Category: Non-Erotic Stories

A Coward's Redemption

by trigudis©

Before the Internet, if you were single and looking to hook up, your go-to source might have been a city magazine. It was mine, a Marylander in his mid-thirties living in Montgomery County at the time. In the early 1990s, columns of single ads filled the back pages of Washingtonian Magazine. Those of a certain age will remember how many of these ads sounded too good to be true: young, professional, gorgeous, rich, physically fit, brilliant female looking for suitable male companion. Of course, the men could hype-up their credentials to the max as well. Truth in advertising was a rare thing with these ads as I discovered in my quest to meet that special someone. Don't believe the hype was a truism that fit this business to a T.

I won't bore you with the duds, the dozens of women I met that didn't work out for all the usual reasons. Even a simple dance like the twist requires the right partner, and none of those aforementioned dozen twisted to my particular rhythm. It took months of answering these ads to find one that did, a one, Joslyn Cook. Her ad lacked the usual superlatives and hype. There was a quiet confidence about it, and that's what drew my interest. She gave her basic stats (age, height and weight, hair color, etc), said she worked for the Library of Congress translating Russian documents, enjoyed reading, movies and bike riding. That was about it. I sent her a reply along with a black and white headshot.

She called about a week later. "Out of at least one-hundred replies," she told me, "yours sounded the most genuine. So many of these guys sounded like flakes."

One in a hundred. It made me feel special. Still, after all those duds, I didn't expect much. High expectations are a sure way to disappointment. But our phone conversation went well enough for me to give things a shot. So, on one late Saturday afternoon in April, I drove across the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia to meet her at her high-rise apartment building. After checking in with the desk clerk, I waited in the lobby for her to come down. Even though I'd been through this routine many times before, I felt somewhat jittery. From the photo, she knew what I looked like. What she looked like I knew only from her pedestrian description: age thirty-six, five-six, light brown hair, bluish eyes. In short, this was a blind date for me.

"You must be Blake," she said after coming off the elevator.

"And you must be...Joslyn." My face froze for a few seconds.

"I am. Anything wrong?" she said, in response to my fixed gaze.

"Wrong? No, it's just that you're so...pretty." Normally, I'd save the compliments for later, but I couldn't help myself. As noted, before that moment, basic stats are all I had to go on. It's what she left out that wowed me—her slim figure, for example, wrapped in a tasteful, form-fitting turquoise dress, her clear, fair complexion and warm smile.

She blushed slightly and chuckled. "Thanks." We reached out to shake hands. "I'm glad you're not disappointed." Pause. "And just for the record, neither am I."

"Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way," I said, feeling more relaxed.

"Me too. So how about some dinner?"

We walked to a neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away, a first for me, though the food wasn't much different than what I was used to eating Chinese (let's face it, there's only so much variation in stir fried chicken with cashew nuts). The conversation went well enough, easy talk with periods of awkward silence, typical for meetings of this nature. Following the meal, she suggested we share a bottle of wine back at her place.

I was almost giddy with excitement walking back. Things were going so well, much better than I expected. The trouble started when we got to her lobby. I noticed the rather large individual sitting on one of the chairs as we came through the door, though I paid him but scant attention. That changed in seconds when Joslyn stopped dead in her tracks, looked at the guy and cried, "Arkady! What the hell are you doing here?!"

As noted, this guy was big, at least six-foot and weighed way over two-hundred pounds. He was dressed neatly in khaki pants, sneakers, and a black, long-sleeve Italian knit shirt. He looked to be around my age, with straight, slicked-back, blondish hair. And the accent—distinctively Russian.

He stood up and said, "We've got unfinished business. Who's he?"

Joslyn shook her head and sighed. "Arkady, this is poor timing, really poor timing."

Arkady smirked, locked his fingers together, raised his hands above his head and cracked his knuckles. "Don't tell me he's your new boyfriend. Cause, like I said, we've got unfinished business, stuff to discuss and stuff that's mine I came here to pick up, the laptop and microwave."

Joslyn locked eyes with him while keeping her distance. "YOU might have unfinished business," she said, "but my business is done as far as we're concerned. Furthermore, that laptop and microwave belong to me."

Arkady slowly shook his head and crossed his thick arms against his chest. Still smirking, he turned his attention toward me. "You dating this tyolka, pal?"


"An insulting term for a woman," Joslyn informed me. "Arkady's just full of sweetness and light these days."

By this point, I was on high alert. I wasn't much for physical altercations. In fact, the idea of getting into one terrified me, and this guy Arkady looked like someone who'd get rough if you looked at him the wrong way. Being a few inches shorter and below two-hundred pounds, I was hardly Arkady's equal in size. However, his paunchy stomach and overall flabby appearance clued me in that he might not be in the best of shape. Meanwhile, I was running and pumping iron a few times a week. As noted, a badass I wasn't. In fact, one of my friends, after I had backed down from a confrontation in a pool hall years before, said the following, word for word: "Blake, you're a good guy, good personality and all that. But you're the biggest coward I've ever known." Naturally, I got very defensive. Then, days later, after I cooled off and thought hard about it, I had to admit that he might have been right.

Mindful of that incident in the pool hall, I looked Arkady in the eye and said, "Yes, we're on a date. And the name's Blake."

Arkady grunted. "Well, Blake, you make a habit of dating another guy's wife?"

Before I could respond, Joslyn said, "Arkady, if you don't leave here this second, I'll get the desk clerk to call police. I've done it before and I'll do it again."

"Go ahead, Jos, call the police. I'm on safe ground here. If you'll remember, they didn't do shit last time."

Arkady's mention of wife allowed me to forget, at least for the moment, his intimidating presence. Turning to Joslyn, I said, "You're married?"

"Technically, yes," she admitted. "I kept my maiden name. It's still Cook, not Petrov. But we're separated. We—"

"Yeah, separated for a whole two weeks," Arkady roared. "We don't even have a signed separation agreement. Bet she didn't tell you that."

As they glared at one another, I ran two main options through my head—take off or stick around to see what happened. I felt misled because Joslyn didn't mention a thing about being married, either in her ad or in our previous conversations. On the other hand, I saw potential for something with her. Plus, superficial as this sounds, it wasn't easy walking away from a woman who looked like Joslyn, especially after all the homely tyolkas, to use Arkady's word, I had met through singles ads.

She made it clear that she wanted me to stay when she grabbed my hand and said, "Come on, Blake, we're going upstairs."

Just feet from the elevators, Arkady barged in front of us and said, "Not without me you're not. I'm collecting my stuff."

Joslyn shot me a look that said she wanted me to step in and put this brute in his place. But I froze. Her look changed to disgust, at me more than her ex. "Okay, I'll do it myself," she said. After dropping my hand, she shoved Arkady in the ribs in an effort to get past him, something akin to pushing a ten-ton boulder for the slight of build Joslyn. "Damn it, help me, Blake. Are you a man or a mouse?"

Arkady gave me a menacing stare. "I'd keep out of this one, man. It's none of your damn business."

Then he grabbed her by the shoulders. Still, I did nothing. Just then, the desk clerk came out from his cubicle. He looked to be in his sixties, average height and thin, not someone who could intimidate a young heavy like Arkady. He knew them both, knew also that they had separated. "Mr. Petrov, get your hands off her," he ordered, "or I'm calling the cops."

Arkady let her go, and then pleaded his case for getting the laptop and microwave.

"Hey, possession's nine-tenths the law, fella. She lives here, you no longer do. Now beat it."

"I'm getting my stuff," Arkady yelled.

The desk clerk, dressed is casual business attire, stepped forward and grabbed Arkady's arm. "I said beat it. You got property issues? Get a lawyer." Arkady made a fist and cocked his arm back. "Go ahead, slug me, you dumb Russky. I'll get your ass deported."

Arkady eased his arm down and said, "You're fucking not worth it, you old fart." He let out a grunt and then harrumphed past us and stormed out the door.

Joslyn thanked him and then turned to me. "Why didn't you help me?" When I shrugged, she said, "You see the guy's got his dirty mitts on me and you just stand there."

"He's your husband," I said, bereft of anything else to say.

"He's my EX-husband as far as I'm concerned. I'm seeking an annulment. We've been married just a very short time. But whoever he is or isn't, the man was assaulting me. You should have intervened. Robert here (the desk clerk) isn't nearly as big as you, yet he did what men are supposed to do."

Robert, appearing embarrassed for me, returned to his cubicle.

I motioned for her to follow me over to a far corner of the room, out of earshot. Then I said, "You should have told me you were married."

She crossed her arms against her chest. "Perhaps, but that doesn't excuse you from acting like a coward. Are you always this meek when it comes to defending women?"

My mind raced back to that time in the pool hall when some tough confronted me after learning that I spoke to his girlfriend. The girl was with another girl when I engaged her in conversation. She seemed friendly enough until her alleged boyfriend, along with another rough looking dude, arrived, grabbed her by the arm and took her outside. She must have told him we spoke because minutes later, he stormed back in and got in my face. "You trying to pick up my old lady?" I tried to reason with the guy, told him I thought the girl was unattached. Brushing it aside, he ordered me to leave. "I'll kick your ass if you don't," he threatened. My friend wanted to fight them both but I persuaded him to back off. He called me a coward after we drove away.

I felt terribly humiliated then, as I did standing in the lobby of Joclyn's building, groping for words to defend myself. No words came, so I gave in. "You're right," I admitted. "I guess I'm somewhat meek when it comes to physical altercations. Guess we can forget that bottle of wine, huh?"

Her face softened. She looked at me, seemingly with empathy in her pretty, gray-blue eyes. "You're a good-looking guy, Blake, and you seem to possess qualities I look for in men. Don't judge me by Arkady. Marrying him was a huge mistake. Being a Russophile, I got carried away after meeting him, never really got to know him until I lived with him. So much for whirlwind romances. Anyway, obnoxious as Arkady can be, a coward he isn't."

I just stood there, ashamed and red-faced. Then she continued.

"Look, I didn't expect you to punch him in the nose. But neither did I expect you to freeze like a deer in the headlights either. What's up with that?"

I shook my head, shrugged and stuffed my hands into the pockets of my tan jeans. "I can't add anything to what I've already told you. If you want to think me a coward, think me a coward. Perhaps you're right."

She snickered, shook her head incredulously. "My my. Well, at least you're not afraid to be brutally honest with yourself. Most men wouldn't admit to an embarrassing weakness like that. That in itself takes courage, I suppose. Maybe you should think of it that way."

"Trying to make me feel better?"

She chuckled. "Actually, I'm trying to make ME feel better. I do like you, Blake, your looks, your sense of humor, your introspective ways. Even your extreme self-deprecation is attractive on some level. Your cowardice, self-admitted or not, is a definite turnoff. That said, I'd like to get to know you better. So, if you're still willing, that bottle of wine is waiting."

Looking like a coward in your own eyes is bad enough. Looking like one in the eyes of a woman is almost unbearable. Women want heroes, not cowards. Just as I did after the pool hall incident, I wished for a second chance. Alternative scenarios ran through my head, including punching Arkady in the nose—so easy to do after the fact. Shakespeare had it right in Julius Caesar: "A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once."

Thinking I'd feel worse bailing out, I took her up on her invite, a wise choice, it turned out, because things went well. We dropped what happened in the lobby, focusing on other things, our jobs, politics, music, movies, etc. The wine helped to ease the pain of my humiliation. We even got affectionate, making out on her sofa. If my cowardly ways turned her off, my body did the opposite. Our heavy smooching and dry humping got her going. "If this wasn't our first date," she said, "we'd be naked in my bedroom." We were in the same place in that we wanted to see each other again.

Even so, over the next few days, I berated myself over what happened. In a sick way, self-flagellation is a rewarding experience. A confidant advised me to stop it, to think positive and move forward. "Apparently she's willing to overlook it," he said. "You should do the same."

It was good advice, though not easy to take. My self-respect, as it was after the pool hall, was in the cellar, and I longed for a chance at redemption. I needed to prove to myself as well as to Joslyn that I was made of sterner stuff, that I had cajones.

That chance came months later when we were vacationing in North Carolina. We were on easy time by then, making love, staying over at each other's houses. For her, Arkady, if not forgotten, was at least behind her. Her annulment had come through and the "dumb Russky," as Robert called him, was out of her life. Not so mine, at least thoughts of him weren't. The shame of my passivity that day still weighed me down (heck, I still had not forgiven myself for caving into those pool hall toughs). She never mentioned it again so I saw no reason to whine about how terrible I still felt.

The incident in North Carolina, as most of them had, caught me off guard. You can't manufacture redemption; it comes by chance, by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, the right place at the right time, depending on how you look at it. As noted, Joslyn was a very attractive lady. Bright, articulate, cultured—all that and blessed with one of the cutest posteriors I ever saw. Fine boobs and legs are a dime a dozen. But a great looking that's a rare piece of female anatomy from my experience.

The two, twenty-something trouble makers that started following us on a remote beach one day agreed with my assessment. That would have been okay had they not been so vocal about it. At first, I ignored their comments. Example: "Hey, baby, can we grab a handful?"

They kept it up, prompting bikini-clad Joslyn to spin around. "Go fuck off," she snapped.

Suddenly, I got flashbacks to that pool hall. These guys didn't look all that tough. They were lean, though hardly athletic in appearance. Still, it was two to one, not counting Joslyn. They smirked and kept up their lewd comments. Joslyn looked at me, pleading with her eyes for me to do or say something while she traded barbs with them. Finally, I said, "You guys ought to show some respect."

They looked at one another and howled. "You ought to make us," one of them said.

The other dropped a comment about Joslyn's smallish boobs. "The bitch needs a gob of silicone under those titties, don't she?"

The coup de grace came when one of them stepped closer and hooked a finger inside her top in an effort to pull it off. Something inside me exploded. In a split second, my fist collided with his nose. He went down, blood gushing. When his buddy moved in, I lunged forward and tackled him. My weight training served me well. He couldn't move in my vice-like grip, especially when I slipped from behind and began to choke him, a hold you see in mixed martial arts. Instead of waiting for him to tap out, I choked him out. The nose bleeder looked like he was through as well; the fight, like his blood, went out of him. Slowly, he got up and backed away. The first thing his buddy saw upon coming to was the sole of my foot sitting on his head, ready to stomp if required. "I'm done, okay, I'm done," he muttered. After I let him up, we watched them both slink away.

It took me awhile to process what just took place. It felt like an out of body experience, felt as if somebody else had put these guys down. A sense of empowerment came over me. Joslyn hugged me. "So much for the cowardly lion," she said. "You were wonderful, a total man, man." At last, the sense of shame that had dogged me for years, lifted.

Respect, as they say, is earned, including self-respect. The wuss in me died that day. Finally, I felt deserving of a quality woman such as Joslyn. Discussing the incident a few years into our marriage, she said, "Had you wimped-out that day on the beach, in light of the Arkady thing, I might have stopped seeing you. But you stood up for me. You became my hero. You've been my hero ever since."

Written by: trigudis

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Story Tags: coward, redemption, non-erotic, no sex

Category: Non-Erotic Stories