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implications, or deeper meaning behind the public image that the Drayton family patriarch was bent on projecting. That Friday, I drove my humble VW Bug to the Draytonís house to pick up Christine. This was quite a come-down for me. Often I had used my five-liter Mustang or my Honda CBR 600 as a tool to engage women in conversation, and impress them. I wasnít always successful, but often the opposite sex were impressed with my transportation, and were lured in. Over all, these relationships werenít sustainable, and after a short period of time went on looking for wealthier fish to fry. Though I still had a soft spot in my heart for fast cars and motorcycles, the glamour of the image wasnít quite as important to me as it had been previously. The trappings of speed and power were no substitute for developing real relationships with people; people who didnít give a damn whether you drove a Lamborghini or a Volkwagon bug. I have friends that had stuck by me through everything; they didnít care whether or not I had two dimes to rub together; they accepted me for who I was. I hadnít yet discovered a woman who was more impressed with me, than with an expensive car that I may or may not be driving.

This was a real test for me and for Christine. If she could get beyond me and my apparent poverty, then I maybe I had found someone real and genuine. The Draytonís circular drive was shrouded with overhanging maples and evergreens, their strangely gnarled limbs twisting and entwining overhead. A wan yellow light filtered between the drapes of drawn crimson curtains, which glowed a lurid red as they retained the illumination behind. Before I had even pulled to a stop in front of the porch, with its overhanging eaves, the front door flew open and Christine ran out to meet me. I braked the car to a halt and she opened the door and slid in beside me.

"Letís go," she said as she glanced back at the house.

I put the car in gear and motored off the dirt drive and onto the paved roadway. As we put distance between ourselves and the house, her tension seemed to ease, and she relaxed her white-knuckled grip on the tattered vinyl coverings of the seat.

"Is everything, okay?" I asked.

She swallowed and nodded. "Iíll be fine," she answered apologetically. "Iím just glad to get out of that place."

"Are they a little weird for you?" I asked.

Christine shifted uncomfortably when she answered. "Weird isnít quite the word for it," she said slowly. Pausing for a moment, she changed the subject. "So what are the plans for tonight?"

"Chinese food and a movie, bungie jumping, sky diving, drag racing; whatever you want to do," I answered.

She looked at me skeptically. "Youíre going to drag race in this?"

"I used to have a faster car," I answered, "but it got so there was no challenge anymore. When Iím in my VW bug it evens out the odds, so that inferior drivers- say someone in a Porsche or Lamborghini- have a chance to beat me. When I was driving my Mustang it was pretty much no contest."

She asked me about my Mustang and that set me off on a slew of car stories from my checkered past. We had quite a few laughs on our way to a Chinese restaurant in Everett, and eventually she became more at ease, so that when I began to pry with small questions, hoping that I could learn a little bit more about her, she let her guard down some- and began to reveal glimpses of herself behind the protective wall that she had built.

It was a creative sparkle lurking beneath the reserved exterior; long delicate fingers with the power to sculpt and mold clay into strange creatures lurking within her imagination; a vivid blast of verbal expression as she described her latest painting, and I saw her excitement and passion. It was how the exploration of the strange inner and outer demons, that most folk left untouched, sparked her curiosity and brought out artistic urges that couldnít be stifled. It was how she willingly embraced me for the unique person that I was, and didnít immediately begin drafting changes and planning for my Ďnew lookí or revised, flatter, more banal, less verbose, and blander, more publicly acceptable personality.

Was it my hopeful imagination or did I sense a kindred soul? Had I made a spiritual connection, and truly found someone that would accept my strange and warped personality as something Roseuable and interesting?

At dinner, Christine courageously ordered up a few selections that she had never experienced before, with a little goading from me. And as we waited for our meal to arrive, our conversation suddenly lapsed into a morose silence. I thought that maybe sheíd suddenly realized that she was on a date with a truly bizarre person, and was suddenly regretting her rash decision to get into the same car with me and put herself at my mercy.

When my hopes were about dashed, she suddenly broke the silence.

"Can I tell you something?," she asked.

"You can tell me anything," I answered. "Iíve already told you far too much about myself. Usually I try to save all the sordid details of my past until the second date."

She smiled. "I wouldnít bother you with this, but I really donít know who to talk toÖ and youíve been the only one that Iíve really been able to make any sort of connection with at all."

This was gratifying to hear, but I was concerned about what she was going to say next. Still, if she revealed that she was an axe murderer that was being hunted all across Europe, I probably could have found it within myself to forgive her.

Christine tested the water a little further. "Do you know the Draytonís very well?"

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