One minute off a precise schedule can bring the most unexpected
"Creature of Habit"
by CHARLES STEELE
Adam Bedside Reader #6
RAND JEFFERS WAS lost
in a scented, smothering sea of rounded sterns, tossed and buffeted by
quivering waves of anatomy each time the bus lurched.
It was not, he admitted, unpleasant. But neither
was it his custom to ride this particularly confused commuter bus so lavishly
laden with sensuous stenographers and frilly file clerks. It made him apart
and uncomfortable. Besides, his very presence here was haphazard, and Rand
was not a haphazard kind of man.
He should have been on the 8:02, in his accustomed
seat, by now hall-way through the editorial column. But the refrigerator
had knocked hell out of things. Recoiling from the twin thrust of upholstered
cones nuzzling his back, Rend hung grimly to the hand strap and damned
refrigerators. And the electric company.
Whichever was at fault, his meticulous morning schedule
was shot because the last egg had spoiled. Tuesday was always a
three-minuter. Since he had to substitute oatmeal, the eight minutes allotted
for shaving was cut.
And cut was the word. The bit of adhesive high on
his cheek gave him a raffish, piratical look. All right for a corsair,
but not for the Miller Agency's neatest, quietest and least known commercial
The bus bounced. So did a firm and uncorseted set
of haunches that leaned into him. Rand inched, away, swallowed hard and
adjusted his tie. It wasn't Tuesday's tie, and didn't match his suit. Hurrying,
he'd utterly disrupted the day's clockwork precision.
Brakes squealed. The driver muttered something he
shouldn't have. A flailing leg hooked back for a toe-held on balance, and
coiled its insinuatingly warm nylon curves about Rand's leg. Torso twisted
in the impossible contortions that only a woman can manage, the girl clutched
at him. A perfumed cluster of redbronze ringlets pillowed against his chin.
In reflex, his arm looped about a slim waist.
The silken leg disengaged itself; the dainty ringlets
sprang away. Her wide and upturned eyes were the luminous shade of a windswept
summer sky. "Ooh--t--thank you; the bus--I'm so sorry." Regretfully, Rand
removed his arm. The color of her eyes was what he'd enjoy splashing raw
on a canvas. It would never happen, of course. Rand drew improbably narrow
girdles, stretched-perspective bras, and hypnotically mascaraed eyes for
the Miller Agency.
"Quite all right," he said.
"I'm so clumsy--,"
"Elfin," he corrected, "a wood sprite in the clutter
The words had just popped out, and Rand was aghast
at the instinct that formed them. All these years of sketching around drooling
The untrustworthy refrigerator, the aged egg, a
later bus--It proved what could happen when safe habit patterns were suddenly
broken. Rand felt the flush creep up from his collar.
"I just knew it," the girl murmured.
"K-knew what?" He had visions of a humiliating scene,
of the bus driver throttling a masher, of women In all sizes and vocal
abilities screaming like bereft banshees.
Her answer was unbelievable. "That you'd be poetic
and irresponsibly gay and romantic."
Those were Miller Agency words for shaving lotion
copy. They had never been applied to Rand Jeffers, and the impact of them
weakened his knees. Perhaps it was the unmatching tie, the tape that might
hide a saber wound, the quick compliment. Gay, dashing?
Her face was piquant, uptitled to him. "Isn't the
next stop an invitation to breakfast brandies?"
On Saturday nights, Rand allowed himself a sip of
sherry. But he couldn't tell this to such a quick,
"I know a place," he said.
He didn't, but there ought to be a few, tailored
especially for gay, dashing assignations with lovely ad venturesses.
As they left the bus at a down town stop, Rand wished
mightily for a cane and carnation, jaunty embellishments no doubt common
to this sophisticated woman. She didn't seem to notice their lack, though,
and sipped at a bell-shaped glass with bored aplomb. In the casual manner
of a pampered debutante, she told him her name was "just Lisa."
Then: "Rand? Of course. You couldn't possibly be
a prosaic Joe or Charlie."
Rand bloomed in her smile, flowered in the unfamiliar
warmth of brandy. The second glass brought small talk easily to his lips.
The third floated him broad-chested into the hotel next door. A tactfully
folded bill brought a man-to-man smile to the desk clerk's face.
When the door closed behind them, Rand knew a moment
of panic. He was actually in a hotel room with a strange and lovely
woman. It was fantastic, bewildering. Calmly, she slipped out of her blouse
and skirt. He could be no less calm.
The brandy made her seem a little blurred, but sweetly
gentle and pliant. Her washed-sky eyes were expectant, her mouth redwet
and waiting. There was a velvet feel to Lisa, a hand-sliding sweep of firm
mounds and soft valleys. They swayed together and the bed was some how
There was high adventure in the clinging legs, a
madwild excursion into the caress of her hips, a safari through unknown
warmth to the last hidden sweetness of a magic temple that enveloped him
in exotic mystery.
Some time later, Rand sighed away from her. She
was asleep, little girl relaxed, looking far more innocent than she was.
His head spun from Lisa's breathless passions as much as from the strong
A clock chimed outside, reminding him that he was
late for work; the first time. But he'd never been stalked by a beautiful
tigress before either. He knew hE had to sneak away from her before she
discovered he wasn't one of her own kind, before she found how meek and
colorless he really was.
Rand needed something to give him courage. Max Miller
was tough boss, and wouldn't appreciate Rand drifting in near high noon.
High was another good word, he decided after his second double. It adequately
described how he felt. He had a couple more, in a purely scientific experiment
to find just how far was up.
The first landing strip looked curiously like a
clothing store, and Rand came in with his wheels up. He taxied out resplendent
in new and dazzling finery, a Rand Jeffers revamped from head to toe.
Trailing fumes and with glassy-eyed confidence,
he looped into the office and banked in on his drawing board. Disdainfully
ignoring the stares of fellow slaves, he went to work. He was masterful,
deft, blocking in outlines with a ready genius. Oils squirted lavishly;
colors screamed from the white expanse. No Breath of Spring girdle rampant
on a field of daisies, no coy uplift dreaming on pink clouds. Only the
real thing today--the huge, glaring and shockingly detailed nude who flung
her ample curves in indiscreet abandon, The nude had skyblue eyes and redgold
A cigar-clotted voice bellowed in Rand's ear: Max
Miller was a tower bulking tall and wide, poised to mangle. The glory-sprawling
nude seemed to have hit him in his bloodshot eye. "So--" he said again,
in tones of chastened awe.
Rand peered through brandy fumes. "Ain't she a gasser?"
Max blinked. "It is," he said, "all of that. You
been hiding this talent in your wristwatch?"
"Gave my watch to a guy on a landing strip," Rand
announced. "Who needs it?"
"Who, Indeed?" Max's cigar said. "Go get some more
of whatever bit you. Tomorrow we talk about the perfume layouts."
Rand wobbled bit. "Nary a damned old girdle."
"Nary," Max agreed, and stood staring at the nude.
Leap-frogging a stool, Rand caromed into a desk.
It was overpoweringly occupied by Joyce Burman--leggy, sultry, and heretofore
chilling receptionist Rand leered down into the copious valley of her arrogant
"What," Joyce inquired, "the hell has happened you?"
"I'm irresponsibly, gay and dashing."
"Hmmm," she hmmed. "You just might be, at that.
Seems I'll have to change my brand."
"Know just the place," Rand said.
Which is how a certain hotel clerk misplaced his
man-to-man grin, although he hung onto the tactfully folded bill. After
all, Rand thought, two in one day might very well upset even a hardened
It didn't make a hell of a lot of difference to
Rand Jeffers. He already stood eagle-like on a far mountain peak, cooled
by glacier winds, warmed by a sun he could touch with his fingertips. Revolt
against time and man was a heady wine.
And Joyce was intoxicating, too. She was golden,
a surprisingly soft-warm tangle of silken legs. a rhythmic comfort in the
absorbing couch of her hips. Experienced and knowing, she retreated in
feminine surrender, attacked with feral hunger. She was one hell of a receptionist,
any way a guy looked at her.
But she wasn't the girl on the bus. She wasn't Lisa-with-no-other
name, the adventuring nymphet left sleeping like a crushed flower--left
and lost in a swirled brandy fog.
The thought was with him when he awoke to a new
day. He didn't miss Joyce, although she had gone long before. He had the
whitehot clang of savage hammers to keep him company--right behind his
eyes. Cowering behind the shield of his new clothes, Rand headed for the
sane security of his own apartment.
He remembered fleeting, hazy scenes: Max Miller
and a glowering cigar; libido run amok in the form of a painted nude; the
seduction of the receptionist. Rand quivered. Life was ruined, all his
careful timetables destroyed, the habit patterns of a quiet existence broken.
He would just have to put them together again, piece by piece. Unless--Rand
snapped erect. The kitchen clock said nine. If he ran, there might be time.
He couldn't find her on the bus. No bronzed ringlets.
It had only been a lark, Lisa's riding this bus yesterday--an irresponsible
whim. Rand didn't even feel the intimate bumping of rounded bodies in the
Then he saw her, crouched in the last seat. Rand
plowed through twittering females and stood over her. "Lisa." Red-faced,
she gaped at him, eyes shadowed and puffy. The bus stopped and he led her
out of its door. They stood under a tree, on a strip of flowered grass
"Lisa--I hoped I'd find you--"
She gulped, held herself stiff.
"M-my name's Lucy, not Lisa; Lucy Smith, but I--I
thought that wouldn't be glamorous enough for--for a m-man like you."
"Lucy? Then you're not--"
She rushed on with a desperate breath. "Not your
kind. N-no. I was just so damned tired of the rut I was in, of doing nothing,
over and over that I--well, don't just stare at me! Go away! Go find some.
dazzling debutante and m-make love to her. A p-playboy like you must have
Her face crumbled, dissolved, and Rand gently brought
her close. Some wise, inherent breath of secret knowledge stopped him from
telling her it had been the same with him. Instead, he sought for different
words and found them.
"You made me change, Lisa--Lucy. I was--looking
for the perfect girl, and I found her in you. If--If you can forgive my
dark pest, I promise to give all my old habits."
She lifted a tear-stained face. "All of them? Drinking
in the morning, picking up strange girls? Will you really give- up all
your old habits, for me?"
Rand pulled her to him, felt the warm, vital length
of her body mould itself to his own. He said it into her hair: "I promise."
It wasn't so hard to say. He'd be too busy making
a lot of new habits.