Category Archives: fiction

Out With a Bang

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“Look out or you’ll blow your damn fool fingers off,” Raleigh told her. He held the punk for her, but Lenay resented her boyfriend’s insinuation. She didn’t need him telling her how to do everything.

“I might look ignorant, but I’m not stupid,” she said. The girl knew how to handle a bottle rocket, had been in plenty of throwing wars with her brothers. At times it would be nice to have those boys around.

Raleigh acted so self-righteous, as if he could save her from herself or something. “You get one beer in ya and get all full of yourself, girl.” He tightened his grip around her forearm a little tighter like he usually did as a warning. Right before he began to get angry.

Lenay looked up when a burst of green and gold blew up in the sky over their car parked on the hill. Small trails of light filtered down through the darkness as if to land on treetops and set the woods ablaze. They had a great vantage point to watch the town’s big fireworks display.

Not that the couple in the back seat noticed. The two groped at each other like dogs in heat. Quite a duo they made for a double-date.

She shot Raleigh her most flirtatious smile, which seemed to diffuse his temper, so she tugged her arm away. “Come on. This is supposed to be fun. Remember?”

“Just watch what yer doing, huh? I’m not driving you to the hospital.” That was probably the truth.

He might just let me bleed out, she thought. Leave me laying here for good, the bastard. “All I want is to shoot off some fireworks, Raleigh. Do some sparklers. Let’s enjoy ourselves for a change.”

Raleigh apologized the last time he got rough. Said he’d never do it again. Grabbing her arm like that didn’t seem like he was so sorry.

Another blast exploded overhead, this time blue and red, and spiraled outward from its point of detonation. She watched the tendrils of light drift downward and considered what the fireworks supposedly meant, what they celebrated.

“Hmmm, freedom,” she said out loud, more or less to herself.

Raleigh shook his head at her. “What the hell are you talking about? You’re freakin’ crazy.” She breathed deeply, exhaled, and bent over to dig in a brown paper bag of firecrackers.

Raleigh shouted toward the car, “And what the hell is wrong with you two?” He clenched his fists in front of his body, pumped his elbows back and forth, thrust his hips forward and backward, and guffawed loudly at himself. “Woohoo!”

Lenay suddenly felt fearless, even without her brothers to back her up. She tore the thin red paper from a pack of Black Cats to expose the fuse, set the bunch on the ground behind where Raleigh stood humping the air, and flicked her lighter to set it all on fire.

The eruption served as her favorite of the night, although she didn’t wait to watch Raleigh jump around and dodge the sparks. She’d have loved to see his hotfoot but was too busy turning the key and shifting her car into drive. The couple in the back seat finally sat up, suddenly startled. They grabbed ahold of the front seat as Lenay punched the gas and sped away, leaving Raleigh to his solo dance.

“Be careful, there, boy,” she told his reflection in the rearview mirror.

(image: Jdmoar via Flickr)

Our Write Side writing prompt – fearless

http://ourwriteside.com/dont-be-scared/

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Live Entertainment

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With “Honkytonk Woman” playing on the jukebox, she was in a better mood than usual. Living a rough life like Lenay’s could turn a person sour. Her boyfriend reckoned she could use some special treatment now and then, so their agreeing on dinner at Millie’s Bar and Grill pleased her. The lights dimmed early and peanut shells littered the scuffed wood flooring, but she didn’t mind.

Hearing her kind of music seemed to make their choice the right one. Cheap-ass Raleigh even springing for the bill surprised her.

Millie made a tasty bowl of clam chowder, even if Lenay’s meal ended with having to see an old lady at the next table use a strategically-placed index fingernail to dig a last morsel from her cavernous back molar to savor it. Maybe missing that final bit of food would ruin the woman’s dining experience, but seeing the act added little but disgust to a fellow diner’s appetite.

Lenay’s soup roiled in her stomach. She wouldn’t be pejorative of another customer, though, especially some elderly stranger. No matter how disgusting the person’s actions seemed to her. She’d witnessed plenty of poor manners, including those of her brothers and boyfriend. Denture digging paled in comparison to snot rockets.

Raleigh, watching the woman use her crude toothpick, couldn’t help but comment. At his jaw’s first movement to speak, Lenay grabbed his wrist to stop him. “Just ignore it, Raleigh. Please don’t say anything.” Him being his usual ruffian self, he stayed true to form with an insult.

First, he rubbed a hand across two days’ scruff clustered on his chin and neck, then pushed back from the table. Rubberless feet of the chair legs scraped loudly across the floor and produced a screech that drowned all background noise and brought everyone’s attention. “You know that’s nasty, right?” All heads turned to see where the question was pointed.

He eyeballed the offending party and asked her, “Are you saving it for later? This joint might be a shit hole, but you don’t have to act like a pig in it.”

The septuagenarian stared at him blankly, his rude comment lost on her. She plunked her drink glass on the Formica tabletop with a flat thud, sucked on a final dollop between her teeth, and responded, “Huh?”

Lenay’s face burned as crimson as the tin Coca-Cola ad on the wall. She simply wanted a quiet night out, an open-faced beef sandwich and some good tunes being all it took to please her. Maybe a little Game Show Network when they got home. She didn’t ask for much.

A minute’s awkward silence filled the room before Raleigh finally stood. He audibly cleared his throat, hacked up a wad of phlegm, and spat it onto the floor beside him. “Come on, hon. Let’s get out of here.”

Lenay sheepishly followed him out the door.

(photo: Jill E. via Flickr)

“Our Write Side” writing prompt – pejorative

http://ourwriteside.com/that-wasnt-very-nice/

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Real-life Cameo

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I thought I saw Stan Lee driving down a back road in a red Honda late this afternoon. Same burly silver mustache and translucent skin, a ball cap bill hovering over eyeglasses leftover from the ’70s. He’d probably be driving an Accord, though, over of a standard, factory-straight Civic. So a person never knows. It could be him.

Doing a double-take, I threw it in reverse and whipped around to follow him. Wouldn’t Pete just about have a conniption when he found out I trailed the dude? But Pete wasn’t there to win me over with reasoned logic, and I had nowhere else to be anyway.

Heat rose up from the pavement ahead, but I could still see the Honda’s brake lights at a stop sign maybe a half-mile up the road. Snapping a pic as evidence might shut Pete up over the deal, him always calling me a liar. He would never believe me unless I got an autograph from his hero of super heroes, the thought of which coaxed my pressure on the gas to catch up. I couldn’t let him turn off without me seeing where the car went.

I leaned back toward the rear seat, swerved a bit as I did, and grappled to reach something for him to sign – a magazine, brochure, even a fast food receipt. Anything for his signature. Among all the crap there, not a comic to be found. What I’d give for just one Spider-Man, no matter how ratty.

The library would charge me a fortune for the novel I found nestled in the floorboard – the only paper my fingertips could purchase. Payment for a book meant nothing compared to Pete eating crow.

My junker started to shake at hitting 60 but shimmied to a halt behind the Honda’s dented rear quarter panel at a four-way stop. “Huh,” I thought, “you’d think he had enough money to get that fixed.”

With no time for such random speculation, I had to make a move. A fine line of sweat formed on my top lip. “People say he’s a nice guy, playing a part in all his superhero movies. Surely he’d give me a signature.” No others cars within sight, I stomped on it and bolted to the left, pulled up alongside, one hand on my steering wheel and the other rolling down the passenger window.

The decrepit driver’s body convulsed in surprise at the sudden move, perhaps frightened he was about to get jacked. He shoved the cap backward on his head to reveal a liver-spot-covered face definitely not that of Pete’s favorite comic author. The startled old guy’s mouth hung agape, and the emptiness of his toothless mouth sucked my gaze into its emptiness.

Our heads shook in simultaneous violent disbelief, and he gesticulated wildly. The codger yelled, “First the swerving, and now this! Whadda you want?”

After a beat, I waved in apology and peeled out in front of the Honda. Getting ahead of him and down the road meant I didn’t have to witness how long it took the man to recover from the surprise. Pete wouldn’t hear about the caper after all.

Two Word Tuesday prompt – conniption

Image via Nicholas A. Tonelli on Flickr

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A Mother’s Love

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They stoked up quite a kerfuffle right there in front of the principal’s secretary and several other parents. Angel’s thin frame shook in anger, cheekbones stabbing out through skin stretched over her hollowed-out face. She stood opposite her mother, Lilly’s grandmother, in a showdown just before the girl’s Kindergarten graduation was scheduled to begin. Two grown adults, mother and daughter, set to throw down.

Angel having been awake for 24 hours didn’t help her mental state. Her latest boyfriend kept her up the night before to sample his latest batch, which helped kindle the paranoia of her mother’s determination to get her six-year old taken away by Child Protective Services. She may not take the best care of Lilly, but she wouldn’t stand for anyone’s public criticism.

Lilly lived with her grandma, or the girl would’ve fended for herself the entire school year. Her momma might actually love her, too, but she loved her drugs of choice as much or more.

“What’s going on out here?” Mrs. Phillips rushed into the hallway at all the yelling to find the pair about to square off.

“I’ll be damned if that woman’s allowed in here to watch my baby’s program,” Angel said. “Can’t you see to it she’s kicked outta this school?” Her nose hovered so menacingly close to her mother’s that the rot from Angel’s teeth seemed the only thing keeping them apart.

The principal’s eyebrows arched, incredulous at the younger woman’s assumption. “Not if she’s Lilly’s legal guardian, Angel,” she replied. “And this altercation cannot happen here. You’re both going to need to settle down if you want to stay.” She glanced back and forth between the pair in search of any reaction to the contrary and noticed only a difference in weight and wrinkled skin between the two. Same bleached hair, same defensive demeanor. Angel might become a split image of her mother in a few years, if she lived to experience it.

Fortunately choosing seats on opposite sides the center aisle, the ceremony began without students or other audience members being any the wiser. “The show must go on, as they say,” Mrs. Phillips told her secretary. Unless someone moved out of the district before August, she’d have to deal with this kith and kin again all too soon in the new school year.

Thirteen children wearing miniature blue caps and gowns lined the wooden risers on the stage, and their families beamed up at them from folding chairs across the gymnasium floor. Cherubic Lilly grinned down from her row, and she raised a hand to wave at her grandma.

Our Write Side prompt: kerfuffle (one of my favorite words)

Photo: glasseyejack via Flickr

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Keeping House

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Patrice wouldn’t exactly call herself the domestic type, but James recognized that when he married her. Practically everyone who knew her realized the woman didn’t care to be a perfect housekeeper and cook.

That just wasn’t her thing, and she couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly be content to just care for her husband and kids. So many other activities tugged at her mind and begged, “Come this way. Do this instead.” Having a restless soul meant she agonized at staying still, and household duties dulled the senses, as far as Patrice was concerned.

On one occasion a man asked her, “Do you work outside the home?” She had to stifle a laugh before answering him. “Shit, as if working inside that place isn’t enough? And taking care of everything at the hardware store is just a trip to the carnival,” she mused. “Isn’t that a humdinger? I’ve got two full-time gigs going.”

True, their home had the trappings of a lower-middle class lifestyle – a front screen door with holes, manual garage door that didn’t open if it rained, and a taped-up window pane here and there —  but the man’s expression turned so sour when Patrice answered in such a surly manner. To her, having a job meant a steady check to manage the co-pays and balance left of what insurance didn’t cover from the doctors.

“Humpf, maybe he thinks you married the Queen of England, James. She just wanted to live in the country ghetto,” she muttered. Her husband shook his head but said nothing in return. He knew better with that mood showing. “It’s not like standing behind that counter listening to good ol’ boys grouse about nonsensical shit for eight hours straight isn’t bad enough.” Three extra-strength pain relievers didn’t even touch the headache she’d nursed all day.

Regardless of its center sinkhole, the mattress felt pretty soft when her head hit the pillow around 6 o’clock. Other nights it was as early as 5:30. Finding her with a washcloth drying across her forehead, a book splayed on the bed beside her, and eyes closed, James might leave a warm cup of broth on the night table. Many times, he just sat and rubbed her back before he left a glass of water there in case she woke up thirsty in the night.

Patrice contended somebody didn’t have to keep a meticulous house to be a whole woman. Theirs wasn’t actually a sty, maybe just more “lived-in” than others who hired a weekly cleaner. Having her in-laws look down their noses at her about it didn’t set well either. So what if dust crusted a few ceiling fan blades and little cat-hair tumbleweeds wound in behind the t.v. cabinet?

Priorities changed, and the couple no longer joined everyone for holiday dinners and birthdays. “I don’t appreciate their condescension, James. They think you’re Ethan Frome or something, I swear!” He felt for her and did as much as possible to ease her worry and suffering. Daily life became a shared effort in their home, as it should be anywhere, in Patrice’s opinion. Why shouldn’t everyone play a part?

Family members weren’t as vocal about Patrice’s taciturn inclination once she went into hospice care.

“She woulda liked to see you and the kids a little more while she was living. ‘Specially since she thought so much of little Annie.” James rubbed the brown curls on his niece’s head.

“At least the day turned out nice for her service, though” he said leaving the graveside. Gravel crunched under his dress shoes and covered the siblings’ awkward silence on their way to separate cars. His sister’s furrowed brow hinted at remorse. He thought to himself, “Wouldn’t Patrice have snickered at that?”

James drove home in dread of a floor that needed swept and dirty dishes that awaited him there. Those things and a pile of unpaid bills on the table in an otherwise empty kitchen.

Our Write Side – Two Word Tuesday

(photo courtesy Old White Truck)

 

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Crossed Signals

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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. Then 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 toward the horizon when we got there and 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 onto the porch, and the screen door creaked so loud I thought it might fall off the hinges 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. Scuff marks made me think a Great Dane or similar monstrosity might charge out of a backroom. “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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Unreliable Witness

internet-archive-book-imagesThat shabby little house sat back off the road behind trees limbs so dense they hid 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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Reunited

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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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