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William Shunn                                                 
12 Courier Lane
Pica's Font, NY 10010
(212) 555-1212
format@shunn.net

Active member, SFWA

















                         The Normal Guy
					
                   a novel by Perry Slaughter
























					
                       about 60,000 words



                                            Shunn / Normal / 1























                           Prologue

                     Out of the Frying Pan



     Ford fitted the key into the deadbolt, muttering a silent

prayer.  The key scraped and protested as he tried to turn it

in the lock, but at least it seemed to work.  With a sigh of

relief, he twisted the doorknob.

     "Right this way," Ford said with a hearty smile, stepping

aside as the apartment door swung open.  "Welcome to my new

digs."

     First his best friend Peter Donovan, then his younger

brother Barry, filed past him into the narrow entry hall.

     Peter stopped not six feet into the apartment.  "Phew,"

he said.  "'Digs' is right.  Smells like an archeologist would

be right at home here.  Brings back fond memories of that



                                            Shunn / Normal / 2

place we had in college in Salt Lake."

     "Ugh," Barry said, right behind Peter.  "No wonder you

two were always out getting in trouble.  You couldn't stand to

stay home."

     "Getting in trouble?" Peter asked in mock offense.  His

black beard bristled.  "Ford, what kind of stories have you

been telling this little brother of yours?"

     "Only the truth."  Ford was lingering on the threshold,

nervous to actually enter, afraid of what he would find.  "And

Barry's not so little anymore."

     "I'll tell you what this place smells like," Barry said,

sniffing.  "I left some sweaty clothes in my gym bag once, and

then forgot about them for a couple of months.  When Mom

finally opened the bag to wash them, this is the sweet aroma

that wafted forth."

     Ford made a face.  "How would you know?  I can't believe

you were anywhere near the laundry room when it happened. 

That would be totally out of character for you."

     "I know because she hunted me down and practically rubbed

them in my face before she threw them out.  My shorts were

black from the mildew."

     "Good old Mom."  Ford closed the door behind him, and the

apartment dimmed to an oppressive gray.  "You probably would

have gone ahead and worn them again otherwise."

     Peter was peering to his right, through a doorless

chipped doorway into the living room.  "Open that up again,



                                            Shunn / Normal / 3

Ford," he said.  "We need the air."

     "Oh, come on," Ford said, breathing as shallowly as he

could.  "It's not that bad."

     "So said the Nazis to the Jews.  'Zis Zyklon B

disinfectant may smell a bit unpleasant, but it vill do

vonders for your sinuses.  Trust us.'"

     Barry peeked around a corner to the left.  "It gets even

better in the kitchen, bro.  Looks like someone invented a new

party game here.  The object is to see how many plates and

cups and bowls you can pile up before the stack either falls

over or transmutes into a new life form."  He looked back at

Ford.  "The humans don't seem to be winning."

     Ford remained in the entry hall while Peter and Barry

traded places, like two scouts on point.

     "Gross," Peter said, examining the kitchen.  "Totally and

idiotically gross."

     "Nice decor in the living room, though," Barry said. 

"Not necessarily creative, but definitely tasteful.  Oh, my,

yes . . ."

     Ford finally screwed up enough courage to trail Barry

into the living room.  Peter followed.

     Barry opened the blinds that covered the sliding glass

door.  Bright daylight from the courtyard outside flooded into

the room.  A sofa and love seat upholstered in early grunge

met in the corner of the room.  The cushions were stained and

askew.  The coffee table was covered with magazines, bills,



                                            Shunn / Normal / 4

receipts, pizza boxes, Coke cans, bread crusts, crushed

peanuts, crumpled advertising circulars, remote controls, and

a couple of mismatched socks.  Crumbs were ground liberally

into the rug.  A television with crusty food on the screen and

a bent hangar for an antenna sat on a pair of orange crates in

the opposite corner.  Tacked in a two-by-three arrangement on

the adjacent wall were six identical black-and-white posters

of a disheveled but smiling Claudia Schiffer nearly falling

out of her black lace bustier.

     Peter folded his arms, stood back from the posters like a

museum patron, and nodded his head.  "Very nice.  Andy Warhol

himself couldn't have done any better.  Don't you think the

repetition makes quite a statement about the current state of

pop culture?"

     Barry couldn't take his eyes off the posters.  He was

only nineteen.

     "Well, those will have to come down," Ford said.  He

opened the sliding glass door for air.  He thought he might

either vomit or pass out.  "Can't entertain quality women in

an environment like this.  And this mess will have to be

cleaned up . . ."

     Peter carefully poked at the debris on the coffee table. 

"Yeah.  Remind me to lend you my steamshovel."

     "Oh, come on, Pete."  Ford's smile was forced.  "It's

just a typical bachelor pad.  All it needs is a little

cleaning up."



                                            Shunn / Normal / 5

     "Yeah, Ford," Peter said, hefting a box of partially

eaten pizza.  "That's the spirit.  You've always been a real

the-box-is-half-full kind of guy."

     Barry was now examining the Claudia Schiffer posters from

up close.

     Ignoring Peter, Ford clapped Barry on the shoulder. 

"Start taking those down, will you?  And put your eyes back in

your head.  You're leaving on a mission next week."

     "You don't have to remind me," Barry said.  "But doesn't

a man get one last drink of water before he starts on his

journey across the desert?"

     "No.  He has to start learning to deal with his thirst

right away."

     "You were seeing Helen right up until the very moment

they set you apart as a missionary."

     "And a little while after, too," Ford said, heading for

the kitchen.  The kitchen couldn't really be any worse than

the living room.  "And trust me, it was a mistake.  That's

what big brothers are for, to make all your mistakes for you

while you're still dumb enough to believe me when I tell you

it was no fun."

     Peter shadowed Ford into the kitchen, hovering at his

shoulder like a big curious bear.  "Stop that," Ford said.

     "Stop what?"

     "Breathing down my neck.  You know I hate that."

     "I thought you liked it."



                                            Shunn / Normal / 6

     "If you were prettier, then I might like it."

     The mess in the kitchen was as bad as Barry had

indicated.  Worse, actually.

     "Don't touch those dishes," Peter said.  "Whatever's

buried underneath doesn't want its resting place disturbed. 

That's an ancient Egyptian curse written on the tile there in

mold."

     Ford touched the stack of dishes anyway, helpless not to.

He was rewarded with a resounding crash.  He jumped back--

right into Peter--as dishes clattered over the counter and

onto the floor.

     "Told you," Peter said, backing up.  "Now the curse of

the slime mold will be visited upon you and your posterity

unto the fourth generation."

     Ford looked for something to wipe his hand on.  He

settled for a relatively clean patch of wall.  "I'm not even

going to open the refrigerator."

     "You're coming to your senses, finally."  Peter pulled a

chair out from the kitchen table, examined it, shrugged, then

straddled it backwards.  "Seriously, Ford, this place is a

bigger dump than anything we ever lived in during school.  We

never let things get that out of hand.  Heck, even my wife

wouldn't let the dishes go that long."

     "She couldn't."  Ford turned in a slow circle, surveying

his grimy new domain.  He was feeling something like despair.

"You can't let the dishes go two meals without throwing your



                                            Shunn / Normal / 7

hands up in despair and doing them yourself."

     Peter inclined his head and stroked his black beard. 

"Granted.  But you hate pigpens as much as I do.  Which makes

it all the harder for me to understand why you ever took a

place like this."

     Ford eyed the door of the refrigerator.

     "I mean, what?" Peter asked.  "Did they throw a blanket

over this mess while they gave you the grand tour?  Sweep all

the garbage under the rug?"

     Barry wandered into the kitchen with a rolled-up poster

in his hand.  "Yeah, that's it exactly.  And they put a

clothespin on his nose, too."

     Ford's hand inched toward the refrigerator door.  He had

to fight not to grab the handle.  It was like an itch he could

barely keep from scratching.

     "Ford?" Peter asked.  "You did look at the place before

you rented it?  Right?"

     "Huh?" Ford said.

     Peter slapped his forehead.  "Oh, good grief, Ford! 

Don't tell me you didn't look at the place first!"

     "Well . . . I looked at the unit around the corner.  It

was clean."

     Barry rolled his eyes.  "And Dad says I'm the dumb one." 

He wandered back into the living room.

     Peter was pounding his head on the back of the chair. 

"Ford, Ford, where did I go wrong with you?"



                                            Shunn / Normal / 8

     "Well, I thought the unit around the corner was the one

I'd be moving into.  My friend Gordon from work was moving

out, and I was going to buy his contract."

     "I thought this was Gordon's place."

     "No.  Around the corner.  North side of the building. 

Best kept apartment in the whole complex.  Turns out there was

a waiting list for it as long as my leg.  I didn't find out

until this morning.  Gordon had no idea.  He thought he could

just turn his contract over to me, but the bubblehead in the

rental office had other ideas."

     "And you'd already given notice at the old place and had

your stuff all boxed up and ready to go."

     "Yeah!  What could I do?  I threw a fit, and this girl

said she shouldn't really do it, but there was an opening in

this other apartment and I could have it today if I wanted. 

She vouched for the place.  'I'd feel really comfortable

putting you in with Leonard and Tyler,' she said.  Her exact

words.  'Really comfortable.'"

     Peter shook his head.  "Dissembling wench."

     "Pretty, though.  Nice body.  Still, she had all the

charm of a leopard shark."

     "Tragedy.  You going to ask her out?"

     Ford snorted.  "Are you kidding?  Not after seeing this

place."  His lip curled.  "Boy, I'd like to show her 'really

comfortable.'"

     "I'll just bet you would."



                                            Shunn / Normal / 9

     "Yeah, you're right," Ford said, sighing.  "I would."

     He opened the refrigerator without thinking.  The stench

hit him so hard he couldn't catch his breath for half a

minute.

     "Suckered by a dame," Peter said, rising from his chair

to shut the refrigerator while Ford coughed and pawed tears

from his eyes.  "Oldest story of 'em all."

     Ford controlled his coughing long enough to say, "Story

of my life."

     "But I know you, Ford.  You'll cope.  You'll put the best

face on things.  And then you'll give it a nose job, take a

tuck in the eyelids, inject some collagen in the lips, and

rebuild the chin, just like you always do."  Peter shook his

head and clapped Ford on the shoulder.  "You'll get by."

     Barry wandered back into the kitchen.  He now had a

poster in each hand.  "Think your roommates will miss one of

these?"

     Ford, hands on his knees, looked up at his younger

brother.  "Is a bear Catholic?  Does the Pope--"

     "Does that mean yes?"

     "Of course it means yes.  Of course they'll miss it. 

They can't keep house, but they no doubt have every last item

of their pornography tagged, indexed, and bar-coded."

     "So . . ."

     "Oh, all right, Barry.  Just remember to leave it here

again before you go into the MTC.  And try not to enjoy it too



                                           Shunn / Normal / 10

much."

     Barry grinned.  "Yes!"

     "Come on, guys," Peter said, helping Ford to stand erect.

"Let's check out this poor sucker's bedroom.  Then we can

bring the van around and start unloading.  Unless our stomachs

unload first, that is."










































                                           Shunn / Normal / 11

















                   Part I:  Time and a Word





                           Chapter 1

                        Donovan's List



     Ford sat down to dinner with the Donovan family in the

kitchen of their small house.

     "Katie," Peter said, "will you offer the blessing,

please?"

     Katie, five years old, nodded gravely.  She bowed her

head and closed her eyes.  "Heavenly Father.  Thank thee for

this food.  Thank thee for this day.  Thank thee Ford could

eat over with us.  Name of Jesus Christ, amen."

     The three adults repeated the amen.

     Ford was just reaching for his water when Stevie, three,

said, "Me doot!"

     Peter's wife Connie rolled her eyes.



                                           Shunn / Normal / 12

     "Okay, go ahead," Peter said.

     "Hev Fah," Stevie said.  His arms were almost folded, and

he grinned widely, mugging.  "Fang foo.  Nayma Kwice.  Men!"

     The three adults repeated the amen.

     Stevie giggled and clapped his hands.  Katie rolled her

eyes, mimicking her mother.

     While Connie brought a pot of white rice to the table,

Peter went into the next room to put on some music.

     "I finished reading your novel manuscript this afternoon,

Ford," Connie said.

     Ford pushed his chair back to help Connie with the food. 

She was eight months pregnant, but looked like ten.  "And?" he

said.

     "Oh, sit down.  I'm not an invalid yet."  She set a bowl

of steamed vegetables on the table.  "And . . . I loved it.  I

couldn't put it down, despite the language.  And despite that

sex scene."

     "Theck theen," Stevie said.

     "I warned you," Ford said.

     "I know.  Peter did, too."  Connie dished up rice and

veggies for the two children.  Stevie promptly began rubbing

the rice into his hair.  "I'm leaving the chicken sauce on the

stove.  You can help yourself.  I still can't get over it,

though."

     "The scene was necessary," Ford said, helping himself.

     "I know."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 13

     "If you didn't see Rob Spillman's wife rape him after the

revivalists brought her back from the dead, if you didn't

experience it with him, then you'd never be able to understand

why he thought killing himself was the only way he could get

away from her."

     "I know."  Connie dished more rice onto Stevie's plate. 

Katie was eating quietly.

     "Theck theen!" Stevie cried.  "Theck theen!"  This time

he began to eat.

     Loud, intricate rock music came from the next room.

     "It's just . . . that scene seemed so authentic.  All the

details.  The little details.  I don't know how you managed

it.  You're not married, after all."

     Peter came back into the kitchen.  "He had me for a

technical advisor," he said with a private wink for Ford.  "I

told him everything we've ever tried."

     "You'd better not have."

     Peter laughed and kissed Connie affectionately, then sat

down at the table.  Even hugely pregnant, Connie still looked

like a petite little china doll next to her husband.  The bear

and the fox, Ford had always thought of them.

     "When Ford sells Silvertide and it goes to the top of the

bestseller lists, he'll owe me ten percent of the royalties." 

Peter heaped his plate with rice, then slathered the rice with

butter.  "And then, my dear, our bedroom antics will have made

us rich."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 14

     "Now I feel like a prostitute," Connie said.

     "Hard to get that kind of work when you've let your

figure go so far," Peter pointed out.

     Ford grinned, his mouth full, as Connie smacked Peter

with a spatula.

     "Now there's one I forgot to tell you about, Ford," Peter

said, rubbing his shoulder.

     "Theck theen, Da!" Stevie said, competing with the music

in volume.

     "You tell 'em, kid.  Whatever the hell you're saying."

     "What in the world is this music?" Connie asked,

wrinkling her nose.

     "Yeah, what in the world is this music?" Katie asked,

wrinkling her nose.

     "Yes," Peter said.  He had covered his buttered rice with

steamed vegetables, then ladled chicken sauce over the whole

mixture.  It was a third gone already.

     "Yes?"

     "Yes," Ford said, agreeing.  "Their second album."

     "Whatever," Connie said.

     "I hope you made a lot of this," Peter said.  "Moving our

friend Ford into his latest apartment is always hungry work."

     "No, dear.  It completely slipped my mind, the fact that

my husband has the appetite of a buffalo in springtime.  So

how is the new place, Ford?"

     Ford swallowed his mouthful.  "Just fine."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 15

     "It's an armpit," Peter said, smiling.

     "It's not an armpit."

     "No, it's worse than an armpit.  I'd give it another

name, but the children are present."

     "It's really not as bad as all that, Connie," Ford said.

     "It is as bad as all that, Connie," Peter said.  "Even

Ford's brother Barry agreed, and that's saying something. 

It's the armpit of Provo.  Nay, the armpit of all of Utah

County."

     "What's an armpit, Daddy?" Katie asked.

     Peter reached across the table and tickled her.  "That's

your armpit, honey.  And it's where Ford lives."

     When Katie was through laughing, she said to Ford, "You

don't really live in my armpit."

     "Not unless he's a louse," Peter said.  "Which I doubt."

     "Theck theen!" Stevie opined.

     "My roommates would appear to be less than accomplished

at the art of housekeeping," Ford said to Connie.  "I'll get

them whipped into shape."

     "That was certainly diplomatic.  What are they like?"

     "Porcine creatures," Peter said.  "Dung beetles.  Trailer

park dwellers."

     Connie punched Peter lightly on the arm.  "Besides messy,

I meant."

     "I don't really know," Ford said.  "I haven't met them

yet."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 16

     "We've examined their spoor, though," Peter said.  His

plate was nearly empty.  He dished up more rice.  "Studentus

partyanimalus, I'd say."

     "How many?" Connie asked.  "Can you tell from the spoor?"

     "Two," Ford said.  "Leonard and Tyler.  But there are

four bedrooms.  One's empty.  I assume it won't stay that way

for long, though, what with fall semester starting at BYU in a

couple of weeks."

     "That sounds like a crowd," Connie said.

     "It's a big place."

     "I liked your last place," Connie said.  "It was awfully

cute."

     "And clean," Peter said.  "Spotless.  Antiseptic."

     "I don't know why you didn't stay there."

     "Besides the fact that his roommate was a fairy."

     "I still don't know that for certain," Ford said.

     "He was a card-carrying fairy.  You know it as well as I

do."

     "I thought fairies were girls," Katie said.

     "They'd like to be, honey."  Peter turned to Connie. 

"And anyway, Ford has a genetic inability to remain in one

apartment for more than six months at a time.  His feet start

to itch uncontrollably.  His eyes ache for a change of

scenery."

     "I'm trying to save money," Ford said.

     "You make lots of money," Connie said.  "Twice what we



                                           Shunn / Normal / 17

do."

     "Three times," Peter said.  "Don't badger the man about

it.  He feels guilty enough about it already."

     Ford, a struggling novelist, worked as a technical writer

for a software company.  Peter, a struggling novelist, worked

as the assistant manager of a bookstore.

     "I'm just curious about this particular move, that's

all," Connie said.  "It doesn't seem to fit the pattern."

     Ford helped himself to more rice and chicken.  He was

beginning to feel uncomfortable.

     "Look, dear, you're embarrassing him," Peter said. 

"Let's change the subject, shall we?  Ford?"

     Ford shrugged.  "Fine by me."

     "Theck theen!" Stevie suggested.  He had cleaned his

plate, just like his father.

     "I don't think so, Stevie," Connie said.

     Katie shook her head.  "No, I don't think so, Stevie."

     Peter went to the cupboard and brought a box of graham

crackers and a jar of applesauce back to the table.  "Okay,

Ford, so tell us about this Annette that you and Barry were

discussing this afternoon."

     "I wouldn't really call it a discussion," Ford said.

     "No, it was more of a conspiracy.  You're trying to get

her to come to Barry's mission farewell on Sunday."  Peter

distributed graham crackers to the two children, then took

three for himself.  "That's what you said to him before he



                                           Shunn / Normal / 18

left:  'Be sure that Dad calls Annette and invites her to your

mission farewell.  Don't forget.'"

     "This sounds intriguing," Connie said.  "So who is she?"

     "Who is she, Ford?" Katie asked.

     "I'm not sure I've mentioned her before," Ford said

between bites.  He was the only one still eating rice and

chicken.  "Annette Schoenfeld is a close friend of the family.

Her parents were like parents to my father when his parents

died.  The Schoenfelds never adopted him exactly, but they

treated him like another son.  Annette is their youngest

daughter--sort of a happy surprise--they had twelve children

in all--and she's only a year older than me.  We grew up

playing together pretty much like cousins."

     "Kissing cousins?" Peter asked.  He had ladled applesauce

out into five bowls and was passing them around the table.

     "I wish."

     "So she's single?" Connie asked.

     "Divorced.  One young son.  You know, I grew up always

thinking that Annette and I would get married someday.  I took

it as a given.  We both got back from our missions at about

the same time, and I was planning to ask her out and start

pursuing things, but she almost immediately announced her

engagement to this guy who'd been her zone leader in her

mission.  I was crushed.  Their wedding reception was a real

drag.  I hated every miserable minute of it."

     Peter scooped up a gob of applesauce with a graham



                                           Shunn / Normal / 19

cracker and popped the mess into his mouth.  "But there's a

happy ending to the story?"

     Ford made a face.  "Don't say that to Annette.  Poor

woman.  You remember that book signing for Tales from the

Corridor last December?"

     "The one at Waking Owl Books in Salt Lake?" Connie asked.

     "The competition," Peter muttered.

     "Sorry," Ford said.  "That wasn't my fault.  But anyway,

Annette showed up, completely out of the blue.  It was the

first time I'd seen her since her wedding, over four years. 

She'd spotted an ad for the signing and seen my name on the

list of contributing authors.  She looked terrific, but when I

asked her how she was, she started to cry, right there in the

middle of the crowd."

     Peter polished off his last graham cracker.  "And you

were there with ready comfort, right?"

     "Damn straight.  And when she finally got it together,

she told me Dick was divorcing her."

     Peter shook his head.  "That Dick."

     Stevie waved his gummed and disintegrating graham cracker

in the air.  "Dit!"

     "It still makes me angry to think about it," Ford said. 

"I mean, she's the best woman in the world."

     "Ahem," Connie said.

     "No retraction.  How someone could be dumb enough to have

that and then throw it away . . ."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 20

     "Why did he do it?" Peter asked.

     "I still don't know.  Annette didn't volunteer the

information, and I didn't pry.  I'm sure my parents know all

about it from other sources by now, but they're not in the

habit of sharing family secrets with the kids.  Anyway,

Annette told me she wanted me to hear the news from her before

I started hearing rumors, and then she just sort of slipped

away.  Left me standing there stunned.  I didn't know what to

do or say."

     "And that's the last you've seen of her?" Connie asked.

     "No.  The next day, I hunted up her address and sent her

a Christmas card with my phone number, telling her how sorry I

was about the whole mess and how I wanted her to call me if

there was ever anything I could do for her."

     "You should have just asked her out," Connie said.  "Not

left it in her hands."

     "I couldn't.  The divorce wasn't final."

     "Well, did she ever call?"

     "No, but I ran into her a couple of months later at the

Brick Oven.  I was with some friends, and she was with some

friends, and she spotted me and came up and gave me a big hug

and thanked me for the sweet, sweet card I'd sent her.  She

told me her divorce would be final in a couple more weeks, and

that she was doing just fine.  Then she asked me about me. 

Specifically, she asked if I was seeing anyone."

     Peter closed his eyes and shook his head.  "Oh, Ford. 



                                           Shunn / Normal / 21

Don't tell me."

     Ford raised his hands defensively.  "It seemed like an

innocent inquiry at the time.  It didn't hit me why she was

asking that until later."

     Peter pounded his forehead on the table.

     "That hurts my head, Daddy," Katie said.  "Don't do

that."

     "What?" Connie asked, looking back and forth between Ford

and Peter.

     "A couple of months after Christmas," Peter said.  "Don't

you get it?  That's when Ford was wasting his life in the

pursuit of Heather Kowalski.  Six whole months he spent

flogging that horse before he realized it was not only dead,

cremated, and its ashes scattered to the four winds, but that

it had never even been worth its weight in oats while it was

still alive."

     "You bypassed a childhood dream for Heather Kowalski?"

Connie asked.  "Oh, Ford."

     Ford shrugged, finishing his dinner.  "That's always been

my biggest character flaw.  I can't date more than one woman

at a time."

     "I'm going to have to beat this habit out of you," Peter

said, passing Ford a bowl of applesauce and two graham

crackers.  "I mean, she all but crawled into your lap and

said, 'Take me, I'm yours,' and you told her you were seeing

someone else."



                                           Shunn / Normal / 22

     "I know, I know."

     "No wonder you never said anything about her."

     "You like this woman a lot," Connie said.

     Ford nodded.

     "And that's the last you heard from her?"

     Ford nodded.

     "Well, why don't you call her up?  You still need a date

for your high school reunion this weekend, don't you?"

     Ford nodded.

     "Who better than a girl you grew up with?"

     "I haven't seen her for six months," Ford said.

     "So?  She came to that book signing when she hadn't seen

you for four years."

     "That's different."

     "How?"

     "She was getting divorced.  She wasn't telling me she was

seeing someone else.  She could probably care less about me

now."

     "But you still want her to come to your brother's mission

farewell," Peter said.

     "I want to meet her on neutral ground.  Ease back into

things.  I don't want to call her up out of the blue and say,

'Hey, my last squeeze didn't work out, so how about it?  After

all, you're next woman down my list.  You're the consolation

prize.'"

     "I think this Annette woman just moved up to number one



                                           Shunn / Normal / 23

on our list," Connie said.  "Don't you think, Peter?"

     "I do think," Peter said.

     "What list?"

     Peter tilted his bowl up and drained it of applesauce. 

"Our list of women we want you to go out with."

     "You have a list of women you want me to go out with?"

     "Of course."  Peter licked applesauce out of his beard.

     Stevie tilted his own bowl up and ended up with

applesauce all over his face.

     "Oh, Stevie," Connie said.

     "I eat mine with a spoon," Katie said primly.

     "Theck theen!" Stevie said proudly.

     "Why have I never heard of this list before?" Ford asked.

"Why have I never been fixed up with any these women?"

     "Come on, Ford," Peter said.  "You know we'd never work

that way.  The best you can expect from us is that we might

engineer a chance encounter for you sometime with one of these

women, and then let you take things from there.  Friends don't

let friends date blind."

     "So who was number one on the list before Annette?"

     Connie was wiping Stevie's face with a wet washcloth. 

"Monica Ballard," she said.

     "Why don't you get Ford when you're done with Stevie,

dear," Peter said.  "He's got some applesauce on his face,

too."

     Ford touched his face.  "Where?"



                                           Shunn / Normal / 24

     Peter looked more closely.  "Oh, I guess that's supposed

to be a beard."

     "Very funny," Ford said.  "Connie, I think your husband

has Spanish moss growing on his face.  If this were October,

I'd guess he were dressing up as an oak tree for Halloween."

     "Touché, turtle."

     "So who's Monica Ballard?"

     "Remember?" Connie said, moving on to Katie's face.  "We

ran into her outside Chili's last New Year's Eve."

     "Her?" Ford said.  "The one with the long black hair?"

     "That's the one.  Didn't you think she was attractive?"

     "Oh, very.  But she was only seventeen."

     "She's eighteen now," Peter said.  "Legal."

     "But she was divorced already," Ford said.  "And had a

kid."

     "Just like Annette," Connie said.

     "Annette's ten years older."

     "Listen, Ford," Peter said, "Monica's the sweetest girl

I've ever known.  Sharp, too.  When she was fourteen, we

trusted her enough to leave Katie with her for the whole

weekend while we went out of town.  All she needs is a good

man, as opposed to the gutter slime she normally seems to

attract."

     "Connie?" Ford said.

     "I agree," she said, "but more so."

     "Is Monica going to come tend us again?" Katie asked.



                                           Shunn / Normal / 25

     "Mocka!" Stevie cried happily.

     "I think it's about time she did," Connie said.

     "I agree," Peter said.  "But more so."

     "Theck theen!" Stevie said, throwing his hands in the

air.

     "Let's hope not, Stevie," Connie said.

     "You know, someday that kid's going to learn to speak

English," Peter said.

     "I'm starting to worry that he won't," Connie said. 

"Maybe there's something wrong with him."

     "My brother Barry was three before he could talk," Ford

said.

     "But you were reading by the time you were three.  And

doing multiplication.  I keep wishing my son were smart like

that."

     "Careful what you wish for," Ford said.  "I knew how to

read, but I couldn't tie my own shoes until I was seven.  My

little sister Holly had to come find me after school during

the winter to make sure my boots were tied before we walked

home together."

     "I can tie my shoes," Katie said.  "I know my own phone

number, too."

     "Stevie's fine," Peter said.  "He just enjoys being

cryptic.  He'll grow up to be a T.S. Eliot or a James Joyce. 

Which still doesn't mean he'll ever learn English."

     Ford finished his applesauce.  "All right.  You can



                                           Shunn / Normal / 26

arrange a chance encounter for me sometime with Monica.  I

won't complain."

     "Always the martyr," Peter said.  "It'll hardly be like 

getting spikes driven through your wrists.  And even if it is,

you might like it."

     "Still doesn't get me a date to my reunion this weekend. 

That's what I need right now."

     "Why don't you take your wife?" Katie asked.

     Peter laughed.  Connie rolled her eyes.

     "Because I don't have a wife," Ford said.  "I'm not

married."

     "You're not?  Why not?"

     "It's sure not for lack of trying," Peter said.

     "Not all grownups are married, honey," Connie said.

     Katie looked surprised.  "I could marry Ford."

     "Is Katie on our list, dear?" Peter asked.

     Connie hit him with the spatula.

     "I think I'm free twenty years from now," Ford said. 

"I'll keep 2014 open."
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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