by Donald R. Barbera
Losing wasn't an option. It wasn't even an idea that could be entertained. Lawrence Williams was caught between a naked, wide-eyed woman and a hand holding a .357 magnum. It didn't matter that the hand was attached to the arm of the woman's husband. It was a little late for that concern. All that mattered to Lawrence Williams was staying alive.
Three months ago it started as a casual affair, but Traci Cleveland was a lot more woman than he bargained for. After the first time they made love, he knew he wouldn't be able to let her alone even though she was married. When it came to Traci, he didn't know how to stop and made no effort to find the brake pedal. On more than one occasion he made love to her for more than an hour at a time. They would both be sore when he would leave four or five hours later.
Did he love her? He didn't know. It was in his mind but he didn't recall ever having said it to her. Actually, all of their encounters was a blur of tangled limbs, perspiration and aching release in his mind. Traci drove him past his limits and into raging carnal desire and a lust filled with burning emotion.
When he would leave he would be tired and sore, barely able to make it to his car. Yet, as soon as he got home he wished he would have done it just one more time—just one more time. No. Maybe he was not in love with Traci, but whatever held him there was stronger than a notion and deeper than mere lust.
Compared to Traci, Lynda was unlined paper and kiddy drawings. Lynda had never been quite what Lawrence wanted. She was staid and conservative, the perfect-corporate wife, but when it came to the flesh she was more grounded in reality, unlike Lawrence who used sex as an escape from anything and everything.
Although Traci took everything he had and he still managed to make love to Lynda at least once a week. In fact, he viewed those sessions as proof that he had not fallen in love with Traci. It also took the edge off of future meetings with her. He felt it kept him primed and ready, like a player going back into the game. He had to stay ready.
Except for the times Traci's husband was out of town, which was often, Lawrence still spent considerable time with his wife. There was no reason for her to be suspicious because as far as she was concerned nothing had changed. Everything was still functioning as it had before. It was only Lawrence who knew any difference. Although conservative and understated, Lynda had a deep love for Lawrence and would be devastated to know that he was seeing another woman.
Now here he was naked, sweaty and with a monstrous gun pointing at his face. Jake Cleveland was bigger than he looked on television, and on television he looked was huge. The chrome-plated .357 looked like a toy in his meaty hand. He stood there like an Ebony tree. Standing well over six and half feet tall and weighing 290 pounds, the mere sight of him was intimidating without the gun. A tired smile bent his smooth brown face as he shook his head and aimed the pistol.
"Are you through," he asked. His voice was soft, deep and patient, like he was speaking to a couple of recalcitrant kids.
Lawrence' face twitched and a drop of slobber slid off the edge of his lip. Traci said nothing.
"I said, are you through," he stated calmly.
Lawrence stuttered out a frightened, "yes."
"Then you better get on your clothes and get out of here," Cleveland said.
"What," Lawrence asked in confusion.
"I didn't stutter," Cleveland said calmly, "Get your clothes on and get out of here."
Lawrence tiptoed naked, embarrassed and scared in front of the hulking lineman. I'm going to make it, he thought to himself as he continued to dress. Over on the bed Traci sat motionless, skin bronze, eyes defiant and her breasts aimed like weapons. To hell with her, Lawrence thought, as he finished dressing and started to ease toward the door. As he was about to put his hand on the knob Cleveland's voice froze him in his tracks.
"Stop right there. Now", he thundered.
Lawrence' body broke into a cold sweat. Instantly, he knew he would feel it before he heard it. That's the way they say it happens. All of a sudden a hot slug rips your guts out and the noise of the shot is like a message that tells you "you are dead." His bowels loosed and his bladder emptied as he waited for that hot metal to take him away, but there was no sound except for his own ragged breathing. Still, he didn't move. The hair on his neck stood on end as he felt Cleveland approaching. The floor creaked involuntarily as the heavy lineman moved close to him.
"Since this is the last time, I want to be sure to show you something while you're alive. Lawrence heard the click of the hammer being cocked. In his mind he could see the chambers turning with each holding an ugly, short, flat-nosed slug. Ever so slightly the cold steel touched his ear.
"This won't take but a second," Cleveland said.
The game was over. For a moment he thought we would slip out alive but know he knew different. There would be no last minute heroics, only oblivion.
"Open your eyes," Cleveland said. "Open your eyes, I said!"
Lawrence' eyes snapped open.
"I want you to look at something," he said nonchalantly.
Was he going to kill Traci and force Lawrence to watch? He couldn't have stood it. Underneath Lawrence was a coward. He had no taste for the fight only for victory, but what he had never understood that victory is not sweet unless it was hard earned. Lawrence had never earned anything in his life.
"Man, you don't have to do this," Lawrence pleaded. "It was a mistake. I mean it wasn't . . ."
"What", Cleveland interrupted. "Wasn't what it looked like? You better shut up before I get real angry and decide to use this thing. I just want to make sure you see something before you leave here."
"I don't understand," Lawrence said.
"You will. You will," he said dragging out the "you" with a slight smile.
Traci was still perched defiantly on the bed. Her firm breasts dared even gravity to enter her province. If she was scared it didn't show.
"Open that drawer over there and take out the blue envelope."
Lawrence did as he was told and then stood still.
"Now open the envelope and read what's inside."
Slowly Lawrence read the sheet that had been inside of the envelope. When he finished reading the paper fell from his limp hand and his lip started to quiver. He face went ashen in a matter of moments.
"Larry. Larry! What is it", Traci screamed suddenly concerned with the immediate change in Lawrence. "What is it Larry? Larry! Talk to me!"
Lawrence let his limp hand hang down to his sides as the paper fluttered to the floor. Without answering Traci and ignoring Cleveland, Lawrence Williams left, walking in front of Cleveland as if he didn't care if he shot him or not.
"Larry. Larry", Traci screamed.
"I don't think he'll be coming back, " Cleveland said softly. With that said, he turned and left her in her nakedness and hysteria.
"What have you done," she screamed.
Turning slowly, Cleveland answered, "I haven't done anything," he smiled. "You did it all, I just helped when I could."
Traci bounced across the floor to where Lawrence had let the paper slip from his hands. Slowly she knelt and picked up the paper. She stood slowly as she read. Standing slowly she finished reading the piece of paper as pain gathered slowly in her face and eyes. Finally, her face fell.
"How long have you known?"
"About three months," he said.
Slowly and tiredly she turned and walked away as if in a trance. As she walked the paper slipped from her limp fingers and floated to the floor like a feather. As she continued walking to nowhere he picked and read it with a pained smile. As he followed her into the next room the words Jacob Cleveland—HIV Positive floated in his eyes.