John silently contemplated the view from the library windows. Although he had seen it a million times before, he had to kill a few lines before the woman he adored came in to confront him about the enormous, dark and devastating secrets he had been so careful to conceal from her.
Perhaps enormous, dark and devastating were not the right words, but his author had to knock out this scene before it was time to pick up the kids from school. For now, they would serve.
Marcia came into the library, her lovely green eyes carefully averted from the infant vomitus-colored wallpaper. In her hands she carried a large, important-looking envelope addressed to her.
"John," she said, her voice trembling around his name, "we have to talk."
"I've been expecting you, darling." He waved a hand toward the chair in front of his desk. "Sit down, please."
"I'd rather stand." Marcia opened the envelope and took out an eight-by-ten glossy, which showed John as a young boy. In the photo he was holding a wing over the body of a one-winged, helpless butterfly. "How could you keep this from me?"
"I should have told you, but it was such a painful moment . . ." He sighed. "I tried to save it, but the damage was too extensive."
"I found that butterfly struggling on the ground," he said, nodding toward the photo. "Some horrible child had pulled off its wing. I found another, already deceased butterfly and respectfully removed one of its wings, which it no longer needed, and superglued it to the living butterfly in hopes of saving its life." He smiled sadly. "It only lived a few hours, but I like to think it had time to make peace with its creator."
Marcia eyed him as she put the photo down and removed another from the envelope. In this image, a teenaged John was holding an adorable little ball of fur by the tail over an enormous grinder. "I suppose you have an explanation for why you dropped this puppy into the hamburger-making machine at McDonald's."
"I remember that -- that was Bring Your Pet to Work day. I had to move fast to grab that little guy before he jumped in." He chuckled and shook his head. "Puppies are so gosh-darn curious about everything, aren't they?"
Marcia yanked out another photo, in which a twenty-something John was standing in an alley with his pants around his ankles and a young woman on her knees in front of him. "And I suppose this hooker was trying to help you find your navel lint?"
"Hooker?" He picked up the photo and studied it. "This is my urologist's nurse. Pity that poor girl wore so much make-up. You know how claustrophobic I am, darling. I always have my prostate exams performed in the alley behind the medical building."
"If she's a nurse, why is she dressed like a hooker?" Marcia demanded.
"It was Halloween, I think. Or Casual Friday." He shrugged. "I don't remember which."
Marcia's foot began tapping the floor as she tossed a photo of John at a bar surrounded by laughing men dressed in leather and spikes. One of the men had his hand in John's pocket. "And what did this guy want? To borrow your car keys?"
"He needed change for the jukebox." He smiled. "I had no idea when I stopped in that bar for a beer after work that I'd end up meeting so many nice guys. And the jokes? People with alternative lifestyles have such a great sense of humor."
She flipped another photo on top of the bar scene. "Tell me about you and this herd of sheep." She added another picture. "And this scene you appear butt-naked in during Paula Does Publishing." She slapped a third photo on the stack. "And isn't this you leading the insurgents into the capitol of this third world country?"
"Darling." John rose and came around the desk to take her fists into his hands. "I learned how to shear wool that summer when I stayed on my elderly uncle's farm to help him out. While I was in the police academy, I was part of a sting operation to expose the pornography industry's illegal use of minors in their films. I never knew when the Peace Corp sent me over to Ethiopia that those rebels would kidnap me and force me to spearhead their coup."
Marcia's lower lip trembled. "Are you really telling me the truth, John?"
He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "Sweetheart, it's not like Pat Gaffney is writing our novel."
"I don't understand."
"You're not supposed to, honey. Just remember, I'm the hero, not a real person. Any unquestionably horrible thing I do will make me seem like a bad boy, until it's justified by our author in order to redeem me in the eyes of the reader and leave my reputation wholly untarnished." John pulled her into his arms and tucked her head under his chin. "So whenever you're given irrefutable evidence of my past mistakes, depend on me coming up with a skimpy, ridiculous excuse for why I did them. All right?"
Marcia nodded, and then stepped away. "I brought in the rest of the mail." She took it out of her purse and handed it to him.
John sorted through it, and found another important-looking envelope addressed to him. He opened it and took out a stack of photos. In the first photo, a young Marcia, her hair in pigtails, was leaning over and staring at the answers being written on an Algebra pop quiz by the smart-looking boy sitting next to her.
"Darling." John swallowed hard and sank down into his desk chair. "We have to talk."