Tag: short story (page 1 of 2)

Like Good? Like Free? How About Both?

Ever notice how sometimes a deal seems too good to be true? Like when you see something that’s free, but you wonder why. You think it must not be any good.

Or do you sometimes see something you really want, but you’re priced out of it. You wonder why the really good stuff is unaffordable. After all, you deserve quality, too.

How about having your cake and eating it, too? Sound unlikely? It’s not.

Okay, so I’m not talking about big ticket items like cars, homes, and vacations. And maybe talking about entertainment is a bit of hyperbole. But I get irritated when eBooks cost more than a cup of coffee. Especially when I finally bite the bullet, buy one, and discover I wasted my money on a famous name and an unfulfilled promise.

Christmas WishesToday I’m proud to announce the release of Christmas Wishes, a holiday-themed short story anthology. Four authors writing about dysfunctional relationships at Christmas. The work is good. And guess what? Totally free.

Grab a copy today, and leave a review. Let us know what you think.

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footprints 1

A Lamentation of Swans, Part 2–A First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF)

It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.

Today’s offering is the continuation of last month’s story. If you haven’t yet, you should read the first installment before continuing. To read Part 1, click here.


A Lamentation of Swans, Part 2

She hadn’t taken a single step since her fall.

When the hospital released her, she was to go to physical therapy. But she made Jeremiah take her home. He carried her into the house, and she spent her days transferring herself from wheelchair to furniture and back.

She lost track of time.

windowOne day, while reclining on her chaise, listening again to the soundtrack of her former glory, Jeremiah came in and opened the drapes.

“Jeremiah. What are you doing? Close those at once.”

“I’m sorry, madame, but I will not. You can’t stay closed up in here. It’s time you begin your recovery.”

“Recovery? There’s no coming back from this. Close the drapes and leave me be.”

“Many pardons, madame, but I can’t do that.”

Anita brought in a tray loaded with a giant vase of fresh cut flowers, three bottles of mineral water, crusty bread, cut fruit, and assorted cheeses.

“Anita.” Juliette’s tone hid none of her annoyance. “Take this away and bring me my juice.”

“Juicing isn’t eating, ma’am.” She took the vase and put it on the end table where Juliette could easily see it. “There’s precious little nutrition in it.”

“Especially with vodka in it,” Jeremiah said.

“Jerem—” Juliette started.

Anita interrupted her. “You need good, hearty meals. It’s time.”

“Time? Time for what?”

“Ramon thought you’d like to see the fruits of his labors. He brought these cut flowers in for you. I told him that’s the last vase he’ll need to fill. You’ll be going out to walk the gardens from now on.”

Juliette fought back the tears. She’d love to walk the gardens. She’d give anything to walk anywhere at all.

Damn her staff. Damn them all. They didn’t understand. How dare they do this to her?

“Come on, ma’am. Sit up and eat. We have a lot to do after lunch.”

“And what would that be, Anita? Are we running a marathon? Hiking the Appalachian Trail?”

“I don’t see why you couldn’t do those things, after training for them.”

“Get out,” Juliette whispered.

Jeremiah approached the chaise and stooped down beside her. “Do you have any idea how long you’ve been hiding in here?”

Juliette turned and looked outside through a curtain of tears. She had no idea how long it had been since the accident. It had been even longer since she saw her beloved swans. She watched through the glass as they bent graceful necks to the water, then stretched them up to the sky. She couldn’t hear their trumpets, but she knew just what they sounded like.

Like they were calling to her.

swans babies“It looks like the flock of swans is getting bigger,” she said. “There are babies out there.”

“Lamentation,” Jeremiah said.

“What?”

“Lamentation,” he repeated.

“I know what lamentation is,” she said. “But no one’s crying.” She wiped her face, making sure none of her tears still showed on her cheeks.

“No, madame. The swans. They aren’t a flock. They are a lamentation. Groups of swans are called lamentations.”

“Lamentations.” She reflected on that tidbit for a moment. A lamentation of swans. It was sad. Poetic and dramatic, but sad.

Just like her.

“I miss them,” she whispered.

“They miss you too, madame.”

“Will you wheel me out there? I should like to see them. I’ll take them some bread.”

He looked down at her. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to accompany you down there.”

Juliette reached for her wheelchair, intent on swinging herself into the seat and being wheeled down to the pond.

But Jeremiah pushed the chair out of her reach.

“Jeremiah! What are you doing?”

The doorbell rang, but neither Jeremiah nor Anita moved.

Who in the world could that be, anyway? No one visited. Not in years. And she was glad. She didn’t want to see anyone, anyway. But curiosity got the best of her.

“Well, isn’t anyone going to get that?”

Ramon entered, followed by two gentlemen in black pants and purple polo shirts. The logos on their breast pockets read ALLEGRO PHYSICAL THERAPY.

“No one answered the door, so I let these fellows in,” Ramon said. “This here is my nephew, Pablo. And this is his partner, Tobias.”

Juliette dropped her head and sighed.

Anita said, “Come on. I’ll show you to the ballroom. You’ll have the most space in there.” She led the gentlemen out of the room.

“Do you require my assistance during your session, or will you be all right on your own?” Jeremiah asked her.

The ballroom? Of all places. She hadn’t even looked at the closed doors since she began her convalescence. “I’m not having therapy, so it really doesn’t matter.”

“Very well.”

He scooped her into his arms and started walking toward the door.

She swatted at him, but his body was hard and hers was weak. She imagined she had little impact on his efforts and stopped, saving her hand further injury.

“Jeremiah, please. Put me down.”

“I will, Juliette. In the ballroom.”

“Juliette? You’ve never called me that before. Even when we first met and I asked you to. You said it wasn’t appropriate.”

He stopped outside the ballroom doors. “You’ve never been in my arms before.”

Before she could react, he carried her inside and placed her in the care of her therapists.

* * *

bridal coupleTherapy sessions came and went. More years passed. Juliette’s family–Jeremiah, Anita, and Ramon–nursed her back to health. And, because of them, Juliette once again found love.

She had her second wedding on the lawn, her beloved swans in the background. As she stood with her new husband on the edge of the pond, tossing bread cubes into the water and watching the swirls of fuchsia and flame in the sky melt into the midnight inkiness of nighttime, she put her arms around his neck.

“Dance with me, Jeremiah.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. “I thought you’d never ask.”

The stars twinkled in the darkness, they and the moon reflecting off the still, dark water.

Swans trumpeted their approval at her choice.

“A lamentation of swans,” he whispered in her ear.

No more lamentations for Juliette. For the first time in forever, she was happy.


I hope you found this story enjoyable. I wrote it when I was a little sad, but like a true romantic, I pushed for the happy ending. However, as you know from part one’s comments, I originally had a far different (and much sadder) ending in mind. What do you think about happily ever after endings? Always, sometimes, or never? How would you have ended this story? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment below.

A Lamentation of Swans–A First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF)

It’s that time again. Time for another First Friday Fiction Feature (#FFFF). Other free feature stories can be found on my Pinterest page (a shared short story board) and on the Freebies page of my site.

Today’s offering is part one of a two-part story. It will conclude in next month’s #FFFF.


A Lamentation of Swans

ballerina“Juliette, you have to go look at it before someone else snaps it up. It’s perfect for you.”

Her toes bled, her feet swelled. She wanted nothing more than to hobble to her apartment and soak in a tub. But Selina, her real estate agent, insisted she tour the property the second the sellers listed it. So, despite her aches and pains, Juliette went to tour the place.

“See, it didn’t take you long to get here,” Selina said.

It really hadn’t. It was close to the dance school, yet set far enough into the country that she could escape the bustle of the city with a short fifteen-minute commute.

“Let me tell you about the place before you look around. It’s ten acres of pristine landscaping. The gardener, Ramon, is willing to stay on, and his fees are quite reasonable. In addition to the house and gardens, this place has its own tennis courts and swimming pool.” Selina swept her hand toward the back of the property, but Juliette couldn’t see past the stately columns in the front of the house.

“Let’s go in,” Juliette said.

“You’re going to love it.” Selina hooked her arm through Juliette’s and guided her inside. “The rooms are spacious. Look at these windows.” Every room seemed to have a wall of windows facing another gardening delight outside. Natural light flooded the rooms, seemingly expanding the already generous spaces.

“And you have to see this.” Selina led her down the hall to a formal ballroom. Hardwood floors gleamed in the late evening light.

“The ballroom could easily be converted to a studio for you. You can add a wall of mirrors and a bar over there” she pointed across the room, “and a sound system. You could workout whenever you wanted.”

That room did have potential. Not that Juliette often danced at home. She spent too many hours dancing at the studio, dancing on stage. Home was for rest. But, still…

Selina guided her to the kitchen, which she’d likely never use for anything more than juicing, but she listened politely while the merits of the space were gushed over.

“Granite countertops, cherry cabinetry, and professional-grade stainless steel appliances. Think of the parties you could host here. And I know a woman who’s looking for a job as a personal chef. Anita. She specializes in healthy gourmet meals. I’ll get you her card. You’ll love her.”

It was a good thing she had a trust fund. Every word out of Selina’s mouth amounted to more money.

They continued exploring the home. The splendor of the master bedroom was eclipsed only by the grandeur of the master bath. The rest of the bedrooms were also generous and well-appointed. The library boasted floor-to-ceiling shelves, and as she already had an extensive collection in storage, filling them wouldn’t be a problem.

“I know it’s a bit large, but you’ll want the space when you settle down, start a family. I can get you the number of several cleaning services, or maybe you’d prefer a butler? I know a–”

Juliette tuned her out. It was a big decision. So much to consider. The house had everything she could possibly want. But was she really ready to commit to it? She had the funds, but she didn’t have the family to fill the place. What if she never did? She couldn’t make up her mind.

Then she saw the natural pond in the back of the property. Swans floated on the nearly black water, their graceful countenances a sign to her.

She was dancing the lead in Swan Lake at the time. Seeing the swans on the property—her property—made it seem like fate. She made an offer on the spot and decided the rest would fall into place later.

And the pieces did fall. Quickly. Soon after moving in, she married the premier danseur in her troupe right on the back lawn, the swans an elegant backdrop to the festivities.

When she decided to stop dancing and start a family, she was happy with the decision. She thought her husband was, too. But as she gained weight, her husband lost interest. And when she lost the baby, he didn’t grieve. He just put her on a diet.

It wasn’t long after until she lost her husband, too. And good riddance to him.

She fought to get back into shape. Fought even harder to earn her the lead in several ballets.

And never quite hit either of her goals.

* * *

swansLife passed her by, and she retreated to her estate, no friends, no family.

Just her and her staff—Jeremiah the butler, Ramon the gardener, Anita the cook, and Roland the chauffeur. After the first five years of her self-imposed exile, she dismissed Roland.

It depressed her to lose him. After all, he was like family. But she didn’t leave her house any longer.

The house grew darker with her mood. She drew the drapes and stayed inside.

Occasionally she’d take a bag of bread cubes and stroll around the pond, feeding the swans. They trumpeted their joy at her offerings, but it only seemed to make her sadder.

Eventually, she stopped going to the pond.

Then she stopped watching them from her window, preferring to keep all the drapes drawn.

The only time Juliette was happy was when she danced. She wore out CD after CD of Swan Lake, dancing alone in her ballroom. But her feet didn’t move quite as nimbly as they used to, nor did she have any supporting dancers on the floor with her. Still, she felt light and carefree when she danced.

Then, one rainy afternoon, joints achy and muscles tight, she entered the ballroom and began her warmup. Too soon, she spun onto the floor and began the opening number to Swan Lake.

And she fell.

The pain was excruciating. Breath-stealing. It was moments, hours, days? She didn’t know how long she lay there before she had the strength and breath to call for help.

When Jeremiah found her, he rushed her to the hospital. She spent five days away from home, during which she endured countless tests and one surgery.

The doctors said she’d never dance again.

What they didn’t tell her was she’d never walk again.


I hope you found part one compelling. I’d love to know what you think might happen next. Are you rooting for a happy or sad ending? I’ll be honest–the ending I originally conceived is not the one I’ll be publishing next month. I completely changed my mind right before writing the end.

(Now that the conclusion has been published, you can read it by clicking here.)

Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

Here’s a short story starring Franki and Gianni. This takes place after the end of Bleeding Heart. (Part way through Mind Controlactually, although this won’t be found in that book.) I hope you enjoy it.


Fireworks Aren’t Always in the Sky

villa lanteFranki stood on the travertine-tiled patio and rubbed her arms against the night chill. Weather in Florence, Italy reminded her of weather at home in Pennsylvania—nearly ninety degrees (Fahrenheit) during the day and low sixties at night, but for some reason, that evening’s breeze blew exceptionally brisk. Unprepared for the cool wind, she’d stepped outside in a tank and shorts. And regretted it immediately.

But the view captivated her, so she stayed and braced herself against the cool air.

The Brotherhood’s home in Pennsylvania was beautiful. Their compound in New York was gorgeous. But their complex in Florence? It simply stole her breath. And she and her sisters knew quality properties. They’d been raised in the construction and design industries, and since the death of her father, were the owners of one of the most prestigious building and design firms in Pittsburgh.

It didn’t take her construction knowledge to know she stood on private property overlooking one of Italy’s most beautiful—and non-touristy—creations. The house behind her rivaled any palace or basilica she’d toured in her first visit to the country. The grounds, however, captured her interest at the moment. The hedge mazes and topiary created shadow-play on the paths as marble statuary gleamed a luminescent hue of white and water in the grottos sparkled from moonlight, star shine, and discrete lighting fixtures. The burbling fountains composed an organic melody, harmonizing with the chirping crickets.

Gianni walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. The warmth she felt from his arms over hers and his torso against her back spread through her body.

And caused her to shiver all over again.

“Cold?” he asked. “It’s a beautiful night.”

She smiled and leaned back against him, not revealing what caused her latest shiver. “The wind just gave me a chill. It is a beautiful night, though.”

“The glow flies are out. June’s nearly over.”

She tipped her head up and looked at him. “Glow flies?”

nighttime gardensHe nodded toward the hedge maze. “Glow flies. Those little floating blinking lights in the garden. You have them in the States.”

A chuckle escaped her. “Yes, we do. But we call them fireflies. Or lightning bugs.”

He kissed her neck and said, “Hmm.” The vibrations from his lips on her skin gave her another shiver. “I don’t like the sound of lightning bugs.” He nuzzled her neck. “Fireflies is kind of nice, though.”

“I think I like glow flies. And I love it when our cultures merge.”

He kissed her neck again. “Mmm. Me, too. I love it when we merge even more.”

Franki giggled. “I love it here. But I wish we were home for the festivities next week.”

His lips grazed against her shoulder. “Festivities?”

She sighed. “The Fourth of July.”

Gianni didn’t answer. He continued pressing his lips on her arms, her shoulder blades. The nape of her neck.

She shuddered again. “Independence Day?”

“I know what it is,” he murmured. “I just didn’t realize it was next week.”

“The food, the fireworks, the festival… music and dancing and seeing the whole town come out to celebrate.” She sighed. “I love that. I’m going to miss it.”

“Let me see if I can take your mind off it, then.”

He led her inside, and she saw fireworks that night.

*    *    *

They continued their work for the next week, and Franki tried not to fixate on missing yet another hometown comfort. She was pleasantly surprised when, on July 4, Gianni and Donni threw together a picnic that would rival any festival back home.

fried doughPlatters of pasta salads, grilled vegetables, and antipastos sat on the table between pulled pork, sausages, burgers, and dogs… all with fresh-baked rolls to put them in. Trays of grilled chicken and barbecued ribs nearly overflowed. Two huge bowls held fresh cut fruit, and sugar-dusted mounds of fried dough sat ready to be topped with gelato, fruit compotes, chopped nuts, homemade hot fudge and salted-caramel sauces, and vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Why those two idiots loved to work in the kitchen, Franki would never understand. And she’d never complain. Everything was delicious.

After dinner, everyone took drinks out to the patio and settled down to digest their food. Franki sipped on coffee laced with Frangelico. The twins had glasses of Galliano. Jo and Vinnie had beer. The other guys had wine. She’d be content to taste everyone’s drinks, and after feeling comfortably fuzzy from the liquor, slip off to bed.

She sighed.

“What’s the matter?” Gianni asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Franki, you’re a lousy liar. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful.”

He waited, staring at her. The others had broken into pairs and talked quietly to each other. She turned toward Gianni, took his hand, and squeezed it. “You worked so hard today. Everything was wonderful. Delicious. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“But you want more?” he said.

“I just miss the fireworks. Despite the perfect picnic, it just doesn’t feel like the Fourth without fireworks.”

“I see.” He fumbled with something in his pocket.

“When I was little, I used to call them ‘a glittery extravaganza in the sky.’”

“Big words.” He sent a text and then looked at her. “How little?”

“I don’t know. Papa teased me about it for years, though.”

“It’s cute.”

“I guess he thought so, anyway.” She looked away from him, out over the gardens. Talking about her recently-deceased father still made her sad.

“Would fireworks tonight make you happy?”

Why dwell on something she couldn’t have. “I’m happy now, Gianni. Really.”

“So, I should cancel tonight’s festivities?”

She so loved his ‘festivities.’ She’d never say no to that. He’d provide her with her own personal fireworks, and that would be an excellent cap to the evening.

“Do you want to go upstairs now?” she asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “You and your one-track mind.”

She looked at him and raised her eyebrow. They didn’t have a language barrier, but every now and then, he confused her. “What are you talking about?”

Gianni sent a final text, then he nodded toward the gardens. “Watch.”

Italy_fireworksShe heard a faint whistle, then the sky exploded into sparkling embers of violet and gold. A loud boom echoed over the gardens, so loud she felt the air shake with the strength of it.

Fireworks.

Spinning toward Gianni, she flung her arms around him and planted a firm kiss on his lips.

He laughed and pulled away. “Turn around, cara. I don’t want you to miss the show.”

She leaned against his chest and watched as the sky sparkled with explosion after explosion of colorful mortars. The finale rivaled any she’d ever seen before.

Franki turned and wrapped her arms around him, and this time he didn’t turn her away. “You did all this for me?”

“Well, I am a joint citizen…”

She kissed him.

“I just want to make you happy, Franki. Always.”

She held him tight, head pressed against his chest. She felt the heat of his body, heard his heartbeat through the thick silence the end of the show left behind.

She pulled away and looked at him. “How about one more show?”

He frowned. “I think they set everything off, cara. I could call and—”

Franki put her finger over his lips, stopping him from continuing. She shook her head and smiled. “I mean the kind of festivities I thought you meant earlier. A private show.”

He stood, pulled her to her feet, and addressed everyone sitting outside. “Donni and I cooked. The rest of you are on dishes. Goodnight.”

They didn’t wait for an answer. He swept Franki off her feet and carried her upstairs for the second finale of the night.

Overcoming Obstacles

Where has Staci been?

Superman_3D-Logo-WallpaperI know that’s what you’ve been asking. It’s been a while. Despite my children believing I can be all things to all people, move mountains, and be in three places at once—all while holding down a job and maintaining a structured writing schedule—I am not Superwoman. My kryptonite is technology. My computer keeps getting infected with malware—and yes, I do have anti-virus software installed—my modem and router recently broke, and I’m firmly convinced that I have some kind of magnetic field that makes all technology fritz when I touch it. Hey, that’s a real thing. (I think.) Sigh. Obstacles.

Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been around. That, and a few family issues that needed tending.

But I’m back now. Ish. The tech still isn’t perfect, but I’m trying to work around it.

That said, I have a few announcements.

  1. Posts may be infrequent for a while. Please bear with me.
  2. Bleeding Heart was supposed to come out in May, but with my computer down, edits didn’t happen on schedule. The release date has been pushed to June. I’ll keep you apprised.
  3. Ernest_Hemingway_1950_crop (1)Today is supposed to be #FFFF (First Friday Fiction Feature). As you might have guessed by now, I’m way behind schedule. (I don’t even want to tell you how many unread emails I have right now.) That said, instead of a free short story, I’m going to post a piece smaller than flash fiction. Smaller than micro fiction. Maybe I’ll coin a phrase for it and call it nano fiction. Oh, wait. That sounds like NaNoWriMo-type writing. Eh, I’ll work on a name. In the meantime, I’ll draw my inspiration from Hemingway’s challenge and write a story similar to his shortest work, although, let’s be real. I’m no Hemingway, and I write l-o-n-g. (FYI, it might interest you to note that there is no substantiated evidence that Hemingway actually wrote this, nor is there proof that he wrote short-short fiction at all.) Anyway, here is the famous “Hemingway” story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

So today, my #FFFF will be uber-short. (Maybe that’s a good name?) Anyway, without further ado, my uber-short First Friday Fiction Feature:

The headline read, “Aliens Invade.” No one lived to read the article.

Yep, mine was twice as long. But it’s still probably the shortest thing I ever wrote.

Hope you enjoyed this “story.” Why don’t you try your hand at it? See if you can beat my word count. Or Hemingway’s. Leave your uber-short in the comments below.

#FFFF—April Showers Short Story

happy birthdayI’m sorry for my absence last week. I was dealing with the loss of a dear family member and couldn’t get to the post. My apologies if you were looking for me and I wasn’t here. But I’m here now!

April 3 has historically been a weird day for me. My mom’s birthday was yesterday and mine is tomorrow. When I was a kid, this seemed like the longest day of the year. Now that I’m an adult, it’s one of the shortest. My husband and kids ask me how old I am all day, because the next day the number will have increased by one, and I’ll never get to have that smaller number again. I know it’s silly, but it’s tradition.

While I don’t hate my birthday (let’s be honest; having one sure beats the alternative), I’m not crazy about being the center of attention (weird for a writer and marketer, right?), and I hate that life’s pace is accelerating rather than slowing down. This time of year, I reflect on my kids and how old they’ve grown. On my marriage and how long Corey and I have (happily) been together. On my family… those I’ve lost and those I’m still blessed to have.

So, in honor of all the birthdays I’ll be celebrating this month (and the list of family is long, let alone adding in friends), this month’s First Friday Fiction Feature is birthday-themed. (You can find my other free short stories here, and if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll receive a deleted chapter [available only when you sign up and nowhere else] from Type and Cross.)

Without further ado, this month’s #FFFF.


What April Showers Bring

Italian families… big, boisterous, loud. Mine is the very definition. For example, most people have cake and ice cream for their birthdays with close family, maybe a few friends. Chat for an hour or two and then everyone goes their separate ways.

Not my family.

My family gathers four generations deep for a full multi-course spread. Antipasto platters and dips. Breads and pizzas. Soups and salads. Fruit and veggies. Pasta, potato, and rice dishes. Sausages, meatballs, and roasts. Cookies and pastries. And multiple several-layer birthday cakes. Nothing is store bought. No activity is rushed through. A birthday is an all day affair. Birthdays in my family rival most people’s wedding receptions. (But let’s not bring up weddings right now.)

Our family has grown so large that we’ve stopped celebrating individual birthdays. Once a month we gather on a weekend at someone’s house or a public park (sometimes even a local rec hall) to celebrate any birthdays occurring that month. Which sounds economical and practical, but in reality, it’s crazy. Some months there are only a few birthdays, so it’s not so bad. But April? We have ten birthdays and my cousin Maria—that’s Uncle Dom’s daughter, not Aunt Arlene’s daughter-in-law—is ready to give birth any day now. So we have a lot to celebrate in April. And when you figure each of the ten people gets his or her favorite meal?

Let’s just say we could feed a third world country on the amount of food made for that particular bash.

Every family celebration is the same. Babies and toddlers with food on their faces and sticky little hands are passed between aunts and uncles. They’re either wailing about something or laughing so hard they might throw up. (One of them always does. Often on me.) Kids play games in the yard, dodge the relatives who pinch cheeks, and tell any adult who will listen about silly things they’ve seen on television or heard from their friends. At least three of these little cherubs will invariably tell a story that embarrasses their parents. The teenagers and the twenty-somethings spend all their time teasing each other, keeping the uncles entertained. And all the older women run around getting food on the table and swatting any hands reaching for an early sample of the meal.

It takes these hundred-plus people more than an hour to get through the food line, find a seat by someone who won’t torment them in one way or another, and scarf down their meal. The aunts coyly question people at the table about whose bread was better, whose pasta was dry.

It’s around the end of the secret ‘Who’s The Best Cook’ competition that someone realizes no one has harassed me about getting married. And then it begins.

“Are you seeing anyone special?”

“Or anyone at all?”

“You aren’t getting any younger, you know.”

“Don’t you want babies?”

“Don’t you want a husband?”

“Are you even interested in men? Or are you maybe…?”

Sigh.

This can go on for hours. By the time I’ve answered all the questions at least three times, my brothers and cousins have abandoned teasing each other to focus all their attention on me.

That’s when I decide to clear the table—correction, tables—of food so we can move on to dessert. I know by the time I’ve packed all the food away and done all the dishes, the birthday honorees should be through the cake cutting and at least partially through gift opening. Usually my sister helps so the task isn’t overwhelming. At least there’s that. Then I’ll try to sneak home before anyone notices I haven’t opened my gifts yet. Sometimes I make it. Usually I don’t.

I had dreaded this particular year. I wouldn’t be a twenty-something anymore. I was leaving my youth—and if you listen to anyone in my family, my desirability—behind for my thirties. Yep, I was turning thirty. Trenta. The big three-oh.

I couldn’t do it. There was no way I could sit through a whole day of “My goodness! Thirty and not married? When I was your age, I had already fallen in love, gotten married, and had…” Insert number of children there.

I’d rather run naked through the throng of my relatives than go through that. And that included listening to the inevitable teasing that would go with my fast-and-furious birthday-suit dash. The humiliation would never end. But then, neither does the analysis of my life. It would be a welcome change.

I called my mother.

“Look, I know you’re planning something big for my birthday this year.”

“What? Me? I forgot your birthday was even coming up.” The mock innocence in her voice could be heard by my hearing-impaired grandfather. Who refused to wear his hearing aid, so essentially… my deaf grandfather.

“Mom. Seriously.”

“Is there something special Dad and I can buy you?”

“Buy me, no. But there is something special I want.”

“Anything, honey.”

“I want to go to the cabin instead of the party this year.” My parents owned a lovely two-bedroom cabin at the river. We never had parties there because the house was too small, but I’d have plenty of room to celebrate in any way I wanted. Which meant me, the television, and several bottles of wine.

“Not that, honey. Everyone would miss you. How about a three month trial membership to Catholic Date?”

Lord have mercy. Pleeeease tell me she didn’t get me a membership to a dating site.

“Mom. You want to get me something special, not something that will make me homicidal.”

“Gina—”

“No. I don’t want a profile on a dating site. I just want to be left alone.”

“But you’re turning thirty.”

“Exactly. Thirty. I’m an adult. Long past, actually. I should be able to make my own decisions. Which includes not joining a dating site and not going to the family birthday bash.”

“But what will I tell everyone?”

“That I want my privacy.”

“Honey.” The disappointment in her tone was as evident as her earlier fake innocence. “That’ll hurt their feelings.”

“Then say I’m traveling for work.”

“You want me to lie?”

Seriously. It’s not like she’d be under oath and testifying in a murder trial.

“I’ll bring work to the river with me. Then it won’t be a lie.”

She was silent so long, I thought maybe we’d been disconnected. Finally, I heard that long-suffering sigh. The one that said I was taking years off her life and putting grey in her hair. “Fine. I’ll have the key ready for you.”

I didn’t bother telling her I’d made a copy of the key when I was in high school. She didn’t need any more bad news. I’d just suffer through one more lecture when I picked up her key, and then I’d be on my way.

When birthday-weekend-Friday rolled around, I took the day off and headed to camp. After a quick lunch, I took the canoe out for the first row of spring. The area was deserted. I couldn’t see any of our neighbors from our property, but even rowing up and down the river, no one seemed to be around. I was well and truly alone at the river. Which was fine by me.

It was unseasonably warm for April. The whole weekend was going to be around eighty degrees and sunny. I grabbed a blanket from the deck box, a cooler of beer, my Kindle, and my iPhone and got comfortable in the grass. Might as well celebrate thirty with a suntan.

I played some smooth jazz on Pandora and set my Kindle aside, content to just lie in the sun and listen to music. It was hot. Hotter than I expected. I looked around. There truly was no one in sight, and I was far enough from the river that if someone happened to float or row by, they couldn’t really see me well, anyway.

I bit my lip, looked around, and grinned. I might be thirty, but I was still adventurous. I stripped down and lay in the sun. It was my birthday weekend. Time to be in my birthday suit.

No way would I go home with tan lines.

You’d think the novelty of being naked outside would have worn off after… I don’t know, ten minutes? But it didn’t. I stayed out there all day. Not a soul came past. I felt free, wonderful.

And not at all bad about turning thirty.

In hindsight, the beer might have had something to do with all that. But at the time? I was having a blast.

I went inside around seven and, too lazy to cook dinner, munched my way through a bag of chips. Still naked. I watched classic movies until midnight—still naked—and then I toasted my birthday with a glass of wine. And another. And another.

So I killed the bottle. Well, two bottles. Naked. Who cares?

I don’t remember going to bed, but when I woke up—about half past eleven—I had the volume on my phone cranked up and classic rock blared from the speaker. Generally the speaker isn’t that loud, but with a hangover, it was ridiculous. The boom, boom, boom of the bass echoed through my head and made my teeth hurt. The electric guitar riffs sliced through my skull to that tiny part of my brain that controlled my gag reflex.

So I turned the volume down, changed the station to a zen channel, and headed for the bathroom. After a thorough vomiting, I popped two aspirin in my mouth, drank copious amounts of water, and took a shower.

I felt a lot better after half an hour under a spray of hot water. God bless my parents for spending extra on an instantaneous water heater. I could have spent the rest of the day in there and never run the water to cold.

I got out and dried off, my headache down to a dull roar. Switching the music back to classic rock, I decided a little hair of the dog would cure me of my hangover. I also decided there was no reason to get dressed. Birthday weekend, birthday suit. All weekend long. I was just going to lie naked in the sun again, alone, so what did it matter?

I put my earbuds in, grabbed a towel, and headed downstairs. Snagging a bottle of expensive cabernet out of my dad’s stash—it was my birthday, after all—I stepped out onto the deck and headed down the stairs.

“Surprise!”

More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ when you aren’t expecting it is shocking. More than a hundred voices yelling ‘surprise’ followed immediately by laughing and cat calls and shocked exclamations defies description.

I screamed, dropped the bottle, and covered myself as best I could while scrambling back toward the door. A full-bodied red had splattered all over me, and my fully-naked-body dashed for cover. Of course I stepped on some of the glass, embedding it in the flesh of my feet. I hobble-hopped to the door, but it had locked behind me. I stooped down, trying to cover myself, and pretended to try to pull the glass from my foot. In reality, I just hunkered there, praying the earth would split open and swallow me whole.

I had to wait until my dad went around to the front door, unlocked it and let himself in, and came out the back door to rescue me. Thankfully, he brought a blanket for me to cover myself with.

“Come on in, pumpkin.” I have to give him credit. He neither laughed nor lectured. He was surprisingly straight-faced. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

My mother wasn’t as merciful. She followed us in, yell-whispering like only an Italian mother can. “What were you thinking? Have you lost your mind? Who’s here? What are you doing?” She glanced at my phone. “Please tell me you aren’t sex-texting!”

I still couldn’t look at either of them, but I found my voice. “Okay, one, it’s called ‘sexting.’ Two, ew, no. And three, what were you thinking? This weekend was supposed to be your gift to me.”

“That’s why we’re here. Why we’re all here. To give you a party. And presents.”

Dad cleaned up my feet and left, still having said nothing. I think I saw his shoulders shaking as he walked away. I definitely heard a snort before the door closed behind him. Traitor.

Mom, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped talking. So much for what I wanted.

“Honestly, Gina. How… why… I can’t even begin to—”

“Mom. Stop. I have a hangover. And I just exposed myself to one hundred family members.”

“And Tony.”

“Tony is family. Uncle Tony, Big Tony, Little Tony, and Tony Junior. They’re all family.” We have a lot of Tonys in our family. Most Italians probably do. I never found it odd until I listed them all.

“No. Tony DeNunzio.”

That nausea thing was rolling back around again.

“From the Catholic Date site. You two are a perfect match. And I’ve known his mother for years. I thought it was such great luck that we found his profile on that site, and you then went and—”

“Stop.” Thank God she did. “You filled out a profile on that dating site. For me. After I asked you not to. And now you think you found my perfect man?”

Tony DeNunzio. He was my perfect man. I’d had a crush on him from third grade on. But I don’t think he could pick me out of a lineup of male convicts. To think he saw me naked before he even knew I existed was more than I could bear.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of him sooner.” She still prattled on, oblivious to my humiliation. “He’s—”

“I don’t care what he is or isn’t, Mom. Did you say he’s here?”

“Yes. That was another part of the surprise. And then you went and…”

I walked away at that point. Or, I guess I limped away. By my calculations, I had about three minutes left to get dressed and sneak to my car before my cousins converged on my room and dragged me out—dressed or not.

I slipped into jeans and a t-shirt. Why had I drunk so much the night before? Why had I insisted on running around in my birthday suit? Why had I trusted my mother? Why had I stayed in the shower for so long?

Why am I such an idiot?

I stepped out onto the front porch and looked around. There were cars everywhere. I was hopelessly blocked in. Damn loud music and long shower. I never heard any of it.

My humiliation was being exploited in the back yard. Even from the driveway I could hear the quips and the laughter. I glanced around. Tony DeNunzio stood off to the side, chatting with my grandmother.

Damn, he was even better looking than in high school.

I supposed I deserved this. I did wish for it, in a way. I said I’d rather run naked through my family than suffer through another birthday party. This way, I got to do both. Delightful. Happy thirtieth to me.

Tony looked up and smiled, kind of cocked his head, beckoning me to come to him. If I could just laugh with everyone, maybe it would blow over sooner rather than later and I could try flirting with Mr. Right.

Or I could accept that my family loved to torment me and this would go on for years.

Eh. Either way, Tony DeNunzio was at my birthday. He’d seen more of me than I ever thought he would, and he hadn’t run away screaming. It could be worse.

April showers didn’t bring me May flowers. My April shower brought me a hangover, a bad decision, and a new opportunity.

One out of three isn’t bad.


I hope you enjoyed this story. Feel free to share it with your friends.

Valentine’s Day Dinner

FFFFLast year’s free fiction selections consisted of a 12-part serial piece. I had great fun with that, and I hope you enjoyed it. Those pieces, and all my First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF on Twitter and Facebook), can be found under the Freebies tab, a sub menu of the My Work tab. This year, I’m going to try something a little different. If it works, great; if not, we’ll try something else.

How else can you learn and grow except by trying new things? (Like this? Tweet it.)

So I’m taking a writing prompt and writing a story. Or a scene. I guess we’ll see what happens.

The work itself will be free-standing, no annotations. Afterward, however, in the “For Writers” section, we’ll dissect the piece for different fiction elements. And of course, we’ll end with comments (from anyone, not just writers).

And I will take suggestions for new prompts.

Today, however, the prompt has already been determined. So, without further ado… the writing prompt. It’s Valentine’s Day, and…

Here’s what I wrote:

Valentine’s Dinner

dinerSo, it’s obvious Satan works for the greeting card industry.

I hate this day. The rest of the year, I’m relatively well adjusted. But for some reason, February 14—every year—I’m a red hot mess.

My married friends are at home, having intimate dinners with their spouses. They’ll get long-stemmed red roses and tiny boxes of jewelry.

My friends with long-term boyfriends are at romantic restaurants as we speak. One—or more—will probably come home with a ring on her finger and a request for me to be yet another bridesmaid. Never a bride, oh no, not me. Just the perennial attendant. I can picture the hideous gown now, red satin and puffy sleeves. Why?

And my friends who are casually dating? They’re also out, probably at jazz bars where the lighting is low, the music is sultry, and the drinks flow freely. Expensively, but freely. They’ll dance with their men, a sensual hint of what’s to come tonight.

My dinner tonight is also intimate. It’s just me. And the restaurant has atmosphere, all right. It’s my favorite diner. It smells like strong coffee, fresh baked pie, and hot grill grease. The fluorescent lights really do wonders for my coloring—they make pale look ghastly.

And I’m also at a bar. Or should I say counter? I’m perched on the cracked red Naugahyde stool, listening to 50s music from the old jukebox in the corner. It’s just me, an old couple in the corner, Pearl, and Sid. Pearl flirts with Sid through the peek-a-boo window that affords a glimpse of the kitchen. He works at the grill and makes lewd comments about the heat.

Even my freaking waitress and the fry cook are an item. Between them and the Cleavers in the corner, I’m about to go ballistic.

“Here, hon.” Pearl hands me a few napkins and refills my water. When I raise my eyebrow, she points to the corner of her mouth.

I reach up, touch my lips, and pull my fingers away, sticky with cherry syrup from the pie I simply had to have. And the gloppy mess promptly falls on my white t-shirt. Pearl just smiles a sad, half smile… the smile that says, ‘Poor Katie. All alone on Valentine’s Day and a slob to boot. No wonder…’ And she slides a glass of water my way before turning back to the window to talk with Sid.

Scrubbing at my shirt proves fruitless. I’ve taken a small dark red spot and created a larger, wetter, lighter red spot.

So much for my plan to head to the movies. I’d probably just run into a plethora of couples lined up to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I want to see American Sniper—I’m feeling militant and violent at the moment and crave someone’s blood—but no way will I risk it wearing my dinner on my clothes.

I should have stayed home.

In Fifty Shades, the heroine gets the man of her dreams. Who happens to be a rich hottie. Who needs that kind of pressure on Valentine’s Day?

Of course, he also has a red “playroom” full of… devices. So no man is perfect.

The bell jingles as the door opens. I stop scrubbing at my shirt and look up.

So, maybe one man is perfect.

He walks in, shaking the snowflakes from his thick wavy hair. Stripping off his coat, he places it on the stool two down from me, then gestures to the empty one beside me. “Is this seat taken?”

Does it look taken? I guess I could have a companion in the restroom… I glance down at my yoga pants and stained shirt, lift my hand to my messy ponytail. Who am I kidding? He knows I have no one.

I lean forward, trying to hide the stain behind the counter and my coffee mug. “All yours.”

red chairsI picture it… He’ll make small talk, I’ll laugh. Then he’ll say that cheesy line, ‘I can’t believe a beautiful woman like you is all alone. And on Valentine’s Day!’ And I’ll demure, but he won’t have it. He’ll put a quarter in the jukebox and play something romantic, like ‘I Only Have Eyes for You,’ then we’ll dance between the rickety tables on the scuffed linoleum floors. He’ll invite me back to his place, and I’ll leave my car, riding with him because I feel so safe. Hell, if he has a playroom, I’ll happily enter.

I turn toward him, ready to make my fantasy come true, when the bell over the door rings again.

He turns toward the sound before I make my move, leaving me to stare at his back. His broad-shouldered back, with the wet curls of his hair tickling the collar of the red shirt he wore under an expensive, tailored suit jacket.

Then I hear her voice.

“Darling.” She walks over to him, and he embraces her.

I sit, glaring at my pie, while they discuss the lateness of the tow truck and whether they’ll make it to the opera before curtain.

Yellow flashing lights signal the tow truck driver’s arrival. Mr. Right throws money on the counter, despite not having ordered anything, and leaves with the woman. Whom I hate, just on principle.

Pearl picks up the cash and looks at me. “Your dinner’s covered, honey.”

I put on my jacket and slink out to my car. I’m headed to the comfort of my home. And my cat. And my bottle of cabernet sauvignon.

You’ll never convince me Satan’s not behind this whole godforsaken holiday.

# # #

For Writers:
So, a little over 900 words. Okay for a writing exercise. Not flash fiction, but not a substantial story, either. Was it enough, or is it merely a scene? Let’s look.

Character: —The beginning establishes character right away—a (temporarily?) bitter woman, alone on Valentine’s Day. Is she always bitter, or just that one day a year like she says? We don’t know, because we don’t have anyone else’s opinions of her, and we don’t see her on any other day. She could be telling the truth, but she could also be an unreliable narrator.

Plot: —Plots require conflict and follow a pattern, escalating to a climax and then tapering off in the denouement. We typically look for five points:

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Resolution

Exposition is the beginning. Did we establish the character and the problem? In this case, yes. Katie is alone on Valentine’s Day. Everything reminds her of that. She’s upset at her situation.

Rising Action is the main problem coming to light and the complications that arise in the character’s attempts to overcome her situation. Did we meet this criterion? In this case, more or less. This is more of a psychological/emotional story, so the plot won’t be action-packed and fast moving. But we do see Katie making plans to go out anyway, and then changing her plans when something (she perceives as) better comes along. So she does encounter a change in her situation and attempts to do something about it.

Climax is the high point of the story, although not necessarily the most positive place the character can be. This is the dark moment, the time when it all hits the fan. Did we have a climax? Yes. Katie’s visions of a happily-ever-after ending is shattered when Mr. Right’s Woman walks in the door.

Falling Action is the result of what happened in the climax. Did this exercise have falling action? Yes. The couple leaves, discussing their perfect life—the life Katie envisioned. Katie is again alone, and now hurt even more than in the beginning.

Resolution: This is the end, where the fate of the character is resolved. It can be a happy or sad ending, but the character must have changed and loose ends must be tied up. Did this passage have a resolution? Yes. Katie goes home, alone, to drink her sorrows away.

So is this a complete story? I’d have to say yes, it is. That doesn’t mean it can’t be turned into a longer piece, even a novel-length work. This could be the opening to a romance novel or a pivotal moment in a dramatic piece. We’d have to do much more character and scene development, but this could definitely be expanded.

It can also stand on its own.

Other points to note:

The Prompt: The prompt does not have to be the opening sentence of the written work. It doesn’t need to be included in the story at all. But it does have to inspire the story.

POV and Tense: I am most comfortable writing in third person, past tense. But this is a writing exercise; I can explore new things, practice different options. I wrote this in first person, present tense. Not my most comfortable writing style, but it was fun to play with. We get deep in Katie’s POV and the action happens real-time, right along with her. I think, for an exercise, it works.

Setting is explored sparingly. We learn of the jukebox, the red stools, the counter and the pass-through to the kitchen. We hear the 50s music and smell the food. I didn’t devote long passages of description to this (and in fact, I shouldn’t have), but rather reveal these details in snippets as Katie experiences them. Could I have done more? Sure. But I don’t think I need to. If I turned this into a longer piece, I would.

Theme is pretty obvious. The lonely need love to thrive. Did you notice anything else in the story? Anything subliminal, maybe, that you picked up on? What about the color red? Red represents everything making her miserable in the story. She’s a “red hot mess.” Valentines, roses, bridesmaids’ dresses, the stool, the cherry glop, his shirt (because she can’t have him), the wine she’ll drink at home… Even Satan is often drawn red. Red becomes a metaphor for all the evil in her life, all that’s making her sad.

So, all told, despite the short length, this passage does meet the criteria for a complete story, even though it could become a scene in a longer work.

For Everyone:
So, what do you think? Is it a story or just a scene? Did it work for you? Did it remind you of any of your Valentine’s Days or of anyone you know? Let’s talk about it.

Laci and Del: Oh, For A Wonderful Life

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.

The Laci and Del Saga was an experiment in serial fiction, where I wrote 12 stories in 12 months throughout 2014. I hope you enjoyed reading the selections as much as I enjoyed writing them. This is part 12 of 12, when the saga comes to a close and we learn their fates. So, without further ado, I give you part 12.

Laci and Del: Oh, For A Wonderful Life

a wonderful lifeLaci trimmed her tree and decked her halls, shopped the sales and wrapped her gifts, baked her cookies and listened to carols. So she didn’t sing along this year. At least she didn’t brood in silence. She even attempted a Yule log. Sure, it looked more like a Yule lump, but she tried.

None of it mattered. The Christmas Spirit eluded her.

When Christmas day came, she went to church and prayed to God to take her pain away, but either her prayer went unheard or unanswered. Del was permanently gone from her life, and her heart wasn’t broken—it was shattered.

Usually she went to her parents’ right after church, but she wasn’t up for the festivities. Instead, she went home. And cried as she watched It’s a Wonderful Life over and over again. Clarence got his wings. George learned how important he was to everyone.

Laci got more depressed and learned how important alcohol would be to getting through the holidays.

Too bad she’d already finished all the liquor in her apartment. Maybe she’d overindulge at her folks’. She could always spend the night. Or call a cab.

She’d waited as long as she could, but before Clarence got his wings the third time, she could delay no longer. She bundled up and headed to Christmas dinner.

tudor in snowTwo blocks from her parents’ home, she pulled her car over and stared at a Tudor home with a large yard. She’d always loved that house, ever since she was a little girl. It had been for sale for almost a year, and she had entertained the idea of buying it when she and Del were dating. Someone had beat her to it, though. Lights were on inside it, and the sign had been removed from the yard. Another dream out of her reach.

She sighed, put the car in drive, and went to Christmas dinner. It was every bit as dreadful as she’d expected. Her cousin Clara spent the whole meal fused to her fiancé. They looked like a two-headed monster. Laci waited for Clara to climb into Kyle’s lap, but thank God she stayed plastered to his side. Still…

It nauseated Laci.

Alcohol be damned. There wasn’t enough liquor in her dad’s entire bar to make her stay there any longer. While Clara cuddled with Kyle and her mother and Aunt Rose started getting cookies out, Laci slipped her coat on, grabbed a bottle of rum, tucked it under her jacket, and headed outside.

“Aren’t you even going to stay and open presents?”

She turned around to see her father had followed her out to the sidewalk. He had on slippers and no coat, and his face was already turning pink in the frigid air.

“Dad, what are you doing? You’re going to get sick, and Mom will blame me. Get back inside.”

“I will if you will.”

“I can’t, Dad. It’s all just too much.”

He closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her. Instead of the warmth she needed, she just felt chilled. Snow flurries fell and clung to his thinning hair and cable knit sweater. He felt smaller to her than the hero of her youth. He was no longer her knight in shining armor, able to slay her demons and save her day. She had found a new hero, and she’d lost him. Hell, she’d driven him away. Blinking back tears, she patted her father’s back and pulled out of his arms.

“You need to go in. And I just have to go.”

“What about leftovers? Or a dish of cookies? Take something home with you.”

She pulled out the rum she’d pilfered and wiggled the bottle at him. Then she kissed him on the cheek. “Goodbye, Dad.” She turned and headed for her car.

“Will we at least see you for your birthday?”

Pain was a hot poker searing through the center of her heart. Last year on her birthday, just after the clock chimed the new year,  she and Del reconciled. Her future was promising, bright. Suffering through this birthday without him would be torturous. She didn’t know if she could bear it.

Instead of making a promise to her father that she couldn’t keep, she got in her car, waved at him, and drove away.

Back at her apartment, she curled up on her couch with the remote control, a box of tissues, and the bottle of rum. She didn’t even bother with a glass. Sometime during her George Bailey marathon, she fell asleep, surrounded by tear-soaked wadded up Kleenex and a half-empty bottle of Bacardi.

* * *

Laci’s company shut down the week between Christmas and New Year, and she always loved having that time off. Until this year.

This year, every day was an endless litany of phone calls and emails checking on her and inviting her out to cheer her up. By the second day, she’d buried her laptop under snail mail and turned her phone to silent. She’d allow herself a few more days of wallowing, but she’d be damned if she’d start the new year miserable. Determined to get out of her funk and attend the annual New Year’s Eve party at Kelly’s house, she dug a scarlet sequined cocktail dress out of the back of her closet. It still had the tags on it; she’d never been daring enough to wear it before. She hung it on her closet door and stared at it every day, trying to get the courage to go through with it.

manicureOn the thirty-first, she got up, downed a huge steaming mug of black coffee, and headed out. A manicure, pedicure, and hair appointment later, she was back at her apartment, staring at her dress.

She still had eight hours to talk herself out of going.

Or into going.

She tried reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music. Nothing relaxed her. She tried catching up on emails. She deleted several from Del—unopened. Finally, she opted to soak in the tub, making sure to keep her hair well above water level.

Not even lavender-scented bubbles settled her nerves.

At eight o’clock, the time when the party officially started, she got out of the tub.

At nine o’clock, she applied her makeup.

At ten o’clock, when even the late-comers had shown up at the party, she started to get dressed.

At eleven o’clock, she stood in her bedroom, dressed to kill. And sick to her stomach.

“I’ll never get a cab this late,” she said to the empty room. “No point in even trying.”

She glanced in the mirror and had to acknowledge she was the world’s worst liar. Her poker face consisted of trembling lips and watery eyes. She turned away from the mirror and took a deep breath.

Her gaze landed on her jewelry box, and she crossed the room to it. Pulling open the top drawer, she took out a stunning diamond necklace. The one Del had given her so long ago.

The one he’d recognized on her last year when he found her on Kelly’s patio.

It was exactly what she needed to complete the outfit. In fact, when she bought the dress, she said that very thing in the dressing room.

She always thought she’d have a ring to match, but it wasn’t to be.

She blinked back tears, fastened the diamond strand around her neck, and walked back to the mirror.

It looked perfect.

And felt terrible.

She stood in front of her mirror, staring at her reflection. Memories flooded back to her, crushing, debilitating. Her breath came in shallow gasps and her heart drummed a staccato beat in her ears. Every blink, every breath, every heart beat… Del. His smile, his laugh. His arms around her, his lips on hers. Holidays and vacations. Games and movies. Everywhere she looked, every sound she heard… Delany.

The buzz of her doorbell broke into her thoughts. She tried to ignore it, but her uninvited guest was persistent. It was probably her parents, making sure she was okay. Resigned to a tedious conversation, she stomped to the door and flung it open.

Del stood there, leaning against her door frame.

Words failed her.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

She shook her head, blinked hard, and swallowed. “What are you doing here?”

“You weren’t at Kelly’s.”

“I wasn’t at Kelly’s because I didn’t feel like a party tonight.”

“Then why are you dressed for one?”

She sighed. “I was in the mood earlier. Now I’m not.” She faked a cough. “I’m not feeling well.”

He raised an eyebrow and his lips twitched like he was suppressing a smile. “I see.” He pushed her door open and entered her apartment. “Well, I guess I’ll stay here and take care of you.”

She closed the door and followed him into the living room. “That’s not necessary.”

“I insist.”

She sighed. “Shouldn’t you be out west somewhere?”

“Why?” He sat down.

“Why?” Her voice raised in both pitch and decibel. “Why? Because you live there!”

“Says who?”

“Delany.” She fisted her hands, put one against her forehead and rested the other on her hip. “I don’t have the energy for this.”

“So sit. I told you I’d take care of you.”

She lowered her arms and stared at him. “What do you want?”

He patted the couch cushion beside him. “Please come here. I need to talk to you.”

Sighing, she gave up and crossed to him. She stared down at him before finally sitting… on the opposite side of the sofa.

He got up and moved over to sit beside her. Taking her hand in his—and taking a deep breath—he stared into her eyes.

His proximity was more than she could stand, and she started to rise. But he held on to her, and she was forced to remain seated.

“Lace, I’ve practiced this I don’t know how many times. But the words seem inadequate now. So let me just tell you, I don’t accept what you said to me in October. I tried, because I thought it was what you wanted, but I can’t. I love you.”

“It doesn’t matter, Del. It’s not enough.”

“It does matter.” He rubbed his thumb across her knuckles, and she felt the all-too-familiar tingles shoot up her arm.

“Laci, I tried it before. I tried it again the last two months. I can’t do it. I can’t live without you in my life.”

The words she always wanted to hear. From the man she wanted to hear it from. And it wasn’t enough.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry, Del. Two months is a long time. I’ve moved on.”

“That’s why you’re home alone on New Year’s Eve dressed for a party and wearing the necklace I gave you.”

She blinked, but didn’t answer him. Couldn’t.

“You’re missing something, though.” He scrutinized her from head to toe.

Laci squirmed under his gaze. She patted her hair and smoothed her dress.

“No. It’s not your hair or your dress. Those are stunning. It’s your fingers.”

“I just had a manicure!” She held out her hands and stared at her fingernails. None was rough or chipped. When she looked back up at him, he was on one knee in front of her.

diamond ringReaching into his pocket, he pulled out a tiny black box and opened it. A brilliant diamond sat nestled in the satin interior of the box. Intricate facets reflected the soft light in the room.

“Marry me, Laci.”

Those were the words she’d always wanted to hear. From the man she wanted to hear it from. And she wanted it to be enough, but knew it wasn’t. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Del, why are you doing this?”

“Because I love you.”

She sobbed, tried to compose herself. But it was no use. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I don’t want to be in a long-distance relationship, and I simply can’t uproot my life and move across the country.”

He took her hand. “Who asked you to?”

“You did. You are. Again.”

He shook his head. “No, Laci. No, I’m not.”

“Then how will we make this work?”

“The same way we have been.”

She sniffled. “Don’t lie to me.”

He sat back on his heel. “I’m not. Why would you think that?”

“I saw you. On Thanksgiving. Getting into a cab with all your stuff.”

Again he shook his head. “You know, you jump to conclusions more than anyone I know. I’ve been calling you for weeks, but you never answered or returned my calls.”

Her breath caught in her throat. She hardly dared ask, but she had to know. She whispered, “Didn’t the new job work out?”

“My new job is great. I have more free time and more money.”

“Oh.” She looked away.

“It’s downtown.”

She looked back at him. “What?”

“I told you. You just assume things when you don’t know the facts. I never took the west coast job. I took a job right here, in town.”

“But I saw you…”

“You did see me. But you jumped to the wrong conclusion. Again. I moved. I wanted a house. In the suburbs. For us.”

“What?”

“You know that two-story Tudor two blocks from your folks? The one you love? I bought it.”

She raised trembling fingers to her lips. Could it be true? “What?”

“I couldn’t leave, not without you. I spent the first month away from you packing and the second fixing up the house. But I called you every day.”

“I deleted your messages. I couldn’t stand to hear your voice knowing you were gone.”

“But I’m right here. And I’m asking… was it all for nothing? Do you not want me anymore? Or will you marry me?”

She smiled, then laughed through the tears. “Yes. Yes!”

He took her hand and slid the ring on her finger. “There. Now your outfit’s complete.”

She threw her arms around him, and he hugged her tight. “I love you, Laci.”

Pulling back, she rested her forehead against his. “I love you, too, Del.”

“One more thing.”

She looked at him. “What?”

He nodded to the clock. It was five after twelve.

“Happy birthday.”

She looked at her ring, a glinting promise of a long future with the man she loved.

It was indeed a happy birthday. It was going to be a wonderful life.

Laci and Del: Giving Thanks Was Never So Difficult

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 11 of 12.

Laci and Del: Giving Thanks Was Never So Difficult

pilgrims and pumpkinsLaci loved autumn—crisp air, cozy clothes, football and hockey season, hearty and spicy foods—and Thanksgiving was one of her favorite holidays. She pulled her sweet potato casserole out of the oven and breathed in deeply. Ah, nothing could smell better. Except her mother’s turkey and stuffing. She pulled on her favorite sweater, loaded her casserole and pumpkin cheesecake into the car, and left for her parents’ house.

Yes, this was one of her favorite times of the year. But this year she couldn’t enjoy it.

Try as she might, she couldn’t get past her breakup with Del. The past few weeks had been torturous. She vacillated between knowing it was for the best, to staring at her phone praying he’d call, to almost dialing his number.

In the end, though, none of those were true. She didn’t think it was in either of their best interests to separate, but she couldn’t follow him, he shouldn’t stay, and he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to try to repair their relationship. He hadn’t contacted her once. Not one call. Not a text. Not a single email.

She sighed and bore left, her car automatically heading toward his apartment instead of her parents’ house. If she could maybe just get a glimpse of him before being inundated with family for the day, she might feel a bit better.

Or it might just make things worse.

She stopped at the corner of his street and stared, dumbfounded, at the sight in front of his building. A cab sat near the curb, trunk open, and the driver had exited and was helping Del load luggage into the back.

Definitely made things worse. She suffered the worst case of déjà vu ever. She struggled to breathe while the tears streamed silently down her cheeks. Of course he hadn’t tried to contact her. She’d told him to move on, and he was. Literally.

It was too awful to watch the cab driver pull away, taking her love and her future with him. Instead, she made an illegal U-turn and drove back the way she came. She didn’t get two blocks before the flashing lights in her rearview mirror indicated a problem. No one else was on the street. It had to be her. When the siren blared, she signaled and pulled to the curb. The police officer followed and, after parking behind her, approached her window.

“Miss, do you know why I pulled you over?”

Tears continued to fall, but now accompanied by wracking sobs. She nodded her head.

The officer sighed. “License, registration, and insurance, please.”

She fumbled in the glove compartment and produced the papers he needed. Then she got her license from her purse. Her sobs came like hiccups as she handed the information out the window.

“Miss, are you all right?”

She just shook her head. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it to her. “I’ll be right back.” He went back to his patrol car and did whatever took cops so long to do back there.

Laci tried to settle herself before he came back, mopping at her face and taking deep breaths. All she managed to do was smear her makeup.

He came back to her car and handed her information back to her. “You have a clean record, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up on Thanksgiving. Let’s consider this a warning. But be careful. And no driving until you’ve calmed down. Okay?”

“Okay.” It sounded more like “ah… ka,” but it was all she could manage to utter.

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

She nodded and offered a watery smile.

“Drive safely, Miss Marks.”

She offered him his hanky back, but he smiled and waved her off, then returned to his vehicle.

To Laci’s dismay, he didn’t pull out. She figured he was waiting for her, so she composed herself as best she could and left for her mother’s. He followed her to the bridge, then turned away.

The rest of her ride was uneventful. Because of her side trip and the subsequent stop, she arrived at her parents’ home late—right when the food was being placed on the table. No picking at turkey and stuffing right out of the oven this year. No matter, she wasn’t hungry anyway.

The house bustled with activity. The littlest children colored hand-outline turkeys while the older ones sang “Over the River” and danced around. The men walked sideways into the dining room, trying not to miss the last football play they’d get to see before dinner was over. Her mother and aunt hovered over the table, fussing over details while her cousin Clara snoodled up to her boyfriend Kyle on the couch. Everyone else must be in the kitchen, but she couldn’t see past the commotion in the dining room. Soon people filed to their seats from all corners of the house.

Far too many people, far too little room. Packed elbow-to-elbow and hip-to-hip, everyone—almost everyone—she loved clustered around the table. It was the kind of family event she adored.

And she didn’t know how she’d get through it.

Her dad looked at her and frowned, but he didn’t say anything. He just enveloped her in a hug and took the casserole dish out of her hand. Her mother reached for the cheesecake but stopped in her tracks. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Lying was just easier. “I got stopped by a cop on my way here, and I had to cry to get out of the ticket. Thank God it’s Thanksgiving. He was in a holiday mood and took pity on me. I got off with a warning.”

Thanksgiving mealHer mother frowned and took the dessert from her, weaving her way between the kid table and the adult table to put it in the refrigerator. Her Aunt Rose smiled and kissed her cheek. “Well, we’re just glad you’re here now. And what about your young fella? Where’s he?”

Her mother, reentering the dining room, cleared her throat and glared at her sister. “Help me pour, Rose.” She thrust a bottle into Rose’s hand, saving Laci from answering.

Laci swallowed her tears past the lump in her throat and wondered if she’d be able to eat anything. She knew it all smelled wonderful, but she was sick to her stomach and the aroma of the food just made it worse. Taking her seat, she grabbed her goblet of water and downed it in two gulps.

Her aunt got the children ginger ale while her mother walked around pouring Taittinger for everyone. Her father, at the head of the table, stood and tapped his fork against his champagne flute. Everyone grew quiet while he said the blessing, then he raised his glass.

“Another year, another wonderful spread. Another houseful of loved ones.” He turned toward Laci, but she couldn’t meet his gaze. She reached for her champagne flute and stared at the table. “I’m so grateful for all our blessings, and for each one of you. If you’d all raise your glasses…” When everyone had complied, he said, “For the bounty of Thanksgivings past, the blessings of Thanksgiving present, and the promises of Thanksgiving futures. Sláinte!

Laci mouthed the words as he spoke them. He ended every Thanksgiving toast the same way. This year, though, when everyone else drank, she put her glass down. She didn’t feel like celebrating. She didn’t feel blessed this year. And she certainly didn’t think her future was very promising.

Clara and her boyfriend managed to get to their feet without knocking over any chairs or crushing any toes. Clara clinked her fork against her glass, the crystal sounding shrill to Laci’s ears. When everyone looked at the couple, Clara said, “We have an announcement.”

Laci sighed. Clara always had something to share. Why it needed to be an announcement, she had no idea, but she refrained from rolling her eyes and waited.

Clara and Kyle wrapped their arms around each other, then Clara thrust her left hand into the air. “We’re getting married!”

The reaction was thunderous and immediate. Everyone did their best to extricate themselves from their seats and rush over to the young couple to offer congratulations. Everyone, that is, but Laci and her parents. Laci headed for the door, and they followed.

“Laci,” her mother said.

“I can’t, Mom. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” She rooted through the pile of coats strewn on the stairs and found hers, second from the top. “Make my apologies, say whatever you have to. But I have to get out of here.”

“But it’s Thanksgiving,” her dad said.

She pecked him on the cheek and hugged her mom. “I know.” And she walked out the door.

Laci was really starting to get the hang of driving through a flood of tears. It had become the norm. She’d also grown accustomed to letting the car decide where to go, as she didn’t have the will or desire to direct it. For some reason, she was driving through the city again instead of heading home. The parade was long over, but in her mind she heard the echo of the marching bands, saw the horses and the floats, listened to the delighted squeals of the children as Santa made his way down the street. She liked to attend the parade every year, but this year she hadn’t been up to it. Now, the streets still littered with candy wrappers, soda cans, and confetti, it seemed so profound to her. Life was just like that parade. It was beautiful and exciting. And fleeting. And once the magic was over, all that was left was the tattered remnants. Until someone cleaned them up and disposed of them.

When she got to the bridge, she saw a street cleaning crew heading the way she had come. Too bad she couldn’t hire them to clean up her mess.

Point Park FountainShe drove across the bridge, not bothering to look at the fountain at The Point, the paddle boats on the river, the incline on the hill. Those were things she never missed; the city was gorgeous and the sights always lifted her spirits. But that day, she didn’t care. She just went where her car took her.

And cried when she ended up on the Coal Mountain overlook. The place Del had taken her on Valentine’s Day.

She put the car in drive and headed home, her heart broken and her mind reeling. Would she ever be thankful for anything again?

Laci and Del: Hallow-Why-Me?

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 10 of 12.

Laci and Del: Hallow-Why-Me?

sandy shoes greaseThe first thing Laci did when the cast came off was recoil in horror that anyone would see her with that much hair on her leg. Calling it stubble was like calling the Grand Canyon a small valley. That was full blown hair. Braid-able hair.

Almost, anyway.

Then she didn’t care. She could finally scratch all the itches she’d suffered through for eight weeks. It was pure heaven. Until the itching was gone and she was back to sasquatch-city. She yanked her pant leg down, checked out of the office, and went straight home to shave.

That was pure heaven.

With newly silken legs and unencumbered foot, she was finally able to try on her Halloween costume. One of Del’s coworkers was throwing a movie-themed party, and they decided to go as Sandy and Danny from Grease. She felt kind of foolish in the blonde wig. Some brunettes could pull off blonde, but she definitely wasn’t one of them. And the curls! But it suited the costume. And boy was she delighted to see that the pants fit.

Well, if you want to call skin-tight fitting.

She had been looking forward to this party for weeks. Tensions between her and Del had been getting worse; their relationship had grown quite strained. They’d spent less and less time together, and when they were alone, they never discussed the job-shaped elephant in the room. Every time one of them brought up the subject, the other changed the topic or found a reason to leave. It seemed neither was really ready to have that discussion.

On Halloween, she didn’t have to be Laci. She got to be Sandy, and stepping into someone else’s shoes for the night sounded wonderful.

Even if those shoes were red, high-heeled, open-toe pumps on a wooden platform.

She briefly wondered if her broken bone was ready for that kind of torture, then proceeded to practice walking in them. They kind of hurt her feet, but she was used to street shoes. One night wouldn’t kill her.

Laci took her time getting ready, and was just smearing on lip gloss when the doorbell rang. She rushed through her apartment, only rolling her ankle once, and flung open the door.

Del was a knockout, dressed all in black, right down to his shoes. Except for the signature white socks. He even had something rolled in his sleeve to look like a pack of cigarettes, and he held a leather jacket over his shoulder. His hair was greased back into a ducktail and a few locks flopped forward onto his forehead in a similar curled fashion to how Travolta wore his. Laci harbored a not-so-secret love affair with the movie and a slightly more secret crush on Danny Zuko, so it was no wonder her heart fluttered when she opened her door.

Del was even sexier than Danny.

He looked her over and smiled.

She said, “Tell me about it, stud.” And they left for the party.

Joe’s apartment was in the South Side, and the subway ride there garnered them some strange looks. But Laci didn’t think anything could dim her spirits. Her cast was off, she was with her gorgeous boyfriend, and she was going to a party. A few strange looks were nothing. Most people just smiled or ignored them, anyway.

When they finally arrived, she headed straight for the bar, stopping only briefly to say hello to a few acquaintances. She didn’t know many of the people Del worked with, but she’d know them all better once she had a drink and started chatting with them. She was through with her first beer when she noticed the karaoke machine in the living room. She had finished the second when people starting singing duets. Most were cringe-worthy, but that was the fun of it. Snacking on pretzels and making small talk with Abby, Del’s secretary, she was startled to see someone dragging Del to the microphone.

Abby said, “Don’t make me drag you, too. Just go.” And she nodded toward the living room.

“What?”

“Someone signed you and Del up to sing, and looking at the screen, I can see why.”

Laci glanced at the TV screen, where the lyrics were displayed for everyone to see. They were expected to sing “Summer Nights.” She laughed, slid off her stool, and tottered toward the living room.

Del was still trying to get out of it, but someone started the music and he shrugged and started singing.

Laci joined in and had a blast. She loved every song in Grease, and seeing Del singing to her dressed like that made her whole month.

Until she started paying attention to the words.

By the end of the song, she was trying so hard not to burst into tears that she barely made a sound. Luckily Danny’s voice was stronger than Sandy’s, and Del overpowering her just seemed like part of the performance.

Everyone broke into applause and called for a second song, but Laci was a wreck. While Del got stuck singing “Greased Lightning,” she maneuvered as carefully as she could through the throng of people and stepped onto the patio for some fresh—if not freezing—air.

Del’s boss was just stubbing out a cigarette butt and nodded his greeting to her. “That was some performance.”

“Oh.” What did one say to a comment like that, anyway? “You could hear us from out here?”

“Can’t you hear Del?”

She stood and listened to the noises around her. In addition to the cars and some occasional raucous laughter from the pub-crawlers down the street, she could hear Del singing. “Yes, I suppose so.”

He lit another cigarette and took a long drag, the end glowing bright orange in the darkness of the patio. “You know, I thought Del would be in California by now.”

Laci didn’t answer. She kind of thought, on some level, that Del would have left already, too.

“He could do great things out there. It’s the next logical step in his career. He’s already a year behind.”

She could feel her cheeks burn. “No one’s stopping him.”

He tipped his head up and blew a stream of smoke into the dark sky. It hovered for a second like a specter, then dissipated into the night. “Oh, someone’s stopping him. Just like that same someone did the last time.”

She looked at her feet and suppressed a shiver. “I never told him not to go.”

“You never told him to go, either. I don’t know what you’re playing at, but this is a man’s career at stake.”

“You aren’t worried about Del. You’re worried about your company.”

“The two aren’t mutually exclusive, Laci.” He stubbed out his cigarette and headed for the door. He nodded at Del who was just stepping outside, and made his way back to the party.

Del walked over to Laci and put his leather jacket around her. “I wondered where you ran off to. There was a request for “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” but you were already gone.”

“I couldn’t have sung that right now if I tried.”

He scoffed. “You probably know that song better than Olivia Newton John. Of course you could.”

She shook her head and swallowed past the lump in her throat. “No. Not tonight.”

“Too drunk?”

She knew he knew what was wrong, but this time she wasn’t going to let him change the topic. “Del, we have to talk.”

“Not here. Let’s just go inside and get something to eat.”

Her fairytale was over. Clock struck midnight, carriage a pumpkin, clothes back to rags. There was no escaping her life. Costume or not, she was still Laci and he was still Del. And no matter how much she wanted it all, she wasn’t being asked to try on that glass slipper.

“Del, listen.”

“No.”

“Del…”

“I’m not doing this here, Laci. And I’m not doing it now.”

“Then I will. I can’t keep seeing you. Not when there’s so much involved, and so much unresolved.”

“So we’ll resolve it. Later.”

“I’m resolving it now. Your company needs you. And California is something you want. I can’t stand in the way of that. Certainly not twice.”

“If that’s really how you feel, then come with me.”

“I can’t. I tried before. I can’t. I love it here. This is my home. This is where my family is.”

“And you can’t leave all that to be with me?”

She shook her head, and the tears ran down her face. “It’s just too much.”

“Then I’ll stay. For you.”

“And resent me for it five years from now, when we’re married and have kids?”

“You think about that?” he asked.

“What?”

“Marrying me. Having kids.”

“Of course I do. I love you. I’ve loved you for years.”

“Then I’m staying. I want that, too.”

“I love you too much to ruin your life like that,” she said, then gave him his jacket. “Please, don’t follow me. I can’t keep arguing with you.”

“Laci—”

She heard him calling her as she wove through the crowd and out the door. On her way to the subway, she thought she heard him behind her, but it was just someone in a clown costume. Creepy, but not as scary for her to face as Del would have been at that moment.

She managed not to cry until she opened her apartment door and slunk to the floor. She kicked of those wicked shoes and thought about Sandy and Danny, Cinderella and her prince.

Why didn’t she get a happily-ever-after?

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