It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.
Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 9 of 12.
Laci and Del: Belabored Day
Instead of spending Labor Day with family picnics, they’d decided to go away for the weekend and rented a place right on Lake Erie. She wasn’t sure what avoiding family was going to solve, other than delaying the inevitable. The subject of moving had come up at Del’s birthday, and he’d stormed off.
They hadn’t discussed it since.
The situation needed to be resolved. But what if she brought it up and he left again? She’d be stranded there. Not a bad place to be stranded, but still, it wasn’t something she wanted to experience.
She put the salad in the refrigerator and started mixing the fudge frosting for the chocolate chip brownies she’d baked. Double chocolate was good, so triple chocolate had to be better, right? Brownies never seemed complete to her unless they were frosted. She wasn’t sure how long she whipped the butter, but she stopped when she noticed the mixer getting hot. The butter was creamier than she’d ever seen and almost white. Setting the appliance aside, she dug around for a wooden spoon to finish mixing the frosting.
She needed to stop dwelling on the conversation-that-wasn’t and start paying attention to what she was doing. Before she did irreparable damage to their rental unit. Or herself.
Del came inside just as she completed icing the brownies. As usual, he swiped his finger through the finished product instead of through the remaining frosting in the bowl. “Mmm,” he said. “That’s good.”
Laci repaired the damage he’d done and swatted his hand away when he reached toward the pan again. “Oh no. One swipe per pan. If you want more, take it from the bowl.” She handed it to him and put the brownies under a cake dome.
“I won’t say no to the rest of the bowl. And where are the mixer beaters? I’ll lick them, too.”
She turned toward the sink so she didn’t have to meet his gaze. “I didn’t use the mixer for anything other than the butter. I don’t have beaters for you.”
“Why’d you do that?”
“You’re awfully demanding for a man who’s getting a treat.” She started washing dishes, pleased with her efforts at changing the subject. Even if she should just get it over with and talk to him about moving.
“This mixer’s hot.” He yanked the plug out of the wall. “Must be a problem with the outlet. Or the motor. Better not use this again while we’re here.”
“No problem. I’m done with everything. The rest is up to you.”
“Yeah, grilling steaks is so difficult.”
She smiled and took the bowl from him so she could finish cleaning up.
“So, we have all afternoon. What do you think? Swim? Rent a boat? Stay in?”
Laci glanced at him. He waggled his eyebrows and grinned.
“I don’t want to spend more money. Let’s just take our towels down to the beach and enjoy the view.”
He shrugged. “Your call.”
Laci walked into the bedroom to change into her swimsuit. She walked over to her luggage, a large hard suitcase her grandmother had given her. She claimed she’d never use the set again and didn’t want it to go to waste. Laci ran her finger over the initials by the handle. BCM—Brigid Cathleen Milligan. She smiled and grabbed the handle. When she lifted it, the handle pulled off and the luggage fell on her foot. “Ow!” The impact took her breath away.
Del came rushing in. “What happened? Are you okay?” He frowned when he saw the broken luggage. “You wouldn’t share my bag or use one of the new bags you bought me. And now look. You’re probably going to have a big bruise on your foot from your crappy luggage falling on you.”
“It’s not crappy. It’s antique. And it has sentimental value.” Her foot was killing her. The last thing she wanted to do was argue. Yes, she loved the luggage set because it had been her grandmother’s. But she had refused to use Del’s luggage, not because of sentiment, but because of the argument they’d had when she gave it to him. It was petty, sure, and now she was paying for it. She tried to walk away, but she couldn’t put any weight on her foot. She yelped and collapsed on the edge of the bed.
He sighed. “Let me see.” He stooped beside her and lifted her foot.
Del had hardly touched her foot when she winced and pulled it back. She had painted her toenails a lovely violet color, and her foot was starting to match the polish. The swelling was already making her flipflop too tight.
“It’s already bruising and swelling. This might be more than a minor injury. You may have broken it. Looks like we’re headed to the hospital.”
She blinked back tears when she put her foot down. “No. Don’t be silly. The ERs are always so crowded on holidays, and I’ll be walking off the pain in another minute.”
He stood and crossed his arms. “Really? Let’s see.”
“I said in a minute. Or two.”
“I could give you days and you won’t be walking on that. Let’s go.” He offered her his hand.
“Del, I really don’t think—”
He cut her off by picking her up. She squirmed and kicked her good foot, but to no avail.
“Better keep your legs down. You don’t want to smack the sore foot off a door or wall.” He carried her through the beach house, out the door, and down to the car.
She fumed and stared out the window.
They were at a hospital in about fifteen minutes, and Del dropped her off at the ER doors before going to park. She hadn’t made much progress getting inside when he caught up to her and half supported/half carried her to the registration desk. The nurse gave her a clipboard of forms to fill out, and Del took them to the last two seats together in the lobby.
“I told you it would be crowded.”
“And I told you that your foot needed to be checked.”
She sighed and filled out the forms. Del took them up to the desk for her. When he came back, he said, “She said it’s going to be a while. There are more serious cases ahead of you.”
“This isn’t the way I planned on spending our vacation.”
“If you’d just used my bag, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Pain, frustration, irritation… all warred in her until her frayed temper snapped. “Why on earth would you think I’d use your luggage? I bought you that set thinking it would be a nice gift, and you basically threw it back in my face.”
“I did not.”
“You did. You left without spending your birthday with me, and you didn’t take the luggage with you. It sat at my house for a week before I finally brought it to you.”
“I wasn’t rejecting the gift. I was angry at the message behind it.”
“What message? That I love you and wanted you to have it?” That was a lie. The message was that she wanted him to travel but not move away. She just hadn’t told him that yet.
“No. That you made up my mind for me and were sending me away. Without you. It’s basically breakup luggage.”
She jumped up and searing pain shot through her foot and up her leg. Gasping, she sat back down.
“Where did you think you were going to go?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not having this conversation with you. Not now. Not here in a hospital ER where everyone can listen to our business.” She glanced around. People in the waiting room, staff behind the window… they were all staring at her and Del.
“But it won’t be our business much longer, will it? Pretty soon, it’s just going to be me, alone again. No you. No couple.”
A nurse came over with a wheelchair. “Miss Marks? We’re ready for you now.”
“That was fast,” Del said. He helped Laci into the chair.
The nurse glanced around, then whispered so only the two of them could hear her. “Sometimes when there’s a disturbance out here, it’s just easier to change the order and take a patient early.” She started pushing Laci through the waiting area.
Del followed, and the nurse turned around to speak to him. “We’ve got it from here. Please have a seat. We’ll keep you updated.”
“Just listen to her, Del. I’m sure I won’t be too long.” He frowned, but sat back down. She knew she’d be hearing more about that later. But that argument beat the other one they were having.
When the nurse got Laci situated behind a curtain, she started asking a lot of questions. And not about her foot. Laci would have laughed, the whole thing was so ludicrous, but she was in too much pain. Instead, she assured the nurse that she wasn’t in an abusive relationship and Del was actually a wonderful man. And no, he didn’t hurt her. Her own stubbornness and clumsiness was to blame.
Once the nurse was satisfied that Laci was in no danger from Del, she asked the necessary medical questions and a doctor came to see her. A long trip to the x-ray department and back, and the doctor was telling her she was lucky. She had broken her foot, but only one bone, and it was a clean break. Given the way the accident happened, she could have had many rough breaks, with chips and fragments, that would have required surgery.
Yay. Lucky her.
After her foot was set and she had crutches, she was led back out to the lobby.
Del was pacing up and down the hall. He rushed to her when she came out. “They said they’d keep me posted, but they didn’t tell me a thing.”
She continued hobbling down the hall toward the door. “Well, obviously it’s broken. But it’s not bad. He said it was a clean break, so I don’t need surgery.”
They walked outside, and he stopped her at the curb. She looked up at him, and he placed both hands on her face and gave her a tender kiss. “I was worried.”
“I’ll be okay.”
He rested his forehead on hers, and she just breathed him in. This was her Del, this was her heart, her home. She couldn’t bear to lose him.
He pushed away. “Stay here. I’ll get the car.”
“I need to learn to use these. I’ll come with you.”
“I said stay!” Rather than starting yet another argument, she waited while he loped across the parking lot. He was back in no time and got out to help her.
Once they were on their way back to the beach house, she said, “You really don’t need to treat me so delicately. I’m okay.”
He sighed. “Are you okay enough to continue our discussion about the move?”
Her stomach clenched. “No. I’m not that okay yet.”
The tick in his jaw said more than any of his words would or could. “We’ll table it for now. But we’re talking soon. We can’t let this stuff fester between us. It’s already gone unsaid for too long.”
She looked out the window at the surf. Her foot ached, but not as much as her heart. She leaned her head on the window. She didn’t want things left unresolved, but she was frightened of the resolution. What if instead of staying, he chose his career over her?