Category Archives: Fiction

A Sanctuary from Her Past

“Welcome to the Inn at Bear Creek.” The petite woman at the front desk greeted me when I only had one foot over the threshold. Without responding I looked around the lobby of the small bed and breakfast I’d chosen. It would do. It would do quite well actually. It was quaint, a little too charming and perfect for my taste but then no one would think to look for me in a place with doilies on the tables and an antique settee by the fireplace.
 
I stepped up to the solid wood bar used as the registration desk, running my hand over the wood that had been worn smooth over time. How many women had stood in this exact spot looking for sanctuary? Or maybe the guests here were mostly couples looking for a romantic retreat. Maybe I was alone in my quest for solitude.

“You must be Mrs. Bennett -”

“Miss,” I corrected, without thinking. The name Bennett was fictional anyway. Did it matter if she called me Mrs.?

“Yes, of course.” She looked at a ledger spread out on the desk, running her finger along a list of names. “You will be in our ‘Lilacs and Lace’ room.”

Of course I am, I thought. I didn’t expect them to have a forest-themed room which would be more my style, but lace? Really?

“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound grateful.

“Your stay has been paid in full. I just need you to sign these forms…here…and here,” she said, pointing to the lines at the bottom of each page. I picked up the pen, then hesitated, the point poised over the paper. I’d practiced the signature over and over, wanting the act to look natural. The longer I waited the more nervous I became.

She’s going to notice, I thought. Just do it already!
My hand trembled slightly and I glanced at the woman. She was busy making a note in her ledger. You’re being paranoid. Sign the paper!

Taking a deep breath I forced my hand to scrawl the words Jessica Bennett. It wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped but I finished before she looked up. She tucked the pages into the back of her book, then handed me a key on a large keychain in the shape of a flower. With effort I kept from rolling my eyes. “Breakfast is served every morning from 7 to 9. It will be laid out in the dining room. Just help yourself.”

I nodded, suddenly barely able to contain my tears. This was how it had been since I started running. Even something simple like the thought of breakfast was enough to choke me with sobs. Would it ever get better or would my past keep haunting me forever?

It was too soon to know. There was really only one way out.

I took another deep breath. If I was going to get out of this I was going to have to fix it. I was going to have to change. It wouldn’t be easy, but the alternative was unthinkable.

I forced a smile on my face and said, “I’m sorry. I’m being rude. What was your name?”

Her face glowed. “You can call me Daisy, everybody does.”

I covered my sudden laugh with a cough. Of course her name was Daisy. “Well, Daisy, thank you for your hospitality.” I grabbed the key and turned, only then realizing I had no idea where the room was.

Daisy stepped around the bar, then reached for my bag. I grabbed it before she could get to it, smiling to soften my reaction. She looked momentarily taken aback before saying, “Let me show you to your room.”

I followed her up the staircase to the right of the entryway, the wood treads creaking under our feet. At least I’ll be able to hear anyone coming, I thought. She walked to the end of the hallway and stopped in front of the door to the left. “Make yourself comfortable, and please let me know if there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable,” she said before turning back down the hall.

The door swung open with a whine. As I entered the room I felt like I was walking into a new life. A better one, I thought with determination. Things are going to be okay.

Or so I hoped.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Haunting.

A Love That Endures

“No! Please. Dear God, no.” His cry was one of anguish few of us ever really experience.

His wife lay in her hospital bed, surrounded by beeping monitors. The smell of disinfectant would have made him light-headed if he had been paying attention. The air hung heavy with thoughts left unspoken.

We’ve been together 53 years. How could God take her from me now? The man sobbed openly, without shame.

He sat in a hard chair, pulled as close as possible. He held tightly to her cold hand, rubbing his thumb over the loose skin. As tears fell he wiped them away without noticing. His eyes never left her face.

The doctor stood silently watching. Normally he would have left already, maybe sent a nurse to check on them periodically. But his heart broke for this man. He couldn’t have avoided giving him the grim prognosis, could he? He wasn’t sure how her heart kept beating as it was. She could be gone any moment. It was his duty to dispense the news honestly.

If only someone would love me as much. His mind wandered to his own failed marriage. Had he ever loved with such selflessness? He never knew love could be so strong, so enduring, so infinite.

“Sir, help me. Please.” The old man implored.

Brought back to the present the doctor found the other man standing unsteadily, pushing on the unconscious woman. “What-” he began.

“Help me!” His harsh tone surprised the younger man.

The doctor placed his hand on top of the old man’s, stopping it. Once he looked up they maintained eye contact. In all his years as a physician he had never seen such raw pain. “How can I help?”

“I want…” He paused, tears overcoming him. “I need to hold her. One last time.”

Together they eased her to one side of the bed, leaving a narrow space on the other. Awkwardly her husband climbed up beside the patient, laying on his side. The doctor lifted her head gently so the man could slide his arm under her neck. The old man pressed himself to her, whispering in her ear.

Feeling like an intruder the doctor turned away.

Just then the monitor that had been steadily beeping in time with her heart stopped it’s rhythmic beat. Instincts kicking in, he spun around ready for action. Approaching the bed he said, “Sir, you’re going to need to move.” When there was no response he quickly reached for the old man’s wrist, anxious to move it off her chest so he could try to get her heart beating again, buy them a few more minutes. To his horror the old man’s hand was limp. Feeling for a pulse he realized they were both gone.

Maybe it was for the best. With a heavy heart he left the room.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Infinity.

Behind Closed Doors

She looked around her cramped one bedroom apartment. Dark stains ran across the ceiling where the roof had leaked – or rather where it still leaked on rainy days. The smell of damp gym socks hung faintly in the air. Her landlord refused to take care of the mold growing near the entry door. Light filtered dully through the dirty windows lending a brown hue to the room.

She sat on the second-hand sofa she had picked up on sale at Salvation Army. Rusty springs creaked under her weight, even though she’d lost nearly 10 pounds since she moved in. Weighing 120 at 5’ 6” she couldn’t afford to lose more. A butterfly could land on these cushions and still sound like a ghost rattling chains, she thought. The fabric under her bare leg felt like burlap as she moved unconsciously away from the brown splotch that seemed to grow bigger of its own accord. Soon it would be impossible to avoid.

She rested a foot on the battered coffee table she’d rescued from the dumpster. One of the wobbly legs was shorter than the others but she kind of enjoyed rocking the table back and forth. It soothed her frazzled nerves. Leaning her head back and closing her eyes she pushed it away, then let it fall toward her. Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. Focused on the repetitive movement she almost missed the mouse that scurried inside the wall behind her head.

A few weeks ago she would have screamed at just the thought of those beady-eyed creatures. Now when they crossed her path she didn’t even flinch. For the most part they went their own way. The exception, of course, was the kitchen. It took a while but she learned how to keep what little food she had from her tiny roommates. Now she opted for cans and jars mostly. She kept cereal and bread in the fridge. Since the refrigerator was barely cooler than the rest of the apartment she never bothered to buy milk or yogurt so there was plenty of space and the mice couldn’t get to them there.

Push, fall, push, fall. Over and over she rocked the table. This is better? she wondered to herself. Were things really so bad?

The answer was yes. Not just a regular yes…but a resounding YES! As bad as her living conditions may be her previous situation was worse. Much worse.

She may have been living in a beautiful home with expensive furniture, but it wasn’t hers. She had been a slave. Sure, the word they used for it was “wife,” but if the truth were told she had been treated no better than the poor souls who had fought for so many years to gain freedom. Only she didn’t have Dr. King on her side.

Because her skin bore no visible scars they had said it wasn’t abuse. For years she had believed them. “He’s just joking,” they’d say when she was hurt by his cruel criticism. They didn’t know him like she did.

They didn’t see what he would do when he came home after she had spent all day cleaning his beloved house and his cherished possessions. They didn’t know that he would look for any tiny crumb, any speck of dirt, any excuse to find fault. And then he would destroy all she had done. He would throw knickknacks on the floor – only hers of course, never his – crushing them beneath his heavy boots. He would rip pages from her favorite books and scatter them around the room.

She had learned to ensure the trash had been taken to the neighbors’ can as on more than one occasion he had dumped trash over her glistening kitchen floor. She thought she had won when she began taking the trash out every day before he got home. But he wouldn’t let her get the best of him. Oh no, he simply went out to the trashcan and brought it inside, pouring out coffee grounds and half eaten food.

But if it were at the neighbors’ there was nothing he could do.

In front of everyone else he was charming, the perfect husband. Perhaps a little demanding but that was to be expected since she didn’t work. After a long day at the office didn’t he deserve to have supper waiting for him? It really was the least she could do. She was fortunate he wanted to support her. She had everything anyone could ever want! That’s what they told her and she believed them.

Her life was in a shambles but they told her it was paradise. Her husband was ruthless but they called it love.

Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. She rocked the table faster as she remembered the night she told him she wanted a divorce. It was the first time he actually lifted a hand to her. She was sure he was going to strike. She almost hoped he would. At least then there would be proof. But he knew that too.

In the end he’d told her to go, to get out of his house. It didn’t matter that she had spent 17 years cooking and cleaning for him. It was irrelevant that he wouldn’t let her work because he wanted her at his beck and call. The house, and everything in it, belonged to him. She had nothing.

“Go sponge off someone else,” he’d shouted as she walked down the driveway.

She almost turned back. Where could she go? But she knew it was too late.

She had no friends to turn to – he hadn’t allowed her to have friends of her own. She had no money. She hadn’t worked in almost 20 years. She was alone and penniless. What had she been thinking?

The first night she spent alone, shivering under a bridge in spite of the heat, praying for morning to come. Once it did she set out to find a job – any job. She applied everywhere, telling them her phone wasn’t working and she’d be back to schedule an interview. Within a few days she had been hired at a local diner. Although she was still sleeping outside she kept herself clean, using a public bathroom in the park when no one was around.

She kept her tips in a tin can she buried under a rock. After she cashed her paycheck she added that as well. Slowly she saved enough to move into her crappy apartment. Gradually she was rebuilding her life.

Push, fall, push, fall. Suddenly the table crashed to the ground as short leg broke off completely. It doesn’t matter. I’ll get a new one, she thought. She pushed it away and stood. It was time to get to work.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Shambles.

What Happened When He Got Me Alone on the Beach?

I have been spending a lot of time these days reading about how to write better. I like the way I write, my voice, but there is still a lot to learn. As I am learning I am also working on the rewrite on the Clay/Caleb story. And when I say “rewrite” I mean just that. I am essentially rewriting the entire story but I think it’s coming out great.

Today I have been working on the scene where the main character (now named Jessica) meets Clay. Below is the part of the story where Clay and Jess are dancing. This is the main reason I haven’t had as much time recently to post on WordPress.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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The people dancing around us began to blur, like I was in the center of a carousel that spun ever faster around me. I stumbled, unaware I had moved until I almost fell. Something kept me upright and I sank against what was either Clay or a randomly placed telephone pole.

A thought slogged through the mud and muck inside my brain but couldn’t come to the surface. There was something I was supposed to be doing. What was it? Think!

A breeze hit the sweat on my neck, sending a shiver down my spine. I looked around and realized I had made my way to the water. How did that happen? The waves kissed my ankles as they ran up to greet me.

The horizon tilted like the labyrinth game I had as a young girl. How I had loved tipping it one way then the other, careful to keep the marble from falling in the holes. The game was less fun when you were the marble.

“Whoa. Easy there. Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes?” The voice came from above.

“God?” I asked.

Laughter.

Okay, not God. Still, sitting sounded like a good idea. I landed awkwardly with a splat, my elbow stuck up by my shoulder until it was abruptly released. The water receded, then came rushing back. I kicked my feet, sending a spray of water sailing into the air.

Suddenly I couldn’t stop giggling. As the water continued its attack I hit it with both palms, scaring it away. I dug my feet into the soft sand and gazed up at the stars twinkling like the fireflies I had tried to catch by the pond on my grandparents’ plantation.

I felt as carefree as I had when I was that little girl. Where had she gone?

I felt a weight being lifted off of me. The burden of trying to live up to my parents’ expectations eased. The crushing loneliness I’d felt since their death receded with the next wave and floated out to sea.

“Feeling better?” asked the voice from above that I now knew wasn’t God.

Looking up I saw Clay’s face, one half illuminated by the moon, the other half still cast in shadow, giving him an almost sinister look. All he was missing was the mustache. The moment passed as he crouched down beside me. Up close he was stunningly good looking and I found myself wondering how it would feel if he kissed me.

“Do you think you can stand?”

I nodded.

He held out his hand but I just stared at him. As he waited, a flush swelled from my chest and up my neck, warming my cheeks. He’s waiting. Do something!

Why Was She Doing This to Me?

Rummaging through the top drawer of my dresser Lily finally found what she had been searching for. She brandished the tiny bikini she had made me buy while we were on vacation in Key West.

“No.” I shook my head for emphasis. “Absolutely not.”

“This is why we bought it. You’re wearing it.” There was no arguing with her. I caught the scraps of material as she flung them at me.

Heading to my closet she flipped through my dresses, looking for something scandalous I was sure.

“Perfect!” She turned holding a black spandex halter top dress.

I grabbed the hanger from her, rolling my eyes. Heading into the bathroom to change I asked, “Why do you hate me?”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Then why are you doing this to me?” My tone was whinier than I had planned.

“You never know. “ Her grin was apparent in her tone. “Tonight could be the night that changes everything.” Her pithy comment might have been more premonition than speculation.

“I don’t want things to change, Lily. I’m happy the way things are!”

“No, you’re not,” Lily replied, knowing me all too well.

“Well I was until you decided to make me go to this ridiculous party!” I was yelling but I wasn’t angry. I knew she was looking out for me. She truly did want me to be happy. And so I would humor her and go to this party. I would give it an hour then beg her to take me home.

As I stepped back into the room she gave a low whistle. “You’re hot stuff!”

I swatted at her, embarrassed as always by the compliment.

“Do we have to go?” I tried one last time.

“We do. We’re already late. I’ll drive. Tonight is about you returning to the living. Just relax and try to enjoy it.” Although her words had been resolute she knew how hard I had taken the failure of my one and only significant relationship. She knew how anxious I was about social situations in general.

She looked me straight in the eye, one hand resting on each shoulder. “It will be okay.”

I nodded. “I believe you.” But I didn’t, not really.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Pithy and is part of something longer I’m working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after What Would I Do for My Best Friend?

What Would I Do for My Best Friend?

“I’m pregnant!”

This unexpected announcement came from my best friend Lily as she pushed her way into my apartment.

“You’re WHAT?” I was stunned. She had been with her boyfriend, Mike, for 6 months. They were perfect together but they weren’t ready for the marriage and kids talk yet, I would have known. Lily told me everything.

“Okay. I don’t know I’m pregnant, but I’m late and I’m never late.”

I didn’t know what to say. How should you respond when your unmarried best friend just announced she might be having a baby? Congratulations? From the terrified look on her face that didn’t seem right.

“Wow,” is what came out. I should have been able to do better but that’s all I managed.

“I know. I’m in shock.”

And so our afternoon began with a long heart to heart full of hopes, dreams, and wishes. Not without a few tears from both of us, but the kind of deep conversation you can have with the person you have known for years, who knows you better than anyone else. In the end, we agreed that if she were pregnant the baby would be a blessing and would most certainly be spoiled rotten by our close network of friends.

It was a foregone conclusion.

Ryan would teach him – or her – how to throw a football. He had been the high school quarterback after all and the game still held a special place in his heart, right next to his girlfriend Emily. Emily would buy more clothes than any child would need, making her the best dressed newborn on the east coast. Liz, another member of our friends-turned-family would teach him to use sign language before he ever learned to speak.Her step brother was deaf and she had become quite proficient at speaking with her hands. And then there was Abby. Abby would probably teach her algebra while most kids were learning how to count. She had taught high school math for 10 years. She lived and breathed numbers.

We were a family, and that’s what family did.

“Enough of this!” Lily exclaimed. “We have a party to get you to!”

“Really, we don’t have to. Let’s talk about how you’re going to decorate the baby’s room,” I said, attempting to distract her.

“Oh, no! You’re not getting out of this! You have been in isolation long enough. It’s time for you to get back out there. Jack told everyone at the office this was going to be the party of the summer. There’s going to be all kinds of rich, good-looking men there,” she said, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

“I am soooo not interested in finding a man!”

“You dumped what’s-his-name years ago. It’s time.”

“I didn’t dump him. He was married for Christ sake. “

“Details. You know not all men are like him. I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy,” I replied defensively.

“Really? When was the last time you went out?”

“We had dinner Saturday.” I knew what she was asking but I had no intention of cooperating.

“No, I mean with someone besides us.”

“What difference does it make? I have you guys. That’s enough.”

“You’re going. End of discussion.” With that she pushed herself off the couch and headed to my bedroom.

Reluctantly I followed, knowing it was pointless to argue.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Unexpected and is part of something longer I’m working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes at the beginning of the story, before she meets Clay.

Friendship Is More Important Than Being Right

My hand ached, my fingers cramped from from gripping the pen as I filled page after page with thoughts, questions and ideas. The writing was cathartic, even if I still didn’t feel closer to knowing what to do. At least I was beginning to understand the things that had been troubling me so much.

I felt lighter than I had in weeks, only then realizing that these problems had been weighing on my mind even before I found the room with Clay’s photos and journal.

I looked up from the notebook for the first time in what might have been hours. I tried to ease my tension by rolling my shoulders, then tilted my head to the left, stretching my neck, repeating this for the right. I needed a break from all this introspection. One thing was crystal clear. I had to go see Lily. I had to do something to repair things with her.

Heading back toward the inn I ran into Lisa who was humming while pulling a weed from between two rocks near the pond. When she saw me she stood and smiled.

“Well hello! What do you think of our little garden?”

“It’s beautiful. I could spend all day out here.”

“You go right ahead, dear. That’s what it’s here for.”

“I wish I could, but I have to go see a friend.” I wasn’t normally someone who shared personal information with strangers but somehow I found myself opening to this kind woman.

“Oh my. Shouldn’t that be a good thing? You look like my kids did when they were going to see the doctor.”

I smiled at her perception. “We had a fight. Well actually, she’s not speaking to me, to be honest. If I could just get her to listen I think we could work it out, but I haven’t had much luck.”

“My late husband was a parsimonious old coot, rest his soul. He wouldn’t spend a nickel to make a dollar. When we first took over this inn he would get so angry with me when I bought trinkets to decorate the rooms. He would have left the walls bare if I’d let him. Sometimes he wouldn’t speak to me for days. In the end he was hurting himself by staying mad, but he never really did see it that way. It was always up to me to calm him down. I loved him and that was more important than any argument. I have faith you and your friend will work it out.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“You’ll see. Everything will turn out right in the end.” Pulling a small pair of scissors from the pocket of her dress she snipped some blushing pink roses from a nearby bush. “Take these to her and apologize, even if you have nothing to be sorry for. Friendship matters more than being right.“

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Parsimonious and is part of something longer I’m working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after My Relationship Was the Root of All My Problems.