By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Ask anyone who knows me; I am a romantic.
When I awake with the rising of the sun and venture out to pick up the newspaper from its resting place on the front lawn--wherever my careless paper boy has tossed it with his usual wanton indifference--I will instinctively take time out to notice things:
The dew that covers the grass like a basting of diamonds from the sky. The way the early morning clouds form surreal shapes that can inspire me, amuse me and, yes, frighten me. And when they frighten me, I will sometimes shudder briefly, delicately.
I see the trash--empty beer bottles, Big Gulp cups, crushed cigarette butts bearing telltale lip prints of Crimson Passion by Revlon--left on the sidewalk by last night's neighborhood revelers. I notice an old person strolling past, his brittle limbs carrying him along, ambling toward the cold December of his years as I stand in the prime of life, strong and virile; unabashedly ticklish to a world that is, for me, a cornucopia of sensuality.
At moments like this, I smile coyly to myself as I realize, once again, what a romantic I truly am.
I would have it no other way.
And that is why I could barely conceal my rapturous delight when I discovered that the Phoenix Desert Rose Chapter of Romance Writers of America would soon be holding the "Decade of Dreams" conference in nearby Mesa.
Mesa . . . .a maelstrom of romantic thoughts undulated through my mind at the earthy depth of the place. And the exact location? Why, the Mesa Hilton Pavilion hotel. Even though I was alone, I sat at my desk one afternoon and spoke it aloud several times, the name rolling off my tongue like a taut nipple.
The day finally came. I stepped lightly into my Toyota, a vehicle borne of the exotic shores of the Far East, and peeled back the windows to allow the sultry desert breeze to play against my face. I drove with abandon, as I often do, but before reaching the Hilton, I realized a faint yet undeniable lust for a certain something in the pit of my stomach.
At that moment, I saw the McDonald's. Its yearning arches of gold stretched into the air like the arms of a familiar lover, and knew I would not--could not--ignore such an offering.
The car fussing and trembling like a stallion drawn from the heat of mating, I approached the drive-through and heard a voice come through the speaker: frank, husky, strangely dispassionate. The voice was female. And young.
Without hesitation, I requested a Sausage and Egg McMuffin Meal, stipulating in the stern, guttural tones that I wanted no cheese on the McMuffin. I heard her voice catch as she repeated my order; clearly the girl was not used to being treated in such a rough-cum-tender fashion. Suddenly, without even being conscious of it, I felt the blood rise in my face as I glanced in the rearview and saw a half-ton pickup in line behind me.
Yes, she would soon be speaking to another man using her innocent, even prudish charm, submitting to the demands of this coarse, feed-cap-wearing brute . . . but for what? Hotcakes platter? Sausage and Egg Biscuit? Breakfast Burrito? Or perhaps a 24-piece Chicken McNuggets, which cannot even be had before 11 a.m.?
I advanced; she drew her window aside as I watched my reflection disappear and her face take its place. How to put such moments into words? Her eyes were as brown and vexing as a wild doe's in heat. Her skin the color of a thick, tropical smog. Her hair, black as a midnight that time forgot, was teased back and gathered in a mandatory McDonald's scrunchie that was unable to disguise the enticing beauty of her locks.
Her name tag read Conchita.
I handed over the money, and our fingers touched for a second, maybe two, but as she made change, the electricity of our coupling lingered and brought images to mind that I blush to reveal. Just when I expected this fast-food minx to hand me the bag of McMeal, she thrust her hand in without shame and withdrew my Sausage and Egg McMuffin.
She seemed to fondle the meat-laden bun, chipped purple nails digging into the wrapper as she unfolded it in a way that, much to my pleasure, I found shocking.
"You want no cheese, right?" she asked softly, nostrils flaring and eyes locking with mine to drive the moment into my soul. A smile grew upon her mouth revealing braces and so very much more. Her lips wordlessly told me that she was an innocent only on the outside. Within, there was naught but fire.
This little McVixen was toying with me! Playing control games with a breakfast sandwich, with a man's heart, over a chance meeting that already had me spiraling into a delicious swirl of sweat and rage and hunger.
"Yes! Yes! No cheese!" I sputtered as the heady musk of grease and deep fryers hit me like a slap from a kid-leather glove. I wrenched the McMuffin and the bag of hash browns and orange juice from this woman-child as her upper body bucked against the unforgiving chrome barrier between us. I punched the gas pedal and sped into traffic, scolded by the horns of people I did not give a damn about.