A Grain

woman sad

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

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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

Thursday Thriller – Wallflower

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“Name?”  Meredith Skinner asks me as I approach the check-in desk.  Of course, she would be the one bossing everyone around, still. She wears a placid smile, no recognition in her eyes.  She’s probably already dismissed me mentally, reasoning if she doesn’t remember me, I must not have been worth knowing.    Not much has changed.

“Casey Thompson.”

The color drains from her face as she looks down at the basket full of pre-printed name badges, fumbling through them with none of the grace she always pretended to have when we were in school.

“Errr…I don’t…uhhh…see you here…” she stammers, her breaths coming quickly.

“It’s fine.”  I pick up one of the blank badges probably reserved for spouses and plus-ones and quickly fill in my name, sticking it to the front of my red dress proudly.  “Good to see you, Mer.”  I smile at her before entering the ballroom.  I think she’s on the verge of hyperventilation.

No one recognizes me at first, but I know them so well.  There’s Tommy Frazier, the former jock, standing next to Laura Brooks, well, it’s probably Frazier now too.  I read on the alumni website they’d gotten married right after high school.  There’s Tiff Stanton and Delia Jones, the party girls, out on the dance floor with guys I’m assuming are their husbands, but with Delia and Tiff, who really knows.  In the corner of the room, nursing a drink, is Cat Fiore, my high school bestie, who I hear is some do-gooder type now, running a charity that gets clean drinking water to people in third-world countries.  Penance.

I decide I need a drink if I’m really going to do this and head straight to the bar.  I haven’t even signaled the bartender yet when greasy Charles Macklin takes a seat next to me.   He was a player in high school, always chasing girls.  I don’t see a ring on his finger, so he must still be up to his old ways.

“Hello.”  He adds 100 L’s.  He smells like too much cologne and I wrinkle my nose, stifling a sneeze.

“Hi.”

“Are you here with someone?  I’m sure I would have remembered you if we were in school together.”

“You don’t remember me, Charlie?”  I ask, enjoying his look of confusion.

“Should I?”  He motions for the bartender.  “I’ll have a beer and she’ll take a…”

“Martini.  Dry.  Extra olives.”

He turns back to me proudly as though I should be grateful.  It is an open bar.

“So, why don’t I remember you?  Were you one of those late-bloomer types?  A wallflower?”  He chuckles.

“Well, I was a bit shy, but I’m sure you remember me, Charlie.  It’s me, Casey.”

I see him mentally scrolling through a list of all the Caseys he knows, having already decided I couldn’t be THAT Casey.

“Casey…”

“Casey Thompson.”

The bartender returns with our drinks but he doesn’t notice.  He mumbles some excuse about needing to talk to someone and rushes away, nearly knocking over a stool in his wake.  I notice he makes a beeline for Cat, whose eyes widen in surprise as he whispers in her ear urgently.

Of course they’re all shocked and running scared.  These people all thought I was lost forever, which is to be expected, since they left me for dead.

Read Part 2 – Smoke

 

 

New Girl

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It didn’t take him very long to realize something wasn’t right.  The address she’d given him wasn’t for a restaurant, but a private home.  Anya answered the door almost immediately.

“Simon!  You made it!”  She was just as beautiful as her profile pic, if not more.  “Make yourself comfortable.”  She scurried back to the kitchen.

A framed photo caught his eye.  The chubby, sad girl behind the glass somehow familiar.  They’d gone to school together.  He reddened, remembering how he’d treated her.

“I figured you wouldn’t recognize me.” Anya stood in the doorway.

“Why have me come here?”

“Are you really asking that?”

Simon looked down at his shoes, high school memories rushing over him.

“I’m sorry, Anya.  I really am.”

She nodded.

“I have to go.”

Later, she  opened her high school yearbook and drew a dark line through Simon’s photo.

“Five down, five to go,” she whispered.

 

Written for the Miniature Writing Challenge

Anonymous

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“Nothing is ever as easy as it looks on TV.  Losing weight is hard.”

“Well,  Heather-236, that’s because you’re lazy,” Maura typed in response, her fingers slamming into the keys so violently her elbow accidentally knocked a stack of children’s books from her desk to the floor.  “You hamplanets disgust me!”  All of these losers, commenting on an article about a plus-size model’s struggles in the industry. This one in particular, Heather-236, was so effusive in her support it was disgusting.

Most people who knew Maura in real life would be shocked if they read the things she wrote online, under a veil of anonymity.  Maybe that was why she did it.  It was how she kept calm at work.  Her job was basically managing one meltdown after the other.  Teaching preschool wasn’t for the faint of heart.  Thankfully, the little darlings were at recess at the moment.

“Maura, I think we need to talk.”

She looked up, startled.  She hadn’t heard Sarah, her boss, enter the room.  Sarah slid a print-out of all Maura’s online activity for the past few days across the desk and something flashed in Maura’s mind.  The nameplate on Sarah’s desk.  Sarah H. Murray.

“Sarah, what’s your middle name?”

She pursed her lips.  “I think you already know.”

For Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner

Wildflower

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The Reclining Gentleman

Tara noticed the flower every morning on her walk to the bus stop.  Sprouting through the cracks in the concrete sidewalk, it bloomed, arching toward the sky.  She imagined herself far away from this hopeless neighborhood, somewhere beautiful.

“Hey!” Nia, a notorious bully, called to her.  Tara ignored her, as usual, as her mother had taught her to do. Nia shoved her, causing her to stumble.  Everyone laughed.  It wasn’t their laughter that incensed Tara.  It was the sight of those yellow petals, crushed under Nia’s sneakered foot.  Tara closed her eyes, clenched her fist, and swung into the darkness.

For Friday Fictioneers

 

Harm

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A girl had fallen in the snow.  Sara ran down the road, breathless, wanting to help.  There was no one else around.  People were locked up inside their homes, waiting out the storm.  When the girl looked up with a grimace, Sara gasped. It was Taylor Stokes.  Taylor was the reason why she’d had to change schools. The reason why she’d cried herself to sleep every night her freshman year. The reason for the jagged scars on the inside of her arm.

They limped slowly down the street to Sara’s warm house.  When they came through the door, Sara’s mother, Faye, was waiting.  She hadn’t seen Taylor since that awful day in the principal’s office.  The morning after she’d caught Sara with the nail scissors.  They’d moved to a new school district to keep the two girls apart.  And now here she was, in their home, needing help.

Faye iced Taylor’s ankle and elevated it, then called her mother, who said she would be there shortly.

“What were you doing out there in the storm?”  Faye asked.  Taylor looked sheepish.  They realized suddenly, she was there to do something nasty.  There had been little pranks, every once and a while, since Sara had moved.  A rude name spray-painted on the garage door or the driveway, an egg splattered on the car.  Faye said nothing.  Taylor’s mom arrived shortly after, full of humility and gratitude, and then they were gone.

“Why did you help her?”  Sara asked Faye later.

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

That night, Sara reached for the secret pair of scissors she kept under her mattress and threw them away.

For Sunday Photo Fiction

 

 

Mermaids

girl reading

I love books.  Today’s story day at the library.  I have to walk.  Mom would drive me but she has to work today.  So does Dad. I put the books I need to return in my backpack, pull my hood over my head to block the wind and the rain.  I ignore the girls on the street who call me names, ugly, dark, nerdy, weird, nappy-head, it’s all background noise.  One of them tries to grab my bag.  I dart away and they all laugh.

I make it inside just as story time is starting.  The book today is a fantasy, my favorite.  A new world where mermaids rule, where girls float on the backs of gentle sea monsters, staring up at the stars.  I glance outside and see my tormentors, staring at me, waiting for me to come out.  I’ll have to wait until mom gets off so she can drive me home.  Or maybe Miss Ashley, the librarian, will take me.  She’s done it before. I’m her favorite.  Until then, I’ll close my eyes, listen, and float away.

The Outcast

Read Odd Girl Out

It hadn’t been easy.   But on the other hand, it had been.  Every time she looked down at her scar.  A constant reminder that drove her rage.  A year of planning, but a full 12 months really hadn’t been necessary.  She could have organized this in a week.  Teenage girls were so easily manipulated.  Made-up rumors about ex-boyfriends and cruel gossip repeated to the right people.  Messages and pictures flying over state lines.  All set into motion by her.  The girl they’d dismissed as nothing.  So quickly, they’d all turned on Scarlett.  The girl who’d been their leader last summer.  They all really deserved payback.  But she reserved her hatred for Scarlett.  The queen bee.  The one who stared at her the day she walked through the cabin door last summer with disgust in her eyes before there’d even been one word spoken between them.  It was Scarlett who excluded her.  Who decided she didn’t deserve a chance.

She sat on her bed, waiting for Scarlett to arrive.  She’d made sure they’d be co-counselors this year.  She’d arranged it months ago.  The other girls, now her soldiers, waited quietly upstairs for their orders.  The door swung open and she could see sunny, perfect Scarlett was confused when she saw her perched on the bed. She didn’t think I’d come back.

Maggie looked up the steps and gave Laina the signal.  She thought she’d feel fear, or guilt, even empathy, as she watched Scarlett’s former friends ambush her, as Scarlett screamed silently, pointlessly, but she felt nothing.  Maybe Scarlett wasn’t the only monster.