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.

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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.

Tell Me, What Could Possibly Happen?

A raindrop could fall in the eye of an old man picking dandelions from his garden. He could fall backwards and trip on the hoe he forgot to pick up (again). His leg could break in those few seconds. He would have to go the hospital by car with his nervous wife who won’t stop crying, surely.

They would take him back into a room and check his injury. They could find a mass in his leg that is concerning, something he probably had dismissed as a part of his arthritis. They would take a biopsy.

A week later, because of that single second when a raindrop startled a feeble old man, he could receive a call from his oncologist. That old man would be reassured that they caught his leukemia early and it would unlikely that these are the last of his days.

Excalibur Returns (An Original Short)

Contest Host: WOW! Women on Writing

Contest Title: 2016 Flash Fiction Contest (With Critique)

Placement: None


 

The ethereal world around me shames even my most whimsical dreams. I feel perfectly at home here even if I have no idea how it is I’ve even arrived. This place is so hauntingly beautiful that I can only presume that it is luck that I’ve stumbled upon this paradise.

 

“But why is it that I feel so lucky?” Not even the tiniest piece of me felt afraid to be somewhere with which I was unfamiliar. There were no questions as to whether I was in danger. My admiration for the scenery left me dumbfounded but put my simultaneously at ease. Why is it I would consider myself lucky instead of concerned?

 

“Because you are,” A divine harmony echoes throughout my mind. Surely it was the single most brilliant voice in all of time and space. Hearing it speak is distracting in the moment that I hear it but also in the seconds that tick by with slow deliberation afterwards. I nearly forget to look around for a person to whom the voice belongs but in my heart I know will not find one. Regardless, I twirl halfheartedly knowing in advance that no human could so sound divine.

 

When I stop my eye catches the slightest glimmer of sunshine bouncing off of a dewy patch of moss. Clouds pass overhead breaking what little light shone through the vast canopy. The moss that was just radiant green is now as dark as night, barely recognizable as any form of plant life. Something in my heart propels me forward to explore this patch of moss very specifically. The closer I get to it the harder my heart pounds behind my sternum.

 

Once I am hovering directly above the chameleon moss I notice that there’s a strange sort of light around it. The way it moves reminds me of a small stress on the countryside. Alas, it is not actually bright light, like what you would see from the sun, but rather palpable nothingness that casts a demanding aura. I cannot resist the urge to stare into the abyss.

 

Unsure what it is I am experiencing makes me curious rather than frightened. I slowly poke each hand into the void in hopes of discovering something with which I can make a deduction about this strange patch of plant life in this oasis. Why does is radiate power in such a way that is distinctly different from the rest of the forest?

 

At first I feel nothing more than a soft breeze. For a second I shiver due to a chill that is best described as a wind tiptoeing up my spine. Since I have no reason to believe that there is any danger I lean in further to take a deep breath. Does it smell as harmless as it looks?

 

“On the ground,” the voice returns only to alert me to the mistake that I’ve made. Agony washes over me as violently as the Thames. The pain is tangiblly audible to the point that I cannot even tell if I am screaming. My eyes remain clamped shut as I suffer through whatever has overcome me.

 

Time seems to stop so that my punishment may hold the attention of the entire universe. My palms are hitting the ground with flagrant protest. I found this paradise to be alluring and perfect but now I damn it for what it has done to me. Through the aching I force my fingers to inspect each frill, blade, and bulge in hopes of identifying an escape. The only thing that exists in me is the will to survive. It is only several cuts, bruises, and rashes later that I finally identify something that is foreign…

 

Something that does not belong…

 

And it is so very, very cold.

 

It is lean.

It is sleek.

And it is cold.

 

Without justification I bring the item to my chest, eyes still closed as the pain continues resonate through my bones. In a way, the echoes of suffering are worse than the initial inflictions. In my heart I know that this punishment is somehow instrumental to my escape. Perfect as it seems, I have no desire to continue my adventure here.

 

Silence begins to fall around me. Clamped eyes begin cracking open so that I can examine the trinket that I have discovered. The cool temperature that had stood out in contrast to my hot pain is wholly refreshing. I find myself absently attached to this object in a way that I find myself describing as ‘victorious.’

 

It is almost as though I had achieved the task for which I was brought to this place. As I suspect this presently, it is also confirmed; “What you hold now is a necklace fashioned from the shattered remains of a scabbard once known as Excalibur. For far too long I have waited for another to carry its burden once more.”

 

Enthralling as the voice is, as the setting is too, I cannot resist laughing at this premise. Tendrils tug in the back of my mind insisting that this is reality but in the forefront of my mind I have the slightest suspicions this is little more than a dream. The feelings, sensations, and pains that I experienced are remnants of regret and accomplishment that I feel in a real world somewhere beyond this place. I would be mad to believe that this luxurious getaway is real.

 

When my laughter fades, though, I find that there is a soft denial. The rhythm in my heart changes and my lungs breathe air differently. I am not independent. The voice seems to instruct me how to feel and what to think. Within seconds my mockery of the possibility twists away from that rooted doubt. As it lifts it is quickly replaced with acceptance; “And yet as much as you lack belief you are equally as easily swayed. Does your necklace not feel as icy as a winter’s night? Those are Excalibur’s remains in your very hands. Your presence in Avalon is not some innocuous hallucination. Of this I can promise you.”

 

I command myself to wake, or so I believe that I have done as much. The brilliant world around me is replaced with dull gray walls. Stained cream curtains billowing in the polluted wind cover a cracked window. I am instantly reminded that I live in a city plagued by crime and anarchy. Displeasure flows steadily in my veins. The largest part of me regrets leaving Avalon. Real or not, I already prefer to be there in spite of the dangers it may contain.

 

“You are meant for great things,” The voice asserts finally as my gaze settles on the blankets that cover me. A heavy object seems to be weighing them down. My fingers feel a breeze rolling off of a necklace that is immediately familiar to me. Excalibur is real and it is here in my lap. The peace that I felt in Avalon returns and I find myself trusting in the words of my invisible guardian.

 

I easily clasp Excalibur around my neck. It was much heavier in my hands. A second passes in which I consider removing the jewelry but the thought feels insidious. A soft whispering in the deepest crevices of my mind is insisting that I was meant to carry this burden. To exist without Excalibur would defy the universe.

 

A gunshot yanks me back into the world beneath my window. I rip the curtains back with assurance. This world must change. I must change this world.

The Right Obligations

I don’t do it intentionally. Generally I am a very pleasant person. It’s just – you know – sometimes my job on the school board is difficult in ways I never could have imagined ten years ago. When I first took this job I wanted to prioritize school matters in a way that benefited students and parents. Now?

All we’re told to prioritize is the budget. Damn if the kids get the quality education that they want – and that they deserve. Who cares about the kids anymore? It seems that I’m the only one.

So when I slam my briefcase down on the hallway dresser my wife knows that something is very wrong. It wouldn’t take much indication for her to see that there’s something bothering me otherwise. She’s been a high school counselor since she was twenty-six years old – a solid twenty years now. Having been forced to read the signs of changing attitudes and behaviors in teenagers allowed her to grow in her ability to read people of all ages. There some days when my sneeze tips her off to how stressful my day has been!

“What’s wrong, Andrew?” Without a doubt she remembers that tonight I had an open meeting for parents. This was a big one but I hadn’t said as much to Melissa about it. There was a recent proposal made by a student and her parents regarding religious tolerance and school wardrobe rules. A recent debacle, which was somehow brushed under the rug, is coming back to make a loud and clear statement.

I wait until I’ve made it to the kitchen before I even respond; “The open meeting was a disaster.” They always are, to be perfectly honest, because the parents don’t always realize the restriction that even that board is put under when managing the future of our schools. I dread the monthly open meetings for the PTO parents, the working parents, and the barely-cares parents to come in and complain about every little thing that matters to their one child specifically. It sounds insensitive because it absolutely is – and it’s become a requirement in order to do my job effectively.

“What happened specifically this time?” Melissa coos gently as she careens down the hallway in what I imagine is supposed to be a seductive fashion. While I do enjoy all of the pleasurable activities she offers to me after a terrible evening, she isn’t the most graceful person. Most days she is so clumsy she can’t get her shoes on without acquiring a bruise from one of the doorknobs. She’s a beautiful woman but she is uncoordinated beyond belief.

I meet her in the hallway with two glasses of chardonnay. We keep a bottle for Friday nights spent dining in and watching terrible black and white movies. However, when I’ve had a particularly troublesome day, we break out the bottle a bit early; “There was an incident at the junior high a few weeks ago that made some waves. The principal thought that he’d covered up the issue but it became a very public matter at the meeting tonight. Try as I might, nobody seemed to be interested in the proposal.”

Melissa is far more aware than I anticipated. Generally the problems at the junior high stay at the junior high. Socially the kids are too old for the little kids and too young for the big kids. Even the staff doesn’t communicate very much amongst each other unless they’ve worked together in the past; “Is this about the Muslim girl? Didn’t another girl get suspended for yelling at the principal?”

Precisely that came up at the meeting tonight. The parents of the young lady that got suspended didn’t make much for waves as far as fighting the expulsion. They requested a private meeting with me asking that I personally include a rebuttal letter in her file. It had been my belief after that meeting they intended to remain silent on the matter. Even the young Muslim girl withdrew from the school in favor of a private schooling option. It seemed as though this was never going to make it to the mainstream media. Criticism over it would have varied widely and ultimately interrogated my ability to resolve disputes within my system.

I was wrong to believe that anything this controversial would be that simple. In all of my years on the board there was rarely ever something so easily handled. Rightfully, I should have put the principal on leave until a formal meeting could be held with all three involved parties and their representatives. I didn’t follow protocol. In some way I am to blame for the events that took place this evening.

“The girl that got suspended wrote a long speech about religious intolerance in the school system. She called for action to provide stricter policies punishing bullies and staff for taking negative action against individuals wearing religious garb. They also asked that the principal be relieved of his duties until such a time that charges can be filed against him for his discriminatory acts and abuse of power.” Melissa links her pinky around my belt loop while I am talking and escorts me to the living room couch. She fancies this piece of furniture above all others. I like to think it’s because I bought her this couch for her birthday back in college. It has sentimental value.

She nods and bobs and strokes my arms to reassure me that she’s listening. There’s no hiding that she has her own opinion on the matter. If she’s the woman that I married then I’m going to assume that she agrees with me. After explaining the proposal I keep quiet on the events that transpired after the speech was finished. I opened up the floor for questions and comments. I was hoping for a positive feedback on the matter. I hadn’t expected anything but the rallying of all parents behind this concept of protection that should have already been in place.

“So when are you announcing Gregory’s suspension?” she questions. Gregory has been principal for about seven years but the parents have always loved him. I can’t remember a time ever where parents complained of his behavior and treatment of the students. In fact, he’s been the most widely supported member of the administrative staff at the schools in a few decades. This is his first instance of misconduct.

“By popular demand there will be an investigation without suspension. The parents and board members alike do not want to remove him for fear of the damage it could cause to the junior high’s structure.” There wasn’t even a vote. The uproar that followed the call for Gregory’s suspension was horrifying. I watched with empathy as the family was booed out of the conference room. Next to nobody present wanted to see Gregory forced out of his position and I had to accept the terms that he would remain an active staff member. Sometimes you can’t win and I hated to admit this was one of those times.

Melissa understands the language I’ve used to reply to her question. I’ve intentionally chosen to leave specificity out it. I don’t say that I’m supporting this choice but that many people decided upon it. By doing this I reveal that I am not in favor of the result.

“You should do something about it. Maybe you can’t go against the majority in your profession but perhaps there’s something you can do in your personal life. Maybe it will satiate the guilt in the back of your mind?” Her mighty suggestion is that I take this to a power that can openly demand support is almost unfathomable. I could forward the proposal to the mayor. Bringing it to her attention could possibly override the decision that has been made essentially without me.

The only concern I have is that I’d be fired. As the head of household my income is important to our financial stability. Melissa could not sustain the bills on her own and it would be nearly impossible to find another job in education. Nobody would want to hire me after such a scandal.

“I don’t care what happens because it’s always about doing what’s right – not what’s easy.” Melissa couldn’t care less if I lose my job. She would rather see me do what we both know is the right thing to do ahead of saving face for the sake of our own financial stability; “If worse comes to worse – we can always sell the house.” The equity that we have in it would be the majority of one year’s salary. A severeance package may be offered as well since I could argue in any arbitration meetings that I was acting in the safety of students. Between the two I should be stable enough to redirect myself, and there’d always be retirement to pull from at that point were it not. Maybe it’s not the best back-up plan but it’s better than no place. I have avenues to take if the worst happens.

Melissa is right.

I don’t just need to do the right thing.

I am obligated to do it.


*Disclaimer – this is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real life events or individuals is unintentional.*

A Bold Move

Walking into a quiet home at the end of the day is long forgotten memory of his, and when he does it today it sets off all sorts of alarms. His wife is reading a piece of paper at the table, sipping a glass of tea while shaking her head. As for his youngest daughter, she appears to be sitting in the living room doing her homework. It is uncharacteristic of her to be listening to her mother so plainly.

“How was everyone’s day?’ He shouts into the house excitedly. Perhaps it was just a long day for everyone and they’re tired? The routine he’s become accustomed to over the last few years comes easily. Hang up his coat on the hook, drop his keys into a wicker basket, and kick his shoes off underneath the cabinet so that they don’t get lost in the closet.

The youngest runs away from the coffee table with a smile, as she generally does, and greets him pure joy; “Can I have my after school snack now?” This alerts him that something must have happened that was serious. It must have been something that disrupted the schedule.

“Sure thing, Louisa, but let me talk to mommy really fast, okay?” Poor girl is only seven years old so she doesn’t have as much awareness as her older sisters. Louisa crosses her arms and sticks her tongue out, agreeing to wait just a little bit longer ‘since he asked nicely.’ Back to her homework she goes just before his wife calls him into the kitchen.

“One of us needs to take a vacation, apparently.”

In a predictable fashion he starts listing anything he may have done to upset his wife… (forgot to take the trash out, didn’t fold the laundry, stepped one of the Lego sets… it could be any number of things he brushed off!) Having been cheated on by his last wife, well, he simply couldn’t help but wonder if he’d done something to put Dana off? Marriages fall apart in less time than they’ve been together these days. A second divorce would break him entirely and his daughter, Cassie, probably couldn’t handle it either. She has only just started really bonding with her stepsisters.

“What makes you say that?” Before responding she hollers for Louisa to take her homework into the family room downstairs. There’s a bit of a tantrum. The family room downstairs has a much smaller television because it’s supposed to be a “social” and, or, “activity” room. Louisa hates being down there alone because there aren’t enough distractions from her homework – and how will she stay up later if she finishes her homework right after school? She tries so hard to be a con artist but her mother has the whole heist on lock.

Kissing his wife on the cheek before getting his own drink, which happens to be a small glass of scotch, he tries to stop himself from listing. Lazily trying to bustle through the kitchen forces him to slow down and try to listen for Dana’s explanation. A few minutes of silence do pass, and it drives him nearly mad, but when Dana does begin sharing the afternoon events? He’s actually surprised – one hundred percent shocked.

About three hours ago Dana received a call from Gemma’s school principal. It wasn’t just an office aide contacting her but the principal himself. A young woman was being asked to remove her hijab in front of the entire eighth grade class during lunch. Gemma was less than impressed and went to the young lady’s defense. It ended in a shouting match about prejudice and freedom of expression.

“Gemma says that she calmly told him that he was not at liberty to restrict her wardrobe, especially when fitting within the parameters of the school handbook regarding apparel. A parent was watching from the office, though, and must have wanted immediate results. The principal told her that she had no business to speak on the matter because it was between the young woman, her parents, and the school staff. She had no patience for him after that, I guess, and she’s gotten herself suspended for the entirety of next week, effective immediately.” As he listens to the secondhand recollection there are similarities in the incident to another he faced. Cassie once had a confrontation with a pastor that came to the house after Cassie and he decided to stop attending church. It was his misfortunate that Cassie answered the door – and even worse than that that he had the audacity to imply to an angry teenager that the Church is all forgiving. That man learned a valuable lesson that night, and is hopefully prepared for his own teenagers.

Now with her own confrontation on social issues under her belt, it would appear that Cassie and Gemma will make perfect sisters in the future. Even if Cassie’s spectacle wasn’t nearly as public, Gemma proves by standing up for another person’s rights that she is every bit as conscious about the world as his biological daughter. They’ve both made him very proud.

“Cassie seems to have rubbed off on her, huh?” He says it as a joke. It doesn’t seem to sit well with his wife, though, and he corrects himself; “I’m sorry, Dana. I know that Gemma will have to explain at her college interviews. At least it’s for a good reason and not something that is actually bad. Getting in trouble fighting for justice is not the same as being locked up for assalt.” If he was being honest, he could both see what rules were broken and not understand which rules were violated. In his mind the only question was in regard to the other staff members who chose to let this entire scene play out as it did without stepping in to protect the children who needed it. Plain discrimination such as this deserved to be opposed.

“I’m not worried about Gemma’s permanent record. I’m worried about how she’s going to be treated because of this incident. If the principal is willing to openly demand a young lady to remove her hijab then I can’t see him being unafraid to single out Gemma either. Every toe she puts out of line – or even on the line! – is going to be punished twice as hard now that she’s made a public scene of herself.” Dana drones on and on about all of the issues that come with standing up in a conservative community. Cassie had been ostracized after her abandonment of faith. People who claimed to be her friends whispered of her so called “sinful” lifestyle. It was not at all out of the question that Gemma would face the same passive judgment for her decision to stand up against the principal.

It makes sense to him why one of them needs to take a vacation. They could both technically work from home comfortably. It would just depend on which person has more flexibility in the next week’s schedule. Gemma could technically stay home by herself, but it would be unwise to leave a fourteen year old alone for eight hours for five days in a row.

“Maybe we could get Cassie to come back next week and sit with her. They get along really well and I think that Cassie could coach her through what happens next.” Dana laughs at the proposition initially, but does agree that Cassie may be what exactly the person Gemma needs right now. As parents they both agree with their daughter’s choice in defending the other girl’s right to honor and practice her faith in school. Unfortunately, they have to navigate these waters carefully now. Social consequences are always worse than the school administered punishment.

“Well, Todd, you’ll have to talk to her about it. Her suspension is effective immediately so she can’t go to class tomorrow. She’ll get a jump-start on her assignments since they’re still letting her get credit for her work. If we can get Cassie up here tonight then neither of us has to miss work tomorrow. Although, I left today, so it’ll be your day tomorrow if she can’t.” Dana stands up, admitting that she needs to get Louisa her snack before she explodes with rage. Before his wife even makes it out of the kitchen he’s sent a message to his daughter. Thankfully, she calls rather than texts back – stating that she’ll do anything to help with Gemma – just say the word.

Blended family or not, Todd knows that his girls are each fantastic women. Each person fits perfectly with the others. Looking back at his life he sometimes wonders how the five of them ever functioned without one another. This may not be the life he thought he’d live a few decades ago, but this life was so much better than he could have imagined. Everything was worth getting to this day, and every single day to come.

Unlikely Advice from an Unlikely Friend

Cassie and Madira sat in the cafeteria while everyone buzzed on about their exciting holiday plans next week. Usually they, too, would be jabbering on positively about whatever they had scheduled for the winter break but each girl struggled respectively with their own issues.

“How do I politely tell my father that I don’t want to be in the wedding ceremony?” Madira poses. A few months ago her father had gotten engaged to a new woman after spontaneously divorcing her mother. Nobody had gotten a full and proper explanation until the engagement – which revealed the ceremony to be held at a Catholic church. Similarly to Cassie, Madira forgave her father but was unsure how to be around him knowing that he left her mother and his family.

“How did your grandparents tell him that they weren’t going?” Cassie was almost closer to Madira’s family than she was her own these days. Her father remarried her senior year of high school, which was fine, but it brought with it two younger children. The blended family dynamic was actually pretty calm but there were very distinct differences between how life was for Cassie with her biological parents, with her single father, and now with her stepfamily. Cassie felt more at home with Madira’s family, in spite of the fact that she generally detested religion of any kind.

With her black hair falling over her shoulder while she poked around the cheese curds on her tray, Madira couldn’t fully bring herself to reply. She most certainly did not approve the way her grandparents’ estranged their son. Hinduism can be a strict practice, but it had not been so concrete in her home that such behavior was seen as acceptable. Hinduism was just as susceptible to modern adaptions as any other religion, after all.

Madira and her mother were always progressive in their accomplishments as female leaders in the home. Madira was generally at the top of her classes while her mother nabbed promotion after promotion. She would soon be holding the position as chief financial officer for a decent sized limited liability corporation downstate. She would get to work from home, allowing her father’s parents to reach for a new age interpretation of sannyasi. In fact, they purposely planned a trip to the Amazon during the week of her father’s wedding.

Their way of rejecting their son’s wedding invitation was to call him and say they disapprove of his decision to abandon their faith, and that they refuse to be tied to the bad karma that circles around him. Madira’s devotion certainly put her in a difficult place because her grandparents were not technically wrong. His choices reeked of bad karma due to his selfishness. She often questioned in what ways his desires were more valuable than those of his loved ones. In the end she reached the same conclusion, he lost faith that he could ascertain moshka.

            “I love him and I will attend the ceremony to remind him that my love is unchanged. I just don’t know how to tell him I don’t want to be a bridesmaid for a woman I’ve never met.” People move around the cafeteria without even noticing the quiet dilemma. College is enlightening in that way to a good many young adults. This valuable lesson, though, is one that Madira and Cassie already learned.

“Has he offered to arrange a meet up with her then? Is he even trying to make this easier on you?” Cassie claims that she’s always been a firm believer that everyone pursues their own happiness exclusively. Even as she asks the question Madira knows she already has an answer. Not because that is what she believes but also because she’s right; “If he isn’t trying to accommodate you then why waste your positive energy on him?”

Part of growing up Hindu in America is that many people don’t understand it. Aside from that, people are always mixing up Hinduism, Buddhism, and Muslim faiths. Once someone actually asked Madira if she was Mormon because they couldn’t remember the word ‘Muslim.’ As such, she decided long ago that everyone’s understanding of faith is different but as long as everyone had it then spiritually everyone was the same. Even though Cassie didn’t associate with religion, some days Madira swore that she was starting to adopt Hindu practices and beliefs in her life.

“Honestly, my being unwilling to assist him is bad karma on its own. My mother would be disappointed if she heard this conversation.” Cassie rolls her eyes. Madira is surprised to see her so disrespectful. She doesn’t take it personally, though, because that is just part of who Cassie is as a person. Any other time of day she’s never been shy of totally accepting of Madira’s faith. The pair often engaged in the time consuming practices of yoga, meditation, and Veda readings.

Of course, Madira knows that marriage and romance are sore subjects for her friend. Loving her parents so fiercely made their divorce silently painful. Cassie calls her mom regularly, and visits her dad every other weekend. One of her favorite pastimes is criticizing other college students who only keep in contact with their families online. Unfortunately, Madira has seen the damage unravel periodically over two years.

For example, she’s been asked out several times. Cassie always makes plans and cancels the morning before with some half-assed excuse. Her romantic reputation is best defined presently as “flake.” Madira taps her fingers on the table before looking directly at Cassie; “Will you come to the wedding with me? Having you there would make it easier to deal with how uncomfortable I feel. Plus, you’re familiar with that sort of religion. You can fill in the awkward silences ranting angrily about their choice of faith.”

The offer confuses her for a moment. Generally, Madira has discouraged Cassie’s hateful chatter about religion. She framed an essay she wrote in high school as a reminder as to why she abandoned her church. Poor girl claims that it reminds her that the only thing she can rely on is herself, and that she’ll only be held to her own standards. Hard as it is for Madira to see her that way each day, she accepts that at their center they’re really no different in spirit.

Soon their meal is over and they brave the harsh winds of the winter season. Cassie never wears a proper coat, generally sporting a ratty windbreaker that she’s had for something like six years. With her hood up and her head down, she decides to finally respond to the question Madira posed back in the cafeteria; “I can’t go to another wedding. If you’re going, and you believe that this will affect your karma if you don’t, then you need to go on your own. I’ll just bring negativity to the event and that’s not fair to anyone.”

Madira knows that her friend is right – again, as she always seems to be in that boggled mind of hers. Bringing her along was selfish idea to begin with, although it would never hurt for Cassie to work on the demons she still harbors in her mind. Regardless, she accepts the answer of her atheist friend. For all her snarky sarcasm, the respect that Madira knew she was capable of emerges once again.

“I suppose you’re right.” Madira smiles while simultaneously shivering. How Cassie was staying warm was far beyond her mental capacity, but it was her choice. Just like being devout to her beliefs was her choice. At the end of the day, frustrating as her choice may feel, Madira knew in her heart it was the only true option; “Thank you for knowing just what to say all the time, Cassie. You’re a better friend than you realize.” Her cocky laugh takes away from the compliment, but there’s nothing she could do to make the statement less true.


Author’s Note:  I researched and read about the Hindu religion for the greater part of the last ten days. Religion can be beautiful, or it can be damning. Too often the media tells a sad story of religions warring constantly. I wanted to show that young adults can be friendly in spite of their different opinions. If you feel that I have misrepresented Hinduism in any way, leave a comment below (politely and maturely) further detailing the error.

Thank you for your continued support. I aim to always represent the people of the world fairly and as accurately as possible. Diversity is real and it should be reflected in the literature and entertainment businesses.

A Teenager’s Essay

Author’s Note: I apologize for posting this a day late. I’ve had a couple of personal things come up on top of being sick. I had this done yesterday but hadn’t had enough time to edit before posting. But it’s here now! Enjoy!


 

WHY I CHOSE TO STOP HAVING FAITH

A Coming of Age Essay

by

Cassie Appleton

 

 

When I grew up the only thing I knew was church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night. In a country where Christianity is the prominent religion it never once occurred to me that it could also be a bad one. Sure, there were plenty of headlines that suggested that Christians weren’t the great people I was raised to believe. Nonetheless, for fifteen long years I was genuinely convinced that the media was wrong. The stories had to be wrong. No proper Christian would ever behave in that way.

Unfortunately, shortly after I got my learner’s permit I found out that maybe Christians were not the people I thought they were all along. My generalization sometimes seems unfair, but how is it any different than my experiences with generalization? Two wrongs don’t make a right – but I think it gave me a clearer outlook.

Last year when I moved here I kept my lips shut about why. People don’t ask many questions when you only have one parent anymore because it is pretty normal. There are so many good, bad, and understandable reasons for having one parent that nobody really cares enough to ask anymore. The few people that I became friends with never asked why I lived with just my dad but asked if I had a second parent. They didn’t even so much as assume that my second parent was a mother. I love that I live in a world that doesn’t make presumptions – or at least I am thankful to have found a social circle that is so accepting.

Even with all of my new friends and a reasonably happy home, my father and I still attended church. He made it very clear that if people asked about the reason for divorce it was not to be discussed. The only response either of us uttered was “unresolved differences.” He told me that people don’t care to know about the sexual failings of a marriage. My father assured me that it would be easier for us in the long run to just fudge the details about my mother’s slew of affairs.

Maybe my father suspected we would have a bad reputation if fellow patrons knew about my mother’s interest in other people. As a Christian I could understand on a surface level how that would be perceived as a terrible, sinful thing. Selfishly I didn’t want people condemning my mother to hell for making a mistake. I had considered many times how very different murder and sex out of wedlock truly were in the grand scheme of things. Nobody deserved the same condemnation for unfaithful sex as a violent crime. To me there was no question. That seemed to be only to me…

One day I went to church with my older brother. He was visiting for the weekend while he was on break from school. Since he can drive and my father was feeling off, I told hard-working pops to take a personal day from church. I was ecstatic that he actually agreed. I’ve never seen that man take time for himself – not even through the tough days going through the divorce. What better way to spend a Sunday than at church and brunch with my big brother?

Well, my brother hadn’t really known that my father was keeping the affairs a secret. I was expecting him to just know, I guess, and didn’t follow him around to hear what he was saying. The horrifying truth was that he had no problem telling everyone my mother was a filthy whore. If you want to fail me for using a ‘swear’ word – then please allow me fail you for being extremely outdated in this generation.

I walked into to the lobby to get my coat so that my brother and I could get going – I was so ready for brownie waffles and cough syrup cola. Okay, so maybe it doesn’t actually have cough syrup but it’s a grape soda that reminds me of cough syrup my dad always gave me when I was sick. Anyway, I was walking by and I heard a group of ladies condemning a couple that recently divorced due to marital affairs. My brother was saying what he’s been saying all along…

“My mom was just a selfish witch and it sounds like this guy would be her best friend. People that are unfaithful are a disgrace to our religion.”

            That has basically bee his mantra since he found out the truth about the divorce. He wasn’t home when they broke the news but he hasn’t missed texting me every single day about how angry he is at our mother. All of his social media profiles are filled with rants about fidelity and faithful matrimony. Even though I was disappointed in my mother I never thought to be as upset as my brother. I thought his rage it would burn out and he would forgive the woman. All of her affairs were on her personal time and she never once compromised her time with us. Maybe she didn’t love my father anymore, and maybe he didn’t even love her back either to let this happen so calmly. The only thing I was sure about was that there was never a concern as to whether she loved her children. I hoped so hard that my brother would be able to see that with time and space.

Concerns about his general attitude fell to the background when I heard the other adults arguing with my brother. Each person disagreed with him. “In what ways,” you might be asking yourself. How could these grown ups possibly disagree with what society would generally deem as truthful statements. What I heard made my heart sink but it forced me to grow up in the course of two whole minutes.

It’s important for you to know that I had never doubted my faith in religion. My devotion God and the Bible were genuine. My dedication to being the average, Plain Jane, Christian teenager was probably a little obscene at times. There was a whole six months when I had posters of Jesus in my bedroom while my friends had posters of boy bands and stolen road signs. I stood by my faith when those around me picked and chose which pieces of the Bible they chose to believe– I thought they were just falling for the Devil’s tricks.

Perhaps you don’t get that vibe from me? Perhaps that is hard to believe considering I don’t act that way? You never will see that part of my past. Nobody will ever see it again.

These adults who struck a conversation with my brother about our parents shamed not just my mom – who did do something dishonest – but they also blamed my father for the results of their marriage. They didn’t stop there, no! These vicious baboons also claimed that my brother and I were at fault for not divulging questionable behaviors that we noticed! Fun fact – WE DID NOT NOTICE!

Overhearing this conversation changed how I see myself. These people who didn’t know us were speaking ill of our situation. When my brother got to the car he was swearing up a storm, he was smacking his steering wheel, and he even drove a bit like a maniac. I didn’t feel safe but I was also amped up about these horrible people that I barely noticed at the time. What made them think our personal lives were up for speculation? When our car jerked into park at the waffle house it dawned on me…

Having faith in my religion was stupid. A lot of good people do everything “by the book.” They follow the guidelines of the Bible and take each word so literally that they would abandon their family and friends if they stepped outside of the outdated lines. Being so strict, though, could result in the chastisement of their iron first by more liberal Christians. No matter what, sects of Christianity will attack one another. Seeing that in action in the smallest way possible brought a light into my life. I used to it reevaluate the worth in my faith.

Should I believe? Should I become more liberal in my faith? Should I approach these women? So many questions filled my head as my brother vowed to make our mother pay for her sins – like a tried-and-true Christian boy. I was appalled at these people at the church. I was mortified by what my brother was saying – so very loudly in the restaurant. My decision to leave my faith behind me wasn’t final when I left the restaurant, but I did get there very quickly.

My brother left the next morning to make it for an evening lecture. My dad missed work because he was still sick and I skipped school because I didn’t feel like facing any rumors. I actually wondered if the reactions would be positive. Don’t most people experience empathy when you’ve been screwed over by a cheating parent? I think that is what socially happens more often than not. The truth was, though, I didn’t trust anything about the world. Those idiots at the church were happy to hang my laundry out to dry without any sort of consideration or compassion. Why should I bother having faith if I couldn’t trust it?

Foundation shaken – it was an official decision inside of myself. All I needed was my father’s support. I’ve never seen him make a decision as fast as he did that day. I told him what happened and he laughed so loud. I mean it was really loud! It actually kind of hurt my ears. Nothing about this incident surprised him either. It was him who voiced the question I’d been practicing in my head.

“Do you want to keep going?” As though I would want to keep going where I see liars rather than people? A place where I fear I will be judged for not being from a perfect family? Somewhere that requires me give up everything for the God that is supposed to give me everything I deserve in life for being devout? A religion that would tell me that my family is unnatural and destined for Hell? Extremists or not, this church was not a place I belonged to anymore.

Or any church for that matter.

I told him I was quitting Christianity and he agreed that it might be for the best. We have been filling those glorious voids by exploring different cultures and faiths. During this time we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and I have never been so happy without the shackles of religion. The expectations have changed in such a big way. Nobody can impose their ideals upon me any longer and I am in control of the person I will become someday.

Everyone’s coming of age story is going to be different. Some people will go through truly harrowing experiences to reach the next level of growing up. Others will write you a short story about a scary dentist appointment using twelve point five font with two point five spacing to reach the three-page limit. All I know is that after hearing the way religious people wiling spoke of near strangers – I have no desire to be controlled by something that doesn’t motivate people equally.

I just want to be a good person. I can only do that if I have an open mind. Maybe they can’t but I am more than capable. I promise I will remain motivated only by good intentions.

An Unwise Choice

There wasn’t a knock on the door or a phone call. Hell, there wasn’t even a missed text message. Terry just stormed into the house with foggy eyes and a slimy grin. Kevin couldn’t have been sure without an explanation, but he knew immediately that there was probably something wrong.

“So I decided to do it.” Terry announced as plainly as anyone might have if they thought their friend knew what was supposed to have happened. Kevin, unfortunately, had no clue. Still – he pretended to go along with it.

“Did you? How long were you waiting to do it again?” Faked enthusiasm poured out of his mouth easily enough. He’d never been the type to lie but Kevin was known to be forgetful at times. Over the last few months his life changed quite dramatically as his marriage opened, and they shared this choice with their closest friends and family. This decision had been discreet and freeing, but they knew not everyone would support the change.

Terry had been one of the only friends that actually encouraged Kevin as he hesitantly prepared for his first date a few weeks back. In hindsight, perhaps this should have been a warning sign. At the time it had not raised any red flags, and it might not have ever done so if that day Terry hadn’t been so very transparent.

“I slept with Karen. We have been dancing around it for years but we finally took the dive. Man, let me tell you, it was worth it.” This man even had the audacity to laugh with sincerity. As far as Kevin knew, Terry’s wife thought Julie was – bonkers, he recalled, was the word. It was not even close to possible that Terry had been given permission to sleep with someone else.

For as close of friends as they managed to be, Kevin could not remember whose face belonged to the name ‘Karen’ in Terry’s life. Close as they were, most of their friendship was reliably casual. They both enjoyed bar hopping on holiday weekends, and touring tri-county food festivals three seasons of the year. Feeling as though he didn’t have enough information to really question Terry further about this action he’s taken, Kevin merely stalls. Part of him hadn’t been completely sure that this admission was even real; “Karen, did I hear she dyed her hair? Maybe it wasn’t her…”

Terry confirmed very quickly that she had trimmed it and darkened it a bit. After surpassing shear amazement at being right with his vague inquisition, Kevin found himself buried in a five-minute long bragging session. Karen looks so young! Someone mistook her for a twenty-something the other day! She’s gotten her body back into shape and is so stunning! Everyone is taking a peak at her when she walks by! Meanwhile, Kevin filled in the tiny breaths Terry managed to draw with double-time effort put into recalling who Karen actually was and if he’d ever met her in person.

“You think you guys will hook up again?” Stopping the dialogue made little sense with Terry being so frank. By not interrupting the conversation to forcefully interrogate his friend about his marriage the conversation naturally provided answers. As it turns out Karen lives in the home directly behind him behind him. For this reason he is sure that if he wished to sleep with her again there would be no issues in having it arranged. He did briefly whine about work schedules that conflicted, and also about Karen’s husband. Apparently he’d only supported an open marriage if he didn’t see it or know it had happened at all.

By that time, which seemed to have taken both forever and no time at all, it felt totally organic to bring up what had pressing him since the beginning, “What does Caidy think about it? Does she want you to stay out of the house too?” Unsure what he may have expected, Kevin had no reaction that he felt was appropriate for what his friend did. Terry had blown out a hearty laugh…

Like sleeping with other people was a joke his wife couldn’t understand…

“What Caidy doesn’t know doesn’t hurt her, right?” Terry snatched a beer from the refrigerator. Once replaced on his stool he jabbered on about the ins-and-outs of being married for so long to a woman only interested in monogamy. Complaints spewed minute after minute about how not all wives were “progressive like Julie” and accepting of their male partners’ needs to explore other options. The way he spoke disgusted Kevin to the point of physical illness. He pushed aside his own drink and shook his head with fury.

It was misogynistic at best the way Terry discussed his affair. Each recount of his exploit with Karen, a mere neighborhood friend, reflected deep conflict within his marriage. Each excuse consisted of statements blaming his wife for his affair: Caidy wouldn’t do all of the things he told her in bed; Caidy refused to do things when he wanted to do them; Caidy didn’t submit to him when he was ready. He cited the biggest motivator as: “that they simply couldn’t be attracted to each other anymore, just the idea of doing it.”

“Caidy is still your wife and you owe her the respect you promised. You’d defied those vows so you now owe her the truth and an apology. Maybe Karen doesn’t have to account for herself but you certainly do!” Kevin wasn’t about to drop the topic like it was coffee conversation before work. There was a difference between two spouses happily agreeing to have an open marriage and one spouse forcing the other to accepting. Both of those scenarios were extremely different from one spouse going behind the other’s back entirely. Only one of those methods was healthy – and Kevin couldn’t help but silently thank his wife for being such a great person so perfectly matched for him in all the ways that mattered.

It wasn’t even that he thought Terry had done anything wrong. Who was Kevin to judge the yearning to sleep with people outside a marriage? He himself had done just that with another woman. Several times no less! Going behind Caidy’s back is the defining factor making what Kevin does so much more acceptable than what Terry had enacted. What Terry had done was an affair. He betrayed the monogamous relationship to which he committed voluntarily. All Kevin could hope for at that point was that maybe Caidy would have an open heart and find a way to let Terry live his life without her own being sabotaged.

Of course, his friend has no intention of doing what was instructed. This was something he intended to keep hidden; “I ain’t telling her a goddamn thing. Caidy would divorce me without letting me explain myself. She doesn’t take any shit.”

The silence between the two that followed confirmed exactly what Kevin wanted to proclaim. Terry heard it in his own words. The fact that he realized that what he’d done would mess his entire life up – there was nothing more to be said. Well, there should have been nothing more to say, anyway. Kevin managed to let out a deflated cough just before Terry decided to shout in pure rage.

“WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TO TELL ME HOW TO BE MARRIED? YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH SOME YOUNG BITCH YOU WORK WITH EVERY DAY! YOU THINK YOU’RE JUST FUCKING HER BUT YOU’RE JUST LYING TO JULIE! YOU’RE MAKING A FOOL OF YOURSELF!”

Before long Julie stumbled down the stairs with dark eyes and crooked pants. As she asked what all the raucous Terry met her in the doorway. Angrily he actually spat at her feet and insulted her for thinking her husband loved her in anyway. With raised brows she simply waved him out the door, not even bothering to ask what transpired or why. All that fantastic woman did was kiss her husband’s cheek and suggest, “I suppose you have a call to make?”

Kevin didn’t know if it was call to make because it wasn’t his mistake to apologize for, but he supposed that someone would have to tell the truth. Especially if Terry firmly believed that lying was the “respectable” thing to do…

Trivial Concerns

It’s always a big deal to meet your girlfriend’s family. I have been waiting for this moment for a few months now so I should be excited to have been invited to the wedding as Kelly’s date. Unfortunately, I have not a single thing to wear to the event. I know how petty and juvenile and shallow that complaint sounds, but first impressions are everything. I want my first in-person meeting with Kelly’s family to be a positive one. They say parents can single-handedly ruin a relationship, and I’m dimwitted enough to believe this tale as gospel.

Anyway, I know this whole gig is very formal. It actually said formalwear on the “plus one” invitation that Kelly gave to me. I accepted out of excitement. There wasn’t a moment even spared to consider what it would cost to dress for the wedding. Sure, I’m not going to wearing a huge gown or anything similar. It is a summer wedding. I can easily do a simple cocktail dress. Minimalist seems to be my choice of fashion anyway.

Unfortunately again, I don’t make enough to justify that large of a purchase. Even working in a dress shop with a ten percent discount doesn’t bring the price of a decent dress down enough for me to buy. Kelly is excited and has been texting me pictures every morning this week. She can’t choose between these three pastel‑colored dresses. One is yellow with a low cut front – and oh goodness, the things I would do to her when we got home. The other two are variations of light green. The first is a long bohemian style dress that has a high waist and no straps, and the second is more a romper than a dress and shapes her behind in a way I can’t even describe.

Basically, all I’m getting at with these details about how beautiful each of her options are is the fact that my options are invisible or naked. I can’t go in anything and even compare to what Kelly will look like at any point in time. I’ll look dressed down in comparison with my muted brunette hair and not-quite-golden skin. Everything about me is dull…

“I need someone to work a late shift tonight. Helen is bringing an exclusive brand before close and I need someone to help me with the floor set for the new product.” My boss offers midway through my silent reflection. There are two other gals at the counter refreshing the jewelry display while I swap window clings with the updated logos.

Neither of the two girls exchanged looks. This meant they were hoping that nobody would say anything and she’d just pick one. None of us like staying late on any other night, mostly because we love going home to our various social activities, but tonight none of us seem to care. It’s a Thursday night. Everyone’s plans would have been yesterday or tomorrow, I’ve figured.

I have the wedding tomorrow – maybe if I stay tonight late…

Maybe Kelly will let me off the hook on attending?

Do I really believe that?

“Nina, you’ll stay. You didn’t open the store.” Well, I don’t even have the chance to turn the offer down or even take the offer to avoid responsibilities. I smile and accept the order happily. I make sure to text Kelly immediately about me working late: Going to have to make dinner plans for next week. We didn’t have concrete plans to begin with, but this lets her know that I care that I can’t see her tonight while being indifferent about the extra hours.

The rest of the day goes as it usual does. Two groups of bridesmaids come in with their bridezillas to pick out literally the ugliest dresses they can find. Of course, there’s always compromise. A beautiful dress in an ugly color for the first group, and the ugliest mermaid style dress we offer in the loveliest shade of pink known to man. I get all of the orders entered in the computers just as the manager closes our register.

And simultaneously with that, Helen arrives. She sets down a cup carrier filled with four mystery‑flavored espressos. Helen looks around with a hardened expression, which is really not out of the ordinary. Running eight stores over four counties, it can get exhausting I’d bet. Kind as she is as a business owner, Helen is a bit frightening when she is frustrated; “Where’s the second one?”

My manager smiles and shrugs her shoulders, murmuring that she isn’t quite sure. Helen shrugs in exactly the same fashion and asks for help carrying the boxes while I undress our mannequins and clear the displays. I am moderately curious if perhaps a manager from another location was meant to come help, maybe to see what needed to be done in the other stores. I don’t even think about it twice about her asking about “the second one.”

Ten to twenty minutes passed quickly as I filled containers. I barely notice the phone vibrating in my pocket. It’s a message from Kelly. She was alerting me that she’s decided on the yellow dress. Following that text is a selfie of her outside in the dress. In fact, the picture is at the store. My store.

It takes no time at all to get to parking lot and locate Helen, my manager, and Kelly. They’re all chatting outside – where Kelly is sporting her yellow dress in all the bliss that she will tomorrow afternoon when she arrives at the wedding without me. I huge Kelly as soon as I reach the group, asking what has brought her all the way out here when she has to get up early and get her nails done with her sister.       Because, why the hell would she be here – realistically? I mean, I haven’t asked her to buy me an outfit at all. She doesn’t even know I don’t have one. Or at least that is what I chose to believe. The world is too busy that not even the person closest to me could possibly have noticed my status as “poor and struggling lesbian.”

As usual – I am wrong. Kelly chimes in and proves me to be both selfless and selfish all at once, “I saw Helen at my mother’s brunch on Monday. She was talking about how she had an exclusive contract to sell for an up-and-coming designer. It was specifically created for the aura of the summer formal. That’s when I asked her if it was being sold at your location – that I may or may not have a date for this big wedding whom hadn’t chosen a dress yet.”

My manager explains that they were looking to showcase some of the attire at a few events; that Helen wanted to give out two free dresses at each location. My manager, whom I have never called by her first name because it makes me feel like I’m working for my evil little sister, then shared with Helen that I was attending a wedding.

A fairly large wedding, in fact…

“I know Kelly’s sister. Amelia has always been a socialite. There’ll be over a hundred people at her wedding. You’ll be getting quite a bit of attention as the only unmarried daughter, will you not, Kelly?” Helen is never purely charitable. There’s opportunity in everything. Lately she has certainly been more giving, but I believe sincerely that she is offering me this dress because she knows Kelly is introducing me to the family. It is without a doubt that all eyes will be on Kelly, and therefore me. It’ll be a hell of a first impression, if I’m being fair. This helps us both out and even if her gratitude isn’t purely not-for-profit, I know mine is.

Helen runs me through the importance of people seeing me in this “little number.” As she does this she starts handing boxes off to both Kelly and me. My manager and Helen grab the remaining boxes and carry them inside. Things are quiet at first as we pull away lids, but eventually Helen slides a box to me.

“That’s the number.” Kelly starts clapping with excitement. It has me convinced that she may have picked it out. The fabric is pristinely folded underneath silver tissue paper. As I pull it from the package I realize that the dress is a sleek slate gray. There’s even a shimmer in the material. Once I flip the dress and lay it over my torso I can see that the dress is full length, but tapers marginally so that very little will actually touch the ground.

Up each thigh has an angled slit. For so long I’ve talked up the side slits for the benefit of showing off one’s leg that I actually start narrating the figure flattering nonsense to my well-versed audience…

“It slims the body with this angle. From the side when walking it can give the impression of longer legs, or a larger rear. It depends on the viewer, really.” I don’t need longer legs because I’m already quite a bit taller than most of my family. As for my rear, well, ­who doesn’t want a better butt?

Kelly urges me to try it on while she does my share of the work. She’s worked retail, so it couldn’t possible be too difficult to figure out, could it? My job isn’t as easy as she makes it sound but something tells me it easier than talking myself out of this completely free dress.

The only catch, apparently, is that I post about it heavily with a ton of pictures. Fortunately, for once, I think I can make that deal.

For Kelly.

And for my selfish need to be Kelly’s date at the wedding.

And who knows – maybe I’ll catch the bouquet with all this luck I’ve acquired.