November 28, 2014

Continued from Thursday, November 27th…

Dinner was lovely. Dinner could not be faulted. It was a little outdoor cafe on the boardwalk. Her Mom’s boyfriend had taken them out.

Oh, yes.

They were staying with her Mom’s boyfriend. Who lived in Florida. Not that boyfriend was exactly the right term, or perhaps it was, if applied loosely. Stepfather was more appropriate really – they’d been dating since she was eleven. So stepfather in all but jewelry, really.

He was, in fact, the reason they’d gone to Florida. Let’s visit him, her Mom had said. It wasn’t a bad idea, and somehow, miraculously, they all found places to sleep in his little one-bedroom apartment.

Sharing a bed with her Grandma was not bad experience – Grandma didn’t kick. Not even a little bit.

But still, it was nice to escape the confines of the apartment for a bit – and dinner really was lovely. The food was good and the little cafe had live music – a singer crooning away at the mike, old classics – ‘These boots were made for walkin’ and ‘Besame mucho.’ Stuff she had to fight not to sing along to.

Dinner was great. Fantastic, even.

No, the trouble was the after-dinner part.

“You are not leaving this house in the dark by yourself,” her Mother said.

Sigh. She felt like a puppy. Like they thought she’d escape if they ever let her off the leash.

“Mom, I’m twenty-six. I’ll take a walk on the beach if I want to,” she said.

Jenna spoke slowly, as though she were trying to explain the concept of a beach to a very small child.

“No. You won’t. It’s dangerous out there.”

“Mom, it’s Florida,” she said. “I’ll be twenty feet from the condo. Not exactly the wilderness.”

The only response was some rather emphatic headshaking.

“What are you afraid of?” she asked. “That I’ll be snatched up and pulled out to sea by the kraken?”

“No. I was thinking more along the line of rapists, thieves and murders.”

Sigh.


******

It had been hardwon, but Jenna gave a little skip from the sidewalk as she leapt onto the sand, leaving her flip-flops behind. It was either a night-time walk on the beach or a nine o’clock bedtime – and there was no way she was going to sleep at nine.

And, quite frankly, hiding in the closet to read didn’t seem like particularly pleasant option either.

Somehow, she managed to convince her mother that it was still early – that nine o’clock was pre-rapist-and-murderer time. You know, that they didn’t come out until at least ten-thirty.

But nonetheless, she was tied to a strict half-hour deadline. If she wasn’t back in half an hour, her mother was calling the cops and sending out a SWAT team.

But it was worth it, Jenna thought, feeling the cool breeze blowing against her face and the deliciously cool, wave-washed sand under her feet.

The walk was pleasant. Every now and then, she’d turn to look at her footsteps trailing behind her in the sand, like a moonlit path from a story.

And she was, she thought, perfectly fine on her own.

The beach was empty, except for the occasional person taking their dog on a night-time walk. She would be sure to report the lack of rapists and murderers to her Mom.

She was perfectly fine by herself, she repeated. Perfectly – OWWW!!

Shit.

She’d never been stung by a jellyfish before, but judging based on the intense burning coming from the bottom of her foot, that was what had just happened.

She hopped up and down on one foot, semi-staggering on her one good leg.

Well, great.

So maybe…. walking on the beach alone at night. Maybe not the best idea. She felt tears well at the backs of her eyes. How far was she from home? Could she hobble all the way back? She wasn’t sure.

She was still weighing her options – and trying not to cry – when she crashed into another problem. Well, maybe not problem, exactly. But a walking, talking, two-legged human.

“Whoa. You ok there?”

The guy was taller than her, and when she finally got herself hopped around to face him, she looked up into a pair of concerned brown eyes…. surrounded by perfectly floppy hair.

Aw, hell.

Not that she hadn’t wanted to get Surfer Boy’s arms around her… but she hadn’t expected to be staggering drunkenly down the beach and in pain when it happened.

But help was help, right? And she only hoped he would help. She could soothe a kitchen burn like nobody’s business, but Jellyfish were whole other bucket of fish.

“I – I think I’ve stepped on a jellyfish,” she said, trying not to lean on him too hard.

“Ok,” he said. “Hang on.”

It was a good thing he was sans-surf board this time – because she didn’t think he could’ve hobbled onto the sand with her and his surf board in tow.

“Thank you,” she said, as he set her down in the sand.

She watched as he plopped his backpack onto the sand. That cute little hank of hair fell in front of his eyes as he dug through it. She did not reach out to brush it away.

He pulled something out of the bag and moved down to the water. She was only a little surprised when she felt a cool, firm hand against her ankle. She watched as he gently poured water over her foot.

“You have to use salt-water,” he said. “Fresh water might enflame the sting more.”

He reached into the backpack again and pulled out two small somethings.

She only jumped a little when she felt something scraping against the skin of her foot – a credit card.

“Relax,” he said, placing a cool hand on her ankle. “I won’t hurt you. At least not anymore than the jellyfish already has.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly, giving him a small smile. Now that the pain was mostly gone, she was just looking at him. And she hoped, when he looked back, that he didn’t see all of the grossly inappropriate thoughts running through her mind.

She watched as he scraped her foot with the credit card and then pulled the tentacles out with a handy little set of tweezers.

“Does this happen to you a lot?” she asked.

“Finding cute girls hopping around one-legged on the beach?” he asked. “No, that’s kind of a rarity. But the jellyfish sting thing – hang around on the beach long enough and it’s bound to happen.”

“I’m glad you were here,” she said. “And I’m glad you were prepared.”

“Yeah, well, me too.”

The pain was gone now. But she was still kind of regretful, as he released her ankle to sit down next to her on the sand.

“So,” he asked. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Jenna,” she told him, fighting the urge to stick out her hand like she was at an interview. Instead, she ran a palm over her long ponytail, trying, somewhat pointlessly, to smooth it down.

“I’m Chris,” he said.

The silence that hung between them wasn’t uncomfortable – it was just silence, broken by the rush of the waves, as they watched the glimmer of moonlight on the ocean.

“Am I allowed to ask you why you were staring at me on the beach earlier?”

She turned to look at him and her eyes widened in indignation.

“I was not staring,” she said.

“You totally were.”

“I was not,” she said. “That was not staring – I’m like a professional starer. When I’m staring, you’ll know it.”

He chuckled. He had, she noted, a nice laugh. And quite a nice voice.

“Well, I knew it,” he said.

“I guess I might not’ve been as subtle as I thought I was being.”

“Maybe not,” he agreed.

She smiled at him.

“I wasn’t really sure what to say,” she admitted.

“Maybe,” he said. “Next time, you should just start with hi.”

“Advanced line,” she answered. “You would’ve fallen for that?”

“I’ve fallen for worse in my time.”

“Yeah, well… Hi.”

“Hi.”

He smiled back at her.

“So what are you doing down here, anyway?” he asked.

“Is the tourist thing that obvious?”

“Blindingly so.”

She shifted her legs against the sand, marveling at the absence of pain.

“I’m just on a family vacation with my Mom and Grandma.”

“And they’re cool with you going for walks on the beach by yourself at night?”

“Not exactly.”

She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and looked at the glowing digits on the screen.

“I have to be back in exactly fifteen minutes,” she told him. “Or they call the SWAT team.”

“Bringing out the big guns, huh?”

She nodded and her smile turned sad.

“I guess I should be getting back,” she said.

With a heavy sigh, she shoved herself off of the sand and tried to stand, only stumbling a little before he managed to get up and catch her.

“Can I walk you back?” he asked, having the good grace to pretend she didn’t just fall on him.

“I’d like that,” she said, managing to stand on her own now, although he did not let go of her hand.

Fifteen minutes of walking, she thought, covers a surprising amount of conversation. She now knew that he had three sisters and a cat name Muffy – not a name of his choosing. Shelter cats come pre-owned – that was his excuse and it was a pretty good one. He now knew that she hated onions, that they were flying back home in two days and that she wanted a dog, but that her building didn’t allow pets.

She didn’t want to let go of his hand as she stepped back onto the sidewalk in front of her building. She swallowed hard, trying to gather a little courage.

He looked up at her.

“So, are you planning any more adventurous night-time walks for tomorrow night?” he asked.

“Maybe,” she answered.

“You can tell your Mom that you won’t be alone next time,” he said.

“I won’t be?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m thinking of cultivating a habit of night-time walks on the beach. I tried it once and something really good happened to me.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I’ll see you out here tomorrow?” she asked.

“I certainly hope so,” he answered.

“I’ll be out here at eight,” she said.

“Then so will I.”

He stroked his fingers gently across her knuckles and then she reluctantly pulled her hand out of his. But it was made slightly easier by the fact that she’d see him again.

“Good night,” she told him, trying very hard not skip with joy on her way into the building.

Oh yeah. This family vacation was definitely looking up.

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November 27, 2014

It wasn’t the most comfortable position in the world. As a matter of fact, the metal rod from the beach lounger was digging into her butt in a most unwelcome way. But that was kind of what you got when you sat three to a lounger.

Of course, she was sitting with her mother and grandmother, so the shoving was minimal. But perhaps these loungers weren’t meant for three.

It wasn’t as though there weren’t more of them – the beach was empty and there was a ton of stacked loungers by the boardwalk. But that would require action – you know, getting up and dragging the damn thing over the hot sand. Quite frankly, it was just easier to be uncomfortable.

And they only had one towel. And a lady would, of course, rather sit in discomfort than suffer the indignity of bare tush touching dirty public beach lounger.

She twisted around and carefully avoided knocking her Grandmother with her elbow.

“Gram, do you have enough room?” she asked. “Do you want me to scoot over a bit?”

“No, I’m fine,” Gram answered.

And she would be, right? It was, after all, her turn to lie on the thing while her daughter and granddaughter perched next to her, taking as small a corner of towel as possible.

Jenna turned her eyes back to the waves wooshing in front of her.

Ok. So it wasn’t the vacation she’d had in mind. Totally not the one she would have picked out for herself. But when her Mom suggested a family vacation, who was she to say no?

And she loved her Mother and Grandmother. Even if she did want her own lounger.

But it was the beach. And it was calm and beautiful.

Even if it was just a little too calm. Like, fall-asleep-in-the-sun-and-wake-up-scarlet calm.

And it wasn’t as though she had planned some grand adventure on her own and this had interrupted them. No. As far as plans went, this was kind of it. And those too lazy/broke to plan vacations for themselves….. well, they got stuck sharing loungers with their relatives because no one was motivated enough to go back upstairs and get another towel.

So, dutifully, Jenna let her eyes scan the waves and brought her mind back to the topic at hand, which appeared to be jellyfish and their various levels of poison-ness. Shudder.

Probably one of the top ten topics not to discuss at the beach. They were talking about something the size of a peanut, when suddenly their words faded into the background – a quiet bee-like buzz in the back of her mind, replaced by only one word: yum.

He walked across the beach and her eyes zoomed in on him, like some sort of obsessive camera lens.

And she couldn’t really find any other word sufficient to describe him. Yum. Just yum.

He was tall, with medium-dark brown hair – the perfectly floppy kind. You know,the kind that, when he’s talking to you, falls across his eyes and you just want to reach over and shove it back. The kind of hair you want to run your fingers through.

She couldn’t see his eyes, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away from his long, lean body. He was wearing a t-shirt and long blue swim shorts, but she was already imagining what he looked like without the shirt. And he was carrying a surfboard.

She hadn’t known surfing was a thing here – in this land of old people and beach front property and retirement home. But now she was really grateful that it was.

And she wasn’t disappointed as he lay the board on the ground, stripped off his shirt and lay back against the sand, stretching his arms above his head and tenting one knee over the other.

Don’t drool. Don’t drool. Don’t drool.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best mantra. But it worked for the moment.

This was, admittedly, highly unlike her. Well, not the liking part. She liked plenty. But she rarely (ok, never) got.

She didn’t hit on guys. She especially didn’t hit on random guys at the beach. And she didn’t hit on random guys on the beach in front of her Mom and Grandma.

Still, she casually got up and dusted the stray grains of sand off of her lap. Ok, maybe not-so-casually, but at least she tried for casual.

Letting her Mom and Grandma have the lounger, she decided, was the totally diplomatic thing to do. She could stand. Or walk. Or, you know, whatever.

Jenna walk-stumbled across the sand towards the water, still trying to look casual and failing. He’d settled quite a distance away, so it didn’t look like she was, well, stalking him. It just looked like she’d decided to get a closer view of the water. And that brought her closer to him, that was merely coincidental, wasn’t it?

She walked toward the water, admiring the view. Never had she been so grateful for jellyfish. They’d seen little bits of jellyfish scattered across the sand earlier that day. And if there were bits of jellyfish on the sand, you could guarantee there was a lot in the water. Which, Jenna assumed, was why surfer boy was not, in fact, surfing, but lounging casually on the beach, presumably working on his tan. Which was already pretty damn golden, by the way.

Finally, she stood close to the water, kind of kitty-corner behind him.

And now she had no fraggin’ clue what to do.

It wasn’t as though she made a regular thing of this. Hitting on someone was hard – and it was even harder to figure out how to do it in front of your Mom and Grandma without them figuring out you were doing it.

Jenna settled on some subtle (read: not subtle at all) sideways movement, stepping sideways across the sand, scuttling like a lost crab. She had inadvertantly chosen a bad hunting technique – if the prey doesn’t see you, it’s much less likely to run away. Not that he seemed likely to run away, lounging on the sand.

She took a few steps. And then a few steps more.

Jenna watched as the lifeguard stepped out of his booth and called out the guy, who sat about twenty feet away from the lifeguard station.

“Excuse me, sir, but you can’t….”

Damnit, the rest was lost in the crashing of the waves. Curses. Why couldn’t that stupid Shaun-White-wannabe of a lifeguard friggin’ enunciate?

And Jenna’s heart sank in the chest as surfer boy nodded at the lifeguards words, hopped up, casually picked up his surf board and walked down the beach.

“Stupid lifeguard. Don’t send the cute boy away.”

These words were muttered under her breath, and therefore had little effect.

But it was too late. Surf boy was gone, walking away from her.

She vaguely considered chasing after him. And there were few things worse than the weirdo sideways crab scuttle she’d done a few minutes ago. But she had a feeling that chasing a complete stranger down the beach was one of them.

She gave a resigned sigh and walked back to claim her tiny little corner of the lounger.

“Did you have a nice walk?” her mother asked.

“Yeah, Mom,” Jenna said. “Thanks.”


She vaguely considered chasing after him. And there were few things worse than the weirdo sideways crab scuttle she’d done a few minutes ago. But she had a feeling that chasing a complete stranger down the beach was one of them.

Sorry guys … It’s Thanksgiving and I’m currently being occupied by quiche. This is one I wrote a while back. Hope you like it. Will post the rest tomorrow. Also, hope it distracts you from the cold and snow just a little bit…

November 26, 2014

“This is not what I wanted,” she said, pulling a face and crossing her arms across her chest.

Her voice, shrill and annoyed, made a strange contrast to the splashing of the oars against the water and the quiet hum of tourist chatter.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “This is exactly what you wanted… A big, romantic trip together… Gondolas and moonlight.”

“Don’t tell me what I wanted,” she huffed. “I know what I wanted and this ain’t it. Where’s the romance? Gondola my butt. I wanted Venice. This isn’t Venice. It’s floating on some boat with a wannabe mime, in the middle of the fakest place on the planet. Hell, I can even hear the cars honking on the strip from here. This is not romantic.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” he said. “You can’t hear the cars. No one can hear the cars. All of a sudden you can hear through walls? You’ve developed magical hearing all of a sudden?”

“Don’t patronize me, Brian.”

“I’m not patronizing you,” he snarled. “You wanted this trip. You insisted on it. And now you’re complaining because it isn’t perfect, like you always do. Like that stupid sweater.”

“That sweater was wrong,” she sniped. “I said I wanted the raspberry-colored one. Raspberry, Brian. You got me the fuchsia one. The difference is obvious.”

“Not that anyone else could tell,” he muttered under his breath.

“What did you say?”

This came out in an almost shriek.

“You’re muttering,” she hissed. “You’re always muttering. I hate when you mutter. If you want me to hear what you’re saying, why don’t you say it out loud like a normal person?”

“Maybe,” he said. “I don’t want you to hear me.”

“Then why would you say it if you don’t want me to hear you?” she asked.

“Jerk,” she muttered.

“Now who’s muttering?” he muttered.

“You’re ruining this for me,” she said. “You took all the trouble to bring me out here on this romantic trip. And now you’re ruining this for me.”

“Ruining it?” he said. “I thought you didn’t want it in the first place!”

“You never listen to me, Brian,” she said. “That is exactly –“

Bonk.

Neither of them saw the oar even come out of the water. With surprising efficiency, the gondolier pulled the oar out of the water and gave them each a sound and damp thwap on the head, before returning it to its’ task.

“You two,” he said. “Are the worst couple I’ve had in here all month. No – you know what? Scratch that. You’re the worst couple I’ve ever had in my gondola ever. And I didn’t think it was possible, but you are actually ruining this for me.”

The two sat stunned. The gondolier took a deep breath.
“You two,” he continued. “Will stop your childish antics now… And you will sit still and behave yourselves for the rest of the ride. Or else.”

They decided they didn’t want to find out exactly what ‘or else’ meant.

Facing forward, looking around quietly, she actually noticed how pretty the gondolas were on this little mini-river, the golden glow from the shops and the sunlight dappling the blue water in front of them.

Gently, she threaded her fingers through his.

“I love you, Honey,” she said.

He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.

“I love you too,” he said.

Writing Prompt: Passion Car Gondola

Courtesy of: http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

Image Courtesy of: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

November 25, 2014

“I demand that you reverse this!” he cried. “I insist on a refund!”

Of course, it came out a bit garbled. It is exceedingly difficult to speak through rabbit teeth.

The magician looked down at him. Not that he had a choice, really. As a human, he’d been quite tall. Now, as a rabbit, there was really no choice but to be looked down upon.

“I don’t see what you’re complaining about,” the magician insisted. “As far as I’m concerned, I did exactly what was asked of me.”

“You shan’t have a refund,” he said. “Not that you’d have any place to put it.”

“This is a travesty!” he cried, shrilly, for as a rabbit, one cannot help but become a bit shrill. “I am the royal spymaster and I insist upon being treated with respect! I should have known better than to come to a cut-rate hack like you!”

“You cut me to the bone, sir,” the magician said in a bored tone. “I have done exactly what you’ve asked of me. You wanted me to turn you into an animal, to ease your royal spy-mastering duties and I have done so.”

“An animal! You call this an animal?” he huffed. “This is beneath my station! I wanted to be something noble! Why couldn’t you have turned me into a stallion? Or a noble grey wolf?”

“Right,” said the magician. “Because a big grey wolf wouldn’t look at all conspicuous in the throne room.”

“Ah,” said the spymaster. “I see.”

He had, perhaps, not thought this through all the way.

“Besides,” said the magician, sitting down behind his desk. “Who cares about noble? You’re right cute, you are. If I didn’t know what a grumpy crank you are, I’d even try to pet you.”

The spymaster glared at him. Well, at least as much as a rabbit can glare. The magician was unfazed.

“Now, then,” he said. “Off with you. Onto to your duties or your carrot-eating or whatever it is you wish to do. Come back when you’ve done your business and I’ll turn you back.”

Thus, the fuzzy spymaster had no choice but to hippity-hop his way out of the magician’s workroom. He would, he decided, go to the king. The king would order the magician to turn him back and give him a refund and all would be well with the world. And he would no longer have an inordinate craving for lettuce. Or so he hoped.

The path from the magician’s workroom to the palace was under a mile – not very far on human feet, but on bunny feet, he discovered, it was a good deal more difficult. After a little while of hopping, he discovered that the dirt road was hell on the sensitive pads of his little bunny feet.

Oh, yes, he swore. That magician would pay.

It was dangerous, too. Damn near impossible to dodge all of the feet and wheels that clogged the road. Boots hurt a lot, he discovered, when one stepped on his fluffy white tail, now no longer nearly so white or so fluffy.

But he kept hopping, for what choice did he have, really?

He was nearly halfway there when, over the murmur of voices and the shuffling of feet, he heard a screech, high above him in the sky. He didn’t have to look up to know it was an eagle and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was coming for him.

So he starting hopping in earnest, leaping like a rabbit possessed, his little heart beating like mad. And he felt the swoop of talons along the fur of his back – just barely missing by a hair – as he leapt beneath the safety of a stationary vegetable cart.

Was it coming back? Was it waiting for him? Would it try again?

Eyes wide in terror, he peeked out from the gloom. He didn’t see the eagle… but that didn’t mean that it was safe. He waited for what felt like an eternity, waiting for his heartbeat to slow and for his little paws to stop shaking.

It felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes, as human time goes. Finally, he peered out once more from beneath the cart, whiskered nose wiggling. Nothing. He couldn’t smell an eagle, or see one. And while that didn’t mean it was safe, he knew he couldn’t hide there forever.

He managed the rest of the journey eagle-free. The guards at the castle gate didn’t so much as blink at him as he hopped through. He supposed he was beneath their notice, now. On he hopped, through the courtyard and up the steps. A great sense of relief descended upon him as he hopped into the throne room.

Now, he knew, he would be all right. The king would come to his aid and all would be well.

These were the thoughts he had before a pair of hands swooped down and picked him up.

“Unhand me! You foul – ”

These were the words he restrained himself from saying as he found himself being turned to look into a pair of big brown eyes.

“What an adorable bunny rabbit,” the princess said.

She had, he noted, a very nice voice, soothing and somehow melodious. He had, regrettably, not had the chance to note this earlier because, quite frankly, as a human, the princess had never given the time of day.

As a rabbit, apparently, things had changed.

He felt a delicious shiver go down his little spine as she stroked his fur with gentle fingers. His long ears perked up as she spoke again.

“Oh, Father,” she said. “He’s so cute…. Can I keep him?”

Maybe, he thought, being a rabbit can have its perks.

Writing Prompt:

Pride Rabbit Eagle

Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

November 24, 2014

There were lots of good arguments to be made for staying home that day. The snow, which was coming down in spades, should have made a good enough detriment. The slippery roads should perhaps have been taken into account. Her none-so-healthy bank account should probably have served as sufficient reminder.

But the heart wants what it wants. Or at least, these are the words she told herself as she slip-slid-parked the car in the mostly empty parking lot, pulled up her hood and shuffled through the sidewalk slush and into the bookstore.

Tired of being home alone, she had decided to drive to a place where she could be not-home and alone. But not-home and alone was vastly preferable when you had a vast room full of books to keep you company.

She nodded a hello to the cashier before diving into the shelves. She was sliding her fingers along the spines of the ‘old and interesting’ shelf, fingers skimming along like a pianist sitting down to an old and well-tuned instrument, when she heard the voice.

It was muffled, as though it had come from a few aisles away, but she’d heard the voice enough times to recognize it anywhere. It was, as she had come to think of him, the cute guy from the bookstore. Not that she objected to cute guys, exactly. She more or less considered them a foreign species. One that she was ill-equipped to communicate with. And this one, most unfortunately, had invaded her bookstore.

Why couldn’t it have been the grocery store? Or the gas station?

After all, she could live without groceries. And one did not require any verbal communication to get gas. But no… it had to be her bookstore.

She could no longer roam the bookstore freely, now. No. She would come around corners only to almost-but-not-quite bump into him. Him and that blue-eyed gaze. And he would smile, as she stumbled through some idiotic apology. Not that he could help having blue eyes, she supposed. But did they have to be so very blue?

And when she was not almost-but-not-quite bumping into him, she was thinking about it, which very much succeeded in preventing her from thinking about books, which was what she had come to the bookstore to do.

Thinking about books is, in fact, what one is supposed to do at a bookstore, she thought sternly, gripping an old cookbook perhaps a bit more tightly than was warranted. Last week, after another almost-but-not-quite-bump, she had accidentally ended up purchasing an algebra textbook. She had no idea how it had ended up in her bag, but she’d stammered some sort of excuse about it being for ‘the wrong class’ as she’d returned it to the cashier a few days later.

Algebra, indeed. She scowled at the mostly innocent cookbook.

Trips to bookstores were for getting lost in fiction, for forgetting about ones’ problems and immersing oneself in foreign worlds of words. Not for ….. Well, not for whatever happened when she was around cute guys, which tended to be a lot of awkwardness and not much else.

She was still giving the undeserving cookbook a death stare when someone speaking to her broke her train of thought.

“Hello,” said the familiar voice.

She looked up. Blue eyes. Damn blue eyes.

“Hi,” she said.

“Cook much?” he asked.

“Well, no not really, I guess….” Her voice trailed off.

“Just the way you were looking at that cookbook….” He said. “Like it had murdered your uncle or something.”

“Oh…. My Uncle,” she said. “I don’t suppose I’d mind if it had murdered my Uncle. I don’t like him very much…. Or at least, one of them, I don’t. The other one is perfectly nice.”

She was babbling. She realized this and forced her mouth to shut, at least temporarily. And when she looked up, she noticed that he was smiling. He had, she noted, a particularly appealing smile.

“I was hoping you’d be here today,” he said.

“You were?”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “It kind of brightens up my day whenever I see you here and I was hoping….well. I don’t know.”

She didn’t know either, and a silence, a not totally uncomfortable one, flopped between them for a few moments.

“You know,” he said. “I see you here all the time and I don’t even know your name.”

“My name?” she asked.

“Yes, your name,” he smiled again. “You know, that thing that people call you…. Usually some combination of vowels and consonants.”

“Sophie,” she said. “My name is Sophie.”

“Nice name,” he said. “I’m Matt.”

Matt, she thought. It beat blue-eyes, as far as names went.

There were lots of good reasons to stay home that day, she thought, as she smiled back at him. But the heart wants what it wants.

 

Writing Prompt: Shop, shyness, thrill.

Courtesy of:

http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/random.htm

November 21, 2014

He didn’t want to go out on such a night….

He didn’t want to go out on such a night, but some errands are simply unavoidable. And so it was with a heavy sigh and a mildly unpleasant sense of duty that he put on his boots, crouching down on the small stool by the door and forcing his creaky old knees to bend as he maneuvered the footwear onto his feet.

Finally, after much trouble, the boots were on. Next came the coat and scarf. Not his best coat, certainly, but his second-best would do for an unpleasant task like this one. Besides, he noted with satisfaction, his second-best was a good deal warmer.

It wouldn’t do to stain one’s best coat, he thought, especially when the social season was just starting. There would be Christmas parties and fundraisers and dinner parties – he’d definitely need his best for those. He was, above all things, a gentleman.

And so it was, appropriately coated, booted, gloved and scarfed that he set about the task at hand. He was quite glad that they’d kept the large plastic sheeting when they’d bought that new mattress. It made unpleasant tasks like this much easier.

He dragged the plastic out of the closet and down the hall to the kitchen. The thing lay, heavy and inert, on the kitchen floor. With as much care as he could manage, given his somewhat advanced years, he scooped the thing up and rolled it in the plastic sheets.

He was huffing and puffing by the time he was done. Sixty, after all, is no spring chicken. But somehow, with much effort, he managed to pick the thing up and carry it to the car, using the kind of fireman’s carry he’d seen on TV so many times.

Much heavier than it used to be, he thought, as it landed in his trunk with a heavy thud. He was grateful that it fit easily. Trunk space hadn’t really been a consideration when purchasing this car and he’d never had to haul anything big or heavy before, but just now he was grateful for the space.

As an afterthought, he wrapped up the baseball bat and threw that in the trunk as well.

Baseball bat. He considered it briefly. Such a common thing. So low-class of him. Come to think of it, he had no idea how they’d even come into possession of a baseball bat. He’d certainly never bought one. Maybe one of the kids had left it.

Oh, well. No matter now.

It had served its’ purpose.

The drive to the forest preserve was not a long one, but he made sure to drive a little ways further into it, just in case.

It was late and dark and the rain was coming down in a heavy, unpleasant drizzle, like having someone spitting on the back of your neck. No one should be out. No one should see. But it was always best to be careful.

Breathing heavily, he hauled the thing out of the trunk and carried it some small distance into the woods, dropping it, finally, with a rather unappealing grunt. He made a second trip back to the car and dropped the bat in the woods as well. Not like he’d need it anymore.

He dusted off his gloves and peeled them off. They would, of course, have to be disposed of later.

The drive home was short and he found himself, uncharacteristically, turning on the radio and singing along. He unlocked the door, took off his coat and hung it neatly in the closet, wrapping the scarf around the hanger.

He pulled off his boots and walked back into the kitchen, a man confident in a job well done.

He looked critically at the sizeable blood stain on the floor. That could stay, he decided.

Finally, he pulled out his cellphone and carefully dialled the three digits. A polite female voice answered.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

He allowed tears and a note of panic to creep into his voice as he answered.

“My wife,” he said. “She’s missing. I just got home from work and she’s not here…. and…. there’s a big bloodstain on the kitchen floor.”

“Calm down, sir,” she said. “I’ve dispatched a unit. Help is on the way.”

“Come quickly,” he said, voice quivering. “I don’t know what happened to her and I’m so scared.”

First line writing prompt courtesy of:

http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/firstlines.htm

(and possibly influenced by my recent reading of Gone Girl…)

November 20, 2014

This wasn’t where he wanted to be.

This wasn’t where he wanted to be. Obviously, she thought, this wasn’t where anyone wanted to be. No one pictures themselves in a mental institution. People make jokes, on occasion, about the loony bin, but no one ever legitimately pictures themselves winding up there.

As mental institutions went, she supposed, this was a nice one. Clean, with lots of soothing impressionist pictures.

“Why is it hospitals and institutions always have faux-impressionist pictures on the walls?” she wondered. “It’s like they think only fans of Monet get sick or something.”

The nurse led her down the hall to the common room area. Comfortable, mismatched couches, with a TV in the corner. Empty, except for Uncle Dan sitting on a couch, waiting for her.

It was 12:17. She suspected the rest of the patients were at lunch. She wondered if Dan was missing lunch to spend time with her and then decided not to think too hard about it.

“Hi, Uncle Dan.”

“Hello, Sweet Pea.”

He seemed like the same old guy. Her Mom had said, if he must be in ‘that wretched place,’ the least she could do was visit him from time to time. So she was. But, if she were being honest with herself, it felt the same. Just like any Thanksgiving or Easter, sitting on the couch discussing the mundane facts of her life.

How was the job?

Fine. Steady.

The apartment hunting?

So far, so good.

Boyfriend?

Not yet.

They covered the basics and she found herself with nothing to say. Should she ask him what he was reading? Was that something you were allowed to ask a person in a mental institution? Maybe she should ask if she could bring him books or movies that he liked? She was profoundly disturbed by the fact that he seemed so normal. Same old Uncle Dan, with slightly smudged glasses and an over-worn plaid shirt. And these are the thoughts that were banging around her mind when he spoke again.

“The chickens are taking over, you know,” he said.

“Really?” she asked. “Are they?”

“Yes,” he said. “You might not know it, but they are.”

“Huh,” she said, deciding to play along. Clearly, this was the crazy leaking out. “You never know. Maybe they’ll be wiser rulers than our president.”

“Oh no,” he told her, his expression growing dark and ominous. “They’ll be tyrannical overlords. We’ve enslaved their race for over a century. You don’t think they’ll want to take revenge?”

“Oh….” She said. “I’d never really thought about it that way.”

“Yes,” he said. “Their agenda is clear. You can just see the rage in their beady little eyes on all of those Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials….. Oh, yes. They are waiting for their chance. And their time is coming.”

“Umm…. Uncle Dan,” she said. “It’s been really seeing you and talking to you. And I’ll be back soon, but my lunch break is almost over, so….”

“So you should get back to work,” he said. “I get it. It’s fine. Have a great day, Sweetheart.”

He gave her a warm hug.

“Watch out for those chickens!” he called, as she walked back down the hall.

She just waved in response.

Getting back into the car, she tried to fix her mindset back to work, to thinking about the projects she had left unfinished and the emails she had to send.

In her own mind, she was narrating an email as she pulled up to a stop light, but the words fell out of her head when she saw something out of the corner of her eye….

A bright rust-colored bundle of feathers. A chicken. A real, live chicken, crossing the road.

She watched it cross as her car idled at the light and she thought back to Uncle Dan’s warning.

“Could they be?” she thought. “Nah.”

First sentence writing prompt courtesy of:

http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/firstlines.htm

Image courtesy of:

http://www.morguefile.com/

November 19, 2014

The scent of lavender was overpowering.

The scent of lavender was overpowering as we walked through the door. A bell jingled somewhere within the shop and swathes of brightly colored scarves hung everywhere, like some cheap imitation of genie’s lamp.

“Jesus,” I said, waving my hand in front of my nose as the scent hit me.

“It could be worse,” Jessica said, stepping in front of me. “It could be patchouli.”

“Be grateful for small miracles,” I muttered, casting a dirty look at the back of her head.

This was her dumb idea, anyway. It was a waste of money, if you asked me. Which was exactly what I had told her when she had asked me. Somehow, I was here anyway, surrounded by oddly scented scarves inside of a tiny storefront that we’d driven past dozens of times but never gone into. All because she thought it’d be ‘fun’ to see a psychic.

Psychics are not fun, I told her.

Psychics, I told her, are not real.

“Girls, come in,” called a voice from deeper within the shop. “Come forward.”

The woman spoke in the kind of affected, vaguely-European accent you’d expect from a from a fraud, managing to sound somehow watery and distant, even though she was clearly in the next room.

Jessica flipped around to face me again, eyes wide.

“She knows we’re here!” she stage-whispered.

I tried not to smirk.

“Of course she knows we’re here,” I said. “She heard the bell.”

“And she knows we’re girls!”

“She probably heard us talking,” I told her. “Not a real wild leap there.”

Jessica shook her head.
“She’s real,” she said. “I just feel it. She has to be.”

I chose not to say anything, mutely following her into the next room.

“How may I help you girls today?”

To my grand disappointment, the woman wasn’t wearing a turban. And I had been so hoping for it… But in terms of the rest of her outfit, she didn’t disappoint. Long, flowing purple skirt with bells at the hem, blousy peasant top. Lots of rings on her fingers. Bangles circled skinny wrists and a flowered scarf restrained a head full of wild curly hair.

Had these people never heard of the word ‘cliché’?

She sat at a white-cloth-covered table, patiently waiting for one of us to sit down.

Jessica plopped down in the old-fashioned dining room chair across from her.

“I think,” she said. “That I would like my palm read.”

“Of course, sweetheart,” the woman said obligingly, before casting a glance in my direction.

“Don’t mind me,” I said. “I’m just here for the show.”

“I see.”

I could’ve sworn she rolled her eyes at me before turning her attention back to Jessica. But I might’ve imagined it.

“Palm reading,” she said. “Will be tventy dollars. But we can deal with ze issue of money later.”

At least she wasn’t openly trying to swindle us. $20 had been posted on the sign outside. That was why I’d let myself be talked into this thing – it was only $20, I reasoned. And I’d spent much more money on much dumber stuff.

“Give me your hand,” she said.

Obligingly, Jess placed the requested hand palm up in the woman’s own.

I watched as she pretended to scrutinize the hand, drawing her fingers up and down several lines, before she began to speak.

“You have a nice long life line,” she said. “You are in school, yes?”

Jess nodded eagerly.

“I see much success in your future,” she continued. “You will find a job that involves travel. And you will journey to many different places before you find the man that you will marry.”

She took another passing glance at the palm before saying more.

“You will meet your future love on a sunny day in the spring,” she said.

I couldn’t restrain myself.

“Oh, come on!” I said.

Jess turned around to glare at me.

“Behave yourself,” she hissed.

“Really?” I asked. “You’re gonna pay this fraud $20 bucks to make crap up about stuff that will probably never happen? Really?”

Her mouth dropped open as she glared at me.
“Because I could do the exact same thing for you,” I said. “And I’ll do it cheaper.”

The argument was brewing like a storm cloud between us, but the ‘psychic’ broke the tension between us.

“You people,” she said.

The fake European accent was gone. This was pure Brooklyn.

“You people think you’re soooo smart, with your smartphones and your lives all planned out to the second,” she snapped. “Just because you’ve got your lives all planned out, doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen that way. But you don’t want to hear any different, do you?”

I stared at her.

“You want the truth?” she asked. “Do you?”

“I – I don’t know,” I told her, all the bravado gone out of me.

She looked at me hard, in a way that no one had ever quite looked at me before.

“The truth is,” she said. “That you will never quite measure up to your own expectations. You will be successful, but never as successful as you want to be and it will gnaw at you. And you will meet the man of your dreams, the man you’re supposed to love. But he won’t be good enough for you, either, so you’ll let him slip away. And you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

I stood stock-still for a moment.

“Come on, Jess,” I said quietly, reaching for her hand. “We should go.”

“I think you’re right,” she said.

We were almost out of the shop when I heard the woman’s voice again, so quiet I almost couldn’t make out what she was saying.
“They don’t want the lie, and they don’t want the truth,” she said bitterly.

“Doesn’t matter what they want,” she said. “That doesn’t stop it from coming.”

First Line Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/firstlines.htm