Love is a Four-Letter Word


 Love is an enigma that can’t be fully understood. Poets and philosophers attempt to define it. Every race and culture throughout history embrace it and are willing to bet their very existence on it. Love seems to be the singular universal driving force of all mankind. The religious faithful claim love is a gift from God. However, science says love is nothing more than biological chemistry fueled by hormones and an overwhelming need to procreate.As for myself, I’ve avoided the “L-word” like the plague, believing it would make me act as stupid as my loving friends have. I have watched time and time again how people I know dedicated their love to one another, only to end up bitter and broken. No thank you, I’ll pass.People accuse me of being cynical. So be it. At least I’m not divorced—crushed under a landslide of child support and alimony. I approach every relationship for what it really is and never try to project more than what is actually there. No matter how passionate relationships begin, I believe they all eventually run their course. A guy I worked with for years recently asked me if I was ever going to settle down and get married. I told him, no. Actually, I told him, hell no! I think marriage is a great institution, if being institutionalized is your thing.My name is Alex McKinney and I’m a thirty-two-year-old confirmed bachelor that resides in Silicon Valley where I work as a systems analyst for a major corporation. I live very comfortably in my two-bedroom condo with Grover, my one-year-old Labrador. Okay, I do believe Grover loves me, but that’s probably because I feed him… a lot.Just recently I had broken up with my girlfriend of six months, but I wasn’t worried because the pond is always stocked with fish and I considered myself to be a very accomplished fisherman. Life was good. Let me rephrase that: life was fucking awesome! But… what I didn’t know at the time was that everything was about to change in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. *****On Friday late afternoon, the car dealership called to inform me that my Tesla was ready to be picked up. I made some lame excuse to leave work early and went to pick up my new ride. I could say I was buying the all electric sedan because I was a confirmed environmentalist and wanted to lower my green footprint, but the truth is I really bought it because Tesla’s are a huge chick magnet.After driving a Shelby Cobra for years, I thought the lack of a roaring engine would take some time getting used to, but that wasn’t the case. When I pushed the throttle for the first time, those thoughts quickly disappeared. The acceleration was instant as the car lurched forward with incredible torque.My saleswoman must have seen the huge grin on my face as she walked over to me and asked, “So, what’s the verdict?”I looked up in her beautiful face and replied, “Hmmm… the verdict is… this car is almost as hot as you.”“Corny, but still a very good answer. Remember, you can always call me if you have any questions. I included my cell number,” she said with a smile, handing me her business card.I looked at her card, took out my phone, and seconds later her cellphone chimed.She looked at the screen and said with a chuckle, “What is it I can I help you with today, Mr. McKinney?”“You said to call if I had a question. Well, I have a question.”“Are you always this confident in yourself, Mr. McKinney?”“No, not really. I think it must be the car. By the way, my Dad is Mr. McKinney, you can call me Alex.”“Are you hitting on me… Alex?” She asked leaning forward, making eye contact and giving me a nice view of her cleavage.“Me? Hitting on you? Absolutely! You’re gorgeous!” I replied with a smile and a wink.“Not that smooth.” She laughed lightly. “So… what’s your question?”“How would you like to see the Kings-Warriors game tonight?”“Are you kidding? That game has been sold out for weeks.”I held up two tickets and said, “I just happen to have an extra ticket.”“Are you asking me to go out with you, or are you trying to sell me a ticket?”“I’m asking you to go of course—but the thing is, tip-off is in less than an hour.”She thought for a few seconds and replied, “I’ll grab my purse and coat.”I watched her in the showroom as she had a quick talk with her supervisor and rushed back. When she got in, I got a great view of her shapely legs. I put the car in gear and we quietly sped away in style.I thought, Fishing is easy if you have the right bait.  *****“How did you know?” she asked as I maneuvered us onto the the freeway.“Know what?” I said, feigning ignorance.“How’d you know I’m a Kings fan?”“I’m a psychic.”“More like a psychotic.” She chuckled. “How’d you know? Have you been stalking me?”“Nothing that sinister. When I signed the contract with you over a month ago, I couldn’t miss the Kings poster hanging in your cubicle.”“Well, that kind of makes us even,” she replied.I looked at her puzzled and asked, “Even? How so?”“The same day you came in and signed the contract, I checked you out with our credit software. You’re single and have never been married… A graduate of Caltech in the top ten percent… and you earn a very good income. Plus, you own your own condo and have a perfect credit rating.”“Hmmm. Did your sources tell you I’m also an intolerable bore and a notorious Warriors fan?”“No, but nobody’s perfect. Did you really think I’d just hop into your car without knowing something about you?”“Not at all, but remember, I’m a computer geek. I did my research too, Miss Abigail Perkins who graduated with honors in business management—from Stanford university, who has a passion for playing beach volleyball on the weekends. You’ve been engaged twice, but never made it to the altar either time… Should I go on?”“No, that’s not necessary, but what does that prove? That you can operate a computer?” Abigail snickered under her breath.“What does it prove? I think it shows that we are both cautious about relationships.”“Is that what you think this is, a relationship? By the way, my grandmother is the only one who calls me Abigail. You can call me Abby.”“Well, Abby, I don’t know. It’s way too early to tell, but things are looking good so far. I also discovered something else that’s critically important about you.”“And just what is that?”I pulled out my phone and held up a video of her playing beach volleyball. “You look amazing in a bikini.”“God! men! You all have one-track minds. Okay, my turn to ask you something.”“All right. Ask away.”“Without looking at me, can you tell me the color of my eyes?”I thought a few Anadolu yakası escort seconds, staring straight ahead, before answering, “Um, that’s easy. Your eye color is… 36 D?”She playfully punched my shoulder and said, “Just what I thought. Actually, my eyes are blue and I’m a C. You missed badly on both counts.”I pulled my all-electric car up to one of the charging stations provided at the Golden 1 stadium. Abby showed me how to plug it in.This is great! I thought. This car even gets me reserved parking.   *****We walked sided by side toward the entrance. I wanted to take Abby’s hand but decided to play it cool for now and not be too pushy. As we made our way through the crowd, she bluntly asked, “Whose place am I taking?”“What do you mean?” I answered.“Just what I said. Who were you originally taking to this game? The date of sale on my ticket was long before we met.”“Nothing seems to slip by you, does it? If you must know, her name is Betty.”“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking?”“I don’t mind. Nothing really happened. Our friendship just ran its course. It was a totally amicable break and we’re still really good friends.”“Well, that’s great. I’ve never actually witnessed a friendly beak-up myself. So, where are we sitting? In the nosebleed section?”I led her down to the lower level, where the premium seats were. We were located exactly center court, three rows back. She gripped my arm in excitement. My friends Randy and Marsha stood up to greet us as we found our seats.Marsha beamed and said, “Who’s the hottie?”“I’d like you to meet Abby. Abby, these are my good friends Marsha and Randy.” I used this opportunity to put my arm around her waist.Randy’s eyes seemed like they were going to pop out of his head as he looked over my date.Marsha smiled and apologized to Abby saying, “You’ll have to pardon my fiancé for drooling.” She laughed. “Wait… I recognize you. Weren’t you on the Stanford debate team?”“Yes,” Abby replied. “But that’s ancient history.”“Two years ago is hardly ancient history. I remember you defended the issue of affirmative action very well. I was with the USC team as an alternate.”“Thanks, but all I seem to remember now is how we got waxed.”We all chatted for a while, and watched the warm-ups, when seemingly out of nowhere, my ex-girlfriend appeared, pushing her way toward us, boiling over with anger. She grabbed Randy’s beer and tossed it in my face before yelling, “You’re a fucking asshole!”Then, she turned and stormed off into the crowd, leaving me dripping wet with beer and feeling like an idiot. To add insult to injury, I saw myself on the crowd-cam big screen. Everyone howled at seeing my image.Abby laughed hysterically and said, “Amicable? Still good friends? Let me guess, that was Betty? Geez… I like you guys. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time!” *****When Randy and I went for refreshments at halftime, he said, “Dude, I thought Betty was a knockout, but my God, Abby is incredible! How in the hell do you do it?”“Do what?”“Do what? Are you kidding? Look at her! What the hell makes you such a chick magnet?”“I don’t know, I guess I’m just… lucky?”“Yeah? Well, Mr. Lucky, you hit the lottery with this one, my friend. She looks like a keeper to me.”The game was a blowout, but that happened a lot with the Warriors. Abby and Marsha chatted with each other almost nonstop since the middle of the first quarter. When the game was over, I suggested we all go out for something to eat, but Abby politely declined, saying she needed to go home because she had an early wake up call for work. *****While in the car, I asked Abby where she lived, and she explained that she was temporarily living with her parents. She gave me the address and I typed it into the GPS. I’d thought things were going smoothly between us because our conversation had flowed so effortlessly. There was something about her I felt was special—besides her outrageous good looks and obvious intelligence.When I drove up to her folks’ place, I was taken back by the enormity of the property on the harbor. All I could say was, “Holy crap! Nice digs!”“Yeah, but it’s a bit ostentatious for me,” said Abby. “My folks think the bigger the better.”I got out of the car and walked her to the front door, being as gentlemanly as possible.“Thanks for a very memorable evening,” Abby said with a smile.Feeling extremely confident at this point, I replied, “I enjoyed myself, too. When can we do this again?”“Never!”“That’s great. I was thinking that Saturday we might—wait… what did you say?”“Never! But like I said, it was a memorable evening.” She grinned.“I don’t follow.” I frowned in confusion. “If you had fun, why not a second date?”“Alex, I’m sure we would have had fun times together and the sex would probably have been over the top. However, ‘fun’ was my priority when I was in my early twenties. Six months or a year from now, I don’t want to be the spurned ex-girlfriend throwing beer in your face. That’s not my style. So, good luck and… goodbye.”She turned and walked inside, leaving me bewildered. A few seconds later the porch light went off and I stood there in the dark, pondering at what had happened. I didn’t think I was an egotist any more than the next guy, but that was the only time in my whole life I was ever dumped.Well, fuck her! I rationalized. She doesn’t know what she missed. Who needs her anyway? There’s plenty more fish in the sea. *****The next day at work, Randy came in my office with a shit eating grin on his face.“Hey, boy wonder! How’d it go last night? I expected you to come stumbling in here half dead after tapping that fine tail last night.”I frowned at him and said, “She’s just wasn’t my type.”“What the fuck do you mean she wasn’t your type? Wait… did she kick your butt to the curb? She did, didn’t she? That’s hilarious!” He howled with laughter.“Shut the fuck up! Don’t you have something more productive to do?”“Nope! No way. In fact, this is a historic moment.” He walked over to the intercom.“Randy!” I attempted to grab the microphone. “You asshole, you wouldn’t!”He beat me to it and flipped the switch. His voice boomed on the loudspeakers.“Attention, all employees, Alex met his match last night. His date dropped his ass like a lead balloon. My faith in justice has been restored.”The applause was deafening.I threw my stapler at him. Even my secretary gave him a thumbs up. Everyone but me was laughing. Was I that shallow of a person that so many took such joy in my failure? Maybe Kurtköy escort bayan it was time to rethink my life, I thought. *****The rest of the week was a drag. I couldn’t believe how this woman had gotten under my skin. For some unexplained reason, I felt a desperate needed to save face. This was new territory for me. For the first time ever, my confidence was shaken. Who the hell did she think she was?I knew that all I needed to do was to get back on the saddle (so to speak). I thought about dating and looked through my address book, but my heart wasn’t in it. I soon came to the conclusion that there could be no substitutes; only Abby could right my listing ship.What I needed was a plan. After her brutal rejection, I knew I couldn’t directly contact her; that would have made me look needy. I needed to arrange a coincidental meeting, but that would have required more information. We had some very sophisticated software at work that I used to research her financial history. It showed me where she shopped, dined, and traveled. Exploring her social media was even easier. Within a few minutes, my research was completed. I was aware that what I was doing was borderline illegal, but without risk there is no reward. *****Three days later, I was grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, when Abby caught sight of me in the vegetable isle. I wondered how she’d react. She immediately made a beeline toward me. I acted as if I didn’t notice her. Her cart crashed into mine and I looked around.“What are you doing here?”I looked at her coolly and replied, “Even male chauvinist pigs like me need to eat.”“Ohhh, that was harsh. For the record, I never said you’re a chauvinist pig—you did. How are you doing by the way?”“I’m doing great. Why wouldn’t I be?”“Well, seeing how we parted ways… I’m aware of how delicate the male ego can be and—”“You thought that I was maybe… distraught or possibly even suicidal? Well, I did consider slashing my wrists with a razor, but that didn’t pan out because I use an electric.”“Suicide jokes aren’t funny. Look, Alex, I know we each have different goals in our lives, and that’s okay. I like you, but when I’m around you, all my warning signals go off. I feel the need to protect myself.”“Am I really that scary?”“Actually, you are. Besides, we both know you’re not going to have any trouble finding someone else.”“So, that’s why you wrote me off so quickly? I set off your jerk alarm?”“No, you’re not a jerk, but I do think you’re dangerous.”“Dangerous? What’s so dangerous about me? I’m a pussy cat.”“More like pussy hound. What’s so dangerous about you? Well, first off, you’re way too polished in your approach and too confident about your looks. Then, it didn’t go unnoticed to me that your friends expected you’d bag me on our first date. That alone told me a lot. The only thing worse than having a reputation, is when that reputation is deserved.”“I don’t deny I’ve dated a few women and admittedly I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but that’s part of life. I’ve never lied to anyone or pushed them to do something they didn’t want to do.”She paused and sighed before she said, “Alex, I have to run. I’m cooking tonight. It really was nice bumping into you.”I watched her walk away, but I knew if she looked back, I still had a chance. When Abby got to the end of the isle, she turned and smiled at me. I gave myself a silent fist-pump. I’d dated dozens of women in my life, but none were like her. *****Several days passed after our “accidental” encounter at the supermarket and my life was getting back to normal. My plan was to bury myself in work until all thoughts of her disappeared. It was during an important business meeting I got an unexpected text from Abby:Call me! It’s important.I couldn’t immediately return her text, but when I was free, I called. She answered on first ring.“Alex, I really need your help.”“My help? Isn’t that… dangerous?”“What are you doing Saturday and Sunday?”“I was thinking I might go on a date.” I lied.“Damn! I really do need your help. Can you change your plans? I can even pay you for your time.”“Slow down and explain. What could be so urgent?”“My dad and mom are hosting a party for their thirty-fifth anniversary.”“How does that concern me?”“My ex-fiancé will be there. I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend. My folks are trying to hook us up again and I’d rather die first.”“Can I ask, is this your first or second fiancé?”“Just so you know, my first fiancé was killed in a motorcycle accident a week before our wedding—that was Jason. He was the love of my life. This is Todd, the two-timing bastard that cheated on me the night of our engagement party.”“What do you expect of me?”“Just be yourself and act as if we’re an item. That should satisfy my parents and keep Todd at bay.”“Let me get this right… you go from no second date with me, to wanting to spend a weekend together? Why me?”“Alex, I don’t want to puff up your already inflated ego. Let’s just say, you can appear charming when you want to, and I believe you could pull it off convincingly.”“Be careful, that almost sounded like a compliment.”“Look, smartass, are you going to help me out or not?”“What’s in it for me?”“Now you’re showing your true colors. Name your price. How much?”“I’m not interested in your money, just you for payment.”“You can’t be suggesting what I think you are. I’m no whore.”“Whoa, simmer down, filly! I didn’t suggest that.”“Then what?”“How about us just going on a legitimate date? A date without all this preconceived bull-crap?”“I’ll give you this much… you don’t give up easy. Okay, you have a deal.”I smiled and asked, “What time is the party?”“Be at my folks’ house before noon Saturday. You remember how to get there? Dress nicely, but casual and bring your swim trunks.”“I remember. Are you going to be wearing that skimpy bikini I saw in the video?”“You have a one-track mind.” Abby sighed. “By the way, I know you being at the grocery store wasn’t accidental. No one drives thirty minutes for groceries—especially when they have a supermarket within walking distance of their place.”I paused and said, “You caught me.”“Don’t be embarrassed. I think it’s cute. There might be hope for you yet.” *****I tapped on the front door, expecting Abby to answer. Instead, a much younger version of her opened the door. The blonde-haired young beauty smiled and asked, “Are you Alex?”“Yep, guilty as charged. You must be Abby’s sister.”She giggled and said, “I’m Pennie, but everyone calls me Pebbles. Come Escort Maltepe on in. Abby said she’ll be down soon. She’s doing her hair.”I was pulled inside by the arm. At first glance, the interior wasn’t like I’d expected. The leather furniture seemed warm and inviting with a large amount of family photos on the walls. A middle-aged man approached me with a gregarious smile.“This is Alex,” Pebbles said. “Isn’t he cute?”Not knowing how to respond, I looked down, a bit embarrassed by her comment.“Welcome! Abby has said some very nice things about you.”“Thank you, Sir—and congratulations on your anniversary.” I handed him a bottle of wine.He examined it and said, “Dom Perignon 2009. You know your wine. Thank you. Call me Frank.” Then he raised his voice and said, “Ginny, come in here and meet Abby’s boyfriend.”Seconds later, a good looking, shapely older woman came in and walked up to me. She took my hands and kissed my cheeks on both sides.“My, aren’t you cute!”“Told ya,” Pebbles said, looking defiantly at her father.I felt suddenly uncomfortable, surrounded by strangers.Where’s Abby? I thought before I smiled and said, “Now I know where Abby gets her beauty from.”“And you’re every bit as smooth as she says—but thank you. Every old lady wants to hear that, even if it’s not true.”“I assure you that—”“Quit while you’re ahead, young man.”Just about then, Abby came bounding into the room and almost knocked me over with a hug. She kissed me on the lips; I hadn’t anticipated it at all. It wasn’t a friendly peck, but a full blown, toe curling, tongue probing, sensual kiss. If I wasn’t made of flesh and blood, I would have probably melted.“Have you met the family?” she asked.“Uh, yeah, we’ve met.” I shuddered, catching my breath. She’d almost reduced me to a blubbering idiot.“I asked you to come early, Hon, so you can meet my family. I’ll show you to our room.” Abby pulled me toward the stairs.Hon? Our room? What the hell!I paused on the stairs and looked down at her family. They all smiled at me.What in the fuck did she tell them about me? I wondered.As soon as we shut the bedroom door, I held Abby by the shoulders and whispered, “What the hell is going on?”“Alex, I didn’t tell you everything because I was afraid you’d say no.”I sat on the bed and looked at her. “I want the truth, Abby. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.”“Okay, but promise you’ll stay.”“I’m not promising shit! Come on, spill it.”“It started about three months ago when I told my parents I’d found Mr. Right, just to get them to stop trying to hook me up with Todd.”“But we’ve only known each other a few weeks,” I noted.“They don’t know that. I never gave them a name, until last week. They like Todd and I didn’t have the heart to tell them he’s a two-timing cheating bastard. My mom was starting to believe a boyfriend didn’t really exist, so I had to come up with a plan.”“I have a feeling there is more,” I said, holding up her left hand that had a diamond ring on her finger.“Oh… that! We were just recently engaged.” Her face went flush.“Unbelievable! Well, I hope you’re not pregnant from all the wild crazy sex we didn’t have.” I stood up and walked towards the door.“Wait! Alex, please don’t leave!” She started to cry.I stopped and looked at her. I was always a sucker for tears.Damn it! Why did she have to be so gorgeous?“Okay,” I sighed in frustration. “I’ll stay and play out this farce, but no more lies between us. It appears we have two relationships between us at the same time: the pretend and the real one. You’re acting this out so convincingly, even I’m not sure if you’re acting or not.”“Good, then no one else does either. We need to get changed for the pool party.” She pointed to the bathroom and said, “You go first.”“No, ladies go first. I’ll change in here. Remember, no peeking.” I grinned.When Abby stepped out of the bathroom in her skimpy bikini, my jaw dropped.“Holy crap! You’re absolutely beautiful.”She posed with one hand on her hip and said, “You’re supposed to say that. We’re engaged, remember?”“In that case, I can’t wait for the pretend honeymoon.”She rolled her eyes.“Can you really blame me while you’re wearing that suit?”“You have a way of making your compliments seem kinda sleazy,” she replied, putting on her sheer beach covering that didn’t hide much. *****Abby and I walked to the pool hand in hand where we were warmly greeted by a growing group of guests. I tried my best to maintain my composure in a crowd of half-naked strangers wearing bathing suits. I couldn’t help but notice how familiar and intimate they all were with one another. Abby’s Mom was wearing a bikini that rivaled Abby’s; it barely covered her mature but very sexy body.I was startled when Pebbles came up to us and ran her hand over my stomach.“You didn’t tell me he’s got abs!” she gushed, eyes wild with excitement.“Ignore her.” Abby sighed. “She’s just a little pubescent pest,” she said, swatting her sister’s butt before adding, “Come on, dear, let’s mingle.”I tried to focus on the guests, but my eyes kept wandering back to Abby. No one compared to her beauty. Her voluptuous body was etched in my mind. I started to imagine her as my real fiancé. Then I silently chastised myself.This can’t be happening to me. I’m a happy bachelor. Get a grip on yourself. Abby was giving me a tour of her parents very large and beautifully landscaped yard when I heard, “So… you’re the boyfriend we’ve heard so much about?” A big dark-skinned muscular guy was walking unsteadily toward us with a drink in his hand.“Beat it, Todd.” Abby scowled. “You’re already drunk. Leave us alone.”“You let a woman talk for you boy?” he said to me. “What, no balls?” He grabbed his privates.I glared at him, ready to put him in his place, when Abby said, “Ignore him, Alex. He’s an asshole.”“Hey, that’s no way to talk about your betrothed! I could break this pretty boy in half with one hand if I wanted to, and you know it.”Even though we were in a private part of the yard, people were starting to take notice. The very thought I might get beaten up while pretending to be a boyfriend seemed to be a distinct possibility. I had never been in a fight in my life and I wasn’t about to start with a guy that had airborne tattoos on his bulging biceps. Fortunately, Abby’s dad saved the day.“Come on, Todd,” said Frank. “Jump in the pool and cool off. The barbecue is about ready.” He pulled the staggering idiot toward the pool.Abby met my gaze and apologized. “I’m so sorry, Alex. He’s never been quite that mean before. I didn’t want you to get into a fight.”“Actually, it wouldn’t have been a fight, it would have been an execution. Even if you were my real fiancé, I wouldn’t fight him. I’m neither stupid, nor suicidal. I actually thought for a few seconds I might be spending the day licking my wounds, instead of visiting with your guests.”

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