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One minute off a precise schedule can bring the most unexpected pleasures

"Creature of Habit"



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 artist.
    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 of civilization."
    The words had just popped out, and Rand was aghast at the instinct that formed them. All these years of sketching around drooling ads.
    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,     experienced playgirl.
    "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 under them.
    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 liquor.
    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 hair.
    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 breasts.
    "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 clerk.
    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 ran.
    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 crowded aisle.
    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 a t-thousand--"
    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.

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