Look Inside Snipped: A Cutting Comedy


I’m the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet, Ted thought as he lay naked on the bed, the sheets strewn over half his ass. The air still held the mingled essences of perfume and sex. From his prone position he took in the view over the Willamette River towards Portland’s downtown core.

He heard bare feet pad back towards the bedroom. Ted turned his head around on the pillow. From his new vantage point, he could see past bare legs and into the hallway that led to the main bathroom, kitchen and living area. Leaning against the bedroom door frame stood Iris, the love of his life, her hair in a high ponytail tied with a red ribbon.

She wore a white, loose-fitting t-shirt with an image of a rocket taking off amid plumes of smoke. Beside it were the words “Launch Time.” The hem of her shirt was just long enough to hide her panties from view.

If she’s wearing any. The thought brought a warm smile to Ted’s lips and he felt himself getting hard again. In front of him was still the woman he had imagined underneath that black business suit five years ago. Confident, intelligent, and sexy as hell. Business and pleasure: Ted had the best of both worlds.

Iris reached up with her left hand and pulled out her hair ribbon, one red inch at a time. With her left arm raised, the hem of her t-shirt lifted enough to offer Ted a glimpse of her white bikini-style panties, the ones with a small red bow on the waistband that he loved so much.

Like a present waiting to be unwrapped.

Iris licked her lips, anticipating Ted’s desire. “Ready for round two?”

Before Ted could answer, Iris placed her hands together and dived into the bed, the covers rippling like water as she disappeared into the mattress.

“What the hell?” Ted propped himself up on his elbows and looked toward her point of entry. “Where did you go? Iris?”

“Hey lover-boy.”

Ted followed the source of Iris’s voice and found her underneath him. She kissed his chest. “Wait. How did you—”

As his last rational thought slipped out of his head, Iris appeared behind him, layering kisses on his back.

“Iris, how are you—”

“Shut up.” Iris pushed Ted down onto the bed. She was no longer wearing her t-shirt as he could feel the hot skin of her breasts and nipples brush against the small of his back, buttocks, and thighs.

Iris disappeared under the sheets and spread Ted’s legs apart. He closed his eyes and took in the warm, wet sensations as they traveled down his back and over his buttocks.

Ted heard Iris’s voice whisper into his ear. “Beep. Beep. Beep.”

Logic fought for attention in his brain. How can your mouth be in two places at once? he thought.

Iris continued. “Beep. Beep.” But her voice became more rhythmic, more electronic, until all that remained were the wet caresses under the sheets.

Scene Break

Ted opened his eyes to the clock radio on the bedside table. It read 6:00 a.m., flashing with each beep. He groaned as he reached out and silenced the alarm.

You have got to be kidding me, Ted thought, as he turned his head towards Iris’s side of the bed. Crumpled sheets remained where she had been sleeping. Ted heard the shower shut off and the stall door open and close in the ensuite bathroom, yet the wet sensation on his backside remained.

Wet and cold.

Then he heard a jangling collar. Ted reached down with his right hand to find a cold nose attached to a furry snout. He pulled back the sheets to reveal a seven month-old golden retriever nuzzling and licking his thigh.

“Buster!” The dog refocused on Ted’s face, layering wet, excited dog kisses on his cheek. “Okay, okay. I’m up.”

Ted swung his legs off the bed and sat up. His erection still commanded full attention inside his boxer shorts.

I’m really up.

He looked down at the tent in his shorts and considered rubbing one out in the main bathroom, but an inquisitive head-tilt from Buster distracted him.

“Going to have to teach you about consent, buddy. My butt’s off limits.” Buster moved to rest his head between Ted’s legs, which was a little too close to his deflating erection. He intercepted the dog’s playful approach with a head scratch. “Above the waist is okay. Below… not so much.” He wagged his finger back and forth and made a tsk-tsk sound.

Buster chuffed like he understood.

“Where’s Mom?”

The dog navigated to the foot of the bed and scratched the door to the ensuite bathroom.

Ted followed Buster’s path, gave the bathroom door a knock, and opened it. The ensuite bathroom was warm, steamy, and smelled like sweetened coconuts. Iris stood in front of the mirror with a large towel wrapped around her body, hand-drying her hair with a smaller chamois. Beside her on the counter sat her phone. She was lost in serious thought until she saw Ted at the door.

“Hey you,” she said with a smile that faltered once she spied Buster panting next to Ted’s feet.

Ted recalled fragments of his recent dream before they tumbled out of reach. “I just had a great dream about you.”

Iris looked at the receding bulge in his boxers. “That’s nice, hon.”

Ted stepped up behind her and planted a line of kisses, starting just below her right ear and down to her shoulder. “Want to get busy? We got time.”

Usually this was a turn-on for Iris, but she deflected. “I have depositions scheduled all day, so I need to get to the office early.”

Buster trotted into the bathroom and began to lick Iris’s feet and legs.

“Read my mind, buddy.”

“No dogs. Out!” Iris shooed Buster out. “Go.” She waved her hands. Buster got the message loud and clear. He whined and made a hasty retreat back into the bedroom.

“He was just saying hello.”

“I know,” Iris said, “but I just got out of the shower. I don’t want to smell like dog.”

“Besides…you don’t smell…like dog,” Ted said, punctuating his words with more kisses. “What do you say?”

Iris could sense his hard-on through the towel. “Rain check?” Her phone chimed an incoming text alert. She turned and offered a quick kiss on Ted’s forehead before grabbing her phone and leaving the bathroom. The accordion doors to the walk-in closet squeaked open and Iris began to pick out her clothes for the day.

Ted looked at the empty shower stall. He imagined his remaining arousal swirling the drain. A tile next to the hair trap had chipped off.

Got to fix that, he thought.

As Ted closed the bathroom door, he could hear the familiar clacking sound of a phone keyboard. Iris was texting a reply to someone. It was a sound he had begun to loathe, and one more reason to dislike cell phones. Technology got in the way too much these days.

Ted dropped his boxers and sat on the toilet. He never stood up to pee at home. Iris had drilled that habit into him early on in their relationship. But in an attempt to reassert his manhood, he stood up to pee in every other bathroom in the free world (but mostly in Portland.)

Peeing sitting down with a hard-on was particularly difficult. To pass the time, Ted grabbed a Wired Magazine from the back of the toilet and began flipping through it. Just as he was settling into an article, he heard Iris knock.

“The dog’s hungry and I’m running late,” she said through the bathroom door.

“His name is Buster.”


“Never mind. I’ll take care of him.” Ted tossed the magazine aside, flushed, and washed his hands.

Scene Break

Ted’s condominium was appointed with modern furniture and appliances, but represented more of Iris’s style than Ted’s. Iris loved European high-end design and tended to favor form over function. Ted was the opposite. If it was comfortable, reliable, or easy to use, it got two thumbs up. Most of the time they were able to compromise, but Ted would never understand why a plastic chair had to cost almost two hundred dollars.

“It’s the design that’s important,” Iris would say on their many trips to Contempo Imports, their current go-to store for “fine furnishings and state-of-the-art appliances.”

Ted tucked his well-worn button-up shirt into his jeans. Buster whined at his feet. “I’m hungry too, buddy, but you’re going to have to wait a bit.”

The dog’s nails clacked on the engineered hardwood floor as he scrambled to all-fours and led the way to the kitchen, just as he had every day for the past seven months. The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee permeated the space.

Iris looked sharp in the outfit she had picked for the day. She always looked sharp. Ted recalled falling head over heels five years ago, his first sight of her confident walk in a black-skirted business suit with a baby blue blouse, hem at a tasteful knee-level, and the shine of her straight, auburn hair.

Today Iris wore a dark gray skirted suit with a white blouse. Her hair was tied back with a narrow red ribbon. Iris preferred skirts over pant suits because she considered her legs an asset. She wanted to assert her confidence and individuality as a woman in the firm, especially since she was trying to make partner. Wearing a pant suit felt like being one of the guys.

Ted walked past the kitchen counter and watched Iris. He still felt horny as hell. The small, red ribbon in her hair didn’t help.

“I love that outfit on you,” Ted said.

Iris sat at the dinner table, eating a muffin between sips of coffee from her favorite Contigo travel mug. When her hands were free, she typed notes into her open laptop as fast as her fingers could manage. An incoming text chimed on her phone and Iris switched gears, answering the text without delay.

“Aw, you’re sweet,” she said without looking away from her phone. “It’s one of my power suits. Oh, by the way, we’re out of coffee.”

Ted grabbed the French press that sat on the counter, emptied its contents into a mug and took a gulp. He was met with a mouthful of lukewarm grit and dumped the rest into the sink.

“Can you bring some home today?”

“Yeah, sure,” Ted said as he worked grains of coffee out of his molars with his tongue. He walked over to Iris and kissed the back of her neck, smelling a mix of perfume and faint coconut. He got down on one knee.

Iris stopped cold and looked at him. “Ted…? What are you doing?” There was an odd hint of terror in her eyes.

Ted ran his hand down Iris’s left leg, then back up, stopping at the hem of her skirt. “Someone finished the coffee. I need some kind of morning stimulation.”

“Rain check, remember?” Iris’s face relaxed and she presented her travel mug. “Want a sip?”

Ted accepted the casual rebuff. “Nah. I need sugar in mine. I’ll wait until I get to the shop.” He stood up, kissing the top of Iris’s head on the way by.

Buster sauntered over and gave Iris’s leg a lick.

“Not my nylons, Buster.” Iris shooed the dog away. “I don’t want hair on me.”

Ted walked back to the kitchen to inventory the remaining coffee beans. When Iris said they were “out of coffee,” that usually meant there wasn’t enough beans for a full pot. “Come here, boy. Mommy’s busy.” Buster trotted back to Ted.

Iris clenched her teeth. “Don’t call me that.”

“Oh, come on. Work with me. You’re Buster’s mommy and he loves you, don’t you, boy?”

Iris shot a look at Ted, her eyes narrowed. “I’m not his mommy.” She closed her laptop and placed it in her attaché case. Ted remembered buying it for their first date anniversary. Iris was difficult to buy for, but the case was one thing he got right. She used it every day and it had become scuffed and worn in places.

Buster whined and nudged his food dish towards Ted with his snout.

Iris wiped muffin crumbs from her mouth with a napkin and slung her attaché and purse over her shoulder. She finished her text and dropped her phone into her purse. Then, as if on autopilot, she dug out a compact mirror and refreshed her lipstick.

Ted met her at the door, holding her travel mug. “You almost forgot this.”

“I didn’t forget it, but thanks.”

Ted leaned in to kiss Iris, but she turned her head and presented her cheek.


“Right.” Ted planted a light kiss on her cheek, again reminded of how terrific she smelled.

“I’m probably going to be late tonight.” Iris opened the door and stepped into the hallway, walking towards the elevators.

“Maybe we can talk about that rain check later.”

“Maybe,” Iris said without looking back.

“The fine print says it expires soon.”

Iris punched the elevator’s call button and glanced back at Ted. “You’re funny. Don’t get drunk with the guys, especially Ray.”

“Ray’s just misunderstood.”

“I understand him just fine. He’s gross.” The elevator dinged and the door slid open. Iris offered a small wave as she stepped inside.

Ted placed his hand on his heart. “Until tonight, my love.” His words arrived too late. The elevator doors had already closed.

Buster whined again and looked at his empty food dish.

Ted sighed and closed the door. He kneeled beside the dog and gave him a scratch and a hug. “I know you’re hungry. Just a little while longer.”

Scene Break

The waiting room at Pets West Veterinarian Clinic was packed and heavy with warm dog breath.

“It’s pretty funky in here this morning.”

The receptionist gave Ted a warm smile. “It’s always like this on a Monday.” As Ted checked in, he made a mental note not to make an appointment on Monday again.

Buster sat on the floor next to Ted. The dog was on edge, as were all the other pets waiting their turn. Ted imagined that they all had an innate sense that something unpleasant was going to happen to them.

Ted reached down and gave Buster’s head a scratch. “I know it’s your big day, buddy. Mommy just forgot.” Buster emitted a low whine.

Next to Ted and Buster sat a chihuahua with numerous bald patches breaking through its thin fur coat. Despite being held on its owner’s lap, the little dog trembled so badly that Ted thought he could hear the dog’s teeth chattering.

Neurotic, Ted thought, as he began to scan the room. Project Diagnosis was a game he played in waiting rooms to pass the time. Animals were more of a challenge.

Next to the chihuahua sat a bulldog, with drool mixed with what Ted hoped was food flowing off its tongue in rivulets. Halitosis.

The pug in the corner looked over-fed and struggled to breathe. That one was easy. Asthma.

The Doberman and the German Shepherd sat bolt upright next to their owners. They kept at least one eye on each other at all times and watched for any breach of waiting room protocol. Aggression issues.

A veterinarian assistant in her mid-twenties entered the waiting room carrying a clipboard. “Buster…and Ted?”

“That’s us.” Ted stood up, prompting Buster to stand as well.

The assistant extended her hand and smiled. “Hi Ted. I’m Cherise. I’ll be cumming during our encounter.”

Ted did a double-take as he shook Cherise’s hand. It was warm and smooth. “Pardon me?”

“I said I’ll be accompanying Buster during his procedure.” Cherise looked at Ted with a careful eye. “Are you feeling okay?”

Ted nodded, a little perplexed. “I’m fine.” He crouched to Buster’s level and ruffled his fur. “You be good, buddy. Okay? Treats for you for sure after.” He kissed Buster’s head and stood up. Ted handed the leash to Cherise. “When can I pick him up?”

“Anytime after four.” Cherise jotted down some notes on her clipboard. “I’m open for anything.”


Cherise paused and stared at Ted with her dark brown eyes. “Um, we’re open until seven.”

Am I losing my mind? I could have sworn I heard something else, Ted thought, his brain racing in all the wrong directions but all involving Cherise in various stages of undress.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Uh…I just need a coffee and some fresh air.” Ted headed towards the clinic’s entrance. “Give Buster an extra Milk Bone for me.”

Once outside, Ted took a deep breath, shook his head, and tried to piece together the last ten minutes.

What’s happening to me? he thought. The answers he sought would come later.

Scene Break

Ted had always wanted to own a coffee shop. Now he was living the dream. Buster’s Beans Coffee Shop was small compared to many, but what made it unique was its heritage. The shop had been built around an old freight elevator from the early 1900s. The interior was long and narrow, framed by old red brick walls, and the ceiling twice as high as a typical coffee shop. There were a few round tables at the front and rear, and a couple outside when the weather was agreeable. In keeping with the building’s original purpose, the front of the shop could be shuttered with a rolling corrugated steel door.

It was comfortable inside Buster’s Beans and the variety of coffee, warmed pastries, and bagels served provided a delicious olfactory experience. The shop enjoyed brisk business almost year round. It was a prime location for walk-by traffic in the mixed commercial and residential East Portland neighborhood.

In the five years that Ted had owned and operated Buster’s Beans, he had developed a loyal clientele. There was enough business now to reliably support two full time employees.

Danielle and Joe were both in their mid-twenties, but Danielle had seniority, having worked at Buster’s Beans for three years, compared to Joe’s two. Danielle’s favorite color was purple and she incorporated it into everything in her life, from her jewelry and make-up, to her form-fitting t-shirts in summer and long sleeves underneath during winter. Everything needed a touch of purple. Her hair hung shoulder-length, black and straight with purple highlights, but it was unclear if black was her natural hair color. That was Danielle’s secret. However, it was her smile that lit up the place. It was one of the reasons Ted had hired her.

Joe was two parts barista and one part starving artist. Tall and wiry, his dirty blond hair was cut short on the sides, with the top pulled back into a loose man-bun. He took immense pride in his sculpted beard and manscaping prowess. Joe’s wardrobe included many varieties of short-sleeved button-up shirts that were always one size too small to emphasize what little musculature he had. The top two buttons remained unfastened to expose his neck and give his beard “room to breathe.”

Ted entered the shop just as Danielle and Joe were finishing up with the morning rush. “Sorry. The vet clinic didn’t open until eight-thirty.”

“You’re the boss.” Joe pointed at Ted with both index fingers. “You answer to no one.”

“Should’ve seen it a half hour ago.” Danielle placed both hands into her hair and squeezed in faux frustration.

“Are you still going to call this place ‘Buster’s Beans’? I mean…” He motioned to his own crotch. “It’s inaccurate, anatomically speaking.”

“Real funny,” Ted said.

“What else would you call it? ‘Buster’s Decaffeinated Beans’?” Danielle gave Joe a friendly shove. “Don’t be so literal. Besides, you can’t change the branding now.”

“Yes, exactly.” Ted grabbed an apron as he pointed at Danielle in agreement. “I knew I hired you for a reason.”

“You mean you didn’t hire her for her spectacular breasts?” Joe smirked.

“Pig. That’s harassment. I’ve got seniority here and I could have you fired.”

“I’d be fine with it, too,” Ted said. “I don’t condone harassment of any kind.”

Danielle threw a wet rag at Joe, hitting him in the face. “Go clean the toilet with that rat’s nest you call a beard.”

“Touché, my lady.” Joe extended one hand, placed the other on his heart and settled down to one knee. “Forgive me for bestowing your ample bosom with compliments.”

“Thin ice, Joe. Enough.” Ted nodded towards the last remaining customers preparing their coffees at the condiment station.

The front door swung open, ringing the bell attached to the door frame. Kunal and Ray, Ted’s besties, sauntered in. Kunal removed his mirrored aviators and placed them in the front pocket of his light blue silk shirt. His pressed khakis terminated in a pair of black leather loafer slip-ons. Everything he wore complimented his olive-skinned complexion.

Kunal had made his fortune creating mobile phone apps. Six years ago his Gigologo app, once described as “one stop shopping for people wanting to connect with single men,” had gone viral. Gigologo had taken off in the U.S., and he developed versions for the United Kingdom and Canada soon after. It didn’t take long for buyers to start knocking on Kunal’s door. In the end, he sold his company in exchange for stock and an undisclosed sum, reportedly mid-eight figures. Even Ted and Ray didn’t know how much he’d been paid. Since then Kunal had devoted himself to realizing his notion of a trendy, playboy lifestyle.

Ray on the other hand couldn’t find style if it hit him in the face. He wore a bright green track suit with white pinstripes extending down the arms and legs. The waistband was too tight, which formed a muffin top, even with his diminutive Asian physique. On his feet were a pair of red Adidas sneakers with white trim. His only modern feature was his close-trimmed beard.

Ray owned a medium-sized television and appliance store in Northeast Portland called Tronikusu. The name was inspired by the Japanese word for electronics. He made a modest living and paid his employees well. Unfortunately he often spoke and acted before his brain could catch up.

Ted had chummed around with Kunal and Ray since meeting in business school, long before Iris was on the scene. They had watched Ted’s relationship with Iris develop over the years, and Ted had taken extra measures to keep their friendship alive, a fact that always irritated Iris. She took pleasure in calling the trio “The Three Stooges” whenever the opportunity arose.

“I’m just joking,” Iris would say, but Ted never quite believed her. He was well aware of her deep dislike for Ray. However, Iris wasn’t as forthcoming about her feelings for Kunal. At bare minimum, she admired his fashion sense, but she had no respect for Kunal’s playboy way of life.

Ted waved the two over.

“Hey, dude.” Kunal high-fived Ted over the counter.

Ray followed, checking out two women adding cream and sugar to their coffees at the condiment station. He nodded at them, winked, pointed an index finger at one, then raised his right hand, fingers in a “V” sign and was about to stick his wiggling tongue between them.

Ted knew Ray’s unpredictable, yet predictable nature and tried to intercede. “Ray!”

Ray dropped his hand to his side and shrugged at Ted, but the damage was done. The two women left with visible disgust on their faces.

Ted tried to diffuse the situation. “I’m sorry, ladies. He didn’t mean it.” He ran out after them.

Ray sucked in his ample gut and placed his hand on his hips. “So? What do you think?”

“About what? The leisure suit?” Joe shot a quick glance at Kunal, then back at Ray. “Does it glow in the dark?”

Danielle sighed. “The beard. It’s always the beard.”

“Correction,” Kunal said. “The ‘Star Trek’ beard.”

“Nothing beats my beard.” Joe ran his hand over his face, compressing and stroking the shaped hair. Danielle shook her head and snickered.

“Here’s a hint.” Ray exhaled and his gut flowed out past his belt line. Then he sucked it in again. “Shields up! Red alert!” he said in his best William Riker impression, which still wasn’t very good. He held his gut in for a few seconds longer before releasing a tidal wave of flab back over his waistband.

Joe shrugged.

Danielle’s jaw dropped and her eyes widened. “Seriously, Joe? Even I know that one. William Riker, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ ”

“Nailed it!” Ray held up his hand, wanting to high-five someone. He settled on Kunal.

“Have you washed your hands?”


Kunal accepted Ray’s awkward high-five, then wiped his hand on his khakis.

“Hey. I said I washed them.”

“Sorry, dude.” Kunal shrugged. “Habit.” He dug into his pocket, pulled out a small bottle of Purell, and squeezed a drop into his hand. “Want some?”

Ray pushed Kunal’s hand away, annoyed.

Joe shook his head. “I’m drowning in a sea of nerds.”

Ted re-entered the shop and slapped Ray on the shoulder.

“Hey!” Ray flinched. “Why’d you do that for?”

“Why? You know why.”

Ray stared back, clueless. He was a loyal friend but had no social compass.

“For being a vulgar pig.” Kunal looked at his fingernails, spotted a hangnail, and dug out a nail clipper.

“That, and disrespecting my customers. Even after giving them two prepaid coffee cards, I’m not sure they’ll be back.” Ted glared at Ray. “You’re a friend, but I don’t allow behavior like that in my shop. I’ll ban you.”

Ray stared back, surprised. “You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

The two of them locked gazes, then Ray laughed. “Nah…I would’ve been kicked out long ago.”

Ted stepped back behind the counter. “Don’t fuck with my business, Ray. You’re on thin ice as it is.” He looked at Kunal trimming his nails. “And you…what are you, twelve? Do that somewhere else.”

“Sorry.” Kunal pocketed the clipper.

Danielle watched the door, then looked to the seating at the rear of the shop. No customers in sight. She leaned over the counter. “Look at this.” She stuck out her pierced tongue and wiggled it. “I got it for my boyfriend.”

Ray shifted his eyes from Danielle’s breasts settling on the counter to her tongue moving in her mouth. “That’s hot! You think my wife would go for it?”

“Not a chance in hell, dude,” Kunal said, shaking his head.

Joe eyed Danielle’s piercing, restraining his fascination and drying cups from the dishwasher. “But do you like it?”

“Not really…at least not yet.” Danielle captured the metal bead in her teeth, then let it go. “It’s hard to get used to, but it…” She glanced around the shop again before continuing. “It drives my boyfriend wild when I…you know.”

“Okay, too much information,” Ted said.

But it was too late. Ray’s pupils dilated like he was high on drugs. His eyes followed the little metal bead on Danielle’s tongue bounce up and down as she flicked it.

Ted tapped Danielle’s shoulder. “Stop. You’ll give him an aneurysm.”

“I think she’s already blown his mind,” Kunal said as he scanned the boldly titled “stimulant” board. He turned on his bedroom eyes and gazed at Danielle. “What’s good today?”

“The Nicaragua Jinotega is good.” Danielle said, returning Kunal’s look and raising the corner of her mouth in a sly smile.

Kunal raised his eyebrows. “Not a chance, huh?”

“Nope.” Danielle grabbed a cup and poured a Jinotega for Kunal. “I got a boyfriend, remember?” She wiggled her tongue at him.

“Ray?” Kunal said. “You want anything?”

“Give him a Green Eye.” Joe tossed his drying towel over his shoulder. “He’d be up for two or three days straight.”

Ted shook his head. “For Ray? No, that would kill him.”

Joe laughed.

“I’m serious.” Ted stared down Joe’s laugh. “Ray needs his sleep to live.”

“I bet I know what he wants.” Kunal revealed a perfect toothy grin and flashed his eyebrows.

“No.” Ted wagged his finger. “The bathroom is off limits.” Ted looked at Ray. “Remember what happened last time?”

“He’s kind of creeping me out.” Danielle handed Kunal his coffee. “Should we call someone?”

“Yeah, his wife.” Kunal said, laughing as he walked to the condiment station. Joe and Ted joined in the laughter.

“Give him a moment,” Ted said.

“We don’t have a moment. The mid-morning rush is going to start soon.” Joe filled a mug with cold water and threw it in Ray’s face, breaking his trance.

Ray blinked and wiped the water off. “Did I zone?”

“Yeah, you did.” Ted looked at him. “You want anything to drink?”

Ray shook his head.

“What are you doing later?” Kunal said to Ted as he sipped his coffee. Then he gave Danielle a nod, accompanied by his bedroom eyes again. “It’s good. The Jinotega.” She returned a smile and wiped down her section of the counter top.

Ted shrugged. “No real plans. Got to pick up Buster at the vet. That’s about it.”

“We should hit a couple bars,” Kunal said. “Can you get past ‘the guard’?”

Ted didn’t appreciate the sarcasm. “Of course, but—”

“Cool.” Kunal draped his arm around Ray’s sodden shoulders. “I’ll pick you up.” The two of them were halfway out the door when Kunal called back, “Thanks for the coffee, dude.”

Ted sighed. An evening of drinking wasn’t what he had in mind. He had a rain check to claim.

Scene Break

Ted left the shop early to pick up Buster from the vet clinic. He had all the windows rolled down in the SUV, letting the warm air circulate. He loved Portland, especially during summer.

This is a perfect place to raise a family, Ted thought as he drove along Southwest Capitol Highway. Dotted with houses, greenery and intermittent sidewalks, the route was more like a typical city street than a highway. Ahead, he spotted Ella, the daughter of his next door neighbor, Sheridan Blake. Her signature bright pink baseball cap topped long blond hair in the style she’d sported for the past year.

This section of Southwest Capitol Highway had no sidewalk. Ella sauntered along the side of the road wearing flip-flops and a pool cover-up, her knapsack in one hand. Ted honked his horn and pulled over.

“Hey, Ella,” Ted said through the open passenger window. “Can I give you a lift?”

Ella stopped and approached the SUV with care. Upon recognizing Ted, she gave him a sweet smile and rested her forearms on the open window. “You going home?”

Ted thumbed at blankets and pillows in the back seat. “I have to pick up Buster from the vet, first. Then it’s home. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, sure.” Ella opened the door, threw her knapsack into the footwell and climbed into the front passenger seat. Her pool cover-up loosened and fell open just enough for Ted to see she was wearing a red and white striped bikini underneath.

Ella had been ten years old when Ted bought his condominium unit six years ago. While not technically friends, Ted had remained friendly towards Ella and Sheridan. He respected Sheridan’s ability to raise her daughter as a single mother, and helped them out with chores whenever he could. Ted had watched Ella grow up and thought of himself as an honorary uncle, although he had never shared that notion with anyone, not even Iris. And for as long as he had known her, Ella had been precocious and intelligent. Now sixteen, nothing had changed except for her physical appearance. Puberty had a way of doing that. Ella would break some hearts, if she hadn’t done so already.

Ted averted his eyes back to the road ahead. “Buckle up.”

“Already on it.” Ella pulled the seatbelt across her chest and waist and clicked the buckle into place. She pulled closed the gap in her cover-up.

Ted merged into traffic. Bits and pieces of his morning dream kept floating around his head, drawing his thoughts to Ella’s bikini. Not the teenage girl that wore them, but the colors red and white. He had to force the image of Iris in the same bikini out of his mind.

“Rain check,” Ted said.

“What?” Ella gave Ted a sideways look.

Ted shook his head. “Sorry. Thinking out loud.”

“Oh.” Ella returned her eyes forward. “You’re working too hard.”

“You’re probably right.”

The two of them drove on in silence. Ted gave Ella a look and a smile, which she returned, but it felt awkward.

Ted tried to ease some of the tension. “It’s turning out to be a nice summer so far, huh?”

Ella slipped off her flip-flops and placed her feet on the glove compartment door. Her cover-up began to slide down her thighs, but she stopped it and kept it in place with her hands. “It’s not hot enough for me.”

“You like it hot?” The words were out of Ted’s mouth before he could stop them.


“Hot out. I meant hot out.” Ted kicked himself mentally as he felt the burn of embarrassment spread across his cheeks.

“I guess so.” Ella dropped her feet back to the footwell and smoothed the cover-up over her thighs.

“What are you up to this summer? Anything interesting?” Ted was desperate to return to the previous level of awkwardness.

“Not really. Just swimming.” Ella adjusted her baseball cap. “They’ve got an outdoor pool at Wilson High.”

Ted nodded. Unlike the SUV, the conversation was going nowhere and Ted decided to stop embarrassing himself. The two of them sat in silence until they arrived at Pets West.

Buster was still groggy from the anesthetic. Ted carried him to the SUV and placed him in the back seat on top of several pillows.

“You did real good today, buddy.” Ted tucked blankets around Buster. Ella watched Ted work from the front seat and her eyes softened. Ted held Buster’s head in his hands. “You comfortable?”

Buster chuffed and laid his head to one side. The dog had a black and gray striped BiteNot collar around his neck to prevent him from licking the incision site.

“That’s a good boy.” Ted planted a quick kiss on Buster’s head and returned to the driver’s seat. He navigated out of the clinic’s parking lot and began the journey home.

Ella looked back at Buster trying to snooze in the back seat. She returned her gaze forward, stopping on the way to study Ted’s face in profile for a second. Her lips curled in a faint smile.

“So, any summer jobs lined up?”

“No.” Ella fidgeted with her hands. She turned and looked back at Buster again. “So, what’s wrong with Buster? Did he get hurt?”

“Nothing that dramatic,” Ted said. “He just got neutered.”

“Really?” Ella looked at Ted in surprise, then back at Buster. “Aww.” She unbuckled her seatbelt, kneeled in the passenger seat, and worked her way towards Buster. The dog spied her approaching hand with a sleepy eye.

“Hey. Put your seatbelt back on.”

“Poor little guy.” Ella stroked Buster’s groggy head and the dog closed its eyes again. “You can’t make babies anymore.”

Ella reached farther forward to get closer to Buster and run her fingers over the dog’s fur. Her cover-up slid up her back, exposing her red and white bikini bottom.

Ted looked in the rear view mirror, and that’s exactly what reflected back at him: a rear view of Ella in her bikini.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear, Ted thought. That’s for damn sure.

“You want to sink your face in my ass, don’t you?”

Ted’s eyes flicked forward. “What?”

“I said, do you think he’s going to be mad at you?”

I’m going crazy, Ted thought. First, the vet clinic, now this. “Uh…I hope not.” He looked over his shoulder. Ella’s raised backside was impossible to miss.

“I think I’d be mad at—” Ella turned her head as she backed out from between the front seats and caught Ted looking at her behind.

Ted returned his eyes to the road, trying to look as if nothing happened, yet feeling the heat of self-consciousness rising on his neck.

Ella returned to the passenger seat, a smile creeping across her face. “Were you just checking me out?”

“No,” Ted said without hesitation. “Get your seatbelt on.”

“It’d be okay if you were.”

“No, it wouldn’t…and no I wasn’t.” Ted reached for the paper cup of coffee from the dash cup holder, brought it to his lips for a sip, only to discover the cup was empty. He fumbled and dropped it into the footwell.

Ella stared at Ted’s face. She took pleasure in making him squirm. “Do you think I have a nice body?”

“What? Oh, Jesus.” Beads of sweat began to dot Ted’s hairline. “Uh, it’s fine. Now please, put your seatbelt on.”

Ella spotted Ted’s phone sitting in a cubby in the dash and grabbed it. She worked the display with her nimble fingers.

“Hey, what are you doing with that? Put it back.”

“This is an 8? Cool.” Ella swiped the screen into camera mode and leaned back into Ted, her cover-up laying open and slack. She held the phone out from her body and framed the two of them in a selfie: Ted driving and looking very annoyed and Ella grinning and wearing practically nothing.


“Give me the phone!” Ted took his right hand off the steering wheel and reached out. Ella began to giggle. She swapped the phone into her left hand and hid it under her left thigh.

The SUV drifted onto the shoulder. Ted over-corrected, causing the vehicle to swerve and sway. Ella slipped off Ted’s shoulder, the back of her head landing in his crotch.

Ted’s eyes bugged out. He grabbed the steering wheel with two white-knuckled fists and slammed on the brakes. The SUV skidded to a stop.

Buster cracked one eyelid open, looked around, and closed it again with a huff.

Face damp with sweat, Ted looked down at Ella giggling in his lap, cover-up open, pink baseball cap knocked askew, without a care in the world. She raised the phone again and framed a photo. Ted reached out to stop her before she—


The selfie captured Ella laughing, head in Ted’s crotch, with his arm reaching out over her sixteen year old bikini-clad body.

Ted was livid. “Seatbelt. Now!

Ella righted herself, tucking in her cover-up and buckling herself into the passenger seat again.

Ted held out an open palm. “Phone.”

“Can I take Buster’s picture?”

Ted just stared at her. Ella stifled a giggle and returned the phone. He began to work the passcode when Buster whined from the back seat. He placed the phone back into the cubby in the dash and looked back at him.

“Sorry, buddy. We’ll be home soon.” Ted reached back and gave Buster’s head a scratch, which helped to diffuse his anger. He looked at Ella. “When you’re in this vehicle, you’re my responsibility. We could have gotten into an accident. You could have been hurt or killed.”

Ella sat, glued to her seat, and said nothing. The fun was definitely over.

“Not a peep.” Ted checked his side mirror and pulled out into the road. “And no funny business.”

Ella’s luck had run out. She did as she was told and kept her eyes front and forward.

“I always knew you cared.” She grinned to herself as the gears in her head began to spin.


Ted stepped out of the elevator to the fourth floor, followed by Ella in her pool cover-up and with her knapsack slung over one shoulder. Buster, still groggy, lay in Ted’s arms.

They walked down the hallway to Ted’s door in silence, except for the low hum of the building’s air conditioning, the churn of the elevator returning to the first floor, and Ella’s flip-flops slapping her heels.

Ted looked at Ella, surprised to realize that she was almost as tall as he was. “Hey, could you do me a favor and unlock my door?”

Ella looked at Ted, then down at the front pockets of his jeans. The denim fit him well, accentuating all the right parts. She reached for the closest pocket.

Ted whistled. “Up here.” He jangled the ring of keys hooked onto the index finger of his left hand. “There’s nothing in those pockets.”

Ella took the keys, unlocked Ted’s door and placed the key ring back on Ted’s finger. “Thanks for the ride, Mr. Cooper. See you around.”

“Yeah.” Ted carried Buster into his suite and closed the door, not with a slam but with enough force to indicate his annoyance.

He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter, then carried Buster to his dog bed next to the entry. The dog whined briefly but soon settled into the soft padding of the bed without fuss, laying his head and the BiteNot collar over his front paws.

Ted returned to the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards until he found a can of dog food. He crouched down to Buster’s level and held the can up.


Buster heaved a sigh and didn’t move.

Ted looked at the glistening meat chunks depicted on the side of the can. “It’s beef, chicken, heart, kidney and liver…in a rich tasty jelly that dogs love.”

Normally Buster would wag his tail, whine and sometimes bark to show his eagerness, but the dog didn’t budge.

“I’m with you on that one.” Ted carried the can back to the kitchen and set it down on the counter. “Dogs love jelly?”

Someone knocked on the door. Buster’s ears pricked up. Ted opened the door and found Ella standing exactly as he had left her. Now, she looked a little cold.

“Can I ask a favor?” Ella turned on her adorable switch and batted her eyelashes a few times.

Ted stood in the doorway, waiting, drumming his fingers on the door frame. He wasn’t buying it. He had had enough of Ella for one day.

“Look, my mom would shit if she knew I walked home in my bikini.” Ella dialed back her teenage flirting. “Can I use your bathroom to change?”

Ted considered her request, then stepped aside, letting her in. “Down the hall, first door on your right. Make it quick.”

“Thanks.” Ella hustled down the hallway and disappeared into the main bathroom and locked the door.

Ted returned to the kitchen. He dug out a can opener, removed the lid to the dog food and inverted the can. A congealed column of mystery meat fell into Buster’s food dish with a wet plop. Some of the “rich tasty jelly” splashed onto Ted’s hand.

A text chime sounded. Ted dug into his pocket and pulled out his phone.

“Bar hop 2nite, dood!” Kunal’s text read.

“No thanks,” Ted tapped in response, spreading some of the dog food jelly across the display by mistake. “Ugh.”

He jammed the phone back into his pocket and rinsed his hands in the sink.

Scene Break

Ella stood in Ted’s main bathroom and dropped her knapsack, taking in her surroundings. Everything was hard-edged, in black, gray or white, even the toilet. She had never seen a square toilet before. She lifted the lid and the seat inside looked just as sharp and hard as the outside.

That can’t be comfortable, Ella thought.

All fixtures were modern brushed steel, but the sink was an anomaly. It was smooth, oval, and looked like a large egg with half of the shell sheared off at a slight angle. The sink was spotless, with a bottle of high-end hand soap next to it. The towels looked freshly laundered and there was a full supply of toilet tissue under the counter. It was obvious that a woman lived here. A neat freak. No guy (or even a teenage girl) would keep a bathroom this neat.

It was common knowledge that Iris lived with Ted. Ella had run into her in the hallway many times, but Iris kept to herself. Ella couldn’t figure out if Iris didn’t like her or teenagers in general.

 She slipped out of her thin cover-up, threw her baseball hat on the floor, and stepped in front of the floor to ceiling mirror next to the sink. She placed her hands on her hips, just above her bikini bottom, and struck a pose. She mussed up her hair and held another pose.

I look hot, Ella thought with a smile.

There was a terry cloth robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Ella ran her hand over its plush weave. She took the robe down and wrapped herself in it, soaking in its softness.

An impatient knock erupted from the other side of the door. “Almost done in there?” Ted said.

“Yup. I’ll be out in a second.”

Ella grabbed her knapsack and unzipped it. She wiggled out of her bikini bottoms, dropped them to the floor, and pulled on a dry pair of underwear and denim shorts. She was careful to rehang the robe on the door, then removed her bikini top, swapping it for a sports bra and a shirt from her knapsack.

She pulled on her baseball cap and grabbed her bikini off the floor. Her hand stopped and hovered over her knapsack.

What if…? Ella nibbled her lower lip as her brain began to work. A slight, sly smile worked its way across her face. I already know he thinks I’m hot.

Without hesitation, she took her bikini bottom and dropped it back on the floor, next to the hinges of the bathroom door, so that they wouldn’t be seen when the door was open.

Ella threw her bikini top into her knapsack, slipped on her flip-flops and left the bathroom. There was still a remnant of a smile on her face when she met Ted waiting in the living room.

“Took you long enough. What were you doing in there?” Ella’s possible responses rolled through Ted’s head. “On second thought, never mind.”

“I was just checking out your square toilet. They’re supposed to be round.”

“Yeah, that’s Iris.” Ted scanned the room. “In fact, everything you see, the furniture and appliances, is Iris.”

Ella tilted her head and looked a question at Ted. “What’s you?”

Such a simple question, but Ted had a hard time answering. He shrugged. “The French press is me, and so is Buster. I don’t need much.”

Upon hearing his name, Buster raised his head until he was convinced there was nothing of interest going on.

Ella crouched down next to Buster and caressed his head. “I’d take Buster over a square toilet any day.” She stood and looked around. “I like the layout of your place better than ours.”

“That’s great, Ella, but I’m kind of busy, so…”

“Oh. Okay.” Ella opened the door and stepped into the hallway. “Later.”

She latched the door. Within a few steps, that sly smile returned to her lips as she walked towards her suite.

Scene Break

Ted had brought home two packages of coffee: Columbian for Iris and Jinotega for himself. Iris didn’t drink anything else, but Ted liked to keep things interesting. Besides, it was his job to know coffee and all its varieties.

He opened the bag, inserted his nose and inhaled. Apart from drinking coffee, taking in its rich aroma before brewing and trying to isolate the individual scents was one of Ted’s favorite rituals. The dark roast had a lightly fruity essence with stronger overtones of fresh butter and chocolate. He believed separating the scent components of coffee to be more difficult than that of wine.

He scooped several tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee into the French press and filled it half-way with boiling water. Ted keyed in the requisite four minutes on a digital timer, then brought his nose to the French press and took in its bloom.

This would go great with cannoli, Ted thought. He looked around the kitchen for anything that came close, but came up dry. It was a long shot.

After thirty seconds had passed, Ted gave the coffee a stir to break up the coffee ground crust and filled the press with the remaining water. He set the plunger and lid on top and waited for the timer to count down to zero.

He mulled the day over in his head, beginning with his intense dream. Pieces of it still clung to him like that red ribbon. And why was he mishearing what women were saying to him?

Am I sexually frustrated? Ted thought.

After five years of being together, Iris still pressed all of his buttons. From Ted’s point of view, their sex life was still exciting and fulfilling. However, their encounters had been less frequent in recent months.

Is Iris losing interest in me? Ted didn’t like questions like this because he feared the answers. He feared losing her.

The digital timer went off with a beep-beep-beep. Ted refocused on the French press and pressed the plunger all the way down. He poured himself a cup, leaving room for a shot of cream and a tablespoon of sugar.

Ted sat down next to where Buster lay snoozing and set his coffee mug on the floor. He stroked the dog’s head.

“Quite the day we’ve had, eh buddy?”

Buster chuffed.

“Yeah, you got the short end of the stick.” Ted sipped from his warm mug, swishing the coffee in his mouth to capture all the flavors. “Sorry about that.”

Ted looked around his condo, at all the funky furniture and state-of-the-art appliances. “She’s god-damned right,” he said to himself, thinking of Ella’s earlier comment. “What part of this is me?”

But despite Ted’s thoughts, at that moment, drinking damn fine coffee and sitting next to his best little buddy was exactly where he wanted to be.

Three knocks on the door broke Ted out of his serene bubble. He set his coffee down and approached the door. He disregarded the peephole. He was sure it was Ella.

Ted flipped the deadbolt. “What is it now?” he said as he pulled open the door.

It wasn’t Ella. It was the polar opposite of Ella. Kunal stood in the doorway, with Ray next to him.

Ray held up a six-pack with one can missing and belched. “We got tall boys!” He pushed past Ted, reeking of beer and something else sour, and set the remaining beers on the kitchen counter. “Can I use your bathroom? I got to piss like a racehorse.”

“Is this a bad time?” Kunal raised an eyebrow and grinned.

Ted sighed and glared at him. “Honestly? Yes, but lucky for you Iris is out late tonight.”

“You bailed on bar hopping, so we brought the bar to you.”

“How thoughtful.”

“No chicks, though.” Kunal mimed two breasts with his hands and squeezed the air.

“I noticed.” Ted picked up his mug of coffee from the floor. “Keep it down. Buster’s had a rough day.”

“Shit,” Kunal, said. “It’s like you got kids.”

“It’s part of the deal.”

“You got to get out more…out of this…” Kunal looked around the condo. “…This IKEA catalog.”

“I like it,” Ted lied.

“I call bullshit, dude.”

Ted shook his head. “You guys got to go.”

“Nope. We’re staying.”

“Fine.” Ted sighed. He was in no mood to argue. “But you got to be out of here before Iris gets home.”

Kunal pried a beer from the six-pack’s plastic rings. “Forget Iris, dude. Just for tonight at least.”

“Look, I got to live with her. She doesn’t like surprise visits.”

“You mean surprise visits from us.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Whatever, dude. That’s her problem.” Kunal cracked the beer and handed it to Ted. “You need a guys’ night out. Babes, booze, live a little.” Kunal grabbed another beer and broke its seal. “You got to relax, have some fun, be happy.”

“I am happy,” Ted said.

“Are you?” Kunal swigged a mouthful of beer.

Ted took in the hanging silence. It was too quiet. “Where’s Ray?”

“He’s probably busting a nut.”

“Oh shit.”

Kunal pulled out a chair from the dining table and sat. “He’s been raving about Danielle’s tongue piercing all freaking day.”

“Did you find it hot?”

Kunal shrugged. “Not really. I’ve had chicks with tongue studs blow me and it doesn’t feel any different. Danielle on the other hand is off the hook. I’d like to—”

“Enough.” Ted drank his beer. “Plus, she’s got a boyfriend.”

“Killjoy. What are you, her father?”

“Hey, Kunal.” Ray’s voice echoed from the main bathroom. “Someone’s been busy.” He walked into the kitchen twirling Ella’s red and white striped bikini bottom on his right index finger, a toothy, pervy grin spread across his face. Ted saw the bikini bottom and choked on his beer.

Kunal set his beer can on the table and snatched the bikini bottom off Ray’s finger. He held them up by the waistband, accentuating their size.

“Whoa, dude. These are too small for Iris.” Kunal looked at Ted over the waistband. “You holding out on us, Ted? Getting your ‘barely legal’ on or what?”

Ted approached Kunal with an open palm. “Hand them over.”

“You dipping your wick in some strange, dude?”

“Are you crazy?”

“Already having fun with some hot little eighteen year old?”

“No. Give them here.” Ted swiped his hand to grab the bikini bottom, but Kunal pulled it away just in time. Ray yanked the bottom from Kunal’s hand and crumpled them into his face, sniffing them.

“Damn.” Ray looked down at his crotch where his green track suit stood at attention. “I’m going to have to use your bathroom again.”

Ted shot a look at Ray. “You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.”

Ray shrugged and offered a regretful grin.

“Jesus Christ, Ray! Why do you do that?”

“What can I say? I got uncontrollable urges.”

“You cleaned up, right?”

Ray sniffed Ella’s bikini bottom again. Ted lunged for the red striped fabric, but Ray switched hands to evade Ted’s grasp, then tossed them to Kunal.

Keys sounded in the door.

Kunal saw terror flash in Ted’s eyes and knew they had gone too far. He threw the bikini bottom to Ted and Ted threw them back to him.

Kunal spun around and concealed the bikini bottoms behind his back just as the door to the condo swung open. Ted and Kunal froze in their tracks and tried to look casual. They just ended up looking odd.

Iris paused in the doorway, looked at Kunal, then sent a disapproving look at Ted. Kunal noticed the exchange and filed it away.

“Hey, babe.” Ted said with a sheepish smile. “You’re early. How was your day?”

“I’m not that early.” Iris dropped her attaché and purse on the dinner table. “Can’t wait to get out of these shoes.” Iris took note of the silence, the oddness. “It’s not guys’ night, is it?”

Kunal grabbed his beer with one hand, and held it up. “No, but it could be. Want to join us?” His other hand still clutched the bikini bottoms behind his back.

Iris looked at Kunal and rolled her eyes. “Uh, no.”

“We were just celebrating Buster’s…uh…ball busting.” Ted punctuated his awkwardness with a swig from his beer.

“Oh, right.” Iris kicked off her shoes. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s okay. Pretty out of it.” Ted motioned toward the dog bed.

Iris looked at Buster snoozing with the BiteNot collar wrapped around his neck. Her eyes softened as she crouched next to him and scratched his head. Buster peeked up at her, sighed and closed his eyes again.

“Poor little guy.” Iris stood and walked toward the bedroom, passing Ray coming out of the main bathroom.

“Hey, Iris.”

“Ray.” Iris felt a twinge of nausea creep up her throat as she passed him.

Ray followed Iris with his eyes, settling his gaze on her behind. If Ted had been in range, he would have smacked the back of Ray’s head. Kunal moved toward the couch and brought the bikini bottom out from behind his back.

Iris’s phone chimed in her purse. She doubled back toward the dining area, noticing Ray’s wandering eyes. “My face is up here.”

Kunal straightened up and turned to one side, stuffing one hand and the bikini bottom into his pocket, unseen by Iris. He reached out and clinked his beer can with Ted while still sitting on the back of the couch, then took a swig. The gesture looked awkward at best.

“Ted?” Iris grabbed her purse off the dinner table and pulled out her phone. She paused at the kitchen counter, her eyes scanning the text message. “Did you remember the coffee?”

“Sure did. Columbian dark roast.”

“Thanks, hon.” Iris retreated back to the bedroom, passing Ray again. “Get a hobby, pervert,” she said with disgust.

Ray didn’t hear any of it. He’d been focused on her body the whole time. He shot Kunal a “thumbs up” as Iris closed the door to the bedroom.

Kunal pulled the bikini bottom out of his pocket and stuffed it under a couch cushion. “Shit, that was close.”

Ted beckoned Kunal with his free hand. “Party’s over guys.”

“She hates us, doesn’t she?” Ray said, joining Kunal at the couch.

Ted lied as he ushered his two friends to the door. “She doesn’t hate you.”

“Yeah, she does.” Kunal looked back at Ted, annoyed. “You can do better, dude.”

“Out.” Ted grabbed the remaining beers and handed them to Ray.

“We’re not finished here,” Kunal said.

“Tonight, we are.” Ted closed and dead bolted the door. He looked through the peep-hole in the door expecting Kunal and Ray to be lingering about, but the hallway was empty. Ted rested his forehead on the door and his thoughts drifted back to Iris…and his dream that hadn’t yet evaporated completely.

Ted walked to the bedroom door, knocked and eased it open. “The guys are gone.”

“Thanks for the update.” Iris stood in the walk-in closet hanging up her skirt suit. Her purse and phone lay on the bed. As Ted approached her from behind, his eyes drifted over the curves of her body, clad in only a bra and panties.

Ray can't do this, but I can, Ted thought. He placed his hands on her warm shoulders and began to massage away the stress of her day. He felt her body trying to relax. Iris closed her eyes and leaned back into Ted’s chest, but she was unable to let go.

“Sorry about the guys dropping by,” Ted said between rubs. “It wasn’t my idea.”

Iris took a deep breath. “I can tolerate Kunal, but Ray…he’s a sexist pig. He creeps me out.”

“Many would agree. But, deep down, he’s a good guy. Really. You should see him with his kids.”

“That means he’s had sex.” Iris tensed up at the image. If Ted had been facing her, he would have seen an expression of complete revulsion. “Ugh. Change the subject.”

“Okay. I have an idea.” Ted began to pepper Iris’s neck and shoulders with light kisses. He unhooked the clasp of her bra and slid it off. It landed in a silken heap at her feet. “Remember that rain check?”

Ted turned her around, took her face in his hands and kissed her mouth, moving her towards the bed until her calves touched the bedspread.

They both fell back onto the bed where Ted continued his foreplay, moving his kisses down her neck and across her breasts. He knew where all Iris’s erogenous zones were, but today they weren’t lighting up.

“I’m late, Ted.”

Ted continued to leave a trail of kisses down Iris’s body, moving past her navel and towards the waistband of her panties. There was no little red bow on this pair.

“Late for what?” Ted began to tug at Iris’s panties.

Iris placed her hands on Ted’s cheeks and pulled him up to face her. “Ted.”

He looked at Iris, now aware of the serious tone of her voice and expression. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m late…as in I might be pregnant.”

“You’re late.” Ted’s entire world shifted. All of his arousal wilted like an ice cream cone on a hot day, leaving his boxers a moist, sticky mess. He rolled off Iris and lay beside her. “We’ve been careful. How is that possible?”

“I don’t know.” Iris felt a chill in the air and pulled the bedspread over her. “I just know my body.”

Ted closed his eyes and sighed. “When did you find out?”

“Three weeks ago.”

“Three weeks?” Ted propped himself up on his elbows. “What the hell, Iris!”

“Hey, you’re part of this, too.”

“Apparently not, if I’m finding out now.”

“You know what I mean.”

Ted sighed. “But I always use a condom. You know that.”

“The only thing that’s one hundred percent effective is—”

Ted shook his head and lay back down on the bed. “Don’t start. We’ve been through this.”

“But a vasectomy is quick and easy. It’s perfect.”

“Maybe for you. I don’t want anything…sharp getting close to my junk.” Ted pictured hundreds of scalpels flying towards his crotch from all directions.

“You know I’ve been off the pill for a while. And IUDs scare the shit out of me.” Iris stared at the ceiling. “So, it’s either major surgery for me or a simple vasectomy for you. What would you choose?”

All Ted could think about was silvery edges of sharpened surgical steel…cutting.

Iris rolled over and placed her mouth at his ear. “Wouldn’t you like to rawdog me again? Like we used to when I was on the Pill?” she whispered, her hot breath floating past his ear. “It would feel so good.” Iris licked Ted’s earlobe.

The idea of sex without a condom compared to getting a vasectomy was like matter and anti-matter to Ted. The words couldn’t exist in the same sentence and caused his thoughts to short-circuit.

“I choose condoms,” he said finally.

Iris rolled onto her back and crossed her arms, fuming in frustration. “I’ve been late before, you know.”

“You never told me that.”

“You didn’t need to know.”

They both fell silent.

Ted turned to look at Iris’s face. He traced her features, her high cheekbones, her slender nose, her delicate ear. He loved her even when they fought. “If I get a vasectomy, we can’t have kids.”

“I don’t want kids.” Iris spoke without hesitation.

In the five years Ted and Iris had been together, he couldn’t remember talking about kids before. Or if they had, it was never in any depth. Ted had always assumed kids would be in the picture some day.


“It’s not in the plan.”

“Wait. What plan? Your plan or our plan?”

Iris clammed up and Ted chose not to open that can of worms. Instead, he pictured Iris holding their baby. The image made him smile.

“You know, you’d make a great mom.”

“Just stop it, okay?” Iris bolted from the bed, stomped down the hallway and into the main bathroom. The slamming door echoed through the condo.

“Shit!” Ted punched the bed. “Shit, shit, shit!”

It had only been a few seconds when Iris yelled out, “Ted!”

Alarmed, Ted sat up on the bed. “What?”


Ted ran to the main bathroom and burst inside. “What’s wrong?”

Iris struggled to contain her anger. Words eluded her, so she pointed at the toilet and around the floor with a shaking index finger. Translucent globs of a stringy, sticky substance hung slackly from the toilet seat and down the angled sides of the toilet bowl as if in suspended animation. It could be only one thing: Ray’s jizz.

 “Oh shit.” Ted closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, preparing for the fallout.

Iris managed to break past her fury and speak. “Ray did this, didn’t he?”

Ted didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. Ray had history and this mass of splooge was one of his calling cards.

Is his brain so sex-addled that he can’t see the mess he leaves behind? Ted had thought on many occasions. The last time Ray’s “cumsplosion” had burst forth, it was in the unisex bathroom at Buster’s Beans. Ted was made aware of it after a customer complained. How many customers had navigated the mess and had politely gone about their business was anyone’s guess. Ted shuddered at the memory.

“He’s disgusting.” Iris pointed at more glistening globs on the floor. “You’re cleaning that shit up.” She stormed out of the bathroom and back to the bedroom.

Iris had been gone for a only a few seconds when she returned and grabbed the terry cloth robe from the back of the bathroom door. “You need to find some new fucking friends.”

Ted stood, taking in the scope of his cleanup task. The image of Ray masturbating to Ella’s bikini bottom pushed its way to the front of Ted’s mind. He grimaced and swallowed his nausea.

I got to get rid of those bikini bottoms, he thought. What if his jizz was on them? Thinking back, Ted couldn’t remember if the bikini bottoms were damp or not when they were being thrown around.

Ted grabbed some toilet paper and began to wipe up the mess, only to discover Ray had hit the toilet paper as well, soddening one side of the roll. As cleanup progressed, Ella’s bikini bottom became less and less a priority.

“Fucking Ray,” he grumbled.


Ted had temporarily moved Buster’s dog bed from beside the front door to his side of the bed so he would have some company during the night.

Iris had opposed the idea. “The room will smell like dog,” she had said.

The sedative had worn off but Buster was still subdued. It was obvious the dog needed a little extra love.

“It’s only for a couple of nights. He deserves it.”

Ted refused to back down and Iris went to bed in a huff.

Things will blow over by morning, Ted thought as he drifted off. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

The alarm clock broadcast its familiar six o’clock beep-beep-beep, pulling Ted out of sleep. There was no sexy dream hangover this time. There was no dream at all that he could remember.

He silenced the alarm and looked down at Buster. He returned Ted’s gaze, sitting in his dog bed, panting. Buster looked like he was smiling, even with his collar, and his brown eyes seemed a little clearer.

“Hey buddy. Sleep well?”

Buster continued panting and tilted his head to one side. Ted rolled over to kiss Iris’s shoulder but her side of the bed was empty and cold. His nose kicked in and the smell of coffee wafted into the bedroom. Then he heard the front door close and the deadbolt engage.

For the past five years, Ted had made it a habit to see Iris to the door each morning before she headed off to work. Often they’d kiss, even after nights when they had fought. This small ritual started the day off on the right foot.

But today, Iris had ducked out on him. Something was wrong. Ted jumped out of bed, wearing nothing but his ratty old boxer shorts, and ran to the door. Buster followed, wagging his tail.

“Sorry, buddy.” Ted let himself out and blocked Buster from following him with his legs. “I’ll be back in a bit,” he said through the gap in the door.

Buster barked as if he understood and didn’t like being excluded.

Ted latched the door and flew down the stairwell to the parkade. Iris had just opened the door to her sedan.

“Iris,” Ted called as he ran toward her from the stairwell door. The concrete of the parkade felt cool and smooth on his bare feet.

She looked back at his approach, then threw her attaché and purse onto the passenger seat and got in. Ted arrived at her sedan and intercepted the driver side door from closing.

“What’s going on?” Ted said between breaths.

Iris stared at the steering wheel and sighed. She turned to look at him. “I need some time.”

Ted shook his head in confusion. He hadn’t quite woken up yet. “What do you mean?”

“I need time away from you…and your gross friends.”

“Wait. If this is about Ray cumming all over the bathroom, I’m going to talk to him about that.”

“That’s just part of it. Let go of the door.”

Ted let go and stepped back. Iris pulled the driver-side door closed and started the sedan’s engine.

“Iris. Come on.” Ted said through the driver-side window. “Let’s talk about this. Roll down the window?”

Iris backed out of the parking stall and drove towards the automatic gate. Ted jogged beside the sedan and rapped his knuckles on the window.

“I’ll get the fucking vasectomy, okay?”

Iris struggled to keep her gaze forward, but the tear tracks on her cheeks betrayed her attempt at stoicism.

“Iris?” Ted tapped on the sedan’s window.

The parkade gate opened and Iris accelerated out and into the street. Ted ran as far and as fast as he could in bare feet.

“Iris!” Ted cried out as he stopped to catch his breath. He massaged a stitch in his side as he watched the sedan disappear down the street. He then heard the automatic gate begin to close behind him. “Fuck!” He ran back to the parkade entrance only to find himself locked out.

Ted walked gingerly around to the front of the building and scanned the directory for “Blake.” Ella and Sheridan were the only other people in the building that he was on friendly terms with. He entered the Blake’s suite number into the intercom’s keypad and waited. After a few minutes, Ted rang their suite again.

Whose ass will I have to kiss? Ted thought. Please don’t be Ella. Please don’t be Ella.

The intercom crackled. “Who is it?” It was Ella’s voice, half-drunk with sleep and filtered through a cheap speaker.

“Hi, Ella,” Ted said, stammering. “It’s Ted. I locked myself out of the building. Could you let me in?”

“Mr. Cooper?”

“Yeah.” Even unseen, Ted could feel the embarrassment in his cheeks. “Please let me in.” He banged his forehead against the glass side panels beside the main entrance. Ted was just about to press Ella’s intercom button again, when the lock on the door clicked open with a sustained electrical buzz.

He skipped the elevators, opting for the stairs since they exited closest to his condo. But just as he reached the fourth floor landing, he remembered why the elevators would have been a better option.

Ted stepped out into the hallway and looked past Ella’s door towards his own. The coast was clear and he began to tiptoe. Then he remembered he was wearing the boxer shorts Iris had given him on their first date anniversary. On the front of the shorts was an illustration of a squirrel holding an armful of acorns. Across and just under the waistband were the words “Play with my nuts.”

Abort! Abort! Ted thought. But it was too late.

Ella must have been listening for him, because she popped her head out of her door before Ted had a chance to duck back down the stairwell. She was wearing bright pink shorts with a loosely tied drawstring and a white Betty Boop tank top with the words “Can’t touch this!” underneath. A high, sleep-frazzled ponytail sat atop her head.

Ted glared at her as he passed. She smiled and looked him up and down.

“Play with your nuts, huh?” Ella snickered.

The heat of her stare followed him to his door. He glanced back at Ella. “Not another word.”

She raised a hand to stifle a giggle as she retreated into her condo.


She stepped back into the hallway, an expectant look on her face.

“Thanks for letting me in.”

“You owe me, Mr. Cooper.” Ella disappeared inside her condo and closed her door. Ted thought he saw a grin on her face.

Buster greeted Ted inside, his tail wagging a mile a minute. Ted reached down and gave Buster’s head a scratch.

“Hey buddy, got any beers? I’d give anything for a beer.”

Buster barked and nosed his empty food dish.

“I’ll get you breakfast in a second.” Ted grabbed his phone from the kitchen counter. He called up text messaging, selected Kunal as the recipient, and tapped out “Bar hop tonite.” Without hesitation, Ted hit “send.”

Scene Break

To Kunal, a night of bar-hopping represented a challenge: hit on as many women as possible at as many bars as possible before getting wasted. Ted’s definition was quite the opposite. To him it meant hopping to one bar and settling into a ripe stupor. Nights like that were cheaper but had a more limited selection of women. Depending on the time of day, sometimes there were no women customers at all, with exception of the waitresses. Kunal preferred variety over saving money.

Tonight, much to Kunal’s annoyance, Ted decided to meet at Quinn’s Cavern, a pub the guys had frequented a few times a month since they first met. The pub was located in a designated heritage building a few blocks northeast of Ted’s condo, which meant the option of walking home was always available. The pub’s owners had embraced their Irish background and favored authenticity instead of attempting to appeal to the hipster crowd and their affinity for furniture built from recycled building materials. The interior featured tables and booths made from darkly stained wood with brass accents. The comfortable and well worn seating was upholstered in genuine leather and each booth had its own set of jacket hooks.

Ted, Kunal, and Ray sat in a circular booth, well into their first pitcher of beer. Kunal topped up their mugs and signaled a waitress for another pitcher.

Ray looked at Kunal. “I thought you said the beer would fix everything?”

Kunal shrugged, gulped his beer, and watched the crowd.

Ted slouched in the booth and glared at Ray. “You’re an idiot.”

“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “How many times do I have to say it?”

“You’re an idiot with no impulse control.” Ted slammed his hand on the table, then belched, as if one action caused the other. “I’d still have a girlfriend if it wasn’t for you.”

“That’s so much bullshit.” Ray shook his head.

“She found your…spunk…and went ballistic. It was the last straw.”

“Dude, to be honest, there’s been quite a few last straws,” Kunal said.

Ted pointed at Kunal but kept his eyes on Ray. “Shut up. This is between me and Jerk-off here.”

“Jerk-off?” Ray furrowed his brow, crossed his arms, and grunted in annoyance.

Kunal leaned into the table. “Hey, you said Iris needed some time. That doesn’t mean it’s over. You should be thanking Ray for breaking you free for a while.”

“Yeah,” Ray said, bolstered by Kunal’s words. “You should be thanking me.”

“You’re taking his side?” Ted looked at Kunal, his eyes widening. “Next time you clean up his mess.”

Kunal nodded. “It’s true. Ray does have a problem with discretion. I’m just pointing out the facts.”

“I’m working on that,” Ray said.

Ted gulped his beer. “Work harder, Jerk-off.”

“Stop it with the jerk-off, Jerk-off.”

“If the splooge sticks…”

“Hey.” Kunal looked at Ted and Ray. “Enough jizz talk.” He turned to Ted. “She’s just late, dude. I’ve known chicks at the gym who were late but weren’t preggers. You’re not a daddy yet, so quit worrying about it.”

“And I may never get to be one if she gets her way.”

Kunal and Ray shot each other confused looks.

Ray responded first. “What are you talking about?”

A waitress approached their table with their second pitcher of beer balanced on a serving tray. She set it down on the table and collected the empty pitcher.

Kunal winked at her. “Thanks, Chloe.”

Chloe batted her lashes and smiled. “Any time, Kunny Bunny. Call me.” Kunal sent her a nod.

Kunny Bunny?” Ted laughed.

“Dude, she can call me anything she wants.” Kunal watched Chloe’s behind move under her serving skirt. “She fucks like a mink.”

Ray’s jaw went slack, as if in preparation for his tongue to roll out of his mouth and drop on the table.

“You…and her?” Ted said.

“Yeah.” A grin spread across Kunal’s lips. “We’ve exchanged more than just phone numbers.”

Ray groaned. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Focus, Ray. Discretion and restraint.” Kunal refilled Ted’s mug with beer, then Ray’s.

“But I need to piss.”

“Not buying it, Ray…So, Ted, you were saying you won’t get to be a dad?”

“Uh…” Ted looked at Kunal, surprised.

“Don’t say I never listen.”

Ted raised his beer and drank several swallows. “Iris wants me to get a vasectomy.”

Ray cringed. His hands disappeared under the table and cupped his crotch in an involuntary protective gesture.

“Whoa.” Kunal’s eyes sparkled just a bit brighter. “Do you want one?”

Ted took no time to think about it. “No…at least I don’t think so? But I don’t want to lose her, either.”

“You sure? Because vasectomies are fucking awesome. Rawdogging it, dude. It’s pure pleasure.”

“Iris already tried to convince me with the ‘no condom’ angle. I can’t get past the scalpel.” Ted brought his mug up to his lips. “Besides, how would you know?” He took a swig of beer.

Kunal had Ray’s and Ted’s full attention. He took a long drink from his beer, set his mug down and pointed down at his crotch.

Ray’s eyes went wide. “No way!”

“When?” Ted said.

Kunal shrugged. “Couple years ago.”

“And you didn’t tell us?” Ted slumped back against the booth seating. “Bastard.”

“I got to keep some secrets to myself.” Kunal beamed. “It’s completely liberating. Women love it.”

“Except women who want kids,” Ted said.

“I don’t sleep with women who want kids, and even if I did, it wouldn't matter. I may be shooting blanks, but I’m shooting blanks every night.” Kunal smiled. “You get me?”

Ted nodded.

“Does Iris want kids?” Kunal had a way of cutting through the bullshit, right to the important questions.

“No,” Ted said.

“Do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You better know. If you get one, do it for yourself.” Kunal burped. “I sleep with different women a couple of times a week. Sometimes more.” Kunal looked over at the bar. “I just might hook up with Chloe again tonight.”

“And these women…they just believe you?”

“If they need proof, I ask them to feel up my balls. If that doesn’t work, I have a hand-held stud detector that does the trick. You can get them at any hardware store.”

Ted laughed. “You’re taken seriously when you pull out a stud detector?

“The women are fascinated, actually. I have a lab test as a backup, but I’ve never used it.”

“What about STDs?” Ted said. “A vasectomy isn’t going to prevent a nasty case of the clap.”

“I choose women that celebrate good personal hygiene the same way I do.”

“Huh.” Ted sat back and folded his arms. “If anyone needs a vasectomy, it’s Jizz-Master Stud, here.” He hooked a thumb at Ray, whose face was now covered in sweat.

“Ray?” Kunal looked into Ray’s eyes. His pupils were dilated, large and black. “You okay?”

“It’s all this sexy talk. But discretion and restraint, right?”

Kunal nodded. “Right.”

“I don’t need a vasectomy,” Ray said, back from his momentary lapse.

“Oh?” Kunal raised his eyebrows. “Why’s that?”

“Low sperm count due to—”

“Excessive wanking?” Kunal laughed.

Ted shook his head. “Where’d you learn that? The Internet?”

Ray returned a sheepish look to his two friends. “Uh, I read it somewhere. Can’t remember.”

“You’ve been married for six years and you have four kids, with one on the way,” Ted said.

Ray shrugged.

“You don’t need a vasectomy because Vivian is always pregnant,” Ted said. “You don’t even need to do the math. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have more sex than Kunal and me combined.”

“Hey.” Kunal choked on a mouthful of beer. “Speak for yourself.”

“Let me ask you this.” Ted cracked his knuckles, making Ray cringe. “What are you going to do when Vivian says no to more kids? Switch to condoms?”

Ray held his mug of beer with both hands, like it was a security blanket. “I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

“Cum on it, you mean.” Kunal chuckled to himself.

Ray gave Kunal a sideways look. “Very funny. Speaking of kids, Angie, my oldest, is having her fifth birthday in a few weeks. You guys are invited.”

“I’m there, dude.” Kunal clinked mugs with Ray. “Congrats.”

“Thanks.” Ray glanced at Ted. “How about you?”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Come on, man. Angie adores you. She thinks you hung the moon.”

Ted drank his beer, content to let Ray convince him to attend the party.

“There might be some single moms there.” Ray flashed his eyebrows.

Kunal gave Ted a “thumbs up,” but Ted remained silent.

Ray sighed. “I promise to never jerk-off at your place again.” Silence settled over the table.

“Jerk-off?” The three of them turned to see Chloe standing at the front of the curved booth with a disgusted look on her face. “Um, like, I’ll check back later.”

Ted, Kunal, and Ray burst out laughing.

“Okay. I’ll go.” Ted held his gut. “Chloe’s expression was gold.”

“Alright!” Ray reached out and high-fived Ted. “Do you think she heard me?” Ray flicked his eyes back and forth between Ted and Kunal.

“Of course she heard you.”

“Do you care?” Kunal said.

“Well, yeah.”

“Why? You’re married. You don’t have to impress anyone anymore, except Vivian.”

“But now she probably thinks I’m a perv.”

“Ray.” Kunal tilted his face forward. “You are a perv.” He finished his beer and refilled all three mugs. “So, what’s it going to be, Ted? All the sex you want and no responsibility?”

“But it’s permanent,” Ted said.

“Permanent bliss, dude. Don’t you find that appealing?”

Ted sipped his beer. “You know…it does sound pretty good.”

“That’s what I’m talking about.” Kunal raised his mug and clinked it with Ted’s and Ray’s. “Here’s to sex, rawdoggie-style.”

They all drank and Ted’s mind swirled with possibilities. His life was about to change for the better. That was the plan, anyway.

Scene Break

Now that Ted had decided to get a vasectomy, everything seemed a bit brighter. Even though he didn’t know Iris’s exact whereabouts and all his calls went to her voice mail, Ted felt at peace. The next chapter of his life was unfolding. He wiped down unoccupied tables at the front of the shop and greeted seated customers with a smile. He whistled Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as he worked.

Buster sat in his usual spot next to the front entrance of the shop. He was still somewhat subdued as he recuperated from his surgery and snoozed for most of the day in his special coffee-bean-shaped dog bed. Buster received many sympathetic head scratches from customers, and despite the BiteNot collar around his neck, he wasn’t suffering much.

Joe and Danielle were serving customers when Kunal burst in through the front door. There was a touch of panic on his face.

“Dude, I got to talk to you.”

Ted folded his cleaning cloth and tucked it into his apron string. “What’s wrong?”

Kunal looked around the shop, noting where all the customers were. “Not here.” He led Ted into the back of the shop where there were several more vacant tables.

Joe and Danielle, always wanting to be involved in the day-to-day goings-on at Buster’s Beans, especially the gossip, divided their attention between customers and Ted and Kunal.

Kunal chose a table in the back furthest from the front entrance and sat down. He waited for Ted to take a seat across from him.

“What’s up?” Ted said. “Did Ray do something inappropriate again?”

“No.” Kunal looked back at the counter to see Joe and Danielle keeping an eye on him. He leaned over the table and lowered his voice. “About last night. All the talk about…” Kunal looked around again and dropped his voice to a whisper. “About getting snipped, you know?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Vasectomy isn’t for you, dude.”

“How would you know?”

“I just do.”

“You made a pretty convincing case for it yesterday.”

Kunal shook his head. “I was drunk. Call it seller’s remorse. You’re a family guy.” Kunal hooked a thumb over at Buster snoozing in the sun. “You’ve got a dog. You’re halfway into family territory already.”

Ted leaned back in his chair. “Look. I’ll tell you what I am. I’m unhappy. My relationship with Iris is in the toilet. I’m sexually frustrated. I haven’t had sex in over two months. And you’re right, I need to cut loose. Or fix things with Iris. Either way, getting snipped will solve all that.”

“Why not take after Ray and give yourself the odd handy?”

“I do, but it’s not the same.”

Kunal lowered his voice. “Get a Fleshlight.”

“What? I don’t need one of those.”

“Don’t knock them. They’re great for building stamina.”

“You speak from experience?”

Kunal leaned back and raised his palms, a subtle satisfied smile on his face. “Just saying.”

“No, I’ve made up my mind.”

“Okay.” Kunal sighed and slumped his shoulders. Relief washed over his face. “I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t the beer talking. It’s a life-altering decision. For me, it was the right one.”

“I’m so sure, I’ve already booked a consultation.”

“Whoa, dude. You must really be frustrated.”

“No shit.”

“Well, you know what we got to do now, right?” A wide grin spread across Kunal’s face.

Ted’s curiosity was piqued. “What?”

“Got anything going on tonight?”

“No. Why?”

Kunal stood up and pulled out his phone. “I’ll text you the deets.” He dialed a number and began talking as he left the shop.

Danielle followed Kunal with her eyes until he left, then turned back to Ted. “Everything okay?”

Ted gave Danielle a thumbs up. “Just another day at the office.” Except it wasn't, not by a long shot.

Scene Break

Kunal lived in a modern condominium complex eight blocks away from Buster’s Beans, off Southeast Ankeny Street. The five-story building was named The Penthouse, even though all the suites were functionally identical. The name suited Kunal’s playboy lifestyle and Ted was convinced it had played a part in convincing Kunal to buy into the building.

Ted stood outside the main entry and buzzed up. His watch showed it was just after seven o’clock.

“Castration central.” Ray’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Do you have an appointment?”

“It’s Ted. Let me in.”

“Ah yes. Ted Cooper. Nut sack research.”

“Ray…just open the door.”

The front entrance unlocked with a buzz-click and Ted pulled the door open.

“Mr. Cooper, before entering the elevator, remember to kiss your balls goodbye.” Ray began to laugh before the intercom cut out.

Ted entered the building but decided to take the stairs instead. Five flights of stairs left him slightly winded.

Kunal met Ted at the door to his suite and handed him a shot and a bottle of beer. “Dude, come on in. Sorry about Ray. He’s a little excited.”

“What’s this?” Ted motioned at the shot.

“Tequila with a beer chaser,” Kunal said. “You’re going to need it.”

“For what?”

“You’ll see. Down the hatch.” Kunal waited for Ted to toss back the tequila before directing Ted into his living room.

Kunal’s choice of furnishings reminded Ted of Iris’s style, with a few exceptions. Kunal lived a bachelor life and took pride in minimalism. Despite his impressive net worth, he owned just enough to exist on. However, the furniture, electronics, and appliances scattered through his suite were as high-end and state of the art as possible. “The best I can afford,” Kunal would say. If he ever settled down with one woman, he would have to make some stylistic compromises.

Ted remembered asking how Kunal could live so simply. “I believe in freedom, in all forms,” he had said. “I seek it out. The fewer possessions I have, the freer I feel.” Ted never forgot that.

The living room featured a big screen television, a small coffee table and a couch. Kunal had connected his laptop to his television wirelessly.

“The patient has arrived.” Ray swigged from his beer bottle. Apparent from his red cheeks and the way he swayed side to side, Ray was already two out of three sheets to the wind. He pointed at the supple leather couch. “Sit. Be comfortable. I hope you relish your beer as much as I.”

Ted cocked his eyebrows and looked a question at Kunal.

“I don’t know, dude. Probably some obscure Star Trek reference.”

Ray belched. “Yup. Balok, bitches. The Corbomite Maneuver.”

“Okay, then.” Ted flopped onto the couch, flanked by Kunal and Ray. On the television screen was the front page of YouTube.

“Since you’re going to get a vasectomy,” Kunal began, “you need to know what to expect. Search for ‘vasectomy.’ ”

“Seriously?” Ted drank from his beer. “This is something I can do on my own time.”

“Why waste time when you can get the goods from someone who’s already gone through the process?” Kunal smiled and clinked Ted’s beer can. Ray tried, but missed due to drunken coordination. “That’s what friends are for, right?”

Ted nodded at Kunal. “Fair point.” He typed “vasectomy” into YouTube’s search field. A list of results and thumbnail images flashed across the screen.

“Scroll down.” Kunal wagged his index finger. “Look for ‘no scalpel.’ ”

Ted worked his fingers over the laptop’s track pad, scrolling the results. Listed were videos of men praising vasectomy, doctors explaining the procedure with fancy graphics and animation, and wives explaining getting pregnant afterward, but a great majority of the videos focused on close-ups of the procedure itself. It was the surgical show-all videos that gave Ted’s stomach a flip.

“Stop. There. Click on that one.”

Ted looked at the video thumbnail Kunal was pointing at. It showed a latex-gloved hand holding a pair of scissors and digging into what looked like a partially dried apricot. But he knew it wasn’t an apricot. Ted didn’t know it at the time, but he would never eat apricots again.

I’m watching nut sack surgery videos on YouTube…by choice, Ted thought and he felt his stomach lurch again. He clicked “play.”

Ted and Ray craned their necks forward, then tilted their heads in unison as the doctor on the screen began the procedure. Kunal grinned and leaned back, taking in the reactions of his two friends.

Ray swigged from his beer and squinted at the television. “Jesus Christ, that’s a big needle.”

“It’s anesthetic,” said Kunal.

“Go full screen.”

“What?” Ted groaned and backed away from the laptop. “I’ve already seen enough.”

“No way, we’re just getting started.” Kunal reached over to the laptop and switched the video into full screen, filling the television with fifty-five inches of shaved scrotum.

Ray began to laugh and raised his beer. “Looks like my grandma’s tits.”

Kunal and Ted glanced at Ray with looks of confusion mixed with disgust.

Ray shrugged. “What? She’s a free spirit.”

“I worry about you sometimes, dude.”

Ted watched the faceless doctor’s hand work. “Do we have to watch this?”

“Aren’t you curious?” Kunal said. “This is for your benefit.”

“Yeah, but this is…in HD.”

Ray leaned in close enough to tickle Ted’s cheek with his beard. The hoppy odor of beer floated around Ray’s head like a wreath. “Just think. This is the closest you’re ever going to get to another man’s cock.”

“Ray,” Ted pushed Ray back. “You’re not helping.”

They both returned their gaze to the video, fascinated and repulsed at the same time. It was like a car wreck. They didn’t want to see what they were looking at, but at the same time, they were drawn to it like moths to a flame. They could not look away.

“What’s he doing with that…thing?”

Ted set his beer down on the coffee table. “So when the doctor says ‘no scalpel,’ what he really means is he’ll use something equally as sharp. And then he’s…Ow! Damn!” Ted cringed, raised his knees and by instinct covered his crotch. The doctor in the video had produced a small opening in the scrotum, then wiped away a bead of bright red blood.

Kunal doubled over laughing.

Ted placed his hand over his eyes but continued watching through the gaps between his fingers. “This isn’t funny. Jesus.”

“Skip ahead, dude,” Kunal said between guffaws. Ted scrubbed the video’s time line. “Stop. There. This is the good part.” Kunal began to laugh again.

Ray stood up and pointed at the screen. “What’s that thing he’s pulling out?”

Fighting tears of laughter, Kunal managed to describe what was happening in the video. “That’s the tube jizz flows through, in your case, several times a day.”

“No shit!” Ray stared at the video. “That’s amazeballs.”

Ted swallowed hard. “I don’t feel so good.” All color had drained from his face, leaving it waxy and ashen.

The doctor in the video placed small metal clamps on the tube and crimped them closed with a more precise set of pliers.

Kunal clapped his hands. “And those are the keys to the kingdom.”

“Just like when my kids step on the water hose.”

“Stop.” Ted’s vision dissolved into black and white, with stars dancing on top, and his skin turned cool and clammy. His eyes drifted upwards.

“You’re going to miss the big finale, dude.” Kunal nudged Ted. “And…snip! Done deal.”

Ted looked down just as the doctor cut the tube with a distinctive snick.

“Amazing.” Ray clapped his hands. “Bravo.”

“One side done,” Kunal said. “Now the other side.”

Ted leapt to his feet and hustled to Kunal’s bathroom. His eyes, brain and stomach had had enough stimulation for one day.

“Pussy!” Ray picked up Ted’s beer and finished it off.

Kunal gave Ray’s shoulder a shove. “Back off. Dude needs time to adjust. He’ll thank me later.”

Ted closed the bathroom door and splashed cold water on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror, pale and shaky.

I can do this, Ted thought. But the more he thought about it, the more doubts he had. Questions swirled in his head. What if Iris doesn’t want me back, even after getting snipped? What if it’s not about sex at all? Iris had made her dislike of Kunal and Ray clear to Ted on many occasions during the past five years, but who he chose as friends was one issue he refused to budge on.

Could a vasectomy fix everything? The answer was “yes” if Ted were to believe Kunal’s advice. There was only one way to find out.

Scene Break

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