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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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Dying Embers

Part two of Reunion series: continued from previous post – The Past Catches Up

punch

The doors opened onto a festive ballroom full of balloons, streamers, and white strings of light that ensconced friends from what seemed like a previous lifetime. A large paper banner reading, “Welcome Class of 1996” spanned the stage above a rock-n-roll cover band. Classmates gathered in small clusters, much like cliques in a long-ago lunchroom.

Listeners nodded at talking heads across from them, plastic smiles plastered on faces pretending to be happier and more successful than their lives actually made them. Spouses stood slumped-shouldered at being forced to attend a party among strangers and people they may not otherwise associate with in public. Some looked up every few minutes to affect interest.

She ripped an adhesive name badge from its paper backing and moved into the space with the purpose of mingling. It’s not like the old days when I had to find my pack. I can talk to anyone I want here, she told herself. Spanning the room, she questioned herself, But who would that be? A few familiar faces made eye contact and grinned subtle acknowledgement, yet she wanted to get a lay of the land before approaching anyone in particular.

An exceptionally tall woman wearing an embroidered sweater vest approached to ask, “Jennifer, Jennifer Stockton? Is that you?” She searched her memory to decipher who the seemingly ancient woman could possibly be but found no answer lurking in her grey matter. How could I possibly have graduated with someone so old? Jennifer pondered.

“Hi,” she began and offered a hand to greet the woman but lost both arms to her bear-hug grip instead. “What’s with this shaking business? Come here, you!” she giggled, explosively invading her personal space with gangly limbs encircling her body. Her height towered above Jennifer so that her face smashed into one of the rose appliques on the pilled cotton sweater.

“Come on over and meet my husband,” the lady urged. “He’s over here eating, of course, just like always.” For the life of her, Jennifer couldn’t place her new-old friend’s name but followed obediently to the food table. An incessant monologue ensued, complete with career explanations and offspring descriptions. Jennifer thought the woman would prattle on forever, but she heard none of it.

Instead, her eyes locked on him from across the buffet. His visage was unmistakable regardless of the balding pate and sallow complexion. How could a person so previously handsome become so pasty? Maybe it was years of heavy drinking.

Matt looked bored. He stared into the pink concoction in his clear plastic punch cup, and a woman next to him yammered on at the couple standing next to them. Matt scanned the room until his gaze caught her own, but his dour countenance indicated no hint of recognition. Jennifer thought, How can he not know who I am?

The guy was and always would be a wannabe. He pretended to be important, almost an attempt to make others think he was as special as he found himself to be. He was unique alright … just like everyone else. Matt was a fraud and she knew it. He knew she knew it, although he tried to pretend he didn’t. Even back in school.

Yet her fondness for him stayed with her over the years regardless of it not being reciprocated. She felt an aching in the space behind her heart, that orange glowing space that so wanted to be filled.

Their eyes remained locked until his expression turned to one of surprised recognition.

Jennifer’s brow furrowed in disappointment at the delayed reaction. Why wouldn’t he remember me? She tried to concentrate on what Sweater Vest was saying, but she struggled to feign interest. Catching Matt’s approach out of the corner of her eye flustered her even more. She stared at Sweater Vest, nodding, faking a laugh. Anything to make Matt know he didn’t deserve her attention.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. Matt beckoned, “Jennifer, is that you?” Turning to face him, she acted shocked to see him. “Hello there, Matt,” she crooned and plastered a toothy grin across her face.

Jerking his head backward, he wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Oh, my God. Are you drunk? You smell like booze.” Jennifer felt mortified.

Studio30

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – prattle

(photo: the drink nation)

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Someone to Watch Over Her

squirrel

“I don’t want to see you ever darken this door again,” her father shouted at Delilah as she stood dazed in the front yard, dead grass crunching under her footsteps in the autumn chill. He apparently didn’t care if the whole neighborhood heard their family row.

She stooped to pick up all the clothing she could carry, a couple t-shirts, a jacket, and two pairs of jeans that wouldn’t fit her much longer. Her mother must have at least put together the overnight bag beside the front door that held her makeup bag and some underwear. For that, the 16-year old was grateful. The girl stuffed everything she could fit inside the bag and sunk down to her knees on the lawn, not knowing where to go.

Her dad glared at her with disdain and said, “No daughter of mine is going to get knocked up and expect to come live back here. Go back to that boy who done got ya in trouble!” The glass shook when he violently slammed the door to finalize his point.

Delilah looked up from her spot on the ground, searched the sky to beg God’s help in deciding what to do, and spied the tiny brown ceramic squirrels perched on the roof’s eave. Her dad had affixed the puffy-tailed mother and baby rodents there, and she always feared they’d fall down in a strong wind and break. Instead, they now stared accusingly down at her.

A crow in a tree behind the girl squawked its own disapproval at the scene. Delilah had known no other home than the dingy single-story structure before her. A bevy of children existed within those walls. Too many for their parents to control.

Delilah thought back to the halcyon of growing up there with her sisters, playing outside with Barbies, and using cardboard for dollhouses and tissue boxes for little beds. They used any scrap of fabric salvaged from Mom’s sewing basket as a makeshift outfit or blanket, resourceful as they were with few toys. She reminisced over good times they experienced as innocent kids.

She remembered her tea parties with discarded cups and chipped saucers begged for before those wares went to the garbage. Pinkies raised, the girls sat in the garden with the squirrel duo envying the gathering from atop the house. The sisters sipped water while wearing old hats, straw ones with holes or a brother’s ball cap to portray the only man interested in attending such an affair, pretending their soiree included canapes and creamy petit fours.

The brothers bothered them little if roaming the neighborhood or playing stickball in the street. Harassment occurred in the dark of night with Mother unaware. Three sisters shared a single bed, but Norman would slip his hand up beneath the covers without waking up Frannie, Delilah’s older sister. She’d never have let Norman bother Delilah like that had she known.

Delilah learned to distrust Norman and other boys like him. He threatened to hurt their youngest sister if she told, so Delilah lived silently with the abuse to keep the little one safe from him. Her father never suspected a thing. He didn’t realize what Norman did to her when their parents weren’t home.

Her dad didn’t know much of anything, because he never paid any attention. All the girls begged for his affection but only got it on Christmas morning with a slight hug, a peck on the cheek and the slightest smile the man could muster at them. Delilah often wondered why he even wanted to have kids at all if he could only stand to be around the boys.

Those boys were hardly ever disciplined. He didn’t keep Norman from hurting her. And now he wondered why she gone to her boyfriend for love and attention?

“You never cease to amaze me, Daddy,” Delilah muttered defeatedly even though he didn’t hear her. He’d gone back to his television and turned up the volume to shut out the world and signify to any nosey neighbors that the show was over.

She had no other choice but to move on and hoped her friend Jenny’s mother would allow her to stay at their house for awhile. Her boyfriend’s parents were against them dating, much less her expecting his baby. They would freak when they found out, so she didn’t dare ask for hospitality there.

Delilah searched the ground around her to see if anything else she owned was scattered about it, discarded like so much trash, and found a rock within arm’s reach. She picked it up and chucked it toward the Mother squirrel on the edge of the roof. “I hope you fall,” she told it. She sobbed into her sleeve and thought, “You should’ve noticed, Mother. You should’ve seen.”

*Click the link above to read previous installments in Delilah’s Dilemma.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – halcyon Studio30

“What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life

in our bodies, we are determined to rush

to see the sun the other way around?”

Elizabeth Bishop

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Wavering Doubt

hands

Tricia accepted Kevin’s marriage proposal not long after college graduation. Having known each other since freshman year convinced her of their union’s likelihood to succeed. She grew up an only child, and Kevin had five siblings, so the couple had a great basis of comparison to decide they wanted a child to make their family feel more complete. Set on starting a family right away, they tried to conceive for two years before ever considering an adoption.

Breathless from his rush home from work to deliver the news, Kevin told his wife, “You’re never going to believe this, Tricia. My co-worker friend and I were talking about the possibility of a private adoption. He knows someone whose son got a girl pregnant, and they’re going to give up the baby.”

Skepticism usually got the best of her. “Slow down, Kevin,” Tricia replied. “Are you talking about us – like we could get their baby?”

He continued the story with great aplomb. “Now, keep an open mind here. The boys’ parents don’t want their son forced into a marriage so young. They want him to go to college. I think it sounds like the perfect opportunity for us, and they seem like great people.” After months of speaking with agencies, Kevin hoped to make the transaction as simple and painless as possible. He tried his best to assure his wife of the deal’s simplicity.

Tricia was dubious and eyed him suspiciously. “So, what? We just call our lawyer and have some papers drawn up like we’re buying a new car? If something sounds too good to be true, Kevin, it usually is.”

Shaking his head vehemently and clasping her hands in his, Kevin replied soothingly, knowing the key concepts to mention in order to control any conversation with his wife. “It will be practically effortless, and I’ll take care of everything,” he said. “Just wait and see. All you have to do is shop for a crib and finish preparing the nursery.

His condescension unnerved Tricia, but she realized how Kevin keeping matters under his control was important to him. Otherwise, Tricia’s attitude was badly canted against his hints at superiority. They’d lived together long enough to figure out her husband’s mind games. Still, she acquiesced, “We can at least discuss it with our lawyer.”

A quick six weeks later they signed adoption paperwork and met a social worker at the hospital where little Molly was born. Tricia worried so long that something would inevitably go wrong, and now they were set to take home a newborn. The immediate onset of motherhood overwhelmed her, as most couples wait months to finalize such details, but she also felt some relief when they received their daughter.

A fine blond fuzz covered her perfect little head, and the baby’s tiny finger and toenails were so delicate. One look in those deep blue eyes and Tricia fell in love immediately. “I can’t imagine you belonging to anyone but me,” she told the sleeping infant tightly clenched in her arms.

Tricia suffered the girl’s young lifespan in fear of Molly finding out her birth mother’s identity. What if Molly found out who she was and wanted to be with her instead of Tricia and Kevin? A paranoid fear overwhelmed her at times.

She worried that the woman hadn’t wanted to give her up in the first place and would stop at nothing to get her daughter back. That’s how she imagined herself feeling if the situation was reversed.Tricia was afraid Molly’s “real mom” would someday find the girl and brainwash her into leaving them, disappearing with her into oblivion, and she could barely stand the notion of losing Molly.

Kevin found Tricia crying at times, a sickly pallor to her face from not eating for days, she worked herself up into such a frenzy. “Tricia, honey,” he begged her, “you have to tell me what’s the matter. How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?”

She sobbed, “You just don’t understand. I have no assurance.” She didn’t trust him with her feelings and never shared those fears. Years went by with her wondering about Molly’s maternal origins, agonizing over whether that woman would sneak back into Molly’s life and steal her affection.

Only Kevin knew the reality. His co-worker hadn’t put him in touch with an adoptive family but had sealed the deal himself. The man he contacted, in truth, was Molly’s own grandfather. His son got the young woman in trouble and meant to simply fix the problem for him. The boy’s mother forced her husband and son to make the issue go away, as their precious reputation in the community mattered more to her than the child’s well-being. Kevin and Tricia conveniently agreed to letting legal counsel make quiet arrangements.

Kevin lied to Tricia by omission of that pertinent information, though. Her suspicion of the details was indefinite but not unfounded. It just all happened too easily.

Now, all these years later, a late-night greeting at her adult daughter’s door unveiled the truth about the woman who actually bore Molly — a down-on-her-luck teenager who let her boyfriend and his parents talk her into forfeiting her illegitimate baby. In turn, the act changed her daughter’s destiny.

“I thought I didn’t care to know about my real mother,” Molly pondered, “but now Byron’s revelations have piqued my curiosity. What drove Delilah to do what she did? Why couldn’t she care for me?”

Even though she’d never tell her adoptive mother what she was about to do, Molly bit her lip and slowly opened the desk drawer where she’d stored Byron’s telephone number.


(Click the “late-night greeting” link above to read the previous installment in Delilah’s Dilemma)

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – brainwash  Studio30

image: T. Pierce via Flickr

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Cupid’s Revenge

Paired-Wedding-Bells-with-Rose-Detail---Close-Up

“Trust me, you’ll think he’s great,” her friend said convincingly. A mutual acquaintance set Delilah up on a date with Franklin, citing the two had a lot in commons. She claimed their senses of humor were comparable, but the woman knew they were both lonesome. The friend didn’t mention Franklin’s past, his short jail stint, as she knew him only as her husband’s co-worker and found that detail irrelevant in light of their situations.

Delilah didn’t realize that Franklin had gone off the deep end, as they say, after his father’s sudden death. He took it hard when his patriarch developed an intense infection from a Locust thorn that gouged him while clearing a fence row. The man went septic, died soon afterward, and his son spent months questioning the fairness of life but didn’t find the answer in the bottom of a whiskey bottle where he searched for it.

He felt the world conspired against him and fought back in a booze-addled rage until the day he awoke on the floor, luckily face down in his own vomit instead of on his back lethally ingesting it. Turning his life around led him to a new job, and in turn, meant his co-worker’s wife introduced him to such a wonderful woman.

Delilah hadn’t seen that side of him and never knew he was quite the rabble-rouser in his day. “The past belongs in the past, honey,” he told her when their relationship grew serious.

She said, “I just wanna know all about the man I’m gonna marry, Franklin.” Testing the waters, she hoped to find out if he’d truly accept her. The truth was, she hid secrets from her own life she hoped to keep from her fiancé, the baby she’d given up for adoption as a teenager, things she’d done for money in desperation.

Their wedding day arrived with neither one the wiser. Franklin’s co-worker was his best man, and the co-worker’s wife who had introduced the couple served as Delilah’s attendant. The two beamed with happiness and congratulated themselves on their successful match-making skills.

“I’ve waited my whole life for this day,” the expectant bride whispered in his ear upon when she stepped beside him and slipped her hand through his crooked elbow at the altar.

They’d scrimped and saved enough money for a wonderful honeymoon in a tropical paradise and left the wedding ceremony in a heated rush for the airport. Franklin, lost in his newly-wedded bliss, sped down the Interstate in attempt to catch their flight. His euphoric state became a miasma of emotion when he saw the trooper’s flashing lights in the rear-view mirror.

“Oh, no … Franklin, it’s all right,” Delilah coaxed, trying to settle a rising temper she’d never seen in him before. He pounded his fists on the steering wheel at the officer’s approach, a crimson complexion clashing with his beige linen wedding suit. His new wife tried stroking Franklin’s shoulder to calm him but recoiled when he struck out at her in reflex. Blood splashed across her lapel as her lip split, and she shrieked in shock and pain.

Everything else happened too quickly for her to accurately recall later. An outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court after Franklin’s last arrest meant was soon revealed when his license ran through the law enforcement database. Delilah never knew about the snub-nose pistol her husband had stashed under the front seat and was horrified when he brandished it at the command to step out of the car and put his hands behind his back.

“I love you, darlin’, and I’m truly sorry,” Franklin told her before rolling out of the driver’s door and firing shots at the officer. His past finally caught up with him, but he wouldn’t let the law steal his happiness.

The most joyous day of Delilah’s life simultaneously became the most tragic.

***

Studio30Studio 30+ prompt – rabble-rouser

(image: bridalguide.com)

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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.

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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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Back-to-school Blues

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Bright magenta peonies with a tall sprig of ornamental grass sprouting from their center graced the corner of their neighbor’s lawn. Such a lush grouping never hinted a seasonal onslaught loomed so close in the distance. The assortment would dry and wither as autumn sucked away the nutrients supplying that color.

Cleve followed his big brother’s school bus all the way down the street as it passed the flora and left their neighborhood. He hated to see summer end and his older brother go back to school. His legs couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with the vehicle, as it turned the corner and accelerated down the block. Marvin turned to wave through the back window.

The kid watched the bus fade into the distance and began to lose his balance from the sobs that began to rack his slim shoulders, their freckles barely starting to fade. Cleve put a bare foot down on the pavement before he wrecked and tumbled to the street. A crash of the aluminum frame joined the sound of Cleve’s crying as the bike fell to the ground. He lost himself to sadness and sat down heavily. Still wearing his thin summer pajamas, he shuddered in the chilled morning air.

Recent memories flashed through his young mind as he longed to be back at the swimming pool playing Marco Polo. Lakeshore rocks under his bottom while his fished with his brother felt better than the smooth concrete beneath him now. Sweltering games at the baseball diamond where Marvin made a double play only a few weeks ago differed greatly from the cooler temperatures already descending each evening. It all ended so quickly, and now the boy sat on the damp pavement of their quiet street with only a few birds trilling from treetops.

Cleve resented their cheerful music. “Shush,” he muttered half-heartedly.

He looked up from where he’d crumpled and saw his mother strolling up the block toward him, having watched her youngest son follow the yellow bus Marvin climbed aboard minutes prior. Kleenex appeared from her right pocket and a chocolate Pop-Tart from the other as she reached him. The boy never realized his mother’s power to produce a magical elixir when the situation called for it, but its soothing effect was not lost on him.

“Mom, I don’t want Marvin to be in second grade,” he told her and grabbed the woman around her calves, tears coming in a new torrent. “And I never want to go to school either – it’s stupid,” he declared. “I want to stay with you.”

She looked down into the well of his brown eyes and shook her head in pity, not wanting to quibble the details requiring this little one to join his brother on that bus next year. Her heart breaking for her son and with a sorrow she knew all too well herself, she replied, “I know, honey. I’ll keep you at home with me as long as I can.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quibble

Studio30(photo: Eric E. Johnson via Flickr)

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Taking a Shot

pool“That fella ought to know the law. He is the Sheriff, after all,” Jamie said. They’d been given carte blanche to drive to the next bar, even though the authority figure in question knew how much they’d had to drink. They’d even confessed to it. The hour was late, and they’d gotten plenty liquored-up already, but the Sheriff himself had just practically given Odell and Jamie an engraved invitation to keep the party going.

Everyone knew Jamie as The Iceman, a nickname he’d earned with his occupation, and nobody in town called him anything but The Iceman. Only a few people paid much attention to the poor Schmo — particularly those who ran low on stock at their convenience store, restaurant or bar. He was, in fact, quite popular at the bar. Plenty of room temperature Jack-n-Coke if it weren’t for Jamie.

The Iceman became Odell’s hero. He told anyone who’d listen what a great guy he found his buddy Jamie to be. The night Odell came to idolize Jamie, he’d watched Odell and a young woman play one another in pool for over an hour.

Odell noticed her when she ran the table earlier in the evening. Her name was Cami, but Jamie didn’t know if that was a moniker for the skimpy tank top she wore or her actual name. Jamie had a daughter about her age who tended bar down at the Salty Dog, or Jamie would never have recognized the word as a piece of clothing.

Cami was a good pool player and beat all her friends, but they grew aggravated with her increasingly obnoxious behavior the drunker the woman became and proportionately annoyed with Odell’s ogling their bodies as each one reached over the billiard table to take aim at the cue ball. In her inebriation, Odell’s final partner didn’t seem to mind and almost seemed to welcome his attention.

“Nice bank shot, honey,” he told her. Wearing sunglasses inside the dark bar obscured Odell’s glance up and down her young torso and limbs, lingering long on her breasts and much longer on her ass when she stretched across the felt to aim at a particularly difficult long shot. She offered him an old-fashioned curtsy and a tip of her straw cowgirl hat, one spaghetti strap dipping down over her shoulder as she did. Odell about shot his wad right then and there.

Jamie watched the pair from the opposite side of the Budweiser Clydesdales on an oblong tableau lamp dimly lighting the smoky room, in disbelief someone like her hadn’t yet slapped Odell, and hoped the man wouldn’t make a fool of himself. He overhead Odell extend an invitation to take Cami down to the Salty Dog where a band played and they could dance some more.

Long story short, the woman’s friends broke the girlfriend code of “leave no woman behind” and left her at bar. All the cajoling in the world couldn’t get her to go with all the ill-fated attention she was getting at eight ball. Odell offered her a ride home, which she obliviously accepted after only having casually been acquainted with the man a couple hours.

Light spilled in a circle under the street light of the town’s lone intersection with Odell’s old Chevy Luv pickup rattling at idle in its illumination. Cami, long gone, must’ve set off for on foot when she couldn’t get Odell to come to at the wheel. He sat slumped in the driver’s seat when Jamie drove up and found him. He’d have lain there for posterity, sunglasses askew, if The Iceman hadn’t happened along the road. Even though the Sheriff claimed the night was a free-for-all after the street dance let out, he’d have surely hauled Odell down to County if he’d spied the truck instead of Jamie.

“You sure are the best,” Odell told him after Jamie parked his vehicle and drove Odell on home. “I love you, man,” he said emphatically, his voice slurring and head bobbing before it careened to rest on the roll bar of The Iceman’s little side-by-side. He’d driven all the ice to the dance at the beginning of the evening but never imagined he’d deliver a person to his door later on that night.

Jamie shook his head hoping that girl Cami made it back to her friends. Odell’s antics never ceased to surprise him. At least this time Odell never made it down to the Salty Dog, a relief to Jamie. His daughter was safe from Odell’s lecherous looks and the Sheriff’s wife wouldn’t have to watch out for him when she got done playing her set. She wouldn’t have to call her husband on Odell this time and have him sleep it off overnight in jail … again.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – nickname            (photo courtesy: Mary Dobbs)

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Girl Guides Gone

butterfly Their absentmindedness had gotten them into “quite a pickle,” as Blythe’s grandmother was wont to say. Realizing their folly, the girls began to shout for the rest of the group when they noticed no one else about. A search for the elusive blue butterfly the pair spied took them on a side jaunt with no wooden cross in sight to mark a foot path. Usually quite conscientious on a journey such as this one, the girls had ventured off trail and into an unfamiliar territory despite their leader’s warnings against doing so.

Troop Troubadour was a newly-organized group of Girl Guides and only meant to take a day trip exploring nature. Ten-year old Blythe and her compatriot, Molly, ended up in an Amber Alert bulletin and the subjects of a county-wide search by that evening.

A dense stand of forest encompassed the girls and gave them a total sense of loss. Twenty minutes prior the two wandered along without a care in the world before the thick cover of trees encircled them with impending doom. Blythe had first spotted the mariposa and goaded her friend to follow as they tried to identify it for badge points, entomology being the latest project.

Her gaze once straight ahead in her quest, she stopped to look backward toward their origin and pondered aloud, “Hey, where’d everybody go? Before they knew it, the plucky pair had trampled into unknown territory.

Gigantic leaves filtered sunlight  overhead into sparse illumination that grew dimmer as minutes ticked by and turned into hours. Turning around to double-back proved fruitless and side treks confused them even more than when they began. Not to be discouraged, though, they followed their troop’s motto and “Ventured on to their daring destination.”

Despite imminent darkness, growing hunger and mosquitos nipping at flesh, insect repellent long since divested of its effectiveness, they sipped on water bottles as a sole source of energy. Molly spoke, if not in true desire, at least to hear her own voice instead of the sounds of the oncoming night. “I wish we’d thought to bring t.p.” They tramped onward, hand-in-hand, intent to find a way out of the trees.

Blythe reached across her friend’s chest and stopped her in her tracks, much like her mother did when suddenly braking the car. She asked, “Do you hear that?” A familiar sound of trickling water drew the girls’ attention and gave them hope of finding something familiar.

They wouldn’t be hopelessly lost in the woods if they could find the stream, babbling brook, or whatever the source of the running water they heard. “I think we should find it and get the heck outta here,” Molly said.

Several hundred yards in front of them, the tall Chinquapins began to part. Picking up the pace, the girls started toward the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It was as if the moon waited where the path had seemingly opened up for them. A small, fast-moving river ran along a gravel bar not far from the woods’ end, and a filling of sweet relief washed over them both.

N. Tonelli

“Look at the bank over there, Blythe,” Molly exclaimed. They’d reached the water via sound and smell, not by sight, and discovered a cairn along its edge. “I’ve read about these rock pilings in my badge book,” she explained. The Girl Guides’ credo to “leave no trace behind” in the wilderness led the youngsters to know the stack of stones was built by people … intruders, imposters on that water, no matter the negative label naysayers gave them … and not of natural origin.

There the two waited until searchers found them in a few hours huddled together by the rock tower, only a slight chill in the night air bringing any discomfort. A song missing from her lips and usual happy demeanor, Molly burst into tears when discovered wrapped in the arms of her consoling friend.

The author of a previous article in the town’s newspaper redacted an original premise about adverse effects of constructing man-made structures in parks and natural areas. With citing several credible sources, including wildlife experts and park administrators, she found no other notable worth in building rock structures beyond official marking of trails. Blythe and Molly found the purpose that particular stack of river stones served much more than simply beauty.

Troop Troubadour and their leader greeted Blythe and Molly, elated, at the ranger station. The girls materialized from the moonlight to bathe at home that night, pull ticks from around their sock cuffs, and plaster more itch cream on their arms and legs than they’d like, but remained fairly unscathed. A bit of scratching such a small price to pay.

In the case of the missing Girl Guides, the anonymous outdoor enthusiasts who balanced those stones became the families’ unknown heroes. The newspaper writer quoted Blythe’s grandmother as stating, “Whoever defied the rules of park administration, if not Isaac Newton’s theory, saved Blythe and Molly as far as I’m concerned. They’d wandered even further off the beaten path into certain danger had it not been for that little stack of grandeur.” A smiling trio stood next to the artistic piece in a picture accompanying the write-up – and even changed the author’s mind a bit.

Studio 30+ prompt – absentmindedness

(photo: N. Tonelli on Flickr)Studio30

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