The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Phase Zero Clinical Trial: Response To Hypnozamine In The Human Female

by B Pascal

Chapter 22

At home I got my mail out of the box, and once inside the apartment I sat on the couch and separated junk mail from bills. Lots of the former, two of the latter. Glancing at my watch, I saw it was not quite eleven. Jesus, what time did she get up in the morning anyway? I had only had cereal and coffee, followed by some strenuous exercise, so I was still hungry.

I looked in the fridge, and it was pretty grim, but there were some eggs and bread, so scrambled eggs and toast it was. I’ll call it brunch. I’ll need more food in me, but it looks like a market run is looming.

So I ate, then remembered Liz’s latest chapters so I went and dug them out and read them while I ate. I’m no expert, but I’ve read a lot, fiction and non-fiction and sci-fi, in addition to scientific literature. And I had to say that I didn’t see a lot to change in what she’d written. I tried imagining what I might suggest, but everything I came up with just sounded worse than what she’d done.

And aside from the—style, I guess you’d call it—the style of her writing, her characters seemed to come alive and the plot made me worry about them and what might befall them. She really was quite good at this. I wondered what sort of changes Deb Morrow would suggest, having so much more experience than I, and how it would change Liz’s story.

I’ll read it again tomorrow, but I was having trouble coming up with something she might want to rethink or change. If I wasn’t careful, I was going to lose my non-paid position as typo-catcher.

I put the dishes in the sink to soak, made a shopping list, and headed out to the stores. That consumed the better part of ninety minutes, including putting everything away, so I found a movie that looked semi-entertaining and went to that, followed by a restaurant burger and then home to bed. You’ll have to run a little faster if you want to keep up with my fast-paced, glamorous life.

Sunday. Nothing happened. It bored even me.

On Monday Art and Ted were already in the lab (surprise!) when I got there. They said in passing that they were beginning the first preliminary experiments of attaching µ receptor agents to their new chelate and mapping the effects it had in mice. That was fast work on their part. I hoped this worked out for them.

I summarized the results gleaned from my experiment that just ended and forwarded them to Dr. Clark, with a couple of suggestions for a follow-up approach. Well, that pretty much cleared my plate. I had nothing I had to do, so I thought up a couple of possibly interesting experiments that might give some insight to Clark’s pet project, which would make him happy. I’ll spend the rest of the day fine-tuning that, and them send it to him.

“Sam?” I looked up, and one of the junior researchers was standing nearby. “There’s someone in the hall looking for you.”

In the hall? Why didn’t they just call if they wanted to see me? But I got up and walked to the hallway outside the lab, where I got a shock.

“Liz? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, Sam, I just wanted to tell you and I didn’t want to wait for later.”

“Tell me what?”

“Deb Morrow called. This morning. I got it on my cell phone, and I’m not supposed to take personal calls at the desk, so I had to be quiet while Schwartz was catching up on his email. The stack’s about two inches high.”

“Deb Morrow called and...” I tried to encourage her to go on.

She reached out and put her hand on my arm. Twenty thousand volts, I can handle that. She lowered her voice, and whispered, “She said she’d read my stuff over the weekend, and she liked it! She wanted to know if I’d written any more, and if we could meet again! Sam, she likes it!“

“That’s amazing, Liz. I’m really happy and excited for you. You’re going to meet her?”

“Yeah, but I’ll have a hard time getting away during work hours, now that Schwartz is back—he does have a tan, by the way, a very small tan—so I told her that, I mean, not being able to get away from work during the day, and she said she might be able to stay late on Wednesday if I could come after work.”

“Wow, that’s wonderful. You must be over the moon.”

Her face lit up and she said, “You have no possible idea how excited I am! What if... No, never mind, one step at a time. Look, I just wanted to share that with you, because you were the one who set it in motion, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

Then she reached up and kissed me on the cheek. I thought I’d go into cardiac arrest.

“So I won’t be able to tell you anything more till Thursday, but in case I appear to be acting a little strange, that’s why. Look, I’ve got to get back, but thanks, Sam.” She hurried off. Heads turned to follow her departure, and then she was gone.

I didn’t need the faster-than-light gossip hypothesis to explain the looks I got in the lab. Even the junior researchers, who normally didn’t interact much with us, were casting furtive glances. Frank and Ted and Art were just looking smug, wearing, “Told ya, didn’t I tell ya?” looks. But they forbore to say anything, apparently feeling that further comment would be gilding the lily.

I was happy for Liz. She deserved some success, especially after putting up with Schwartz and the other executives for so long. As she said, one step at a time, we’ll see what comes of this.

So for the rest of the day I sketched out the follow-up experiments I had thought Clark might like, then wrote them up in a report and asked for “guidance” as how to proceed. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but he was still the nominal head of the department so it had to appear to be his idea. I just had to frame it in a way that he could choose only one possible course.

He did as I’d thought, sending me a request the next day to set up an experimental protocol for the idea I wanted to try and let him know when it was ready for review. So that’s how I spent the next couple of days.

I did meet Liz on Tuesday for her break, giving her my few paltry comments on the chapters I’d read, and she passed me a couple of more. She must do nothing after work except sit at her computer till late at night churning out page after creative page. Her output was commendable.

She disappeared from sight for Wednesday, didn’t show up for her afternoon break, which I could understand. Thursday I got the go-ahead from Clark to proceed with the experiment design and to let him know the timeline. All well and good, I suppose, but I was waiting to hear Liz’s news about her meeting with Morrow.

I actually missed lunch, I got into a discussion with Art and Ted about their experiments and before we knew it, it was late. So I decided to hold off and have a late lunch when I’d normally go for my snack. And around two, I went down to the cafeteria and got a sandwich and a small salad and coffee. I was going to get cake, too, but some part of me said Liz would think less of me if I did.

And right on schedule she swept in to the cafeteria. She looked like she had grown two inches, walking with a presence I hadn’t noticed before, positively regal with a glorious smile. She detoured to get a cup of tea and a very small cookie, then came to my table and sat.

I looked at her and before she could even say hello, I spoke. “I was going to ask how things went, but I think I know.”

She put her hands in front of her mouth and she laughed, as if afraid someone would see her showing humor. It used to be considered improper, unladylike, for women to display emotion in public like that, but I thought those mores had gone out of fashion a hundred years ago.

“Am I that obvious?” she asked. “Can you really tell?”

“It’s obvious to me. You look... overjoyed.”

She nodded, still smiling.

“Okay. Tell me. Everything.”

“Oh, Sam. It’s overwhelming, like a dream, and I’m afraid I’m going to wake up.”

She took a sip of her tea while she tried to focus her thoughts.

“All right, I’ll just tell it in order. So I planned to meet her after work on Wednesday, I told you, and she stayed late so I could get there. So I showed up and her assistant—get this, her assistant stayed late, too, so he could announce me when I got there. So her assistant shows me in and Deb tells him he can go home now, and she’ll lock up.

“She says, ’I read your stuff, Conway. A lot of people can write short stories, but they fall apart when they try novels. You’d be surprised how many.’ Then she stops, she just leaves me hanging. She says, ’Conway, I missed lunch today, a planning meeting that went on way too long. You got dinner plans?’

“What? She’s asking me to join her for dinner? So I shake my head, no, and she says, ’Okay, gimme a minute here while I arrange something.’ And she looks up a number on her Rolodex—she still has a Rolodex on her desk!—and makes a call. I can only hear the one side of the conversation, and she says, ’Maurice, it’s Deb Morrow. Can you fit me in in about thirty minutes? Party of two? Thanks, Maurice, you’re a sweetheart.’

“Then she grabs her coat and her bag and the folder I gave her with my writing, and she says, ’Let’s go.’ And I ask her where we’re going, and she tells me ’Le Château.’ And I gulp, ’cause I don’t have that much money on me, and I’m a little embarrassed to tell her, but I do. And she says, ’Oh, I’ve got this, Conway, don’t worry about it.’

“Sam, I’ve never even been in this place before, not even in the bar, I only know it by reputation. I’m wondering if I’m even dressed well enough for it. So, we step out of the building onto the curb, and she raises her hand and it’s like a scene out of some movie from the 1930s, a taxi swerves in to the curb, tires squealing, to pick her up.

“We get in the cab and she picks up the conversation she cut off in her office, she says, ’A lot of writers fall apart when they try novels, Conway, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that yours—What did Halloran say? Oh, it “captured him”—yours captured me, it wound me up in its thread, the way your characters interact and how it’s intertwined with the plot.’

“Sam, at that point I was speechless. I was afraid she’d look at me and see my jaw hanging open, but she was kind of watching the traffic. And then the taxi stopped in front of the restaurant and the doorman rushed up to open the door while she paid the driver. And the doorman knew her and said, ’Good evening, Ms. Morrow, nice to see you.’ And we went in and dropped off our coats in the checkroom and they knew her. And the maître d’, Maurice, of course knew her by sight, and we didn’t even have to wait for our table.

“She asks me if I have any dietary restrictions and I shake my head, and then she says, ’You’ll like this place. I know what’s good here, do you mind if I order for both of us?’ Of course I don’t mind. She’s paying, she can order me a bowl of Kibble if she wants.”

I chuckled at that.

“So she orders in French. I don’t know what we’re getting because the last time I spoke French was in high school and I wasn’t that good at it. So once she’s ordered, she gets right down to business. She says, ’Conway, I’ll be blunt, I like what I’ve read so far and, damn you, you’ve got me hooked with your story, and I want to see how it turns out. Have you written more?’

“At this point all I can do is nod or shake my head. But before I can answer the waiter comes up with the wine and she has to approve it before he’ll pour, but she does, and I down half a glass hoping to steady my nerves. So I tell her, yes, I have more. Then I remember that I have it with me, so I reach into my bag and pull it out and pass it to her.

“And she smiles and puts her hand out, and says, ’Gimme.’ She said, ’Gimme’, Sam. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten. She starts reading, then she stops herself and says, ’No, I’m being rude. I’ll read it later.’ Then she starts talking about the story, asking about the characters and if I know what’s going to happen to them, like that, and I tell her I think I’ve got most of it worked out in my head.

“She says, ’I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Conway, I like what I’ve seen, I think this has real potential. It needs some editing in places, maybe some color, but not much, really. If you can finish this satisfactorily, I’d like to publish it.’”

Liz sat back in her chair and watched me while it sank in. She’d been building up to this, probably had rehearsed telling the story just so she could spring that line on me.

“Liz, I’m dumbfounded. I’m thrilled for you. I know how hard you’ve worked for this. This must feel like Christmas, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, all rolled into one. I’m really delighted for you.”

“Thank you, Sam. And I mean that. All the time I’ve been doing this, you’re really the only one who believed in me, who genuinely seemed to like what I was doing. Even my girlfriends weren’t as involved as you’ve been. That support meant a lot to me.

“Anyway, here’s the last bit of the story. So we talked over dinner—and by the way, amazing food, I may have to save up my pennies just to go there for dinner once a year—and once we were into the wine we got chummy. She started making some small suggestions about characters and their voice and like that. So we left it that I was to finish the novel or get to an ending point, she wasn’t clear, and we’d sit down and look at rewriting certain sections. But she emphasized that she thought there would only be a few of those.“

She looked at me like she still couldn’t believe she was saying this. “Sam, she wants to be my editor. She wants to help get it ready for publication. We’ll sign a contract and all that, and I’ll get an advance. Money. Someone is going to pay me to publish my stuff.”

“Liz, I’m proud of you. You’re very talented, and now everyone else will know it.”

“I’m still processing this. I can see the arc of the story, and see where it ends, and how to get there now, so it won’t be long. This has been my dream, and now it’s closer, and I have you to thank for that.”

I raised my hand to demur, but she stopped me and said, “Yes, I do, Sam. You encouraged me, and you were honest with your criticism and you offered suggestions, and it was just what I needed at just the right time. I don’t know what you like, or I’d buy you a small thank-you present, so can I make you dinner instead? It won’t be Le Château quality, but I haven’t poisoned anyone. Recently.”

I had to laugh at that, because it was funny, even while my heart was pounding in my chest. I have no idea how she was unaware of it. But I said, without too much stammering, “I would be delighted, if you’ll let me bring some wine.”

We agreed on a time Saturday evening, and she passed me a business card with her address handwritten on the back as she got up. “Sam, the past week has been the most amazing time of my life. I can’t wait to see what happens. With me. With the story.”

I sat there after she left, because I wasn’t quite sure if my legs were still working. Anyway, I still hadn’t finished my sandwich, so I did that and ate the salad, while I thought about Saturday. Part of me was terrified, wanting to run away for fear I’d screw things up, and another part was wanting to strut around telling every male in the building, “Guess where I’m going Saturday night.”

But that got me to thinking about what I expected from this. It was sweet of her to offer to make me dinner, and I was grateful for the kindness, but at the same time I was in awe of her. I don’t know what it is about her, but I feel like I’m tripping over my tongue when she’s around, and of course every time there’s the briefest physical contact, I am almost paralyzed. I don’t have this much trouble with other women. Is it just her reputation of unattainability, of that aura of a creature slightly above mere mortals?

I didn’t know, but I’d better figure it out before Saturday.

Nothing else that happened after that point is worth noting, as it pales in comparison to Liz’s news. I did notice that I was distracted for the rest of that day and Friday. To be expected, I guess. And I noticed that I was getting nervous, dropping things, forgetting things, like a kid getting ready for his first prom. I started to worry about little things, like do I still have the supplies to shine my shoes, and did I need a haircut. I wasn’t sure about the former, but I called and made an appointment for a haircut for Saturday morning. Just in case.

And before I knew it, it was Saturday. I woke early, before the alarm clock, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up, started coffee and took a shower. At ten I went and got my hair cut. Only another eight hours to go. I bought a new shirt because I started worrying that my usual shirts looked old and worn. Then I realized that the shirt would be wrinkled from being folded in its package, so I had to dig out the steam iron and ironing board, perhaps the first time in a year since they’d last seen daylight.

I ironed my shirt and hung it up, and only another six hours to wait. You can see how the rest of the day was going to go.

I forced myself to read a book until about five, then sniffed my armpit and worried that I’d gotten sweaty again, so I took another shower. I went out and found a real, honest-to-God wine shop and spent a little too much on a bottle of wine. I knew nothing about it and had to take his advice on what was good, so he could have been scamming me for all I knew. But I left with a bottle of wine in a pretentious little cardboard box with the store’s logo. And then it was time.

I wasn’t a long drive, maybe twenty minutes, but I was listing all the things that could go wrong and twenty minutes is plenty of time to make a huge list. So by the time I got there I was almost ready to call in sick and say I couldn’t make it. But I felt bad about disappointing her, so I parked and found my way to her building.

I rang her buzzer at the entrance, and when she answered, I said, “It’s Sam.” I’m committed now. Third floor, so I took the elevator, then the few steps to her apartment door, and I knocked.

She opened the door wearing a big smile and an apron over her slacks. Did people still use aprons? I’m probably the wrong person to ask.

“Oh, good, you made it, and right on time, too. This is going to work out well, time-wise. Come in. What do you have there, antacid?”

I smiled, and was grateful that she was trying to set me at ease. “Some wine I hope will go well with whatever you’re serving. The sales person swore on his best cravat that this was worth every penny of what I paid for it.”

“I’m sure it’s lovely. Are we supposed to let it breathe or something?”

“Beats me, I’ve just exhausted my knowledge of fine wines, but sure, let’s let it breathe. Got a corkscrew?”

She rummaged in a kitchen drawer and found one, and I eventually got the cork out in one piece and placed the opened bottle on the small dining table.

I asked if I could help, but she said everything was pretty much done, so we talked about nothing. She’d been in this place for two years, she lived alone because she hadn’t gotten along with her last couple of roommates.

I sneaked a glance at her bookshelves and found it filled with English major paperback classics and some more recent hardcover fiction. An alcove in the small living room had a small desk with a computer and printer, and a two-drawer filing cabinet beside it. I assumed this was where everything was created, and I could almost picture her leaning over her keyboard, lost in concentration, until inspiration struck and her fingers flew over the keys.

“Okay, Halloran, I think it’s done. Why don’t you carry that bowl in, and the salad, too, and I’ll bring the rest.”

I thought I could handle that without further instruction and found places on the table. She brought in the other plates and bowls, then said, “Oh, wait,” and ran back and found two wine glasses.

We sat, and I told her it smelled delicious and now I felt silly about putting the Poison Control Center on speed dial. She was much more open out of the workplace, and laughed out loud. She wasn’t being polite, either, she thought it was funny, and I started to relax a little.

“Let me taste this wine you brought,” and she passed me her empty glass. I poured her a half glass, and she sniffed it delicately, and raised an approving eyebrow. “I’m no connoisseur,” she said, “but I think I can recognize better quality wines, and this is very nice.”

I raised my glass to her. “Here’s to literary success, and an obscene number of books sold.”

She giggled. “I’ll settle for a better-than-average number, but yes, to that.” We drank.

She had made what looked like chicken cordon bleu, some asparagus, what I thought was risotto, and (naturally) a salad. It looked really good, and I now realized how hungry I was. She, as hostess, served, and I soon had a plate in front of me. I waited for her to serve herself, then she told me, “Eat, Sam, before it gets cold.”

It was surprisingly good, and I told her so. “Is this one of your hobbies, too, Liz? Haute cuisine? Is there a cookbook in the works?”

“Now you’re just making fun of me. I like to cook, but I don’t do it much unless I have company. And it’s not really a hobby, I’ve just learned how to make a few things.”

“That seems to be a bit of an understatement. Regardless, I’m impressed. Really very good. So, other than your job at RBP, and your secret writing career, I know very little about you. Where did you grow up?”

And so we talked back and forth amiably over the meal and the wine (which was good), and I found out more about her in bits and pieces. She grew up in the Midwest, average high school student who liked literature, went to a decent state school for her college years and found out she really liked writing. I was interested to find out that she’d been married and divorced.

“I can’t say that it surprises me. You must have had guys pursuing you all through college and after. What surprises me is that he let you get away.”

She sipped her wine while she decided how much to tell me about her ex. “It was me that dumped him, finally. He was handsome and charming, a very convincing salesman type, able to talk his way into or out of almost anything. And I was at a point in my life when I was thinking that I should start doing grownup things, like marriage, just like all my friends. And I was getting all these questions from my family, ’so when are you getting married, you’re not getting any younger’, and like that.

“So Frank, when he came along and seemed smitten with me, started talking about a life together and how good it would be, it was easy to talk myself into the idea, even though, in the back of my mind, I had this little voice saying, ’something doesn’t add up here’.

“So we got married, and the first six months were actually pretty good. Except for the job part. I had a job, working in an office, steady work, but excruciatingly boring. He kept getting jobs and then losing them or quitting them, and it was always ’oh, it wasn’t a good fit, they didn’t want to hear new ideas, my bosses are morons, it was beneath my skill set’ and so on.

“After about the fifth one, the periods between serious job searches got longer and longer, and it was me earning the money and making his meals and cleaning up after him, and trying to keep up with the bills, and I finally realized he didn’t want a wife, he wanted an independently wealthy maid.”

She must have seen the look of shock on my face.

“What can I say? I’d been gullible and foolish, but once I figured it out, I sat him down and told him, find a job and keep it, and start pulling your weight around here, or we’re done. He didn’t, and we were. He put up a bit of a fight, but eventually agreed to leave. No-contest divorce. And good riddance. I heard through the grapevine that he later found someone else to support him.”

I just shook my head, because I couldn’t come up with a comment.

“And you, Sam? Ever married? Serious relationship?”

So I told her about me, never married, lived with someone in grad school but it didn’t last. I mentioned Sara (but not by name) as someone more recent that I’d been very interested in, but she had decided on someone else.

“Well, her loss, I’m sure. More chicken?”

I did have a bit more, and some more salad, too, and while I ate she dug into my childhood, schooling, ideas about science and politics, music I liked, hobbies. It was dinner conversation, but it felt at times like it was bordering on job interview. She was digging up information as if she were researching a topic for a book. I was flattered, I thought.

When neither of us could eat any more, she said there was coffee and dessert, so I helped her clear the table, and she put out coffee cups and dessert bowls. She spooned out ripe halved peaches in syrup and poured some Grand Marnier over them and lit them with a lighter, and I had to laugh out loud and applaud at the spectacle of it. It was dramatic and she was having fun with it.

As we ate I asked her, “Liz, what do you want to happen if your book is a success? Are you going to continue to write in your spare time and keep your job? Do you want to be a full-time author? Will you run off and join the circus?”

“Is that last one an option? ’Cause I could see doing the last one, maybe be a bareback rider or trapeze artist.”

She took some coffee, and went on. “In my dream, I am successful enough that I could be a full-time writer. I’d like that, I think. The reality is that first-time authors rarely earn enough to support themselves. So I think I’d probably have to keep my job—or some job, anyway; the thought of continuing to work for Schwartz for the next few years gives me the shivers—and keep on writing after work and on weekends. So that’s probably what will happen.”

“Well, don’t authors have to do book tours and interviews to publicize their books? Won’t you have to do that?”

“I hadn’t thought about it, but yes, I suppose that’s true. Maybe I could take a leave of absence for a couple of months so I could do that, though I don’t know how the finances would work. Maybe that’s what the advance is for.”

“I guess you’ll find out about the book tours soon enough. Get it published first.

“And hey, Liz, this thought just popped into my head. Maybe I’m being a little paranoid, but put it in the back of your mind anyway for when the time comes. Before you sign a contract, have your own lawyer review it first.

“I like Deb Morrow, and I don’t think she’d intentionally hurt you, but the company’s lawyers are looking out for the company, so the contract will probably have you ceding all rights to your work in return for publication and some compensation. I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but things like non-print media rights, serialization, movie options, TV adaptations, stuff like that, ought to be negotiated separately. The company’s lawyers will likely have you signing over all that to them in the contract. Just be careful, okay?”

She looked thoughtful. “It hadn’t occurred to me, but you’re right, worth watching out for. Thanks.”

We talked a bit more till the coffee was done, and I offered to help with the dishes. She declined. I insisted. It did look like a lot of dishes, and I told her that stuff always went faster with two people. So she relented, and we washed dishes and talked.

“Had any thoughts about your next book? I know you haven’t finished this one yet, but you creative types are always thinking, planning, scheming.”

She smiled. “Yeah, there’s a couple of things bubbling away in there, but I don’t want them up top because I need to finish this first. But there’s things I’m filing away.”

I told her, “I had this great idea for a novel about a scientist, handsome, strong jaw, noble brow, erudite, struggling to create a vaccine against stupidity, but he is opposed by special interests in Washington and an evil corporate conspiracy.”

“I dunno, Halloran, sounds pretty far-fetched to me. Handsome scientist with strong jaw? Who’d believe it? That’s a pretty hard sell.”

“People always oppose great ideas.”

“Keep a list, maybe you’ll come up with something more believable, like some young British kid being sent off to a school for witchcraft and wizardry.”

“Oh, yeah, like that would ever sell.“

We finished the dishes, and she asked if I’d like a drink, but I thought I ought not since I was driving. In the back of my head I was toying with the fantasy of applying a dose of hypnozamine to her and convincing her that she was so desperate for my body that she’d tear off my clothes and fuck me on the kitchen floor.

However my rational mind was saying, not the right time. I would have given anything to get her into bed, but I wanted it to happen in the right circumstances. I was having a hard time with that, since I’d convinced any number of women that they needed me so badly that they practically fell over at my touch. But I couldn’t do that with her, and I wasn’t sure why.

It had been a better than pleasant evening. She was funny and smart and perhaps the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I got along with her, we laughed at each other’s jokes, she was insightful, and she was appreciative of my ideas and suggestions. I didn’t want to spoil it by rushing into sex, so I decided to wait. I hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.

“Liz, this has been the nicest evening I can remember in a long time. It was sweet of you to invite me, and I’m glad that we got to spend some time together. First thing I’m going to do when I get home is to take the Poison Control Center off of speed dial. I’d offer to cook for you, but then I’d have to put it back on again.”

“Sam, I was happy to do it. It was nice to make a meal for someone. Especially when that someone has done so much for me. Oh! Wait! Don’t go yet! I forgot.”

She rushed into her writing alcove and booted her computer, calling out, “This won’t take long, just wait, please.” Eventually she was able to print out some pages, which she clipped together with a paper clip and handed to me.

“I forgot that I have some new pages for you to look over. You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course not! I told you, you’ve got me hooked and I have to see how it turns out. Thanks.”

She walked me to the door. “I’m glad you came, Sam. I wanted to do something nice for you in return for all the support you’ve given me.”

“I had a great time. Thank you. You’re really an interesting person, Liz. I hope I learn more about you. Before you get famous, I mean.”

“Halloran, sometimes you’re full of it.” But she reached up and gave me a kiss on the cheek, and smiled as she closed the door. It was a good thing I had one hand on the door frame because I got dizzy for a moment.

At home, I sat down with her latest pages and read through them. Her story unfolded in such a natural way I was impressed. I was now curious what Deb Morrow would change, because I could see very little in what Liz had done that needed modification. Well, that’s what Deb was good at, and whatever changes she suggested I’m sure would only make the story better.

I put the pages down and lay back on the couch, thinking about the evening. She was a fascinating woman. I realized that the problem with beautiful women was that men—and some women, too—never saw beneath the surface. A stunning woman was—depending on the prejudices of the observer—dumb, a slut, a gold digger, shallow, superficial, easy, and so on. On some level, it was easier to be a plain or even an ugly woman and make your way in the world. Beautiful women had two strikes against them before they even started work.

I hoped that she’d make a success of her writing. It was fortunate, I thought, that the editor I chanced upon was a woman. A man in the same profession would have developed his own prejudices about women authors, and it would have been harder for her to convince him she had talent underneath the looks.

That got me thinking about my own reactions to Liz. She could smile in a certain way and I became helpless, mute. If she touched my hand or kissed me on the cheek, I became almost paralyzed. I was no Lothario, but I did get along with most women and felt fairly comfortable around them, confident in my own abilities and charm and looks.

With Liz, all that was out the window. I was like a high school kid trying to talk to his first crush, feeling like the biggest dork in school, tongue-tied and awkward. I batted that around in my head for a while, trying to understand it, then bolted straight upright on the couch.

No wonder I felt tongue-tied and awkward. I think I was falling in love with her! That explains a lot.