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Read Part One here:

Written by Mel Carriere

If not for the wine, Natalie probably wouldn’t have slept at all that night, but because of the wine, the little bit of sleep she got wasn’t very good. She did manage to stagger into the shower, then clean herself up before crashing into an anesthetized coma, but about 1 AM she woke up with a bellyache. She went into the bathroom to throw up. After that, she wasn’t drunk enough to fall asleep anymore, so she only tossed and turned on the sheets. All the while she wondered what sheets Steve was turning on, and who was doing the tossing. 

     As if that wasn’t enough to get her heart racing, Natalie’s unsettled thoughts turned to that stupid pink pen. It lingered out there in the garage, stuffed down deep into her badge holder, where she stuck the thingamabob after failing to fling it from her postal vehicle. In her sleep-deprived state, the wicked object seemed to glow like an ember in the dark, its evil radiance penetrating doors and walls. Every time Natalie would almost fall asleep, that sickly pink light would intrude upon the troubled dream congealing in her head, and jolt her awake once more. 

About five AM, Natalie gave up and got out of bed. She brewed a pot of tea and looked down at her phone, hoping to find it full of belated birthday messages. She saw nothing. She almost flung that across the living room too, even putting her arm through the arc that would send it flying, but stopped herself, knowing Steve wouldn’t appreciate throwing down another thousand bucks on a new iPhone. 

     She put the cell face down, where she hoped it couldn’t taunt her anymore, then sat in the dining room chair, sipping tea and staring blankly ahead. She thought about banging in sick, but knew work was the only thing that might make her forget being abandoned on the most significant day in her life. She got up, dressed herself and went on her way, taking the pretty pink pen with her. Whether it was only an innocent, insignificant doo-hickey, or a cursed talisman designed to bring evil into her life, it complicated things. She had to get rid of it, one way or another. 

     As soon as she walked into the post office, Natalie saw Ross Truman, standing by the time clock. He gave her a little smile and nod.

“Morning Natalie,” he said, but she averted her eyes and pretended not to notice, not wanting to deal with him that day. 

A young, burly guy named Matt was standing next to Ross. He was kind of the village busybody, a loudmouth who liked to get in everyone’s business. “Whoa, bro! She left you hanging!” Matt said, but she didn’t turn around for that either. Normally Natalie would have made some playful retort, but she just wasn’t in the mood today.

Luckily, Ross was carrying a route on the other side of the building, where he wouldn’t make contact with her. She exhaled a sigh of relief, then remembered she had to make contact, to give that stupid pen back. And she had just avoided the perfect chance to do so, while looking like a complete bitch in the process.

Did she really have to give the pen back, or was she just being an idiot, led along blindly by her sister Donna’s delusional religious fantasies? Now that she was outside the reach of Donna’s spell, the things she said seemed absolutely ridiculous. Yeah, she was as good a Christian as anybody else, but the idea of a possessed pen was no stupid even Stephen King wouldn’t write about it. Well, maybe Stephen King would, but outside the pages of some absurd horror novel, things like that didn’t happen. She could just pitch the pen in the garbage and forget about it. No bad juju was going to jump back up from the trash can. She certainly couldn’t face Ross, after snubbing him like that. 

     At that moment, as if some outside force was linked into her thoughts, the notification alert on Natalie’s phone sounded. If there was anything she would have liked to get rid of that day, it was her damn phone.

     Natalie was going to ignore the notification and go about her business. If it was a belated birthday message, screw em, it was way past the point of being forgivable. Then her nagging conscience stopped her. What if her husband had been in some kind of accident, out on the road? Even worse, what if something had happened to one of her children, or grandchildren? Forgetting your birthday was bad, but not bad enough to say, deal with it yourself when somebody in your family was in trouble. She lifted her phone.  

     Instead of some repentant sinner, at last checking in with belated birthday greetings, the message turned out to be from Donna, harping on the same old crap. Did you give California boy his present back? 

     Donna wasn’t going to let this rest until she was rid of that blasted thing. Natalie could lie and say yes I did, but somehow Donna knew when she was lying, even when the lie was hidden in a three-word text message. She had that sisterly sixth sense that could sniff out a fib, whether face to face or over the phone. There was no getting around it. She had to find Ross and give him the pen back, even if it made her look like a bigger bitch than she was that morning. 

     Natalie made the long walk across the post office to Ross’s letter case, but he was not there. His mail was pulled down, meaning he was probably out in the parking lot, loading his vehicle. She traveled a swift, straight trajectory across the loading dock, hoping she was not too late, because this really was too dumb to continue. 

Natalie found Ross there, throwing parcels into the back of his LLV. She tried to sneak up without him seeing her, because if he looked her in the face with that sweet and innocent glow, she might change her mind.  But he spotted her first in his peripheral vision, storming toward him in a straight line. A look of intelligent inquisitiveness appeared on his face, one holding no malice, no hint that her snub had affected him. If he really was the devil, as Donna suggested, he would have done excellent impressions of angels at Hell’s comedy clubs, getting big laughs from the horned, pointy-tailed patrons. 


     Natalie lowered her eyes. Donna had warned her not to look old Beelzebub in the eye. She held out the pink gizmo, whatever it was called. “Here’s your pretty pink pen,” she said. 

     Ross smiled. Why was that jerk smiling? thought Natalie. She was in no mood for people smiling at her.  “But that was my gift, to you,” he said, in a joking way. He took the pink thing anyhow, then looked like he was digging down inside for something else funny to say. Natalie didn’t want to stick around for it. It was better not to. 

     “I don’t want your pretty pink pen,” she answered, then turned and walked away. And that should have been that. 

     Though Natalie never touched him during that baton exchange, Ross felt like a bitch slap had spun his head around. He didn’t know whether he should be euphoric that this lovely, delightful woman had gone out of her way to make contact, or if his heart should sink to his knees. Should he feel triumphant, or tragic? As a dull, gray gloom finally descended upon him, Ross stuck the pink pen into his badge holder, next to his own more manly silver stylus, then went back to loading the truck, his heart reverberating wildly. It should not be doing that, but he couldn’t stop it. 

    As previously related, Ross was a married man. He had no business worrying himself over Natalie. She was another man’s wife, and his emotions should not be attached to her in any fashion. She was just a friend, and not really a friend at that, only a coworker. Being friends would have made them eligible to hang out in their off time, but that was definitely off limits. Besides, Ross loved his wife, and his heart only had enough room for the female-induced anxiety created by one woman. That woman was Mrs. Truman. 

     He tried to convince himself that this abrupt, unceremonious return of the stylus bothered him in the same way if one of his male buddies had thrown it back in his face, or even a female coworker who didn’t make a heart-shaped blip on his radar. But if this was true, why was he so traumatized over it? Natalie wasn’t rejecting his ring, it was a fifty-cent stylus. It meant nothing. 

     No amount of logic would put Ross’s head right. He knew it was impossible, not to mention inadvisable, to love two women at once. He shouted at the demons in his head to shut up. He recited the Saint Michael’s prayer under his breath, as Father Max had advised him. Still, nothing would plug the hole in his soul. As the day went along, his despondency dissipated only slowly, until at length he managed to push the sluggish ache into the back reaches of his psyche. 

     When he arrived home, Ross opened the door between the garage and the kitchen eagerly, anxious to kiss his wife, full of the romantic intensity only the guilty of heart held.

     “I’m home!” he shouted.

      Renée  came to the door, surprised by this uncharacteristic hubbub. He tried to plant a lip lock on her pretty blonde head, but she turned her face and his pucker landed on her cheek.

     “You’re filthy,” she said. Renée didn’t like her husband’s job. She thought her man should be doing something a little more prestigious to make a living. “What’s gotten into you?”

     “What? Is it a crime to kiss my wife?”

     “Get out of those dirty clothes first and take a bath, then we’ll talk.”

      Ross closed the door and went back into the garage, to shuck his duds. He chanced a look over at  his badge holder, which he had hung on a hook in his garage, and saw the pink stylus leaning into his silver one, like two lovers snuggling together. The picture reignited the flame that had been sputtering in and out all day, as if some weird magic emanated from the pretty pink pen, fueled by the fumes of forbidden passions. 

     Natalie intruded into his head again. Around the post office, Ross had heard rumors about her he hadn’t given any credence to, aware that a lot of people just flap their gums for exercise. He had been told Natalie’s husband was an overbearing, controlling jerk, that he probably beat her. Ross thought this stupid. Natalie didn’t have the skittish, jittery personality of a woman who was being kicked into submission. And why would she openly laugh and talk to other men, if her husband was some jealous jerk off? Still, one letter carrier named Carol had told Ross that Natalie was on the lookout for a way out, trying to trade her man for another before her biological clock ticked past the point of no return, wink wink. Ross wrote Carol off as a jealous gossip, butthurt that all the mailmen went out of their way to flirt with Natalie, but nobody flirted with her. 

     Ross went inside to eat dinner. Out of sight and out of mind of the crime, this line of thinking sputtered out. A man’s pillow is his conscience, the proverb goes. Ross had committed no sin against his wife, and unlike Natalie the night before, he slept just fine. By morning he had pretty much purged himself of all thoughts of pretty pink pens, or anything similar. 

     But when he went into the garage after waking up, the pretty pink pen was staring at him again, still nestled next to the silver stylus. To Ross it was more than a simple stylus now, it was a magic wand casting a spell. He didn’t want to look at it anymore, so he took it out and threw it in the garbage bag next to the door. And that was that, or so Ross thought. 

     Arriving at the post office, Ross decided to wait in his car and clock in a couple clicks late, in order not to run into Natalie. She was always punctual, standing around the time clock five minutes early, chatting with all comers. It seemed like a good plan, but it backfired. He waited a little too long, and instead of avoiding Natalie altogether, he ran into her pushing her parcels into the parking lot. Being a polite person, Ross smiled, nodded, and said good morning, but she spun away to pull mail out of the hot case as if she didn’t see him, although he knew she did. 

     Ross spent another day consumed by his crazy, forbidden obsession. As he made his mail rounds, he pondered past conversations with Natalie, and wondered why he was getting the silent treatment all of the sudden. Was it really because of some stupid pink pen? Or was this just tricky feminine wiles at work? Was Natalie trying to intensify his obsession by pretending to withdraw her favor? Or had the magic wand of the pink pen rubbed its dark sorcery onto his silver stylus? Ross decided he better throw the silver one away too, just to be on the safe side. 

     At some point during the day, Ross’s brooding threatened to turn completely irrational. He decided he better speak to someone, before this obsession became dangerous. 

Read Part Three here:

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