Category Archives: Fiction

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.

My Relationship Was the Root of All My Problems

I sat without moving for a long time, breathing in the scent of the freshly cut grass and plants in bloom. The breeze brushed my skin as softly as a mother might caress her baby, lifting my hair to tickle my neck. A cuckoo called out his melodious tune, the tinkle of windchimes the only response.

Surrounded by the gardens that reminded me so much of my childhood my thoughts finally became clearer. Memories of my parents meandered down a winding path that eventually led me to contemplating more recent events.

Until I met Clay I had spent time with my friends at least once a week, either dinner out or a weekend barbeque at someone’s house. I had talked to Lily nearly every day even on the days we couldn’t get together. Thinking back I couldn’t remember the last time she and I had really had a conversation. Then all of a sudden it came to me. The night of the party where I’d met Clay she had confessed that she thought she might be pregnant. She had planned to take a pregnancy test the following day but I never asked if she did. Is it possible Lily was pregnant? How could I not know the answer to that question?

After my first night with Clay all I’d really thought about was how good he’d made me feel, a lovestruck teenager. I had called Lily several times in the beginning, but recalling those conversations I realized I had done all of the talking. She had listened to me gush about my new boyfriend, never reminding me that she might be going through something too. Later I’d had issues with my phone and over time the habit of talking to my best friend every day fell away.

I had lost other habits I’d had before Clay as well, like the early morning runs and smoothie I made for breakfast every day. Lunch had gone from healthy salads to three course events. Fruit after dinner had been replaced with delicious pastries. No wonder I’d been gaining weight.

Less of a mystery was my lack of progress on the project I had looming. The deadline had seemed far off. Who wouldn’t be tempted to lay by the pool or spend time on the beach instead of plugging away at the computer if they had the choice? I had always been so disciplined about work, making sure to focus for at least 6-7 hours every day even though I was paid by the project and no one was tracking my hours. Clay had been so available and any time I’d had to myself I spent resting. For several weeks I’d felt lethargic, adding to the problem. Now I was so far behind I was going to miss my deadline. Even if I were able to give it all of my attention I’d be hard pressed to finish in time, and clearly work was still not going to be priority.

It was normal for a new romance to take center stage, wasn’t it? Why was it my relationship with Clay seemed insidious when I thought about it this way? Was it because of the strange things happening or would I have figured this out eventually?

Once again I found myself with more questions than answers, but I grabbed my notebook anyway and started writing them down. Maybe an solution would develop in time.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Was It Possible He Was Hunting Me?

Was It Possible He Was Hunting Me?

As my foot hit the bottom step of the staircase I noticed the door to the back patio out of the corner of my eye. Through the divided window in the top half of the door I could just make out what I thought was a dogwood tree. Intrigued I decided to enjoy the garden instead of hiding in my room.

On the veranda clusters of chairs and small tables were arranged in conversation areas for groups of two to four. An acacia wood table and chairs, stained a dark chestnut, provided seating for six, giving guests a place to dine outside, or play games in the shade of the umbrella. Stone pavers led the way into the garden, my true destination.

As I walked I felt as if I’d been transported into a fairytale garden, the trees and plants so perfectly maintained it seemed part of a picture book. I could almost imagine fairies building their homes in the hollow of a tree or in the shade of a large rock.

The green grass glowed in the sunshine, filling the space between flower beds. Pink milkweed, red trumpet creepers, and sunny black-eyed Susans washed the beds with color as if an artist had waved his brush over the lush greenery. Raspberry-red hibiscus bloomed near a decorative pond which provided a home for several Koi. A small wooden bridge spanned one end allowing visitors to view the fish from above the water.

To the right of the pond stood the dogwood tree I had spotted from inside, its blooms gone in the heat of summer. Following the path behind the dogwood I discovered a gazebo that was about six feet in diameter with benches built along the perimeter. Climbing the three steps to the shady retreat I tripped on the top stair as my attention was caught by the magnolia tree growing to my left.

Brushing the dirt from my knee, I sat on one of the hard wooden benches facing the tree. My mother would have loved this garden. Hers had been wonderful, but even her green thumb couldn’t compare to this masterpiece.

How I wished she were still with me so I could talk to her about my problems. She was such a strong woman. I admired her courage during her illness, how she had fought the cancer for so long when others would have given up. I longed to be more like her.

I only vaguely remembered our time together when I’d been a young girl. I could conjure images of her helping me work the sewing machine or mix up a batch of cookies, but could never quite remember how I had felt in those moments. I assumed I had been happy.

What was easier to recall were my teen years when she had been sick and struggling, years when I desperately needed a shoulder to cry on because my best friend turned on me or a boy I liked made fun of me. I hadn’t been able to burden her then with my problems; hers were far worse than mine. Yet I treasured those days with her. There were special moments, like the daily text with the picture of a magnolia, times I would always cherish.

It hadn’t been easy for any of us, but it had been especially hard on my father. Through it all he had maintained his rectitude. No matter how difficult life became, no matter how challenging it was to take care of both my mother and me, he was resolute in his determination to care for her. It wasn’t until her final weeks that he had to admit he needed help. Even then he paid a nurse to come into our home rather than putting her into hospice. It was because of his sense of righteousness that she was able to spend her final days in the home she had so adored, surrounded by loved ones.

Sadly the burden of those years took their toll on him. Focusing all his energy on taking care of us he had neglected his own health until one day, just over a year after she had passed, he died unexpectedly with a blocked artery, a tragedy easily avoided had it been discovered in time.

And so I found myself alone, both my parents gone, estranged from my friends, Lily refusing to speak to me. Without anyone to turn to. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I felt hunted, like the antelope being stalked by a lion, just waiting to pounce.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after How Would I Ever Solve the Problem with All These Interruptions?

How Would I Ever Solve the Problem with All These Interruptions?

It was in that moment I realized what a mess my life had become. I was completely out of shape, I was behind on my projects for work, and even my best friend wouldn’t speak to me. How could things have gotten so bad?

Glancing at the clock I noticed it was a quarter past eight. Lisa would be serving breakfast. Maybe I could think this through as I ate. I grabbed my notebook and headed downstairs.

The dining room was located behind the reception area and consisted of 5 small tables each large enough for 4 people, plus a longer one that would seat 8. The dusty rose motif on the wallpaper could have been original to the house. The space was softly lit by bronze wall sconces spaced evenly between photos in which roses figured prominently. How such heavy-handed themes could come across as sophisticated instead of garish was truly a mystery.

In one corner a couple spoke intimately, their knees touching under the white tablecloth, their hands joined, their heads inches apart. Otherwise the room was empty.

A buffet was spread across a sideboard at the back of the room. The assortment of pastries, fruit, cereal and eggs seemed excessive for the small gathering. Filling a plate with a hard boiled egg, fresh blueberry muffin and a banana I chose a seat as far from the other guests as possible.

Opening my notebook, I closed my eyes trying to focus on how I was going to approach this situation. I felt overwhelmed.

Just as I picked up my pen to start writing Lisa appeared with a carafe of coffee and a simple white mug. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Please.” I forced a smile, frustrated with the interruption but grateful for the caffeine. As she poured the steaming liquid the rich aroma lifted my spirits.

“I’ll leave this here in case you want more. Just let me know if you need anything else.” And with that she was gone.

Picking up my pen I was determined to put something down before I was interrupted again. I started by writing the list I’d made in my head of all the problems that had been cropping up.

Out of shape was first on the list. I couldn’t deny that one. All of my clothes were tight, the waist of my jeans so strained I could barely button them. Just running across the street the night before had winded me. Eyeing the muffin I sighed. Maybe this one could wait. I had plenty of other areas that needed my attention.

Work projects behind schedule
came second. I bit the end of the pen as I thought about this one. Until I stopped moving around there wasn’t a whole lot I could do to fix that one, but maybe I could work a little later in the day. Any progress would be better than none. I hadn’t made work a priority in weeks. I was going to have to change that or I’d lose my contract.

Lily was number three. Obviously she wasn’t going to talk to me on the phone. I needed a different strategy to repair that friendship. I still couldn’t comprehend why she was being so unreasonable. Doodling in the margins I thought back to all the hard times we’d been through together. I refused to give up. I was sure something would come to me.

Finally I wrote the last word: Clay. He was the root of all this chaos. Everything was fine before I met him. It was this relationship that was the genesis of all these problems. Did he do this intentionally? If so, why? Was it possible everything that had happened since I’d left was unrelated to him? That didn’t seem likely but I was at a loss why he would follow me, never mind the music and the flowers. It just didn’t make sense. What was I missing?

I had more questions than answers but I wrote them all down as they came to me, hoping that at some point understanding would dawn.

Suddenly the room was filled with raucous laughter as a family with four teenage boys entered. The boys shoved each other playfully, each trying to get ahead of the other in line for the buffet. The parents, busy talking to each other, did nothing to quiet them, apparently unaware how they were disturbing the other guests.

I slammed my notebook closed. Standing I grabbed my book, pen and the banana. Just as I was turning away I decided to take the muffin as well. My hands full, I headed back to my room to get away from the noise.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Genesis 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 Could I Do If She Wouldn’t Listen to Me?

What Could I Do If She Wouldn’t Listen to Me?

Thanks to the traffic I’d encountered the day before I hadn’t made it far from my original starting point. Now that I was heading back in the direction from which I’d come that seemed fortunate than it had seemed yesterday. In less than an hour I arrived in the quaint town that was home to my best friend.

At least she used to be my best friend.

There were several places I could stay, but I decided on a historic bed and breakfast I’d always wanted an excuse to visit. In the past, if I hadn’t wanted to drive home I would have slept at Lily’s. Since that wasn’t an option, it seemed I was going to have my chance to see the B&B.

Pulling into the parking lot of the Blue Ribbon Inn I watched my rear view mirror for anything suspicious. I was growing accustomed to keeping an eye on what was happening behind me. I must have checked my mirror a thousand times on the short drive, but I had seen nothing unusual.

It was still early but I assumed someone would be there to check me in.

I climbed the five steps to the wide wrap around porch, the boards worn smooth from years of shoes rubbing against them. The white paint on the railing was peeling. Not so much that it looked run down. Instead it seemed to enhance the character of the building, in the way grey hair at the temples of an older man might make him seem more distinguished. I could almost imagine people 100 years ago going up these same stairs.

Large pots overflowing with bright red geraniums flanked the front door which stood ajar, inviting guests to enter.

Opening the screen door I could see that the reception area had been beautifully restored. The longleaf pine floors gleamed. Small braided rugs were scattered throughout the spacious room. An antique sofa and two rocking chairs to the right of the entryway provided seating in front of a red brick fireplace, a small flame fighting the cooler air from outside.

A grey haired woman came from behind a low desk to greet me. Her warm smile lit up her wrinkled face. Her flowered knee length dress was far from fashionable but suited her in a way I found appealing.

“Good morning! Welcome to the Blue Ribbon. I’m Lisa. How can I help you?”

“I don’t have a reservation but I was hoping you’d have a room available.”

“Of course, dear. How long will you be staying?” She flipped through a paper registration book reminiscent of the ones used before computers were commonplace.

I hesitated, not sure how to answer. “Uh. I don’t know exactly. I’m hoping to be here a few nights, but it might be only one. I hope that’s not a problem.”

“No problem at all. Hmmm…I’ll put you in the morning glory room.”

I smiled, a memory coming to me at the mention of the pretty flower. “The room is named after the flower?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Each of our rooms has a different flower theme. There’s a lovely garden out back with plenty of places to sit as well.”

“My mother had a huge garden when I was young and morning glories used to be one of her favorites, next to magnolias anyway. I was always sad that the flowers didn’t last more than a day but she would remind me to enjoy them while they were there and not worry about tomorrow.”

She nodded in agreement. “Your mother was a wise woman.”

“Yeah.” Choked with emotion I couldn’t say more.

“Let me show you to your room.”

As she led me up the curved staircase to the second floor I ran my fingers over the polished handrail. The ancient boards creaked softly under our weight. At the top she opened the second door on the left then handed me the key.

“You have your own bath. There’s extra pillows in the closet. I serve breakfast at 8 if you’re hungry, and tea is at 4. You’re on your own for lunch and dinner but there are plenty of places nearby to eat. Just relax and let me know if you need anything.”

I thanked her as she walked away.

Alone in my room I was drawn in by the cozy charm. The faded blue wallpaper was thick. Where it was worn by furniture or suitcases rubbing against it the paper was white, but the wall beneath it was still covered. A rosewood bureau stood opposite the full sized bed. An off-white lace runner protected the wooden surface. An antique pitcher with soft blue morning glories adorning the sides rested in a matching washbasin.

Prints of the flower were sprinkled throughout the room. Some were closeups of the pretty blossoms while others showed the blooms in the background, behind a young girl with soft blond curls or growing in a garden with a couple cuddled on a swing. The bronze frames all looked old but well cared for.

A television was noticeably absent.

I fell onto the firm mattress, exhausted, my backpack hitting the floor with a thud. The metal bed frame squeaked as I propped myself up on the pillows. I knew I should call Lily before I lost my nerve….I just didn’t know what I was going to say.

Bending over the side of the bed to pull my phone out of the front pocket of my bag, I suddenly felt dizzy. Sitting up quickly I dropped the phone in my lap, waiting for the spinning to stop. Maybe I should have eaten the food from the diner, I thought.

When the moment passed I resolved to eat as soon as I’d talked to Lily. The longer I waited the more anxious I would feel. It was better to just get it over with.

I hit the call button next to her picture in my contacts and waited as it rang, the tension building in my neck.

Abruptly the ringing stopped and there was only silence.

“Hello?” I asked.

There was no response.

“Lily?”

A sigh and then, “Yeah, I’m here.”

“I think we should talk. I’m in town. Can we meet?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she replied.

“The least you can do is talk to me. You owe me that much.”

“Really? I owe you? Why do I owe you?” Her voice rose.

“Don’t be stupid. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years. We can’t let one argument get between us.”

Stupid? I’m being stupid? All you care about is Clay. Why don’t you go talk to him?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” I started.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Lily interrupted. Her tone was sharp, almost strident.

And then she was gone. She had hung up without even listening to me.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after She Has Saved Me with Her Kindness.

She Has Saved Me with Her Kindness

I stopped at the front desk on my way out, the woman with the painfully tight bun back at the counter, busily flipping through a stack of papers. When I let her know I’d be leaving earlier than I’d planned she appeared genuinely concerned as she said, “Oh no! I hope everything was to your satisfaction.”

She promptly pulled up my final bill on her computer as I replied shortly, “Yes, thanks. Something came up and I just need to go.” I signed the paper she laid on the counter and had turned away by the time she had printed my copy.

“Ma’am, your receipt,” she called after me.

Glancing back I could see I had offended her in my haste. I sighed, frustrated with myself. None of this was her fault. Returning to the desk I apologized, “I’m sorry for being so rude. Something urgent has come up and I’m not thinking clearly.” I pasted a smile on my face and added, “Thank you.” I took the page from her and forced myself to walk instead of running out of the lobby.

I threw my backpack on the front passenger’s seat as I slid behind the wheel. I felt some relief just being in my car, but I still had no destination planned. As anxious as I was to get away, I knew I should stop at the diner. Not only would I be able to get a hot meal but I could look at a map and pick a direction at least.

The clock on the dash read 5:42. Would the restaurant even be open this early?

After exiting the hotel parking lot, I cut through the gas pumps at the Citgo station so that I could get to the diner without turning onto the road, not that there was much traffic that morning. Pulling into the empty lot I could see lights on and Alice moving around inside.

I admired her energy. This woman must have worked until the diner closed the previous evening yet there she was bright and early still bustling about.

When I reached the glass door I found it locked, the small sign listing the hours indicating that they didn’t open until six. Before I could even consider walking away Alice was there unlocking the bolt and gesturing me inside.

“Morning sweetie! What has you up and about so early?” Her affectionate tone left me feeling like a close friend instead of a virtual stranger.

My heart warmed at her greeting. How I wished I could stay!

Repeating what I had told the hotel clerk I said, “Something important came up and I’m going to have to head out.” My disappointment was evident in my voice.

“Aw, well I hope everything’s okay,” she replied with concern. Brightening she added, “You can always come back.”

I nodded in agreement, even though I was fairly sure I would never return.

“Take a seat and I’ll bring you some coffee,” she offered, turning away without waiting for a response.

Returning with a steaming mug of coffee and a small pitcher of cream she asked, “What can I get for ya.”

Since I hadn’t seen a menu I wasn’t prepared to order, but I was grateful for her efficiency. Maybe she somehow understood my need to hurry. “What do you recommend?”

“Well, I like the French toast personally. We use a cinnamon swirl bread you’ll love!”

“Sold!” I declared with a laugh. “That sounds perfect!”

As she left I pulled Google maps up on my phone. Dragging the map in all directions I was no closer to an answer until I saw the town where Lilly lived. It was only about 30 miles from my apartment, but Clay had never been there. He had no idea where she lived, had never taken an interest in my friends after that disastrous weekend. I didn’t assume I was welcome to stay with her, as I would have one day not that long ago, but maybe I could work on that friendship while I was there.

With that determined, I looked around the empty restaurant. Alice must have been in the kitchen because there was no one at all in the dining area. Spotting the restrooms I realized that I left in such a hurry I hadn’t bothered to shower or brush my teeth. Deciding to clean up I grabbed my bag and headed to the far back corner.

Several minutes later I headed back to my table feeling refreshed and more optimistic about the day. Before I had a chance to sit down Alice banged out of the kitchen carrying a brown paper bag, rushing to my side with such earnestness a lump formed in my throat.

Shoving the bag into my arms she said with worry, “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, but there was a man in here asking about you. I got rid of him…he didn’t seem the sort you’d want to mess with if you ask me. I told him there was no one here and that you’d had car problems last night so you’d gone to the hotel. I thought you might like to take your breakfast to go, you know, in case he comes back.”

Impulsively I hugged her, my gratitude for this woman more than I could contain. I wanted to reassure her, tell her everything was fine, but I couldn’t muster the bravado. “Thank you,” I said with all the sincerity I could load into those simple words. “I don’t know how I can repay you,” I added reaching into my bag for my wallet.

“Nah, just go. It’s on me. Get out of here, now….but if you get back this way stop by and see me.” Her eyes glittered with unshed tears.

I paused, not sure what to say or do. I had never experienced such remarkable kindness from a stranger.

“Go,” she urged, tilting her head toward the door.

Unable to think of anything else, I nodded at her and dashed out the door to my car.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after How Coud I Escape This Time?

How Could I Escape This Time?

I ran through the woods, my heart pounding in my chest, my angry lungs burning as they futilely tried to pull more oxygen into my body. As I propelled myself forward, I looked over my shoulder. I could see nothing but the shadow of a figure looming over the trail. Seemingly without effort the form approached ever closer, an ominous phantom moving with ease.

It appeared unhurried, as if the ending were already certain. Assured of success it had no reason to rush.

Suddenly a dusky gloom fell around me, the tall pine trees morphing into faceless beings, their branch-like arms reaching for me. As the needles brushed my skin tears streaked my dusty face forming muddy tracks down my cheeks. I had fancied myself a renegade but escape was futile.

You can still come back.

The thought came to me from the apparition, as if his words were spoken inside my head. With his message ringing in my mind I tripped on a root, falling to the ground. The pain radiated up my legs, expanding until it filled every part of me, like cancer invading my body. I lay motionless, waiting to be taken by the shadow.

*****************************************

Waking with a start I found the damp sheets tangled around my legs. I struggled to release myself, the terror of the nightmare still fresh. I kicked my legs frantically and pushed furiously at the folds. Gripped by panic one thought consumed me. I needed to leave, needed to escape.

Finally releasing myself from my bonds I sat up, as out of breath as if I’d actually been running.

The room was dark, the only light the dim illumination of the clock on the bedside table. My head spun as I searched the darkness, convinced Clay was in the room with me. The shadows around me felt menacing, as if they too were trying to get me. I snapped on the lamp next to me and flinched as the bright light stung my eyes.

It was just a dream. It was just a dream. It was just a dream.

I repeated the thought to myself, over and over, attempting to drown out the words from the forest.

Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream.

Slowly the pain in my chest eased, my breathing returning to normal.

Yes, I would leave. That was unavoidable. I had no idea if he had been behind the flower at the diner or the music in my room, but I couldn’t risk staying. I had remained hoping to get some rest, a botched plan to say the least. Without any idea where to go it had seemed like the best option.

I checked the clock, 5:12 am. As I stood to gather my few belongings I considered getting breakfast at the diner. Since I didn’t have much food with me I thought it would be better to save it if I could, but I couldn’t sit around waiting. I needed to move. Deciding I would stop at the diner if it were open I checked the room one last time and headed out the door, not sure what the day would bring.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Just When I Thought I Was Safe.