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Saturday, February 5, 2011
Chatting Up Chuck by J.S. Nichols
“Make it out to Captain Upchuck.”
Missy froze at the familiar name, her pen suspended over the open book she was about to autograph. Her heart stuttered at the memory of his last, very personal, correspondence. “Did you say, Captain Upchuck?”
“O-M-G! You really do know him? He told me you two had been emailing but I didn’t believe him!” The Goth-dressed teen bounced up and down. She squeed then announced to the people in line behind her, “My brother is an Army captain in Afghanistan. And he knows Missy Parker!”
A few Kings Bookstore patrons smiled, the rest just held their books a little tighter, as if they expected the girl to snatch them and run. After quickly penning the inscription, Missy handed back the book.
“You totally rock! We love your novels. Well, Upchuck loves the sci-fi but I love the romance.” The girl grinned and her twinkling light brown eyes seemed strangely familiar.
“Give the captain my best,” Missy said, as the girl bounded away.
Maybe I’ll tell him myself.
That night she scrolled through her email inbox. Her heart galloped in her chest when she spotted his familiar address captainupchuck@... Smiling to herself, she opened it.
A giggle bubbled up her throat and she shook her head at her own adolescent reaction. She didn’t know what he looked like, but since the first time he emailed her, she imagined. If his body matched his heroism, he had to be the sexiest man in history.
She read, “Hi Missy! Heard you met my sister. You made Ruby’s day. I swear I could hear her squealing all the way from Tidewater. Chat tonight? I have a question and some news. I’ll be online about 6:30 your time. The link to the chat room is at the bottom of this email.”
They had been emailing for six months, ever since he’d sent her a brief but witty missive about one of her earlier novels. Last week, he invited her to chat.
She exhaled her breath on a whoosh. Could she do it? Typing was one thing, but actually talking? What if he didn’t live up to her fantasy? He’d become her muse. She couldn’t afford to lose that.
But… what if he was better than her imagination? She glanced at the clock, seven-thirty. Would he still be on-line? Clicking on the link, she signed on and tried to ignore the butterflies currently wrestling in her belly.
“You’re here!” The message box popped up signed Captain Upchuck. In the darkened image, she couldn’t tell if he spoke or not. The speakers crackled but nothing else came through.
“Sorry I’m late,” she typed. “What’s wrong with the camera and mic? I can’t see anything but shadows. I can barely make-out you sitting there and all I hear is static.”
“Sorry about that. We’re having issues over here but I can see and hear you just fine.” He typed the response before his shadowy image rose from his seat and addressed someone who must have been behind him. But she could make out was he was definitely well-proportioned. He spun around and reclaimed his seat adding, “Damn, we’re going to have to make this short.”
Now what? This is why she wrote. She never knew what to say. Missy nibbled her lip and shifted in her seat.
“You’re even prettier than the picture on your book.”
Missy’s cheeks burned at his unexpected compliment.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You’re welcome.” At his words, those belly wrestling butterflies started body slamming one another. “And you have a lovely voice.”
Her mind emptied and she had to stifle a heartfelt sigh. She cleared her throat and asked, “What’s new on your side of the world? Save any more diplomats?”
He ignored her question and asked one of his own. “Doing more research? You keep it up and you’re going to have to name a character after me.”
“I would but my agent swears a hero named Upchuck would be a hard sell.”
“ROFL!” His shadowy body shook as if he laughed. “I have a bet going with Ruby. Care to help me win?”
“Maybe. But tell me your news first,” she answered.
“Nope. Bet first, then news.”
“Just know, anything you ask is potential book material.” She laughed.
“You already use it in your books.”
Her laughter died on an exhale. “Ummm—”
Had she really worried about seeing him? Now she wished the link worked properly. This chatting thing was very one-sided and left her feeling vulnerable. She couldn’t help but wonder if the crush she’d harbored for him showed on her face.
“Is that a ‘no’?” His words blinked to life on the screen.
“No. I mean, yes.” She paused and blew out a puff of air. “I mean, what’s the bet?”
This time he paused. His shadowy visage showed his hands over the keyboard, but unmoving. She almost asked why he delayed when he started to type.
“Why do all your heroes have toffee-colored eyes?”
She laughed a burst of air. “You have a bet about this?”
“Yeah, Ruby thinks it’s based on a real person.”
Missy’s cheeks heated again.
“Is it your husband?”
Was he fishing? Her heart thumped in her ears. “I’ve never been married.”
Her pulse skipped as she shook her head.
“My heroes are all different. I write sci-fi romance. Some of my heroes have been aliens with six eyes.”
“Yes, but they’re all toffee-colored.” His typed words taunted her. “Come on, tell me. You know you want to.”
She laughed at that. What could it hurt? Her pride, if the inspiration for her heroes ever found out. But really, what were the odds? She hadn’t seen him in ten years.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me.” The Captain’s words appeared on the screen.
“No, it’s fine.” She grinned and didn’t mention that her muse had taken on a decidedly military form recently. “Ruby’s right. I based the heroes on someone real. Back in college I knew a boy named Chazz. We met in Creative Writing. He played point guard on the basketball team. Handsome and kind, he had the most gorgeous toffee-colored eyes. One day after class, he told me he liked my poem. I was so stunned he knew my name, I don’t think I did more than nod my head and stare into his beautiful eyes.”
“Yeah,” she replied. “Okay, I answered. Now what’s this news you wanted to tell me?”
Before he could reply, a loud booming sound exploded through the speakers. The captain leapt to his feet. And ran. Only then could she see anything because the tent he’d been under went up in bright orange flames.
Her throat closed up as she watched the tent burn until bits of flaming material fell on to his keyboard. The speakers popped at the same moment the screen went black.
She ran a trembling hand over her cheeks, surprised to find them wet with tears. Her chest ached as if she’d just finished a race instead of watching a man she’d come to care for run for his life.
He’s okay. He has to be.
But two hours later the news reports poured in about an attack on an Army base in Afghanistan. It had to be his camp.
She sent him an email expecting it to take a few days for him to reply but nothing came. A week went by then two. Every day she typed a short missive, hoping for a response. With each unanswered email, her fear mounted. On the third week, she received a reply.
At the sight of captainupchuck@... in her inbox, her eyes misted and her heart swelled with relief. At least, until she read his automatic reply, “I am unavailable for correspondence until further notice.”
Relief that he lived warred with disappointment that he’d meant more to her than she had to him. If he’d cared, surely he would have sent a personal message. Still, he lived and that knowledge comforted her.
With her editor demanding revisions, she focused on her work. Two months later, she sat in King’s Bookstore again. Rain kept away most of her fans, so she spent the morning scribbling notes in the margins of her manuscript. Someone lifted a book from the stack in front of her.
Startled, she raised her eyes to meet the toffee-colored gaze of a man both familiar and new. Butterflies volley-balled her heart from her belly into her throat.
Dressed in a white button-down shirt and khaki shorts, he supported his weight on crutches. A gash ran the length of his right cheek, but it practically disappeared when he smiled.
“About that news I wanted to tell you,” he began but paused when she shot to her feet. His crutches clattered to the ground as she raced into his open arms.
“I think I know, Chazz,” she replied then kissed him. “Welcome home, Captain.”
About the Author: J.S. Nichols spends her days teaching life saving skills and her nights dreaming up sexy scenarios. For more stories visit her website at http://jsnichols.net/.