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

Advertisements

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.

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 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.