Mark shot down one hill, and up the next, to avoid both wearing out his brakes and to maintain speed and spare the poor underpowered car the chore of lugging up the next in a lower gear. The Fiat was starting to show its age and general condition. It had spent most of its recent life in the flatlands and was accustomed to a more leisurely regimen.
He was generally descending, though, and after a bit the terrain started opening up and the buildings grew closer together. He noted that he had arrived at Cumberland, Maryland.
Cumberland, and the next stretch of highway, brought back bittersweet memories of the early days of his romance with Laura.
Laura and Mark had met on-line, in a chat room full of ax murderers and other scum. Well, that's what the folks off-line thought of the Internet People, anyway. The people in #mcreadys were more apt to be overly dramatic than to commit violence. Laura's second husband had recently died, and she was finding the role playing of the virtual bar comforting. Perhaps not comforting in the hugs and kisses sense, since she had adopted a dual personality. The caring, loving DoctorM could, with the addition of a few shots of Wild Turkey, become the murderous Evil Doctor Laura, or EvilDrLaura.
EvilDrLaura was compelling to many of the male and to some of the female patrons. She was long-legged, and sexily dressed, and Knew How To Get What She Wanted. The men would fall at her feet, perhaps in an attempt to look up her skirt, and she would use them if they were lucky.
If they were unlucky, she'd bring out her scalpels, and disassemble the poor victim into his component parts. After a while, the Wild Turkey would wear off, and EvilDrLaura would disappear, to be replaced by kindly DoctorM.
Mark looked on in morbid erotic fascination, just like all the others, and had no idea what was in store for him. Of course, neither did she.
Periodically, the patrons of #mcreadys would gather together in person, to provide a chance to converse freely about their common obsessions, and for many to engage in polymorphous perversity of the physical kind. Most any kind of scene you could imagine was represented in #mcreadys, although sometimes it seemed that straight heterosexual intercourse was considered Beyond The Pale.
Mark, being a single male, and split up with his interim girlfriend @Rita, was attracted by the prospect of Hugs and Smart People and (whisper it, don't want it to run away) Sex. He flew to Nashville, was picked up at the airport by friends he had never met, and shortly thereafter arrived at the Party House. There on the porch, drinking beer from the can, sat the actual DoctorM, in torn jeans which revealed patches of skin up and down her legs, and on her firm backside. Her tight tee shirt revealed the perky outline of her nipples, brought to attention no doubt by the slightly chilly breeze.
So that was DoctorM Or was she EvilDrLaura? Mark shyly greeted Laura and bolted into the house. He'd have to face her eventually, of course, because... well, they were going to share a room.
Laura had a roommate picked out, of course, long before the party date. However, he had to cancel a few days before. In casual conversation, Mark had mentioned that he was intrigued and wanted to attend, but couldn't afford both the plane fare and the room. Laura agreed to share with Mark, sight unseen.
He did have some fantasies about what might happen, before he left home, but he knew they were just fantasies. After all, Laura could have her pick of anyone in the chat channel. Once he had seen her in person, he knew it was ridiculous to hope.
The house was filled with cats, and books, and people. Mark smiled nervously and collected his badge and booklet from the table in the "dining" (really a computing) room. He stood in the wide doorway between the living and dining areas, and quietly watched and listened.
Shortly thereafter a svelte silhouette appeared in the doorway. The sunlight shined through a gauzy elfin skirt. The owner was greeted warmly by the folks in the room, with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Although a few called her Becky, most knew her as Banshee.
The hostess was a miniature dark-haired woman with a will of steel and a voice to match. The group of desperately non-conformist #mcreadys patrons was whipped into shape in no time.
Soon it was time for some folks to go to the hotel, to greet the patrons who were coming in by car or directly from the airport to the hotel. Mark volunteered to go along, as he wanted to check in to the room and stow his bag. He was also eager to meet the other faces behind the nicknames. Laura stayed on the porch, smoking, drinking a beer, as she had already been to the hotel (and to the airport) and was done traveling for a while.
Of course, once he got to the hotel, he realized that he had no clue what room was Laura's. He also didn't know the party hostess's name or address, so he couldn't get her phone number. He sat in a padded chair in the lobby and waited.
Shortly thereafter, a small group of Very Large Women arrived, with a basket full of name tags and a box of folders. They asked the hotel clerk for a table and some folding chairs, and they set up their registration in the lobby near the gift shop. Yes, more #mcreadys patrons. A friendly lot they were too, and Mark was soon able to at least say a few words to them. The largest one knew the hostess's phone number, and another placed the call from the front desk after Mark hesitated a split second too long. Very helpful, these Very Large Women. Almost too helpful.
Everything was worked out, and the hotel desk clerk gave Mark a copy of the room key. He dropped off his bag and went back to the lobby, ostensibly to help. There was no way, however, to surmount both his shyness and the Very Large Women at the same time, and so he mostly people watched. He did eye the Butterfingers bars that two of the Women were consuming, but didn't ask for a handout. He was short on cash, and the gift shop candy prices were out of sight.
At about 6:30 or so, the VLW contingent decided that the late stragglers would have to fend for themselves, and loaded up the cars to return to the Party House. Night had fallen, and more and more folks had switched to beer. Mark helped himself to one, and another, and let the conversations wash over him. He avoided the food line, since it seemed to consist of chili and nacho chips and all kinds of other things he couldn't eat. Also, he didn't want to get between a VLW and her dinner!
At some point, the day caught up with him. He hadn't eaten since waiting at Richmond airport that morning, and he was at that point beyond hunger where you're just nauseous and dizzy. Laura came over and sat on the arm of the chair where he had been slumping for almost an hour.
Mark automatically replied "Yeah, sure." Then he thought about it, and said "No, not really. My stomach."
Laura, who was definitely DoctorM, arranged for transportation, and sent him on his way, in a van full of early crashers, driven by the Very Large Woman who no longer had Butterfingers bars.
He got to the hotel room, and crashed. A short time later, the door opened and Laura came in. Mark pretended to be asleep, but opened one eye half way and watched as Laura began to undress.
She said "Tch!" in that way that people talk to themselves when no one is around, and went around the partition to the closet. She finished undressing there, and came back into the main part of the room dressed in a bathrobe. Mark sighed inwardly as she climbed under the covers of her bed, and turned off the light.
She said "I know you're awake. You OK?"
They talked, there in the dark, across a two and a half foot gap, about things and whatnots. He thanked her for sharing the room, and described his financial state. He, in an attempt to explain his need to share a room, detailed the circumstances leading up to declaring bankruptcy. She was sympathetic, and offered a lot of advice. She recommended a credit cleanup service she had read about, to avoid some of the consequences of his filing.
Mark felt ashamed, like the exact opposite of the dashing hero of romance stories. Here he was, alone in a room with a beautiful woman, and he was making himself as unattractive as possible. He sighed, and as their conversation wound down, fell into a troubled sleep.
The next day, Mark woke early as was his habit, showered, dressed, and went down to the lobby. He had some pocket change, and was intrigued by an unusual coffee vending machine in the lobby. He was still starving, and the gift shop was closed. Maybe a hot chocolate from the machine, he thought. He put in his money and pushed the button once, twice, and a third time, but there was no response. Shit. He pressed the Extra Dark Coffee button as a test and the machine began to operate. Oh well.
He sipped the coffee, burning his lip. The thought occurred to him that Laura might want a cup. She had been so kind to him the night before, it only seemed fair. He put his remaining change into the machine, and bought another cup.
Back in the room, he placed the cup on the little table between the beds.
"What's that?" Laura murmured sleepily.
"Coffee. For you."
Laura opened her eyes, and looked over at the cup. She blinked once, twice, and the cup remained.
"Coffee" She sat up, the covers and her somewhat disarrayed bathrobe exposing her left leg. "Wow. That's great"
"It's a little cold," replied Mark, enjoying the spectacle. "But tasty."
Laura got out of bed, grabbing the cup, smiled blearily, and said "That was sweet." Then she padded off to the bathroom. Mark turned on the television, confident that his thrill for the day was already over.
They lay, each in their own bed, and watched children's shows on Saturday morning TV. They both laughed in about the same placed, especially at the Weird Al Yankovic show. It was a mellow, friendly time. After an hour or so, they went down to the lobby and secured a ride back to the Party House.
For the rest of the weekend, they went their separate ways, he on a geeky museum tour and she shopping at the World's Largest Bookstore (one of many). They saw each other briefly as the group gathered at the ice cream parlor (#mcreadys-ans were famous ice cream and chocolate eaters), and separated again. They didn't really see each other again that day, although Mark did catch sight of the infamous EvilDrLaura at one point. She was as dazzling and compelling as he imagined, though a bit less busty (Mark was still suffering from the breast expectations of his magazine-oriented youth). She was also less dangerous, not a scalpel to be seen. He returned to the hotel room, and found it empty. He sighed, and fell sleep, dreaming of black stockings and Wild Turkey.
The room was still empty the next day. Mark was a bit worried, and wondered what had happened with his roommate. Luckily, she had paid the room on her credit card, and there was nothing for him to pay on check out. He left for the airport, for home, pondering his weekend and what he had learned, and what he had missed.
It was a pleasant surprise, a few days later, when Laura posted a synopsis of the weekend (called "Snapshots in My Mind") to the #mcreadys email discussion list. Mixed in with her memories of Nashville was a line reminiscing about the coffee brought to her in bed by Mark, "who really is a hunk, ladies!" Although he didn't believe it, it gave him a warm feeling that someone thought even his Crohn's-battered bulk could still be attractive.
Mark came over another bend, and noticed the town of Frostburg, MD below him. He stopped at a roadside convenience store, which had a small graveyard behind it. Sure enough, it was full of people named Frost. The town wasn't named for the chilly temperature, but for the family who founded it. He bought some ice cream in memory of that Saturday in Nashville, gassed up, and headed west again.