by Jerry Guarino
In America today, there are
many towns adjacent to each other with extreme
differences in culture, wealth and education.
There is a specific dividing line between these
towns, but you dont need any signs to tell
when you have crossed over. It makes you wonder
if one town is blessed and the other one is
cursed. Or maybe both towns are cursed.
Some people, like Juan, lived in both worlds.
Each morning, he drives his pick up truck into
town, past manicured lawns and fruit trees, to a
construction site downtown. Oak Parks town
council decided to makeover Main Street with gas
lamps, cobblestones, benches and topiary,
resembling something out of 19th century England.
While he was working, Juan was accepted here,
although not seen. Once the Sun went down, when
those fortunate few were assembling for dinner,
he lit up like one of those new gas lamps.
Justin, one of the fortunate few, walked into the
French restaurant with his girlfriend, Karen, the
kind of girl you want to be seen with. Karen had
the right looks, the right education and the
right family. She dressed classically, sporting a
blue skirt, white ruffled top and camel hair
blazer. Her hair was straight, shoulder length
and blonde, which only brought attention to her
blue eyes and perfect skin. She worked as a
junior associate in a local law firm, the same
one where Justin was applying. Justin wasnt
dating Karen to help get the job, but it wouldnt
hurt, so long as he was discreet about it. Justin
and Karen had one thing in common, a comfortable
life, neither having had experienced the
struggles that people like Juan had overcome.
Juan put his tools into the lock box of his truck
and headed home. It was only three miles away but
East Oak Park seemed more like one of those
cities you see on the news, where some gang
banger killed an innocent child. Driving past
graffiti-filled walls, a 24-hour convenience
store and a run down elementary school, Juan was
quickly reminded of his world, one where the
night brought out drug dealers, prostitutes and
the people addicted to them. In Oak Park,
strollers would be listening to the chamber music
softly playing from the rock gardens he had
helped create; here, anyone walking would hear
the loud and vulgar sounds of boom boxes and cars
with heavy bass accents, cruising slowly while
their passengers watched for prey. Turning the
corner, he saw his church. Maybe I should
stop in and say a prayer, he thought. But
he was hungry and decided to go home.
Justin examined Karen while she read the menu.
What did she see in him? Karen could have anyone
she wanted. It wouldnt surprise him if
someone at the firm were propositioning her.
Maybe one of the senior partners, ready to
exchange their first wife for a trophy or one of
the rich clients she saw daily.
Ill have the Waldorf salad, Salmon
with truffles and Pommes de Terre au gratin
she said in fluent French.
Shrimp salad and the steak Bordelaise,
medium said Justin, trying to keep up.
Juans wife Ines was putting dinner on the
table; rice, beans, cheese and vegetables melted
in a casserole dish. He could hear his seven-year
old son Manny and ten-year old daughter Dania
playing in the other room.
Dania, take Manny to wash hands and come to
Daddys home. Juan hung up
his jacket and kissed Ines on the cheek. How
was your day? he said. Ines worked part-time
in the school cafeteria, serving free breakfasts
to kids who wouldnt get anything at home.
That school, she sighed. Even
the young ones are acting like punks now,
flashing gang signs and wearing their pants down
to here as she gestured to her upper thigh.
At lunch, some fifth grader made a gun sign
with his hand when I told him he couldnt
Juan shook his head and thought about the kids in
Oak Park, dropped off from their parents
BMWs, Mercedes and SUVs. Two
public schools but you would never know it,
he thought. But no trouble for Manny and
No, theyre fine, I keep an eye out
The waiter brought a shrimp salad to Justin and
the Waldorf to Karen. They sipped their wine,
ignoring the waiter. So, hows the
real world of law? Justin asked.
Karen responded without looking up from her salad.
We had a deposition today for a man accused
of embezzling from his family business. Its
pretty clear that he did it.
Justin indicated that he was listening. Oh,
so whats your strategy?
Karen smiled. Well get him off. His
father was sleeping with the secretary and will
settle once we show him the pictures. Karen
looked up and touched Justins hand. Did
you hear from the bar yet? Justin had
failed the bar exam the first time he took it.
Dating him was Karens way of slumming it.
Should be online any day now; Im
pretty sure I nailed it this time.
Karen winked. Did you check it today?
knowing that the results had been posted. Go
Justin pulled out his phone, entered the web
address and signed in. Hey! I passed,
showing the screen to Karen. He leaned over and
Karen replied, Good, I had planned a little
celebration for tonight.
Ines, Dania and Manny bowed their heads while
Juan said grace. Lord, thank you for this
meal and for our children. Please care for us and
for those less fortunate that do not have food
tonight. We pray this in your name. Amen.
Ines filled the childrens plates first.
Is there another job after you finish this
one? she asked.
Juan nodded his head as he ate some vegetables.
I think so. My boss said Oak Park wants to
extend the project to the town hall and
courthouse. That should take another six months
at least. This news came as a relief to
Ines who was worried about Christmas presents and
utility bills. Ines paid the bills each month,
taking some stress off of Juan. He didnt
realize how some past due notices had come
because Ines was very good at juggling their
paychecks and credit.
God bless those poor people! What would
they do without cobblestone streets and gas lamps?
Dont forget the benches and Japanese
gardens with the music playing said Juan.
Well, their good fortune means work for you
Juan, dont forget that.
Juan smiled and agreed. Yes, where would I
be without the fortunate few?
Justin was looking down at his steak. Look
at this. I said medium and this is medium well.
Karen looked up from her salmon and examined his
steak. Yes, youre right. You should
send it back. She gestured to the waiter
and gave him instructions. I want tonight
to be special for you!
Justin wondered what other surprises Karen had
for him. Wont we be late for
when Karen interrupted.
For what? You dont know what I have
planned? Justin rolled his wine around the
glass and caught Karens expression. Youll
see, and this time her expression confirmed
the fantasy he had already started. Justin tried
to contain his enthusiasm, tried to play it cool.
He was dating up here and both of them knew it.
The children were watching some game show on
television while Juan helped Ines clean up. He
pulled a small box from his pocket. I
bought you this, and handed it to her. Her
first thought was the money. His first thought
was making her happy.
Juan, Ive told you not to buy me
things. Save money for the children. Juan
watched Ines expression as she opened the
box and saw the charm bracelet. Ines drew her
breath in and hugged Juan. Thank you dear,
its so beautiful. Two of the charms
had the names of their children and one the name
of Ines mom who had passed away in the
summer. When she saw that, Ines started to cry.
Now, now, no crying as he took out
his handkerchief and wiped off the tears. This
should be a celebration!
This time Justins steak was cooked
perfectly. He ate quickly enough to finish
without Karen noticing. So, can you give me
a hint? hoping to encourage her to end the
OK, but its not here her voice
and head gesturing that it was close.
So its in town? he said as he
took the last sip from his wine glass.
Karen was enjoying the torture now. Finish
your steak dear while she patted her mouth
with her napkin. We have a few more minutes
before it will be ready.
Juan put the leftovers in the refrigerator and
thought about lunch tomorrow. There was cold
chicken he could slice up for a sandwich, some
cheese, an apple and some cereal. Juan liked to
snack on cereal on his breaks. It was better than
Ill drive said Karen and
motioned Justin to the passenger side of her BMW.
Justins imagination was flickering like one
of those jump cut commercials that only show you
a split second of a hundred scenes. When Karen
said, close your eyes and lean toward me,
he expected a tender kiss. But Karen put one of
those dark sleeping masks on him; the kind people
wear to keep out the light. OK, sit back,
well be there soon, and she laughed a
At this point, the scenes in Justins
commercial had taken another turn and he could
feel his pulse quicken. It might be the adrenalin
flowing when he said, should I be scared?
still trying to play it cool.
You should be if you take off that mask,
mister. But taking off the mask was the
last thing Justin was going to do. He was
enjoying this too much and wasnt going to
blow his surprise.
Bedtime Manny, bedtime Dania. Go brush your
teeth now Ines said in her firm but loving
mom voice. The kids scurried obediently. After
they finished the dishes, they could hear
mumbling from the bedroom.
Ill tuck them in, you sit and relax
said Juan. Manny and Dania were under the covers
in the small room they shared, just big enough
for a bunk bed, toys and stuffed animals. Did
you say your prayers?
Yes Daddy they said, almost in unison.
We prayed for you and mommy too.
Juan realized what a blessing his children were,
not like those punks at their school. I
love you as he kissed each of them. Have
a good dream.
Oak Park was one of those upper class towns that
drew money and attention far exceeding the
population size. There were investment firms, law
and professional offices everywhere. They were
only a mile from a world-class university,
hospital and venture capital buildings. They even
had their own hotel, reserved for business
meetings and people accustomed to paying $300/night.
Karen parked, surprised Justin with a kiss and
said, Were here, but leave that mask
Justin obeyed this gentle command hoping that
wasnt the last order she gave him. She took
his hand, walked into the lobby and stopped.
Justin could feel a thick rug under his feet and
the sound of people snickering at him. Could
this be someones house? Is it a surprise
party of some kind? Maybe something kinkier?
Or at least his mind went there.
Thank you said Karen and she walked
him into an elevator.
Justin tried to count the floors, 1, 2, 3 and 4.
We must be in a hotel. Shes planned
something really hot and wants it to be a
Ines was visibly relaxed, grateful to have such a
good man by her side. Juan never strayed and he
always put her and the children before his own
needs. They sat on the couch watching television.
Ines would put her legs on top of Juans lap
and he would massage them. After a long day on
her feet at school, she looked forward to this
mini-spa from her husband. It wasnt long
before her eyes started to close and Juan found
himself watching the show alone.
Karen quietly opened the door, led him over to a
bed and sat him down.
Justin thought about taking off his jacket and
tie, but resisted. Maybe she wants me
blindfolded the whole time? That would be intense.
Karen put her hands gently on his lapels and said,
Just give me five minutes, ok? Then
touched his cheek.
Its been five minutes Karen,
Justin called out, thinking she was in the
bathroom changing. He heard her walking back
OK, take off the mask! Justin heart
was pounding a mile a minute now. This was the
sexiest rendezvous he had ever had. Now he had to
perform up to her expectations. The lights came
on and he heard several voices.
Surprise! and Justin saw the partners
from Karens firm there, holding champagne
glasses and smiling broadly.
Welcome to the firm Justin said the
senior partner. Weve been holding
this room waiting for you to pass the bar. It was
starting to get expensive.
Even though Justin knew he was kidding, he was
more than a little disappointed in what had
happened. A job with the firm was what he wanted,
but not what he had been thinking about. He put
on his most sincere face and thanked his new boss.
An honor to work for you sir. I wont
let you down. He would be working with
Karen. He wanted to keep seeing her. Would
that be appropriate now that they worked together?
A table with fancy desserts, coffee, tea and more
champagne beckoned them. Karen, now less personal
with Justin, suggested they have dessert and make
small talk. Never too soon to make points
at work she said.
Her change of demeanor hit Justin. Would
this good fortune mean the end of him and Karen?
Juan and Ines had a great night, as much out of
deep love and commitment as passion. It was due
in part to the sense of security Juan had,
knowing that he had another solid work project to
get them through until summer when he had other
work he could do. He decided to leave home early
tomorrow, stop at church and offer a prayer of
thanks for this blessing.
An hour later, the partners pulled out cigars and
hard liquor and sat down to play some cards.
Karen whispered something to one of them and he
acknowledged. He came up to Justin and shook his
hand. See you tomorrow, son. 8:00am sharp
Justin smiled Ill be there. Thanks
again. He and Karen left the room, more
like business colleagues than lovers. Now I
understand, said Justin forcing a smile.
You certainly had me guessing. I was
Karen interrupted I know what you were
thinking and she led him up the staircase
to the fifth floor, stopping at room 502 and
opening the door.
Werent we just in room 402?
Karen pushed Justin in and closed the door.
Maybe. I didnt notice and she
started to undress.
And wouldnt the firm frown on such a
Oh, yes Karen said, one of us
would be fired. But dont worry. They dont
know were in this room. Apparently
the danger made Karen even more excited and she
didnt hold back any physical or verbal
feelings. Justin had the best (and for him at
least) the quietest sex ever.
Juan was setting up to move on to the next
location, the town hall and courthouse, when he
noticed his boss talking to a man in a suit. The
man handed him a paper and explained something
that his boss was upset about. His boss walked
back toward the crew with a dejected expression,
tightly gripping the paper.
That morning, Justin got in his car and drove to
the firm. His life was better than it was
yesterday. No more stress about the bar or
getting a job. He passed the Presbyterian Church
without noticing. He wasnt sure how he and
Karen would turn out but the thought of
continuing their relationship in secret created a
new challenge. How do you hide an
inappropriate relationship from lawyers who are
experts at reading people?
Karen greeted him when he walked in. Well,
how did your first assignment go? She said
in her most professional tone. Justin patted his
Good, easier than I thought. I gave those
workers the injunction and notice of legal action.
What idiot wanted to put cobblestones out there