Part 2 of the serialized novel Four Bidding For Love.
A sharp staccato knock sounded on his door and he recognized his neighbor Kylie's signature signal. "Come in," he boomed, and Kylie entered, looking very pretty in a white tennis skirt and blouse, and immediately shushed him.
"Not so loud," she hissed. "Or Vonda will hear us."
Nodding in chagrined agreement, Ross motioned to Kylie to close his door. Vonda lived upstairs and was always home; elderly and wrenchingly bored, she left her door ajar to monitor all the residents' comings and goings. Even though she kept her television or opera recordings on all day, she retained an uncanny ability to detect Kylie's presence; hearing her young neighbor's voice or door squeak open, she would scurry downstairs with an alarmingly spiderlike rapidity.
For unlike the boarding house's other residents, Kylie tolerated her questions and curiosity and oft-repeated stories; and as a result, she had to be careful lest Vonda sense her and clamber down to regale her with questions about boyfriends and stale tales of her own distant youth.
Kylie Hyppolite was undoubtedly one of the most loathsome creatures on the planet: a slim, inordinately pretty young woman of mixed blood—Ross guessed North African and French, with a dollop of Irish or perhaps Scots for added zest—who could eat anything she wished in whatever quantity she wished without gaining an ounce. Even more galling, she could touch her toes without effort, and endured frequent bouts of unemployment with annoying grace.
"Even your depressions are too damn cheerful," he'd groused when she'd come by the previous week to whine very self-effacingly about losing her low-paying position in a non-profit organization.
Her major in Social Responsibility for Business guaranteed a grand choice between unemployment or abysmal positions in non-profit groups funded by family fortunes whose patriarchs had mysteriously acquired their immense wealth without the aid of majors in Social Responsibility. Her sporadic employment left her with just enough for a room in the creaky boarding house and a rust-bucket Dodge Neon with a leaky radiator.
Taking a seat on a low pile of twine-bound Commentary magazines, she'd heaved a huge sigh. "The grant fell through, so I'm laid off."
"Again," Ross had commented. "What you need is a good solid work injury, like me. Next job, throw yourself down a long flight of steps before they fire you."
Ignoring his well-intentioned but unhelpful advice, Kylie had loosened her dark wavy locks from the hairclip, and shook her lustrous flouncy hair over her sun-bronzed shoulders. "I'm 25, and going absolutely nowhere," she'd moaned, and Ross had given her an unsympathetic look. "Gosh, you're 25, well-educated and beautiful. I feel so incredibly sorry for you."
"Let's get drunk," she'd announced, as if it were a task requiring uncommon stamina. "Let's drive all night, go fishing first thing in the morning, and then get drunk again."
"Or maybe we can just fumble around in the dark somewhere in the high Sierra, trying to re-start your car," he'd replied tartly. "Look, why not do what most laid-off depressed people do, which is curl up on your bed to watch TV and eat huge bags of tortilla chips?"
"There's never anything on," she'd said, and then brightened. "Here's my latest plan: tennis. Guys smooze on the golf course, but I can't afford golf. Tennis is free at the city park. Maybe I'll meet an executive on the tennis court who will hire me."
Judging by her little white tennis outfit, Kylie had evidently followed her plan, with unknown results. Though he usually welcomed his vivacious neighbor's company, Ross did not welcome even her charming distractions and he announced, "I'm in a very important auction. One minute to go."
Acting on an intuition, Ross suddenly raised his bid by 59 cents and poised his finger above the mouse button. "This is going to be close," he muttered grimly, and Kylie kneeled beside him to gaze at the screen. She smelled good, and despite his best efforts Ross could not help shooting a glance down at her. Though he generally managed not to stare at her long brown legs or other shapely assets, her kneeling beside him was more than any man could be expected to bear. Shaking free of her compelling attractions, he refocused on the clock and refreshed the bid screen one last time: no change.
At that moment his hugely hirsute pal Dewey pushed his great greasy jumpsuit-clad bulk through the half-open front door and asked, "Hey. Did you win that Canadian hand axe I wanted?"
"Shut up!" Ross barked as he pressed the mouse button, and then held his breath as the final seconds ticked away.
"Jeez, nice greeting," Dewey said in a hurt tone.
"Your timing is impeccably horrible," Ross declared peevishly. "I was in the last seconds of a very important auction."
Dewey shook his immense Rasputin-like black beard and tangled pirates' locks and asked excitedly, "Is it for that axe?" Rather than reply Ross issued a great, heartrending roar of pure agony.
In a muted voice of stunned disbelief he said, "She got it. For two lousy rotten cents more." Bowing his head in perplexed despondency, he murmured hollowly, "How could she know to bid two cents more?"
Before either of his startled friends could voice a word of comfort he shouted angrily, "It isn't fair!" and pounded his desk with such force that Kylie leaped to her feet in surprise.
Lowering his head and rocking back and forth like a child bereft, Ross moaned, "How can you win when you're bidding against a clairvoyant?"
Neither Kylie nor Dewey had a response to such a self-evident statement, and they exchanged "what to do?" shrugs as Ross continued his broken sobbing and infantile rocking. When a man reaches his breaking point, it is a dismal sight indeed; each friend mumbled a brief consolation before exiting with visible relief from the overstuffed Room of Doom.
Part 1: The must-win auction (5/5/12)