Not Much Longer

Author’s Note:   This short piece was meant to follow the ABDCE structure of plot development. (Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending). I don’t know that I totally aced the objective, but I touched up the original draft and wanted to share it today as a way to keep myself lamely active. May you read and enjoy.


 

Brianna’s husband had missed work again, so she made him yet another doctor’s appointment. His many ailments have meant constant visits to the office for years. Another wife might have announced her unhappiness, but she rarely complained of any inconvenience when shuffling him across town and back regularly.

Upon arrival, Brianna immediately departed from her husband, off to his favorite seat in the dusty corner with no windows. Silently, she’d considered how befitting his choice was and how it reflected how she felt about him most days. Focused on the front desk, Brianna found a beautiful nurse borrowing the reception computer. “Yes,” she said without looking up.

Brianna slid the check-in clipboard into her chest and whispered through a smirk; “We still on for tonight?” The nurse cocked a brow, sneering at the screen. After a deliberate pause she calmly declined.

“You need to take care him. He’s your husband.”

“Not for much longer,” the wife declared. When she pushed the clipboard back, there was a business card tucked beneath the clip. The nurse took the clipboard and said something about letting the receptionist know when she returned. Brianna carried herself to the corner where her husband sat with his chin in his chest. It was silly to complain about her sorrow to anyone could listen because only she has the power to make a change.

He’s your husband, she had said to Brianna. A laugh parted her lips. Not for much longer.

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Disappearing

Author’s Note: The assignment for this story was originally intended for the writer’s to craft a piece in which the main character expected to die in twenty-four hours. This assignment was meant to build a character with wants, desires, and needs – things that might rise to the surface in a time of great stress. I challenged this idea by being mellow, and sort of showing the pain of depression pre-existing the diagnosis. While I do not feel the content needs a trigger warning, if you are sensitive to the topic of death or loss, I urge that you choose to not read any further.


It was forty years ago when I began to truly accept that my blindness was completely out of my control and turned that frustration into something productive. I didn’t just adapt to rely on my other sense but actually focused all of my energy them as my outlet. At a young age, I had realized I had a strong sense of smell, and started playing games with my friends to see how accurately I could guess something by its scent alone. As I got older and this became boring and childish, I started pairing the scents of my shampoo and lotion. After that, I started mixing perfumes, and soon I became passionate about fragrance as a whole.

Creating perfume is a delicate and tedious process, though everyone told me it was little more than a silly hobby to pass my time. My abuela harassed me for putting any of my time towards making original scents.

“Stop daydreaming, nieta!”

However, in spite of her harassment, I sold my first formula at seventeen for a relatively small fortune. It was the beginning of what I used to think was a good life.

My formula was run for a limited time, only five hundred or so bottles were sold, but I was never offered one to save as a keepsake. I suppose in the ignorance of my youth I hadn’t cared, thinking that because I had memorized the recipe it was basically the same as having a bottle of it. I could easily recreate it for myself at a much cheaper price, and it would be an unlimited quantity as well. As I understand it, however, two of the bottles are in a museum in Barcelona.

I can’t believe I am thinking of this after so many years.

My grandmother passed away shortly after I was hired to create fragrances overseas when I was my early twenties. I had dropped out of college and she was very angry with me, though she had said that she was more afraid that I would succeed than that I would fail. “It will take you away from me, nieta, and I may forget your face.” I had been fortunate that I was home visiting her when she fell so ill. But the pang of her loss drove me to work harder, work longer, and create a life that I thought I had wanted so badly when I was younger.

But since then, I have been utterly alone. Nothing belongs to me except for my perfume legacy, though I recently took a step away from the corporate life, hoping to work less and enjoy more. My days are often spent playing piano and listening to books written by famous acquaintances that hired my company to create their signature scents.

I’ve been asking myself: Is the piano not mine? Is the condo not mine? Is the legacy of my business not mine? It is true that I own these things but what I want to have is not something than can be seen. I want for something that I can feel. I do not want to feel so lonely. I do not want to die with nothing, with no one.

I know this is why I am waiting for a plane to Barcelona. I want to see if I can plead with the museum to let me purchase this one thing that I know belongs to me. It represents who I was in my youth; it represents where I have come from in my life. More than anything, however, it is my last connection to mi dulce abuela.

More times than I can count, I would sit in the garden while she preened her precious plants, unable to trust that I could be inside on my own. The recipe I had sold was fashioned to gain her approval – to embody her and show that the art of fragrance was not just a silly hobby that took my time away from something she thought was more important.

A sigh escapes my lips, tears trying to leave my eyes but freezing along my lids. Ice fills my veins and I’m left cold as I remember my fate. Last week, I met with a specialist who gave me a death sentence, more or less. In the days that have followed, I have begun reflect so intently upon my life.

People begin shifting around me, there’s something about the way the air moves that I can feel it on the back of my neck, and their shuffling almost distracts me form realizing the vibration is my phone. The pattern is unique and this is how I usually confirm that it is my phone ringing without feeling it. My assistant has gone to get coffee while we wait for the plane but she left my phone in a front pocket so that I could answer if the need arose. I’ll have to check what she gets paid and give her a raise for how good she is to me.

“I am looking to speak with Margarida de Luna. Is she available?” The gentleman seems out of breath, but I still recognize his voice. This is one of the other specialists from the hospital. After I affirm my identity comfortably, he rushes into his reason for calling. “The doctor made a mistake and asked me to call you.”

The doctor has made a mistake, I question him, but only because it feels as if this is the right thing to do. My instinct is to ask how he has made a mistake. Doctors train for a decade, if not more, in their chosen fields. How is it possible that he has made a mistake after doing this job for thirty years in addition to his study? I am offended that he is wrong but I listen to his explanation, because, no matter how frantic I feel, people do make mistakes.

A printing error – something that is fairly common in the machinery used for the type of scan ordered. The doctor had asked his co-workers for second opinions, noticing after my appointment when trying to prescribe a treatment plan, that various details seemed to conflict with one another. One of the other specialists was familiar with the error and pulled up old files where the same thing had occurred with his patients, essentially confirming that there was no illness to fear in my case.

I should be elated to hear that my life is not, in fact, waning as rapidly as I’d been told only days ago. A disappearing mass, and a disappearing stress, but one thing came with the diagnosis that remains: my bitter anticipation.

I guess, for now, I’ll live yet another lonely day.

My Late Best Friend

Trigger Warnings: References to suicide, references to rape


Standing off to the side of the stage, I can see the entirety of the class. There are opening remarks and awkward pauses as principals and board members get emotional over the graduation ceremony about to take place. Meanwhile, I’m stony and cold with a low rumbling rage. I know every single pretty faced teenager sitting in their shiny black chairs, caps and gowns hiding their fancy clothes. But they can’t hide the elephant in the room… They can’t hide the fact that one of their classmates is missing.

Jessica Langston. My best friend.

Jessica Langston.

My late best friend.

A month ago, I remember stepping out of my house in pajamas, the morning air nipping at the exposed skin on my arms. I was confused by the presence of officers in my driveway and had raced down to meet them. A solemn recognition burrowed into my heart the instant they welcomed me with condolences. Nightmares that had been plaguing me for weeks came to fruition via the single bullet Jessica put through her brain the night before, leaving me with a memory that still causes me to grind my teeth in irritation.

Jessica was supposed to be on a suicide watch. I had reported my concerns to teachers and school counselors. I begged her other friends to make reports of any unusual behavior. Without a doubt, she was a danger to her self. I regularly checked in on Jessica to ensure her safety, but the girls always joked that she was only in trouble if she was ‘with the boys.’ This, of course, was a cruel joke. They always made sure that they said it loudly enough for everyone in the hallway to hear. I often left those conversations physically ill, though violently upset as well.

Before Jessica killed herself, I was her only remaining friend. Nobody else wanted to be seen with her after she reported the rape. Gazes that had once been envious burned black with jealousy; though, if they new the pain she was in – none of them would want for her life. Each person condemned her to Hell for her ‘sins,’ many of her bullies genuinely impious themselves; all the while her rapist has since been hailed as a king. It was a ‘sexual feat’ for him to bed the valedictorian.

What a feat – raping someone.

Adam fucking Addison.

He’s sitting right in the front, and I have to try really hard not to spit at him when I’m invited to join the principal onstage. Jessica was supposed to make her speech today but instead its me. She had wanted me to have a copy on the off chance that I was invited to honor her memory. Little did I know back then that it would come to fruition. I really didn’t want to do this but I feel that nobody else deserves to do it, either.

I catch a glimpse of the Langstons standing side-by-side in the crowd as a moment of silence is called in Jessica’s name. There’s no mention of her suicide, which shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Anger has a way of eating through the reserves of common sense that we, as a sentient people, should have, and instead of redirecting it – I allow it fester. I’m going to need the adrenaline rush for the delivery of what, I believe, is going to be a very – memorable – speech.

While their heads are down, my chin is held high. I resist smirking at the false faith pandering through the crowd. If there truly is an afterlife, Jessica is scoffing at these scoundrels for their fake sympathy. Before her passing, she harbored immeasurable contempt for the hypocritical hatred borne from their religious regime. The devotees of her old faith betrayed her, essentially shepherding her to her grave. I scold each and every blasphemous fool before me.

And then Assistant Principal Masters denotes some of my lame accomplishments, though they are quite ordinary in comparison to Jessica’s incredible high school career. A few weak claps come as I slide up to the podium and prepare myself to become the voice of the voiceless. But I’m more than that…

Today, I am the voice of the dead.

“Good Evening, Barrington Heights, my name is Eli Chase – and I’m here because I was asked.” Faces are contorting at my verbal ambivalence, though I am sure that my own expression is quite the opposite. Dark amusement prickles along the back of my neck, anger seething beneath that in every layer of skin.

Murmurs are dying down, so it seems appropriate for me to continue. These people don’t know it, and they never will, but what I’m going to say is far less scathing that what Jessica could have been saying if she were here.

“I’m not going to say the words that she should’ve been here to share. I don’t stand here because I deserve it. I am here because I was the only person on Jessica’s side the day that she died.” Instantaneously, there are insults flying from the crowd. People who didn’t even know her now protest against me from the bleachers. The principal shuffles, I can see it in my peripheral vision, but he doesn’t come all the way to the podium yet. I point out at everyone, moving my arm around to gesture to every person who could be at fault for the events that have transpired.

“In the aftermath of Jessica’s suicide, we must all be reminded that terrible things do happen to people our age. We will be challenged in the years that come after high school, and we will come to live through the lowest lows of our entire lives,” I speak, hoping that my classmates with find clarity in what I’m saying. “How we choose to deal with those events will define out entire future. Remember exactly how great it feels to succeed today, because I can promise you that there is nothing more rewarding that proving what you are worth to the people who despise you, who judge you.”

The principal approaches me now, placing a hand against my shoulder blade, silently urging me to step away. I refuse to do this, though, because I’ve not said my piece. I will only leave once I’ve told everyone what I think they need to hear. “Finding your stride isn’t easy, and neither is keeping it.”

Despite how positive my message is, and the temporary calm amongst the crowd, I still hear the dissenting voices of Jessica’s bullies damning me for my audacity to speak out. They would have me stay silent and pretend that they’ve done nothing wrong. This is when the principal urges me to please step off the stage. Scoffing, I choose to disobey.

“Today when you stand up, throwing your hats in celebration of this milestone in your life, remember that Jessica isn’t here to share in your joy. She was raped and abused by people standing next to you right now. Not every smiling face smiles for you; not every ally is standing next to you; and not every friend means well by you. Sometimes – more often than we’d like to think – we must be our own heroes.” On that note, I shove past the principal, swearing at him for his willful ignorance, and strip my graduation garb to the ground. I don’t care if I leave it behind because the second I slip through the emergency exit, I’m climbing into my illegally parked car and running away.

All that’s left now is to drive as far away as possible, as fast as possible.

I Remember

Author’s Note: Before you begin reading this story, I want to let you know that this story does address some “hot button” issues. While I may not agree with the term, I feel that a warning is necessary. This piece discusses bisexuality, pre-marital sex, and abortion. It is a fiction piece, written originally for the Creative Writing Specialization course on plot. The assignment was to craft a story in which a character was faced with a terrible hardship and show how they overcame it. I urge you to only read this piece if you feel that it will not cause you emotional distress. Thank you. Please Read & Enjoy.


 

Nadine,

I remember how heavy that stick felt in my hands, painful awareness having washed over my entire body. Even now, ten years later, the broken pieces of that memory are hard to swallow. Those five minutes seemed to move so slowly that time almost went backwards. Misery dripped from every pore in my body as I sat hunched over and pressed against the side of the bathtub. My head ached from grinding my teeth. The wait was unbearable.

But I also remember how you were in the dorm room next to mine, and how you promised that you were only a text away if I needed you. I didn’t have to tell you I was taking a pregnancy test that afternoon because you knew. Our cycles overlapped and when I missed mine, it was obvious. All of it was made more stressful by the fact that I’d broken up with my boyfriend three weeks before then. You didn’t want to suffocate me because you knew I could do it all on my own.

I kept a picture of you on my phone. One of the first times you’d stayed overnight in my dorm when we watched that B-rate horror movie about the ghostly puffer fish haunting the aquarium. I took a picture of you furiously typing your review as you insulted the terrible acting and cheesy dialogue. You were so beautiful. Even though you hated the picture because the computer made you look so pale and sickly, I loved it because your eyes showed how passionate and focused you are – and, damn, you look good when you’re working.

I remember how, at least at the time, I thought you were just a temporary muse. I’d never dated a woman before and I’d just come out of a relationship with a guy who I’d only dated because of our physical attraction to each other. It wasn’t fair to you but things worked for us, I think, and it never came up about what we were or weren’t supposed to be. It was great. There was no pressure to identify myself as bisexual, but there was no restriction to how we’d spend our time together. I’m glad that that never changed.

The pregnancy test revealed a second line that night. I couldn’t even form a full message on my phone. I could only manage a letter or two but you understood what that meant. You had been waiting outside my dorm and burst in the second you got the message. I was already doubled over, crying into my nasty bathroom rug, which you never made a joke about even though it would’ve been so easy to do. As my body shook, you held me and told me that you’d be there no matter what I needed from you… which made me cry more because I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

When I calmed down, you reminded me that I could call Bradley about the pregnancy only if I wanted. He was the other biological half of the cells clustered in my womb. Careful not to use words like ‘mother’ and ‘father’ when addressing what I should do next, I was mostly glad you didn’t ever once call it a ‘baby.’

I never did call Bradley, either, because it wasn’t his body so it wasn’t his business. If he wanted a child, and I doubted he did with the way he partied, then he could figure that out with someone who wanted that kind of life. As for me, there’s no way that I was ready to be responsible for another person’s life.

I knew I wanted an abortion but I never got the courage to call a doctor for an appointment. I skipped class for a week. I skipped practically every meal every day. I skipped showers. Somewhere in my head I’d convinced myself that poor hygiene, diet, and sleep routines would force my body to reject the pregnancy. My thinking was that if that happened, then I could pretend that I didn’t make any decisions. Thankfully, you snapped me out of my stupor by making the appointment for me and dragging me down to the office very early on a Friday morning that you should’ve been in class taking a test.

I remember how we lied about you being my stepsister, just so that the staff didn’t have to feel racist if they questioned it. Your complexion is golden and crisp, and so light compared to your perfectly flat black hair that rested on your shoulders. You haven’t kept it that long since college, have you? And then there was me, skin as dark and rich as the soil from those potted plants you keep growing on the back porch. Stepsisters. It was the only way we could convince them to let you come back with me.

They insisted on an ultrasound, and you held my hand so tight as I flinched when the cold gel hit my pelvis. They estimated that I was probably about five or six weeks, and then I was told to clean up. Very quickly we were ushered into a different room where we were sat at a desk with an obstetrician. He rattled off various options for me: low-income family programs, day care options for teen mothers, and even housing options for single mothers going to school. My jaw hung from my mouth in shock.

You shook your head. I remember it so vividly because you laughed too. There was a silent questioning but nobody spoke. That was my cue to speak up. How else would the matter get resolved if I didn’t vocalize what I’d actually gone there for? I stared into my hands and, with my quietest voice, asked: what if I want an abortion?

I swore that you were going to jump the table and punch him. He rolled his eyes and literally tossed a pamphlet at us about the dangers of an abortion, spouting off some other lazy scare tactics to make me reconsider. You flipped him off as we stood up, telling him we’d be scheduling the visit at the front desk. Honestly, I doubt he’s forgotten about it.

You made the appointment for me, again, because I could barely speak. The receptionist seemed to understand and was far less judgmental than the doctor. She even said that there was a better doctor for the procedure and scheduled us at one of the other campuses in town. You expressed your thanks, I whispered mine, and we escaped to your car as quickly as we could.

I remember how I gawked at you the whole drive back to school. You sang to your favorite songs on the radio and complained about the opinions of callers. Sometimes you’d turn the volume way down to ask me what I wanted to eat and what I wanted to do – and I just wanted to eat pizza and watch B-rate horror movies – just like we’d always done. You were so happy to oblige.

You don’t know it, but I decided in the car that day that you were much more than a muse, my first ‘girl’ fling to ease me into the true nature of my sexuality. Nobody had been kinder to me than you had, and nobody had ever put me first the way that you did – not once. Even if you didn’t love me then, I loved you. I loved you so much that when you asked me what I was thinking when we parked the car that I had to lie about what was on my mind.

I said, “a ghostly puffer fish haunting an aquarium,” with a smile.

But what I was really thinking was this:

Will you marry me, Nadine?

You see, this letter was never supposed to be about digging up old, dark memories. This was never a story about the abortion I had when I was nineteen. That was just a small event that pushed us together so that we could become the successful women we are today. This letter was all about how I knew that you were the right woman for me – the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

So – what are you thinking?

 

Love always,

Violet

Never Stood A Chance

Author’s Note: I like to use a little website known as Coursera, auditing classes for free with my equally poor friends who love writing as much as I do. With my best friend in tow, I did 4 out of the 5 Creative Writing Specialization courses available. This is a piece I wrote for the Craft of Character course. I’ve edited it and given it a couple of polishes so that I may post and share it here today. Please read & enjoy.


Anxiety and self-doubt course through her veins, threatening to rebel against her plans. Once they arrive in the park, and she’s raced past the playground equipment, she saddles up to a group of girls she’s never met before, though she’s seen them in the past. They look awkwardly at her and smile, but he can’t see that from where he’s at in the lot, so she takes a deep breath. This is her only chance.

“I think I’m in danger and need to get to the police station. Can I join you for your run so he doesn’t try to follow me?” Really able to look them over now, she sees that they’re a bit older than her. Perhaps it will go unnoticed? She has to try and she has to hope. Thankfully, they all nod in agreement, waving lazily at the parking lot for extra measure. Turning to wave herself, she indicates that he can return in three hours with her fingers. When he starts driving off everything becomes less tense.

“What’s your name,” someone from the group asks as she bends to tighten her laces. She is more comfortable with them than she’s been at home for several days, so she doesn’t try to lie. “Kyla. My name is Kyla Walton.”

A minute or two passes by before someone questions why she needs to get to the police, what sort of danger she might be in, but Kyla has to pause and breathe before she can get the words out. “My mom has gone missing and my dad refuses to report it. I’m scared that there’s a reason he won’t make the call.”

Tears sting her eyes but she refuses to let them spill. All of the women look upon her with wide eyes, some of them not even surprised by the suggestion she’s making. Each of them were been raised to be cautious, men more their predators than the animals lurking between the trees on the trail. Kyla’s fear is understood and they agree to get her to the police station safely. It doesn’t seem as thought much time has gone by before she’s standing on the stairs – alone. Kyla didn’t want them to be seen and insisted that she get there from the trail on her own. What if her dad were following her? What if he somehow knew her intentions and had been waiting at the station?

Her mother has been missing for over a week, and her father keep saying that it’s for work. She would never need to do that, not with her current job. When she pointed this out her dad was very angry and said that he’d been hoping to wait, but that her mom took a new job. Everything about his explanations felt wrong. All Kyla wants is to know what would’ve taken her mom out of town for so long without contact. It wasn’t like she’d gone to a different country where she couldn’t contact her daughter. Knowing that everything she’s been told so far is illogical, Kyla propels herself forward and into the station.

The receptionist doesn’t looking up from her computer, simply asking what the visitor needs. Kyla figures that this woman has seen it all, heard it all, and probably can move through her office, without even opening her eyes and still do her job to perfectly. She sighs, and then states her purpose. “I would like to report a missing person.”

Proving Kyle right, the woman behind the desk doesn’t even bat an eye. “Is the missing person an adult or a minor, ma’am?”

“Adult. It’s my mom, actually. She’s been missing for, like, nine days and I don’t think I’m safe with my dad.” She knew this would grab the woman’s attention, and is comforted when the lady shifts her focus from the computer to Kyla. She can see now that this is not just another non-issue passing through. Pulling out a pen from her drawer and a file folder, she asks Kyla to wait just a moment.

Moments later, two officers come to the lobby and invite her to come back into one of their conference rooms. Soon they are seated a very large table, probably used for team meetings. “I’m Detective Thompson. In order to help you, I’m going to have to ask a few questions, okay? Do you feel comfortable doing that for me?”

Kyla tells them how old she is, fifteen, and how long her mother has been missing, eight days. They ask for her address, phone number, closest relatives besides her dad, and a variety of other information that she knows must be fore Child Protective Services. Scared as she feels, Kyla doesn’t resist. She has to be strong for her mom.

“Thank you,” Detective Thompson says very loudly, a hint of weariness in her voice. Kyla nods gently and really looks at the detective’s face. Her skin is fair, though it’s ashen somehow, as if she spends far too much time inside in the dark. Instinctively, she wonders if this woman works late nights, or even only nights. As tired as she seems, Kyla guesses that it’s just late nights and very long hours.

Then she speaks again, “We have to ask a lot of questions, okay, and I know some of them will sound offensive but we have to know. First, I need to ask questions about your mom. Is that alright with you?” Kyla doesn’t appreciate that she’s being spoken to like a very young child when she’s closer to adulthood than her toddler years. However, how often does a minor come in to report a missing parent? How often does a minor come in need of protection from his or her own parents? Kyla is sure they’ll take her seriously; in fact, she’s counting on it.

“Yes, that’s fine,” she says, preparing for the onslaught.

Do you live with just your mother? Does your father know that she is missing? Does your mother have a history of going missing? Does your mother have a history of drug or alcohol abuse? Does your mother have a history of depression? Did your mother have suicidal thoughts? Where was she working at the time of her disappearance? What was her position?

            It goes on, and on, and on, and on…

Detective Thompson wants to take a break from the questions. She says they’re tiresome and restrictive, in a way. Instead Kyla is asked to explain why she doesn’t feel safe with her dad. What makes her feel that way?

“Wouldn’t you find it really weird if someone in your family didn’t report you missing?” Kyla says, explaining that whenever she asks about where her mom has gone, all her dad says is that she’s travelling for work. “She’s never done that. She just does the cleaning for a doctor’s office. Her boss only has one practice. Why would she travel? Dad swears she has a new job but this is the only job she’s ever had. Why change it now? Why would he lie if he didn’t have a reason to?”

Detective Thompson asks Kyla to stay at the station for a few hours, if it would make her feel safer, and promises that they’ll make some calls to see if they can get more information. Is it not enough to say that she doesn’t feel safe? Kyla didn’t really think about the consequences if they decide her father is innocent.

Suddenly, the anxiety and self-doubt from barely an hour ago come flooding back through her veins again. Kyla has to sit around waiting to learn her fate. It makes her wonder if she is doing the right thing, or if she never stood a chance.

The Freedom Kitchen

I’m not exactly sure why I participate contest writing, but I often feel compelled to do so. Perhaps I am addicted to feeling stressed, feeling restricted, or both simultaneously. Either way, pushing myself to work within the parakeets of a competition is always exciting. Back during the September-November months, I worked on this piece for a Baltimore Review contest in which the theme was food.

Though this story did not take placement or receive awards, it is close to my heart. I enjoyed writing it. Food is an important aspect of our lives and we are often defined by it. Please, should you choose to continue reading, enjoy the journey that Katie takes through the morning on her mission to share food with those who need it most.


 

The instant her hands stop twirling her hair into a messy bun atop her head, Katie yanks her left hand down and checks the time on her watch.

                  5:15 A.M.

She needs to open the doors in precisely fifteen minutes, and this act is what separates her from being on time and being late. Katie has never been late to open The Freedom Kitchen, and she isn’t planning to make this a ‘first time for everything’ sort of day. An anxious huff parts her lips, and her eyes drift down check the radio clock. Without even realizing it, she adjusts her seatbelt.

                  5:16 A.M.

Eyes glistening in the lowlights of street lamps dampened by the tinted windows, Katie estimates this ride will take another six minutes if there are absolutely no delays. In all honesty, she recognizes that if she hadn’t tried begging her volunteers not to cancel their shifts, she might’ve been able to get her usual driver. Doubt over her priorities this morning creep into the edges of her mind with tendrils of cold worse than the winter laying claim to the city around her.

Guilt drives Katie to check her watch again.

                  5:18 A.M.

Simultaneously too slow and fast, the next four minutes tick by without her permission. Katie needs more time but she cannot afford to waste the time she has either. When the cab veers into the alleyway where the back entrance is located, Katie is practically shaking the entire car to gain momentum. She’ll need every bit of manufactured speed she can manage to get to that front door at five-thirty sharp.

Absently, she grabs a fistful of cash from her pocket that should be sufficient to cover fare and tip. Katie tosses it onto the passenger seat up front as she leaps free of the vehicle. She might’ve muttered something to show her gratitude but, honestly, she probably just spat out a few unintelligible words. Winter can be felt and seen in every direction. Katie hears it in the roaring winds, feels in the nipping frost, and smells it in the slush puddles of mud and newspaper along the steps she climbs.

Just as she enters the dilapidated building with red bricks weathered brown, Katie checks her watch.

                  5:24 A.M.

Wafting scents of boiling tomatoes, simmering cocoa, and freshly baked bread weave into the fabric of her clothes. Katie makes her first stop in the break room where she hangs her coat and kicks off her snow boots in favor of a pair of simple black sneakers she kept in a corner. Without pausing for a breath, she jogs back into the hallway and lunges all the way to her right.

Despite her awareness, the heat of the kitchen envelops her body unexpectedly. After volunteering here for years, Katie writes this sensation off as silly. She knows how important warmth is for their guests when they are visiting and does little to rid this section of the building of it. Once she slows down and refocuses on her surroundings, she pinpoints the dry erase board. Somehow her shortage of staff hasn’t stopped the number of servings the soup kitchen can hand out from doubling from the week prior. There must have been more donations or better time management, if not both. Katie crosses her fingers, hoping that it was a combination of both.

Several people approach her grumbling and groaning, asking a ton of questions all at the same time. She desperately wants to answer them all but she knows that these minutes are just too precious. Unless there’s a reason that she shouldn’t open the doors on time, then she figures it can wait until they shut everything down and start cleaning. She shakes her head, turns on her foot, and begins racing into the dining room. If they have enough food to serve two hundred people, then she needs to make sure both dining rooms enough seats.

As she slides into the west hall, Katie practically slams her watch against her face.

                  5:26 A.M.

She always sets a three-minute timer for the kitchen staff when she’s walking to open the doors. Time is flying at the speed of light. Katie forces her gears to shift rapidly, twisting and turning every which way to pull out the timer and avoid other volunteers as she returns to the kitchen. The magnets on the back of the timer make a clang when she drops it on the counter before turning away.

                  5:27 A.M.

It takes precisely one minute to get back to the front of the building. Lying on a bench is the plastic poncho she wears when she invites the homeless inside for their place in the soup kitchen. Katie feels herself tearing up for a split second, understanding anew just how genuinely impactful the meals can be for these individuals. When folks share food, they are sharing more than just a meal. Bonds are formed over a plate filled with food and glasses sloshing with preferred drinks. Lifelong relationships almost always begin with a drink and a dinner.

Being able to give food to someone who is suffering and struggling to survive is not unlike sharing a home with that person. They may have to sleep under brides and alleyways, or squat in an abandoned building with no heat, but their primary security comes from being able to eat. Sharing these Sundays with hundreds of individuals fighting to get back on their feet is the single most important thing she’s ever done. Katie lets a breath out, deflating and letting go of all of the stress that built up from her running around all morning. Habitually, she takes another peak at her watch…

                  5:29 A.M.

…And then she opens the doors to a line of grimy, smiling faces that are just as excited to see her, as she is to see them.

“Morning!” Katie says, the chill of the wind ripping through the thin plastic of her poncho. An elderly man gets to his feet after having been napping against the wall. He dusts himself off before offering his hand. She helps him up the last step and pulls a chunk of frozen mud from his beard.

Katie squeezes his hand, “You can’t been sleeping here at night, Charlie. You know that.”

“And miss your lovely face?” he inquires. “I wouldn’t lose my seat at The Freedom Kitchen for anything, Miss Katie.”

He looks worse for wear, and Katie wonders how many more weeks of this Charlie can handle. He’d been very sick just a few weeks ago and she tricked him into seeing a doctor for some medication. She scoured the city to find a shelter that had an extra bed, but he lost it only two days later because he wanted to be first in line at the kitchen for his Sunday meal. To hide her worry, Katie steals a glance at her watch precisely as the numbers switch over.

5:30 A.M.

“It’s time to eat, Charlie, why don’t you get our line moving, okay?” says Katie, a boisterous and confident tone passing through her grinding teeth. The icy weather is cutting straight through to her bones but she knows that it is nothing compared to what the line of people beside her must experience every single day. Charlie nods at her remark and starts making his way into the kitchen for his soup, bread, and hot chocolate.

People begin passing by in slow chunks but she stays to greet each of them before their meal. The small talk makes the winter weather more tolerable for everyone. It helps that there are quite a few familiar faces. In fact, Charlie ends up only being the first of many who came back to see Miss Katie, the nice lady who is always checking her watch to make sure everyone gets taken care of on time at The Freedom Kitchen.

We Need To Be Nice

            “Who gave you these, sweetheart?” her voice quivers at the sight of a hemp doll lying stiffly on the table. The children lower their gazes and do not reply. Fear tickles her throat, but she tries a more stern tone, “Sweetie, what house are these from?”

            Neither child even so much as blinks. Hesitantly, she lifts the doll to her face to analyze the blue dress. It is strangely familiar in a way she cannot explain. There’s also a small envelope, about four inches wide, pinned to the back of the brown doll. Locking eyes on her daughter briefly and taking a deep breath, goose bumps cover her entire body. She reads the name on the envelope aloud.

            “Denise…” she watches her daughter closely. There’s no response. She repeats herself, making it clear that she’s asking a question now, “Denise?”

            Her shaking fingers make a jagged tear in the thick paper, exposing a blood red piece of cardstock. A rotten odor erupts when she parts the envelope to remove the note. She also gags when touching the somewhat damp paper, feeling that it might’ve been wet earlier that day.

            “We were caught being naughty, Charlotte,” her daughter remarks, keeping her hands folded in her lap. Hearing this is shocking because Denise is one of the most obedient little girls at school, and she almost always wins the monthly citizenship award in her class.

            Then her son abruptly stands up and dumps his trick-or-treat bag, revealing a similar doll with a matching card. Even if she doesn’t feel the sting of tears forming, they are undoubtedly streaming from her eyes. With wet cheeks, she manipulates the angle of the card so that she can read it while still watching both children.

            As she’s starting to scan the paper, though, she scolds her daughter for not calling her by the right name. “Don’t call me by my first name unless there’s an emergency.” She waits for her daughter to apologize but Denise doesn’t make a peep.

                       This little girl was caught being naughty,

                       So here’s your chance to make her be nice.

            “Denise, you need to tell me what is happening right now,” she demands, flashing the card for both children to see the message. “I’m not asking anymore. Tell me where you got these dolls!” She glowers at her son too, hoping he might respond after being acknowledged. But he just remains standing with his trick-or-treat bag turned upside down.

This scene is frightening. What could they have possibly done naughty? Her youngest is never disobedient. Her oldest is never defiant. Something is very wrong and it worries her deeply.

            “Somebody needs to tell me what this nonsense is about now, or you’ll both be grounded for a month!” she shouts, although it probably sounds more like a shrill scream. Panic begins settling into her bones, making her tremble. Rigidly, she straightens herself back to her full height.

            “I was naughty, Charlotte,” Denise declares in an empty voice. The sound of it carves a pit in her chest. Towering above them, hands on her hips, she stares her son down instead.

            “Travis Mitchell Bowers, you better start talking. Is this a prank? If this is a prank and you tell me right now, I’ll forgive you for taking it this far, but if you keep playing around like this,” her voice cracks, “then you’ll be grounded until Christmas.”

            They both gawk at her helplessly. Tears form in their eyes but they are not clear. Blood is dripping down their faces and she nearly faints at the sight of it. As the teardrops fall, she notices the card on the table melting, spreading, and dripping on the floor in unison as they cry. A coppery flavor fills hers mouth at the sight.

            “They’re voodoo dolls,” Travis says coldly, “and you’re supposed to make us be nice, Charlotte. We were naughty.”

            Denise chimes in, her childish voice bubbling up and over her lips in an unfamiliar squeal, “We need to be nice.” Her statement quickly evolves into a chant, which Travis joins immediately.

            “We need to be nice.”

            “We need to be nice.”

            “We need to be nice.”

            Dolls and letters in hand, she races away from her children to the sink, their voices growing louder with each repetition.

            “We need to be nice.”

            Fumbling through the junk drawer just to the right of the sink, her vision begins to blur while searching for a lighter. A massive gasp of relief flies from her lungs when she finds one stuck beneath some neglected mailers. One hand traps the dolls in the sink while using the other to get a flame from the lighter.

            Once she sees a spot of fire, she pushes it against hemp dolls from her children’s bags. Unfortunately, before she turns back to talk to her kids, the same scent from the envelope returns, only it is much stronger now. Horror washes over her as she sinks to the floor, hearing their voices over the crackling of their bodies.

            “It hurts to be naughty!”

            “We need to be nice!”

A Place for Me

I wrote this story for a short story contest hosted by On The Premises recently. The theme for the entries was “community” and writing for this had been difficult for me. There ended up being 202 entries for the first round of judging. The top 10% of stories were chosen to be reviewed for the final judging round – which would have been 21 entries. The story below the line – “A Place for Me” – was one of the top 21 entries reviewed for the Top 10 submissions. Unfortunately, I just barely made the cut. That being said, I still wanted to share with you what I wrote and prove that I’m not missing just because I’ve lost my way. I’m working on original pieces. Without further adieu –


 

“A Place for Me”

Read & Enjoy

 


 

I know that I am breathing simply because I am not actually suffocating, even if my brain is convinced that I am doing precisely that. Each time I make another four inch drop and sink nearer to the ground floor, I feel my hear rate double. The pounding is so loud that is the only thing I can hear besides the actual slamming of it against my chest is the rushing of blood in my head. My vision blurs about halfway through my descent and I practically fall the rest of the way down.

Per the usual, my father has his arms crossed and is clicking his tongue at me. “You’re running late. The dance starts in thirty minutes,” I forgot, but only because I’ve been trying desperately to pretend that I didn’t properly make plans to go. My parents have been begging me to watch after my sister, counting on me to see if she’s up to no good, but I simply cannot. Being around people makes me uncomfortable. The way they smell, the way they talk, and the way they contort their face; it makes me physically nauseous. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Other people might as well be foreign beasts or aliens with the way that they frighten me.

“S-sorry…” I stutter what could have been the beginning of a considerate apology, or another one of my pathetic excuses. Fortunately, my mother comes strolling around the corner with my sister, whom is dressed beautifully in her short black dress and white leather jacket. My sad attempt to show regret for not wanting to go is diminished by the gasp of concern that escapes my mother’s mouth. I hear him start scolding her but I can’t ignore my sister enough to really hear them. She grounds me.

Analise is the opposite of me in nearly every way imaginable. Where I am flat and average, she is curvy and developed. She has my father’s height and my mother’s naturally springy, curly hair. I am short, more like my grandparents, and have my dad’s stick straight brown hair, which I wear short so I don’t have to brush it often. Most days, Analise is the innocent girl next door that has good intentions and a heart big enough to share, much like a hero in any video game. In comparison, I’m just the boring non-playable character that probably has an item for a side quest that has a lame reward for accomplishing it.

I reckon that she’ll be fine at the dance by herself, and I think that’s what scares my parents most. Analise is gorgeous to boot, and not everyone around her means well. If she were my daughter I’d be worried too. My mind gets goes to static as I begin tuning back into the conversation between my parents. I am grateful to hear my mother defending me.

Shaking her head, “Gerald, I don’t think she can do it. We’re asking too much of her.” She’s always been more reasonable about how debilitating social activity can be for me. Appreciation for her fills every empty crevice inside of my chest but the only response I can manage is to cry. That’s how my brain reacts to any sort of input overload, such as an argument about my status as a recluse. Even though my mother is supporting me, my father still denounces the possibility that she’s right. He always does. It makes my crying even worse, my body trembling at the very sound of his breath.

“Mathilda!” He shouts way too sharply. My mother wrinkles her nose in the way that assures him there’ll be consequences if he doesn’t change his tone. Analise and I learned where our limits were when we were in pre-school, and it’s horrifying that he still dares to push her to that point as an adult. “She can’t keep living like this!”

My sister approaches me and then pulls me to the side, placing a hand on my shoulder as she redirects me. In a soothing tone, she coaches me the way she does every day for school. Before we get on the bus she has to hush me into silence, and once more when we get to school because I’ve begun to panic again. Analise doesn’t realize how important she is to my being able to get through school every single day. Without her comforting, I couldn’t make it. I would have quit years ago.

“Ciara is just different, Gerald, and we can’t push her into a social situation. We have to ease her into these things,” she remarks defiantly. She used to struggle with social anxiety too, so she understands why I’m having trouble. My issues are worse than hers ever were when she was my age, I guess, which has my father convinced that I’ll just get over it by the time I graduate high school in the spring. His frustration grows the closer we get to our ceremony in June.

“I don’t care if she’s different! She’ll never survive on her own if she doesn’t get involved with the community! Ciara belongs with her peers – not behind some computer monitor!” he shouts at the tops of his lungs. Rather than anger prickling the edges of his words, it is pure frustration. Though his continual complaining about my social anxiety is grating, I try to remember that he just wants me to be normal.

And he has no idea how badly I wish to be exactly that: normal.

There’s this community, this society, this whole world, full of normal people.

Then there’s me – unambiguously abnormal – and I just don’t belong.

“Dad,” my sister begins. There’s probably more that she says, but her voice becomes distant and my vision darkens. All around me the heavy world melts and solidifies in my gut. The air tastes cold; the earth feels shaky; and my brain evaporates inside of my skull. As I feel the world disintegrating around me, I hear Analise repeat herself more sternly, “Dad!”

Blacking out isn’t unusual for me, especially when I’m being forced out of the house. Any sort of gathering that would provide literally anyone else with ‘a sense of community’ and ‘a sense of togetherness’ just ends up leaving me empty. My father has criticized me constantly for years now, as if I have some control over it, but he never used to say anything in front of me. I wish he still had that discretion, honestly. I’m glad that when I come back to it is to the solitude of bedroom. My eyes adjust to the darkness effortlessly.

In the far left corner, I can see the soft glow of my computer screen, where I spend almost all of my time when I’m home. Sometimes I have nightmares about blacking out and waking to my father unplugging everything. Forget failing, dying, or being cheated on by some short-term boyfriend – being without my games is my greatest fear. I need these black curtains, dual monitors, and consoles. These things give me the motivation I need to continue living.

Logging in is second nature. I type my password and click the icon I want without even glancing at the screen. My left hand reaches out to open a shallow drawer. I keep my headphones there so I never accidentally knock them to the floor. They’re an instrumental part of my gaming experience and I would go crazy without them. The loading screen fades away when I look up to plug my chord into the appropriate port. Just as I do this, a ping erupts in the headset from the messenger program I use with my guild group. This particular tone is unique, assigned to one specific contact, and I know my best friend is online immediately. Instead of tapping a reply on the keyboard, I hit the hotkey to dial out to her automatically. When she speaks, her voice is so rich that I feel the thickness of it wash over my body, “I thought you had to go be a part of the real world tonight. What happened?”

Explaining my worries to her is not necessary. She already knows. All it requires is three simple words, “I blacked out,” and we move on from the topic. An notification message materializes over my inventory menu, a probationary invite to a campaign mission: The Mayflower Maybe. The creator, my best friend, goes by the gamer tag MaybeMay, which is a pun for her real name. I accept the request immediately, but not without harassing her, “Your best mate has to undergo the probationary period?” She laughs at me as I spawn inside of the lobby of her personal server.

Giving life to the joy that erupts from May when she laughs is impossible to accomplish with just words. Hearing her happiness through my headphones is one of the best parts of my day, every single day. I often question why anyone would ever want to be a part of the outside world. There could be someone online living on the other side of the world who could be the most perfect part of their lives.

“As a leader of the people, you must impress my people if you wish to stay,” she details in a voice that reminds me that she’s as much a leader as she is player. I do run my own campaigns, and I have plans to also get a server running so that I can host multiple guilds for my growing players’ circles. I do well in the background, generally, but she’s the ‘front-and-center’ type. MaybeMay just happens to be a more natural leader all around.

Even though I’m new to this particular campaign, many of these players recognize my handle, and they fire off their warm welcomes in the public chat. Seconds barely tick by before the private messages begin filtering to my inbox. Compliments, excitement, compliments, resources for expected behavior, upcoming events, more compliments; and I love knowing that this is my safe place. No matter that I can’t physically see them, they’re as familiar to me as my own family.

Unexpectedly, I hear a knocking at my door and I lurch forward with determination to be quiet. My fingers hurriedly shut off my monitor and hold my breath. My mother is wanting to check on me, I’m sure, and if she knows I’m on the computer she’ll end up telling my dad. If he knows I’m playing my game already, so soon after I’ve passed out, he’ll keep blaming the games for my anxiety. I know that this not true. I really am just that dysfunctional.

MaybeMay’s voice asks me if I’m okay, since I’m just running in circles, and I manage a strangled shush into the microphone. A few more knocks imprison me in this frozen pose, concealing myself from the harsh judgment. How can my father want me to go join the world and be an active member of society with my peers when I can’t even escape his disparagements for having a personal preference?

Once I know I’m in the clear, I apologize solemnly.

“Someone knocked at my door,” I huff, “and I couldn’t tell if it was Dad.”

MaybeMay is protecting my avatar when I turn my screen back on, and there are concerns in the chat that I’ve lost connection. The general tone doesn’t bother me nor does it come off as rude. She assures everyone that there was a personal matter that arose but that I’m confirmed as being back online. To verify, I teleport myself to another player whose just had a low health warning come across the team notifications banner. Usually I’m the healer when I’m not playing as the guild master, and I fall into the routine very easily.

Our campaign mission takes the team four attempts totaling nearly six hours. Weariness settled into my eyes quite a while ago but I don’t know when for sure. Once we’re all done trading our wares and treasures with the merchants, I exit the software and rummage through my emails. MaybeMay lingers online to talk me, despite the reality that it’s even later into the night for her.

Initially, she goes on about some of the small tasks that littered her day, until she hopped on to do her usual work on the server and website. She works from home for some graphic arts company, and only leaves the house a few times a week to do mandatory errands. Her idea of socializing is a LAN party, or some other mass gaming event. I admire that lifestyle and usually remind her at every opportunity that I am jealous. Today, though, I deviate from that pattern.

“Do you think I’m broken?” I shudder at acknowledging my difficulties assimilating to the normal world. More often than not, this reality gets swept beneath some metaphorical rug. Outside of the house, we spread this lie that I’m just extremely shy. Sometimes people try to give me advice – imagine everyone in their underwear, a universal nugget of wisdom, it seems – and other times they just tut their tongue at me. Every so often someone might become bold enough to blame video games or technology. Of course, my father agrees, and his face sinks in confirmation of their theories.

MaybeMay doesn’t reply at first. This startles me because she’s normally doesn’t have to pause to fully consider anything, not even a loaded question such as this one. She attributes her ability to rapidly resolve questions or issues to her gaming, and then she cracks a joke about the people who blame games for a ‘lazier’ generation. I suck in as much air as my lungs can hold just as she replies.

“Yes…” I wasn’t expecting to hear her say that and I’m dazed. I am sure this moment between heartbeats will kill me.

“…but I think we all are broken in our own unique ways. You and I, we’re the same sort of person. Your dad, well, he’s just a different type. His idea of being involved and having a sense of community is really different from yours. Maybe it’s our brains, maybe it’s not, but whatever it is – nobody can say the gaming community is fake any more than they can say that kids at a stupid school dance are fake.” I didn’t think I could ever feel so strongly about a monologue, but this one has me shedding tears of joy. Clarity settles into my mind’s eye. Being different isn’t as bad as my dad makes it seem. MaybeMay gives me the ability to see myself as complete and strong, accepted and appreciated, respected and valid. Everyone should have a friend as loving and as honest as she, but that’s what scares me about the real world beyond my door.

Not everyone is so loving.

Not everyone is so honest.

And not everyone is broken like me.

“I needed that,” my thought escapes effortlessly through my lips. My features relax, and so does my body, as I begin closing all of the windows on my screen. Remaining maximized is my messenger program, silence hanging loosely between MaybeMay and I. Discomfort dares to creep into my thoughts but more than anything I’m just happy to share this sort of moment with her. MaybeMay reminds me a lot of Analise; a sister when my sister is away.

A digital clock next to me shifts into the next hour. Without a doubt it is time for me to go to bed, and so I begin the process of saying good-bye. Once I’m whispering my departure plans, MaybeMay reveals she’s logging off too.

Yet she stops me from ending our call. She insists that there is one last thing to be said before we disconnect and carry on with our lives outside of the game. I hold my breath so that I may drink in every drip of confidence I may derive from it. “A real community is just a group of people that care about the same things together. Tell me that our virtual family isn’t real – I dare you.”

A smile spreads across my face just as the signature sound of a user switching offline dings in my headphones, ears, and body. What I did to deserve her, I may never know, but I won’t question it either. I crawl into my bed knowing that no matter what my dad thinks – what I feel is real, and he can never make it go away.

A Mother’s Help

THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS stopped her in her tracks. Dana promised her daughter that she could have the house all to herself this weekend while she stayed with grandma for the evening. In her old age, however, she locked herself out of the house. Sneak in – get keys – sneak out – that was the objective.

That was the objective, anyway.

But the sound of breaking glass stopped her.

There was another voice coming from the kitchen when Dana gt inside, but she couldn’t just waltz in unannounced. It would violate the trust that she’d built up with her temperamental daughter. For weeks anything would hurt her feelings and set her off into a fit of swearing or crying. Dana wrote it off at teenage hormones, a flare of aggressive independence. In just one year, after all, she would be going off to college.

So Dana agreed with her daughter, “Alaina, you can stay home alone for the weekend every so often. Grandma wouldn’t mind the extra company.” It was an arrangement that would have been made naturally anyway. Dana’s mother has been getting forgetful and disorganized. Soon she would not be able to live alone anymore. There is an in-between stage and Dana knew that it would be weekend visits. Then nightly dinners, and so on, and so on…

The second voice was familiar; too familiar. Dana was able to identify it as Alaina’s boyfriend: Roger. He was a kind enough young man, but rarely ever wanted to do anything social with her. The mother always found it a bit strange. Still, her daughter insisted that he was just a bit shy and a homebody. Most of their relationship has been spent watching movies and making food runs together. He’d never so much as invited her to a school dance.

Needless to say, Dana didn’t exactly want Roger to be a permanent fixture in her daughter’s life. The breaking glass paired with shouting only reassured her gut feeling that he was not the right person for her.

“You said you fucking ordered the food!” Dana inched around the house in a way only Alaina could share mastery in doing, and weaseled her way into the bathroom between the kitchen and bathroom. From there she heard the fight deepen and another glass shatter.

“I thought it submitted the order! Please don’t break my mother’s dishes. These were gifts from her aunt!” And they probably were, most of the dishes Dana owned were from her mother’s best friend. She’d been a better aunt than any of her real ones, and so every silly dish she sent for holidays was kept and used regularly. It made Dana’s life as a single mom a little less serious, and it was something Alaina always thought was pretty cool too.

“You’re going to make a shitty wife. You can’t cook and you can’t place a food order. No wonder nobody else wanted to date you!” Dana resisted the urge to intervene, but instead dialed 9-1-1. She whispered her anonymous complaint as she snuck back out of the house and went into the car where her mother was waiting.

A noise ‘at the neighbors,’ she’d asked Dana, whatever for – it was so quiet outside. Dana explained that Alaina was having a bit of trouble and she wanted to give her a free ticket out of the mess. The discussion about Roger would be a private one, after the police carted him away.

And so she drove her car around the block and waited at a safe distance for officers to arrive. Dana watched and waited until finally Roger was escorted off of the property, in handcuffs no less, before calling her daughter on the telephone.

“Hi mom,” her voice understandably deflated.

“Grandma locked herself out of the house. I think we’ll be crashing at home instead. Sorry to ruin your weekend alone.” Dana said in her maternal tone, the one she used to apologize and comfort simultaneously. She is surprised, just slightly, when Alaina laughed in reply.

In a quick breath, “I don’t want to be alone tonight anyway.”

Dana knew before she got back home that Alaina would reveal the truth about Roger – the dark, nasty truth – and she would never know that it was her own mother that saved her. That would be okay, though, because a mom never needs recognition. She only needs her child to be safe.


Credit to the prompt generator I used when looking for inspiration for this story.

Also, if you are ever in an abusive relationship, please consider using this website to make the change you deserve in your life. There are one-on-one chat services available and resources to assist you during this difficult time of making a positive change.

The Worst Dinner?

A dish of lies, I say!

There is little more in the world worse than being tricked. My friends had never taken my vegetarianism seriously. One friend in particular was having a big party for Thanksgiving and invited some of his friends. I rarely turned down a social invitation, and as such, I attended with enthusiasm. After all, he had assured me there would be options for “my type of diet.”

When I arrived there was a plate set for me. I questioned the source of protein, asking if it was the tofu he promised me would be available. I even offered to cook it myself when I arrived so long as it was made available. No, he insisted! He insisted that I be treated like a guest. I took the plate as he insisted that it was definitely tofu. Sometimes when prepared one cannot tell the difference between tofu and some meats just looking at it. In this case, I could not be sure due to the dressings and sides. I trusted his word to be honest and went to the extra dining room to enjoy my meal with friends.

Or people I thought were friends.

I was so hungry I didn’t even notice everyone watching with baited breath as I took my first bite of the tofu. As I breathed in the area before even getting the morsel into my mouth, I knew. This was not tofu. I thought it would be rude to spit it out so I swallowed, silently praying to my god that I wouldn’t die. Afterwards I swiftly pushed it to the side and worked very slowly through my vegetables.

As soon as the room cleared and eyes were not waiting for me to “enjoy” the “tofu” again, well, I did what any angry teenager would do! I marched to his parents in the main dining room as the schmoozed with friends-of-friends. Wine glasses clutched lazily in their hands – I announced what their son had done to me. They only seemed partially upset, but generally indifferent to the shenanigans of their forever-a-brat child. If that would not put a fire in their hearts, I could think of something else that most certainly would capture their attention.

“Oh, and did you know you son is selling meth to half of the basketball team? He brags that he has been making in the attic.” I did not wait for their response. Surely news of my friend’s punishment will be the juiciest social news for a week or two. It was immature, unquestionably, but I like to think I was able to save their son’s life that day.