Long Beach 2

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Charli I had been avoiding these Microsoft gatherings lately. Most of them had been focused on the new version of Windows coming soon and I didn't see the point. None of my clients seemed interested and I wasn't interested in it either. Granted, if I told them that I could move them over safely and all of their applications would work, nobody would think twice, but I know better. The only difference was this one wasn't about the new Windows, it was about web application development, specifically Single Page Apps. I did some reading and thought this would work for a couple of my clients. I usually went looking more for coders than for coding tips. Since I had a diverse client base, it was more effective to use freelance work than try and hire someone long term. I parked the car and blew through the lobby. I assumed this would be in one of the smaller conference rooms, but when I walked through, the listing showed the Rendezvous Room was my destination. "Crap," I thought to myself. That meant this was going to be huge. When I walked in, my stomach dropped. There were a lot of people there already. This was not what I expected. I started looking around for a place to sit. My general preference is always somewhere near the back center of the room, so I can watch everyone and see who I might approach. Most of the tables were full. I had cut it too close by some I thought. I found a table in my normal preferred zone that only had one person sitting at it. He didn't look like the typical attendee. He was dressed in a dress shirt and slacks rather than a t-shirt. I walked up to the table to start to sit down. "Is this seat taken," I asked. "No," he answered. He didn't take his eyes off his screen which struck me as a bit rude. "If it is still sitting there, then it's fairly safe to assume that no one has yet taken it," he continued. "Fantastic," I thought to myself, "just what I need this morning, a smart-ass," He looked up at me and continued, "If you would like it, you're welcome to it. I won't say anything. However, I must admit I don't think they are comfortable, nor do I want to see the room in which they would be considered stylish," he smiled at me when he said it. His eyes lit up with a bit of mischief. I took a deep breath to calm myself because I still trying to settle myself after rushing to get here. "May I share the space with you then," I asked. I was exasperated and it showed in my voice. It was the same one I used with Ray's nieces when they were trying my patience. He bowed his head and then looked at me and grinned. "Oh, it's not mine, it's the hotel's space, but since no one else was using it, I thought I would. By all means, please feel free to share it as well. I can't think of a reason you shouldn't," he answered. I think my frustration flashed across my face as he immediately looked chastened and added, "I really should work on that smart-ass thing before it comes back to haunt me." I nodded. "Please, allow me," he rose and pulled a chair out for me. I gave him a questioning look. I wasn't certain I fully trusted him, but I laid my bag on the table and sat down in the chair. He pushed it forward and then sat down himself. "Dr. Chen is about to start the introductions, so you should just have time to get booted up," he said. "If you have your own wi-fi, I recommend it, with this crowd, the hotel's public wi-fi is going to be overwhelmed and you might get your home page up by lunch."

I nodded and realized I had left mine at home. He noticed the look on my face. "You can use mine if you can pass a quiz," he said I was in a bind on this one. The hotel wi-fi was not responding well and I could see he had a 4G hot spot right there. I decided to play along on this one. "I'll bite," I said warily, "What's the quiz?" "Look at my background," he said plainly. He lost his attitude since he realized I was peeved with it. "If you can deduce two things about me from that, then you can have the password. If you can gather three or more things, I will invite you and your spouse to dinner in the near future," I blushed. I assumed the smart-ass attitude meant he didn't notice anything other than I was female. Apparently, he had been sizing me up during the conversation. I nodded and he turned his screen to me. The background was blue with a bunch of ascii vomit all over the place. In the center was a giant red question mark. I smiled, I had the question mark in seconds. The rest of the screen took longer. "You are a Dr. Who fan," I said confidently, "specifically, the fifth doctor." He smiled and held up one finger. "I'm presuming you are a fan of cricket since he was as well," I continued. He nodded and held up a second finger. I stared at the screen for a second. I noticed the characters were all symbols and only a small set of them. It looked familiar. Then it hit me, I had a programmer work for me tried to work for me and wrote a calculator in this for a client. It was a miserable failure because nobody could read the source. "Brainfuck," I blurted out loudly convinced I was correct. Then when I saw heads turning, I blushed furiously and dropped my head. He was still grinning but reached in his pocket and pulled out two business cards. "This one has the password on the back in a QR code," he said as he was writing on the second card. "This one has my address for your phone's GPS program," and he passed it to me. I looked at the cards, the first one was a normal business card on the front. "Phillip Evans - Senior Development Manager: Forward Tech" I turned it over and scanned the code. It opened a text file with "S0Nn3T!30". The second had Friday's date and a time in 24 hour time written in a concise handwriting, really unusual for most techs. I turned it over and scanned the code and Google Maps was already plotting the drive time to his home. I shut it off and looked to him. "Thank you Mr. Evans," I said and grabbed on of my own cards to hand to him. "Please, call me Phil," he answered. "I hear Mr. Evans and I look around for my father still," I nodded. "I'm Charli, not Charlene as well," his grin as soon as I said that meant I'd just opened myself up to another comment. I tried to outflank him, "I mean, please call me Charli, not that you're named Charlie too," He laughed. "It's nice to meet you Charli," he answered and with that, he turned to the podium as John Papa took the stage to start the discussion and it felt like a curtain came down between us. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Phil -

As John started talking about SPAs and how Visual Studio was being adapted to handle them, I realized my instincts to come to this one were well placed. Asian Tiger Express wanted to do an online tariff book and calculator and this would work beautifully for them. I also had a lot of fun with the lovely lady sharing the table with me. I felt really bad about giving her such a hard time at the start. She felt like the playful type. I didn't come down here as much as I used to. With the change in jobs, I only came down when I needed to discuss details with a client. At the first break, after using the restroom, I started watching Charli carefully. She was certainly smart as well as very pretty. Most people looking at my screen test don't get the cricket reference, nor does anyone get Brainfuck. She was breezing around the room chatting to different developers, passing out her card. I took a look down at it. "Charlene Wright, Consultant Arrow Technical Consulting". I guessed, she was looking to stock up on freelance coders. That was a smart move on her part. She had a lot of guys falling all over themselves. I could see why. She was dressed smartly, but she also flattered her figure well. Her make-up and hair were spot on and she seemed to know the business as well or better than the guys she was talking to. When the break was over, she returned to the table. "I hate to seem nosy, but the Bard or Sting?" I looked at her a little blankly just to see what she was thinking. "You have the dinner invitation, so I'll bite," I answered. "Well, it seemed more polite than asking if you like freelance coding," she answered with a smile. "I'll answer your first question with a question; what do you think?" She nodded. "For the second, I like coding, that's why I got into this business, but these days, I'm an expensive baby-sitter for coders like the ones in this room. I do things like this for clients when I don't want to wait three months for someone to send me code I have to re-write in three days, so thank you, but no." She frowned. I didn't tell her what she wanted to hear. "It has to be Shakespeare," she blurted out. "Don't get me wrong, you might like Sting's music, but you seem more the Shakespeare type," she finished. She flushed as she said it, like it embarrassed her that she said that. I nodded in agreement. "So, do you know it?" I asked She thought for a moment and started with a bit of a shaky voice, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun, if I remember it right," I nodded, "Go on," She was struggling to remember it. She seemed determined to impress me. Maybe if she could wow me enough, I would agree to freelance for her seemed to be the thought I was getting. "Coral is far more red than her lips' red, If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun, If hair be wires then black wires grow on her head, I have seen roses damask'd, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare." I finished the sonnet out. It was Shelly's favorite and I hadn't recited it for many many years. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli As soon as he finished the sonnet, it seemed like a wall was dropped between us. He grew distant and still. The playful smile was now gone and he pulled away. I said a prayer to Pallas Athena under my breath. At lunch, I asked him if wanted to go to lunch. He shook his head and said he was fine. I knew he wasn't, but I thought I'd better let it drop. I might find out more at dinner this Friday. Friday came fast, probably faster than I expected to be honest. I came home around 2:00 to find Ray sprawled out on the couch watching SyFy with all the cats draped on him. I still had to get dressed and at the same time push Ray to get moving. I liked staying home most days, but I felt like there was something unfinished with Phil and the conference on Wednesday. "Ray," I said with a bit of exasperation, "we're going to be late, I don't know what to wear, and you're not even trying to get dressed," Ray rose from the couch and led me into the bedroom where he'd laid out a white shirt and a black pair of slacks. "Charli, I know this is important to you, you've been talking about him almost non-stop for a couple of days now," Ray said a bit defensively. "If I didn't know better," he continued grinning, "I would think you've found a playmate!" My blood started to boil with that one. It had been a recurring theme through our marriage. Ray would suggest that I get involved with different guys from time to time. I don't know what it was in him that kept doing this, but it really chafed me. Most days, I would let it pass without comment since it was so prevalent. This time, I decided I wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine. I found one of my favourite low cut blouses and a skirt which was slit very high up the thigh. I matched some heels to the blouse and was set. The outfit was designed to show off. Ray saw it and smiled. Any time I wore this blouse, he would leave the house with a big grin. I had calculated it would take about an hour to an hour and a half to shoot over to 710 and drop down from Hollywood into Long Beach. The address had it listed as at the edge of downtown. It was supposed to be a pretty hip scene now that the mall was down and they cleaned it all up. I knew there were a few upscale restaurants that we had discussed trying, especially an Italian place we'd both heard of from respective clients. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Phil I bailed from the office about three to get home in time to have everything ready. I knew that Lilly, my landlord, would be over about four to help prep. I invited her when it was going to be a couples thing so no one thought it was awkward the host didn't have a date. She teaches English down at Irvine and

the buildings were her ex-husband's idea. She'd been really good to me over many years and we'd become pretty decent friends over that time. Trevor and Alicia would be over around seven, so I had a bit of time to prep. Charli called yesterday to reconfirm. I appreciated the courtesy, I didn't see that as often these days with these dinner parties. Usually, I just assumed the guest list and cooked accordingly. I got home and laid out the outfit in the changing room. I wanted to keep it looking nice, it was just my thing. Lilly walked in spot on four, slipped out of her shoes and walked her back with her clothes for the evening back into the bedroom. I knew she would shower and change soon. I stepped out to head for the market just down the block to grab the last few things I needed for dinner. Lilly finished changing as I walked in. She was going for the territorial look this time. I had to laugh. There wasn't anything formal or serious between us, but occasionally, she liked to act like there was. She had a green blouse with a drop neck and her jeans looked painted on. She was wearing hose to complete the look. I started the prep in the kitchen while she straightened up and put on some music. I finished the sangria and put it in the ice box in back to chill. Yes, I had an old fashioned ice box, with space in the bottom for blocks of ice. It was an antique by anyone's reckoning, but it worked perfectly for things like this. It was about 1815 when we both heard a car pull up. I knew it wouldn't be Trevor and Alicia, they were typically fashionably late so it had to be Charli and her husband. Lilly went to the door to greet them. "You must be Charli and her husband. Phil is looking forward to seeing you again," she said as sweetly as she could. "Yes, I'm Charli Wright and this is my husband Ray," Charli's voice sounded a bit stiff. I don't think she was expecting Lilly. "I'm Lilly Ringwald," Lilly continued, "I'm Phil's landlady. No, I'm not making that up," she continued. I could guess that either one of them had an interesting look on the face when she told them who she was. "Since Phil invited another couple, I came by to play hostess and to keep the numbers balanced," she finished. That was true, I had always asked Lilly to step up and be my hostess for these if it contained someone outside of the crew. "Mind the shoes please, there's a space for them right beside the door," I called out from the kitchen when I heard the door close. "I have a Japanese aesthetic as you're noticing. I have socks below in the bin if you need them." I finished. Ever the hostess, Lilly stepped up, "Trevor and Alicia are on their way, would you like some wine while we're waiting on dinner?" She paused for a moment and added "There is Merlot, Cabernet, and Phil's special Sangria recipe." "Merlot," came an unfamiliar voice I presumed to be Ray's. Lilly walked back to the ice box to get the drinks ready. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli

I had been looking around the apartment after I walked in. It was more spartan than most places. It looked like a giant version of a Japanese apartment with futons, sitting mats, and the like. It was different in comparison to the built in pieces that dated this place from the 30's or so. Since I heard Phil's voice emanating from the kitchen, I decided to pop my head in while Ray settled on one of the cushions in the living room. "Hey Phil," I said as I leaned in. He was working on piece of fish, taking the pin bones out. "Good evening Charli," he responded without looking up. I could hear the butter in the pan on the stove. "I'm really glad you both could make it," he continued. He had the same focus in the kitchen that he had at the conference days ago. "Uh Phil," I started nervously. I did not want a repeat of the shut down at the conference. "Yes ma'am", he answered. He still hadn't looked up yet, though he was now putting fillets of the fish on the sizzling pan. "I feel like I owe you an apology for the other day. You seemed to shut down after you quoted the sonnet," "No ma'am," he answered. "I owe you the apology, quoting it brought back something I thought I had left behind years ago. Apparently, I haven't left it far enough behind," "It's ok," I answered. "Why don't we call it a draw then?" He grinned and looked up at me, "Fair enough then," and returned to the fish. "As soon as these guys have had enough, it's going to be time for dinner," About that time, a booming voice echoed through the entire house, "What's for dinner?" I nearly jumped from the force of the voice. Phil seemed undisturbed. "Salmon, baked potatoes, and my mixed veg," he answered. Then he turned to me, "That would be Trevor, meaning Alicia, his girlfriend, is here as well," Then he raised his voice again, "Buenas tardes Alicia," I noticed his Spanish was different, like he spoke with a lisp. "Buenas tardes mi amor!" came the reply. The voice was very dusky, so I stepped out and looked over the guests. Trevor was huge. He almost filled the living room by himself. Ray is over six feet tall and this guy made him look small. At his side was a beautiful woman with liquid brown eyes and long dark hair that even made me week in the knees. She looked at me and smiled and I realized her charm was inside my shields before I realized it. "Trevor, Alicia," Phil started. I realized his Spanish was Castillian from Europe, not from the Americas. "this is Charli, and that's her husband Ray. I met Charli at that Microsoft presentation earlier this week and she passed the three pieces of info in under five minutes, so she's sharp!" I blushed when he said that, but now I got a picture of what he thought of me. "Charli, this is my best friend Trevor Baumgardner and his girlfriend, Alicia Cortez. Trevor is a mortician and Alicia teaches Spanish at Irvine where Lilly teaches English," he finished. Everyone nodded through the intro.

"I run my own business as an IT consultant," I continued. "Ray works for Telcom doing all of their IT support," Trevor and Alicia smiled "Another pair of geeks," Trevor laughed. "I would expect nothing else from Phil." He had a relaxed air about him as though nothing bothered him. "Is the sangria ready corazon?" Alicia asked, looking to Phil. I had to wonder with all the terms of endearment what the real story was there and decided I would ask Phil later. Phil nodded. "It's back in the icebox love," he answered. With that, he returned to the kitchen and about a few moments later, he was putting dinner on the low table in the centre of the dining room. "Charli, would you do the honours of selecting the dinner music?" he asked. I blushed furiously. How did he know about me and music? Then I put it back under control. He couldn't know, he's just being polite. I looked through his collection. It was eclectic, but there was a tonne of jazz. I saw he had a lot of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and the like. I selected a few and started the music. Phil grinned as though he'd become the Cheshire Cat for dinner. After a dinner that was on par with some of the better restaurants in the Southland, we all sat around talking. I started singing under my breath at first, then Alicia and Phil quieted the room and encouraged me to sing louder. They both smiled as I sang. Ray and I left around 1 AM, just as Trevor and Alicia were calling it a night. Lilly had retired a while earlier, going to lay down in the bedroom. I felt a twinge when she did, but I couldn't explain why. As I drove home, Ray started teasing me about seeming jealous when Lilly excused herself. I brushed that off as nonsense, but I did want to talk to Phil more and alone some time. There was something different about him and I wanted to know what it was. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Charli looked at her schedule and smiled. She'd been hoping to get another chance to talk to Phil. Now she realized, she had an opportunity and she was going to take advantage of it. She had to pass through Long Beach twice for a morning appointment with her only client in Orange County. It would also be something to take the edge off the note she found in her office a couple of weeks back. She was still wary each time she entered. When she first found it, she asked Ray about it, but he seemed equally affected by it. She could always tell when Ray wasn't honest with her and he was being honest. He wanted to go out and buy a security system and install it throughout the house and the office. Charli just wanted to forget it so she nixed it for now. She felt a little nervous calling Phil at his office. Yes, they had emailed back and forth since then, mainly pleasantries and comments about tech news. Like her, he spent a good deal of time staying abreast of the industry, just from a different perspective. She appreciated that. It also helped Charli feel even more invincible in front of customers. "Good morning, Forward Solutions, this is Phil Evans how can I help you?" He sounded very professional on the phone. "Good morning Phil, it's Charli," she answered back. "How are you this morning?"

"Hey Charli, good to hear from you, it's been hectic, had a dev in Hong Kong make a mistake or three and I've been working on a rebuild ever since. How has it been with you lately?" "Sounds like last week for me," she laughed. "New client, came off a referral from one of my better clients, but the owner's nephew is studying computer science at UCLA and of course, he knows everything," she forced a bit of laughter as she continued. She really wanted to scream at this guy, but he was up in Simi Valley and had good cash flow, so Charli already knew what she needed. She just had to lead him and his nephew around by the nose until they realized it. That always frustrated her. She thought if they were going to take someone's recommendations and hire her, they should at least trust she knew what she was doing. "I have an appointment in Irvine, first thing in the morning, tomorrow," she followed. "I wanted to know if you were free for lunch afterwards, around one-ish or so," "Sure, I live in my office and usually go home for lunch, but I can meet you anywhere," he answered. "Actually, if I can impose, could we have lunch at your place? I'll buy and bring in?" Charli found her opening and wasn't going to lose it. "That's fine with me, there's a deli and a Mexican place nearby if you're interested," Phil replied. "How are you for Vietnamese?" Charli asked "Great! My friend Trevor, the other guy you met at the dinner party, lives in Westminster and we do Pho about once a fortnight," Phil answered. Charli noted he sounded really excited about that, so she had to file that one away. She knew a couple of good places down there anyway. Ray spoke fluent Viet and took her to a few places he liked and approved of. "Sounds fantastic, I'll bring lunch and see you tomorrow at, let's say, 1:30" "Sounds great Charli, I'll see you then," he answered and hung up the phone. Charli was thrilled. She could work on him this way and he would come around to helping her. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli was a bit nervous when she called ahead to let Phil know she was on time and heading out of Westminster with lunch. She jumped on the 405 and then stayed on 22 while it went into 7th St. The drive through Long Beach seemed to make her a bit giddy but she couldn't exactly explain why. She had the food right behind the passenger seat; the smell was making her hungry. She grabbed coffee and a muffin on the way out the door this morning. She had been more interested in looking perfect than in getting breakfast. This was a newer client for her, an aviation company which was looking to add some software which wasn't custom to what they do and were wanting to keep costs in check by going outside rather than asking their in-house people to go off scope. This client could be very valuable for her. Then there was the other part of this. She really wanted Phil on this project. He told her he didn't have time to write code, but since he already reviewed it, that would work perfectly for her. It also gave her a reason to interact with him more which she wanted, even if she wasn't fully sure why.

She pulled up in front of the apartment and smoothed her dress before she went in. She knocked and heard him yell from the back, "Door's open Charli, just come on in and set everything on the table. I'll be there in a minute." She walked in and doffed her heels, placing them carefully on a shelf by the door. She went to the dining room and set everything down on the table. Phil was nowhere to be seen as she peered into the kitchen. "Just a sec Charli," she heard his voice go out into the dining room. "It's ok, I've put everything on the table, I was looking for bowls to dish everything out," she answered as a quick cover. "No worries," he said he stepped out of the bathroom and walked across through the other kitchen door. He smiled as he saw her. "I apologize, I have turned the old dressing room into a library and meditation space as well as storing my clothes. I was just finishing a brief meditation when you came in," She nodded, "I can understand, I do that as well, just where is the dressing room?" He grinned. Go into the restroom and turn left. The door leads in," he answered. "If I have guests, I can shift things around in there so I can drop the Murphy Bed and they can use that," "May I?" she asked. She was always careful and polite about looking through another person's home. She really did not like it when others didn't follow the same courtesies. She opened the door and peered in. There was a dresser right at the door, clothes carefully hung in front of bookshelves, books neatly arranged above them. Those were all in various languages. Another dresser hid beside the first and was also concealed by hanging clothes. On the floor, in the corner, was a small pillow that he had to have been sitting on for mediation. She backed out of the restroom and sat down to the low table, where lunch had been prepared. "So," Phil said between bites, "how did you get into the consulting biz?" "Long story," Charli answered. Phil nodded and made a motion with his spoon for her to continue. She nodded then took in a deep breath. "I didn't start out to work in IT. I wanted to be a musician; a jazz singer most specifically. However, my parents, despite years of private music and vocal lessons, didn't accept that dream. I have two siblings who both became doctors and my dad was a doctor as well before retiring. So I was encouraged to either look at medicine or law. As you can guess, specifically malpractice law, but law all the same." She looked to him and saw him nodding along with the speech. "I found computers in high school and convinced them that since it would be a future trend, a major here would work as well. They agreed to help finance school on the condition I majored in computer science and left music behind." She winced as she explained this. Charli really didn't like re-hashing this part of her life, but for some reason she couldn't explain, she wanted to tell Phil the whole sordid history. "I kept up private lessons on the side, but it was a challenge since I went to school so close to home and was expected back on the weekends," She continued. "However, I worked through school as a tutor and in a bookstore when I could and paid for lessons that way. I befriended a lot of music majors

trying to get through the mundane liberal arts and that really helped too," Phil nodded and smiled a bit. "After I graduated, I decided that I needed to stretch my wings and took a job out here entry level. My parents were very unhappy with that, but it let me breathe a bit and it allowed me to start thinking about singing again. I still want to, but I haven't for a while, so I have to knock the rust off the pipes." Phil interrupted, "I heard you playing around this weekend to some of my girls in the background and you were pretty decent, so there isn't as much rust as you think." Charli blushed. She didn't realize she had been noticed. "Well, thanks," she continued. "I struck out on my own about 5 years ago thinking I could do a better job getting things done and one client, my old company, after another agreed until I've built a pretty nice practice. I get a lot of business by word of mouth which makes me feel better. So, turn about is fair play, how did you get here.....?" Charli giggled a little as she asked the question. Phil's face clouded a little, then he nodded. "I went straight into college, the University of Kansas, out of high school," Charli's mouth dropped and Phil stopped. "I went to KU as well," she said. "Class of '98" "Class of '91 for me," Phil continued. "I majored in Linguistics. I had debated either Linguistics or Physics-slash-Astronomy, but in the end, the lure of languages and playing for four years was more fun." Charli nodded, she understood wanting to have some fun in college. "After I graduated, I got married and expected to settle down and have the 2.3 kids everyone talks about. I met my wife through a now former friend and everything seemed to settle into place, excepting the fact that linguists are not exactly the most employable majors. I stayed in the grocery industry and became a manager. Shelley got pregnant and we started with the first child; a girl named Sophia for her grandmother." His face was drawing close and unconsciously, Charli reached out to touch the back of his hand. "Close to Sophie's first birthday, Shelley was headed to her parents' house to drop Sophie off so she could work until I got off and collected her. It was January 93 and it had been snowing and icing, etc. Shelley went down a hill and hit a patch of black ice when she hit her brakes," Phil's voice trailed off. "I'm so sorry," Charli felt gutted and at a loss. Phil nodded and squeezed her hand to show her he understood and accepted her sentiments. "Thank you," he continued. "I heard about a job for a polyglot here in LA from a college buddy. I got the job easily, in fact, later I found out I was the only person considered. I had just started with Emery back in OP in their call centre, as the Japanese desk, when Don had moved to LA. He talked me up so much, they created a second position just for me, then had to follow procedures to get me out there. So I packed up my car, moved in with Don for a month, and left KC behind." He paused to take a sip of water. "I moved into a rat-hole in Hollywood and thought I had it made. A couple of years after I got here, which was '94, I took a job with Sony Pictures as the supervisor in Location Services, basically their in house logistics. I committed career suicide there, so I left the entertainment industry and went back to Emery, but leaving and coming back at my level was frowned on, so when Jan, my boss, left I wasn't far behind." Charli nodded.

"I went to a small forwarder in 99 and thought I could just build a bit of stability. I had this place in Long Beach, I was content with the work and the people. I had been playing with computers since I moved here, building systems and messing around with Linux. They let me take care of local computer stuff, building them, building networks, etc. Then came the terrorist attacks. On 9/20 I was out of a job," Phil stated matter of factly. Charli nodded. She remembered the chaos in the office when it all happened. She was afraid she was going to lose her job because many clients went out of business. "The state paid to send me to school to learn something new. I chose programming because I wanted to have fun with my own systems. By then, I was either running Linux or BeOS before they sold out to Palm and I wanted to see what I could do. After I graduated, I met Jan for drinks at a blues bar not far from here. She had been drifting away from freight sales as well. We had both stretched what we could do with the computers at Emery and she never lost sight of what could be done. So she started looking at what else could be done. She offered me a job working for her writing software, so I jumped. We started out by marketing to smaller forwarders and to larger companies who would want to manage their own logistics and shipping. When Emery went under and was absorbed by UPS, we both said we'd made the right decision. As business has improved and we work on more and more products, I became more of a manager and Jan moved back to Australia to run the business with her partners and to expand the markets. And the rest is, as is said, history," with that, he drained his bowl and rose. Charli rose as well. Phil bowed and said, "I'm sorry, I've likely kept you too long,". Charli shook her head. "No dear, I set my own schedule, as it appears you do yours. I think we must do this again and soon," she smiled as she dropped her head as well. Charli meant it too, she wanted to have lunch again and just enjoy herself as she hadn't in a while. She put on her shoes, walked to the car, and drove off thinking she needed to call him tomorrow to see if he would do the code review for her on the new client. To Charli, something wonderful just sprang to life and she wanted to enjoy all of it. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli: I expected this was going to be a long weekend. Custom had decided they wanted to cut everything over on a Friday and, inevitably, that meant a long weekend ahead. It never really mattered how well I laid things out, or how good a company's staff were, there was always something which would not respond as expected and the weekend became a baby-sitting affair replete with pizza and caffeine. Ray had recently switched to night shifts again and that upset me. We'd gone down this road before and it seemed we were headed down it again. I don't know why he kept doing it even after I had told him that it bothered me, but he really didn't seem to care this time around. I decided to scope out some hotels near Custom so I could crash and get a bit of rest, shower, etc. I found a decent one which wasn't too expensive and stored the number in my phone so I could call when I had a better scope of things. Driving down the 110 to the 405, as I passed through Long Beach, I had a random thought which blossomed into a perfect solution. I started to giggle because it was delicious, served something I wanted, if all worked right, and could be a perfect solution. I tapped my phone and told it to call Phil. "Forward Solutions, Phil Evans, How can I help you?" I almost started to giggle again when I heard the familiar voice at the other end.

"Hey Phil, it's Charli," I said quickly. "Got a question for you," "Shoot," came the reply. He'd gotten a little less formal since I had asked him to do the code review on some of the component pieces of this job. He had been working on this from home and I'd been keeping him supplied in take out during the code review because I really did want no problems here. True to my instincts, he was top-flight. He re-wrote two of their custom pieces from the ground up and now I was about to take my biggest chance with him. "You remember that Custom Avionics is going to start the installs and upgrades tonight?" I asked. I wasn't waiting for a response. "I'm expecting a long night and I'm already into them for a ton of billables, including you, so I wanted to cut some expenses, would it be possible for me to crash at your place this weekend, while I babysit this beast?" I hit mute as soon as I asked so he wouldn't hear me take in the deep breath, waiting for the response. "Sure, why not? I've got room and no plans for the weekend, so just call me when you're on your way. You don't mind sleeping on a futon do you?" The reply was almost too quick and caught me off balance. "No, not at all. But, um, I just remembered something," I was blushing because I just realized I didn't bring a nightgown with me. "I forgot to grab a nightgown when I packed." I was as red as my car right now and felt the heat in my cheeks confirm this. "No worries then," he started laughing. I couldn't tell, was he laughing at me or the change in my voice? "I have a couple of t-shirts my sister uses when she comes round to visit. So you should be just fine." I breathed a sigh of relief and thought this was working perfectly. "Great, I'll call when I get ready to come by. Anything you want me to bring?" "Just a smile," came the reply. I was guessing it was accompanied by a large grin. He was one of the orneriest people I'd ever met and I knew he likely had something in mind. "See you later then hon," I said quickly as I watched the brake lights before me start firing off. "Looking forward to it gorgeous," he answered and hung up the phone. He knew that would make me blush more. Once I got the blush to fade, I told my phone to text Ray that I was going to stay at Phil's for the weekend. A couple of minutes later the text reply was "Cool, good luck with the upgrade and have a fun time this weekend when you can," I was angry again hearing that text. I wanted a little jealousy or something in there. So I shot back, "What kind of fun should I have?" I knew better, but I was just frustrated enough right now to say anything. The reply read back in that same monotone voice that sounded like Ray some days "Anything you want to do to him," When I replayed it and was certain I had heard it right, I thought to myself, "well, if that's your response then maybe I should do just that!" and decided that Phil might not be safe this weekend. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Phil: I hung up from Charli and returned to the latest account. We had a new small forwarder who was specializing in Indochina; Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. They wanted a good website and our Singapore agent had met with them and sold them on a basic package. So, I got all the specs and graphics from him and started a new co-located site for them. I was messing around with a couple of things for them when Charli called. She wanted to stay the weekend at my place and make the drive from there to Irvine in an effort to keep costs for her customer down. That was no problem for me. I had the room, nothing on my schedule, and I could have a little bit of fun with her. I found out, after I started working with her, she loved it when I flirted with her. She also blushed if I told her she was attractive. I still don't understand why. She takes excellent care of herself and always looks her best. I know that it helps her with business and she is good at what she does. The more I flirt with her, the more she flirts and plays back until she thinks she's gone a little too far, then she would back off for a bit. That's nothing new. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli: The project went better than I could have ever hoped. We were done with everything by about 8 PM and the systems responded just how I would want them to. This felt like a dream. I would actually be finished with the whole project and may not even need to come back over the weekend. As everything was winding down, I thought about heading home. Then I remembered what Ray had sent me in his last text and thought, "well, I should stay nearby, just in case there's a problem," So I walked out to my car and called Phil. "Good evening Charli. How did it go?" I laughed, that was Phil, cut to the chase and get the info fast. "Nearly flawless," I answered back. "In fact, I probably won't need to come back this weekend thanks to you and that code review," "Glad to be of service ma'am," he said. I could hear a smile in his voice. It wasn't ego, it was him being happy for me. "Do you mind if I still crash there for the weekend, just to be close if needed?" I asked. I knew the answer, but it was my turn to see if I could make him blush a little. I had tried at times and he never seemed to get flustered by anything I said. Instead, I was the one who would get flustered wondering what would happen if I said what I wanted half the time. "Sure, I already told you that you could crash the entire weekend if you wanted or needed," he replied. "Great, I will be there in a bit. However, you should know, if I don't need to come back, you're going to be stuck with me for the whole weekend..." I giggled as I said it. I wanted to know how he would answer that one. "Whatever shall I do with you dear?" came his reply.

"Anything you want, this weekend I am all yours," I lowered my voice a little and trailed the sentence off. "I've got him now," I thought to myself. "All mine and anything I want eh?" his voice was rising to a question. "That could lead some interesting places my dear," his voice trailed off. "See you soon love," he said and then hung up. I felt nervous the entire drive up. I was in it deep and I didn't care. I knew what I had suggested, but I also knew that if I backed down now, I was ok. He was a gentleman and would not do anything unless I said something or did something myself. Traffic was light for a Friday night and I was there before I had time to decide what to do. I parked in a place reserved for residents. Phil didn't own a car, so he used the space for guests when they came by. I breezed in the unlocked door and took off the heels. "Hey there Charli, dinner's almost ready," he called from the kitchen. I was starving and didn't realize it until I could smell the lemon filling the house. "Take a minute and get comfortable, there's still a few minutes before dinner," I flipped on the stereo and grabbed a few CDs to set a sultry mood. "How comfortable should I get?" I thought if I started early and hard, I might be able to get him to blush a little and if not, well, what the hell right? "Make yourself at home, dress down, let your hair down, I don't care. For the weekend, this is your home too," he replied. It was non-committal enough to sound innocent, but suggestive enough to tell me that he was playing back himself. "What if I decide to strip?" I asked. He leaned out of the kitchen, "at least let me watch!" with a huge grin on his face. He brought out the salad and put it with the wine on the table. There were no lights in the dining room, so I killed the lights in the front room and set down to the table. He lit a single candle on the table as I folded myself on the floor. "Lemon pepper chicken with rice and veg," he said from the kitchen and brought out the plates. The wine was a German white he had mentioned he wanted to try some day. He brought everything out and served us both. I decided after the dinner he was a better cook than Ray. Everything was scrumptious. After dinner we went back into the living room to talk and to listen to music I had already started. I settled onto the futon and he sat at the other end. "You can get closer," I teased. "I won't bite, unless you want me to,". He smiled and just looked at me. I stretched out and put my legs across his lap and he took the hint and started absently running his hands up and down them while we talked about the cut over and the projects he was working on. As we kept talking, I knew how I was going to see if he would follow through. I stretched a bit then mentioned I was getting tired. He excused himself and went to the dressing room. "It belongs to my sister, but I'm certain she's not going to use it this evening," he grinned as he showed the t-shirt to me. It was a very light pink, not my colour for certain, with a teddy bear on the front.

"Isn't it just cute?" I said and then realized the sarcasm was evident. He laughed as soon as he heard it and I breathed a sigh of relief. "I know. My sister got it at a White Elephant Christmas party one year and decided it was perfect for her visits," he smirked. He tossed it across the room to me. I caught it and laid it on the futon. "Lady's choice," he said. "Do you want my bed, the futon, or the murphy? The murphy hasn't been used in a while, but it is serviceable." "Let me start on the futon and see where I end up," I grinned. I turned and lowered the shades around the living room. He turned and I said "wait, I thought you wanted to see me strip," He turned back, blushing, "I wouldn't want to impose on a lady's modesty," he stammered. For all of his flirting and talk, he really was still a gentleman. "So what would you have said if I had told you I wanted your bed as long as you were in it?" He blushed even deeper. "I would have said, lady's choice," he answered. "So be it then," I said, "Then I think I like your bed with you in it better," he nodded and bowed. "As milady wishes," he said then asked "would you like some privacy to change?" I grinned. I had him right where I wanted him. Rather than answer, I took off my clothes in front of him. He grinned from ear to ear. I stopped after I took off my bra and reached back for the t-shirt. "You like?" I asked. "How could I not?" he answered. Then he blushed again. "What?" I asked, seeing the blush. "I just realized, I don't have any pyjamas myself, I usually sleep in the buff," he answered. "Ok," I answered, "Fair enough," and dropped the t-shirt on the floor, stepped out of my underwear, and said "if you're not going to wear anything, then neither should I," --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Phil I realized I had to look stupid staring at her as she stood in my living room with all her clothes on the floor around her. Charli was quite attractive in clothes and out was even more gorgeous. She walked right past me, grinning like the Cheshire Cat from Carroll when she passed. I could tell, she wasn't joking now with her comments. She walked into my room and shut the door. I waited a second and then I entered the bedroom. She was bent over at the waist, stretching out over the bed. "Wow, now that is the definition of temptation," I said, admiring the view. She laughed and then she slid her feet farther apart on the floor, resting herself entirely on the bed. "So how would you define this?" she asked. Her voice had gotten more sultry. "Really tempting?" I answered.

"How about inviting, or an invitation?" she countered. "I told you, I'm ALL yours," she added, emphasizing 'all' to ensure I got the hint. I did and I undressed debating what to do next. I walked up behind her and ran my hands down her hips and legs. She exhaled sharply and stretched herself out farther. I ran my hands down her sides and she leaned back into me, pushing against me. So I decided to see how far she was going to let me go. I dropped down and turned, using the bed as a support and ran my hands along the insides of her thighs. She let out a slight moan and I leaned back to give her a kiss between her legs. "Oh yes," came the moan in response. So, I decided to keep her there for a bit while I enjoyed myself. She wasn't complaining in the least, so I kept going. After her knees buckled a few times, I moved out from below her and grabbed her hips. I slid up behind her and felt her pushing back against me until I entered. After a few minutes I exploded. Afterwards, I felt regret, I knew she was married, but in the middle of it all, I didn't care and neither did she. She saw the look on my face. "Something wrong?" she asked. "Just remembering you're married love," I said quietly. She nodded and sat beside me on the bed. "Don't worry love," she started. "I told you, I am all yours this weekend, and I really meant it. Ray told me to have whatever fun I wanted via text, so I damn well will," when she finished, she turned and kissed me deeply. "It's time to curl up and sleep hon," she said, "and in the morning, we can start all over again," She then pushed me down on the bed and I turned to put my head on the pillow. She then laid her head on my chest and threw her leg over mine, promptly falling asleep. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli I woke Saturday morning with the first light breaking through the windows. Even though I hadn't gotten much sleep overnight, I really felt good. Actually, I felt happy and satisfied for the first time in a while. Phil was still asleep, in the same position we were in when our eyes closed. However, I did feel something poking me. I smiled and reached down. I heard a small groan escape him when my fingertips made contact. I started running my fingers up and down him and the groans continued softly. Then I took him in my hand, his eyes opened. I kissed him softly and said "My turn now love," I threw the covers back and made sure he was ready, then I climbed aboard and started riding him. His hands went up to my breasts and then he bent his knees behind me like a chair and rocked with me to keep me as close to him as we could manage. When we both finished, I leaned forward to kiss him and was met with a hunger that felt like it hadn't been satiated in a long time and I was now his satisfaction. Without thinking, I responded in kind. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Charli After we made it out of bed and showered, we had breakfast. This time, I decided it was my turn to take over the kitchen. Phil started to object and I grabbed his hands and said, "you told me to consider this my house right?" He nodded. "So," I continued, "my house, I want to cook." He nodded and went to the front room and turned on the stereo.

"So what do you want to do today?" he asked from the living room. I continued to cut up the fruit as the waffles were finishing. I wanted to push a little and see if he was really as comfortable as he was seeming right now. "Well," I trailed off a bit for effect. "I think I need to have something to wear in the future because your sister's t-shirt just doesn't work for me." He nodded in agreement. "So," I continued, "if I am supposed to call it mine when I'm here, shouldn't I have clothes here for when I stay?" His face furrowed for a second as though he was still piecing out where I just went. "I suppose that's true love," he answered. "So where do you want to go?" he asked. "Well," I answered, "I have a few places as surprises in mind and you are coming with me," He laughed. I put breakfast on the table and slid under it. I was getting used to this and the look on his face seemed a cross between surprise and delight. He came over and sat down as well. "See," I continued as we both filled plates, "If I'm all yours, then you're all mine too...." He had a quizzical look, but nodded. "So, now that's settled," and I started to eat. "Wait," he said with a laugh. "just how long are you 'ALL' mine?" he asked, emphasizing the 'all' like I did last night. "However ever long you want," I answered. I was pushing the boundaries and the envelope here, but I didn't care. Ray had played this game before with me, even going so far as floating the idea to me that if I wanted a boyfriend, he was fine with it. He had even gone so far as to suggest people we knew. However, with Phil, he'd been remarkably silent. Granted the weirdness with the CD may have spooked him, thinking that Phil knew more than he was letting on. I knew better than that and thought maybe Phil was a threat because we clicked well before this weekend. So, if Ray wanted to play that game yesterday morning, it was time to call his cards and have what I wanted in the process. Phil had a quizzical look on his face, so I explained everything to him. He didn't seem to know just how to react so I finished with "so if I can have a boyfriend if I choose, then I choose you. We get on well, there's certainly a chemistry there," he blushed, " and if you want to keep this up, then you should get used to me being here on weekends and that means clothes, a toothbrush, and me being the lady of the house when WE entertain." I stressed the 'we' to be a bit cheeky. I knew I was out on a limb here, but I also knew if I said nothing, I might not get what I want. I waited for him to take it all in and react. He smiled and nodded. "Well, it seems that this is all settled and you're right, if you're going to spend weekends here, you will be the lady of the house," then he walked around the table and kissed me. I kissed him back deeper than I'd ever kissed anyone before. After breakfast, he cleared the table and my phone went off. It was a text from Ray asking how the night went. I decided if I was in for a penny, I was in for a pound and answered, "It was fabulous. In fact, I think I'm going to take you up on the idea you floated a while back." Phil was doing dishes when Ray's response came back, "Great. Enjoy yourself" I read it twice. "So what did he say?" Phil asked from the kitchen, knowing I had been texting Ray. "Great and enjoy yourself," I answered. I felt a little flat. Phil came over and hugged me. "Well, if I'm to enjoy myself, let's go," I might have been a bit forceful with that, but I grabbed his hand and started to

drag Phil out of the apartment. He stopped me long enough to ensure we got everything we needed. I was still in yesterday's outfit, replete with the heels. We got in the car and I headed up the 710 toward downtown. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Phil It was hard to read Charli as we sped up the 710 into the rest of the city. She'd been going over a range of emotions so fast, I was waiting to catch up on the rebound. I could tell she was upset with her husband over his lack of reaction to events. However, she seemed equally happy about what had happened and where everything was going. I was still trying to figure out how that happened, but there was, I supposed, time for that later. We sailed out of downtown and headed to Hollywood. I knew the area well, I'd moved there when I first moved to LA. She parked nearby and we walked into Fredericks. She had an evil grin on her face as we started to walk in. She grabbed my hand and now I noticed something I'd missed in the car. She'd taken off her wedding ring. I wondered to myself if that was for my benefit or if she was making another statement. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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