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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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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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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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And So It Begins

diving-board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Two Word Tuesday writing prompt – vociferous or loudmouthed

image: Markus Spiske via Flickr

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Life Primer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – copse s30p

 

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Reunited

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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

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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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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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The Past Catches Up

Dodgeball_Throw

She hated it when P.E. class became co-ed in their freshman year, even if they just played dodgeball. The guys always waited until the teacher wasn’t looking to throw the dimpled red ball as hard as possible to hit the girls. They aimed at either the bum or the boobs. Every time.

Mr. Ray Monroe once told her, “Pay no mind to them boys. If they pick on ya, that means they like ya.” She could never fathom how abuse equaled fondness. Mr. Monroe turned his head from that business. He probably threw things at girls when he was young, too.

The thought of their high school reunion being just a week away put her in a funk. Why put herself through such misery to see those same guys again? The people she wanted to stay in touch with were still her friends, and the others didn’t matter.

Her hometown hadn’t changed at all, and she doubted the people had either. Many stayed there after graduation, working mundane jobs to pay the bills. Survival would be difficult without an elixir to pass time, so the tavern earned a lot of that take-home pay. That’s how she imagined Matt’s life of subsistence to be unless things had drastically changed for him.

He’d be at the reunion. No way to avoid seeing him. His wavy red hair and deep, hearty laugh haunted her dreams. That wry smile. A repetitive invitation to reunite. Awakening brought back reality.

Unsure how to react at seeing him live instead of through a subconscious illusion in her sleep, she resigned herself to go anyway. Not going would otherwise feel like defeat. She took time off work to go.

She’d have to speak to him but wasn’t looking forward to it. He cared not one whit for how she felt, then or now, and his apathy left her heartbroken and despondent.

Three days passed with no sunshine, and she hated to wake in the morning to yet another rainfall battering the window. It took every ounce of mental energy to rise from bed and face the day. Want of coffee can convince anyone to at least venture from the solace of the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup. An extra-strong espresso started the morning of the reunion, and caffeine jitters got her through the day.

She put the gearshift in park upon arriving at the venue. Semi-familiar faces greeted each other with smiles at the entrance, and everyone shook hands while adhering adhesive name tags to save each other from awkward re-introductions.

“It’s time to get over this bullshit and face him. I’m not that intimidated girl in gym class any longer,” she thought and steadied her nerves. Reaching under the seat to grab the bottle and take a last long drink helped a little, too. “Here goes nothing,” she told herself and opened the car door to go inside.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – mundane

image: commons.wikimedia.orgs30p

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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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