Game On

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A continuation of yesterday’s post for Story A Day.  The prompt- Write a story paying attention to the pacing.

My post yesterday had a lot of internal dialogue and backstory so today’s moves at a bit of a faster pace and has more spoken dialogue.

Claudine was the epitome of elegance as she leaned against the powder room door.  Emerald studs sparkled from her ears.  Her dark hair was swept back into a chic chignon.  Despite her age, her caramel skin was smooth and free of wrinkles.  She wore a floor-length scarlet gown, the only woman at the party in red.  Her brown eyes flashed with anger as she looked at Madeline’s pitiful state, futilely scrubbing at the dress.

“How much?”  She asked simply, curling her upper lip as though she found the entire scene distasteful.  “How much to get you to leave our son alone?”

Madeline guffawed so loudly she was certain they heard her in the dining room.  “Really?  Is this some cheesy made-for-tv movie from the 1980’s?  You write me a check and send me on my way and I leave through the back entrance, crying all the way to my home on the wrong side of the tracks, never to be heard from again?  I expected more from you, Claudine.  I at least thought you were original.”

“I don’t follow.”  Claudine crossed her arms over her bosom and narrowed her eyes.

“Oh, I’m sure you do.  You aren’t too upper-crust to watch a little trashy TV now and then.”  Madeline gave up on the dress, grabbing beauty products from her clutch and starting to retouch her makeup and hair.  She smoothed her thick, jet black mane that she’d spent a fortune to have professionally blown out, then dusted her copper skin with powder and began to reapply her lipstick.  “I know your whole story.  You weren’t raised like…like this.”  She waved her hand in the air in a sweeping motion, indicating the opulence of the room.  “You come from a working-class family.  Just like me.  You put yourself through college, got a real job, and worked your butt off to make something of yourself.  Just like me.  And then you met and fell in love with a charming, handsome guy who just so happened to come from a wealthy family…”

“Just like you?”  Claudine smirked as she finished Madeline’s sentence for her.  “Do you really think we’re anything alike?”  She stepped closer until they were standing side by side in the mirror.  Madeline could smell her understated perfume, see the dots of green in her eyes.  “You and I,” she pointed at Madeline, then at herself, “Are nothing alike.  I spent every day of my life planning to meet a man like my husband.  I studied.  I took etiquette classes, I read every book and newspaper article I could about high society life – table settings, dinner parties, ballroom dancing, high fashion, fine dining – I went to the right schools, made connections with the right people, so when I met my husband, I was ready for this life.  I earned it…”

“So, you were well-educated in the art of gold-digging.  I get it.”  Madeline smacked her lips, feeling the sticky, smooth texture of the newly applied lip color.  “There some other women who might appreciate your…errr…wisdom, not me, though…”

Claudine laughed.  “Do you really think David’s interest in you is sincere?   Darling, you’re a…what do they call it…a rebound.  A salve on a wound…”

“So, you’d rather he be with his unfaithful ex-wife than a woman who didn’t go to the ‘right schools?'”

“I’d try to explain it to you, dear, but you wouldn’t understand.”

Madeleine brushed past her, reaching for the door, but Claudine blocked her path.  “Think about what I said, Madeline.  I’m sure you have quite a bit of debt to pay off.”  She turned to leave.  “And now you won’t be able to return that gorgeous dress.”

Madeline was left alone in the powder room, in her sodden dress with the tags tucked into the sleeve that she had indeed been planning to take back to the store the following day.  It would take her ages to pay off the credit card charge.  She stared at herself in the mirror for a moment, lamenting her plight.  Then she made a decision.

She burst through the door, heading back to the party with a new confidence.  The servers had cleared the salad course, so presumably at least one person had eaten at some point, and were resetting the table for the next one, whatever the heck that would be.  Fish? Cheese? Soup? Entree?  Madeline had skimmed a Wikipedia article about formal 10-course meals but had a hard time committing the order of all the courses to memory.  The timing was perfect.

Madeline leaned over to whisper in Elisa’s ear.  “Would mind switching places with me?  I know it’s not exactly kosher to change the seating arrangements, but I feel a little silly after what happened and could use a little support.”  She smiled sweetly at Elisa, the well-bred specimen with the perfect pedigree who couldn’t manage to keep her wedding vows.  She furrowed her brows and Madeline could see the conflict going on in her brain.  If she refused, she’d appear cruel, if she agreed, she’d lose ground.  Ultimately, her good breeding prevailed and she rose from her chair, lips pursed, banished to Madeline’s old seat between snoozing Aunt Dorinda and Tiffany the druggie.

Madeline sat and wrapped her arm around David’s triumphantly, bucking tradition.  David kissed her cheek as she raised her glass to Claudine.

Game on.

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Forks

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Madeline was starving.  She’d been too nervous to eat the entire day, her stomach churning as she sat anxiously in her work cubicle, waiting for 5 o’clock.  Now, it seemed as though all of the hunger stored up from the entire day had decided to take over her body at once.  I hope no one heard my stomach growl.  But she was sure someone had.

Her foot tapped a silent beat against the plush carpet.  She made up a recitation to go along with the rhythm.  Which-fork-do-I-pick?  Which-fork-do-I-pick?  Which-fork-do-I-pick?   She couldn’t remember.  Her mother had mentioned it to her long ago in passing but hadn’t made a big issue of it.  Clearly she hadn’t thought Madeline had too many formal, black tie dinner parties in her future.  Madeline had never seen so much silverware at one place setting in all of her life.  Do I start at the outside and work my way in?  Or is it the reverse?  She didn’t want to look like a fool.

David had introduced her to his parents only about a month ago.  His mother, Claudine, had seemed decidedly underwhelmed by Madeline, coolly taking in her off-the-rack clothes and scuffed shoes before offering her a dry handshake and a tight smile.  David had told her not to worry when Madeline fretted that his mother didn’t like her, and sure enough, a week later Claudine had begun planning a dinner party to introduce Madeline to all of their closest friends and family.  It was their coming out party.

One piece of advice from her mother that Madeline did hold on to – if you’re ever unsure, watch to see what the other dinner guests do first.  Great advice, except no one had begun eating yet.  Claudine was in the middle of a lengthy anecdote, something about her and her husband’s recent visit to the South of France, and they all seemed to be hanging on her every word.

David was seated at the opposite end of the table.  He’d warned her this would happen.  Traditionally at dinner parties, he’d explained, couples were separated to give everyone a chance to meet someone new, make new acquaintances.  Madeline didn’t see the point. To her right, David’s great-aunt Dorinda was already lightly snoring into her uneaten garden salad.  To her left, the wife of David’s best friend from high school, Tiffany, kept leaving her seat every five to ten minutes to make suspicious trips to the powder room, wiping at her nose upon her return.  Is that going to be me in a few years?  Madeline wondered as she stared once again at Tiffany’s retreating form.  It also wasn’t lost on her that David had been seated next to his beautiful ex-wife, Elisa, who put her hand on David’s forearm and laughed lustily every time Claudine made a joke, or what passed as a joke in this house, anyway, tossing her hair back and leaning into David as though he were still hers.

Screw this.  Madeline raised the fork she thought was meant for the salad course and decided to go for it.  The salad was dry and underdressed but it was the first sustenance she’d had all day.  She bit down on a huge chunk of carrot and a loud crunch seemed to echo through the dining room.  Claudine stopped mid-sentence and every eye turned on her.  Seriously?  How do these people eat carrots?  Do they pay someone to have them pre-chewed?

Sheepish, Madeline, unable to remove her eyes from Claudine’s steely glare, went to set down the fork on the side of her salad bowl but accidentally knocked over her water glass and a glass of red wine, dousing the front of her dress and splashing poor Aunt Dorinda, who still didn’t wake up.

Are you okay?  David mouthed from across the room.  Madeline nodded as she rose from the table, gathering all of her confidence.  “I’m sorry to disturb you.  Excuse me for a moment, please.”  She rushed from the room as quickly as good manners would allow, making her way to the powder room Tiffany was exiting, glassy-eyed.

As she scrubbed at the front of her dress with a towel and made little headway, there was a gentle knock at the door.  Her heart lifted.  David.

“Come in!”

But it was a fiery-eyed Claudine who opened the door, quietly shutting it behind her as she stepped inside.

 

Today’s Story A Day prompt is Write at Your Natural Length.  

  • Today I give you permission to write a partial story, a scene, and extracts from a longer tale. It doesn’t have to feel complete, like a short story should, but it should still have something of a story arc. Use today to practice that.

I decided to write a scene instead of a complete story.  Instead of writing a scene from the novel I’m writing, I decided to write one using characters from a short story I wrote a while ago.

Read Part 2

Last Brunch With the Girls

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“If you hate them so much why are they your friends,” Jim had asked as I prepared to leave our cozy little bungalow on a rainy afternoon, headed for brunch with the girls.  It was a monthly tradition, every third Sunday, five of my old sorority sisters and I met at a restaurant in the city to pick at dry salads and compete in the clandestine game of frenemies everywhere – Whose Life Is Better?

I’m thinking of Jim’s question again as we begin the sudden death round of our ridiculous little competition – Who’s Skinniest/Healthiest?  The salad ordering kicks off with each woman trying to one-up the last – one asks for dressing on the side, another asks for no dressing, yet another asking for no protein or dressing, just limp salad greens.  Camilla thinks she’s won, as she has countless times before, when she just asks for a hot water with lemon, claiming not to be very hungry when she looks smugly at me.

“Burger and fries,” I say to the waiter confidently, drawing glares from my companions as I realize it’s time I took myself out of the game.

The Six Sentence Story prompt this week is Draw.

 

Thursday Thriller – Caught

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Sorry for the late posting!

Read Part 1 – Watched

Read Part 2 – Watcher

Read Part 3 – Harmless

My tea is cool. I still wrap my hands around the mug, though I draw no warmth from it. It’s Marley’s mug. I remember it. Her lips have touched it. I imagine her, sitting by a frosted window in her old apartment, resting her sore legs and flipping through a magazine, sipping herbal tea. I wonder if my lips are touching the same places as hers.

Our conversation has reached another lull. I know that she will ask me to leave soon. Politely, of course. Dear Marley is always perfectly polite. But I’ll still be outside in the cold. Politely dismissed. I’m tired of being left behind.

Marley yawns dramatically and stretches, probably about to tell me about how exhausted she is and how badly she needs a shower and a nap. I’ve seen her do it before with other unwanted guests. Before she can say anything, I ask her the question.

“Why didn’t you recognize me that night?”

She cocks her head at me, a strange-sounding laugh catches in her throat. She will figure it out soon. Her thoughts are starting down the path, slowly leading her to the truth.

“What do you mean?”

“I waited outside for you for hours. I was freezing. But you treated me like just another…another…fan!” I spit out the last word violently because it offends me.

She knows now. She rises from the couch slowly and begins backing towards the door.

“I’m sorry, Liz…”

“I thought we were friends. We were so close in school…”

“Liz, there are so many people crowded around me after a performance. I probably didn’t see you.  I’m sorry, Liz. I’m so, so sorry,” she repeats.

“Not enough,” I say, standing and stepping closer to her.

“What do you want from me?” She asks, her eyes wide, tears streaming down her disgustingly beautiful face.

“Nothing,” I say honestly. Then I lunge for her.

Read Part 5 – Descent

A Grain

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My daughter has the best of everything. Her clothes are from the finest boutiques in town, her wardrobe rivaling mine in size and quality. Her hair has been highlighted and cut by my own stylist from the time she was small.    I’ve given her everything she’s ever wanted. Things she didn’t even know that she wanted. Private dance tutors, acting classes, beauty pageant wins, cosmetic enhancements.  We want her to be happy. I thought she was happy.

When her teachers told me that Riley’s interactions with another girl in school could be considered bullying, I dismissed it, taking it with a grain of salt. Didn’t all teenage girls argue? But then I met the girl, Cassie, and her mother, in the principal’s office, and I saw something I recognized in her sad eyes. Riley laughed the whole thing off in the car on the way home, and I joined in, wanting to make her happy, to reassure her I was on her side, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Cassie is gone now. When I found out the news, I locked myself in my bedroom and cried the rest of the day. Visions of my own youth tortured me. Disdainful looks from the pretty girls with their perfect skin and shiny hair. My desperation to be accepted, only to have doors slammed in my face at every turn. I thought about the day I gave birth to Riley, when I promised her that she would never endure one moment of suffering.

Today, I dried my eyes and got on the phone to find my daughter a lawyer. They want to put her in jail, but I can’t let that happen. She’s my baby.

For Story A Day

The Rules

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CeCe knew the rules.  Good girls didn’t ask boys out, or even approach them.  Good girls didn’t chase boys.  Good girls were innocent, well-dressed, demurely made-up.  Good girls were quiet, non-threatening, unassuming.  Good girls ended up with good lives.  Handsome husbands, gorgeous homes, fat babies.  They just had to be patient.

The rules, hammered into her brain by her mother from the time she could walk, circled her thoughts.  This is what being a good girl gets youshe thought bitterly, at the movies alone on a Friday night.   She usually enjoyed her own company.  Besides, it wasn’t her friends’ kind of movie, a French film about two lovers who meet who meet at the tomb of Napoleon II.  But for some reason, that night she couldn’t stop thinking about Ricky.  They were both single for the first time in years and he still hadn’t asked her out.

She quieted the nagging voice in her brain and pulled out her phone, composing a text.

Dinner tomorrow night?

Her heart pounding, she pressed send.

 

For Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

A Phase

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The comments had gotten more venomous. All of Riley’s social media accounts had been shut down, at her parents’ insistence, when the backlash had reached its crescendo, but she couldn’t resist reading the articles, the blogs. The world was talking about her.

Her mother had argued she was just going through a phase, an adolescent cruel streak, during the first principal’s office visits with Cassie and her mother. They’d laughed about the meetings on the drive home. At Cassie’s dopey pink nail polish and out of control acne, her face blotchy and red and dotted with craters, her mother’s dumpy figure, her wash-and-wear muumuu dress and flip flops.

They’d found Cassie a week later under the 6th Street bridge, lifeless and cold. Bullied To Death!  The headlines screamed. Rumors swirled. Riley and her friends could be charged with murder. Her mother had stopped laughing, going into defense mode, getting on lengthy calls with school officials and lawyers.

Riley’s own words had come back to find her, in blog posts, in comment sections, on social media. Do the world a favor and die. You’re worthless. You and your friends disgust me. The world hates you. Go kill yourself.

She wouldn’t cry.

She wouldn’t cry.

That would make her no better than Cassie. And Cassie was a loser.

She breezed through the front door. She ignored her mother’s protests, as she always did. Her mother could never understand that she still needed to feel young. She needed to drive her car. She needed to live. She didn’t know how many more days of freedom she had left.

The reporters were parked in front of the lawn, converging on her as soon as she stepped outside.

“Riley!” A redhead ran over to her, thrusting a microphone in her face. She’d been there every day since the story broke, not giving up despite the fact Riley had never spoken to her. To any of them. “Do you have a message for Cassie’s family? Or anything to say about Cassie herself?”

Riley stopped, turning to face the woman, feeling the tears spring to her eyes. She slipped on her sunglasses before anyone saw. “I hardly knew her,” she whispered.

For Story a Day

Black-Blue

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I’m startled awake.  There are coarse, raised voices out on the deck.  Curious, I climb the stairs and see them, a man and woman, grappling, fighting over an unseen object.  The woman loses the struggle and slips over the railing with a chilling wail, a flash of white dropping into an infinite black-blue.

I close my eyes, but prolonged sleep is impossible.  She tiptoes through my dreams, leaving crimson footprints wherever she goes.

Someone’s fiddling with the lock.  I hear the cabin door creak open, heavy footfalls across the tiny room.  The bed is jostled, and I close my eyes more tightly, pretending, praying.

“I know you’re awake.”

For Story a Day

Turnabout

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It’s not my fault.  Anne was missing deadlines, making stupid mistakes.  I didn’t mince words on Friday when I told her to clear out her desk.  She didn’t make a scene, just gave me a tight-lipped smile and left the room quietly.  I should have known then.

I am nervous when my boss asks me to come into the conference room, where the HR rep is waiting.  Covering the table is a print-out of every email I ever sent to Anne, dating back years.  Messages she promised were deleted.  My face is hot as I drop into the nearest chair.

 

The Moral Mondays prompt this week is Harsh Words Stir up Anger.