And So It Begins

diving-board

That red blob looked more like a flat kidney bean than the gum someone spit out next to the metal trashcan. Vertical lines running across it marked where someone’s shoe leveled the originally gelatinous mass post-chew. Shawna shuddered to think of the saliva and germs encompassing the wad before it fell from the child’s mouth to hit the pavement. Imagining the bacteria triggered her gag reflex so badly she could barely look.

She practically faded into the waffle weave of the fence behind her. The temperature made everything too hot to touch, so she dared not lean back on the metal and just sat staring at the ABC gum regardless of the nausea it induced. Some loudmouthed kids ran around Shawna sitting atop a beach towel and0 nearly fading into the swimming pool sidewalk. No one acknowledged her positioned there, even the boys who leaped over her body in a clumsy game of chase.

“Look out!” a boy yelled, but Shawna didn’t notice. She was oblivious to all the chaos around her, fixated on that nasty clump there by the bin. Angled toward the parking lot, this was the best vantage point to spot their family station wagon when it finally arrived. Otherwise, she’d have waited elsewhere.

Shawna finally glanced up to check the street. “Where is she? I’ve got to get out of here.” Jumping back in the water sounded great, but Mom had a thing about getting the car seat wet with a swimming suit. “Come on, come on.” The minutes ticked by in slow motion.

A dented-up car caught her attention in the search. A long one with four doors and a man sitting behind the wheel who watched the kids through the chain-link. She’d seen the bumper almost hanging off when she entered the pool gate two hours beforehand but didn’t notice the man. Maybe his children were swimming.

Maybe not. The girl got an uneasy feeling when his gaze moved in her direction. Hairs on her arms prickled as if static dried them to rise from beneath a layer of sweat. His eyes locked on hers, and he raised one hand in an undulating finger wave. Shawna could’ve sworn an unnatural smile crossed his face – not at all like one from last year’s teacher, Mr. Swan, or from the man who checked her season pass at the desk. She looked down quickly to avoid his stare.

Just then, one of the obnoxious kids came racing by and tripped across her outstretched limbs. Another boy had pushed him and caused the punk to fall over her legs and onto the concrete, which shocked Shawna back to the moment. “Whoa, watch what you’re doing!” She pushed the kid away, not caring about his skinned knee or the blood dripping from it.

A sharp whistle blast drew their attention to the lifeguard stand. “No running or pushing!” A guy in Speedos and a visor shading his face pointed a finger down at them. “You’re outta here!”

Unsure if the command was aimed at her, Shawna’s fight-or-flight response kicked in anyway. Regardless of her mother being there or not, she was getting away from those jerks and that creepy man’s ogling. To balance herself to stand, she put a hand down on the sidewalk … right on top of the gum splat.

Shawna shrieked, scrambled to her feet, and knocked over the trashcan in the process. It began to roll in a path paralleling her own as she ran to the bathroom and immediately wash her hand. She peeked around the gate afterward to find the station wagon idling in a parking space. Her mother honked the horn to hurry her along.

Fortunately, the saggy-bumpered car and its perverted driver were nowhere to be seen. She loosened the towel wrapped tightly around all the bare skin she could cover, pulled it off to slip under her on the seat, and moved swiftly to the car.

* Two Word Tuesday writing prompt – vociferous or loudmouthed

image: Markus Spiske via Flickr

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Crossed Signals

drive thru.jpg

She didn’t ever pretend not to like or eat at McDonald’s. Truth was, Shannon had a serious love affair going with the dollar menu. Being broke made her frequent stops a necessity. With luck on her side, doing so left no acne or weight gain. Anybody who professed to avoid fast food at all cost had to be lying. What a bunch of fake, pretentious phonies, she thought.

A red truck caught her eye as she exited the restaurant. Shannon tried to hide behind the over-sized Styrofoam cup, straw planted firmly in her mouth to infuse some courage via caffeine. “Oh, great. There’s Lane. Why is this happening today?

Crossing his path was inevitable. Maybe a simple wave would suffice, so she flashed a half-heartened one at him as she quickened her steps in the opposite direction.

Too late. Living in a such a small town spawned such awkward situations. He’d already parked and walked toward her, a tentative smile on his face. A week had passed since his last text message and almost two weeks since their last date.

“Hey, how are you?” Lane sounded genuinely glad to see her, but she didn’t trust it.

Displeasure spread across Shannon’s expression as she tried to force her mouth into a smile. “All right,” she told him but kept walking toward her car. “You?” The response came out less than chipper, which mirrored her feelings at not hearing from him.

Lane looked at her back, confused, as she walked from him. “Doing well,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to call but was out of town all week for work.”

Shannon didn’t stop or even look at him as he spoke. Instead, she flipped a hand back over her shoulder in dismissal. Her only reaction came mentally. “I don’t want to listen to your excuses.

He didn’t understand why Shannon acted so cold. “Okay then,” he said dejectedly. “Have a good one.”

If sincere, and he truly meant for her to have a good day, the sentiment fell short of its intention. She wasn’t buying it.

She spun on him. “Just what the hell does that mean anyway?” Her anger began to roil. “A good what? A good lunch? A good trip? A good snog? Your flip comment is just too damn ambiguous!”

Lane backed away from her slowly, raising his hands to relent, wondering how he got into such a mess. “No offense, Shannon. I didn’t mean anything by it. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings somehow.” That sorrowful expression made her want to believe him.

“Then just say goodbye. Wish me a ‘good day.’ Not a ‘good one,’” she emphasized. “I’m having a good day no matter what you say.”

She didn’t even know why she was so upset. They’d only been on two dates. No big deal. But didn’t we have a good time, she mused. We laughed a lot. We had fun.

It was simply the principle of the deal. The same old story. A blossoming friendship cut off before it had a chance to turn into anything more.

It’s not like I’m some mouth-breathing cretin. Whoever he likes probably works out all the time, never eats fast food, and has perfectly straight teeth. There seemed a chasm between her and the women she imagined him dating.

Shannon could see Lane still standing there in the parking lot, hands in his pockets and kicking at the asphalt with one foot, as she drove away. “So much for Valentine’s Day,” he muttered. “Guess I’ll just get a Big Mac.”

*Two Word Tuesday writing prompt – mess

(photo: wildwise studio via Flickr)

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Hindsight

Pabst

Somebody warned me to watch out for that guy. Said he was no good, had done some time before. Another girl who went to high school with Trevor said she heard he got off from those charges, but neither one told what he supposedly did in the first place. His smile made me want to believe it was nothing.

He looked like a decent enough guy, kinda cute in a baggy sweater and clean blue jeans with no holes. Almost looked sorta preppy for a burner kind of dude. That short, spiky blonde hair with sleepy blue eyes that peered up from the pool table really got me. Looks can be deceiving, though.

“That one’s starin’ at you, girl.” My friend brought it to my attention. I set my mug down on the bar top and glanced to where she threw her head to point.

The group shooting pool shoulda been a warning in itself. None of them had a job and probably had to scrape together the dollar it cost to play their game. His partner might have even just got out of jail himself.

After we talked awhile, he asked if I wanted to take a little ride. I don’t know why I went out there. Shoulda known better. Maybe it was simple boredom.

“You and your friends oughta watch out who you talk to at that place,” he warned as we pulled out of the parking lot. The shiny white teeth that showed when he grinned surprised the hell outta me considering the string of chew he spit out the window.

“Like you?” I asked. Shrugging his shoulders, he tried to wink at me but just looked goofy instead of cute. He turned his attention to the steering wheel and swerved back into the right lane. Maybe we both had more to drink than I realized.

He said, “So, Candy, what’s a pretty little thing like you doin’ at a dive like The Bottoms Up bar?”

“It’s Brandy,” I corrected him. That was the second time he got my name wrong after I’d already told him once inside and again when we walked to his truck.

“Yeah, right. Like brandy the drink, not Candy the … cane. You know, at Christmastime.” He laughed a little and scrunched his face up weird, maybe trying to be sexy but failing miserably. I just nodded and watched the headlights stake out the route in front of us.

We passed the east side city limits sign en route to his little country house. A turn onto gravel and then several lefts and rights followed before we finally arrived. I didn’t remember having been that far out in the boonies before.

I looked around at the skyline when we parked in the driveway, trying to get a sense of the direction back to town and hoping not to need to know. A rickety step gave under our weight as we stepped up onto the porch, and the screen door creaked so loud I thought it might fall off the top hinge as he opened it.

“It ain’t much, but it’s mine,” Trevor said. He crossed the threshold into a dimly lit living room with dirty hardwood floors. “Make yourself at home.”

He got me a PBR and about drank his own in one swallow after we sat down on a sagging couch. The tweed fabric scratched the back of my legs as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders to pull me toward him. I noticed lines of chewing tobacco between the straight, white teeth of the mouth moving forward to engulf my own. After a long, saliva-filled kiss that I hoped was clear instead of Copenhagen brown, he got up and half-stumbled backward toward a hallway.

“Gotta take a piss,” he said. “Be right back.” He tried the pathetic wink again. I hate when people do that. Reminds me of Uncle Thurman who wore plaid pants and sold used cars at a lot over in Summitville when I was a kid.

Considering my bad choices that evening, I figured lots worse could happen besides a slobber-crusted kiss. After a swallow of beer to wash away tobacco taste lingering in my mouth, I opened the door as carefully as possible to not give myself away as I slipped into the darkness. Damp grass soaked my Keds when I sprinted across the yard and onto the lane. A half moon overhead spilled just enough light to show me the way.

I heard that door creak open and Travis holler behind me, “Hey, Candy! Where’d ya go?” Not daring to look back, I trudged on down the road with gravel crunching under my wet shoes.

Cutting across farmers’ fields to shortcut meant risking an electric fence in the pitch-black path or meeting a guard dog along the way, so I resigned myself to the road. I’d get back to town eventually if I just followed the telephone lines. It would just take a long damn time.

Hoping I was far enough away to not be heard, I mumbled, “How the hell do I get myself into this stuff? I need to find some other shit to do.”

If I didn’t laugh, I woulda cried. Maybe I’d get home by the time the sun came up.

***

Two Word Tuesday prompt at Our Write Side – boredom

Image: Brian Wilkins via Flickr

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On a Mission

The clash of pool balls smacking together greeted Eve as she opened the heavy door. She knew which direction to go when she heard the familiar sound. The room was dim with the limited illumination …

Source: On a Mission

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Going on a Run

Those boys met up every year for deer camp — both buck and anterless — and had done so for 20 or more years. They’d spend the mornings hunting, or “waiting” as J.T.’s wife called it, an…

Source: Going on a Run

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Unsuspected Intimacy

wireA dense fog shrouded the facility and obscured the windows along its brick facade. The main building stood monolithic behind foreboding chain-link framed in razor wire. The same journalist assigned to cover the criminal trial had to brave the autumn chill to report on the late-night execution. He drew this lot as a cub reporter for a news outlet that covered such morbid proceedings but stayed warm inside the News 41 van as long as possible before setting up for a live shot outside the prison barrier.

Protesters drew attention – those who oppose the death penalty and supported the Reynolds’ family juxtaposed with others who wanted their brand of justice done. They staked claim on opposite sides of the main driveway and stomped around under flood lights bright enough to illuminate a sports stadium. Their signs galvanized opposing positions. Placards on the right heralded, “Down with the death penalty.” Others on the left read, “An Eye for An Eye” and “Good Riddance,” as their owners chanted, “Justice for Gwen, Justice for Gwen” outside the prison’s formidable gates.

Gwen Brown’s family sat undetected and anonymous inside a dark sedan parked on grass aligning the drive. The media spotlight cast upon them already took its toll without adding more undue probing.

Hoards of hard-line vigilantees rehashed the details of how Reynolds sadistically killed the teenage girl. A youth himself at the time, Timothy Wayne Reynolds had been defended on the basis of a crime of passion. A jilted lover. An especially humiliating break-up. A previous closed-head injury suffered in a football game the prior week that defense lawyers said incapacitated him from responsibility for his crime.

People say, “Dead men tell no tales.” The dead can’t speak of atrocities against them. The drug that accidentally killed the King of Pop, Proponol, would be used to take one of his fans to that person’s final rest.

The frenzied folks outside never knew of the turmoil within those confines. “We can’t let this leak to the press,” Warden Jenkins told his officers. “There’s enough negativity connected to these proceedings already.”

Reynolds ate his favorite meal of chicken fried steak with gravy and a piece of angel-food cake before receiving the priest’s last rites and taking those final surreal steps to his berth in a room with a one-way mirror. He couldn’t see those viewing his execution from the other side of that chamber, as his uncertain death became quite a drawn-out procedure, stretching out much longer than planned.

An unnamed pharmacy compounded a special recipe for lethal injection, even though human rights groups claimed that using untested drugs constituted ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The concoction took twice the usual timespan to work its way through his veins, twice the normal timespan. Reynolds’ heart pumped the poisonous mixture circuitously within his body until it rendered his vital organs inoperable. That same heart his adversaries insisted didn’t exist.

The man turned toward his withered image in the mirror and mouthed the words, “I love you,” in hopes the receiver would get his message. At the last moment, a panic spread through Reynolds’ body pinioned to the gurney, and he struggled against the straps that bound his wrists when the masked clinician approached him with a syringe clasped in gloved hands.

The woman who named him on June 15, 1962 at John Franklin Memorial Hospital in Tulumqua, Alabama sat sobbing on the other side of the transparent wall. She wailed painfully when her boy closed his eyes for the last time.

A satellite feed sent out a signal to major network with the report, “State officials brought an embittered battle from 1979 to a final close tonight as 54-year old Timothy Wayne Reynolds was executed for the crime of aggravated capital murder. The county coroner pronounced him dead at 12:15.”

Outside the gates, the mother of Gwen Elisabeth Brown cried into her cupped hands. She felt both relief and sadness at the news.

Inspiration Monday prompt – uncertain death inmonsterpromo

 

 

 

Image: “Razorwire” by Joi Ito via Flickr

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Unreliable Witness

internet-archive-book-imagesThat little shabby house sat back off the road behind trees with limbs so dense they obscured it from the sight of any passersby. You could only catch a glimpse driving by slowly in the wintertime or after the leave began to fall. Faded clapboards on the exterior looked nearly pink with age and negligence. The place resembled a shed with dust mites and rusted lawnmowers inside instead of anywhere a human being might sleep.

No one saw the accursed man who lived there, though. People said he got riled easily when kids snuck around there after dark, which many of them did on a dare at Halloween time. Smeared window panes kept people from seeing inside, though many children tried to look.

“We didn’t think he was there. Looked empty to us,” the older, Darius, later told the police officer. “That old dude snuck up on us – not the other way around.”

Those Barton boys lied so much, police officers didn’t believe the tales they told afterward. Juvenile delinquents, all of them. Having crack-head parents meant they spent a lot of time in foster care. Even though they grew up hard, they’d rend even the best situation into an utter mess. Wound up in juvenile hall over the incident at the house.

Even the most craven of people from town knew what happened was wrong. That old man should’ve been left to himself out there. Unfortunately, the Barton brothers either didn’t know any better or didn’t care.

“It was like something from a spooky campfire story,” the younger brother said later. “We went in through the back door ‘cause it was unlocked. So Darius said it was okay.” Dale worshipped his older brother and did whatever he instructed. The cops released Dale back to the foster parents, deciding he was too young to be held culpable.

Through all the denial from Darius, Dale told the truth. “He was waiting behind the door when we went in the kitchen. Smelled horrible, like he never took a bath. He breathed all over my face when he grabbed me.” Dale sobbed as he recounted the details, kept begging to see Darius.

“My brother hit the old coot to make him let me go. Darius told him to, but he wouldn’t do it.” His big eyes pleaded with them, gray crescents hollowing his face even more than fear but had no more impact than to accentuate the weariness of such a young child.

“It was so gross in there. Smelled like something dead,” he told them. “Something on the floor made it slick. That’s why they slipped and fell. That’s why that old man hit his head on the counter. Darius didn’t do it.”

The foster mother had to practically drag Dale out of the police station without his brother. Interrogators doubted such an elderly man posed much of an imposing threat, which cast doubt on the boys’ version of the facts. Officers said he might not make it through the night to tell his own side of what happened.

Dale cried even harder when they drove past the house on the way home. He blinked back tears and coughed through gasping bouts of trying to breathe.

Every light had been extinguished when emergency vehicles left there and the ambulance departed for the hospital. The place was different when Dale looked at it from the passing car. A pole barn light behind the shack was illuminated, which cast an eerie glow around its entirety and backlit the interior through its darkened windows.

Dale knew what he saw. Someone stood behind that grimy front glass, and the person seemed to watch their car. Everyone knew that old man lived out there alone. Though he’d been taken for medical treatment, someone was still in that house. Dale saw it that night, but no one believed him. He’d never pass the house again in his life.

He told his brother about it years later when Darius was released from serving time for manslaughter plus breaking and entering. He believed Dale. They’d been inside that house, and both boys knew better.

*Studio 30 Plus writing prompt – accursed s30p

image: Internet Archive Book Images via Flickr

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Life Primer

butt

“It’s too early for this shit.” Smoke trailed from his flared nostrils as Wayne tightened his grip on the steering wheel until veins protruded from the knuckles of his work-weary fingers. He’d taken time off from the tire shop to give Brandy a ride to her doctor’s appointment that morning. She threatened to tell her father about their mistake if he didn’t take her, whether he liked it or not.

They drove south on Highway 65 in Wayne’s primered Camaro with bondo-patched rust spots, its original paint color a mystery. The exhaust system’s howl  echoed down the highway and bellowed as much noise pollution as black fumes that streamed from its oxidized tailpipe. He flicked a spent cigarette out the window with bravado, red sparks spiking off the pavement as the butt narrowly missed a BMW’s hood in the adjacent lane.

Brandy folded her knees in front of her in the passenger seat, her dirty hair pulled up into a ponytail with red curls escaping its bonds to protrude out one side. She pushed the loose strands behind her ear and rubbed her jaw. That bad tooth hurt so much she didn’t know which was more important – a pregnancy test or going on to the college clinic where the students worked on your mouth for free.

Neither one of the pair had much sleep after partying the night before. They’d been up half the night, and Wayne’s temperament showed it.

Their clandestine meet-ups usually took place off the beaten path in the dark — either out in a fallow field out in the boonies with no livestock to upset or even further out on a little-used dirt road in the middle of nowhere, the “boontoolies.”

Hiding in a copse of trees the night before helped their group feel safe out of sight. The likelihood of a county mounty patrolling was slim to none.

They built a quickly extinguishable campfire for enough illumination to light up, get high, and then get gone as soon as possible. Such a short party served its purpose to self-medicate. No socialization necessary for that purpose. That sort of thing could stymie a buzz superfast.

In the car, Wayne rubbed a bloodshot eye with the back of one hand, and she noticed the chewed down stubs of his nails framed by yellowed fingertips. His thumb was wrapped in soiled tape that hadn’t been changed since bloodying it with a lug wrench the week before.

“Why did that asshole, Stevie, show up out there? Listening to his mouth run is even worse than yours.” From the look on her boyfriend’s face, Brandy sensed it best not to say anything else and piss him off more. He shook his head violently to wake himself up, jerking the wheel in the process, and Brandy grabbed the door handle to steady herself.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, now I’m up at the ass crack of dawn taking you somewhere. I’d think you could get your old man to fix your car so you can drive yourself.”

“I thought you might want to find out the results with me,” she said softly. She read his opposing feelings on the matter from a sideways glance.

He sniffed. “Huh. You must think we’re playing house or somethin.’” The tip of his right ear was turning that crimson tinge it always did when Wayne got mad. “I don’t care what your daddy says, this ain’t happenin.’”

She flinched at the timbre of his voice. It sounded just like her father’s before he reached out to slap her. “Why don’t you just shut up the rest of the way? I can’t deal with this so early in the damn morning.” He looked down at the blue Bic while he lit another smoke, and the car inched toward the median. The car nearly crossed the highway dividing line.

He took the first drag off his cigarette and blew a long plume out one side of his mouth while talking out of the other. “You’re sadly mistaken if you think I’m havin’ any part of this business. If it’s positive we’re headed right to that place on 47th Street and bustin’ through that string of people with the protest signs. They can yell at us all they want, but you’re gettin’ rid of it.”

Brandy put her flip-flopped feet back on the floorboard and stared at the tiny bump in her middle. At such an early stage, it barely pushed out the waistband of her cotton shorts. She closed her eyes to shut out his words and rubbed her swollen jaw to concentrate on the toothache instead of the pain in her chest. Even though the reality of what Wayne and her dad would expect weighed on her, she knew better than to let her dad find out their predicament.

Wayne’s rant continued, “It’s none of their damn business anyways. Those ol’ bitches at that clinic can kiss my ass. I don’t care what’s in their damn Bible. You’re going in there if I have to drag you. That’s what’s next, girl.”

She rolled the window down a little in hopes the wind might carry her just a whiff of woodsmoke from the embers of a fire somewhere. They had fun at that field party, or at least it seemed like it. Brandy wished she could go back there and get high again.

Image: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – copse s30p

 

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Reunited

punch glass

final installment in Reunion series – following New Old Friends

Gwen and Jennifer continued their conversation with Gwen’s husband, Cameron, while sipping vodka-spiked punch that kept the trio in a celebratory mood. They rose glass after glass to toast health and friendship, and the awkward confrontation with Jennifer’s ex earlier in the evening was soon forgotten.

Other classmates stared from adjacent seats, perhaps jealous of their lively exchange, and seemed catatonic in comparison. Laughter exploded from their table and even caught the attention of Matt’s young wife. Despite her bedazzling appearance with no lines emerging  on her face like everyone else’s there, the poor woman looked trapped in a dutiful gloom of boredom. Anyone watching the scene would feel her palpable disappointment at coming to his 20-year high school class reunion.

She could’ve used a drink if not for her husband’s self-proclaimed, if not pretentious, victory over his alcoholism. Jennifer remembered their teenage dalliances during what seemed a short time but actually happened over two decades ago, how she and Matt practiced anything but safe sex. They, as stupid kids, drank a lot and took more chances than other not-so-lucky couples.

What she couldn’t recall was how she and Gwen ever became friends. Was it in class, at lunch, maybe even in the principal’s office? Jen saw enough of the administrative wing back when she spent several days in detention for skipping school with Matt.

Gwen seemed to read her mind. The woman confessed, “We only had one class together, Jennifer. Gym in freshman year. Back when so many girls bullied me because I was big. Bigger than any of them anyway.” Jennifer looked down at her lap in hopes she wasn’t one of them.

“Oh, no,” Gwen said efficaciously. “Not you. You were the only one nice to me in P.E.” Jennifer exhaled, glad to know she hadn’t been one of the culprits. “Or at least took up for me, though you didn’t really know me. You told them to shut up and leave me alone.”

Jennifer nodded, relieved. “I have to admit I don’t remember. Some of those girls were such jerks, I tried to not act like them. They could be so mean. At least I didn’t participate in that.”

Gwen’s husband sat quietly listening to their conversation and reached over to clasp his wife’s folded hands as she stared blankly across the room. Cameron sensed the subject’s obvious sensitivity, as Gwen absentmindedly rubbed the inside of one wrist. After the awkward silence, she nodded toward a group of people standing beside the dance floor. “A couple of them are right over there.”

Cameron and Jennifer turned to look at the bunch, and Jennifer recognized two girls she’d ran around with back in school. Gwen continued, “I was pretty torn up about all that for a while. Even into college when I met Cameron.” She squeezed her husband’s hand, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

“It was hard for me to come tonight, but I vowed to never let people like that bother me again. To be proud of who I am.” Gwen shrugged and laughed, “Cameron always tells me I’m beautiful, even though I know he’s exaggerating.”

“You are to me, hon,” Cameron said. He got up to refresh their empty punch glasses.

A brief silence followed his leaving before Jennifer finally said, “I’m really glad you came up to talk to me tonight, Gwen. I was pretty nervous about coming here myself because I didn’t want to see Matt. You’ve made it fun, and I forgot all about that despicable person. So thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And I want to thank you, too. You made my freshman year a lot more tolerable. Even if you didn’t remember me tonight.” She winked at Jennifer.

Jennifer’s mouth fell open in fake shock. “Was it that obvious?” They laughed.

“No worries,” Gwen told her. “It doesn’t matter, because we’re friends now.” She glanced up at her husband’s return to the table. He held three partially-filled glasses of punch, and Gwen pulled a bottle of clear alcohol out of her purse to fill the remaining space in each. “Let’s toast to that!”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – efficacious s30p

Image: blogto.com

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New Old Friends

Part three of Reunion series: previous installment – Dying Embers

pink drink

Almost everyone was dressed to the nines, most likely to try and impress each other. A high school class reunion is the opportune time to pretend to be someone a person is not. Matt had no pretense, though. The ragged jeans and faded polo shirt he wore made him resemble a ragamuffin, and he probably felt overdressed. Jennifer wondered if he owned any other clothing than a blue work shirt with his name stitched on the pocket.

She tried to make her mouth move as she stared at him, willed herself to come up with a snappy come-back to his rudeness, to say anything. Instead, she stood there slack-jawed and stammering while he looked at her expectantly. His bimbo wife joined him, having followed him across the ballroom like a lost puppy. Or just a jealous young wife. Jennifer looked beyond Matt’s shoulder at the woman clicking awkwardly on stilettos, which was easier than looking Matt in the eye.

Her old love was right there in front of her, and he waited for some type of response. He asked, “Are you already drunk? I’d say it’s pretty early in the night for that.”

Jennifer was stunned into silence, but the classmate friend whose name she couldn’t remember spoke for her. The woman was so tall she towered over Matt’s head. Unfortunately, her embroidered attire was almost as atrocious as Matt’s. Sweater Vest asked him, “What kind of hello is that, Matt? Pretty judgey coming from you. I remember you being quite the drinker back in the day.”

“Not any more. I’ve been in recovery for six months now, in fact,” he paused, staring at the woman. He moved the pair of sunglasses that rested on his balding head to a front shirt pocket. It had been dark outside for a few hours, so maybe he left them there instead of getting a hair transplant. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you,” he went on. “Jennifer …”

Standing next to Matt, his petite wife’s eyes flashed between him and Jennifer as if they volleyed a tennis ball back and forth. Hands on her hips in indignation, she clearly didn’t like being ignored by them.

“Oh, forgive me. I’m Gwen Collins,” Sweater Vest told Matt. “Of course, you wouldn’t remember me. You never spoke to me in school, but I’m a friend of Jen’s.” Gwen gripped Jennifer’s shoulder with a protective arm. She suddenly liked having the long limb around her in solidarity.

Gwen continued, “Congratulations on your new sobriety, but you don’t have to act so superior. We all remember how you used to act when drunk. Don’t be such a downer. This is a party.”

Jennifer finally found her voice. “It’s good to see you, Matt. And your wife.” She tossed her head in the wife’s direction, and the woman smiled at finally being acknowledged. “I was just reminiscing with Gwen, so please excuse us.” She got a tiny rush turning her back on Matt. Damn, she thought, is that all I could come up with? 

She waited a moment until the couple retreated across the dance floor and then told Gwen, “Thank you so much for that.” Jennifer felt a twinge of guilt at initially not remembering the big woman.

“Don’t mention it,” Gwen said. “Now, let’s go get a drink.” She grabbed Jennifer’s hand, grinned widely, and pulled her toward the table where her husband sat waiting. He lifted a glass as if to toast the women’s approach.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – ragamuffin  s30p

photo: Sheri Wetherell (Flickr Creative Commons)

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