Neon Hearts
Author's Notes
The Ticket
Talking to strangers
Inching up to the brink
Falling in slow motion
At Silver's
Specters of the Past
The Morning After
Public appearances
First impressions
Dangerous dreams
Picking winners
Hank's bad day
Happy landings
Meeting the folks
Beware of the cat
Plans and possibilities
Taking chances
Room service and...
The road less traveled by
Shadows in the starlight
Grand Lake
Life in the breakdown lane
Family matters
Homeward bound
Simple gifts
Girl talk
Comforts of home
Open secrets
Good intentions
Every stop is a place to start
Whispers out of the past
Judgement calls
Crosscurrents & riptides
Past tensions, future trials
High spirits at Muir Island
Growing things
The best defense

This story is in progress.

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Stars and Garters

I forgot to say, in the first part, all that stuff about copyrights of known characters belonging to Marvel and you know the rest....
Still non-explicit. I'll let you know when to close your eyes....

Part 2--Talking to Strangers

After their laughter had subsided, the two new friends, Cassie and Hank, leaned companionably against Hank's sturdy little sportster, examining the parking ticket that was apparently Hank's unavoidable fate today. "It really doesn't matter in the slightest," he assured Cassie. "My chief pleasure in avoiding the first one this morning came from the refreshing experience of seeing someone performing a kindness to a stranger."

"Oh, well..." As usual, unexpected praise put Cassie temporarily at a loss for words, and she found the tops of her shoes of sudden interest.

Hank peered at her, one eyebrow raised in comic exaggeration. "My stars, are you blushing, my dear? I didn't think there was a woman left in the 20th century who did that!" It made her laugh, and eased the awkward moment. He folded the ticket and tucked it into his inside jacket pocket. "I must confess I get these far oftener than is proper for someone who considers himself to be on the side of law, order and justice." He struck a thoughtful pose, one blue hand splayed so the fingertips touched his broad chest, a bright contrast over his white turtleneck. "I believe it is possibly my way of quietly rebelling against the strictures of modern society."

"Oh, a quiet rebel," Cassie smiled. "Me, too." Amazing how comfortable it was to chat with this absolute stranger! "In college, some friends of mine and I used to have secret protest rallies." Hank obligingly looked properly intrigued, and she went on, "We would write our demands on 3x5 cards, tuck them in our books, and walk across the campus to the snack shop."

This made him grin. "What sort of demands?"

"Oh, recruiting cuter boys to the campus, outlawing tests on Monday mornings, that kind of thing." She shook her head, laughing at the memories. "I didn't realize at the time...that was such a good time in my life. Being a grown-up is harder, more...boring."

Hank noted a faint shadow cross her face--amazing how quickly he was coming to know her expressions, he thought--and guessed she had been going to say something else besides boring. But he elected not to pursue it, figuring he was doing much better by keeping her entertained. "Well, shall we get on with our plan of viewing the  sights?" Cassie had explained over lunch she was from Denver, in town on business, which was now mostly completed.

"Yes, that sounds good." As Hank opened the door to the low slung car, she added. "I'll try not to embarrass you."

This was genuinely puzzling to him. Was it some sort of backwards reference to his unique appearance? "Why would you?"

"Oh, after friend picked me up at the airport Friday morning, we drove downtown and then walked around a little. I was feeling silly, so I kept staring and pointing and talking about how tall all the buildings are...." 

Hank relaxed, laughed and closed her door. "I'm afraid that is quite outside the line of proper behavior here. No wonder your friend was embarrassed." Friend, said with a hesitation. A male friend? he wondered silently.

"I won't do it anymore," Cassie promised. "Or at least, I'll do it quietly to myself."

Hank reentered the vehicle on the drivers side, using the door this time instead of vaulting into the seat. He peeled smoothly away from the curb and into traffic, drawing a smothered gasp from his passenger, and settled instantly into the flow of the fastest lane. "Do you know, I've just realized we have missed one of the most common topics in the course of our most enjoyable conversation." He flicked a quick glance at Cassie; she merely looked normally interested, so he continued. "Your profession." Her expression went a little blank, and he continued, wondering if he was just putting his foot in ever more deeply. "Your means of supporting yourself, the purpose of your business trip to our fair city...?"

"I guess we have," she murmured, then had to repeat herself, as they had made it onto an expressway, and had quickly achieved a remarkable rate of speed. She guessed he got a lot of speeding tickets, too.

"And it is?"

"A...writer." The last word she spoke rather quickly.

"What? A lawyer?" Hank asked loudly, cupping a hand to his ear.

"NO, not a LAWYER, a WRITER!" The final word came out as a clear shout, because Hank had whipped onto an exit ramp and reduced speed to keep from running them under a large delivery truck also exiting.

"Really?!" He looked absurdly pleased, and Cassie steeled herself to make the next revelation. "Have I read anything of yours?"

"I doubt it." She clasped her hands in her lap. "I write...romances." She risked a glance. He looked very dubious, and then she could see him concentrate on schooling his face into a more open expression. She sighed inwardly. This ALWAYS happened. "It's just that, they pay fairly well, if you write fast. And people get enjoyment out of them, and it's kind of fun...."

The car swerved and came to an abrupt halt in a curbside diagonal slot beside open, tree-covered grounds. For an instant, Cassie imagined he was stopping so he could toss her out of his car for revealing her plebeian background. But he turned to her, and looked most earnest as he asked softly, "Do people criticize you, Cassie, for writing romances?"

"Ah...yes. It's as close as I come to having a secret vice." She smiled, hoping to slide off the topic without further damage done to her intellectual standing with him.

"It's not illegal, or immoral," he pointed out gently. "If you are supporting yourself, and bringing pleasure to people, what's wrong with that?"

Those were usually HER arguments, when she bothered to argue the subject at all, which was seldom. "Oh, well, you know, the genre still has a sleazy reputation. Neither the writers or the readers get much respect."

"I see. I can see it causes you pain. And I find that very sad."

Cassie had the wildest sudden urge to act like a character in a romance and plant a big lip lock on him, but she squelched it firmly. "You are the NICEST man," she said instead, and was a little surprised when she heard she had spoken the words as well as thought them.

"I know," Hank replied with a show of false modesty. "It's one of my most widely recognized qualities. Along with my stunning good looks, of course."

"Of course," Cassie agreed, in all seriousness, and now it was Hank's turn to look a little uncertain, then change the subject.

"Shall we stroll, my dear? This campus is a pleasant little place, and I believe some of the bulb beds are still blooming."

"Let's." She started to open her door, then paused. "If we had some 3x5 cards, we could have a protest at the same time."

"Just at this moment," Hank said, with a quiet sincerity that made something quiver inside her, "I am quite remarkably happy with the world at large. I wouldn't be able to think of a single complaint." And while Cassie sat stunned, trying desperately to think of a suitable reply to such excellent dialog, he exited the car, LEAPT over it with consummate grace, and opened the door to hand her out to the pavement.

Continued in Part 3.

Why do writers write? Because it isn't there....