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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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Dirty Tricks

cemetery

Gravel-road cruising while getting drunk was not her favorite weekend activity, but stopping at a church cemetery off the beaten path rated even worse. Blythe agreed to go with a friend because the duo had been invited by boys, one on whom Caroline had a crush, and his buddy didn’t want to be a third wheel.

“Caroline, you are going to owe me big time,” she whispered in the girl’s ear when the driver turned to head out of town. Cute or not, these guys seemed up to no good. Alcohol only exacerbated their fiendishness.

Dylan and Bradley laughed, as if sharing an inside joke, and practically fell out of the truck when it slid to a stop. “I’m gonna go take a piss,” the driver announced. His friend chuckled knowingly and agreed, “Yeah, I gotta go, too,” and trailed after him. The two took off at a sprint and disappeared into the darkness beyond a line of decrepit grave markers. Whatever they aimed to do, Blythe wanted no part of it.

She grabbed Caroline’s arm when she started to slide across the seat toward the door. “This is not a good idea, Caroline,” she warned, but the girl jumped out anyway. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such an old lady, Blythe.”

Caroline pulled Blythe unwillingly out of the truck and across the grass, wet with dew, and headed toward the church. Blythe’s feet became soaked and grew cold, and she began to shiver. “This place is giving me the creeps,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here. It seems disrespectful.”

“Let’s go, Blythe! We should look for the guys. See what they’re up to,” Caroline urged as they crossed the cemetery gate. She could be such an airhead when she liked someone, especially a goofball like Bradley.

Blythe replied, “No way. I don’t care where those jerks went.” She regretted her decision when she gaped out at the emptiness surrounding her and suddenly felt scared. All she could see was a mist obscuring most of the landscape. A mishmash of tombstones stood in the distance, some upright and others leaning in disrepair.

Half expecting a revenant being to emerge above the monuments, Blythe crouched down behind one to hide. Her hands shook as she peeked around its rough stone edges to see if anyone else was near. Touching the grave marker chilled her fingertips even more. “Damn you guys,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to make any noise.

The vista lay menacingly in front of her. She felt in her bones that nothing good would come of the situation, and a chill ran down her spine. She thought of an old superstition about how a shiver meant someone walked across your grave.

“Come back, Caroline,” she whispered into the blank night as loudly as she dared. Blinking back tears, she squinted her eyes tightly in disbelief at the frightening sight a hundred yards or so away from her position. The girl froze in horror.

Spectral images floated above the lowest level of fog hugging the ground. She had a hard time believing her eyes and wished she hadn’t accepted her friend’s invitation to come out. Being back at home beneath warm blankets would’ve been so much wiser.

“It isn’t real! It isn’t real!” she kept repeating to convince herself while mentally berating Caroline for talking her into coming on such a hair-brained roadtrip. She felt a breeze rush past her that gently glided across her body and rose goose-bumps on her skin.

Blythe parted her lips slightly to call out for her friend but dared not bring the wraiths’ attention her way. She could hear the boys laughter echoing from out beyond the church yard but had no idea where they could be. Caroline was nowhere to be seen either, so Blythe decided it was now or never.

She jumped up and ran back to the truck to discover the keys still in the ignition, which solidified her decision to abandon them all. She felt bad about leaving Caroline, but it was every woman for herself.

Fleeing the scene as quickly as she could, Blythe glanced into the rearview mirror. She felt only slight remorse at seeing either Dylan or Bradley, but not knowing which one, running down the gravel road after the truck. His arms pin wheeled in the air as if grasping for help. Although slightly blurred by dust spun up from the tires, several wavering figures appeared to be following closely behind the boy.

“Sucks to be you,” Blythe groaned. She stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.

 

– photo: Garrett Gabriel via Flickr

s30p*writing prompt – revenant

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A Representative Fissure

2253163393_b73f8c5457_o.jpgIt can take a lifetime to figure out what makes another person tick. Even someone you’ve known a since childhood. Despite the quirky persona, in spite of the long relationship, even though you’ve always felt a fondness for him. You never expected such from a friend. Especially not a person from your same parish, who grew up on the same block.

We all know the dude, the one whose consternation makes him stick out like a semi-conspicuous sore, if not arthritic, thumb. He’s camouflaged under an image, but getting to know him better sometimes shows the inner workings of his mind and an inconsistent attitude about humanity. He’s the guy from Sunday school class, the one who still goes to Bible study, the good ol’ guy. But he can still surprise me.

We take a road trip now and then. Once he offered, “You know I’m glad this term is finally almost over. It’s about time to ‘Make America Great Again.’ You know, like they say.”

“Who’s they?” I ask him, shaking my head in dismay.

“Oh, you know what I mean. New blood. Somebody in office more like you and me, brother,” he replies.

The furrow of my brow and head waggling back and forth surely affirms my disagreement. Just in case he doesn’t get it, I tell him, “Not me. I like the guy there just fine. Personally, I think this country is already great.”

Our paths went in different directions in adulthood, but he’s not a complete rube. We’ve known each other forever and agree on some matters but other times not so much. My friend must think I concur on the subject. He says, “We need a good, God-fearing man in there, I tell ya. You get me, right?”

I guffaw. “We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one, buddy.” The interior of the car becomes awkwardly silent at that point.

Gallivanting down the Interstate, I turn away from the conversation at that particularly cringe-worthy moment and take in the leafless branches of spindly trees along the road. They reach up to pull the milky sun out from behind blurry clouds in what Johnny Cash must’ve surely meant by an “atomic sky.” My thoughts get mixed there among the haze, my mind grasping to forget the bromide from the passenger seat.

The granular landscape doesn’t save my senses from the rant’s residue.

I don’t want to be all judgy and pigeon hole my old friend as a total mossback. It’s hard not to when times like this reveal exactly how far apart our worldviews are, how fundamentally different we’ve become. I’m sure he senses the divide between us widening as much as I do.

As we reach our final destination the air between us yet hangs ominously heavy and still. He asks, “We on for dinner after church on Sunday?” I shrug. “Sure, man. See you then.”

s30p

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quirky

Image: Natalie via Flickr

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Fresh Wounds

IMG_0923.JPGAn azure sky promised a blistering hot day as the first canoe broke the water’s surface that morning. The women knew the temperature and humidity would be soothed by the icy-cold river and rushed to get their float underway – 15 miles being the goal for the day.

“Let’s get this show on the road, ladies. I’ve got a cooler full of beer to drink,” Casey belted out, always ready to pop that first tab. “I lost my watch, but it’s happy hour somewhere,” she said. Used to her brand of merriment, the others laughed and joined in her toast with drinks raised in the air.

They got together for such adventures as often as possible, maybe from some strongly-held friendships over the years since high school, or perhaps simply from a collective longing to rekindle the nostalgia of their shared past. Whatever the impetus, they enjoyed escaping the responsibilities of everyday life, and for a few short days other adult commitments be damned.

All fairly adept at navigating either a canoe or a kayak, the group went at the oars with great vigor and followed the current between deep green deciduous forest lining both banks. Most had some background in outdoor expeditions from growing up in the Midwest region. The beauty of such a place sometimes still got taken for granted, but plush reminders surrounded them on either side of the waterway. Rushing rivulets beneath their boats replaced the concrete confines of work and traffic, drudgery of lawn-mowing and trips to the grocery store, and the monotony of laundry and checking kids’ homework. Laughter became an elixir for any lingering worries about life.

“There’s no way you girls are gonna finish off that mess,” the van driver from the outfitter company warned them at drop-off. Their unanimous laughter scoffed his prediction, as drinking on the river practically became an art in their youth, and their big jug of Kansas City Iced Water already  began to diminish by lunchtime. Denise commented how much lighter the container already felt when she lugged it onto a sandbar where they pulled off to eat.

Smaller coolers of sandwiches sat on rocky nest of the riverbank — a tapestry of gray, tan, some darker brown, and even pink quartzite among the riprap there keeping the shores from eroding away. Schools of tiny minnows nibbled at toes left dangling in the water as the women ate potato chips crushed in the dry bags stowed aboard. Kay threw the small fish some crumbs to keep them from nipping at her feet.

She tossed a few fragments downstream hoping to draw them away when an airborne scuffle there caught her eye. “Whoa .. you guys look at that,” she exclaimed, pointing to the opposite bank.

Their attention shifted to two birds that swooped at each other in a swift but embittered battle, with a long-necked heron getting a beating along the way. A smaller bird resembling a hawk yanked at the other’s wing with its sharp beak, tearing away feathers in the process. The larger one’s long neck stretched away in a desperate attempt to escape the slighter but mighty predator.

Their flying fight ended with the more aggressive bird, an osprey, taking to the air after when the rowdy group of women whooped in shock with varying shrieks loud enough to scare off any animal. The heron’s right wing flapped clumsily to flee them as well, although it only scuffed the water’s surface, fresh wounds impairing the ability to flee any other potential danger.

Its injuries kept the majestic bird from escaping the group of boaters, or perhaps the animal instinctively sensed no humans there meant it harm. Marie clambered toward the bird, thinking something could be done for it, practically capsizing her canoe. The woman then realized her own helplessness. She lost a whole beer in the process, and the half-submerged can sailed past the heron’s resting place beside a water-logged walnut bough. What did she know about helping an injured wild bird?

A bale of turtles sat sunning themselves on the downed tree limb but scattered off in different directions when the heron settled near them. Kay said, “What a unique-looking bird. It’s beautiful in it own way, huh?” The women sat ruminating on the notion until she commented, “Surely there’s something we can do for it.”

“You better leave that thing alone,” Casey warned. “It’s hurt and scared … and might hurt you, too.” The others either sat atop beverage coolers or rested on their own rocky nests by the water’s edge, the bunch studying the heron, a sudden pall cast over their otherwise exuberant day.

Marie made her way back to the others on the shore and joined them to reverently study the silently suffering bird. They watched as it hid behind the big limb, wings ruffling, almost trying to shake off its wounds. Kay broke the silence. “My husband hates those things. He says herons always bug him when he goes fishing. They try to steal all the fish,” she said.

Casey shook her head and countered, “Well, that’s just them doing what they do. You know — eat. Everything’s gotta eat. That’s natural.” She usually made a lot of sense even though she might drink too much on occasion.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marie. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something act so graceful under the circumstances. Can’t imagine how much pain it’s in.”

A distant shriek echoed off a cliff bank further down the river, perhaps even from that same osprey that caused the damage. Maybe it meant to remind them of its power. At the sound, the heron stretched its wings and launched itself from the water. A few of the women gasped at the sight.

“No way,” remarked Denise as a wistful smile crossed her face. “I wondered if maybe it might give up … but look!” They watched it soar off into the air, graceful regardless of the harmed appendage.

Casey popped open another beer and held it aloft. “Here’s to you, bird. Keep flyin’.”

A few jaws still agape, the group lifted their drinks in salute. A tear slid down Kay’s cheek, her being the softest-hearted of the bunch, and she swiped at it with her empty hand. “Some wild things are just too much for this world,” she whispered.

Casey grasped her around the shoulder and motioned toward the canoes. “Come on, now, girl. We’ve got beers left to drink.”

___

Studio 30+ writing prompt – aggressive Studio30

Thank you, Mary, for always reading and commenting on my writing. You will be forever missed.

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A Fine Line

She sat staring out the window with a glazed look in her eyes, a fiendish grin on her face that would champion the Cheshire cat. Some would say the girl was downright devilish. Wrongdoing never held a place in her plan, simply meeting her goal would make her happy.

“I knew I wouldn’t meet her expectations,” she told her friend. “It wasn’t about making a good impression. That could never happen.” Her friend nodded in agreement.

The police had relinquished custody to her friend. Released on her own recognizance, they said, but in truth turned her over to a more mature person who possessed no criminal record herself. The girl’s juvenile record followed her, and the past caught up with her once again. She’d never be able to repay the favors she owed her friend.

“They picked me up by the office’s back door. You know, down by the railroad tracks. Where the dumpster usually hides the view from the street. I thought I could go unnoticed there,” Rachel’s confession continued.

635565967921855514-NIGHT-POLICE-LIGHTS

Her friend acquiesced to listen in silence, almost like a priest behind a confessional screen and not a confidant across the kitchen table. The woman sipped her tea, quiet in her contemplation. She struggled to understand Rachel’s motivation for such an act.

“I thought if the doctor wouldn’t return my phone call, I would do something to make her take notice. Professionals have an obligation to their patients, right?” Her friend nodded slowly, hoping not to agitate the girl any further.

“The rock somehow broke the window. I didn’t even realize I had it in my hand,” Rachel muttered, her gaze fixed on the side yard outside the window through which she still stared. “I kind of feel bad about it, but then again I don’t.”

The slightly sinister smirk returned to Rachel’s face, but her friend wanted no part in condoning the behavior. Her previous nod shifted to a disagreeing shake from side to side. “You know you’ll be expected to pay for the damage, and you’re damn lucky to be released to my care.”

Rachel shrugged and tossed her head slightly aside. Remorse wasn’t her style.

The older woman sighed deeply, desperate to reach the girl somehow. “This self-fulfilling prophecy is getting you nowhere,” she said. “Nobody in that clinic will agree to see you now. How do you plan to find a new counselor?”

Rachel’s attention faded. Something beyond the cigarette-stained glass pulled her thoughts away from the conversation.

She vaguely remembered seeing broken glass scattered across the pavement and hearing it crunch beneath her step, but she didn’t know how it got there. After grinding the shards with the heel of her shoe, she squinted at squad car lights flashing in her eyes and wondered what they wanted. Rachel had smiled up at the officers and simply said hello.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – fiendish

(image: news10.net) Studio30

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Baggage

mirror

Lela jabbered incessantly all day long about nothing at all – just liked the sound of her own voice. Always telling people what to do, acting like she knew what’s best for everyone. Like Madame Lela, the Clairvoyant, according to her boyfriend. As much as that girl talked, a person would think fortune-telling ran in her family.

Clark got tired of it. So he left her, right out of the blue. “Bet she didn’t see that one coming,” he told a buddy. “Just this once she didn’t know everything, the cow.” He used a few other choice words, being quite the muckspout he was, not to be repeated in polite company. His friend went along with him and laughed at the crude humor at Lela’s expense.

They had each other’s back, so Clark’s group rejected Lela outright when he did. She never knew the complete truth of why Clark broke up with her, and she remained devastated for weeks — moping around the house, lighting one cigarette with the other, and binge-watching old seasons of M*A*S*H on Netflix. She went into raving histrionics when Radar walked in the O.R. to announce Henry’s plane went down over the Sea of Japan. That one always got to her.

The day came when Lela caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, though. Her reflection spoke volumes about her weakened state, and she didn’t like what it had to say. No voice was necessary for it to cudgel her already damaged ego. Red-rimmed eyes with gray half-moons shadowing beneath them stared back at her. A chocolate-induced breakout accompanied an otherwise sallow complexion, and she barely recognized the woman in the oval-shaped glass.

“That’s it,” Lela told the visage. “No more of this pity party. Hot Lips Houlihan would pine after no man.” She vowed renewal and threw away the remainders of her Reese’s stash, washed with medicated face soap, and used a little Preparation H on those puffy bags. In a few more days Lela felt ready to face the world as a new woman.

Her self-talk worked wonders, and she soon joined friends for happy hour. Relishing their camaraderie and conversation, her confidence soon returned. Lela found the companionship of people other than Clark and his friends to be exactly the positive influence she needed.

“This bunch has such interesting things to say,” she thought. “I can barely get a word in edgewise.”

Lela silently vowed to go home and cancel her Netflix subscription if the current experience foretold her impending social life. She pondered out loud, “Why didn’t I agree to go out with you all sooner?” The woman next to her winked and said, “Must have been that extra weight you had tying you down. Wasn’t his name Clark?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I just knew that was destined for a quick ending.” Lela smiled and finished her drink.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – clairvoyant

Studio30(photo:  Melissa on Flickr)

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Mending Walls

Welcome mat with walking shoes Cheryl stood in the living room doorway to her neighbor’s kitchen, shocked at what lie before her on the floor. Vexed, she asked, “What are you doing down there, Marty?”

The neighborhood women knew each other but only pretended to when it was convenient to them. Familiarity didn’t make them friends, but she regarded Marty fondly enough. She urged her, “Come on, get up from there.” Tugging on the woman’s arm didn’t goad her into standing. She remained stretched across the dirt-and-tear-streaked linoleum, limp and inconsolable.

Keeping caught up with the needs of her own children tied Cheryl down to her household most of the time, no matter how much she felt like socializing with any of the other mothers down the block. Some of the girls played Barbies together, listened to the Grease soundtrack on continual repeat, and threw dirt clods at the boys on the street. The moms, however, remained acquaintances.

Marty’s daughter crossed the street to ask for Cheryl’s help after her mother hadn’t made breakfast or lunch that day. She realized the need for help but didn’t know what to do other than summon an adult. “Do you mind to talk to my momma, ma’am? She won’t answer me when I ask her what’s wrong,” the girl told her friend’s mother. Worry hung on her face heavier than if the neighbor boys aimed to retaliate for rock-filled lumps of earth flung at them in the past.

Marty, usually a loquacious woman, sat sobbing within a jumble of words. She uttered no discernible sentences, only sniffs and grunts, and a single line of drool ran from her bottom lip to her baby’s fontanel below. The little boy scrambled to escape his mother’s steel grip, none too happy atop her lap, his diaper leaking at its stretched leg opening.

“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Cheryl prodded.

She stepped forward into the room and crouched down to grip the woman by both arms while her shoulders shook in great heaves as she cried. She couldn’t discern the baby’s weeping from his mother’s. Marty mumbled something about her house, her husband, a migraine, and lunch. The odd stream of consciousness, couched in heart-wrenching sobs, came out as a half-hearted plea for help combined with desperate complaint. The only comment Cheryl could make out about the ‘baby not letting me close my eyes’’ led her to conclude Marty lacked some much-needed sleep.

Years prior she’d suffered her own bout with postpartum depression, memories of which might never leave her mind. Doctors waved it off and offered her no relief other than a suggested night cap. She doubted their advice and competence at the same time.

“You need to go to bed, Marty,” she told her.

“Let me take the baby so you can get up.”

Handing over the sticky, stinky newborn, Marty grappled to her knees and half-crawled to the living room sofa. “That’ll work, too, I guess,” Cheryl said and turned the spindle to close the front window blinds and shut out the light. She jostled the baby on her hip to sooth his whimpering while his mother fell asleep the moment her head hit the yogurt-covered pillow. At least that’s what the dried yellow substance in its woven plaid fiber looked to be. “She must be exhausted,” Cheryl thought, “to choose that scratchy-looking perch.”

When Marty awoke hours later, she looked around a different living room. Baskets of clean and folded laundry sat by the coffee table, and she heard dishwasher running accompanied by the sound of grease popping. A wonderful aroma of toasted bread filled the air. She rubbed at her still slightly-swollen eyelids as she tread cautiously to the kitchen, afraid of what may greet her there. A vision of her 12-year old burning bacon in a skillet flashed through her mind just before she crossed the threshold.

Instead, she reveled in the surprising scene before her. The baby slumbered dreamily in his swing, and her daughter sat at the table with a library book. Cheryl glanced up from her stance in front of the stove. Her eyes widened in greeting, and she offered, “We thought grilled cheese sandwiches sounded good. I hope you don’t mind that I kind of took over in here.” Marty smiled and shook her head. “Gosh, no. How long was I asleep?”

Cheryl only shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. We were having fun.”

“Seems like he’s been sawing logs, too,” Marty laughed and sat down beside her daughter. “I must’ve looked a fright when you came in the front door.” Her eyes finally met those of her neighbor. “How can I thank you, Cheryl?” The other woman only blushed in return. “I haven’t been the best neighbor to you, Marty,” she confessed. “You’ve been under a lot of pressure and could’ve used a friend. I’m just sorry it took me this long to cross the street and offer some help.”

**

Studio 30+ prompt – loquacious Studio30

Image:  http://stockarch.com/images/objects/signs/welcome-mat-walking-shoes-4140 (Title inspired by the poem by “Robert Frost“)

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Partners in Crime

untitled (5) Trevor and Nicky became friends when they first started school. Most everyone in Titusville knew each other, but these two were best buddies since five years old. A slight little imp, Nicky hadn’t grown a whole lot since they met playing kickball on the Kindergarten playground. Trevor stood up for him any time someone picked on the little guy, so Nicky figured he owed him. No one chose Nicky when splitting up teams in gym class, but Trevor always called his name first if he was captain.

Nicky idolized the bigger boy and didn’t judge him for his family’s station in life. He didn’t care if Trevor’s clothes were dirty or his hair hadn’t been cut since summer time. None of that mattered to him. He followed Trevor’s lead and tried to kiss girls at recess as they ran screaming for a teacher’s help. Every time the ring leader ended up in the principal’s office, his mischief brought Nicky right along in tow.

Their small town had a main street running its length, a lone grocery store at the end with a single cash register just inside the front door. Mr. Walker ran the place after his father died and left it to him, but the man was old enough to be dead himself. Kids took advantage of his bad hearing and pop-bottle eyeglasses in giving themselves five-finger discounts at the store. Trevor and Nicky were no exception.

Trevor wielded a weekend supply backpack from a local charity. It sagged with canned goods to give him something to eat when he wasn’t at school, something otherwise not available to him at home. But a supper of Skettios lacked the appeal of malted chocolate balls and red hot gummies there for the taking at Mr. Walker’s store.

“It won’t hurt no one, Nicky,” he’d say. “That old guy’s rich. Don’t you see his Cadillac parked out back? He’s got money to spare.” The boy usually stole out of necessity, but he sometimes turned the process into a nonsense game to pretend his plight wasn’t so serious. If he could persuade Nicky of that being true, maybe he could convince himself.

Nicky, on the other hand, held a healthy sense of guilt and a gut full of holy roller fear. He told his friend, “My grandma knows Mr. Walker. She’ll ask the preacher to send us straight to H – E – double hockey sticks if she knows we was stealing from his store.”

Trevor’s overblown confidence grew from being dirt poor, but his desperation gave him a bravado otherwise foreign to any other kid his age. He also realized how to work his friend’s lack of self-confidence and quipped, “Come on, Nicky. Quit being such a baby.” He appointed Nicky as look-out and told him to distract Mr. Walker with his gift for babble.

Nicky asked, “Well, whaddaya want me to say to ‘em?” Big brown eyes bugged out of a disproportionate head that almost capsized his stick-thin body and mimicked the look of a bobble head doll he once got as a freebie at the AAA ball game down in Florrisant. The bolder boy told him, “Just start talkin’ – talk about the weather. That always works with the old ones.”

The thieving pair never imagined Walker might have a .22 hidden under the counter. His livelihood would be at stake if he didn’t. All the business owners in town started packing after the Skelly station out on the state highway got robbed. Nobody paid any mind to the fact $80 and a multi-pack of Skoal had been the only things stolen in the incident. “Better safe than sorry,” they all said. Mr. Walker felt the same way.

Nicky’s distraction lasted long enough to allow Trevor to make a run for the door, pockets stuffed with candy. The proprietor only saw a vague figure flying out the front with a bulging backpack flailing behind it.

The man barrelled out from behind the counter. He’d grabbed the gun from below the register and swung it out wide, knocking Nicky to the floor in the process. Walker’s poor eyesight hindered his aim. A wild shot followed no precise path and, lucky for Trevor, didn’t meet its loosely intended mark. It did, however, catch a can of vegetable soup amongst the goods in the Eastpak bag the boy pulled through the air in his flight from the store.

Nicky found his footing and made it outside the store, where he discovered his friend face forward and flat on the sidewalk with his splayed limbs marking an “X” where he lay. Two perfect holes in his backpack showed where a bullet pierced the fabric, with thick red liquid flowing where the soup trickled out from the exit. Nicky feared the worst and screamed out for his friend, “Trevor, NO!”

He didn’t know soup from blood and fell to the ground next to his best friend. The boy grabbed handfuls of bubble gum from the ground where it fell from Trevor’s pocket and chucked it forcefully back to the storefront. “No! Don’t die, Trevor!” He cried, “It wasn’t worth it.”

Trevor recovered well enough to roll over and grab Nicky. He shook the boy to bring him back to his senses. “It’s okay! I’m still here,” he assured him. “Don’t worry. I ain’t goin’ to Hell. Not yet anyway.”

Studio30 weekly writing prompt – babble (image: http://www.desktopwallpapers4.me)

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Frenemies

imagesR2TX8I3R Team sports were never my thing. They seemed to be for the goody, goody kids. The ones who studied all the time and still went to church as teenagers. Not that I was a bad kid. We just partied too much for our own good. Truthfully, it probably took more effort than I was willing to expend.

My son’s a likable little fella. When he was starting Kindergarten a couple years ago, I asked him how he thought he might go about meeting classmates on his first day. He said he would walk up to someone and propose, “Hey, you wanna be my friend? I’m a pretty good guy.” So sweet, and so naïve.

It wasn’t long before he was in full-on sports mode. He wanted to play all varieties of ball, which is fine until kids start getting hurt. Both physically and emotionally.

The concept of becoming a team was innocent enough at first. They learned the basics of the games, supposedly got schooled on sportsmanship, but also quickly fell into the dynamics of society at large — the fundamentals of not only the sport being played but how people act in groups. Groupthink. Behavior that became another lesson to learn along the way.

These boys already split off into factions that gang up on each other, pair up and pick on someone else they sense as weaker. A more sensitive boys perhaps, like my son. He tells me things some kids say that break a mom’s heart. I thought the stereotype fell on mean girls and didn’t appear until around middle school.

Some of the kids are great, and he excitedly went to a teammate’s 8th birthday party at a pool. Other teammates being there meant he felt a little less out of place with the birthday boy’s unfamiliar friends from school. I watched my boy making his way around the water, looking for a trustworthy playmate.

One of those so-called buddies didn’t act like one at the party. He pushed him up the stairs to the slide to make another boy laugh. My son told him repeatedly to stop it, but the other kid just mockingly parroted him. What a friend.

My gaze drifted in the direction of an older lady who ambled into the pool area in a terry cloth swimsuit cover-up. Her struggling gait made me doubt whether she could wind her way through all the short scrambling legs that rushed to the poles where pails showered water down on their heads. I wonder if the woman had a child she had worried about the way I do mine.

I realize kids can be crappy. My own son may act bad when I’m not looking. But this isn’t the first time that particular kid was a little shit as soon as his parents, whom I like well enough, had turned their heads. He curses, calls names. I kind of hope he’ll be shiftless and still living in their basement one day instead of going to college. Maybe not.

My immature and more uncivilized side urges me to suggest retaliation. Another part of me says situations like these will help guide his moral compass in the right direction and build my guy’s character. As a young girl, I had no coach tell me about being a good sport or give instructions on how to not let it bother me when people you think you know don’t act like you’re on the same team. I wish I could simply give my son a game plan to help him in all the gray areas. If only there was such a thing I could buy for myself so we could both learn how to come out victors in life.

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This week’s Studio 30+ writing prompt “shiftless.” (image from zoomwalls.com) Studio30

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