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.

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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.

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.

Don’t Fall Asleep with a Book

Today I didn’t look for any inspiration, but rather just started writing. However, I did have a particular prompt in mind – you can check it out here on my Tumblr blog.

Inspiration: Character A falls asleep on top of his/her reading material and has a crazy dream about whatever is on the page.


Loud noises cause me to stir from my slumber. Literally one of my least favorite things is being yanked from a good nights’ sleep. Cutting my rest short is just shy of being a crime. I don’t want to get on the bus to go to school – no, I just want to crawl back into bed. Besides, I could stay home and read my favorite books and learn more than sitting a desk being told how important geometry is in life.

I want to be a fucking librarian. Why the fuck is geometry important to me? Physics, yeah I get that one a little bit. I gotta understand what is going to happen if I stack a thousand books together, but I can calculate that using algebra. Geometry – completely useless to me.

The light is bright, so I guess that someone has come in my room and pulled back the curtains. Classic parents-waking-kid move. I cover my eyes with my arm and reach around to get my cellphone. As I swing myself about looking for my side table, though, I realize that it’s not there. Did I flip sides of the bed?

With some effort, I’m able to crack my eyes open and look into the sunshine. Of course, I was expecting to see my bedroom. A bright sure light that can be hidden from in the corners of my room – perhaps even my closet. I fell asleep in there once, actually, and my mother was not impressed. Anyway, that’s not what I see when I start adjusting to the brightness.

You know, the brightness of being outside!

Yeah, so I guess I’m hallucinating, because right now I’m standing in the middle of a medieval village. There are homes everywhere wit stone walls and splintered doors. The paths are also made of stone, and stalls are everywhere with sheepskin canopies and rotting wood posts. Did someone play a prank on me?

Did someone take me to some sort of convention and drop me – just to see what I’d do and how I’d react? What even is this? At least I’m in my pajamas. Regardless, I don’t think anyone in the streets plans on telling me the truth. That’s the problem with LARPing – the players will never break character. It would have to be a very serious event for someone to forget about the game. My brother LARPs and he’s a mega-doofus about it. It makes him happy, which is cool, but I have convention weeks because he takes to perfecting his role. My folks wants him to move out of the basement.

So I just travel along the road until I reach what looks like it is the outer city edge. There are guards and they eyeball me as I walk right out of town. I was expecting – like – roads. There had to be a parking lot or something around here. Nobody walked all the way out here with their LARPing gear and their “tech pack” for when they take a “siesta” from their lives.

But hell no – there’s no parking lot anywhere. In fact, there’s actually a forest and a river. Oh, and there’s a ton of horse crap just off the path. It smells horrendous.

“Where the fuck am I?” I groan. Someone was very conveniently passing me. He has this unnaturally golden hair and these huge ass blue eyes that look faker than painted on blue dots. Next to him is a little man – probably some manservant LARPer or something. He’s much older with gray strains of hair taking over his brunette locks.

“This is Camelot. Have you been to the tavern?” The manservant sniffs the air. Horrified by how serious the LARPing is – I just keep walking because this is not Camelot. No, this is just a freaking joke is what it is – a joke. A terrible joke.

Really, it’s terrible. Who just kidnaps people and drops them in the middle of a LARPing convention?

Probably my brother.

It’s probably my brother – he always does this kind of shit.

As the blonde dude and the old fellow start walking away – I accidentally on purpose listen to them as they go – maybe they’ll break character to complain about what a weirdo I am for not participating the the LARP. Unfortunately, the only thing that I can hear is: “Do reckon we should let him wander the forest by himself? He seems kind of off.”

Yeah, I’m off alright. They’re dressed in whatever garb fits their roles and I‘m kind of off.


Author’s Note: This idea could be an entire book by itself – an entire series even – but I wasted it’s potential on a flash fiction entry. Maybe someday I’ll do something more with it but for now – this is just a snap shot. Hopefully you enjoyed it!

Monsters

It’s that time of the week again! I find all of my inspiration on Tumblr – at this blog this week – and I’m starting to wonder if I have an unhealthy relationship forming with the website…

Prompt/Background: She had a dream in which a dentist was going to pull four of her teeth. Not front teeth, but on the upper jaw, on the side. The dentist’s plan was to replace them with someone else’s teeth. She wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea and couldn’t get answers that made any sense. so she told him No. His response was, “I’ve already done it. How could you have not noticed? Now, let me get these new ones in before it’s too late.” He put the new ones in and for a little while, they were fine, but then they started detaching.

When she woke up, she spent a long time trying to figure out what the dream meant. And then, suddenly, she knew.


The ticking of the clock is the first thing that she hears when she wakes. It is annoying and she cannot focus after she swings herself out of bed. Warm, golden skin glistens with sweat as she struggles to breathe. Fingers tap along the wall until she finds the switch to turn on the lights. Brown eyes filled with fear scan the bedroom only to see that her husband isn’t in bed. In fact, it would appear that he never came to bed at all.

Dream still fresh in her mind, and heart still pounding from her suspicions, the woman shakes herself and tries to start running. Unfortunately, her mind is inexplicably foggy and she slams her shoulder into the doorknob as she falls to her knees. If she is correct, she can’t scream so she bites down onto her lip to keep silent. The clamoring would be enough to draw in the attention of anyone else in the house – and she knows how dangerous her enemy can be if she is correct.

These things aren’t supposed to exist. Doppelgängers aren’t supposed to be real – nothing like that is supposed to be real! Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mummies, fairies, leprechauns… if Doppelgängers are real then everything is real. But this is the fourth time that she’s had this dream and this time the dentist was operating on her teeth in her son’s bedroom. This time she saw something in the background of her dream that she’s never noticed before…

…she saw a man carrying her son through a window…

She had just watched a show that had doppelgängers and she had made a comment about her son over the last year. He was acting differently from himself, he was a completely different person. At the time she thought that it was just a joke, that it was a mother complaining about her child growing up and getting moody. Her husband made a comment that night, he said “You wouldn’t notice anyway so what would it matter?”

So many subtle hints! How could she not have known before? Now that she’s shimmying into the hallway she thinks to grab a weapon. She has no idea how to kill a doppelgänger but she will sure as hell try. They keep a gun in the office, that’s where they store their important document too. Sneaking in seems easy enough, just as is loading the gun with the bullets. As soon as she’s “locked and loaded” as all the action heroes like to say, she goes back into the hallway. Each step takes her closer to her sons room.

Unfortunately, his door has always creaked in a strange way. No matter her efforts to open the door quietly it draws in the attention of her husband whom is wrapping their son in a large burlap sack. When she goes to open her mouth another person steps out of the shadows. Immediately she recognizes him and she finds herself frightened to silence.

“I suppose there’s only one thing to do now,” Her husband laughs. His skin is glowing in such a way that almost makes him ghostly. His usually dark skin is tinted gray and his black eyes have a whitish film. It is a wonder to her that she even recognizes this man as her husband but she does and it makes her cry; “Do you know what you have to do, Melissa?”

Of course, Melissa does know what she must do. She lifts the gun and shoots at the dentist first. When the bullet meets his gut there’s a shrill laugh as he evaporates. Blinking nonstop, Melissa trembles as she repositions to point the barrel in her husband’s direction.

But she can’t shoot without answers; “Why!”

It’s not a question – it’s a demand.

“Why does anyone ever steal children?” Screeching amusement parts his lips. The sound of his happiness reverberates throughout the room until the very foundation of the home is shaking. Melissa can’t get her mind straight because there are several reasons that someone would want to steal a child. He must see that she can’t figure it out, so he suggests the truth in much plainer words; “We have needs. Children are just – tastier.

Melissa doesn’t hesitate now as she sobs very audibly.

Pop!

Pop! Pop! Pop!

Pop!

– Pop!

Melissa hadn’t realized that she squeezed her eyes shut. It almost more painful to open them than it was to keep them closed to hard. When she opens them her husband is on the floor covered in blood, grinning with a bloody mouth from ear-to-ear. Part of her wants to help him, part of her wants to believe that she’s done something wrong.

But this man was a doppelgänger, and so was her son.

All she’s done is kill a monster.

Nosey Nelly Knows Nothing: A Blog

Here we go again! Flash Fiction Friday inspiration comes from this blog on Tumblr.

Prompt: There’s a very chatty person next to me on the plane.

Disclaimer: Below the line is a work of fiction.


Dear Followers,

This morning I had to catch a flight back to my hometown. I received a call yesterday that my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Terminal cancer. Nobody ever wants to hear this news but this is the third time she’s had it and everyone in my family has been expecting it. Of course, the child inside of me doesn’t want to believe that the time has finally come for my mother to move from this world to another. It is my hope that you will mourn with me as I go through this turmoil.

As such, I must announce that I won’t be blogging over the next two weeks according to schedule. I will be hopping on once a week to post updates on changes and plans for moving forward. Until then – I’m on a four hour flight.

And there’s a very chatty person next to me on the plane.

I am calling her Mrs. Big Business. Right now she is taking a video call from her husband. There are only six or seven other people in flight. The only ticket home I could afford was a 2:00 A.M. flight – and it still cost me a fortune, by the way. Anyway, Mrs. Big Business is reminding her husband how important this trip is to her and what it can do for her career. He doesn’t see it that way, and based on the tone of his voice I am guessing that they are having some marital problems.

If it weren’t for the fact that she were being so public, I’d keep it to myself and keep my opinions self-contained. Mrs. Big Business is advertising all of her personal matters, though, and I’m pretty sure she could care less who hears about her problems. This is probably one of the biggest worries the husband harbors about their failing relationship. That, and the fact that she is telling him that they need to hold off on children – just one more year, she’s telling him. Based on the gruff sigh he let out – this is something that they’ve been putting off for a very long time.

I feel bad because I bet she doesn’t want kids. I don’t blame her. She shouldn’t blame herself either. Not wanting children is an acceptable part of life, but she doesn’t seem to think so. So she gets caught up in the nets of financial stability. Just one more promotion, just one more business trip, just one more this, just one more that – but never just one more minute so I can explain that I don’t want a family. He’ll probably divorce her – whether or not she tells him the truth.

I want to talk about something else but the conversation is getting very private now. The husband is protesting about having a child. He is telling her that they barely get to have sex, that they are on different sleep schedules, and that most days they aren’t even sleeping in the same location anymore. He asks about her apartment in New York…

I might have been wrong! She is stumbling over her words now. Telling him that the apartment in New York was a two year lease, because she had a fixed number of trips she’d have to make to the NYC office. That she was taking only what she needed to survive. Now he’s saying that some of the storage boxes are missing, that he can’t find some of the kitchen appliances she bought.

Oh god, he’s asking her if she’s going to just divorce him or keep lying. Why did I choose this flight? Did I know that someone else’s life is about to fall apart in a way that is probably worse than mine? Divorce is so hard because death doesn’t take something away from you. Losing my mom to cancer – even though it is a preventable disease to some degree. But falling in love, falling out of love, it’s a mess isn’t it? It doesn’t go away because it can’t be helped. It goes away because nobody wants to, doesn’t it?

In my attempts to block out their argument in my head, it seems that she’s admitted to him that she took those things to New York. She tells him that the real reason she’s on this flight isn’t for a business trip. In fact, it’s because she has a job interview for a permanent job in New York. She wasn’t telling him because she wanted to “surprise” him when she confirmed the position. Financial Director of some sort for some clothing store – said that she has been pulling these strings for several months.

He isn’t taking any of this too well. In fact, he’s telling her that he knew she was lying about the trips. None of the business trips she’s been making have been for “work.” They’ve been a second job, an internship of some sort, that she’s been desperately clinging to for a new life. The husband is not tolerating it. No way! He’s telling her to stay in New York! He is telling her to stay there because he doesn’t want to live another day with her – that everything about their marriage has been a joke for years and that he’s done waiting for her to “come around.”

Apparently she’s already got a divorce attorney, she already has a list of what she wants from him, and has already had appraisals done on their home… wow! This woman was way more committed than I thought she was to this break up. I thought maybe she was just scared to tell him she didn’t want children, but no! This woman was scared to tell him that she wanted a divorce!

Wow.

I wonder if the stewardess would let me sit in business class. I don’t want to listen to this woman anymore. She’s hung up with her soon-to-be ex-husband and is now video calling someone else. It is a woman talking, griping really, about the hour at which Ms. Big Business is calling her. Of course, there are comments made about this woman still be awake at this hour and blah blah blah. They are talking about the official divorce announcements. This lady is going to make it official on her social media tomorrow that she’s divorcing. Wow.

Just wow. Hopefully that’s the worst of it? The stewardess is coming now – I’m going to ask. I’m going to tell her what’s happening.

She moved Ms. Big Business to first class. It gets her away from the rest of the passengers, who began applauding her when she returned. I am glad that that is over. More than likely, I’m going to hell for advertising this couple’s strife. I could have kept my fingers still and listened to music. I should have made a better effort to keep this to myself. But as a blogger, I did feel that in some way this could be a learning experience.

You can figure out what the message is because it will be different to everyone who reads. Let me know what you think about in the comment section below. As always, first time visitors can subscribe for future updates (not similar to this post). Returning readers, thank you again for the your time and devotion to my blog. Tune in sometime next week for an update on how my life is changing!

But until then – keep your eye on the prize!

Yours Truly,

Nosey Nelly – Aka Nelly Knows Nothing!

Your Age is Showing

Another Flash Fiction Friday, and another week of struggling to find something inspiring. However, I did find something at this particular Tumblr blog, Nightlight Writing.

Prompt: The icepack might help more if it was on the right side.

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My sister, Sally, and I are sitting inside of my bay window. We both have severe allergies, so in the early Spring we have to stay inside while the kids play football outside. Connor is always energetic, the perfect father and uncle for a bunch athletic little buggers. Sally’s boys are both on their junior varsity football teams at the high school, and our son is on his eighth grade team as the starting quarterback. Of course, our daughter is a cheerleader on top of that, so even she plays with them. Connor pretends that he doesn’t treat her any different when they play, but Sally always points out that he tackles her less often.

“She is just so damn flippy,” He proclaims, asserting that she can pull off crazy saves. He’s such a good dad.

I offer to grab some tea. We love raspberry tea, and have been drinking it since we were just little girls playing dress up in momma’s pretty work shoes. Once she accepts I saunter out to the kitchen, having already brewed some before she came to town for a visit. I start pulling glasses from the cupboard when I hear the front door open. There doesn’t seem to be much commotion so I keep going about my business.

It’s probably just one of the kids coming in for a pee, they always have to pee.

“Kay!” My sister’s voice is so soft that I almost don’t even hear her. When I return to the living room with two cups of delicious raspberry tea, chilled is the best way to drink it, I see that Connor is sitting awkwardly in the recliner. Asking seems a waste of my breath but I know I have to ask.

“Throw your back out?” Connor has had this happen a couple of other times over the last year or so, but he apparently ‘forgets’ to tell his doctor about it. Instead, he just visits a chiropractor every six weeks. He’s going to regret his cheap fixes, we all will, but he’s a grown man and I can only make him do so much when he’s being stubborn.

Sally nods for him because he can’t stop hissing. Glasses are placed delicately on the window sill, careful to tilt them slight outwards against the screen in case they get knocked over. Immediately I drag myself back into the kitchen to retrieve and icepack. It won’t do much good for him but he’s in a lot of pain so it’s better than nothing.

The kids start filing in to check on Connor, the eldest boys offering to help him get to the bedroom. His response is in the early stages of protest, assuring that he can still play, but I intervene – “Please, if you could.”

Nearly fifteen minutes later, the “Connor Squad” gets my husband up the stairs and into bed. Everyone complained through the whole process, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that it was slightly amusing. With the football activities being put at a standstill, Sally offers to take all the kids out for lunch. Immediately everyone scatters to get shoes and change shirts leaving me to quietly thank her for taking everyone out.

“The benefits of having a doctor for a husband. You can always afford to take the kids out for a surprise lunch.” After a quick cheek kiss I jog up the stairs with the icepack still firmly in hand. As I round the corner I see that my husband is trying desperately to reach for the phone, rocking side-to-side desperately. The volume of my chuckle gives away my presence.

He doesn’t want me bothering him or pampering him, he just wants to call his chiropractor to see if she’d be willing to drive by the house after work. I shake my head at him before taking a seat near his feet. Per the usual, I’m lecturing him about his decisions – reminding him that he’s thirty-eight now and not as sturdy as he used was ten years ago. Connor hates being reminded that he’s an “old” dad. He wasn’t an “old” dad for Kendra, but she was a girl and it wouldn’t have mattered.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you take care of yourself then you can do what good dads do all the time.” I comfort him this way quite often. Good dads are dads that are there for their kids when they are needed. Damon could care less if his dad plays football with him everyday Saturday afternoon, as long as his dad was there to support him and encourage him. The love is what matters.

I place the icepack over his shirt right beneath his hand. Connor gurgles in response, wiggles, and then shoves it off of him. Before I can place it on him again, he bites at me: “The icepack might help more if it’s on the right side, yeah?” He uses his left hand to point to the spot that hurts most. The whole scene was misleading because he was holding onto his right hip, but apparently that was because the left side hurt too much to touch. As I roll my eyes I rest the icepack exactly where he’s instructed before leaving the room.

“I won’t give up football. If I give up football I’m admitting that I can’t physically play anymore.” He concludes as I go, shouting so that he knows I heard him. Whatever he has to say to make himself feel better. I know the truth, though. He is stressed that his age is showing. It is all a part of getting older. Connor will have to come to terms with it soon enough. Hopefully his midlife crises is something productive, like coaching or something.

When I pick up the glasses of tea left in the windows, I pivot again to retrace the path I just took back to the bedroom. Thankfully, Connor loves raspberry tea just as much as my sister.

“NO” – Yeah, that still means “no”

This week the prompt comes from my own prompt collection that you can find here.

Prompt: Character A is trying to woo Character B, who keeps turning him/her down. Character C tells Character A that “no means no.” What is the context of this confrontation.

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“Isn’t that the the fourth time this week he’s asked you out?” Brianna questions. Of course, she knows that it is without asking, but she wants verbal confirmation. At this point the number of times that he’s interjected into their conversations is bordering ‘creepy.’ Jasmine won’t say anything to him distinct, though. She just kindly tells him that, “not interested at this time, bud.”

Brianna’s problem is that her best friend keeps turning this guy down nicely. Doing everything she can to give him enough hope that he is nice to her, but enough dejection that he won’t bother her too frequently. Even though the girls have spoken extensively about it, there seems to be no positive progression in that weird relationship between Jasmine and her almost-stalker. Brianna about cannot stand him any longer.

“He texted me three nights in a row. Puts him up to seven times, actually.” Jasmine almost sounds like she’s bragging about it, like it’s a sick story she can share in the future. This is what makes high school such a sick place. It’s okay to these people to think that a guy can persistently nag a girl to pity date him and for girls to bask in it. At some point the girls are objectifying themselves – sometimes just to be respected by their peers. Brianna slams her hands on the table because it was one thing to ask her in person four times in the course of five days. It is an entirely different matter to be texting daily and asking in person – that has crossed into inappropriate territory instantly.

“I am sorry Nate, but Jasmine thinks you’re about as interested as a cement block. She will never go out with you! Stop asking her every day! It sucks but guess what, there is another person out there that will eat up all your nonsense and you’ll be happy. Move the fuck on!” Everyone in the cafeteria – because that is where all the drama happens in high school – they are all staring at Brianna. Lunch ladies are looking around trying to see if the principles are in the vicinity. As it turns out, there is absolutely no other adult around to witness the spectacle. Jasmine is tugging at Brianna’s sweater in hopes of getting her to sit down and draw less attention, but she won’t stand down until she knows Nate isn’t going to bite back.

A few people start applauding, mostly girls who are tired of the same antics. Brianna knows most of them from her sociology class, some from psychology. It takes another couple of minutes before Nate just shrugs his shoulders and makes a comment to someone at his lunch table. Brianna considers storming over to him but in her heart she knows that she doesn’t have to do it. If anything offensive has been said it will circulate around until she hears it. Brianna won’t play nice if he tries to fight back.

Everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet. As for Nate, she happens to know that he hacks into the school system and changes grades and sick days. Sometimes people pay him to do it – supposedly a couple of teachers gave him free passes on assignments to get an extra day of vacation time. Brianna listens, and she records every rumor that she hears and who she hears it from in a notebook.

Jasmine knows what her friend is concocting, and she opposes the entire concept of having it. She’s often equated it to a “burn book” from a poplar teenage movie. Oftentimes they argue about putting information in it that could be detrimental to someone’s quality of life. Unfortunately, as far as Brianna is concerned, there is no greater way to suffer lost quality of life than losing one’s life entirely.  The way that Brianna’s disabled sister did in freshman year… for example…

“That was not necessary. What are you going to do if someone tells a teacher about what you did?” Always the voice of reason, Jasmine tries to remind her friend that obscenities could result in detention or in-school suspension. It is doubtful that the cafeteria staff are going to say anything, being that they’ve all probably dealt with a jerk like Nate at some point.

Brianna feels pretty comfortable that at most she’ll get a letter sent home to her parents, and everyone knows that they won’t take it seriously; “You’re welcome.”

“You can’t protect me from the world forever, Bri.” No, maybe she won’t be able to protect the tiny blonde from the world forever. What she can do, though, is protect the world from corruption. Jasmine might be her best friend but Brianna is classifying this as just another act of justice. Boys need to stop harassing girls.

As it turns out, Nate complains to the office about the “outburst,” and Brianna’s arguments land her in detention. Her mother has already called twice and yelled at the staff, requesting a meeting with the principle. The detention will be served by then so she’s really just trying to be an inconvenience to the staff. Brianna and her mother are very much alike in that respect.

After detention is over, Brianna tells her mother she’s going to drop her work back in her locker since she got everything done for the night. On her way she overhears a conversation that she simply cannot resist eavesdropping on for the duration…

A guy and a girl are arguing about something. She tells him to please stop asking her out, that she’s said ‘no’ several times already. It would seem someone got their voice at lunch. Pride swells in Brianna’s chest.

“But you didn’t say ‘no!’ You just said ‘not right now.’ Not the same thing!” Sounds as if the boy is being a whiner.

“Well this is me telling you ‘no.’ I don’t want to date you.” Brianna peers around the corner just to see who is talking, and she is certain her heart bursts inside of her chest cavity. At the end of the hall, picking stuff out of her own locker is Jasmine. She is turning Nate down on her own. Baby bird is exiting the nest, apparently.

“You are just as bad as your feminist freak friend Brianna.” Nate storms off, slamming Jasmine’s locker shut as he leaves. For a second Brianna thinks she sees her friend starting to cry. It ends up being a laugh, though. Her tips curl up and her bangs fall over her eyes. Jasmine starts at a low giggle and it turns into a full on cackle.

Pretending as if she hasn’t heard anything leading up to the laughter, Brianna bounces around the corner as if she’d not just been standing still; “What’s so funny, huh?”

But of course – the funny thing is that Jasmine realized the truth: No does still mean no.