Love is Chaos Excerpt

Love is Chaos

How they met:

Rick Milone pulled into Taftville, a little sub-town of Lisbon, Connecticut at eleven-thirty. He parked on South Third Avenue in front of the business district. Rick made a point of stopping here when he visited to grab a cup of coffee from his favorite place.  
The business district held a general store, a meat market, and a pharmacy, as well. He parked in front of the Beanery, reached in the back seat to pet Flicka, his black and gray German shepherd. “I’ll be back in a few.” The dog whined, did a three-sixty, and lay back in the seat, putting her head down. 
Rick walked into the coffeehouse, just as a couple stormed out almost knocking Rick to the ground. “Whoa,” he said moving past them. The guy turned back and scowled, flipping him off.  
Rick looked around and saw a table flipped on its side, a puddle of coffee on the floor and customers doing their best to ignore the ruckus. He walked up to the counter and on the wall nearest the coffee bar was a forty-inch Samsung flat screen television airing a Boston Red Sox game, David Ortiz at the plate. Lisa Anderson stood beside the upturned table, helping a young woman stand it right side up again. She looked up and smiled at Rick. 
Not knowing what else to say, Rick said, “Bad service?” and he laughed here. 
“Something like that. You know Christine Miller,” Lisa said, gesturing to the woman at the table.  
Rick held his hand out to Christine, saying, “yes indeed. Nice to see you again.” 
Christine sucked back a sob, while Lisa patted her shoulder. “I’ll be right back, and I’ll get you a fresh coffee.” Lisa guided Rick to the counter. 
“What really happened?” Rick wanted to know. 
Brenda, the cashier smiled at Rick. “Can you watch the register for a moment, Brenda?” 
Lisa walked in the back with Rick following and Rob; Lisa’s husband came out from behind the sink. Embracing him, Rob said, “Thank God. You’re here.” He swept his hand through his hair. “Guessing you saw the mess out there. I feel so bad for Christine.” Rob looked down, shaking his head, his long hair down his back swaying. “You know Luke cheated on her.” 
“Was that Luke who raced outta here?” Rick wanted to know, scratching at his beard. Then, smiling, he said, “You gonna cut that hair soon?” As long as Rick knew Rob, he grew his hair long. 
“That’s why I own my business,” Rob touched Lisa’s hand. “Well, our business. I don’t have to cut my hair.” 
Lisa smiled now. “So, Luke comes in with the girl he’d been with and sits down at the same table with Christine. Whispers something in her ear and the next thing anyone knows, Christine throws her scalding coffee at the both of them. So, yes, that was Luke who left when you arrived. Too bad it hadn’t happened an hour earlier.” Lisa sighed, glancing at Rob. “Jon Pardo stopped by for a coffee before work.” 
Jon was a close friend to Rick, having known him for a few years. He was also friends with Rob and Lisa, being a frequent visitor to the Beanery. Jon looked more like Rick. That may have been one thing that drew them together. Jon had a mop of dirty blonde hair, and not really fitting the mold of a policeman. He wasn’t exactly big, but he wasn’t small either. He didn’t carry the air of authority unless you crossed him or the law. That’s why Lisa felt disappointed that he hadn’t shown up as Luke was escorted out of the Beanery. He genuinely wanted to help his community. Not interested in aggressive behavior that many in the criminal justice system found themselves, Jon felt more at home educating people about how to stay on the right side of the law. Despite this anathema, he worked his way through the ranks of the State Police, and he could choose his future. He chose residency in Lisbon as a way out of the challenges faced by many in the State Police field, realizing the relative safety Lisbon presented. 
“Good for Christine.” Rick pressed his glasses back, then looked out where Christine sat now, and a new admiration rose in him. 
“Next thing I know,” Rob says, sweeping his hair away. “Luke flips the table over, nearly knocking Christine off her chair. That’s when I had enough. I walked out and told them both to leave and not to come back.” He hugged Rick again. “We take care of the people we love. Get out there and help Christine. She could use a friend right now.” 

A little further on:

Rick glanced at the room. All the tables were taken. Lisa saw this, grabbed his elbow, and guided him to Christine’s table. “You two know each other. Sit here, Rick. I’m sure Christine won’t chase you away. I’ll get your iced coffee.” Then turning to Christine, she said, “And I’ll get your refill too. You want any food? It’s on the house today.” 
Smiling now, Lisa returned to the register. 
Christine peeled back one of her hands. Her eyes were tear stained and more streamed down her face. This did nothing to dissuade the attraction. Her eyes, if tear stained, drew him in. Hazel with green specs, and her blond hair cut in a pixie, made it difficult to look away. 
Sighing, she sipped from what coffee she had left. A melancholy smile. “I’m fine.” More sobbing. 
 “I know that’s not true.” Rick reached across the table to take her hand, perhaps a little forward, but at this point he didn’t care. He wanted to show some compassion. He adjusted his glasses, pressing them back against his nose. 
She hid her face again, but not before saying, “I’d like to be alone.”  
Christine waited to hear the obligatory scraping of chair legs and when the sound failed to occur, she peeked between her fingers. “You’re still here.” 
“Yes indeed.” 
This brought back that melancholy smile. “Yes indeed,” Christine repeated, wiping her eyes. Hearing the phrase always lightened her heart. And she couldn’t help but smile. Rick used it often, and she always heard it. Almost a clarion call. In fact, she started using the phrase herself.  
His brown hair cut short, and his neatly trimmed salt and pepper beard turned her head each time he visited. Rick wasn’t tall, but he wasn’t short either. Christine guessed five-seven, maybe five-eight. He carried himself taller, though. In pretty good shape, he looked like your average guy. Not one to turn heads, but Christine found it difficult to look away. At 30 years old, Rick made a name for himself as a photographer around the same time. Christine created her reputation as a chef about five years previous. She had just turned 30 herself in April, a month earlier. Even now, in her distress, Christine felt her heart flutter.  
“Listen, Christine, if you really want to be alone, I understand.” He made to stand up. 
When she realized he moved, she reached across the table and grabbed his arm, keeping him rooted to the spot. The shock of intimacy surprised both of them and it sort of broke the air.  
She pulled away, growing quiet, her face turning beet red. Finally finding her voice, she whispered, “Don’t know where that came from. Sorry.” 
Waving her away, Rick eyed the room, nervously darting from Lisa to the door, to the coffee bar, then finally landing back on Christine. “It’s—” he paused here, attempting to wrap his head around what just occurred. “it’s—it’s fine,” he stammered. But it wasn’t fine.  
The jolt of electricity still stirred. And he did his best to ignore it. He felt something different now. Something shifted in their superficial relationship. Maybe Lisa’s right, he thought. Is there something here to pursue? 
Christine glanced at him, and his blue eyes again mesmerized her. Even though she knew Rick in passing, she wasn’t sure she wanted to share her emotional turmoil with what was ostensibly a stranger. Continuing to stare at him, almost measuring him up, she shifted in her chair. 
“What?” It felt like no one else was in the coffeehouse. The business buzzed with activity, however. Four people in line, the ten tables still occupied and more people entering. But his attention only on the young woman sitting opposite him; an odd sense, because he planned on leaving in a couple months for God knew how long and he hardly knew this woman. 
But that momentary touch of his arm stood between them. “I don’t bite. I promise.” And he laughed again. Even with her streaky, tear-stained eyes, Rick felt that stir. “So why the unhappiness?” Even though he knew, he wanted her to talk about it. Leaving the distress inside would only hurt her more in the end. 

Taking a walk:

The three of them strolled through the breezeway, walking around Christine’s SUV, and stopped at the edge of the lawn. Gil Morgan had his head under the hood of his black Volvo. 
“Still working on that car, huh?” Rick asked. 
Gil pulled himself away. “Always.” Smiling, and reaching in his pocket for the rag he kept there, Gil wiped his hands. “Christine. Nice to see you again.” Then, smiling at Rick, he said, “What’s this, the second time she’s been here with you? Are the two of you an item now?” 
Raising his brow. “I—I guess we are,” Rick stammered.  
“I think the two of you are a good match. Gil said, returning to his car. “Enjoy your walk.” 
“Feel like seeing the pond where I spend so much time?” 
Christine held the leash and Flicka pulled in another direction. “Guess Flicka has other intentions,” Christine noted, passing Gil’s maroon house. “So, who is this Jon?” Christine asked again. “Someone I should worry about?” And now she laughed out loud. 
Shaking his head, Rick chuckled. “Jon and I have been friends for six years. He’s the state policeman in residence for Lisbon and Taftville. We met under unusual events.” 
That’s all Christine would get at the moment. When she reached the crossroads of Graham Terrace and Nora Street, Rick heard his name called out, and there was Mrs. Bishop in her driveway waving back. “Who’s that you have with you, a new friend?” 
Is this what I can expect now? He thought. The three of them walked over. Flicka wagged her tail and flopped down on the grass. 
“Aww. What a good girl.” She smiled at Christine. “And who might you be?” 
Christine extended her hand. “Christine Miller.” 
“Georgette Bishop,” she replied, getting up from the ground. “Are you with Rick, here?” 
Christine reached out and grabbed Rick’s hand. “I am.” 
“I’m so happy to hear that.” Georgette grinned at Rick. “He’s been alone way too long. Wait,” she said, scratching her head. “Christine Miller? Miller’s Table? That Christine Miller?” 
Christine tilted her head, smiling. “How did you know?” 
“I’ve gone several times. You’re an amazing chef. Have you considered a cookbook?” 
Now Christine laughed. “I’m actually writing one as we speak, and Rick here will be my photographer.” 
“I can see that.” Georgette said. She looked at her watch. “I should head in. Have to get ready for dinner. So nice to see the two of you together again.”  
“Again?” Christine asked, shading her eyes from the sun. 
Georgette ignored her. She nodded to Rick. “Hey. Did you know Joan McNally has her house on the market? Might be nice to have you close by, wouldn’t it, Christine?” With that, she turned and walked into her house. 
“Hmmm,” Christine said, wrapping her arm around Rick. “Living on Graham Terrace again. Just think,–” 
It was then that she turned back to her house. “What do you think she meant by it was good to see us together again?” 
“Haven’t the foggiest,” Rick replied. His mind whirled. Stopping in the middle of the road, he turned to Christine. 
“What is it?” She asked. 
He drew in a breath and felt his heart fluttered. Placing his hand over his chest, he sighed out loud.  
“What?” Christine said again, this time with a little more apprehension. 
If this relationship stood any chance of success, Rick had to be honest. “Do you think it’s possible we could have known each other before?” 
“You mean in a past life?” 
He smiled. “No, but that’s an interesting subject. No,” he replied again. “I’m talking about when we were young, so young, we don’t remember.” Rick started walking again and Christine followed.  
Thinking about it, Christine said, “that would explain your friend saying it was good to see us again.” Now it was Christine’s turn to stop in the road. “It would also explain my sense of being here before, too.” Then shaking her head. “No. This is just silly.” 
Before she could respond, Christine stopped in front of a house with a brick façade and a manicured front lawn, marigolds lining both sides of a walk leading to a porch with a chair swing.   
She dropped Flicka’s leash, racing up the sidewalk to sit on the swing. 
“What are you doing?” Rick demanded. 
She touched the brick. It felt course to her fingers and her thoughts drifted away. Closing her eyes, Christine saw herself as a toddler, pressing those same fingers against the same brick wall, swinging on the same swing, Rick beside her. Opening her eyes now, tears streaming, she held her hand out to Rick. 
“What are you doing? He asked again. 
“You were right, Rick.” 
Suddenly, the front door opened, and Joan McNally stood at the threshold. “Go on. Get outta here,” she said. Her demeanor changed when she recognized Rick. A huge smile spread across her face. She walked over and hugged him. “Been way too long.” She turned back to the stranger in her swing. “I gather she’s with you, Rick.” 
Nodding, he said. “Yes. I’m sorry to have disturbed you. But Georgette Bishop said you were putting your house on the market, and I just saw the sign that said for sale by owner.” 
“Why don’t you all come in?” Joan turned to the woman on the swing. “And you are?” 
Upon hearing Joan’s harsh words, Flicka raced to Christine’s side giving a short bark 
“I’m Christine, Christine Miller.” Then she pet Flicka’s head, saying, “I’m sorry she gets anxious around new people. You be a good girl, Flicka.” 
Joan stumbled back against the door, grabbing at the knob to keep herself from falling backward. Upon regaining her footing, she said, “You better both come in.” She stared intently at Christine. “I suppose I can see it.” 
“See what?” Rick implored. 
Joan sat in one of the overstuffed chairs and indicated the sofa. “Sit down.” Then, “I can’t believe you two stayed in touch and stayed friends all these years.” 
Confused, Rick smiled slightly. “All these years?” He looked at Christine, then back at Joan, then all around the house, setting his gaze back on Joan.