Tag: short stories (page 1 of 6)

Fiction Feature—The Town of Aycan

Most of my social media posts this week focused on Dr. Seuss. He was one of my favorite authors as a child, and that hasn’t changed now that I’m an adult. (Maybe I’m just a kid at heart.)

Now, I know there is no emulating the master himself, but in honor of Dr. Seuss (his birthday is March 2, so I’ve devoted the week to him) I’ve written a Seuss-style story for writers. If he’s watching from the great beyond, I hope he takes it in the spirit it was intended—a tribute, not a poor imitation. (I hope you take it that way, too.)

Without further ado…

The Town of Aycan

Each morning I wake in my cold-sheeted bed.dr seuss
I stretch and I struzle, scratch my messy-hair head.

I look out my window at the Land of Aycant,
watch the breeze blow the leaves of each ideaolous plant.

Scrubazou in the shower, comb through my hair,
dress in my casual no-one-cares wear.

I sit with my laptop, stare at the blank screen.
Wonder how to make readers see what I’ve seen.

Words like magnanimous, odoriferous, vile,
capricious, benevolent, svelte, and beguile

tumble and flumble through my overtaxed brain.
But my efforts to use them all end up in vain.

My mind’s all snurf-agled, my thoughts ramble-ringers.
My stories can’t get from my head through my fingers.

That’s life in the frustrating Land of Aycant.
Lots and lots of ideas, but progress is scant.

The ideaolous plants are in full bloom and bud,
but the ideas won’t translate; every draft is a dud.

Why do I stay here? It’s not healthy, not fun.dr seuss
If I leave here posthaste, I can get a lot done.

I glance at the map, plot a courseous course,
and climb on the back of my horsious horse.

He gallops and gimbles and follows my plan,
doesn’t stop till we get to the town of Aycan.

We trot right through the streets to the heart of Town Square.
I clamber off the saddle, rejoice that I’m there.

Open my laptop, start tapping the keys…
Writing my stories is now such a breeze.

Words flow freely, great plotacular plots,
world-building words, character dialogue and thoughts.

All it took was one little attitude fix,
and now I have access to my whole bag of tricks.

When inspiration is gone and you have no worthy plan,
take a successfulous trip to the Town of Aycan.

Rest in Peace, Dr. Seuss. You are missed.

Laci and Del: Hide and Go Hear

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 6 of 12.

Laci and Del: Hide and Go Hear

purple calla lilliesLaci had been distant with Del since she’d spent Mother’s Day with his family. Well, she could hardly call it spending the holiday with them. She’d stormed out, taking Del’s car and leaving him to find his own way home, well before dinner was even served.

She never told him why.

He assumed it was the usual girlfriend-and-mother-don’t-get-along stuff. Cliché, but not too far from the mark. She and Nora hadn’t been the best of friends the first time she and Del had dated. But that wasn’t why she’d cut and run.

What set her off was learning Del had told his family that when their relationship had imploded the first time, it was her fault. More to the point, that she had left him without reason or way to contact her. Continue reading

Laci and Del: Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best

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 5 of 12.

Laci and Del: Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best

potted tulips“I don’t know, Del.” Laci clutched the pot of tulips against her chest as they walked toward the door of his parents sprawling log ranch. “I mean, she’s your mother. And she never really liked me. Maybe the first time we do a family event together as a couple shouldn’t be Mother’s Day.”

When they reached the porch, he kissed the top of her head. “She never had a problem with you,” he whispered. “I need to see my mom today, and I want to spend time with you. I can’t do both unless you’re here with me.”

“I saw my mother this morning without you.”

“That was your decision, not mine.” He opened the door, took her hand, and dragged her inside. “Mom? We’re here!” He dropped his keys on the table and pulled her forward. Continue reading

Laci and Del: In Like a Lion

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 4 of 12.

Laci and Del: In Like a Lion

coloring eggsLaci dashed through the rain at five-thirty and flung open the passenger-side door of Del’s car. She dove inside and slammed the door closed behind her. Swiping at the rain on her sleeves and in her hair, she turned to him and huffed. “Remember when the post office stayed open late on tax day?”

He smiled and wiped a raindrop off her nose. “Most people file online now. And if they are using snail mail, they don’t wait for the fifteenth. Especially not until closing.”

She sat back. “Obviously I wasn’t the only one. Besides, I was there at five minutes to five, and the line was to the door. They needed more workers. Look at the time! And there are still people in there.”

“You’re lucky they didn’t lock the doors.”

“I beat closing by five minutes.”

He smiled. “You’re lucky they didn’t send you away.”

“I don’t think they can do that.”

“They’re the post office. They can do whatever they want.”

“No they can’t.”

“The bank used to switch their calendar days over to the next day around three p.m.”

Her eyes widened. “You don’t think they did that, do you? My taxes need to be post-dated today.”

He laughed and pulled into traffic. “No, I don’t think they did that. I’m sure you’re fine.”

She fidgeted as he drove, unable to focus on the ride. It had been a crappy day. Her alarm hadn’t gone off and she’d slept in, making her rush to work. She never slept in and never ran late, so starting the day that way really put her off her game. And the day went downhill from there. Her boss was on her case all day. None of her projects were going as planned. Her accountant was supposed to meet her with her final return at lunch, but he was late. She missed lunch in order to meet him, and she was late getting back to the office because of his tardiness, causing her boss to flip out again. To top it all off, she owed money for the first time in ten years, and she’d been counting on a refund. Stupid crappy economy. The end of her day? A mad dash in the rain to just barely make it to the post office in time. Thank God Del had been able to pick her up. She never would have caught a cab in this weather. She just wanted a glass of wine and a nice hot soak in the tub. Time to put this day behind her.

“Laci. Lace?”

“Huh?”

“You checked out on the drive home. We’re here.”

She looked out the window and tried—and failed—to suppress a sigh. She wasn’t home. She was at his home. “Del, I’m sorry. I’ve had the worst day. I just want to go home. I mean, my home.”

“You need to eat. And you need to relax. Besides, you made me a promise, and I’m collecting tonight.” She thought back over the things she’d promised him. Sometimes he caught her at the most vulnerable times and she made a lot of promises. Wonder what he had in mind for this evening? She really didn’t feel like paying up tonight.

He turned around and reached for something in the back seat. “I have an umbrella.” His voice was strained as he stretched. “Let me just find it.”

“Don’t worry about me. I’m already wet.” She opened her door and dashed for the awning in front of his building, not even bothering to feel sorry for him as he drove around the side of the complex to the parking lot. He had let her off at the door, but he’d have a much longer trek in the downpour. Umbrella or not, he’d be getting wet. At least the bottom half of him.

It wasn’t long before he ran up behind her. He hadn’t bothered with the umbrella, and he was soaked, his dark hair dripping onto his face and down his collar. “Let’s go up.” He held the door for her and led her into the lobby.

“You know, I’m really beat. And I’ve had the worst day. I don’t know how long I’m even going to be able to keep my eyes open. Exactly what promise did you want me to make good on tonight?”

She could see the heat in his eyes when he smiled at her. “I can think of plenty. But there’s just one that I had in mind when I brought you here.”

“Which is?”

His eyebrow quirked and he gestured for her to get in the elevator before him. He followed her in and pressed the ‘twelve’ button for his floor. Pressing her against the elevator wall, he bent down and claimed her mouth in a searing kiss, his lips hot against hers in contrast to his skin, cool and wet from the rain. Was this the promise she was fulfilling? She couldn’t remember them ever discussing the elevator… But she couldn’t remember much of anything. Her thoughts were a scrambled mess, her nerves a jumbled mass of tingling electricity. He pulled away from her way too soon. She lifted heavy lids and looked up at him. “Why’d you stop?” Her voice sounded far away, even to her own ears.

Chuckling, he released her from the wall and pulled her forward. “You didn’t hear the bell? We’re on my floor.” He tugged her out into the hall.

Laci followed him down the hall to his apartment, heat flooding her face. She never thought straight around him. Going home with him after the day she’d had was not a good idea.

Del opened his door and turned to her. “Here. Let me take that.” He stripped her of her coat and hung it on a peg in the foyer before taking his own off and hanging it beside hers. “We need to get you out of those wet things before you get sick.”

“I don’t have anything here. Del, I really should just go.” He took her hand and tugged on her until she followed him to his room. Thoughts tumbled through her brain like clothes in a dryer, falling all over each other, too fast for her to latch on to one before the next took its place. She stood in his doorway, dripping on his carpet, staring at his bed, wondering exactly what he had in mind, what promise she was supposed to fulfill.

He stepped in front of her, blocking her view. “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”

“Hmm? I’m sorry, what?”

“Wow. Your mind really is a hundred miles away tonight.”

She bit her lip and looked up at him. Feeling something soft in her hands, she looked down. And smiled. He’d put a pair of socks, a hoodie, and drawstring sweat shorts in her hands.

“I know everything will be big on you, but these are the only drawstring shorts I’ve got.”

She looked down, then back at him, mortified. “I can’t wear these.”

“Why not?”

“They’re Ravens shorts. And the fact that you even own them is an insult to me, our football team, and this great city.”

“Do you forgive me if I say they were a gag gift and I never wore them?”

“You kept them.”

“And aren’t you glad I did? Otherwise you won’t have any bottoms to wear.” She considered the alternatives. She had to take her other stuff off and throw them in the dryer—that included her underclothes. But to wear Ravens clothes? Sighing, she stomped off toward the bathroom with the garments, listening to him laugh. “There are towels in the linen closet,” he called through the closed door. She stripped and dried off, lamenting the misfortunes of her day. As she scrubbed her skin dry, she wondered exactly what Del was doing on the other side of the door. Deciding she didn’t want to wait long to find out, she hurried to dress, delaying only for a moment to adjust the oversized garments. When she came out, Del wasn’t in the bedroom. She followed noise to the kitchen, where he was busy getting things out of the refrigerator.

“There you are,” he said. “I ordered pizza. It’s supposed to be here in about forty minutes, but given the rain, I’m guessing more like an hour.” He opened a bottle of wine. “Give me your clothes. I’ll go throw them in the dryer with mine.”

“You look busy. I’ll do it.” She took her things to his laundry room, which was really just a closet converted to house the appliances, tossed them in the dryer, and returned to the kitchen, where Del was still bustling around. “So, what are you doing? And can I help?”

He turned and looked at her, and then burst out laughing.

“What?”

“Your shorts are on backward.”

“I couldn’t wear them and look at the logo. Plus, this way I get to sit on a Raven.”

He shook his head. “On anyone else, that would look ridiculous.”

“But not me? Please. I’m wearing socks, sweat shorts, and a hoodie, all of which are several sizes too big for me. I think it’s a safe bet that I look ridiculous regardless of whether the shorts are on backward or not.”

Growing serious, he studied her carefully. “No. You could never look ridiculous. Not to me.” He brushed a damp tendril of hair off her forehead and held her face, meeting her gaze. “You’ve never looked more beautiful.”

The air—was there air?—was thick, electrified… so hard to breathe. She leaned into his hand, lost in his gaze, drowning in his words and his touch. Then she pulled away and turned from him. “Are you kidding me? My makeup’s completely washed off. My hair is soaked. I look like a river otter. Or a raccoon. I don’t know. Some kind of wet rodent with circles under her eyes. I’m swimming in these clothes. I’m embarrassed to be seen like this!” She pulled at the sweat shorts and almost lost them, hiking them up through the oversized hoodie.

He spun her around and again cupped her face in his hands. “You’re always beautiful to me, Laci. I don’t care about your hair, your makeup, your clothes. I care about you.” And he kissed her, a feather-light kiss, soft and sweet, a kiss that promised his words were true. A kiss that scared her even as it exhilarated her. She looked up at him and blinked, trying to clear her mind. “I’m sorry, Del. You know I don’t usually care about this stuff. And I know you don’t either. It’s just been a really crappy day. Why don’t you just tell me what promise I’m supposed to be keeping, and then I can call it a night?”

“Wow. You really know how to make a guy feel like you’re interested in spending time with him.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just—”

“Did you ever think that maybe you could turn the day around?” He poured a glass of wine and handed it to her. “What?” She sipped the Merlot and looked at him over the rim of her glass.

“You had a bad morning, right? And a bad afternoon? Who says you have to have a bad evening and night, too? I plan on making things better.” He led her to a bar stool at his island and pulled it out so she would sit. Once she was settled, he started bringing items over to the counter, placing them within her reach. Cups. Vinegar. Food coloring. Eggs. White crayons.

She stared at him, then started to giggle. “What were you thinking?”

“You promised me you’d color eggs with me this year. We’re almost out of time. Easter’s on Sunday.”

“I thought you were kidding.”

“You said you hadn’t done it since you were little. And neither have I. It’s a tradition. We should start doing it again.”

“It’s a tradition for families with little kids.”

“Says who? Besides, this will give us a reason to make baked macaroni.”

“You don’t need…” she stopped and counted, “…four dozen eggs for baked macaroni.”

“I like baked macaroni. We’ll make a lot. We can freeze what we don’t eat. And we can make deviled eggs. And egg salad.”

She shook her head and poured some vinegar into all the cups of hot water.

“Oh! And pickled eggs. I love pickled eggs.”

“You don’t like beets.”

“But I like pickled eggs.” He put food coloring in all the cups.

She picked up a crayon and scanned the cups. “Did you make any black?”

“For Easter eggs?” He scoffed. “Um, no.” He finished writing something on an egg and put it in the pink cup.

“How am I supposed to make a black and gold egg without black?”

“Just draw the Steelers logo on it and put it in yellow.”

“You don’t do eggs right.”

“You’ll have to teach me next year.” She looked up at him, but didn’t say anything. They’d been together for a while, but no one had talked long-term. Nervous, she decided to change the subject. “Are you almost done with the pink?”

“I don’t know. Check and see if you think it’s dark enough.”

She lifted his egg out of the pink cup. He’d written, ‘I love you, Laci’ on it. She wished she’d stuck with the ‘teach me next year’ conversation. It was an easier one to deal with at the moment. And he said he wanted to make her night better. The L-bomb was not better. Not at all. What was she supposed to say to that?

Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking

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 3 of 12: Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking.

Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking

wee bit o' irishIt was an irritant somewhere in her brain, picking away at her comfort zone.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

If Laci had felt nervous before Valentine’s Day, she was positively panicked afterward. The first month and a half of the year had gone more smoothly than she could have hoped after their years apart, then Del had to go and up the stakes with the perfect Valentine’s date: just the right mix of recreation and romance.

Since then she’d been a wreck.

He had dialed everything back to casual, but she knew it was a fake casual. They were past that. He’d taken them past that.

She kept going to movies with him, sharing meals, discussing their days, meeting for coffee, but she knew, she knew, those things weren’t innocuous. It was more than merely food, entertainment, and mindless chatter. They mattered to him. And if she was honest with herself, they all mattered to her, too.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

It was a month after their perfect date, and he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t put any pressure on her—none at all, in fact—but she felt it. Because over the last week, he’d spent less and less time with her. Time was running out. She had to choose.

Pick. Pick. Pick.

Commit or move on.

Pick.

Whatever was fiddling around in her head believed in divide and conquer, because some of it had gone to work in her stomach. She thought about making a bowl of soup, but took some antacid instead.

Pick.

St. Patrick’s Day was Monday. Because of his heritage, it used to be one of Del’s favorite days of the year. He had proven to her that he still knew her well. Maybe it was time to see how well she still knew him. She sat down with a notebook and pen and got to work.

On Monday evening, Laci’s doorbell rang at 5:30, right when she expected it. She straightened her green silk dress under her apron and answered the door.

He must have had a hard day, because he’d already taken off his jacket, untucked his shirt, loosened his collar, and undone his tie. His hair was mussed, like he’d been running his hand through it in frustration, and he was looking at his phone with a frown on his face. But when she greeted him, he pocketed his phone and the stress lines smoothed into a lazy grin. “You look gorgeous. What’s the occasion?”

She grabbed his hand and pulled him into her apartment. She looked gorgeous? One of her favorite looks on Del was his done-with-the-business-day look. His five o’clock shadow was coming in and his clothes were starting to come off… he had that perfect blend of elegant and casual that really got to her. “Are you kidding me? Delany Keegan doesn’t know what today is?”

He thought for a second and shook his head. “Sorry, babe. The last week’s been pretty rough. Today was a real killer. Let me think… It’s not a birthday. Not an anniversary. What am I missing?”

She reached behind her and slowly untied her apron, watching his every reaction.

His gaze followed her hands. He swallowed and smiled, clearly expecting a lot more to come.

Instead of removing her apron, she lifted it to him and said, “Read it.”

“What?” He chuckled, clearly not expecting that turn of events.

“What’s it say?”

He looked at her for a moment, then he looked down at the apron and read it. “Kiss Me. I May Have a Wee Bit O’ Irish in Me.” He smiled. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day.”

She spoke with her best brogue, which wasn’t that good, but was serviceable. “It is indeed, Delany Keegan. And you should be ashamed for neglecting your heritage like that. Forgetting our day. And not even wearing o’ the green! You know what that means!” She reached out and pinched him.

He tossed his jacket on the sofa and spoke in a brogue far better than Laci’s. “You get one free one, Laci Marks. Try it again, and I pinch back.”

She giggled and said, “You better not if you want to put a wee bit o’ Irish in me later!” and ran into the kitchen. He was close on her heels. She turned to ward off his advance, but he had stopped short. “Del? What’s wrong?”

He was staring at her table. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice low, soft.

The nerves were back again, working overtime. Pick. Pick. Pick. “I made dinner. We’ve been eating together almost every night, anyway. I just decided to cook tonight instead of us going out.”

She needed something to do with her hands, so she took her apron off. For the second time that night, she waited while he looked her over, head to toe. At the door, he just appraised her beauty, and she appreciated it. But in the kitchen, he assessed the intent behind her efforts, and it made her squirm. Then he turned toward the table, where she had already placed homemade soda bread, Colcannon potatoes, corned beef, and a steaming pot of Irish stew. Tall glasses of Guinness were at each place setting. He didn’t even know that coffee was already brewed for after dinner, Irish if he wanted it that way, to accompany an Irish cream chocolate cheesecake that she’d baked the day before. She bit her lip while she waited for his analysis to end.

“You did all this?”

She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.” Fidgeting under his stare, she continued. “We have to eat, right?”

He crossed to her and took her by the shoulders, forcing her to face him, but she stared at the floor. “Laci, look at me.”

She couldn’t quite manage it.

“Laci,” he whispered.

She looked up into his eyes and saw that he was searching for answers. Answers she was frightened to give.

“Did you do all this for me?”

She nodded. “I know your mother makes this meal every year. I wanted to make sure you got to eat your family feast, even if you were with me instead of them.”

He smiled, and his eyes stopped questioning her. Instead, they held answers. Those were the eyes that she’d once fallen in love with. Eyes that once held the promise of a future, of children, of growing old together. Of a lifetime. She saw those things again.

It was frightening.

And exhilarating.

“Your apron said I’m supposed to kiss you.” He pulled her into his embrace.

Everything had changed.

She had picked.

What if she’d made a mistake?

First Friday Fiction Feature — Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made

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.

Hopefully you remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 2 of 12: “Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made”

Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made

black & gold valentineThey’d been dating since New Year’s, midnight. This time. Laci had to admit things were going well. Over the last six weeks, Del seemed to have remembered everything that mattered to her.

She only ate ice cream in the summer… unless she was angry, then bring it on. By the gallon. She liked her pizza New York style, as thin as she could get it, and always with sausage and veggies. Chicken wings should be seasoned with paprika and garlic salt, not slathered in sauce, and served with blue cheese, not ranch. And like pizza, she had to drink Pepsi, not Coke, with them. And definitely not iced tea or something without bubbles. Beer would do in a pinch, but was not her first choice. She was fiercely addicted to hockey. She loved museums, but preferred to go to them alone because people usually rushed her through them. She pretended to enjoy art films but in actuality they bored her; she preferred action movies. And obviously, she hated being alone at midnight on New Year’s because not kissing someone was a double whammy for her: it was a new year and it was her birthday.

He remembered it all.

When Del told her he had something special planned for Valentine’s Day, she couldn’t help but panic. “Special” was too much. “Special” was too soon.

They had crossed that bridge before. They had discussed marriage. She’d been ready for it. She had been secretly buying bridal magazines and thinking about venues. She’d tentatively designed the perfect menu, chosen colors and flowers, and known just what gown she wanted. If she had closed her eyes, she could have felt the ring on her finger.

And it had blown up in her face.

She didn’t know if she was ready to deal with all that again.

“What time can you get off work?” he asked.

“Uh… I don’t know. Why?”

“I thought we might start the night early. Valentine’s Day is Friday, so you know it’s going to be even more crazy in town than usual.”

“What time do I need to be ready?”

“Well, I don’t want to give too much away. Can you be ready to walk out the door at five?”

“Five? That’s awfully early for dinner, isn’t it?”

“I’ve got a full evening planned.”

She sighed, but no air felt like it entered or exited her lungs. Her chest felt tight, her palms cold, clammy. “All right. Five. What should I wear?”

“Whatever you’re comfortable in.”

“I’m comfortable in jammies.”

He waggled his eyebrows.

“Seriously, Del. I need to know how to dress.”

“Something comfortable. That’s all I’m saying.” He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss, then started to walk away. He called over his shoulder. “I promise, this will be a night you won’t forget.”

Something comfortable? She bit her lower lip. I doubt I’ll be comfortable until that night is long over.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around, Laci had worked herself up so much that she couldn’t concentrate if she tried. She finally just took the afternoon off and went home. Standing in her closet, she pawed through her clothes countless times, never coming up with anything. Finally, she stood back.

“What the hell constitutes ‘comfortable’ to a man?”

She took a bubble bath, styled her hair, and applied her makeup. When her doorbell rang at 4:55, she was still in her robe.

“I know I said ‘comfortable,’ but I don’t think we’ll get out of your apartment with you looking like that.”

The look on his face was something between appreciation and predator. She whacked his arm as it reached for her and darted out of his reach. “I’d be ready by now if I knew what I was supposed to be wearing. You won’t tell me where we’re going, or what ‘comfortable’ means, or how dressy I should get, or…” She stopped and took a good look at him for the first time.

He was dressed in jeans and his winter jacket, underneath which she could see a hockey jersey peeking out.

“When you say ‘comfortable,’ do you mean ‘casual?’”

“I do.”

She started to relax. “How casual? Like, my lucky-hockey-jersey casual?”

“That would be perfect.” He smiled.

The pressure in her chest released so quickly, she was surprised steam didn’t pour out her ears. “I’ll be right back!” She all but danced to her room and stripped out of her robe. Her beloved Lemieux jersey held a place of honor in her closet; it hung right by the door next to the white Sidney Crosby, black Evgeni Malkin, and blue James Neal jerseys. But the black Lemieux jersey was her lucky jersey, and it was a special night, so that’s the one she wore. She donned it with a pair of black jeans and black boots, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the door.

“Perfect,” he said, standing back and looking her over.

She could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. “Stop it. I hate it when you look at me like that.”

“Get used to it.” He opened the door for her. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“That’s classified.”

She sighed, but played along. Downstairs, a black car was parked at the curb. She started to walk around it to cross the street, but he led her to it and bowed low, opening the door. “Madame, your carriage awaits.”

“What?”

“I rented a car for tonight. I didn’t want to walk in the cold or try to hail cabs.”

“Where are we going?”

“Geez, Laci. Would you just play along and get in?”

“Okay!” She got in and Del climbed in behind her. He poured her champagne and they toasted to a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Laci hadn’t even finished her drink before they were at their destination: her favorite pizza parlor. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope. Come on.” Del took her hand and led her inside. They ordered salad and pizza—New York style with sausage and veggies, of course—and two Pepsis.

When they were finished, Del took her hand. “Did you enjoy your meal?”

“Every bite.”

“Ready to go?”

“There’s more?”

“It’s only six-fifteen, Laci. The night’s just getting started.”

Their driver valiantly braved rush hour traffic to cross the river and stop at The Square, where Del paid for them to ride the incline to the top of Coal Mountain and look at the view of the city.

“It’s a little chilly, but it’s beautiful,” Laci said, nerves creeping back in. The top of the mountain was exactly the kind of place people went to propose, and she wasn’t ready.

“I’m glad you like it,” Del said. “But we can’t stay. We’ve got one more stop.”

Relief flooded through her, warm and comforting, tingling her chilled fingers and toes. “Really, Del? You’ve already given me a great night.”

“I think you’ll like this.”

They rode the incline back down and got in the car. Again the driver fought city traffic and took them to one of Laci’s favorite places: the hockey center.

Del produced two tickets from his pocket. “Center ice. Right behind the bench.”

She threw her arms around him. “Are you serious?”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Laci.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Del.”

As they walked inside, Laci knew she was going to remember that night for the rest of her life.

She also knew Del had put together a far more romantic evening for her than if he had wined-and-dined her at a fancy restaurant.

What did that mean for them going forward?

First Friday Fiction Feature – Laci and Del: Second Chance?

It’s the first Friday of the month. You know what that means… it’s time for another installment of short fiction. (You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features, by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.)

This year I’m doing something different. Instead of twelve months of different stories, I’m trying out some serial work this year. So there will be twelve consecutive pieces released starting with this one: “Laci and Del: Second Chance?”

Laci and Del: Second Chance?

2014 Laci glanced around the room, her gaze flitting from the people to the door and back. Panic clawed through her insides as desperately as she wanted to claw at each figure blocking her way. She had no means of escape. She’d waited too long. What fifteen minutes earlier had been a navigatable maze of clusters of party guests, standing like islands in a sea she could have traveled, somehow had morphed into one massive throng she had no hope of wading through. The door might as well be in another country. She’d never make it.

Sighing, she turned around and unlatched the patio door. Cracking it open just enough to squeeze through it, she slipped outside and closed the door behind her. Immediately she was hit in the face with the bracing cold of winter.

“Damn, it’s freezing out here!” She wrapped her arms around herself and watched as her breath dissipated into the night. She briefly entertained the idea of going back inside, but shook the idea off before even turning around. The countdown had begun. Even through the heavy door she could hear them all chanting, “Fifty-seven… Fifty-six… Fifty-five…”

Less than a minute, and she could put another horrid year behind her.

And start another one.

She rubbed her arms harder and tried to blink back the tears that were threatening to fall, tried not to imagine every single person in there sharing a warm kiss at midnight… while she stood on the patio. Alone. In the cold.

“Thirty-two… Thirty-one…”

The voices had grown louder, and Laci realized the door had opened. Wiping her eyes and clearing her throat, she mustered the last ounces of courage and dignity she possessed and turned toward her unwanted intruder. “I’m sorry. Would you mind terribly? I’d like to be alone.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

He was backlit by the lights from inside the house, but she didn’t need to see his face to know who he was. She’d know his voice, his body, anywhere.

“Delany?”

“Only you and my mother ever call me that.”

She cleared her throat. “Del. What are you doing here?”

“Something I didn’t think I’d ever do again.”

“Three… Two… One…”

As shouts of “Happy New Year” and the beginning notes of “Auld Lang Syne” rang out from inside the house, Del crossed to Laci and kissed her.

There was no forewarning. No preamble. He didn’t stroke her cheek first or brush her hair back from her face.

There was just Del. And the kiss.

And the disappearance of her whole miserable world for a blissful moment.

When he released her, the people inside were about done cheering. The strains of the song were fading away. The tears had dried on her cheeks.

And her heart rate was nowhere near normal.

“And what, might I ask, am I supposed to make of that?” she managed to get out in a steady voice.

“I’ve been watching you all night.”

“You’ve been watching me all night? What are you, now? A stalker or something?” She clutched at where a collar should be, but all she found was a necklace. A beautiful diamond necklace he’d bought her, highlighted by her upswept hair and the low-cut bodice of her cocktail dress. She tried to cover it with her fingers, but she saw the look of recognition on his face. Why did she have to choose that piece—of all pieces—to wear that night? Thankfully, he didn’t comment on it.

“We’re both still friends with the same people. We’re bound to end up in the same place at the same time. But after how things ended…”

She lowered one of her arms and studied his face.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know if you were ready to talk. So I stayed on the opposite side of the room all night. I was trying to be polite and give you space.”

She sniffed.

“Anyway, I figured you would leave before midnight. I know how you feel about not having anyone to kiss when the ball drops, especially given it’s not just the new year, but your birthday too, so when—”

“You remember my birthday?”

His eyebrows shot up. “What kind of person do you think I am? Of course I remember your birthday.”

She relaxed enough that she dropped her hand away from her throat and started rubbing her arms again. Since Del had walked onto the patio, she hadn’t felt anything but heat. The cold was starting to hit her again, though. As well as some old feelings she hadn’t buried as deep as she had thought.

“Come here,” he said.

Before she could object, she was nestled in his arms, tucked against his firm, warm chest.

“Laci, I know things got all messed up before. I don’t want to revisit the past. This is a new year. For you and for everyone.” He pulled back a little bit and looked down at her. “I’d like to give us another try.”

She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she tucked her head back against his chest and held on tightly to him. “I don’t know, Delany. It took me a long time to move on. I don’t want to go through something like that again.”

“That’s how you know it’s worth fighting for. Because we were so hard to walk away from. Come on, Laci. What have you got to lose?”

Laci thought about the year since they had broken up and the men she hadn’t been able to date. There had been something wrong with absolutely everyone who’d asked her out—too tall, too nerdy, too creepy, too involved with work, too interested in fantasy football—so she’d politely declined all her offers until the offers had stopped coming. Yes, she realized her reasons were ridiculous. Well, maybe not the creepy guy, but all the other ones. But obviously her social calendar was in need of some CPR.

But wasn’t Del the reason it flat-lined to begin with?

She had a lot to lose. He couldn’t possibly understand. Was he worth the risk?

First Friday Fiction Feature – Christmas Eve Perspective

christmas It’s the first Friday of the month. You know what that means… it’s time for another installment of short fiction. (You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features, by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.)

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m taking some liberties with a famous work of Mr. Clement Clark Moore. I’m sure you’ll recognize it. Happy Holidays, everyone.

Christmas Eve Perspective

Twas the night before Christmas, I was the only one up.

The only thing keeping me going was the caffeine in my cup.

The last month had been spent in a blur of congestion.

And I sat wrapping gifts pondering one crucial question.

My kids had full bellies and had gone to bed sated.

And it was the time of night that I most hated.

My husband had had his fill of fine family dining.

And had done a little too much of “fine family wining.”

He’d just “rested his eyes” and was now snoring.

A trait I didn’t find very adoring.

So I was wrapping all the presents and guzzling my joe,

When I saw something moving outside in the snow.

I stepped onto the porch for a better view.

The starry sky was clear, but a blustery wind blew.

I turned from the chill, then I looked back.

I swear it was Santa, complete with sleigh and sack.

I counted eight reindeer hitched to his sleigh.

And wondered who would believe my story when I told it the next day.

Without my phone, I’d have no photographic proof,

I thought maybe I could show someone the prints of a hoof.

I stood there and watched them, I’m not sure how long.

Santa was singing his deer a beautiful song.

I thought it must be how he gets them to fly in the air;

It’s not quite a carol, not quite a prayer.

But he sang his song, and he shook the reins,

And off they went by the tune of his baritone strains.

The stars twinkled, the snowflakes swirled;

Santa was gone, bringing joy to the world.

I turned to go back inside, resigned to do my work;

I had been acting like a complete and total jerk.

So what if I was the only one doing the wrapping?

Who cares if I would rather be in my warm bed napping?

These moments are fleeting. They come and go fast.

There’s no way in the world we can make them last.

The kids won’t know, nor will they care,

Who baked or shopped or wrapped, I swear!

I needed to stop asking why I was always stuck.

I needed to stop asking why I had such rotten luck.

I opened the door and dropped my jaw, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

What I saw inside the room was a Christmas Eve surprise!

Every gift was wrapped and tagged and placed under the tree.

And all the paper, bows, and tags were put away for me.

My husband slept soundly again; I woke him with a kiss.

“Thanks,” I said, and gestured, “for handling all this.”

He said, “I wish I could take credit, but it wasn’t me.”

And we heard sleigh bells ringing outside beyond the holly tree.

“You don’t think…” I whispered, stunned. “I mean—”

“Why not?” he said. “It wouldn’t be the first magical thing we’ve seen.”

He wrapped me in his arms, I snuggled against him tight.

“Merry Christmas.” He pulled me toward the stairs. “It’s going to be a good night.”

First Friday Fiction Feature – A Walk on the Wild Side

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another fiction installment. (Links for this and all Fiction Features can be found on the Freebies page.)

Because yesterday was Halloween, I thought I’d include something here that’s just a little creepy. Hope you enjoy it.

A Walk on the Wild Side

steel toeSavannah sat behind the wheel of her car in the parking lot of Cheery Charities, the local store offering discounted and sometimes free items to the less fortunate. In years past, she’d donated many of her things to the store.

Now she was a patron.

Being the number one real estate agent in the tri-state area used to require all of her time. But it was worth it. She had an expertly furnished beautiful five bedroom provincial, a luxury car, money for all her desires, and a sizeable savings portfolio.

When the real estate bubble burst, her whole world disintegrated. She’d burned through her savings, then resorted to selling off her estate. She traded her car for an old jalopy and a few thousand dollars. When she had nothing left to sell, she sold the house and moved into a walk-up efficiency. With little money for rent, utilities, and food, and most of her clothes in a consignment shop, she had no choice but to shop at Cheery Charities. She had no other option; she refused to reach out to her father for help. Their parting had been less than amicable. She wasn’t crawling home looking for a handout after their final conversation.

Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the scent of stale tobacco and what she hoped was wet dog. Pursing her lips, she exhaled slowly and tried not to think about the filth she was sitting in. Or wallow in her current plight. Winter was approaching, and she needed something to block the chill.

Cheery Charities it was, then.

No point in locking up. There was nothing in her car worth stealing, and no one would want to take her car. She merely shoved the door until it finally swung on its ungreased hinges and slammed it closed.

A tiny bell on the door tinkled to announce her presence. She looked around, but no workers came out of the back. She approached a rack holding coats and picked through the offerings until she found a black wool pea coat and tried it on. It was a size too big for her, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

She stifled a mirthless chuckle. She was basically a beggar now. She needed to stop being so choosy and take what was available.

Take what was available?

Could she really steal from a charity? If someone was actually working, she wouldn’t be in the position to consider it. As it was, she was one of the misfortunate needy, and she was entitled to the coat. Probably.

She left the coat on and headed toward the door. If she ever was flush again, she’d make a donation.

Fighting the guilt, she turned her head away from the cash register. A rack of shoes caught her eye. Stepping toward it, her hand reached out to touch a pair of Jimmy Choo’s. Those had been hers, and she had loved them. But they were impractical for people in her condition. She needed something more utilitarian.

Her gaze drifted to a pair of work boots. She didn’t know if they were a man’s or a woman’s. She slipped them on. They were small for a man’s foot, but they definitely looked like a man’s style. She didn’t care. They were steel-toed, fleece-lined, and would keep her warm.

“God, I wish this wasn’t my life.”

A cold chill blew past her, then the room was still.

She glanced at the Jimmy Choo’s one last time, snatched them and bolted out the door with her contraband. She could still hear the bell tinkling when she started her car and drove away.

The plan was to head to the library and use the computer to search for job openings, but she found herself driving to the river. She stopped at the bridge and scrambled down the hill. Metal barrels, rusted from exposure and scorched from years of holding fires, dotted the ground. She thanked the Lord that no one was currently there. She was confused and out of control, and it didn’t seem she had a choice about when to stay and when to flee.

Her feet kept moving, taking her straight to one of the barrels. She held her hands over it as though warming them over a fire. She felt ridiculous, as there wasn’t currently a fire burning, but she couldn’t stop herself. Suddenly she whipped around as though her body was reacting to a threat. She reached into her pocket and whipped out her empty hand, clenching her fist the way a person would grip a knife handle. She began shadow-stabbing a non-existent foe.

Slash right.

Stab.

Swipe left.

Duck.

Spin away.

Plunge.

Her hand stopped attacking and just twisted into the air. She was horrified to feel her cheeks lift up and her mouth split open in a satisfied grin. Then she stumbled backward as though absorbing an enormous weight. Flinging her arms to the side like she was throwing that weight down, she returned her imaginary knife to her pocket.

She walked over to a grouping of stones and hefted one of the larger ones. Then she walked back to where she had done battle and arranged the stone near where she had dumped her imaginary attacker. She repeated that process several times, stopping only to wipe the sweat from her brow. When the stones were in place, she walked to a different area and rooted through a non-existent bin. Returning to the stones, her hands moved like she was tying them to something. Then she started rolling the stones to the river. At the edge of the land above the water, she stopped and shoved.

The current was swift, but not even the rushing water could keep the stones from sinking to the river’s bottom.

Every fiber of her body fought to scream, but all she could manage was a self-satisfied smile. She clambered back up the hill and got in her car.

She drove straight to a homeless shelter on the other side of the train tracks. She’d never been to that part of the city, and felt panic sluicing icy-cold through her veins. A woman stepped out and shook her apron. Seeing Savannah sitting there, she smiled at her and beckoned her inside.

Savannah had no interest in going in, but she couldn’t help herself. She climbed out of the jalopy and sauntered toward the door. The woman held the door open for her, and Savannah looked her over, head to toe and back. Her stomach roiled, sickened by her actions, but she continued on. “Hey, sweetheart,” she said to the woman from the shelter.

The woman cleared her throat and tried to smile. “Hi,” she managed. “Are you looking for a cot tonight? Or a hot meal? We’re here to help.”

Savannah pushed a stray lock of hair away from the woman’s face and smiled when she recoiled from her touch. “After you.”

She followed the woman inside, keeping her eyes on her swaying hips. She wanted to look away, but her eyes were glued to the woman’s backside. When the woman turned and caught her staring, she untucked her shirt and walked more quickly toward the food line. “Here,” she said and handed Savannah a tray. “Go through the line. I’ll send the director over to discuss a bed.”

“Thanks, hon.”

The woman glanced back over her shoulder and scurried away.

The food looked like school cafeteria food—high in carbs, high in fat, completely processed, and way overcooked. She’d been living off ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches for months, and even that menu didn’t make the shelter’s food look any more appealing. As it turned out, she didn’t have a choice. Her feet pulled her through the line and she accepted one of everything.

Sitting alone in a dark corner, her thoughts had drifted to what she had done under the bridge. Even though she didn’t actually attack anyone, her actions were those of a murderer, and it freaked her out. And the lack of control? More than a little disturbing.

The woman who invited her in was walking toward her with a man who Savannah presumed was the director. Their heads were tipped toward each other’s in quiet conversation, but Savannah could hear snatches of it.

“…creepy guy last month…mean, exactly…”

“…could be a coincidence that…” the director said.

“…don’t understand…identical conversation to…”

“…the guy…little…”

The woman put her hand on the man’s arm to stop his progress. She whispered something directly in his ear then retreated from the room.

“Hello,” the man said. “I’m Derek, the director here. Callie said you’re interested in a bed?”

The last place Savannah wanted to be was at the shelter at night. Instead of declining, however, she said, “I’d be much obliged.”

Derek raised an eyebrow and studied her for a bit. Then he said, “Follow me.”

He led her into a room with twelve cots. Five of them were occupied. “Make yourself at home. Bathroom’s through that door,” he said, pointing to a door on the right. “Only rule is keep your hands to yourself. Lights out soon.”

“No worries, Derek,” Savannah said, sounding far more comfortable than she felt.

Derek stared at her for a moment, then left, calling for Callie.

Savannah looked at the other people spending the night. None seemed to want to socialize, which was fine by her. She sat on the edge of the cot and bent down to take off her boots.

She slipped them off her feet and was suddenly freed from their compulsive powers. A comforting warmth spread through her, then dissipated. The boots! Why hadn’t she realized sooner that her will was overpowered the moment the boots touched her feet? She quickly tucked her feet under her on the cot and stared at them. They looked innocent enough, but they were deadly. Literally.

The door opened again and a man sauntered in, calling over his shoulder, “You’re welcome to join me, sugar. I don’t bite. Much.”

Savannah didn’t hear Callie’s answer, but the man grinned and said, “Suit yourself.”

He strutted toward Savannah and took the cot next to her. He lay on his side, propping his head on his hand and staring in her direction. “New here, sweetheart?”

Savannah’s mouth instantly dried, preventing her from speaking. She couldn’t take her eyes off his feet. They were small—unusually small. Roughly her size.

Noticing where she was looking, he tried to look at her feet, but they were still tucked under her. Then he glanced down at the floor and saw her boots. She saw the recognition flit across his face right before Derek came to the door and said, “Lights out.” The room plunged into darkness.

Savannah’s heart slammed off her ribcage. A gravelly voice right in her ear said, “I think you have something of mine.”

She jumped off the bed and bolted for the door. She didn’t stop until she’d run out of the room, through the dining hall, and into the street. Her jalopy was where she left it, and she jumped in, fumbled for her keys, and jammed them with trembling hands in the ignition. Then she took off for home, not looking back. Part way home, she grabbed the Jimmy Choo’s off her seat and tossed them out the window.

She entered her apartment and locked the door. Looking around, she took in the sparse furnishings, dreary walls, and stained carpet. Safety trumped luxury any day, and she was safe. For the moment, anyway.

Why had she ever wished for another life?

A noise at the door startled her. She crept to the door and looked out the peephole. Seeing nothing, she gripped the handle and flung the door open.

A cat screeched and darted down the hall.

Pride be damned. She didn’t want the boot-man’s life, but she didn’t want hers any longer, either.

Striding across the room, she grabbed the phone off the receiver and dialed.

“Dad? It’s me.”

First Friday Fiction Feature – Fifty Sheds of Grey

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another fiction installment. (Links for this and all Fiction Features can be found on the Freebies page.)

This short story is inspired by a writing challenge given at last year’s OCW Conference. That contest required the story to fit on a 3″ x 5″ index card. This story is a bit longer than that.

Fifty Sheds of Grey

grey shedFifteen-year-old Mallory was a loner. Being alone was pretty much the only way she got any peace. When she was at school, she was the constant target of pranks and barbs.

Because of her cousin Polly.

While Mallory was born into a middle class family, Polly was born with a silver spoon in both her hands. Mallory secretly suspected she had one up her butt, too. Polly made her life miserable. When Mallory was younger, she’d tell her mother how mean Polly was to her, but her mother would say it was because she was jealous. Mallory didn’t know what Polly could possibly be jealous of, but as her mother never had any advice for her, she stopped talking about Polly and kept her pain to herself.

As they grew older, Polly only got worse. As the most popular kid at school, everyone followed her lead. And because she tormented Mallory mercilessly, the kids at school teased her, too. The only person who never followed Polly’s lead was Tommy. Mallory harbored a secret crush on him, but would never admit to it. Tommy was in Polly’s crowd, and Polly made sure Mallory wasn’t.

No wonder she preferred to be alone.

Given their history, it struck Mallory as more than odd that Polly invited her to her back-to-school bash. It was at their grandparents’ farm—known to the locals simply as The Barn. Mallory accepted despite her reservations.

“Wear lip gloss and bring breath spray,” Polly said. “We’ll be playing some… games.”

“Games?”

“Yeah. You know the shed by the barn? The games are in there. I call it ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey.’ Know what I mean?”

Mallory didn’t answer, but she knew what that meant. Polly, of course, had plenty of experience with boys, but Mallory had never played “Spin the Bottle” let alone been kissed. Ever fiber of her being screamed at her not to go. But not showing would be social death, and her popularity was already on life support. Better to go than be labeled a chicken.

Mallory procrastinated and stalled as long as she could, but finally had to take the plunge. She hoped to go late and blend into the background, but when Polly saw her, she announced her arrival to everyone. As Mallory approached the group, she was greeted to taunts about her inexperience.

How could they possibly know?

Polly, of course.

Mallory scanned the crowd, hoping to see Tommy’s friendly face, but she didn’t see him. To avoid acknowledging the never-ending jeers, she turned around and took in the surroundings. She used to feel so comfortable there, but when Polly started hanging out there with her friends, Mallory had stopped going to the barn. When she visited her grandparents, she stayed at the house and didn’t wander the grounds for fear of running into Polly and her friends. She missed it.

When they were younger, the barn was her sanctuary. She’d climb over hay bales and tuck herself into the corner of stalls with the cats and a good book or a sketch pad. Polly was too prissy to sit in straw, so it was safe to go there. Then Polly discovered how isolated the barn was, as it was far from the house and separated from view by the tree line. Polly started bringing her friends there, and Mallory lost her haven.

It had been about five years since she’d spent time at the barn. Not much had changed. Trees bordered the property on both sides, and the paddock spread out behind it. The barn itself, formerly a proud red but weather-faded to a mud brown, cast a shadow on a tiny grey aluminum shed with chipped paint and a dented roof. Polly gestured to the ramshackle hut. “Tommy’s been waiting in there for you. It’s time for your seven minutes in heaven.”

Tommy? Waiting for her? Her mouth was suddenly way too dry. She tried to swallow, but there was a huge lump in her throat.

Polly must have noticed her hesitation. “Afraid, Mal?”

Mallory didn’t answer. Her lips parted, but no witty come back came to her. She wouldn’t have been able to get a word past her lips if she tried, anyway.

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? We know Tommy doesn’t.”

Everyone started taunting her. She had no choice. She tuned them out and wiped her palms on her jeans. Polly took her by the elbow and all but dragged her to the shed. Then she cracked the door open and shoved Mallory inside. She’d barely crossed the threshold when the door slammed shut behind her.

Plunged into darkness, she cried fruitlessly for help. Eyes tearing, the stench of manure choking her, she fought off the bile rising in her throat and turned to flee. The door wouldn’t budge, so she reached into the stifling blackness, tripped and fell. Her face landed in a mound of fresh straw-laced droppings from the horse stalls. Shrieking, she rose and plowed through the shed door, knocking Polly to the ground and vomiting on her head.

The tables, without any intentional efforts on Mallory’s part, were turned. The kids started taunting Polly. Chants of “Puke Head Polly” echoed throughout the farm, as well as a few cheers for Mallory.

With as much dignity as a filthy fifteen-year-old could muster, Mallory walked away, Polly’s screeches a cadence for her feet.

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