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Tempting Fools
Author: Darien Cox

Chapter One



Sometimes, everything that once felt stable gets demolished, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to fix it. And while in hindsight there might have been a few rumbles in the earth, a few hints this destruction was imminent, it usually comes in a blinding, unexpected flash. That’s how it felt when my former life crumbled, like some bored deity hurled a thunderbolt at my sandcastle.

Except that sandcastle was a life I’d spent years building. A marriage and family structure I’d thought I was pivotal in propping up. But when it fell, I learned a hard truth. I hadn’t been crucial at all. Or maybe I had been once, but now I was just some asshole staring at a pile of sand, wondering what the hell happened. Had my contribution to that structure always been temporary, or had I just not tried hard enough to hold it together?

Either way, I missed my old life. For all my bitching and complaining over the years, I’d enjoyed being relied upon. Being pivotal. Now I spent most of my time feeling useless, aimless, and wondering what to do with myself. But I hid these feelings, particularly today. Because today I was supposed to be exploring the potential for new beginnings, and putting my best foot forward. Sadly, I was beginning to think I didn’t have a best foot to put forward. But for the sake of my date, I faked it like a champ.

“Kurt, you wanna go first?” Bonnie asked.

“No, you go ahead. I’ll cheer you on from the sidelines.”

“You sure?”

“Oh yeah, I have a lousy throwing arm. Count me out on this one. But you go on, give ’em hell.”

She laughed, winking at me. “I haven’t pitched a ball since junior high, but screw it, here we go.” She accepted a basketful from the greasy-haired guy working the game, who then stuffed her cash into a fanny pack.

Bonnie seemed surprisingly excited to be at a crowded amusement park on a late Saturday afternoon, and I was glad for it, because this date had been my idea, but I wasn’t sure how it would be received. Much had changed in the years since I’d last been to Hillock Beach Fun Park, but they still hadn’t paved the dirt walkways within. Since the place was directly across the road from the ocean, the sea breeze kicked up dust, creating a russet haze that coated everything from carousel horses to sweaty patrons. But Bonnie didn’t seem to mind the wind or the dust. In fact, she seemed to be having a great time, which was both pleasing and surprising, considering she was there with me.

Since my divorce last year—accompanied by the death of my mother—I could barely stand my own company half the time. Inflicting my presence on others seemed cruel. But in my apathetic state, I didn’t trust myself to make decisions regarding my well-being, and everyone including my ex-wife and teenaged twins thought I needed to ‘put myself out there’. I’d yielded to the wisdom of others and had been reluctantly trying to date.

I had nothing to lose. When I wasn’t doing work on my house or diddling around with my art projects in the basement, I was alone in front of the TV with a beer and a Hot Pocket, shouting at the nightly news while nuclear-temp cheese dribbled down my shirt. Singlehood wasn’t looking so good on me, so I couldn’t really argue about my life needing a shakeup.

But maybe I wasn’t coming off as unappealing as I felt, because Bonnie was all smiles and warmth since I picked her up earlier, and seemed willing to make the best of an odd date for two adults. She was so damn nice about it, and that made me feel guilty as I watched her throw ball after ball trying to ‘Drown the Clown’. It was our second date, the first having been a dud, my shittiness at small talk leading to long, awkward bouts of silence. I was trying very hard to rectify that today, forcing myself to be more personable.

I figured today had to be better, if only as an apology, since the first date was such a wreck. When it ended at her door, I tried to give her a peck on the cheek. But I missed, turning it into an air kiss. A fucking air kiss, like I was some Hollywood housewife thanking her for brunch. She looked stunned and confused. I wasn’t sure what was worse, my dullness on the actual date, or the way it concluded. But I practically ran back to my car, just wanting the night to be over.

Bonnie was probably surprised I called her again. My choice of carnival date likely made her think I was trying to show her my lighter, more whimsical side, since I was such a bore last time. She’d be wrong. I didn’t have a lighter, more whimsical side. I was just being a selfish asshole. I’d originally bought the fun park tickets two weeks ago, along with booking the dinner reservations for later, because I thought my son and daughter were coming for the weekend. Their mother moved out of state with them after the divorce, and I didn’t see the little bastards nearly as much as I liked. The few times they had come to visit post-divorce were hellish, all of us stressed out by the new family dynamic, me shouting at them too much, them branding me a dickhead and locking themselves in their rooms.

So this time, I bought their favorite foods, made a bunch of fun plans, and was going to really try to make it special, to bury the hatchet. I hadn’t taken them to this park since they were little, and thought it would be a nostalgic laugh for all of us. But my kids blew me off at the last minute, by text, and I was sad and furious and feeling so rejected I made a second date with a woman I wasn’t even sure I was attracted to. Like I said—asshole.

Since I felt so bad about using Bonnie as a human Xanax, I was extra determined to give this date a proper chance. Bonnie was a sweetheart, and instead of balking at my purportedly spontaneous idea of the fun park, she’d jumped in with both feet, indulging in all the games and mystery meats and sugary snacks the place had to offer. Basically being the kind of woman I didn’t deserve under the circumstances. The clown perched above the dunk tank seemed to agree with me.

“Hey tough guy,” he shouted. “Why you standing on the sidelines looking sooo sad? Because your girlfriend’s got bigger balls than you?”

A collective ‘Oooh’ ran through the crowd, and I smirked as the clown’s amplified voice laughed long and hard at my expense. He wasn’t like the ‘Dunk the Punk’ clown I remembered from years past, but then, that was a long time ago. That clown had been a big, raunchy, barrel-chested guy with a keen wit and rattling smoker’s cough, so maybe he’d died, or gone to a clown retirement home or whatever old clowns did. Maybe he drowned in the tank.

But this new clown was a different breed, maybe mid-twenties, though it was tough to tell with the makeup. His white-painted face was traditional enough, but he wore a skintight polka dot tank top with his baggy clown pants, and his arms were tanned and tight with lean muscle. I’d never seen a clown with a hot body before, and it was uniquely disorienting. Clowns weren’t supposed to be good looking, they were supposed to be ridiculous and scary.

It wasn’t just the body; even with the clown makeup I could see this guy had a nicely sculpted face, high cheekbones and a perfect chin. His jaw-length brown hair was edged with ringlets under an oversized beanie, one thick strand near the front dyed bright yellow. Or maybe it was sprayed on or just a wig, since it matched the spotted red and yellow tank top that stretched over his fit chest and stomach.

“High and dry!” the clown taunted from his caged perch. “Sorry sweetheart, maybe you should get the tough guy to give it a go. Or is he too scared?”

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