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.

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

Thursday Thriller -Plot Twist

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The woman who opened the door wasn’t Donna.  I mean it was but it wasn’t.  The Donna I knew and loved only wore makeup on extremely special occasions, wore her naturally curly hair loose and wild, and favored ripped jeans with loose, flowy tops.  This Donna had hair that was blown straight and hung sleekly to her waist,  was stylishly dressed in a form-fitting white shift dress, makeup perfectly applied.  She looked like the girls who used to make fun of us back in school.

“Are you going to a funeral?”  I joked as she stepped aside to let me in.  The air in her warm apartment smelled sweet, like fresh baked goods.  My stomach rumbled.  She must have stopped at our favorite bakery this morning.

She cocked her head at me strangely, like a puppy that had just been chastised.  “Why would you ask me that, Stef?”  Her expression was deathly serious, until a loud ping sounded from the kitchen.  A noise so foreign in this place, it made me jump.

“My cookies are ready!”  Donna exclaimed.  I watched in a mixture of horror and amazement as she donned an apron, slid an oven mitt over her hand and pulled a tray of golden chocolate chip cookies from the oven.  “You have to try one after they cool!”

“Come on, Donna, knock it off.  We’ve got work to do.” I held up my laptop.  We were co-writing a  YA mystery novel about a series of disappearances at a fictional all-girls’ college in upstate New York.

I sat on the floor in front the coffee table, leaning back against the worn, dark brown couch, my usual spot, and opened my laptop to get started.  “About that,” Donna began, sitting primly on the sofa instead of on the carpet next to me.  “I think we should change the direction of the book.”

“Change the direction?”  I was ready to pull my hair out in frustration.  First some silly practical joke and now this?  “Donna, we’ve been working on this for a year!  We’ve already missed a deadline.  They need our first draft Monday.”

“I know.  And I don’t want to change too much, we can still use the college as a backdrop, but why not make it a romance?!  All the girls on a quest to find their future husbands!”

“Husbands?  These are 18-year-old girls?!”

“Becoming a wife is the greatest achievement any woman can hope for!”

“Donna!  Enough already.  This from the woman who called me a sell-out on my wedding day?”

“I’m so sorry about that, Stef.  I understand now.  I understand everything.  Chet has helped me.”

“Chet?”  Chet was Donna’s college ex-boyfriend.  He’d been crazy about her, but it was clear from the time they met that their pairing would end in disaster.  Donna broke things off with him senior year.  He didn’t take it well.  She ended up having to file a restraining order.  As far as I knew, she hadn’t spoken to him in years.

“Yes, Chet.  He can help you too.  Like he helped me.”

I heard a noise coming from the back of the apartment.  A feeling of cold dread spread through my middle.  I wanted to run, but I felt stuck, unwilling to leave my friend in such a vulnerable state.  My eyes slowly widened as Chet stumbled from the dark hallway, his hair mussed, his expression wild and menacing.  He held a vial of a red, suspicious-looking liquid.

I stood quickly.  “What have you done to her?!”  I screamed my throat raw, hot tears spilling down my cheeks.  He said nothing, just stood there, grimacing.  I raced for the front door but Donna grabbed my arm and twisted it.  I cried out in pain as something heavy smashed into the back of my head.

*

I woke up after I don’t know how long.  My head hurt a little, but it wasn’t so bad.  I turned to Donna, who was still sitting on the couch, and grinned.  “I think a romance novel sounds like a great idea!”

She clapped her hands in delight.  “This is going to be so much fun!”

Read Part 2 – Weapon

 

 

Thursday Thriller – Perfect

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Read Part One – Awakening 

Four Years Ago…

There was a perfect family that lived in the house on the corner lot.  The Stephensons.  The wife was young and beautiful, with a tiny waist and a huge shiny smile, adorned with a gorgeous wedding ring that always glinted in the sun.  The husband was handsome and broad-shouldered.  He liked to swoop his wife in the air in the front yard and swing her in his arms as though she were weightless.  Her musical laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood.  People always stopped and smiled.  Zadie and Robert, they thought to themselves enviously, what a couple! Their son, Noah, was their pride and joy.  So young, but such ambition!  And so smart.  Gorgeous, just like his father with his mother’s bright smile.

It was a placid Saturday afternoon.  Zadie was lying on a lounger in the backyard, sipping lemon water as she read Town and Country.  Her lips left a perfect red stain on the straw.  Robert and Noah were playing catch.  Noah had to perfect his spiral if he wanted to make varsity in the fall.

“Noah!”  Zadie called across the yard.  “Did you finish your chores?”

“Yes, mom!”

All of them?”  Zadie pressed.  Noah sighed heavily, and he and his father exchanged a knowing smile.  Women, they both seemed to be thinking as they smiled at each other.

“No, mom.  I’ll do my last one.”

“Thank you, dear.”

Noah dropped the football on the brilliant green grass and ran inside.  He prepared a quick lunch, a sandwich, fruit and lemonade, and arranged the items on a tray, then grabbed the key from the desk in the front hallway.  He ran down the back stairs to the basement, then unlocked another door.   A heavy, dark door, that opened with a loud creak.  There was a girl sitting against a bare mattress pressed against the far wall.  She was sickly and pale, but strangely beautiful, in an alien, other-worldly sort of way.  Her belly swelled in front of her.  There was an angry, red laceration on her cheek, evidence of her last escape attempt, crawling through a broken basement window.  The shattered glass tore at her skin.  Noah set the plate in front of her in silence and turned to leave.

“Noah?” She whispered.

He turned, reluctantly.  It hurt to look at her.  “Yeah, Grace?”

“Do you think I can come out today?”

“I’m not sure, Grace.  I’ll ask Mom and Dad.”

“Okay.”

Noah’s shoulders drooped as he locked the door behind him.  He’d stopped asking long ago.  Their answer had always been no.

He needn’t have worried.  It was the screaming that undid them.  The horrid, chilling, blood-curdling cries of suffering.  A passerby, just someone on an evening stroll with their dog, heard the sounds and called the police.

Robert swore that the screaming wasn’t coming from their home, that it must be someone next door, someone outside, but the officers were persistent.  They followed the noise, down the dark hallway and the dark steps, through the cobwebbed door, the sounds getting louder and louder.  They banged down the door, and there she was.  Or there they were.   There was Grace, Robert’s and Zadie’s oldest child.  Lying on a blood-soaked mattress, holding a very small newborn infant.

Robert was taken away immediately.  Grace and the baby to the hospital.  Zadie and Noah to the police station for questioning.  Zadie, an adept liar, made up an elaborate story of torture and abuse at the hands of her husband, rendering her too fearful to rescue her poor, defenseless daughter from the hands of her monstrous husband.  Noah refused to talk to the police, but quickly moved across the country to live with relatives.  He never spoke to his parents again.

Grace was sent to a facility for long-term treatment.  Robert was convicted of false imprisonment, rape, and a host of other perversions, sentenced to decades behind bars.  That left Zadie.  And the baby, a girl.  Named Elly.  Zadie, again, an adept liar, used her skills of persuasion to gain custody.  When the social worker placed her in her arms, the baby cooed.

“I’m going to get things right with you, I promise,” she told her.

Read Part 3 – Elly

War

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It was a gruesome sight.  One none of the people present would forget.  A woman, lying in the street, neck twisted, eyes veiny and bulged in terror, arms bent backward at an unnatural angle.  The smell of burnt rubber and smoke.  The distant sound of sirens.  It was a night they would all come back to, years and years later, trying to remember why things happened the way they did, while the true culprit still walked among them, in plain sight, as she always had.

One Hour Ago…

Amie

She pushed open the heavy double doors with a sigh and rushed down the corridor.   Late, as usual.   Maybe if she hadn’t sat for so long in the car, composing and the deleting a text to a man she very much wanted to hear from again, she wouldn’t have to rush.  It had been three days since their perfect first meeting and she still hadn’t heard from him.  Was it too soon to text him? Was it too late?  She didn’t understand the rules any longer.

She tripped over her ballet flat-wearing feet as she rushed into the crowded classroom.  It was Parent Night.  Normally she avoided this place like it was Chernobyl, all of the petty mommy politics and dumb competition made her crazy.  She’d volunteered for a grand total of one school event since she’d enrolled Simone here a year ago.  If these women wanted to squabble over whose child was in what percentile or scored higher on which test, have at it.  It wasn’t for her.  But, Parent Night was important.  She wanted to know how her darling daughter was doing.  She wanted to show her face to her teacher and the principal.

She gathered her long locs and piled them on top of her head,  pulling a bobby pin from her purse and pinning them in what she hoped was a somewhat neat bun.  She slid into a seat at the end of the last row, just before the teacher began to address the room.  She congratulated herself for arriving in the nick of time, not noticing the pair of dagger-shaped eyes pointed in her direction.

Sophia

“Look who decided to show up,” Sophia whispered to her seatmate, Fern.  Fern’s brow furrowed.  Sophia knew she wanted to keep her attention on the teacher at the front of the room, but Sophia wasn’t one to keep quiet when there was juicy gossip to dish out.  “It’s her.  Amie.”  Sophia spit the name out as though it were a disease.

“Oh, don’t worry about her,” shushed Fern.  “Tonight is about our children.  Their education.”

“It just bothers me, that’s all,” Sophia continued as though Fern hadn’t spoken at all.  “These young women.  Single.  Flitting around going on dates and whatnot.  Ignoring their responsibilities…”

“She’s here now.  Isn’t that what counts?”  Fern insisted as she tried to jot down a note about the next school field trip.

“The first event she’s been to all year, if you don’t count the class outing to the farm last fall.  Which I don’t.”

Fern sighed.  Sophia knew what she would say.  It was time to let it go.  She couldn’t.  She had only trying to be friendly.  Hospitable, even.  She’d volunteered at the farm outing too.  She’d seen Amie passing out snacks to the kids, in her ridiculous boho-chic outfit, waist-length dreadlocks and a hoop stuck through the cartilage of her nose, and her heart had gone out to her.  She was clueless.  She’d offered to take her under her experienced wings, since she had two older children who’d already graduated from the same elementary school and gone on to middle.  She could help her get on the PTA, into the best playgroups so her daughter could improve her social skills and make friends with the right children.  Amie smiled politely and told her that her schedule was too full to make time for the PTA.  She was raising her daughter alone.  Sophia didn’t give up, insisted that she make time in her schedule, her daughter’s very future was at stake.  Amie smiled again and thanked her, but said she thought Simone would be fine making friends on her own.  On the bus ride home, she overheard Amie whisper to Laurie that all the “mommy politics” at the school were insane.   Then they’d giggled like schoolgirls.  Laughing at her.

Then, to add insult to injury, that little anti-social Simone had the audacity to be selected for the gifted group, over her little Imogene.   She’d done all the right things. The right playgroups and classes and nursery schools starting from when Imogene was three months old.  And that lazy, no-good Amie’s daughter ends up in gifted.  The injustice!

Fern’s attention was solely on the teacher now.  She was losing her.  Time to pull out the heavy artillery.

“And you know why most of these single mothers come to these school events, anyway?”  Sophia whispered, leaning closer to Fern.  “To flirt with our husbands.  This is their breeding ground.  They leave us and go on with them and have more children.  We’re just forgotten.”

Fern didn’t respond verbally, but her body stiffened.  Sophia had seen the text from Fern’s husband Kevin, though she’d tried to shield the screen.  He was running late again. He might not make Parent Night.  He’d been working late quite a bit lately.  She’d seen the profound glare of disappointment in Fern’s eyes as she put the phone back in her purse.

“Could you please be quiet, Sophia?!”  Laurie, who was seated in the row in front of them, scolded.

“I’m so sorry, Laurie,” Sophia said insincerely.  “I know you want to hear every single word.”  It was a jab.  A cruel one. Laurie’s son, Connor, was repeating the first grade.  He was struggling with his reading comprehension and attention span.  There were whispers of learning disabilities, ADHD.  All of the mothers were outwardly sympathetic as good manners dictated, but inwardly, they were all thinking, thank goodness it’s her and not me.  She and that Amie had made fast friends of course.

Laurie stood up from her seat abruptly, causing the rusty metal legs to scrape against the linoleum.  The teacher stumbled over her words as Laurie stomped out of the classroom, her eyes tight, drawn, and angry.

Fern

Does Sophia know?  Fern had told no one about Kevin’s affair.  If you could call it an affair.  It was a dalliance really.  Some woman in an airport bar when he was on a layover somewhere in the Midwest.  A layover.  She’d laughed hysterically at the absurdity of that term after Kevin had confessed his indiscretion.  Kevin had stared at her as though she were insane.  It was a year ago and they’d put it behind them, for their boys, Sam and Matt.  At least Fern had said she’d put it behind her.  But she wondered if there were others.  She wondered why he’d strayed.  Why she wasn’t enough?  Of course Kevin had given all of the right answers.  But she knew he was lying.  She knew it.  Too many late nights at work and extended business trips ever since the beginning of their marriage.  He was a liar.  Too smooth, too charming, too rebellious.  The kind of guy that was never interested in a woman like her, a lifelong good girl.  From the first day they’d met, she’d been hopelessly and pathetically addicted.

The teacher concluded her remarks and now the parents were invited to mingle and partake of the display of coffee and pastries on the front table.  Fern needed to speak to the teacher about her youngest son, Matt, but first, she needed some fresh air.  And to get away from Sophia.  Bitter, meddling, Sophia.

She leaned against a window in the front corridor, rapidly sending a text to Kevin.

Where r u?  We need to talk to the teacher about Matt.

She saw a flash of movement from the corner of her eye, and glanced out the window.  There was her husband on the front steps, talking to young, single, beautiful Amie.  And something inside her exploded.

Laurie

That Sophia!  Laurie cursed her name as she sobbed into her hands.  She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her tiny blue Toyota weeping for her son.  Her gorgeous boy, with his dark curls and huge brown eyes, so dark they were almost black.  He was struggling.  It broke her heart to see him work so hard, to try to make the words and letters on the paper make sense to no avail.  She’d taken him to so many specialists, with no luck.  But, she was hopeful. One day, someone would tell her how to help her son.

To add insult to injury, Connor was being bullied on the playground.  Stupid, idiot, retard.  The names he repeated to her through tears at the end of the schoolday.  She didn’t blame the children.  It was the parents.  The kids had heard their whispers about the boy who’d been held back.  According to Connor, Imogene, Sophia’s Imogene, was the ringleader.  The head bully. She would likely grow up to be a woman every bit as nasty and horrible as her mother.  Laurie was tired of cowering in the corner while the Sophias of the world ran everyone over.  How could she teach her son to fight back when she was in the car, crying like a little girl?

She turned the ignition and put the car in drive.  The tires squealed as she pulled out of her parking space, headed for the roundabout in front of the school.  She could see Sophia standing in front of the doors.  She was going to finally give her a piece of her mind.  She’d zip up to the curb, jump out of the car like a madwoman and stalk right up to Sophia, stand nose to nose with her and scream.

Amie

Amie had left the room discreetly after Laurie stormed out, in search of her friend.  But Laurie was too fast.  By the time she’d reached the front corridor, she’d vanished.  Amie had gone out the double doors, searching the front steps for Laurie, but instead, she’d laid eyes on the man she called The Elusive Stranger.  The handsome man she’d met at the bar days ago.  The one who’d kissed her breath away in the alley behind said bar.  It sounded seedy but in reality it had actually been quite sexy and romantic.  He’d handed her a business card with his work and mobile numbers quietly before telling her goodbye.

His name was Kevin, she saw it on his business card once she got in her car at the end of the night, her knees still trembling.  And now he was here, at Simone’s school.  It was incredibly surreal.

“What are you doing here?”

Kevin looked up, staring at her as though she were an alien beamed down from some foreign galaxy.

“Uhhh…my um…” he sputtered, not nearly as smooth as he was the night of their meeting.

“Do you have kids that go here?”

He nodded, his eyes nervously on the door.

“Wow, me too!  I have a daughter in first grade.  Small world!  How old are your kids?”

That’s when she heard it.  A scream.  Then the claws on the back of her neck. She was shoved.  She lost her balance and stumbled to the ground, her chin hitting the cement sidewalk.

“Why are you talking to my husband?!!!”

Amie stood, dusting herself off, looking into the eyes of Fern, that withdrawn, mousy woman who always went around with Sophia.

“Husband?”  Amie turned to Kevin incredulously.  “You’re married!”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know you little slut!”  Fern shouted.  “And you!”  Fern turned her attention to Kevin.  “You’re a liar!  You do this here!  Where our children go to school?!  You disgust me!”  She leaped at him, clawing at his eyeballs.  Kevin cried out in pain.  Amie, who couldn’t abide the sight of any kind of violence, tried to pull Fern off him, which only infuriated Fern further.  She shrugged Amie off, sending her into the bushes next to the front steps.  The sharp motion caused Fern to lose her balance, sending her toppling into the street, just as Laurie zoomed into the roundabout at full speed, well over the 5 mph speed limit for the school parking lot.  The sound of the impact was sickening.  Bones cracking, Fern’s screaming, the crunch of her skull as it hit the pavement.  Laurie leaped out of the car and fell to her knees next to Fern’s crumpled form, screaming noiselessly as Kevin and Amie watched, frozen in silence.

Sophia

She’d been standing in the doorway.  She followed Fern.  She was going to try and get her to come back.  But then she’d seen it.  Fern enraged.  Leaping at Amie, then at Kevin.  Teeth bared, claws out, like an animal.  She’d seen it.  She stood in the shadows and watched, recording every moment.  She could repeat it to everyone who asked her to re-tell it.  Which they would, many times, for years and years to come.

She stayed there as people rushed past her after hearing the commotion.  As they stood in the roundabout over poor Fern’s lifeless body, cell phones out, screaming at the 911 operator to hurry.  She didn’t come out until the police cars and ambulances roared into the parking lot.  She walked down the front steps slowly, carefully, then approached a self-important-looking detective.  He must be the one in charge.

“Officer,” she said, trying to suppress her smile of satisfaction, the warm churning of pleasure in her middle.  “I saw it all.  I’ll tell you everything.”

I Hate Romantic Comedies

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“So tell me again why you hate rom-coms so much?”  My guy best friend Wyatt is stretched out on my couch as I lie on the floor, throwing popcorn in my mouth.

“Because,” I begin, “they’re ridiculous.  Each one follows the same formula.  Act One – two people who are absolutely perfect for each other but are too stupid to know it meet, or maybe they already know each other, who knows.  There’s some dumb obstacle to keep them from being together.  Finally, they hook up.  Act Two – bliss, we’re treated to romantic montages of them rolling around in pristine white sheets…”

“Ew!”

I throw a popcorn kernel at him.  “…running through fields of daisies, having long romantic dinners, sunset walks on the beach, then he does something that the airhead female character deems Unforgivable, but really isn’t that big of deal.  Act Three – all of the female character’s friends tell her to take the guy back, which she stubbornly ignores.  Until the male character performs A Declaration of Love so stupidly melodramatic, she can’t ignore it.  It usually ends with them kissing in the rain.  A perfect way to catch pneumonia if you ask me.”

“So, Lil, since you’re a movie expert, what movie should we watch this evening?”  Wyatt and I have a standing Monday night date, a platonic date, mind you, to watch movies and veg out.  It’s my turn to pick.  It’s been the same tradition since we met in college 10 years ago.

“My favorite,  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

He groans.  “Is this another one of your psychological thrillers?”

“No!  It’s a love story.  An imaginative love story.  Not some brainless rom-com.”

I put the movie on and Wyatt sits up to make space on the couch for me.  He moves close, our hands are touching.  My stomach swoops, but I turn to him to make some sarcastic remark, asking him to move over, when he kisses me.   It’s gentle and sweet and perfect and I say nothing when it’s over.  I just lean into him and watch the rest of the movie.  He smells like his favorite spearmint gum and aftershave.  We’re quiet until the end credits roll.

“So, what did you think?” I ask him dreamily.

He sighs, “Meh.”  Then he reaches for me again, presumably for another kiss.  I jump up from the couch.

“What do you mean, meh?  This is my favorite movie!  It’s brilliant.”

“So the two main characters get back together in the end knowing that the relationship is just going to probably lead to another disastrous breakup?”

“It’s profound.  They love each other enough they’re willing to risk it.”

“Whatever, I don’t get it.”  He rubs the space on the sofa where I was just sitting.  “Sit down.”

“Get out!”  I point to the front door.

“Seriously?  You’re throwing me out because of a movie?”

“Not just any movie.  My all-time favorite.

After he leaves I text my girl best friend, Roxy.

Wyatt kissed me.

What!  I have been waiting for you guys to get together since forever.  You’re perfect for each other.

Well, don’t hold your breath, I just threw him out.  He hated Eternal Sunshine.

Lil, you are so ridiculous.  You can’t just dismiss a guy because he has a different taste in movies.

Not just any movie.  The movie

Whatever, Lil.  I have to go.  You’re on my nerves.

I put the phone down and think.  Am I the stupid girl in every romantic comedy ever made?  If people were watching the movie of my life right now, would they be screaming at the screen in frustration?  I text Wyatt.

I’m sorry.  I guess I like, love you or whatever.  Don’t lose your mind.

He doesn’t respond.  I put the phone down again, dejected, and turn on the television.  Only I could manage to piss off my two closest friends on the same night.  Once I settle in for a night of Netflix, I hear loud music coming from outside.  He didn’t.

I run to the window.  Wyatt is holding his ipod speaker over his head, which is playing my favorite song, And I Love Her.  I burst through the front door and fly down the steps, leaping at him, causing him to stumble and drop the speaker on the ground.  He laughs and kisses me again, just as raindrops begin to fall.

“Are we really kissing in the rain?”  I ask, chuckling as droplets splash against our faces.

“Looks that way.”  He smiles at me.

I shrug and lean into him again.

Hope I don’t catch pneumonia. 

 

 

 

 

Thursday Thriller – The River

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“Charley!  You came.”  My mother greets me with a dry kiss on the cheek.  She looks older than the last time I was here, mere months ago.  Her brown eyes are dull and tired with dark circles underneath.  But still, her jet black hair is straightened and pulled back tightly in a perfect bun.  She smiles as she welcomes me.

“Hi Mom.”  I set my bag down in the foyer.  The place hasn’t changed.  Peeling floral wallpaper behind the front desk.  Faded carpet with familiar stains.  I look at the one from the grape juice I spilled, chasing my sister Isla through the lobby when I was eight.

Isla. No one has seen her in 15 years.  She’d vanished the summer before I went to college.  The summer between Isla’s sophomore and junior years of university.   She’d walked through the front door and never returned.

I hate coming back here.  The B&B only has one or two guests at a time. Mom is more than able to handle the running of it on her own.  I am only back today because Mom has something important to tell me, something that couldn’t be relayed over the phone or by email, according to her.

She takes me into the drawing room, pulling the doors shut behind us.  The room smells stuffy.  Mom’s antiques could use a good dusting.  The books and board games don’t appear to have been utilized by a guest in years.  She sits down across from me after I refuse her offers of tea or water.

“Charlotte,” she begins, and I stiffen.  She hasn’t used my full name in 15 years.  “I need to tell you something.”

“What is it, Mom?”  I ask, trying not to sound impatient.

She pauses, putting her hand on her chest, which is heaving.  “It was me, Charlotte.”

“What?  What are you talking about?”

“It was me….Isla…..going missing…it was me…”

I put my head in my hands in frustration.  “Mom, what are you talking about?”  I ask through my fingers.   “Of course you didn’t hurt Isla.”

“Look at me, Charlotte.”  Her voice is so shaky it alarms me.

I let out a long breath and face her.  She turns to look out of the window, the afternoon sunlight hitting her face in such a way that she appears ethereal, otherworldly.  “You know Isla went out that night…”

I nod.  “With Blake Loughton.”  The Loughton family had been our neighbors since Isla and I were little girls.  Blake and Isla had dated off and on for years.  Something always seemed to rekindle between them when they returned to town each summer.

Mom shakes her head.  “Not with Blake.  They had broken up the day before, for good.”

“Really?”  She never told me that.  But we weren’t especially close that summer.  Isla had seemed to age a decade during the year she’d been away.   Everything that interested me was beneath her and pedestrian.  For the first time ever in our relationship, she made me feel like the annoying little sister, in the way and unwanted.  “But Blake told the cops they were together that night.  That she was at their place watching a movie.”

“I asked him to say that.  I thought it would be easier that way.  I didn’t want to damage Isla’s reputation.  Or humiliate myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“Isla had a date with someone else that night.  She wouldn’t tell me who.  But I found out.  I heard her coming home.  I saw him drop her off.”  She pauses, putting her hand over her mouth as though she is afraid to let the words come out.  “It was John.”

I gasp.  John Shipman and my mother had dated for years, throughout almost all of my adolescence.   He was what my mother called an elegant man, refined, a sharp dresser, well-educated and well-traveled.  They had even been engaged for a time, but Mom ultimately decided she didn’t want to become someone’s wife again.  They remained friends, but everyone, including Isla, knew Mom still carried a torch for him.

“What did you do?”  My legs are trembling.  I imagine what Mom must have felt, seeing her daughter with the man she still loved, the black rage.

“I confronted her as soon as she came in.  She had too much to drink.  She smelled like wine.  Was stumbling around, yelling at me like a maniac.  Saying…terrible…things.  Things I won’t repeat.  But then…she told me that John never cared for me…that they’d…laughed at me…all during  their…their…date…” she spits out the last word with disgust.  “…I lunged for her.”

“Oh my God, Mom…”

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she’s sobbing now.  “I was out of control.  My hands were around her throat.  She hit me and managed to get away  but I chased her.  I was so…enraged…I couldn’t see anything else.”  She pauses.  When she speaks again, her voice is soft, barely above a whisper.   “She ran through the woods, to the river.  I pushed her and she fell into the water.  She hit her head on a rock and her body just went limp.  The water washed her away.”

I grip the edge of my chair as my stomach churns.  “I’m going to be sick!”  I run to the nearby powder room and gag.

When I return, I sit across from her again, still in shock. “Why?  She was my sister.  She wasn’t perfect but she was my sister.  You said she was drunk.  Who knows if what she said was even true?”  It’s my turn to sob.

“I’m so sorry.”  Tears fall as she hugs her body, rocking back and forth.

“Why are you telling me this now?”  I am breathless, clutching my chest, as she opens a wooden engraved box sitting on the glass coffee table and pulls out folded sheet of plain white paper.   Before I open it, I recognize the elegant, slanted handwriting.  It’s Isla’s.

“When did you get this?”

My mother’s eyes are huge as she stares at the letter, as though she’s seeing it for the first time.  She wrings her hands.

“It came in the mail last week.”

An hour later,  I am prostrate on my bed, a cool cloth covering my forehead.   I’m in the room I grew up in, which has been converted to a guest suite, The Blue Room.  Mom clearly took the theme seriously.  A midnight blue duvet covers the bed, the walls are periwinkle, sky blue porcelain elephants cover the side table, which is topped by a aqua doily of course.  Tacky, but the decor is somewhat calming.

Isla is on the way.  Isla is on the way.   I say the words out loud and almost start to laugh, they sound so ridiculous.  I wonder why she never contacted me.  The letter said that she’d come to in the river, miles away from home.  She ran through the woods to the road, hitchhiking out of town.  She’d been living out of state all this time, under a new identity, working odd jobs to make ends meet.

I get her not wanting to contact Mom, but why not me?  What had I done to her but try and be her sister?  She hadn’t mentioned me in her note at all.  I told Mom I have no desire to see Isla or speak to her once she arrives, and she made no effort to convince me otherwise.

There is a knock downstairs.  The slow creak of the ancient front door opening.  I hear the familiar high lilt of Isla’s voice.  It is unchanged, after all these years, like her penmanship.  At first the rhythm of her voices is easy, peaceful.  But the tones eventually get more urgent.  There is a loud crash, and I jump from bed.   I tiptoe down the stairs and cross the small lobby, placing my ear against the kitchen door.

“You owe me!” Isla yells.  “You tried to kill me!”

“Let me make it right,” Mom pleads.  “Give me time.  I don’t have anything to give you anymore.  Everything’s gone.  I’ve had some troubles, financially.”

“I don’t believe you.”  I hear the click of footsteps.  Isla coming closer to Mom, intimidating her.  “And now everyone will know what you really are.”

She bursts through the kitchen doors, shocked to see me standing on the other side.  “Char…”

I grab the candelabra sitting on the front desk and slam it into her forehead.  She withers to the ground, her skull crushed.

Once it is dark, we carry her through the woods, to the river, returning her to the water.  I put my arm around my mother’s shoulders as we watch her float away.  We stand there for a long time, not speaking, staring at the water, united in a secret.

Jade’s Tune

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We don’t need love.  You are our pain.  You lost our trust.  You are our shame.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!”  Blue wailed until her throat was scratchy as a familiar voice sang those lyrics over the loudspeaker.  Her lyrics.  It was her song.  She wrote it.  She was a founding member of The Revolution, an all-girl rock band that was currently taking the world by storm.  She should be with them, out on tour.  Last she checked, they were in London.  She screamed again, kicking over a display of potato chips.  How dare they vote her out.

“Hey!” The gas station manager yelled.  “You clean that up or you pay for it.”

“I got it.  I got it.”  Blue rolled her eyes and righted the shelves, lining up the cellophane bags, playing her own melody in her head to block out any other sounds.  She felt a gentle tap on her shoulder.

“Could I have one of those?”  A young girl stood behind her, maybe 16, hugely pregnant.  Her face was dotted with acne, greasy red hair haphazardly pulled up into a messy bun.

“Sure.”  She tossed her a bag of sour cream and onion.

“My favorite.  It’s all I eat lately.”

Blue nodded, returning to her work.  She heard the girl make her purchase; she hummed a melody Blue didn’t recognize as she waited for the cashier to make change.  There was a jingle of the bell above the door as she left again.  Blue saw through the window as the girl walked down the dark alley that ran beside the gas station.  She dropped the last bag on the ground and ran outside, ignoring the protests of the manager.

“You don’t have a ride home?”  Blue asked her, breathless, once she reached her side.

She shook her head.  “I’m right around the  corner.”

“But still, this isn’t a very safe neighborhood.  Especially at night.”

The girl shrugged.  “It’s not so bad.  I’ve seen worse.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jade.”

“I’m Blue.”  The sound of police cars racing past, sirens blasting, momentarily interrupted them.  “So, Jade, are you from around here?”

She shook her head.  “I’m from Miami.  When my mom found out I was pregnant… she said I had to go…”

“So you’re here all by yourself?”

“My friend’s mom took me in.  I’m sleeping on the couch for now.”

“What about the…errr…father…?”

“He doesn’t care.”

“So you’re just going to raise this baby all by yourself?”

“Looks that way.”  She came to a stop in front of a crumbling brick building.  “Anyway, this is me.  Thanks for walking me home.”

“Sure.”

Blue watched as Jade waddled toward the rickety steps.  “Wait!”  Jade stopped, waiting while Blue ran down the dusty walkway.  “What was that song you were humming back at the store?”

“Just something I made up.  Something I do to pass the time.”

After seeing Jade to her door and adding her phone number to her contacts, with promises to hang out soon, Blue walked back to her car, humming Jade’s tune, a  new skip in her step.

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip

Inspired by this week’s Story A Day prompt.

Angie’s long shift was finally over.  She stretched her legs and poked her bare feet out of the open car window, enjoying the breeze as the cars and trees whipped by.  Her mom told her she was crazy to post a flyer at the college looking for someone to share a ride across the country.  What if a crazy person responds? 

Angie thought that most people would consider her to be the crazy person.  She insisted on taking her large German Shepherd, Susie, with her.  A retired police dog, she looked scary but was as docile as a lamb.  At the moment, Susie was curled up on the back seat, snoozing, seeming to smile in her sleep.  After a long life of forced labor, Angie wanted Susie to enjoy her golden years.  She had a bag full of homemade snacks for Susie at her feet, and insisted they stop every two hours so Susie could go for a short walk.  She worried she’d get claustrophobic stuck in the car all those hours unless they took frequent breaks.

Joe agreed to all of her terms.  He was the only person to respond.  The only person going the same direction she was.  He said finding her flyer was destiny, telling him it was time to finally meet his true love, starshinegal08 aka Mara.  They’d been playing StarShine, an online game, for years alongside each other.  Their avatars had been on countless adventures together.  They’d spent hours chatting late into the night about their lives.  But they’d had yet to lay eyes on each other.  Not even a picture.  Mara thought that would make it more romantic when they saw each other in person.

On the side of the highway, waving frantically, was a girl wearing a dress covered in pink feathers and clear high heeled shoes that increased her diminutive height by at least five inches.  Her white blond hair was in what Angie believed was called a bouffant, piled high and unmoving, despite her efforts to flag them down.  It was a either a gravity-defying freak of nature or benefiting from an obscene amount of hairspray.  Angie noticed Joe was slowing down, that the car was veering to the right.

“What are you doing??!!”  Angie sat upright.

Joe shrugged.  “She looks like she needs help.”

“She could be deranged!”

“Does she look dangerous?”

“Neither did Ted Bundy…” Angie mumbled under her breath as the car came to a stop.  The girl leaned in the open window.

“Thank y’all so much for stoppin’!”  She spoke in a Southern drawl.  “I was on a cross country bus trip with the Miss Magonlia USA pageant.  I’m Miss Georgia Magnolia…” she indicated her pale pink sash “…and well there was some trouble on the bus and I seem to have lost my ride.  Could I trouble y’all for a ride to the next town?  I hear there’s a bus station.”

“They ditched you?”  Joe asked.

The pageant queen lowered her eyes and nodded.

I wonder why, Angie thought, crossing her arms.

“That’s horrible!”  Joe was incredulous, clearly unaware of all the ways girls like that employed to torture each other.  “Sure we can give you a ride.  If you don’t mind sharing the backseat with Susie.”

“Oh, I just adore dogs! I don’t mind at all.”  She scurried around the front of the car and hopped in the backseat, while Angie glared at him.

“It’s just for a few miles.”  Joe insisted.

Susie sleepily eyed her new seatmate, before closing her eyes and putting her head on her lap.

“Where are my manners!  My name’s Lola.  Really Magnolia, but everyone calls me Lola.  Mama knew when I was in the womb I was gonna be Miss Magnolia USA.”

“Hi Lola.  I’m Joe and this is Angie.”

“Nice to meet y’all!  Thanks so much again!  I don’t know what I would have done if y’all hadn’t come along…”

Lola’s damsel in distress act was growing thin, so Angie popped in her earbuds and turned up the volume, letting Adele lull her to sleep.

She woke again when she felt the car come to a stop, opening her eyes to see a huge hot dog statue in towering in front of her.  Home of the Six Foot Hot Dog!  The sign above the statue declared.

“Lola was hungry,” Joe offered as explanation when he noticed Angie’s confusion.

Well, we can’t have America’s Sweetheart’s stomach grumbling.  Angie stumbled from the car, opening the door to let Susie out as Joe and Lola made their way inside the diner.  After walking Susie, Angie went inside to peruse the menu, noticing that the only item that accommodated her vegetarian diet were the french fries.  She ordered a large basket of fries with a soda and reluctantly joined Joe and Lola.  At least the fries were perfect, hot, crisp and salty.  She noticed Joe seemed distressed as she sat.

“…so you’ve never seen this girl, this Mara?”  Lola asked, a cruel twist to her voice

Joe shook his head.

“…not even a picture?”

“She thought it was…romantic, I guess…”

Lola screamed with laughter, her hot dog forgotten.  “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh, but that is just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  But I mean, I guess that’s the only way some people can meet…”

Joe winced.

“..and you.”  Lola turned to face Angie.  “Driving cross country so your dog can see the ocean for the first time?”

“You told her?!”  Angie yelled at Joe.

“She asked where we were headed.  I didn’t think you’d mind…”

“I’m sorry, but that is just the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard.  A vacation with your dog.  At least Joe has someone to meet at the end of this trip.  Allegedly.”  Lola brazenly grabbed a french fry from Angie’s basket before hopping up.  “I need to go to the ladies’ room and then we can get back on the road.  Y’all excuse me.”

Lola sashayed down the aisle to the restrooms, reveling in all the male attention she received along the way.

Joe tried to wipe his wet eyes without Angie noticing.  She noticed, but didn’t say anything.  He’d been humiliated enough.  Instead, she said, “Let’s ditch her!”

“What?”  Joe asked, a smile slowly forming across his face.

“You heard me.  Let’s go.  Come on, hurry!”

She grabbed his hand and they ran back out to the car.  Susie was roused from sleep as they screeched out of their parking spot.  Lola burst through the front door, screaming some language very unbecoming of a Miss Magnolia USA at the retreating car.  Joe and Angie laughed so hard their stomachs hurt.

“Oops,” Joe said a mile down the road, still chuckling.

“What?”  Angie asked, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.

“I think we left her with the bill.”

The Middle Table

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Middle Seat.”

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My entire body relaxed as I entered the cool quiet of the coffee shop.  The electricity that crackled in my brain as I’d navigated busy city traffic at lunch hour began to subside.  The tension in my shoulders eased.  Unplugged.  I sought out this quiet, out-of-the-way place because very few people knew of it.  I’d just happened to stumble across it one day; the way I’ve found most of my favorite places.

The owner and employees kept to themselves, the decor was simple, long dark tables, plain white chairs, little art work.  Classic jazz played softly through the speakers.  Plus the coffee was outstanding.  Not trying too hard like the uber-trendy place down the street with bright art work clogging the walls, loud top 40 movie blaring, teeming with hipsters and teens.

I ordered my usual, then settled at in a dark corner in the back with my laptop.  I needed to write.  I was taking a creative writing course and had an assignment due that evening that I hadn’t even started.  A 200 word short story.  As soon as I opened my laptop and took a sip of my cappuccino, the door swung open.  I looked up briefly, expecting to see another regular customer, but an unfamiliar woman stood in the doorway.   She was tall, thin in a fashionable way, wearing all black, a shift dress with expensive boots, minimal jewelry, black hair sleekly blown out.  She could have been a model.  It was obvious she wasn’t a native Atlantan, and that she was probably lost.  She looked like someone who would be more comfortable at the coffee shop a few blocks away.

Her phone bleated loudly, causing the peace-loving owner to look up from her paper and stare her down.  She didn’t appear to get the message since she answered it loudly, clomping over to the front counter.  If she actually was a model she clearly didn’t work the runways like Gisele.  After going through every item on the menu and asking the owner the describe every ingredient in excruciating detail, in between screaming into the phone, she decided on a vanilla latte.

I popped in my earbuds, even though there was no sound coming through them at the moment, and pulled my hoodie over my hair.  It was the universal signal of writers and introverts everywhere.  Don’t talk to me.

Still, despite the fact that it was mid-day during the work week and the cafe was vastly empty, she chose the table next to me, continuing her excessively loud conversation with a person I assumed was her boyfriend.

“Where are you!”  she screeched.  “My feet are killing me.  I’ve been walking all over the place, I can’t find the restaurant!”

“What do you mean!”

“I flew all the way here just to see you!  I took the week off!”

“I don’t want to wait until tomorrow!”

“Your mom!”

“I knew that woman didn’t like me!  She planned this on purpose!  She’s probably not even in the hospital!”

“Well take a picture of her and send it to me!”

“Why not…”

It was at that point that my mood changed from annoyed to inspired.  And I remembered one of the greatest tools at my disposal as a writer – people watching!   My fingers began to tingle as I poised them above the keyboard, a story forming in my brain.  A long-distance romance between a feisty Italian model and mild-mannered photographer gone awry.  Maybe won’t be a masterpiece, but at least I would have something to turn in when I got to class that night.

I turned on some music and started to write.