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The Calling of Alex Tate

Lee Swanson

December 2021 978-1-7362436-1-9

Alexis Tate is a young woman any mother would be proud to claim as her daughter. As she prepares to graduate from high school, Alex confronts those issues faced by many girls on the verge of womanhood; relationships, a first job, and going away to university. There is one other complication in Alex's life not shared by other girls, however. She has a newly-realized "calling," one which will place her life in deadly danger. With Seattle terrorized by the serial killer know as the 'Woodsman,' how long will it be before their paths ultimately cross?

Why did teachers always choose Romeo and Juliet, she thought to herself, wrinkling her nose in disgust? 

It was as if Shakespeare had only written one play or, more likely, it was the only one every teacher had studied in school.  The idea of two young “star-cross’d” lovers making a series of irrational decisions, guided by a bumbling priest and a silly goose of a wet nurse, bothered her.  If she knew anything about herself, it was that she was a realist.  As such, how was she expected to answer, “In a short essay of approximately three hundred words, discuss what you most admire about one of the characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Ensure you support your views with evidence from the text.”  Why couldn’t they have chosen one of her favorites, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, or especially King Lear?  Why this obsession with two kids who are barely teenagers throwing their lives away, thinking they are in love? 

I should protest, she thought, smiling to herself, I could tell Principal Matthews I was thinking about committing suicide, having been inspired by the Shakespeare selection on Ms. King’s reading list.

Shit, she thought, suddenly snapping out of her dramatic reverie in which the School District had to pay millions of dollars in a class action lawsuit brought by the parents of a multitude of suicidal children. I’ve only got forty-five minutes to get it in gear, or I’m going to fuck up my chances of ever getting into Stanford next year.  Get a move on, girlfriend!  

Putting pen to paper and beginning to almost noiselessly hum to herself, she began:

“It fits when such a villain is a guest. I’ll not endure him.” (Tybalt, I, 5: 82-83)

With these words, Tybalt declares he will defend the honor of the House of Capulet against an abhorred trespasser, Romeo. In seeking to defend his uncle’s hearth from the conniving Montague, a boy who will eventually defile Capulet’s daughter and rob him of his heir, the much-maligned Tybalt deserves not to be disparaged, but instead to be held in heroic admiration. . .

Exactly forty-four minutes later, Alex put down her pen, sorted her papers, and waited to be excused from the examination room. After she was released, she walked purposefully into the hallway and screamed loudly.

Her best friend in the class, Britt Stevens rushed to her and yelled, “OMG, Alex!  Control your crazy, woman!”

Alex just looked at her for a moment, then hugged her tightly and began laughing hysterically. Caught up in the same sense of relief, Britt started crying. Soon, both girls were crying and laughing simultaneously, jumping up and down in a rhythmic celebration of relieved stress.

Eventually, Britt asked in a sobbing voice, “How’d you do, but do I even need to ask?”

Alex said, “Yeah, pretty good, I guess.  But, like, what about the Shakespeare question?”

Britt replied, “Romeo and Juliet, yeah?  I thought it was great.  It was about as easy as it gets.  Who did you write about?”

With a triumphant smile, Alex replied, “Tybalt.”

“Holy fuck!” Britt’s eyes went wide in shock. “How could you say you admire him?  He only killed Mercutio, which started the whole predestination thing going. He’s the villain, Alex, not someone who should be admired! Are you crazy?”

“He’s got balls,” Alex said calmly. “He’s the only one in the play who isn’t two-faced, a wimp, or both. Besides, he had dreamy eyes in the movie.”

Britt looked toward heaven and crossed herself, seemingly praying for Alex’s misguided soul. Alex hit her on her shoulder and Britt looked at her in alarm. Then, both girls started giggling again and began walking down the hallway.

Alex opened her locker and began gathering the books she needed to take home to study for her next examination. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a large hand tentatively reach around her locker door.

“Hey, Alex,” a guy’s voice said haltingly from the other side of the door.

Taking a step back, Alex saw the too-adorable face of Bobby Parker. Somewhat embarrassed by her frank stare, he asked, “Um, how’d you do on the exam?”

She laughed, shook her hair and, in her best Scarlett O’Hara impression, said, “Why Bobby Parker, are you talking to little ole me? Why, that exam quite addled my po’ tiny feminine brain!” She looked in mock adoration up into his eyes, fluttering her eyelashes outrageously for effect.

“Right,” he said, trying to sound confident, but clearly daunted despite her attempt at humor. 

Every guy in school recognized Alex Tate was the perfect combination of brains and beauty; well, the beauty part was perfect, I don’t know about the brains. A girl as smart as Alex always makes you feel like anything you say makes you look like an idiot, he thought glumly.

This did not stop him from visualizing Alex on the soccer field, long legs gliding effortlessly down the pitch, beautiful face set in a look of grim determination as she set up for one of her league-leading nineteen goals.

It’s not as if she’s smokin’ hot like one of the babes in one of the Playboy magazines under my mattress, he thought guiltily, it’s just that she’s so damn cute!  She’s definitely the girl any guy would love having next door.  Saying ‘hi’ to her each morning, checking out her bedroom window at night, hoping the shades weren’t pulled down all the way . . . 

Abruptly breaking from his appreciative reverie, Bobby saw to his embarrassed horror Alex was still looking at him expectantly.

“Um, Alex, if you’re not doing anything tomorrow, some of us are going out to the beach and . . .” his voice trailed off hopefully.

“Oh, sorry Bobby, I’ve already got plans,” she replied, “But if I was going, there is no one I would rather be with than Bobby Parker!”

She put her head on his shoulder to emphasize her statement.

Bobby knew she was only kidding, but feeling the light contact of her body on his made him feel great anyway. 

Alex has a knack at doing that, he thought, a smile unconsciously creasing his lips as he looked away, embarrassed once again. The guy who lands Alex Tate will really hit the jackpot.  Looking up, he saw Alex had returned to rummaging around in her locker.

“Well, if you change your mind, just text me, OK?” he asked.

“Sure.  See ya, Bobby.” 

She smiled at him encouragingly. Closing her locker, Alex turned and started walking down the hallway. Waving to some people, stopping to chat with others, it was a full fifteen minutes before she exited the building, her purposeful, athletic strides making up time as they carried her swiftly home.

Slamming the door after her, Alex yelled out, “Hi, Mom,” as she dropped her books onto the foyer table. 

She heard the faint, “In here, honey,” of her mother’s reply wafting out of the kitchen. 

Alex adored her mother, who seemed more like an older sister than a parent.  Unlike many of her friends, Alex loved going shopping with her mother, whose sense of style was a slightly more refined version of Alex’s own. Both women used make-up sparingly, accentuating their intrinsic, natural beauty. Although her mother had given up a budding career as an actress to become a homemaker and mother, she was still actively involved in the local community theater, the Gaslight Playhouse. Added to her various volunteer projects, she led a varied and full social life. Alex loved her dearly.

After giving her a hug, Alex began to rummage in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. 

Just as she grabbed a stalk of celery, a pear, and two carrots, her mother asked, “How was the English exam?”

Straightening up, Alex looked mischievously at her mother and replied, “What English exam is that?”

Her mother’s feigned look of angry exasperation was good but, to the daughter who was well aware of her parent’s acting ability, ineffective. Alex ran to her mother and threw another, less automatic, hug about her waist and cried, “I smashed it, Mom, even the stupid Romeo and Juliet question!”

Her mother joined momentarily in Alex’s jubilant exuberance, and then asked, “So, are you going out tonight to celebrate?”

“What, with Calculus and Physics coming up on Monday and Wednesday? You’ve got to be kidding?”

She left her mother in the kitchen, who voiced a silent prayer of thanks for being blessed with such a conscientious daughter. Alex sprinted up the stairs to her room, her healthy snack in one hand and an energy drink in the other. Placing her snack precisely on her desk, she efficiently stripped off her school clothes and slipped into her favorite sweat pants and a well-worn, oversized Seahawk’s jersey. Going into her ensuite, she used the toilet, conscientiously sprayed the room deodorizer, and scrubbed her face and hands until her skin assumed a rosy red glow. Then, scratching herself in a very unladylike manner, she returned to her desk.

As with most brilliant students, Alex was capable of wholly immersing herself in her studies. Complex formulas danced across the neurons of her brain, as she unconsciously consumed her snack. Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she jumped in her seat and let out a little gasp of surprise.

 Over her shoulder she heard her mother say, “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry Alex! I didn’t mean to startle you, but I’ve been calling you for ages to come down for dinner.”

Alex turned quickly to her clock to confirm whether she had indeed been studying for over two hours. She had.

She then turned in her chair, smiled, patted her mother’s hand, and said, “It’s OK, Mom.  I’ve just been channeling Albert Einstein. Sorry, for not answering.”

The two women went downstairs to the dining room table. Alex yelled, “Yippee, mushroom risotto, my fav!  Where’s Dad?”

Her father, a carnivore by nature, endured an occasional vegetarian dinner to keep peace with his herbivore offspring. It certainly wasn’t by choice, however. Consequently, such a meal usually meant he was unavoidably detained at his office. Her mother confirmed Alex’s inference, and then raised a sparkling grape juice toast to Alex’s achievement on the exam as her cut-crystal glass sent diamond-shaped reflections dancing across the ceiling.

Somewhat embarrassed, Alex said, “I think I’ve done well, Mom, but it’s not really for sure until I see the results in black and white. Oh my gosh, I hope I haven’t jinxed it!” She assumed an exaggerated look of melodramatic concern of impending doom for her mother’s benefit, back of her right hand to her forehead, forlorn facial expression, and dramatically arched back.

Her mother laughed delightedly and applauded Alex’s theatrical range. The meal then settled down to the comfortable silence and intermittent conversation of two kindred souls, intimately entwined by their love for one another. After washing up the dishes, Alex said, “Mom, I’m going back up to hit Calculus for a couple of hours. After that, I’ll probably just put on my IPOD and go to sleep. It really has been an exhausting day.”

Her mother kissed her cheek and reminded her that she had rehearsal that evening. After kissing her in return, Alex went up the stairs, forcing herself to go slowly despite the intense ball of growing excitement that was burning in her toned belly. She had something to do, but it had nothing to do with mathematics. 

She had a date.