At first glance, Carl Neilson—a man who refuses to update his hairstyle or his wardrobe—might be the last person to find anything in common with a free-spirited artist in his thirties who sports multicolored hair. Especially one as plain-spoken as Benjamin "Ben" Brooker, a man with a sharp tongue and a startling sense of fashion. At least feathers and rhinestones aren't involved...yet.
Carl's son Chester has other ideas. He's determined that his dad find someone else to obsess over—aside from his son—and get a makeover along the way.
For Carl and Ben, the journey from "are-you-kidding-me?" to "hell-yeah!" takes a few twists and turns but finally, the two men—complete opposites in every way—find the perfect middle ground between hippie-chic and garish-artist. It's a wild ride you won't want to miss!
Enjoy an excerpt from "The Hippie Whisperer."
“Now, where were we?” I looked into the smiling eyes of both my son and Dre. I shook Dre’s hand, then turned to greet our guest. I’m sure my facial expression was comical as I looked him over, but managed to close my mouth quickly enough, I hoped, barely remembering my manners.
Benjamin Brooker was about my height, which was fine by me. I liked that, usually. But, this guy wore tight pink pants and an equally clingy, bright orange T-shirt emblazoned with some trendy design done in a shiny motif. A narrow, blistering yellow scarf hung around his neck, even though it was eighty degrees outside. Who dressed like that in the real world?
The fact that he filled out his clothing to perfection might have made up for his shocking dress sense, but then I saw his—was his hair frosted? Oh shit! It was the patriotic skunk from the online dating site Chester had shown me earlier. That he was extremely good-looking didn’t even sink in—much—because I’d been setup. And he did not look like he was in his thirties. Maybe twenty-five, the bastard.
I tried to regroup. “Benjamin, I assume?” I held out my hand to shake his.
“Ben,” an unexpectedly sonorous voice responded as he took my hand in a confident grip, holding on long enough so I could feel the strength there. The warmth of it stole up my arm, but I tried hard to ignore it.
“Carl, right?” He smiled at me, a look in his amethyst-colored eyes that said he knew what I was thinking, and couldn’t care less about my opinion. Score one for Ben.
“Yes.” It was time to eat. Clearing my throat, I said, “Please sit, everyone.” I gave my son a glance that said, “you’re in trouble, boy”, and served the meal. Then I remembered something.
“You’re not allergic to peanuts, are you, Ben?” Please say yes.
“Thanks for asking, but no.” His voice made me feel things low down in my belly that hadn’t been stirred in years. Oh, he was dangerous, this one, and not just because his dress sense could rival Liberace.
Small talk went back and forth during the meal, along with compliments for the cuisine. I was gracious, of course. Chester and Dre told Ben about their plans for junior year, and I listened, taking it all in. Then, innocently enough, at the end of the meal, Chester changed the topic of conversation.
“So how’s the mural going, Ben?”
“Shouldn’t take me more than a month, I think.” He took a sip of his bottled water.
“So you’re some kind of artist, then?” I asked, offhandedly, the only one still working on finishing his plate of food. My appetite had vanished, for some reason.
“You could say that.”
“Is the shock factor a basis for your art and your attire?”
“Dad!” Chester protested, but he started this, so he’d just have to deal.
“It’s a simple question. I’m sure he can handle it, can’t you, Ben?” I wanted to find a chink in his armor, so I wasn’t the only one off balance.
Ben just smiled at me, not even fazed by my rudeness. He addressed Chester. “It’s okay. I meet people like your Dad all the time.”
“Oh, this could be good,” my son chortled. Turncoat.
“I beg your pardon?” I said.
“I’m sure I was clear,” Ben replied.
“I’m sure you weren’t.”
“Let the man talk, Dad.”
“You’re not helping, Judas.”
“People like you,” Ben continued, “afraid of, let’s say, the unusual. I suppose the fact that you wear Hawaiian shirts and haven’t cut your hair in years, though it’s thinning on top, means you used to be unafraid when you were young, right? Wanted to make some kind of statement?”
“See? I said that. Didn’t I say that?” Chester cut in.
“Shut up, you,” I snapped at him.
Ben leaned forward a bit. “Tell me, do you still feel relevant?” Oh, he just went for the balls, didn’t he. Score two for Ben.
“Of course I—” He cut me off as he leaned back in his chair.
“That look isn’t really working for you anymore, by the way. At your age”—this time he went for the jugular—“a buzz cut would definitely be better, especially with your cheekbones. And those azure eyes… You’d really be a looker, then. Hell, I’d do you, though you’re a little older than my usual tryst. There’s just something…compelling about you. And lose the mutton chops while you’re at it. Elvis is definitely not relevant.” Dre and Chester cracked up at that.
“Oh my God, priceless!” Chester said between guffaws. “Ben, if you can get Carl to change just his hair, it would be a miracle.”
Ben’s words stung. Who was this know-it-all punk, coming into my house and tearing away all my carefully constructed relevant layers?
“Like you can talk, with your—”
“To answer your question,” he ploughed on. “Sure, I employ the shock factor, if only because I get to see people as they really are, without artifice. First impressions always count. It’s rare to get a second chance. If something jars them or resonates on some level, and manages to open their mind, my job is done. If it doesn’t, then maybe it wasn’t time yet, and they can scurry back to that little box of staid reality they live in.”
Three strikes, right? I watched as Ben finished his water. I tried to stop my firm, staid ground from falling away from me.
“So is everything about making a point, with you? Forcing people to see or experience things they may not be ready for, according to your vision? What gives you the right to do that?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Dre and Chester had calmed down enough from their cackling to watch our interchange with fascination.
“Humans are free to experience things as they will. I simply provide a canvas for exploration. You choose to do so, or not, of your own free will. Truth is, I hate subterfuge. Always have, hence the way I approach my life and art. Now, when you met me earlier, you were horrified, I know. Am I too grating? Too disturbing for you?”
“All of the above,” I admitted.
“And you couldn’t see past all that, could you?”
“My retinas have yet to recover.”
The Hippie Whisperer by J.D. Walker is now available at Amber Allure.
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