera," I said. "It's a concert featuring operatic arias sung by some pretty good performers. I love the music, but not so much the operas per se."
"You know a lot about this kind of music?" she said.
"A little. I was raised on it. My mom liked it," I said. "I guess I got my taste for it from her."
"Your mom? What's she do?" said Marylou.
"She died last year," I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry, really." I nodded and shrugged. "Can I ask? What do you do for a living?" she said.
"I'm a crew chief at the Hobbes building downtown," I said.
"Sounds impressive. What kind of crew?"
"Janitorial," I said.
"Yeah right," she laughed.
I just smiled. I was used to it.
"What do you do?" I said.
"I'm a lawyer. As it happens, our firm's offices are in the Hobbes Building too: Hartfield and Lomb, H&L. How weird is that," she said.
That stopped me. This gorgeous gal worked where I worked.
We talked for the fifteen minutes of intermission, and she challenged me to call her. She handed me her business card after pulling a pen from her purse and writing her home number on the back. I'd never call her of course; it was clear that we traveled in totally different circles and " ... never the twain shall meet," as Kipling had said. Or, a least that is what I thought at the time. I was wrong and wrong on a lot of levels.
Brody and I had just finished scrubbing down the woman's head on the fourteenth floor one day. I was just collecting the yellow caution standard when she walked by on her way to an underwriter's office on that floor. My back was to her. I was yelling at Brody to get his freakin' butt moving when I heard a female voice call my name. "Charlie?" said a very soft female voice.
I turned and Brody was standing there staring at the woman as though mesmerized. She was wearing a tan power suit and a beautiful necklace of what had to be real pearls. Her three inch heels were oh so damn feminine.
"Marylou," I said. "Surprise, surprise." I smiled at her obvious discomfort.
"You—you really are a janitor," she said quietly, as though still not quite believing it.
"You betcha," I said, still smiling, "and proud of it."
"Of course—I mean—well, of course." She offered me her hand and I took it. We shook. "You haven't called me."
I started to laugh. "Now, what would your big shot friends on the 20th say if you went out with a lowly janitor," I said.
"Exactly," I said. "Marylou, you are one hot female, but it wouldn't work. Just let it be."
She looked pensive. "Charlie, call me. I want to go out with you."
"You wanna go out with me. A charity date maybe? Be kind to riffraff week maybe? Brody, did you get the memo? Is it be kind to the riffraff week do you know?" I said.
She looked as if she was about to cry. "Charlie, I admit, I did think that way about you when I saw you in here cleaning—but, I'm really not like that. Call me, I mean it," she said. "Or—or—or I'll sue you."
"Okay, don't cry for chrissakes. You wanna go out. I will meet you out in front of this building at 5:30 tomorrow evening. You get off at five right?" I said. "If you don't show don't sweat it; I'll understand."
"Okay. But, why don't you pick me up at my place?"
"I don't drive. And I don't wanna know where you live, not yet. Or you where I live. Here in front of the building at 5:30. That'll give you a chance to freshen up in those fancy quarters you've got up there. Oh, by the way, jeans, heels, and a shirt or blouse or something—bra optional," I said grinning broadly.
Her eyes bulged at my boldness. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"You'll see; it'll be fun. That much I can promise you," I said.
She was on time. In fact she was there before I was. She looked around thinking I might have stood her up. I had seen her when I came down the stairs of the mezzanine. She heard my hello from behind her. She turned. "Hi," she said.
"You look good," I said.
"You're still in your working clothes."
"I'm gonna change shirts and clean up when we get there," I said. "I go there a lot, I got clothes there. It ain't fancy dancy, but it's convenient for me. You know, a lot of cowboys and blue collar types just getting off shift. Like I say, it ain't the Ritz, but it's loud and fun."
"Whatever," she said, not knowing what else she could say. A taxi pulled up to the curb.
"I called it," I said. "It's too far to walk."
.... There is more of this story ...