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

The Other Shoe

promenade

Syd walked along the promenade, pulling her jacket tighter.  Her mood was pensive, introspective, that chilly spring morning. The sky was a clear, brilliant blue. The wind blowing off the water was fresh and invigorating, but frigid.  She had reason to feel apprehensive.  Her stepsisters were on their way.

How silly she’d been when her father had remarried, so excited at the prospect of having sisters after being an only child her entire life. She’d imagined late nights, giggling in the dark, secrets and stories flying rapidly across their shared bedroom, movie marathons, building a sisterhood that would last a lifetime.

What actually happened was that her father’s new wife took one look at Syd and decided she was common, beneath her, and it didn’t take long for her daughters to adopt her view. They took pleasure in making her life miserable, with their daily name-calling and cruel pranks.  Syd’s most painful memory was the day she came home from school to find all of her clothes torn and damaged by bleach, including a special gown that had been left to her by her mother.

After her father died, she’d practically become their servant. All the chores – laundry, cooking, cleaning, gardening, fell on her shoulders. It was clear, Mina and Piper were on one side, she on the other.

She had a new life now, attending college on scholarship, dating a great guy, one that Mina and Piper had also both been interested in, at their mother’s insistence, due to his pedigree. When Syd and William started dating after she moved to the dorms, her stepsisters had started ignoring her completely. Syd hated to admit it, but she’d enjoyed the peace.  What could they possibly want now?

They were approaching her, steaming cups of coffee in their hands, their pale cheeks flushed red from the cold, wisps of their identical red hair blowing in their faces. She’d heard their mother had moved away, marrying another wealthy man after squandering Syd’s father’s fortune, calling her daughters disappointments after they’d failed to follow in her footsteps. They were on their own, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Had their new life humbled them?

As they spoke, Syd had her guard up, though they both apologized for how they’d treated her, tears pooling in their wide green eyes. She was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, though neither had asked for anything except penance. Something flashed in her mind.  Her father before he died. His daughter’s treatment was not lost on him, though for most of his second marriage he’d been too weak with illness to do anything about it. They’re your only family now, he’d said. Find a way to be happy.

Though Syd was still skeptical, she reached for her sisters and embraced them both, deciding, for now, to forgive.

For the Story a Day prompt – Rewrite a fairy tale

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.”

Girls’ Best Friend

A tale loosely based on my real-life rescue dog Quinn that can be found in my short story collection, You’ll Know Her When You See Her.

http://www.amazon.com/Youll-Know-Her-When-You-ebook/dp/B00K0R97XE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439349387&sr=8-2&keywords=you%27ll+know+her+when+you+see+her

I always wondered where she came from before I met her, so I imagined a whole life for her PJ (pre-Jenn 🙂 )

quinndog

Girls’ Best Friend

 

Spring 2013

 

My name is Nelly.  I’m told that I am five years old.  Today is going to be my last day.  I might as well tell someone the brief story of my life, while I’m still here.  You will do.

I don’t know who my parents were.  My first memory is walking along the side of a long dirt road, in search of food.  I found an overturned trash can that smelled deliciously of uneaten goodies.  As I gorged myself, I felt a pair of hands lifting me from the ground.  I looked into the eyes of the human curiously.  I could tell already that he was not a nice man.  His eyes were narrow and dark, and he smelled of something burnt and acrid and metallic.  I don’t like that smell.  He turned me toward someone else, a woman, who eyed me greedily.  I could tell that she was not a nice person either.

“Would you look at that?”  The man asked, looking at the woman with a mischievous smile.  “Isn’t she a beauty?”

I was a cute puppy.  Not being vain, just factual.  I’ve seen pictures.  I was slightly pudgy, all white except for a big dark spot on my right side, and smaller one on my right ear.  My eyes were huge and dark and sad back then, since I was orphaned and lost, practically begging someone to take care of me.

The woman nodded.  “Adorable.”

“You don’t find ones this cute too often as strays.  They usually look all mangy and sick, like they have some sort of disease…”

I don’t like this man, so I chose this moment to release my bladder, all over his exposed sandal-wearing feet.  The woman laughed uproariously like it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen, as the man handed me off to the woman and yelled words I didn’t yet understand.  The woman cuddled me in her arms.  She was bony and smelled like flowers and sweat.  I nuzzled into her chest.

“Awww, she’s a sweet little thing,” she said, scratching me behind the ear.

“Grab me that ribbon from the backseat,” the man commanded.  The man tied the retrieved ribbon around my neck in a bow.  “Now we can give her to mom, save our money on a gift.  And now she’ll have some company so she’ll stop nagging us about visiting her all the time.”

“You are horrible,” the woman said, but she was smiling, so I could tell she really didn’t think he was horrible.  They got back in the car with me in the woman’s arms, and she held me for the rest of the ride, stroking my head.  “You’re going to a nice home.  To a nice lady that’s going to love you and spoil you.”

We rode for a short time and pulled into a driveway of a neat little brick house, with a mowed lawn and window boxes full of flowers, a line of tall plants along the pathway leading to the front door.  I could tell I was going to be happy there before I even met the woman that lived inside.  The door opened before we even reached the front door and a woman stepped out.  She was older, much older than the woman still holding me.  She was wearing a dress with big flowers on it that came all the way to the floor, her hair was long and wild and light-colored and came to the tips of her fingers.  Her eyes were bright and hungry when she saw the man and the woman.  I could tell she was lonely.  Her eyes widened when she saw me, she greedily grabbed me from the woman’s arms and put her nose against mine.  I licked her face and she laughed.

“Hey ma,” said the man.

“Hi Louisa,” said the woman.

“We know this is a tough day for you, dad’s death last year and all.  We thought a gift would cheer you up.”

“Oh, Simon, you spent too much,” she rubbed me behind the ears.  “She’s absolutely darling.”

“Oh, you’re worth it, ma,” he said with a smirk as he glanced at the woman.  Liar.

“Well, do you want to come in for a bit?  I was about to cook…”

“No, we can’t,” Simon answered too quickly.  “Gina’s family already invited us for dinner.”

Her eyes fell.  “Okay, well maybe next time.”  Simon and Gina both kissed Louisa on the cheek and went back to the car, speeding away from the curb without even a wave.  Louisa stared at the car sadly as it pulled away, continuing to stare at the empty street long after it was gone.  I could tell that she was smart, a lot smarter than her son and his wife gave her credit for.  She already knew of her son’s selfishness and duplicity; he hadn’t fooled her at all.  Finally, she turned her attention to me.

“Come on in, dearie,” she said, looking at me with kind eyes as she carried me toward the house.  “I think we’re going to be good friends.”

And we were.  She named me Nelly, I’m not sure why, but I answered to it when she called.  We spent most of our time outside in her garden in the backyard, she planted seeds as I ran in circles, chasing away birds and squirrels, or inside on the couch, watching her movies and favorite television shows while she fed me jerky.  I slept in a cozy little bed next to hers every night, happy and tired from playing outside all day.

Sometimes she told me stories, like about meeting her husband at the movie theater the night she and her best friend Kitty were going to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a movie we watched now at least once a week. She’d had a big thing for Paul Newman at the time.  Kitty had preferred Robert Redford.  They in the midst of a Paul vs. Robert debate when she saw Peter in line at the concession stand.  He had piercing blue eyes, the same as Paul’s, and long wavy blond hair.  Kitty dismissed him as a dirty hippie; he was wearing a dingy white t-shirt with faded, holy jeans and worn sandals.  Kitty wouldn’t even speak to a man unless his shoes were properly shined and he had a crease in his pants’ leg, but Louisa couldn’t keep her eyes off him.  He told her he was a traveling musician, only in Atlanta for a few days, invited her to his show at a bar the following night.  Louisa went.  And she went to every other show the rest of the week.  He was a talented guitarist, and she loved his voice, she called it soulful and heart-wrenching.  After a few days, she realized she was in love with him.  He gave her his deceased mother’s engagement ring, the one he carried around with him in his pocket all the time just in case.  They got married at the courthouse the morning before they left for New Orleans.  Her parents weren’t thrilled, Kitty told her she was crazy as she packed up her things in their shared apartment, that she would probably end up barefoot, pregnant and abandoned on the side of the road who-knows-where.  Louisa kissed her on the cheek and told her she’d miss her.  It was almost true.

For the next three years, Louisa and Peter traveled all around the United States as newlyweds, sleeping in the van, going to gigs, having fun, meeting new people, making connections, trying to get Peter signed to a label, finally ending up in Los Angeles.  Louisa was certain Peter would finally get his big break, but he was rejected by every record label he met with.  He was told the kind of music he did was on its way out, no one was interested in hearing it anymore.  Around the same time, Louisa found out she was pregnant.  They took it as a sign.  They moved back to Atlanta, Peter took a job with Louisa’s father’s company, later taking it over after her father’s death.  They settled into a happy family life, raising Simon, making a home.  They wanted more children but it never happened for them.   If you ask me, they would have been better off leaving Simon on the side of the road as my parents had done to me and continued traveling the country, following Peter’s dreams.  But of course, I couldn’t tell her that.  So I just laid there, listening to her stories contentedly, since I was the only one there to hear them.

Occasionally, we had visitors.  Mostly people delivering things, or Simon and Gina for their bi-annual visits.  But there was also a man whose name I never learned, he wore a suit like he worked in a big office and carried a briefcase.  He visited every few months, I guess.  He and Louisa always went into the den and shut the door behind them, I never heard what they said.  But he never stayed long, and Louisa always seemed happy when he left.  I wondered if he was her boyfriend.  I knew from watching episodes of The Golden Girls with Louisa that sometimes older women got boyfriends; sometimes they even got married.  I hoped Louisa would marry the briefcase man; then she wouldn’t be lonely, but it never happened.

Mostly, it was a sweet life.  I lived with Louisa for a long time, or what felt like a long time to me.  I knew years had passed.  I knew I was older, not old, but older, not able to run as fast or as long as I used to.  I gradually spent more time inside with Louisa, curled up on my bed, watching her shows.  It never occurred to me that anything would change.  But then everything did.

One night, Louisa and I were up waiting for the Academy Awards to start.  It was Louisa’s favorite night of the year.  She had a bowl of buttered popcorn in her lap, sitting up in bed.  I was lying next to her, sometimes she let me sleep beside her, on nights when I could tell she was especially lonely.  That actress she loved, Meryl somebody, appeared on the screen, talking to someone about the dress she was wearing.  Humans’ obsession with clothing is something I will never understand.  I expected Louisa to say, “Oh, that’s Meryl, she’s a class act.” She says it every time she sees her on screen.  But there was silence. I turned to her.  Her face was frozen, her eyes open and unblinking.  I licked the side of her face, hoping to make her laugh, but got nothing.  I nuzzled her nose, and noticed I didn’t feel her breath on my face.  That’s when I figured it out.  She was dead.  I’d seen people die before, on those detective shows Louisa watched.  I never thought Louisa would die.  It seems stupid now that I think about it.  I knew she was old.  It was bound to happen to one of us sooner or later.

I cried, laid my head on her lap, whimpering, afraid, not knowing what to do next.  On television, when someone died, policeman came to the house, then relatives came by, looked at their body and said things like, “What a shame, she was so young,” or I guess in Louisa’s case, they would say, “What a shame, but she’d lived her life.”  There was always a human in the house with the dead person to call the people to come and do whatever needed to be done.

Since it was Academy Awards night, it was one of the two nights of the year when Simon and Gina always stopped by, the other being the anniversary of Simon’s father’s death.  It was a long-standing tradition between Simon and Louisa, they always watched the awards together since he was a little boy, back when he wanted to be an actor, a dream abandoned long ago.  Now, they watched some of the red carpet coverage with her and brought her a bottle of champagne and chocolates, before rushing off to someplace more important.  I had to wait for Simon and Gina, they were horrible people, but they would know what to do.

Right on schedule, I heard the front door open.  “Ma?” Simon called out.  I heard his footsteps against the hardwood floor as he walked through the living room.

“She must be watching in her room; I hear the TV,” said Gina.  Their footsteps came closer, until they were both standing in the doorway of the bedroom, looking at me lying on Louisa’s lap, whimpering softly.

Gina rushed to my side, “What’s wrong, sweet girl?”  She stroked my head as I continued to whine.  Simon went to his mother’s side and put his fingers on her neck.  “She’s dead.”

Gina stood up immediately.  “What!”

“No heartbeat, and she’s not breathing.”  He put his hand under her nose to demonstrate.  They looked at each other for a second, then began rushing around the room in a flurry.  I was confused.  Was this how humans grieved in real life?  They didn’t stand around saying things like, she will be missed, or may she rest in peace?  Gina grabbed something bright and shiny from Louisa’s top dresser drawer and stuffed it in her jeans pocket.  Simon slipped Louisa’s engagement ring from her finger and put it in Gina’s bag.  Louisa loved that ring.  Even though her husband had been gone for years, she wore it every day, still had it routinely cleaned.  They rifled through her things some more, stuffing more and more in their pockets and bags as I watched in disbelief.  They transferred everything to Gina’s large purse and Gina rushed outside to put it in their car trunk.  After she returned, they straightened up the bedroom, then Simon called the police.  The mock-sadness in his voice as he explained what happened made my stomach roil.

Simon and Gina were the kinds of humans that only cared about things.  They didn’t see anything else.  I’d learned about humans like this from TV.  The ones that would do anything to get things, money, shiny things, clothes.  They weren’t like Louisa, who appreciated simple things, like the beauty of her garden, good food and books and movies, companionship.  Louisa and I had been alike that way.  There were times when we just laid outside, Louisa on her lounge, me on the grass beside her, staring at the clouds, listening to the birds and the wind, just being.  I could never imagine Simon and Gina lying there like that.  They were always looking, for things Louisa and I would never see.

Soon the small house was full of people.  Relatives I had never seen, who probably hadn’t visited Louisa in years, a police officer and EMTs, and finally the coroner, to officially declare what we already knew, that Louisa was gone forever.  The police officer turned to Simon.  “What about the dog?”

“What about it?” he responded in a nasty tone, as though I were some sort of nuisance instead of his mother’s only friend for an unknown number of years.

“Are you guys taking it home with you?” the cop asked.

“Simon, maybe we could…” Gina started.  I guess she really did have a soft spot for me.

“No, I don’t want to deal with some yappy dog crapping all over our house. I know she was good to my mom, and I’m thankful to her for that.  But I don’t want a dog.”

Just like that, I was being dismissed.  I’d served my purpose as far as Simon was concerned.  He would never know how much I loved Louisa, or how much she loved me.  I probably loved her more than any person in that room, Simon included, and I wouldn’t even get to go to her funeral.

Gina looked at the floor, and the cop sighed.  “I’ll call animal control.”

Animal control?  Was this some sort of new place where animals were dominant and humans were the pets, I wondered.  Is that what happened after your human died?  If so, I’d much rather go there than go live with Gina and Simon.

I soon learned that wasn’t the case.  Animal Control is a dark, dank nightmarish place filled with hundreds of dogs and cats in cages smaller than a closet.  The nonstop barking and meowing and howling is enough to nearly drive me mad.  I sit in an oppressively hot cage, in my own filth, staring at a wall covered in crawling insects, batting away the rodents that scurry across the floor.  For a few minutes per day, I get the pleasure of being jerked around on a leash for my “outdoor time” by some overworked volunteer.  Sometimes humans come to Animal Control to take some of the animals home to be their pets.  I don’t think I will ever be picked.  One of the workers here doesn’t like me.  On my first day here, I saw him being too rough with another dog, kicking her when she wasn’t moving fast enough outside, shouting vile names in her face as she whimpered.  When it was my turn, I snapped at him, I didn’t make contact with the skin, just enough to scare him so he’d know not to try that crap with me. Now, whenever someone stops near my cage, he says, “She’s not good with kids.”  As they lean closer he whispers, “Bite history.”  And they hang their heads and move on.

I’m not bitter, like I said before, I’ve lived a sweet life.  I see animals come in here, flea-bitten, their fur nearly all gone, eyes milky and infected, open wounds on their heads or all over their bodies, skin and bones, barely able to walk.  I’m grateful that my human loved me, was much better than whoever did those things to them.  Every new animal has a sign placed on their cage with their name, or the name the volunteers have given us, their approximate age and breed.  Until their last day.  On the last day, the sign is taken down, and near the end of the work day, someone comes with a leash and takes them away, never to return again.    Most of the dogs don’t know what’s coming to them, leaving their cages happy with wagging tails, thinking that they’re headed for their outdoor time.

My sign was taken down today.  So now I’m waiting.  I’m not afraid.  It’s just the natural order of things.  Animals don’t live forever.  I just hope it won’t be painful, however they choose to do away with me.  I hear footsteps coming down the path.  I assume it’s the mean volunteer, gleefully coming to take me away.  But it’s not.  It’s a woman.  She’s young, with smooth dark skin and short hair, close to her scalp and curly, much shorter than I’ve ever seen on any woman.  She has high cheekbones with full lips and an easy, beautiful smile. She stoops down, so that she’s eye-level with me, and she smiles again.  Her beauty is only marred by a jagged scar on the side of her neck, barely visible.  I wonder what her story is.  I stand and start to wag my tail, feeling hopeful for the first time since I was brought to this horrid place.

“You,” she says plainly.

“Are you sure?” asked the volunteer standing behind her.  “We have…”

“She’s the one.”

The volunteer sighed and shook his head.  “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“Jo Delaney.”  Her voice is rich and melodic.  I wonder if she’s a singer.

He scribbles something on his clipboard.  “Okay Jo, follow me.”

A while later, the worker that hates me comes back and unlocks my cage.  He pulls the leash tightly around my throat and leads me out into the lobby.   The leash constricts my throat and nearly cuts off my air supply. Jo is waiting.  She frowns when she sees how the worker is dragging me, how I’m gasping for breath.

“Good riddance,” the worker whispers under his breath as he pulls back hard on the leash.  I turn and face him and he looks afraid, as though he suddenly realizes that I understand everything he’s said.  I squat and release my bladder all over his white tennis shoes, as he squeals and jumps backwards, dropping the leash on the floor.  Good riddance to you too.  Jo just laughs.

She kneels to pick up my leash and looks me in the eyes, rubbing my ear.  “Rae.  Your name is Rae.”  My second name, for my second life.  Jo will never know about Louisa, or that my real name is Nelly, or about Peter or Butch and Sundance or Academy Awards night, that I had a long happy life before we met, which makes me sad.  But as she leads me out into the sunshine, I’m forever grateful to her.  It isn’t going to be my last day after all.

I sit in the front seat of Jo’s tiny car.  I notice the backseat is filled with boxes.  It’s my first time in a car since Simon picked me up from the side of the road.  Louisa never went anywhere; she had everything delivered, even her groceries.  We drive for a long time.  I notice the buildings get smaller and smaller until there are no buildings at all, only lush trees and wide open fields of grass.  I’ve seen scenes like this in the movies.  We are in the country.  The air is a bit fresher and sweeter as I poke my head out of the open window.  We pull into the driveway of a strange-looking house, very different from Louisa’s.  It is made of trees, seriously trees, chopped down and turned sideways, stacked on top of each other, with little windows cut out in the front.  Jo calls it her “log cabin.”    There’s lots of land, but it’s wild, nothing like Louisa’s neat little coordinated rows of plants and flowers.  Jo’s land is bursting with plants I’ve never seen before, which don’t appear to have been planted with any sort of design or plan, they just exist, growing wildly and freely.  I like it.

I expect life with Jo to be different from living with Louisa, she’s so young and so pretty.   The pretty women I saw on television were always sitting around tables with other women, drinking glass after glass of wine and complaining about their boyfriends.  They had men that came to their houses and picked them up, took them out dancing or to restaurants.  I expect to be alone more often, left to my own devices.  But Jo isn’t much different from Louisa.  She stays home most of the time.  She does something called telecommuting, which basically means she gets to sit at home and type things on her computer screen instead of go to an office and type things on a computer screen, like Pam on The Office, one of Louisa’s favorite shows.  The phone rarely rings, she has few visitors.

In fact, she’s had exactly one visitor since I’ve been here.  There was a knock at the door on a lazy afternoon, Jo was reading, I was lying on the living room rug, gnawing on a bone.  I could tell Jo was annoyed that her reading was interrupted.  She sighed and peeked through the peephole, then slowly opened the door.  A woman was standing there, with a little girl.  The woman was petite, with long wavy hair and wide expressive eyes.  Her skin was light, like Louisa’s, and her daughter was her spitting image, about four, with her hair in pigtails.  She introduced herself as Cass, her daughter was Nora, she welcomed Jo to the area and gave her a basket filled with some freshly-baked goods that smelled delicious.  Nora saw me standing behind Jo and stepped inside, patted me on the head.  I licked her hand.

“Nice doggie.” she said in a sweet voice.  “Mommy, can I play with the doggie?”

“Maybe another time, bug,” Cass answered, reaching out for her daughter.

Jo thanked them for the gift and told them she’ll stop by soon to return the favor.  But I know that she’s lying.  Louisa stayed home all of the time because the world had shut itself off from her, but Jo is hiding, and I don’t know why.  Cass has come by a few more times, and Jo always pretends she isn’t home, hiding behind her couch until she goes away, which is confusing to me.

Jo leaves the house a couple times a week, running routine errands, or to run.  Other than that, we watch a lot of television, or sometimes Jo just reads, for hours, sometimes for an entire weekend.  She sits perched on top of her tall dresser on top of her throw pillows, next to the highest window, she calls it her sunny spot.  At night, she tosses and turns, sometimes crying out, words I don’t understand.  I know she’s afraid.  I climb onto the bed and put my head against her shoulder, breathing slowly, until she calms down again.  I don’t go to sleep again until I feel her heartbeat slows and her breaths are regular.  She puts her hand on my head in her sleep and whispers my second name.  She knows I’m there, that I’ll protect her.

Sometimes she bakes, all day, filling the house with warm, cozy smells.  She always makes way too much food for just one human, crusty pies and cupcakes, muffins and banana bread.  For dinner, she makes food that looks too lovely to eat, fresh herb risotto, stuffed green peppers, butternut squash and pear ravioli.  She eats alone, but sets the table beautifully.  Folded cloth napkins and silver, fine china, a glass of wine.  She eats slowly with me at her feet, waiting for the occasional delicious nibble, staring out the window at her overgrown yard and thinking.

She talks to me too, sometimes, not as much as Louisa, but she talks.  She tells me her full name, Jordana Leigh Delaney, she grew up in a big city, a place called Chicago, but she hated it.  She’s shy, preferred the wide open spaces of the country, less people and fresh air.  She was a bookish quiet child who preferred the company of animals to humans.  She’d been a vegetarian since she was five.  She had four dogs and three cats growing up, they all slept with her in her crowded bed every night.  Most of the other kids thought she was weird, but mostly left her alone.  She spent her childhood dreaming of the day she could leave the constraints of the city and go somewhere where she could breathe.  A big house with lots of land, full of rescued animals.  She ended up staying in Chicago longer than she wanted, she’s very close to her mother and was reluctant to leave her, but something happened that made her leave. Something that scared her.  She won’t tell me what.  She had to leave in a hurry, so she left her animals with her family and a few friends, rented the cabin on the computer, sight unseen, and drove all night, not stopping.  That’s why the first thing she did after she moved to Georgia was come find me.  She said she picked me because I reminded her of her first pet, her dog Sidney; she said we had the same eyes.  I get the sense from her that she knows, just like Louisa, that I hear her, that I understand.  Even though I can’t talk back with words, I nuzzle her hand or lick her cheek when I can tell she’s sad.  That makes her smile.  She calls me her “sweet Rae.”

Jo and I run twice a day, we’ve gone on hikes through the north Georgia mountains, or along the Chattahoochee river, or sometimes on hilly path through the wooded area behind our house.  Our nightly runs are my favorite.  The look on Jo’s face is one of determination, I can’t tell if she running from or to something.   I just know she needs to run, she needs to run to feel alive, no longer trapped in that dark cabin crouching in fear, like she’s taunting death.   It’s so different from running in circles around Louisa’s small, neat yard.  It’s like we’re wild animals, able to truly connect with nature in a way we can’t in the light of day.  I love the smell of the night air, the fresh dirt, the sounds of the nocturnal animals, the way the moon shines on Jo’s face when we reach the top of the hill and she stops, putting her hand on my head and looking around, taking in the beautiful country.

But, it’s during one of our nightly runs that I smell it again, something acrid and metallic.  I turn my head, looking for Simon, which I soon realize makes no sense, why would Simon have followed me here?  He was glad to be rid of me.  I see a slight rustling in the bushes, a pair of beady eyes peeking out between the leaves, a large hand parting the branches only slightly.  I stop and run toward the bushes, barking loudly.  The person runs away, the branches rustling in their wake.  Jo looks back at me, I see the shining fear in her eyes.  She knows the person who was hiding in the bushes, I see it on her face.  We run back to the house, faster than we ever have before.  Jo locks all the doors and windows, checking each one twice, and then she gets on the phone with someone, speaking in a voice so shaky and low I can’t make out what she’s saying.

A while later, there’s a knock at the door, and Jo doesn’t hesitate to answer this time.  It’s two cops, a man and a woman.  Jo is visibly shaking as she lets them in.  The police look bored as they enter our cramped living room.  The man is bald and sneering, looks at Jo as though he already isn’t going to believe whatever she has to say.  The woman is tall and thin, so thin she looks fragile, nothing like the policewomen I see on Law & Order.  Jo tells them about the person hiding in the bushes.  That she thinks he’s someone named Nate Harold, her ex-boyfriend, who must have tracked her down all the way from Chicago.  She shows them the scar on her neck, tells them that he did that to her when she tried to end things with him, left her for dead, bleeding out.  The Chicago police haven’t been able to find him.  The male cop’s face softened, the female looked like she was about to cry, kept staring at the scar.  It must be her first day on the job.  They tell her they’ll take a look around behind the house, see if there’s anyone hanging around, but even I realize that they are useless.  Jo’s shoulders deflate as she shows the two cops out.

She crawls onto the couch across from the fireplace, pulling the plaid fleece blanket over her body, even though it’s not cold at all.  I cuddle next to her, and she puts her arm around my neck.  I know she’s ready to tell me the story now.

Jo and Nate met at work; she was working for an animal hospital as a nurse, planning to go to school to become a veterinarian. It was her dream job.  She loved seeing the animals every day, even the finicky overly-energetic ones seemed to calm at the sound of her voice or her touch.  Nate worked across the street at a boutique law firm as a paralegal, planning for law school the following year.  They ran into each other nearly every day, getting coffee in the morning or at Jo’s favorite lunch spots; he asked her out constantly.

She had to admit he was attractive, tall with cocoa brown skin and a smooth bald head, brown eyes that glinted in the sun.  But something didn’t seem right about him.  He was too charming, too smooth, too slick.  But after a few months, he wore her down, she agreed to meet him and a group of his friends for dinner.  They sat close to each other the entire night, their knees touching under the table, speaking closely, ignoring everyone else.  The relationship progressed at a rate that was a bit scary to Jo, but thrilling at the same time.  They immediately became exclusive.  Nate wanted all of her time.  He told her he was in love with her after two weeks of dating.   Jo reciprocated, but didn’t know if she really felt it.  She rarely saw her mom, or her few friends.  She initially thought it was romantic; he was so consumed by her he couldn’t spend a moment without her.  But his intensity became dangerous really quickly.  He exploded in anger when she broke plans with him to spend time with her friends or her mother, some of whom she hadn’t seen in several months.  Screamed at her, accused her of loving her family more than she loved him, which was ridiculous to Jo.  Of course she loved her family more, she’d only known Nate for a few months.

The first time he hit her was six months in.  It was at his apartment, after she thought they had a lovely dinner and romantic walk along Lake Michigan, he thought she wasn’t paying enough attention to him because she was checking her text messages instead of talking to him.  Her phone had been off the entire night; she just wanted to check in with a few friends.  He screamed at her, snatched the phone from her hand and threw it against the wall.  She screamed back at him, got right in his face, asked him if he was insane.  He hit her with a closed fist against the side of her face, knocking her into the wall.  He stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

Jo was shocked, she just sat there for a while, her face smarting, until she decided what she had to do.  She grabbed a pen and paper and began to write Nate a letter, ending things for good.  Before she was done, Nate came back with tears in her eyes, full of apologies.  Saying he loved her so much she made him crazy, he couldn’t bear the thought of being without her.  Against her better judgment, she forgave him.  He promised he would never hit her again; and he didn’t, for another year.

Nate had entered law school by then, still working full-time at the firm.  They saw less and less of each other.  Jo thought she would surprise him on campus with a romantic home-cooked meal, under the stars in the outdoor courtyard.  As she waited for him with a basket containing a warm spinach pesto lasagna, crusty bread and a bottle of red wine, one of Nate’s classmates, Mike, approached her.  She’d met him a few times before, he had a long term girlfriend, Dahlia, and they’d done a few double dates.  He sat next to her, keeping her company until Nate’s class ended.  He pulled out his phone to show her pictures of the engagement rings he was thinking about buying to propose, wanting Jo’s opinion.  Jo leaned close, studying each picture intently.  She liked Mike’s girlfriend a lot and wanted her proposal to be perfect.  When Nate found them, saw how close they were sitting, with their shoulders touching, laughing with each other and chatting like old friends, she saw the look on his face and knew that he was furious.

Before Jo could say anything, Nate jerked Mike up from his seat and punched him in the mouth, while Jo screamed, begging him to stop, assuring him there was nothing happening between them.  She tried to pull him away from Mike, but this only made him angrier.  He turned his attention on her, slapping her across the face then punching her.  She fell on the ground, blood streaming from her nose, when campus security ran over and restrained him.  Mike helped her up and walked her to her car.  She was certain now it was over.  Nate was a hothead, he would never change.  She cut off all communication.  While Nate was in jail for the assault, she left her apartment and moved back in with her mother.

Unbeknownst to Jo, Nate was released on bail a few days later, and immediately went searching for her, easily finding her at her mother’s house.  He banged on the door in the middle of the night, shocking Jo out of a light sleep.  She was all alone; her mom was working the night shift as an emergency room nurse.  Jo crept to the door and looked at Nate through the peephole.  He looked manic, wild-eyed, tears streaming down his face, beads of sweat forming on his bald head and his temples, arms shaking, nearly foaming at the mouth.  She didn’t respond to him, but he kept yelling, begging her to take him back, demanding that she open the door, asking for her forgiveness, but Jo was done with his apologies.

She went to grab the phone to call 911, when she heard him banging his entire body against the door, trying to knock it down.   Her hands were sweating and shaking so hard she couldn’t get a good grip on the phone.  She hadn’t even begun dialing when the door swung open.  Nate stood in the entryway, looking crazed, panting like a wild animal.  She tried to back towards the bedroom but he was too fast, seeming to cross the living room in two steps.  She screamed for help as he pushed her to the ground.  In an unsettlingly calm voice, he told her he loved her, that she’d never be able to leave her, and pinning her to the floor, he slashed the side of her throat.

He seemed shocked at what he’d done, when he saw the blood spilling out onto the carpet and dropped the knife, running out the front door.  A neighbor who’d heard Jo’s screams called 911 and Jo was rushed to the hospital, where she made a full recovery, a miracle considering the amount of blood she’d lost.  Nate, in the meantime went on the run.  He jumped bail, there were multiple warrants out for his arrest, but the Chicago PD had no success in finding him.  It was as though he’d disappeared into thin air. As soon as Jo was released from the hospital she fled the state, took a job doing billing for a medical office, and laid low, waiting for the day she would get the call that Nate had been caught, charged with attempted murder and in prison for the next 50 years.  But he’d found her again.  She was certain of it.

Jo’s story angers me, yet emboldens me at the same time.  Nate sounds like that mean volunteer at Animal Control, another person who takes pleasure in terrifying other living things.  It takes a long time for me to get her to fall asleep, but eventually she does.  I won’t sleep tonight though.  I think Jo is right.  I think Nate has found her, and it’s my job to protect her.

During the darkest part of the night, when the moon isn’t shining and everything is asleep, I smell that horrible smell.  I think it is the smell of evil.  I jump off the couch, baring my teeth, looking at the door.  The knob is turning slowly, jiggling up and down.  I bark loudly, which wakes up Jo.  She grabs a knife from the kitchen and stands in the living room facing the door.  Her eyes are fiery, she’s not afraid, she’s tired of being scared.  She’s ready to end everything, once and for all. The door finally swings open and he is standing there.  He’s clearly surprised to see Jo alert and facing him, a weapon in her hand.  He was probably expecting to find her asleep and defenseless.

“Get out of my house, Nate,” she says in a low growl.  He slowly approaches her, saying nothing, just wearing a twisted smile.  “Get out!”

She’s screaming now, tears falling from her eyes.  I growl and charge him, leaping at him.  He kicks me away and I yelp in pain, hiding behind the sofa, feeling like a coward.  Jo cries out when she sees me fall, but there’s nothing she can do for me now, she has to deal with Nate.  He’s standing right in front of her now.

“I told you I would always find you, Jo,” he says in a way that he probably thinks is loving but I find terrifying.  He reaches out to caress the side of her neck, where he scarred her, but Jo backs away.  “I love you.”

“What you did to me wasn’t love.  Get out, now, Nate!”  She raises the knife and Nate rushes her, grabs her arm and twists it hard.  She cries out in pain, and I hear the clatter of the knife as it hits the floor.  He hits her once, with all of his force, and she falls to the floor.  He punches her again and again and again, Jo is screaming.  I can’t stand it.  But I’m so afraid.  My side smarts from where he kicked me.  I feel frozen, but I know I have to move.  The knife is there on the floor, its only matter of time before he uses it, finishing what he started before.  I can’t lose Jo.  So I will my legs to move.  I creep around the couch, being as quiet as I can, coming up behind Nate.  He’s crouching over Jo, pummeling her face mercilessly.  I bare my teeth and dig them into his calf, locking my mouth.  He yelps in pain and tries to shake my off him, but I won’t be moved.  I sink my teeth deeper into his flesh, tasting blood as he screams in pain. I don’t care how many times he tries to kick me.   I’ll never let go; not until Jo is safe.   Jo uses the interruption to grab the rock sculpture from the coffee table and bash him over the head with it.  He falls to the ground, unconscious, and I finally let go.  Jo and I both stare at each other, breathless.  Jo’s face is battered and bruised, but she is alive.  She’s faced her deepest fear and come out on the other side.  I stare back at her, wagging my tail.  We are fearless.

Jo is in the hospital for a few days, Cass runs to Jo’s side as she is being loaded into the ambulance, she promises to look after me and her house while she’s gone.  Cass and Nora come by every day to feed me and walk me and play.  Sometimes her husband Patrick comes by too; he’s tall and handsome and looks a little bit like Paul Newman, which is a good sign.  He’s a nice guy, I can tell.

When Jo gets back, she is different.  She’s still the same Jo, but the phone rings now, we even have visitors.  Cass comes over, sometimes by herself for “girl talk” sometimes with the entire family for dinner.  So now someone else gets to enjoy Jo’s cooking except me.  She goes out too, with Cass, to movies and shopping and lunches and happy hours.  She’s even planning on applying for veterinary school.  She is slowly rejoining the world.  I’m happy for her, but selfishly, I miss her sometimes.   But she’s never gone long.

One day, after Jo has been home for a few months, she puts me in the car and we go on a drive.  I expect us to end up at another state park for a long hike, or maybe at the river, but she’s going the wrong way.  I notice that we are near the city.  For a brief moment, I am afraid, thinking she is taking me back to Animal Control, but I know that’s ridiculous.

After a long while, we park in front of a two-story red brick building, on a long treeless street with numerous identical looking buildings.  Jo leashes me and takes me inside, confusing me more.  I’ve never been inside a building like this.  It is completely odorless, with a big square desk in the middle of a mostly empty room, a humorless woman looks down at me as though I’m carrying rabies before addressing Jo.

“Can I help you, miss?” She asks in a tone that implies she’d rather do anything but.

“Yes, Jordana Delaney to see Edward Turner,” she responds in a much nicer tone than that woman deserves.

“Yes, he’s expecting you.  I’ll let him know you’re here.”

Less than a minute after the woman gets up from her desk and leaves the room, a man enters and approaches Jo with his arm outstretched.  I am shocked to realize I know him.  It’s briefcase man.  He introduces himself as Edward Turner, a probate attorney, and invites us back to his office.  I am wondering how Jo knows briefcase man, and why she brought me.

He leads us down a narrow corridor lined with windows to his small office at the end of the hallway.  Jo sits on a small loveseat next to the door and I lie at her feet as Edward takes a seat behind his mostly clear desk.  He must not be very busy.

“Man, are you a hard lady to find,” he says as he opens one of his desk drawers.

“Why did you need to find me?  Your letter said that I’d inherited something?  I don’t know of any family members that passed away recently.  And why did you want me to bring Rae?”

“Well, technically, it’s not you I was looking for; it was her.”  He points at me, lying at Jo’s feet.

“My dog?”

“Yes, ma’am.  Her former owner, Louisa Hamilton, lists her in her will.”

“Oh, I had no idea her last owner passed away.  I thought she’d been a stray.”  She looks down at me sadly.

He pulls out a sheet of and a picture falls onto the floor. Edward picks it up and hands it to Jo, and she leans down to show it to me.  It’s of Louisa and me on our first Academy Awards night together.  Simon had taken it.  Louisa was all dressed up, wearing the diamond earrings that Gina had stolen, with a shiny dark dress.  She smiled luminously for the camera with her arm around me.

“Oh is this her?  You look so happy, Rae.”  She rubs my head.

“Yes, I found out from the son that he’d sent the dog to Animal Control, then finally learned from them that she’d been adopted by a Jordana Delaney.  Took them forever to sort out their records; that place is mess.”  Tell me about it.

 

Edward reads from the sheet of paper.  “The provisions of the will are as follows, ‘I wish for my savings and investment accounts, in addition to the proceeds of selling my jewelry, my home, and my husband’s former business, to be divided equally between the Atlanta Humane Society and a trust to care for my dear friend and companion Nelly for the rest of her life.  She has been the only bright spot during these years after my dear husband’s passing, and the best friend a girl could ask for.’”

 

 “Wow,” Jo says, seemingly at a loss of more words.

My heart warms.  My dear Louisa, she didn’t have to give me anything, her friendship had been enough.  But, I have to admit I’m a bit happy that Simon won’t get his hands on anything.  I smile on the inside.

“Yep, she had it changed a few months before she died.  Everything was supposed to go to the son before.  Man was he furious.  Called his own mother every name in the book.  Good thing she wasn’t around to hear it.  And he and that wife of his had to fork over all of the things they stole from his mom’s house after she died.  Can you imagine that?  Thinking about money at a time like that?  But it happens all the time…see it every day.  Good thing Louisa had all of her jewelry inventoried before she died.  They even tried to see if they could get the dog back, just to get their hands on the money.  But the Animal Control people told him it was too late, he’d already given up ownership and the dog had been adopted.”

Edward and Jo talk more, she’s curious about Louisa, which makes me love her more.  He tells her he was a sweet, gentle woman, who loved cooking and gardening and old movies and animals.  Whenever he came by for a visit she always had a glass of sweet tea and fresh baked cookies waiting for him.  He always looked forward to seeing her.  Then the conversation turns to business; they go over some paperwork regarding my trust that I really don’t understand; Jo has to sign her name a bunch of times, and then we leave.

During the car ride home, Jo turns to me.  “So your name is Nelly, huh?” Jo says, grinning, stroking my fur.  “Is it okay if I call you Nelly Rae?”  I wag my tail affirmatively.

Jo frames the picture of Louisa and me and sits it on the fireplace mantle, next to the one of her and me taken last week by Cass during a day at the park.  The sun was setting behind us as we sat on a bench, a large oak tree hanging over us.  Jo is smiling happily as I lean against her shoulder.  We stand back and look at both pictures, admiring them.  I notice that Jo and Louisa have the same kind, trustworthy smile.  My two best friends.   Jo lies down on the couch, covering herself with the blanket.  I lie on the rug next to her, listening to her breathing, until I’m sure she’s asleep.

Coin Flip

Open University Assignment – Start Writing Fiction

1.4 Portraying a Character-Activity 9

Make a character desire something, and make the desire his or her driving force. Write a scene or a summary that creates reasons why s/he can never have what s/he wants. (‘Three hours between planes’ is a good example of this.)

pitch-black-skies

It’s now or never, I think to myself as the train comes to a stop.  We’re at the airport, the end of the line.  All around me, sleepy passengers gather their suitcases and bags and depart the double doors.  Slowly, I rise from my seat, sling my light backpack over my shoulder and get off the train, stepping into the cavernous lobby of the Hartsfield Airport.  There’s so much going on around me.  People standing in line, waiting to get checked in on flights that I imagine will take them to exotic places.  Children crying, couples exchanging goodbye kisses, a man yelling at a ticket agent, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen wearing dark sunglasses indoors, dragging a wheeled designer bag behind her, striding confidently toward the escalators.  I think she must be a model.  All of the life surrounding me excites me.  It’s one of my good days.  I feel happier than I have in a long time.  I try and forget about the other side of the coin.

I pull out the ticket that I bought with the savings I’ve stashed away from my part-time job for the past year.  New York City. It’s been my dream to live there since I was a little girl.   To me, it was a fairyland I’d created in my head spun from stories I’d read and scenes from movies and television shows. Kisses in the rain, sun-dappled walks through Central Park under trees bursting with color, Broadway shows, proposals atop the Empire State Building. I’d already rented an apartment through the mail.  Two months paid in full.  I finger the warm metal of the key in my pocket and felt an electric thrill rip through me.  After the two months were up, I’d get a job, figure out what I wanted to do from there.  The important thing was, I’d be making the decisions.

My whole life since I was 10 years old has been on a routine set by someone else.  School then home.  Or school, doctors’ appointments, then home.  Now it was school, doctors’ appointments, work, then home.  I worked as a caregiver for an old lady.  I read to her, gave her lunch and dinner,  basically kept her company until her night nurse got there.  She’s the only one that knows that I’m leaving.  She told me she spent a summer in New York between her sophomore and junior years of college and it was the best three months of her life.  I told her two weeks before I was leaving so she could find someone else.  She promised not to tell my parents.  I was an adult after all.  I have the right to leave if I want to.  Once I land, I’ll call and tell them I’m okay.  Right now, as far as they know, I’m at school until 1:30, then at Mrs. Jackson’s until 7.  I am off the grid.  Freedom feels so delicious.  I do an excited twirl in the middle of the lobby, ignoring the strange looks I get.

I march up to the security agent and show my airline ticket and driver’s license, bouncing on my heels with an energy that my body can’t contain.  She looks a little like my mom.  Bronze skin, small brown eyes, hair dyed light brown and brushed back into a sensible bun.  Uniform immaculate and neatly pressed.  A woman that no one really notices until she makes a scene.

She eyes me and my ticket suspiciously.  I probably don’t look like a girl who would buy a one-way ticket to New York City.  I look like a typical subservient, respectful little black girl, which I have been, up until today.  I’m wearing a pastel pink sweater set that complimented my clear, milky brown skin, white jeans and sandals, my jet black hair was neatly straightened and swung down my back.  The only makeup I wore was clear lip gloss.  The security agent looks as though she wants to say something, to stop me, but I was 18 after all.  There is nothing she, or anyone, could do.  Reluctantly, she waves me through.

As I go through security, it starts.  My brain gets hot, my face starts to sweat despite the frigid temperatures.  I get confused with all the orders being barked at me.  Take this off, put this here, no not this line, that one, that’s not allowed, it’s not your turn yet.  As I slip my shoes back on and put my backpack on my shoulder again, I blink back tears.  I think about the medicine bottle I’d left behind, sitting on the dresser in my bedroom.  I’d reasoned that I’d get a new prescription once I’d gotten settled in the city.  I just wanted a few days to feel like me.  I want to feel the leap in my heart when I see the lights of Times Square for the first time, or the beauty of Central Park, or the grand Plaza Hotel rising above the treetops like a castle.  I want to close my eyes as I sat on the balcony of my apartment and feel the energy and hustle of the city.  The pills would only muddle all of that.  My mom watched me every morning as I took each pill religiously, but today I’d pretended.  I held it under my tongue, swallowed the glass of water, and spit it on the floor once she’d left the room.

I’m still determined.  I ignore the weakness in my legs, the heaviness in my chest.  I continue down the escalator, then to my terminal.  I feel it, rising in my throat.  The coin flipping.  I sit down at my gate, I curl my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them.  I put my face into my legs and start to cry.  I try to be as quiet as I can, but I can hear myself getting louder and louder as though I have no control over it.  My voice seems to fill the terminal.  I know people must be pointing, watching, laughing.  But there’s nothing I can do.  I feel the ticket and driver’s license still clutched in my hand slowly slip away.  People are asking me questions, I think.  My head is underwater and on fire.  I don’t know my name or why I’m here, or where I’m from or if someone’s with me.  I can’t answer them.  Don’t they understand?  All I can do is sit here and cry and scream and wait for this feeling to go away.   Muddled voices “safety concern…unstable…cannot board…in no condition…”  In what feels like a few minutes, but what must have been hours, I hear my mother’s voice.

“Oh Nic, what have you done?” I look up and see the shame in her eyes, the crowd of people behind her, staring.  She hands me my pill and a plastic cup filled with water and I take it without question.  She holds out her hand and I take that too.  It feels cold and rough around mine as we start to walk out of the terminal, all eyes on us.

Get Happy – Conclusion

Today I get to combine two assignments in one.  First I revamped my blog based on tips from Blogging 101 – Day 2.

Next – Open  University Assignment: Start Writing Fiction 1.4 Portraying a character

Now present your new character in the four different ways outlined in Activity 7. Here they are again:

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show him or her through appearance.
  • Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.

*

swiss alps

There was a knock at the front door.  Sara had just stepped out of her dress and was about to pull on a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, preparing to meet up with some friends a few blocks away for a drink.  She wanted to spill all of the details of her date that never was.  Her eyebrows raised, she slowly approached the door as though there were some sort of deviant on the other side.  She never got unannounced visitors, especially this late at night.  Had the elusive Chet tracked her down and decided to apologize in person?

She padded across the dusty hardwood floor in bare feet and peeked through the peephole.  It was Amy.  Sara stepped back from the door and sighed.  Her sister was ready for round two she guessed.  Well, she was too.  She quickly whipped the door open and could tell she’d startled her, which pleased Sara the tiniest bit.  Sara just stared back at her, eyebrows still raised, as if to say, ‘Can I help you?’

Thirty miles away, in a sad little suburb in a sagging house on a toy-littered cul-de-sac, Amy and Sara’s mother, Helen, poured herself her fifth glass of wine of the night.  Her husband was settled in in his usual spot in front of the television in his armchair, laughing at some dumb, subtly sexist sitcom.  One of those where the wife is impossibly gorgeous and the husband is bumbling and overweight and goofy, but the disparity in their union is never mentioned.  Helen often wondered why the reverse was never portrayed.  A gorgeous guy dating an average-looking woman?  Perish the thought.

Helen stumbled upstairs to her bedroom, settled into her usual spot on her king sized bed that she usually slept in alone while her husband snored away downstairs in his easy chair, and opened her laptop.   She had a new email.  Unusual for that time of night.  She assumed her friends were already asleep.  At some point, after her girls had grown up and moved away, most of her social life had disappeared as well.  She hadn’t realized that most of her friends were ones of convenience, ladies she could talk to at school events and play dates as the kids ran around.  Much of being a parent was just sitting around with other parents, sipping bad wine and complaining about your husband.  None of the parenting books told you that, but it was true.

Now she was down to two friends she was in regular contact with.  An old college friend with whom she’d maintained her friendship throughout her marriage and the raising of her children, though it hadn’t been easy.  Marjorie was single and had never desired a husband or children.  It made things awkward when the girls were young, but now it was almost like things were back to normal.  They were both unencumbered, not that that meant her life was much more exciting.  She and Marjorie did little more than have lunches and talk about books they’d read.  They played around with the idea of taking a long trip together, just to the two of them, similar to an epic road trip they’d taken when they were 19, driving from their college in Georgia all the way to New York City on a whim to see some band perform.  But now, neither of them seemed to be able to make firm plans.  Maybe they both knew those days were behind them.

Her other friend was Nancy, a woman who was the mother of Amy’s long-time best friend, Amber.  They ran into each other all of the time, especially at all of Amy’s pre-wedding festivities.  Amy seemed to still be under the impression that Helen and Nancy were close, and always included Nancy and her husband whenever she planned family get-togethers.  The truth was, Nancy was a friend of circumstance.  She didn’t dislike her necessarily, they just had nothing in common beside their girls.  Whenever they were left alone they found that they had little to discuss with each other besides mundane things like the weather and fashion.  But sometimes they exchanged funny emails, usually stories about something Amy or Amber had done that confounded them or made them laugh.

Before opening her email, she checked Facebook and held her breath, hoping the first image that assaulted her eyes wouldn’t be that of her youngest, Sara, downing a shot of something dark and suspicious looking, which was usually the case.  But no, there was a picture of Sara in Amy’s living room, all made up, clearly Amy had done her makeup with a heavy hand, in a lovely dress that made her look like a cinema star from the 1940’s.   She looked like Helen 30 years ago.  The same chocolate brown hair; Helen’s mane was still lustrous and shiny but now tinged with gray, but she still had the long, lithe body from the Pilates DVDs she used religiously six days a week, and the wide green eyes that she’d bequeathed to both her daughters.

She stared back at her Facebook timeline.  Amy must have taken the picture of Sara.  Her mouth smiled, but her eyes told a different story.   “Off to a double date!”  Amy had written in the photo caption, followed by a million little smiley faces and other indecipherable emojis.  Sara looked beautiful, of course, both of her daughters were beautiful, but not quite like herself.  Poor Sara.  Helen knew this whole date thing couldn’t have been Sara’s idea.  Her lovely, free-spirited daughter.  She envied her a bit.  All that freshness and spontaneity and youth.  She did what she wanted and didn’t care what anyone thought.  Unless Amy was involved.   She had a vision, many years ago, of sitting in Chastain Park chatting with Nancy and hearing terrified screams coming from the sliding board where Amy, Amber, and little Sara, only two at the time, had been playing.   The slide was for the bigger kids, too much for her baby Sara, but Amy had pushed her, only figuratively she hoped, until Sara had gone down all by herself, screaming and crying all the way.  She ran to Sara, where she’d fallen face down in the dirt  after the slide had propelled her little body downward at warp speed, wiped the dirt from her face, kissed her still chubby baby cheek and dried her tears.  Sara buried her head in her shoulder as she carried her back to the bench.  “What a baby,”  Helen had heard five-year-old Amy whisper to Amber as they’d both snickered.  Sara had quietly sniffled in her lap the rest of the afternoon.  Helen had wished since that day that Sara would stand up for herself more when it came to Amy; clearly she’d been bullied into this blind date business, but she tried to stay out of her daughters’ squabbles.

She went back to her email and saw the new message had been sent an hour ago from Amy.  It was link to a hotel confirmation for a resort in the Swiss Alps booked in Helen’s name, a package that included multiple guided hikes through the mountains, and a link to an airline gift card that would more than cover first class airfare for two.  She clasped her chest and sucked in a deep breath.  Amy.  She’d remembered her whispers.  Helen could still feel the weight of her smaller head against hers, years ago on this very bed.  She’d felt so lost, disillusioned with life and marriage and motherhood.  She’d had no one to confide in.  All of her mom friends seemed so happy and content.  Marjorie would have just said, ‘I told you so.’  She had been convinced since college that marriage was just a sham perpetuated by a patriarchal society set on keeping women from realizing their true potential.  Therapy was out of the question.  Sara was so young and running wild, never noticing her mother’s unhappiness.  But it was Amy who would crawl into bed with her and ask, “Mommy, what is it?  What’s wrong?”  And she’d told her.   Her 10-year-old daughter had been the only person with whom she could be honest.  Horrible parenting, she knew, but she also knew those clandestine talks had saved her life.

Helen forwarded the email to Marjorie and said, “I’m in.  Are you?”  She only had to wait five seconds before she got her response, an enthusiastic, “YES!!!”

Helen closed the computer, steadying herself, then stood  and made her way back downstairs.  Walter was nodding off in his chair, the television and the dumb sitcom still droning on.

“Walter!”  She shook the chair to rouse him.  Her husband stirred and slowly opened his eyes with surprise.

“I’m going on a trip with Marjorie.  To Switzerland.  We leave next week.”

“Errr…okay….” he mumbled groggily.

“And when I get back.  I think we should see someone.  A therapist or counselor or something.   Our insurance should cover it.  Maybe not a top-notch one, but someone.  I’m unhappy, Walter.  I’ve been unhappy for a long, long time.”

Walter looked confused.  He was a simple kind of guy.  As long as he had his family, his TV remote, cold beer in the fridge and money in the bank, he was a-okay.  It was one of the reasons she’d married him.   She knew he would be loyal and sweet, only needing her and their little family, nothing more.  Unlike her own philandering father.  But she wouldn’t think about that now.  That would be a story for the therapist.  The only thing she had to do now was pack.  She hurried upstairs, without stumbling, seeming to have sobered up completely, leaving Walter’s perplexed face behind her.

Back at Sara’s doorstep, Amy was still standing in the hallway, waiting to be let in.  Sara saw something that slightly resembled regret in her eyes, and reluctantly stepped aside so Amy could get past her.  She’d changed too.  She wore her gym gear, a light blue jacket, yoga pants and two layered multi-colored tank tops, her face scrubbed and her hair pulled back.  She was such a beauty, so ethereal-looking, with her naturally clear translucent skin, auburn hair warming her face, her cheeks red from the cold.

Amy stepped inside and started to look around.  Here we go, Sara thought.  She knew Amy would comment on the hastily discarded dress on the floor, the books scattered all over the couch and her bed, since her apartment was so small she could see through the open door of her bedroom from the foyer.  There were dishes in the sink waiting to be washed and dried, a basket full of clean laundry waiting for Sara to pick through and find a clean top to wear out.   But when she really looked at Amy she seemed to be seeing her humble little apartment for the first time.

And she was.  Amy was seeing the wall of bookshelves their father had put up for her, remembering Sara always said she wanted a wall of books in her house when she was all grown up.  A declaration she made after she saw the epic castle library in their favorite movie as kids, Beauty and the Beast.  She saw all of the keepsakes for her travels around the world, a framed photo of her and a friend in the Andes Mountains, stunning pink and aqua blue coiled sea shells, unusual-looking red and brown rocks saved from various hiking trips, white sand collected from a Thai beach in a bottle, the words Samui Beach scribbled on the glass.

She saw another shelf lined with a collection of used vinyl containing some of her favorite bands and an old-fashioned record player. A well-worn guitar leaned against it, which Sara had spent many hours learning to play as a teen, despite Amy’s telling her it was a waste of time. The living room had a wide open space of empty flooring, the only furniture was a small, dark red love seat with bright throw pillows and a side table.  Stepping closer, Amy saw the framed photo that sat atop it.  It was her and her sister, arms around each other, the ocean behind them, the wind whipping their hair around their faces.  It was during their last sister trip.  Two weeks before she married Steve.  Of course Amber had thrown her a huge bachelorette bash a month prior, but this had been a special trip just for them.  They’d gone to Miami and had the time of their lives.  They’d sunbathed every morning, gone running on the beach every afternoon, eaten and drank whatever they wanted, and at night, they’d danced to exhaustion.

She realized her sister was different and free and mysterious, all the things she wasn’t, but that was okay.

“What is it, Amy?” Sara asked, arm crossed, but her face softened a bit.

Amy put her bag down on Sara’s loveseat and pulled out a bottle of red wine.  “I’m here to drink wine and dance with my sister.”

A slow smile spread across Sara’s face.  “What??”

“Put on Nevermind.”  She was still giving her sister orders, but this one Sara didn’t seem to mind.  She went to dig through the album collection as Amy braved the messy kitchen to find two clean glasses and a corkscrew, not an easy task, but as she returned to the living room she heard the beginning strains of Lithium.  She handed a glass to Sara and started to play air guitar.  Sara shook her head and laughed at her dorky sister.  When the chorus hit, they both began to sing at the top of their lungs and sort of jump dance around the room.  As Amy danced she looked at her sister’s flailing body, her hair whipping all over her face as she sang, then pictured her mother on a mountaintop, her closest friend at her side, breathing in the crisp, cold air and sighing deeply, an expression of profound contentment on her face.  Amy said to herself silently, ‘So this is what it feels like.’

Get Happy – pt. 2

Assignment for Open University

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show him or her through appearance.
  • Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.

pitch-black-skies

Yesterday’s story from the other sister’s perspective. Amy’s feet were throbbing, but her shoes were killer.  She felt faint from the constricting bright blue bandage dress that seemed to be cutting off her source of oxygen.  Her hair fell in loose, auburn waves over her bare shoulders.  She was hyper aware of the men walking by, taking in the hard-earned, pert curves of her body as she perched on the bar stool.

Beauty was pain, and work.  Everything was work.  Nothing was fun and easy and natural.  There was no such thing as a natural beauty.  There was no such thing as love at first sight, or a perfect marriage.  In any so-called happy marriage, there was a woman who spent two hours in the gym six days a week, routinely skipped meals, spent an hour a day on hair and make up and had a dresser dedicated to nothing but lingerie.  Their husbands bragged on them to their friends; their friends envied them.  The ones with the wives who’d let themselves go after the babies and mortgages and 401Ks.

“Amy’s holding up,” she’d heard one of Steve’s friends whisper to him as she’d slowly walked up the stairs from the basement on Steve’s poker night.   She’d smiled secretly to herself. That’s why she spent an hour making her sister beautiful that afternoon.  If she’d left it up to her she’d have shown up in a pair of ripped jeans and a Nirvana tour t-shirt from 1993.  She made no effort and it was embarrassing.  Happiness was work too.  Just like beauty.  She’d found the man who would make her happy and she made him love her. Made him her husband.  It hadn’t been easy.

Steve was clearly out of her league from the beginning, she’d known that.  She was a lower middle-class townie with a state college degree, he was an Ivy League investment banker that just happened to be a friend of a friend of a friend that she’d met at a group hang out thing one of her friends had arranged.  But being married to Steve meant happiness.  So she reinvented herself into a woman he would marry.  And it’d worked, in six months flat.  Much quicker than any of her girlfriends would have guessed.

Her mother had never been happy.  She was too afraid.  Never asked for what she really wanted.   She’d settled for a man who adored her, but was beneath her.  Weak.  Unambitious.  They still lived in the same shabby starter house they’d bought right after Amy was born, the only empty-nesters in the neighborhood surrounded by singles and newlyweds with fat, cooing babies.  Her mom had told her what she really wanted when she was a kid.  Secret whispers laying side by side on her parents’ bed while her father was downstairs, watching some sporting event or game show, cheers erupting from far away.  She’d wanted a house on the lake with windows that faced east.  She would sit on the porch next to her husband with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise.  She wanted to write novels, she wanted to have more children, she wanted to go hiking in Europe, she wanted, she wanted, she wanted.  But they were just whispers.

She couldn’t stand to think of her mother in that sad house, watching the reflecting lights of the television in her husband’s blank face, a husband that she desperately wanted to love, thinking of trips untaken and the one page of the book saved on the computer upstairs that she knew she would never finish.  She loved her mother dearly, but she was lazy.  She wasn’t depressed, or defeated, she was just lazy.  She could finish her book, she was in good health, she could go hiking anywhere, her father would follow her wherever. It was easier to complain about the things she would never do than try.  That would never be Amy’s life.  And she was going to make sure that it didn’t happen to Sara either.

Amy wound a fat strand of hair and smiled as Sara approached.  She was stunning.  Much prettier than Amy when she was all dressed up, Amy was confident enough to admit.  It was such a rare treat to see her that way, a bubble of pride expanded in her chest.  Chet was a lucky guy.  And he was smart and ambitious and handsome, a great father to his son with his ex-wife.  Amy had always thought guys who’d been married before made the best husbands, contrary to popular belief.  They’d gotten that first disastrous marriage out of the way and were ready for the real thing.  But Amy was shocked that he was going to be so late for the date; it was the height of rudeness.   She wouldn’t let on to Sara.  Sara was too much like their mother.  Aimless, no plan, bouncing around wherever the wind blew her.  If she didn’t nudge her in the right direction every once and a while, she stood still. Sara greeted her and Steve with a hello that was a bit too chipper, refusing to remove her coat.  Maybe she was waiting for Chet to arrive before making the big reveal.  She knew the dress she was wearing underneath was stunning, but she was hiding, just like their mother.

When Sara found out Chet was running an hour late because he was at spin class, she laughed like it was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard (and it sort of was) deposited Amy’s $500 shoes on top of the bar and practically ran out the door, five inches shorter.  It was as though she’d been freed from some sort of oppression. Spending the evening with her sister and her brother-in-law was oppressive to her.  And that’s when Amy started to get angry.

She downed the rest of her wine, and without a word to Steve, she stormed out of the restaurant into the cold night after her, catching up with her on the corner.  She was so angry she didn’t register the cold or the fact that she’d left her coat inside until she was standing face to face with her sister, who was standing under a street lamp, waiting for the traffic light to change.  She’d already wiped off most of her makeup with a towelette, back to regular Sara.  Under the lights, she looked so young.  Her baby sister.  Despite her anger, she felt a wave of affection. Sara stared back at her, unintimidated, with a tiny spot of red still left on her otherwise bare lips.

“What do you want?” Sara demanded.  “Did you really want me to sit and wait an hour for that douche-bag?  Do you really think I’m that desperate?”

Amy shook her head, crossing her arms against the cold.  “I just wanted you to meet someone new…I mean….when have you even been in a relationship..?

Sara threw her arms in the air in frustration.  The light changed and the other pedestrians pushed against them as they made their way to the crosswalk. “You know nothing about my life.  You’re too busy trying to get me to become you.”

Amy tugged at her hair and flipped it behind her shoulders. “And what’s so wrong with that.  Having a happy marriage…starting a family?”

“Nothing, if you’re really happy.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Sara sighed. “Come on, Amy.  You and Steve and your whole fake Stepford Wife thing you have going on…that’s happiness?  Wearing designer shoes and going to dumb pretentious restaurants and talking about….investment portfolios and overpriced preschools or whatever with your ridiculous friends?  That’s what you call a life?”

Amy stumbled back, as though Sara had punched her. “It’s better than sitting in some crappy apartment with boxes and clothes and trash everywhere cause you’re too lazy to clean.  You’re 30 years old, Sara.  Grow up already.”  She maintained her angry stance, but she was losing steam.

Sara stepped closer to her, smiling, looking more at peace than she’d ever seen her.  “I love my life, Amy.  As hard as that may be for you to believe.  I don’t need your pity, or your set ups, or some pretend version of your life.  I’m actually happy.  I’m not pretending. And I think that makes you a little crazy.” The light changed again and Sara darted across the street, blending into the crowd of other pedestrians. Amy stayed on the street corner and watched her sister start to skip down the street away from her in her ballet flats like a little girl, until she couldn’t see her any longer.  Her heart began to slowly crack, and she wondered if she’d ever known anything at all.