Alexis and James have a problem – they are attracted to each other but neither can make the first move – or get past their “prickliness” for the opposite sex.
Fortunately, Abram has a solution – a very old-fashioned solution. The only difficulty is that Abram is a ghost, and while that has some advantages, it has disadvantages, too. But he finally gets through to James…. and then James gets through to Alexis…
This book is a re-release, originally titled “A Simple Solution to a Complex Problem” by Elizabeth Byrne. If you purchased the original version you can download the newer version simply by re-downloading it from your Blushing Books account for no additional cost.
It was a crisp, September night. The leaves were just beginning to fall and students had returned to the small college town. The clock on City Hall chimed twelve. If you looked carefully, you could see a man and his dog walking through the old cemetery. The cemetery was one of Abram’s favorite places. There was a peace and serenity found here which escaped him in most of modern life. And of course, Razor enjoyed sniffing and hunting squirrels, even though he would never catch one.
?Abram stopped and perched himself on a headstone. Razor decided to explore further, romping off out of Abram’s sight. Razor always came back, so Abram didn’t worry about him, but sat in the quiet and contemplated his plans. This would be the year that his work would come to fruition. The timing was right, the players were assembled and all that was needed was a small piece of luck.
?As Abram sat there, a group of boys wandered through the cemetery. They didn’t acknowledge him, but continued on their way discussing football and babes. "Ah, youth," Abram thought. "What seems important at such a tender age, hardly bears thinking about as the years slip by." He heard the crunch of leaves and saw a man walking past. The man carried a backpack, but didn’t resemble most of the students. He was older, possibly in his early thirties. He conducted himself with confidence and it was clear he spent time in some kind of athletic pursuit. Abram knew he lifted weights. One didn’t see that kind of musculature on men accidentally.
?Abram fell into step some distance behind him. The man walked on, past the library, past the student union into the residential area of campus. There were apartments and small houses here. He kept on for a few more blocks until he reached the door of a small, but neatly kept house. You could hear barking?a welcome the man obviously enjoyed since it brought a broad smile to his face.
?Abram had been here before and had a good idea of the man’s routine each night when he came home. First, he would let the dog out. Then he would change from his street clothes into workout clothes?an old T-shirt and shorts.
?The house was sparsely but comfortably furnished. The living room held the usual assortment of living requirements?a couch, a recliner, television and stereo. A weight bench and weights occupied a corner of the room. It was apparent that the man had just moved in, since packing boxes were waiting to be recycled.
?Abram wandered through the house while the man changed his clothes. He paid particular attention to the mail laying on the desk. Most were bills and advertisements, but one appeared to be a handwritten letter from ‘Gail’. Hmmm?Abram decided to keep an eye on that. It wouldn’t do to have a girlfriend or fianc?e turn up unexpectedly.
?The man’s name was James Issacson. He was a first year student in math and computer science. He had spent ten years in the military before deciding he wasn’t career military material. The Army would have happily promoted him, but an unusual restlessness had plagued him for the past year or so and he had decided not to reenlist.
?So, when he unexpectedly inherited this house from a distant relative, he took it as an omen that it was time to make some changes in his life.
?James let his dog Mac back in and spent a few minutes talking to her. She expected both attention and tummy rubs before James was allowed to do anything else. Mac had been an underfed, runt puppy who wandered into his life and who quickly determined that James was her human. She was a relatively small dog, feisty with a wrinkly, curious face. Mac provided James with companionship and someone to talk to, which James figured was an improvement over talking to yourself. Yes, Mac was a near perfect roommate; her only major flaw was an unfortunate need to sleep right in the middle of the bed. But he was working on that.
?Abram levitated himself on top of a bookcase. (Being a ghost certainly had it’s advantages!) James moved around the room organizing his equipment and preparing to indulge in his nightly workout. Mac, as usual, lay on the couch and watched. James began with stretching exercises and Abram knew from watching him that weight lifting was a serious hobby for this man. Abram approved?physical strength was an important trait for a man.
?James began with bicep curls, carefully monitoring his form. He had done this routine so many times, he no longer had to concentrate much, other than to count his repetitions. The workout felt especially good tonight because James was wound tight. His part time job at the library was beginning to drive him crazy. The work itself was fine if boring at times. His co-workers were okayay, although most were enough younger that common ground was scarce. He was even starting to adapt to the various body piercing and hair colors. No, the problem with the job was his ‘boss’ or ‘lead’ or whatever you wanted to call her. It was not a good sign when you started fantasizing about giving the woman a punishment spanking on general principles after knowing her for two days.
?Alexis Stone was enough to drive a man to a monastery. She was average height, a little on the heavy side, although well proportioned. She had large gray eyes and a face that while full, had classic cheekbones and beautiful lips. If she didn’t have the personality of a shrew, men would be lining up to date her.
?Today’s encounter was making James question whether the frustration was worth the money. First, she assigned him two carts of books to reshelve. Alexis seemed to think all her employees were a couple of cans shy of a six-pack and treated them accordingly. Of course, if the condescension didn’t get you, the inconsistency would. Then about an hour later, she interrupts reshelving and asks in a loud (and rather rude) voice why James was not working the checkout desk. A number of highly inappropriate comments leaped to James’s tongue, but you don’t do ten years in the service without learning some self-control. When James did try to calmly explain that she hadn’t told him to do check out, she cut him off, waved him in the general direction of the desk and stomped off. James fumed, but managed to deal with customers without incident. The last straw was when she came back later and wondered why he hadn’t finished the reshelving. James was so thoroughly angry he gave her a curt response, and finished the project.
?James was a pretty mellow individual on the whole. Alexis, however, could push his buttons faster than anyone he had ever known. She was constantly wound up and absolutely everything was a major crisis. He wasn’t sure what possessed the library director to put her in a position of authority in the first place.
?"So, what do you think, Mac? Maybe I should just quit the library job." James moved to the next set of exercises. Mac, as usual, wagged her tail in support of anything James chose to do.
?The comment certainly got Abram’s attention. He sat up straight and decided he better tag along to the library with James tomorrow. It wouldn’t do for him to quit his library job.
?Just at that moment, Mac cocked her hear, and started growling softly. Mac had been acting a little strange ever since they moved in. James thought she was just having trouble adjusting to the new house in a new city. Mac started bristling and ran through the house barking and snapping. James stopped his workout momentarily stunned. Mac was starting to act downright crazy.
?Mac sauntered back into the room and headed toward the couch. She paused at the bookcase, noticed Abram and started growling again. James was still puzzling over her behavior when Mac suddenly stopped growling and royally turned her nose up and lay back down on the couch.
?James shook his head, as if to clear out the cobwebs and resumed his workout.
?Outside, Abram turned to Razor. "How many times do I have to tell you to stay away from Mac? You’ll give us away! Keep your libido in check, you dumb dog." Razor wagged his ghostly tail and like most dogs, (ghost or not) completely ignored Abram’s comments.
?"Well," Abram said, "we have one more stop tonight." He walked a few more blocks, climbed the stairs of an older brick apartment building. He stopped at number eight and went in.
?A woman sat in an overstuffed chair, wrapped in a flannel robe reading. The apartment could be described as ‘sterile’ by the unkind and austere by the more objective. The space held none of the clutter that would give it a homey feel. The only item which gave any indication of the woman’s personality was the book she was reading?a steamy romance with a pirate on the cover.
?Abram paused in the hall and leaned against the door jamb. His gaze softened. "Ah, my sweet Zo?. Alexis looks so much like you! And has the same stubborn personality, I might add." Abram’s heartfelt tight at times like these when the enormity of his mistakes came back to plague him.
?The woman continued reading. Abram went out the way he came in.
?The next day found Alexis up early studying for her math class. She was due at the library in about an hour. The problem with this class was it was a requirement for graduation and somehow, it was a complete mystery to her. For the first time, Alexis was in serious danger of flunking a college course.
?Finally, she slammed the book shut. "I’ll never get this right! Aughhh!" She picked up her math book and threw it across the room. She stood up and stomped her foot. "I wish one of my brothers were here to explain this garbage," she said.
?With that tantrum over (and it hadn’t made her feel any better) she decided she better get ready for work. She grabbed her math book, tossed it in her backpack and headed out. As she walked, she began thinking about her three over-protective brothers. While it would be handy to have their help on math, it would be quite inconvenient for her other plans. Alexis smiled to herself. Yes, if her brothers’ knew about her plan to change her life, they would all keel over from apoplexy.
?Alex had decided that if she were going to embark on a writing career, she needed new and different experiences. Being the oldest living virgin in town had to end. Experimenting with a few controlled substances might not be out of the question either. But before she could put her changes into effect, she had decided she had to lose weight. She had bought appetite suppressants which seemed to be helping. She wasn’t eating as much and she was still very energetic (okay, make that manic.) But the point was, she would never attract men without a better body. So, if she could just pass math, things would work out just fine.
?When she got to the library, she stowed her backpack and checked messages. Unfortunately, due to colds, three people couldn’t show up. She rearranged the schedule and decided she would fill in on the check out desk for the afternoon. When James came in later, the two of them should easily be able to handle the desk since it was a weekday and generally not very busy.
?Meanwhile, James was working on a computer project. He had some time before his dreaded shift at the library started. "I don’t know, Mac," he said. "I’ve worked with an awful lot of people, but I’ve never had as much trouble as I do with Alexis. Maybe I’ll try to get to know her and see if that would help." Mac as usual, wagged her tail.
?A couple of hours later, James checked himself into the library. He went to Alexis to see what he should be doing today. He noticed she was working check out, which seemed a little unusual.
?"Afternoon, Alexis. What would you like me to start on?" James asked politely.
?"Well, we’re so short handed today, it looks like we’ll both be working the desk. Since it’s pretty slow, feel free to work on homework or whatever."
?James inwardly groaned. A whole afternoon with the shrew. Fortunately, he always carried a paperback, so he wouldn’t be bored. He settled in to read and occasionally check out a book. It was hard to get absorbed in the book, especially since Alexis was constantly muttering to herself. James’s curiosity finally got the best of him.
?"Boy, it really is dead this afternoon isn’t it?" he said quietly. (This was a library after all.)
?Alexis looked at him with a scowl on her face. Then her expression changed to a small smile. "Yeah, this is the time of the term where nobody studies much, so there isn’t a need for research materials or quiet. It can get boring here so most of us always bring some homework." She sat back and stretched her arms.
?"So, what are you working on?" James asked.
?"I’m not sure working is the appropriate term. At this point I would describe it as puzzling. I’m trying to figure out this stupid math assignment. I’ve never been so frustrated in my life." Alexis was looking decidedly cranky again.
?"Here, let me take a look. Maybe I can help." James got up and stood behind Alexis’s chair. She pushed the book over so he could see a little better. Then he seemed to be looking at her paper.
?"I think I’m beyond help. The teacher in this class sucks. I really have no aptitude for math and I don’t see why they torture us with all these damn assignments." Alexis was going into what her brothers termed ‘full bitch mode’.
?"Well, here’s your problem," James said. "When you are solving a complex equation, you do the math in the parenthesis first, then multiplication and division, then addition and subtraction. The answer can change a lot if you mix up the order. Why don’t you solve the problem again, and I’ll help you with the order."
?Alexis gave James a skeptical look. Sighing heavily, she started over. He had to help her once or twice, but she seemed to work through the numbers without too much trouble. Alexis was never good when she had to depend on other people, so her thank you sounded snide rather than sincere. James decided to return to his book and see if she would ask for help if she stumbled. As with many stubborn people, she kept working problems and getting more and more frustrated. Asking for help was out of the question however, so she continued to struggle.
?James was amazed. One of the first things you learn in the military, is to ask for help. Hell, he learned that lesson from his family. Why would she sit there obviously lost rather than ask him a question? Just another puzzle that made up Alexis.
?Later that afternoon, Alexis took a break and caught up on some of her other paperwork. While she was organizing her desk, she had an inspiration. She could advertise for a math tutor! It really had helped to have James helping her, but she really didn’t like him for some reason and that made it even harder for her to ask for help. So, she made up a sign for the jobs board in the library. She just put her phone number with a message to call if interested.
?Unbeknownst to either James or Alexis, Abram had decided to spend the day in the library. The library was a great place to hang out, because the stacks provided opportunities to observe the two of them without being seen. He had followed Alexis back to her desk and saw her writing out the ad for a tutor. Once she had hung it on the board before going back to the checkout desk, he swiftly removed it. There was only one person Abram wanted to tutor Alexis and that was James. Abram hid the notice while he figured out how to bring it to James’s attention.
?The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. Both James and Alexis quit at the same time and headed out. While Alexis went off to her writing class, Abram followed James as he went to the bookstore. James was looking for a programming guide, so he stowed his backpack in the shelving provided and headed inside to look at books.
?Abram saw his chance. He slipped the notice under James’s backpack and hoped he would see it on his way out. Sure enough, James picked up his backpack and saw the ad for a math tutor. He tossed it in with the new book and decided he would think about applying. James wasn’t sure he had a future at the library, so it might not hurt to hedge his bets.
?Abram decided that strategically, it would be better to eavesdrop on Alexis tonight rather than James. Mac was too astute for him to spend much time around her and it wouldn’t suit his purposes for James to be suspicious. So, Abram settled in to do one of the things he did exceptionally well, which was wait.
?Sure enough, after Alexis had come home, fixed herself a non-existent dinner and settled in to do some writing, her phone rang.
?"Is this the person who was looking for a math tutor?"
?"Yes, it is."
?"Well, I’m a math major and I’m looking for part time work. I’d be interested in talking to you more about what you need. Could we meet for coffee and discuss it?" Since the voice was obviously female, James figured a public meeting would make her feel safer than suggesting she come to his house.
?"That would work. How about the student union at 10:00 am tomorrow? We could meet in the lobby and then find a place to talk." Alexis was excited her ad had worked so quickly.
?They agreed to meet. Oddly enough, and to Abram’s delight, they didn’t exchange names. He was starting to think he would get the luck he had been needing for the past 150 years.
?The next day found James in the lobby of the student union at 9:50. He found a wall and leaned against it waiting for his prospective ‘tutoree’. James always enjoyed watching people and he was still puzzling over Alexis, so having a few minutes of solitude was not a problem. As if his thoughts had conjured her up, Alexis walked through the door. She was obviously looking for someone. "Oh, no," James thought. "It couldn’t be!" He gave Alexis a few more minutes of loitering before his curiosity got the best of him. He walked up to her.
?"Hi Alexis. How are you doing?"
?"Oh, hi James. I’m fine." Alexis continued to scan the lobby. James knew he had been dismissed, but he was beginning to enjoy this.
?"So, what are you doing here so early in the morning?" James smiled politely.
?Alexis was having trouble focusing. She gave him an indignant scowl and then offhandedly said "Well, if you must know, I have an appointment to meet someone at 10:00. But I don’t see him."
?"What does he look like? Maybe I can help you find him." James also started scanning the crowd.
?"No, don’t worry about it, I’ll find him eventually." Alexis was starting to wish James would go away. He always disturbed her in some unfathomable way.
?"Funny, I’m also here to meet someone. Some girl was advertising for a math tutor, but she must not be interested, because I don’t see her." James was starting to chuckle to himself.
?Alexis turned to him with the widest eyes he had ever seen on a human being. Her face drained of all color. James began to wonder if she was going to faint on him.
?"Ah, shit!" Alexis stomped her foot.
?James decided to put her out of her misery. He acted very surprised. "You mean, the ad was yours?"
?All Alexis could do was nod her head weakly. James motioned her toward the coffee shop. "I tell you what," he said. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee and let’s talk about it. Maybe we can work something out."
?Now Alexis was a shrew and a brat. But she wasn’t rude. She walked with James into line and got coffee. They found a quiet corner and sat down.
?"So, I assume this is related to the math class that sucks, right?" James thought the first thing someone should do with Alexis is insist she clean up her language. But it would take a better man than him, so he dismissed the thought. "You know, I would have been more than willing to help you with your math, if you had just asked me. I’d still be happy to tutor you and you don’t have to pay me." James wondered where that statement had come from. Apparently, he was being possessed by the same gremlins that were inhabiting Mac’s brain.
?Alexis, as usual, blurted out the first thing that popped into her head. "Why would you do that?"
?James looked at her thoughtfully. "Well, in the first place, other people have helped and taught me in the past out of the goodness of their hearts. So, helping others just feels like returning the favor. And second, I’d like to get to know you. Something tells me there is a pretty interesting person in there if you can get past the thorns."
?Alexis blushed. She knew her reputation and while it was hurtful to think about, she also understood how people got that impression. "Hmmm?.I’m just not used to asking people for things. I’ve learned to be pretty independent and asking for help seemed wimpy or something."
?James laughed. "If asking for help makes you wimpy, you’re sitting with the worlds’ biggest. In my family, you got in trouble if you didn’t ask for help when you needed it. I tell you what. Let’s give it a try and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll hook you up with one of the other people in my advanced math class."
?Alexis smiled. "okay, if you’re sure. When would be a good time to start?"
?"When’s your next class? I have about an hour and we could at least get started right now. Why don’t you show me what you are working on?" Alexis got out her book and James looked over her homework. He had her start working problems and watched to see where she was struggling. They worked for about an hour, and Alexis was able to complete her homework for the next day. They agreed to meet after class tomorrow and James asked her to bring all the homework she’d done so he could identify where she needed help.
?As they got up to leave, Alexis gave him a big smile. "James, I really appreciate your help. Maybe I can pass this class after all." James walked her part way to her next class and went on to his own. He found himself whistling.
?From then on, James and Alexis met two or three times a week to work on math. Once she was able to ask the ‘stupid’ questions she was afraid to ask in class, most of it made more sense. She also enjoyed James’s company. He was easy to be around and didn’t get intimidated by her like most of the guys her age. There were only a couple of things that seemed to set him off. One was her language. James rarely swore and whenever Alexis would use a cuss word, he would give her a steely-eyed glare. The other thing that seemed to get his back up was when she would inappropriately express frustration. Now, Alexis’s family would have termed it ‘a temper tantrum’. But in all her childhood, no one had ever found an effective way to curb her behavior. So, even as an adult, Alexis would frequently stomp her foot, swear or throw things.
?The more James was around Alexis, the more he came to like her. Tantrums notwithstanding, she was like a dog with a bone when she decided to do something. She was also extremely bright and James personally thought she would do very well as a writer. He found himself attracted to her physically, not because she was wafer thin like other girls, but because she looked like a real woman with curves and padding in all the right places. She was right that she could stand to lose a little weight, but it wasn’t nearly as big an issue as she thought it was.
?James was seriously considering whether he should take the relationship to a deeper level. The problem was he couldn’t stand the tantrums or the swearing. And he wasn’t sure it was fair to begin a relationship with the intent of changing the other person.
?Now, unbeknownst to either Alexis or James, Abram was monitoring things closely. Being a ghost had its advantages, especially since you could be places and observe things without others knowing it. The only thing he had to avoid was staying in one place too long, in case the cold air attracted attention. Otherwise, he was able to watch them both at the library and during their tutoring sessions. It seemed to him that they were beginning to like each other and if he could just maneuver the situation right, there was a good chance they could fall in love.
?One of Abram’s best sources of information was to be home with James in the evenings. James invariably talked to Mac about what was on his mind. So Abram had a pretty good idea where the wind blew. And given the opportunity, he was just the man to advise James on the correct way to deal with Alexis’s behavior.
?So, the next night, Alexis and James were both working a late shift at the library. At 11:00 p.m., they closed up and headed out the door. As they went down the steps, James turned to Alexis and said "Are you driving? How far is your car?"
?Alexis gave him an odd look. "No, I’m walking as usual. It’s not all that far."
?James debated how to handle this. On one hand, he was anxious to get home since it had been a long day. At the same time, he really didn’t want Alexis walking home by herself. It was too late for a woman to be out alone.
?"I’ll walk with you," James said.
?"You don’t need to. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
?"Right. And I’m the Easter Bunny." James was beginning to get surly.
?Alexis stopped walking. "No, really. See, I carry mace. Nobody’s going to bother me, especially with a body like this."
?James looked at her incredulously. "What do you mean, a body like that? What’s wrong with your body?"
?"Nothing a few days of liposuction and plastic surgery wouldn’t take care of."
?"First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your figure. Just because you don’t look like an anorexic twig is nothing to be ashamed of. Second, any woman is vulnerable unless she has had extensive self-defense training. Let me demonstrate."
?With that, James bent over, grabbed Alexis’s knees and hoisted her over his shoulder. While the position was embarrassing, it was also painful since Alexis’s backpack kept hitting her on the head. James headed off toward where he thought her apartment was. In the meantime, from over his shoulder came muffled grunts of "You son of a bitch, put me down!" Alexis was less than happy.
?Finally, James did put her down, not because he was particularly tired, but because he didn’t know where she lived. Alexis went into spitting cat mode. Tempted though she was, she drew the line at hitting James. However, she did rain obscenities down on his head. Finally, James had had enough. Grabbing her by the upper arms, he shook her gently and said, "Alexis, stop it right now. You are over-reacting. Do you hear me? Stop NOW!" Alexis settled enough to turn and stomp off. James followed, because he still wanted to know she got home all right.
?At her doorstep, she turned and in a loud voice yelled, "I never want to see you again!" With that, she turned and slammed into her apartment.
?James stood outside her door, clenching and unclenching his hands. After a few minutes, he decided to get a beer at the local college hang out and do some serious thinking.
?As usual, Abram was close by. He had been watching the altercation with a smile on his face. There was chemistry between those two and they would get along fine if James would only take a firm hold on the reins.
?When James walked into the local pub, Abram decided it would be worth the energy to materialize. He went in and found James sitting at the bar. He pulled up a stool and ordered a beer. Abram looked at James out of the corner of his eye. James’s jaw was clenching and he had a death grip on his beer. Abram held his peace for a few more minutes and then said, "You look like a man with a problem."
?James looked at Abram for the first time. There was something vaguely familiar about him, but James couldn’t put his finger on it. Finally, James said, "Nothing much, just a woman."
?Abram laughed. "That problem is as old as time. And there isn’t a man alive who hasn’t experienced it."
?James begrudgingly smiled. "I suppose you’re right. I just don’t know what to do about this particular problem."
?Abram turned slightly on his bar stool. "Why don’t you tell me about it?"
?Surprisingly, James did. It felt good to talk to somebody else. James couldn’t believe he was doing it, since he was generally a very private person. He finished his first beer and ordered a second. He found himself still talking to Abram.
?Finally, when James wound down, Abram lo