Category Archives: Fiction

Just When I Thought I Was Safe

As he turned I let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. It wasn’t Clay. I don’t know why I thought it might be. There was no reason to think he would find me there.

Continuing to the office supply section I was disappointed to discover there were no journals. Settling for a simple spiral notebook, I grabbed a pen to go with it. Then as an afterthought also picked up a pack of Post It notes before heading to the register.

As I paid for my items I asked the clerk what was nearby for dinner. He suggested the diner next to the Citgo station, since that was the only place that served hot food for miles. I thanked him then headed back across the street.

Entering the cramped restaurant, a pleasing blend of aromas assaulted me. I couldn’t believe that such an unremarkable hole in the wall would smell so amazing. My mouth watered as I waited to be seated.

As the waitress walked by carrying a tray loaded with food she said with a smile, “Take a seat anywhere. I’ll be with you in just a sec.”

There were 15 tables crushed into the small space, about half of which were filled with patrons who were obviously enjoying their food. As I watched them devour their meals I was reminded that I hadn’t eaten since early that morning. My stomach growled loudly at that thought as I sat at a table for two against the wall.

Almost immediately the waitress was back, her wide hips swinging as she bustled about in a pale blue dress protected by a clean white apron. Her dark brown hair was teased so that it was standing up around her head, making her appear taller than she actually was. Her face, free of makeup, was lined around her mouth, the only indication she was older than a high school student.

“Well hello! I’m Alice. Can I bring you something to drink?” Her warm greeting was sincere, as if she were welcoming me into her home. She appeared sweet and kind and I found myself wondering if I would be here long enough to get to know her.

“I’ll have water please, with lemon if you have it. What smells so good?”

“Ah that’s our house special, chicken pot pie. It’s to die for,” she responded enthusiastically, her eyes rolling upward as if she were savoring a bite of the pie as we spoke.

I laughed as she giggled at her own antics. “Sounds like I need to try that!”

“You won’t be sorry,” she told me as she scurried off.

I was about to open my notebook to begin writing down my thoughts when she returned with the water. “Your food will be out soon,” she informed me as she leaned one hip against the edge of my table. “Is this your first time here?”

“Yes,” I replied cautiously, unsure I should be sharing my story with a stranger.

“Well I won’t pry, but I hope you stick around for a bit. There’s not much to do besides hiking and hunting but there are some great trails not far. If you’re interested I can make you a list of my favorites.”

I grinned at the suggestion. Hiking in the woods might be exactly what I needed to clear my mind so I could focus on solving the problems that seemed to be cropping up at every turn. “That would be great. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here but I’d love to do some hiking before I go.”

“Sure thing. Let me go get your dinner,” she said as she turned to leave.

As she walked away I opened my notebook and started making a list. At the top of the list was Clay. I would need to figure out what was going on there. Could he really be dangerous? Surely I would have noticed before now, wouldn’t I?

Shaking my head, not ready to answer those questions yet, I added Lilly’s name beneath his. She had been my friend through thick and thin. Why was she abandoning me now that I needed her?

My thoughts were interrupted as Alice brought my chicken pot pie. I breathed in deeply, savoring the delectable scent. It smelled fantastic. I thanked her briefly as I dug into my meal. With the first bite my eyes rolled with appreciation just as the waitress had mimicked earlier. She had been right.

As she passed the table again she chuckled, “I told ya. Best thing on the menu, although the meatloaf is pretty good too.” She winked as she placed the check on the table without slowing down. “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready. No rush,” she said as she darted off to another table.

Underneath the check I found a list of trails neatly written out, directions to each carefully detailed. When had she had time to do that? Did she keep this list on hand for tourists? It seemed unlikely she could have completed the list in such a short time while serving all these customers.

Still amazed at her efficiency I stood and walked to the cash register by the door, hoping to make things easier for her. I rarely saw anyone working as hard as this perky woman.

“How was everything?” she asked as she ran my credit card through the register.

“That was the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever had!” I told her enthusiastically. “I hope your breakfast is as good.”

She grinned. “Best in town,” she replied enthusiastically. With a snort she added, “The only one in town!”

I laughed. “I’ll see you in the morning then,” I declared as I turned to leave. Just then I noticed a white magnolia blossom on the counter. I was about to ask her where it came from but she had already left.

Shaking off my anxiety I returned to my room at the hotel, noticing as I passed that the woman who had checked me in had been replaced by a pimply-faced young man who seemed to be in his early twenties. He waved as I entered the elevator, my responding gesture cut short by the closing of the doors.

As I opened the door to my room the lively sound of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 greeted me. Searching, I found the source to be the radio on the bedside table. Unable to figure out how to turn it off I hit the snooze button and was rewarded with silence.

Looking around, I could see that the bed had been turned down. Could this be a service provided by the hotel? That felt improbable given the practical nature of the hotel, but the alternative was incomprehensible.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after I Need to Figure This Out One Problem at a Time.

I Need to Figure This Out One Problem at a Time

I took the elevator to the second story and located my room which was at the end of the hallway near the fire escape. Opening the door, a cursory review of the room proved that it was exactly what I had expected, clean and utilitarian.

The two double beds sported light colored quilts instead of the garish duvet covers so common among hotels. The white sheets appeared crisp and the pillows were plump and inviting. A tiny round table with one wooden chair was tucked into the corner next to the low bureau that supported the 36” flat screen television.

In the bathroom the white tiles sparkled almost blindingly as they were reflected in the large mirror that covered the entire wall above the sink. The shower was surrounded by a simple white curtain, the bath mat draped over the edge of the tub. Extra towels were rolled neatly on a shelf above the toilet.

Opening the closet I found a mini fridge and small safe, along with an iron and ironing board, items that seemed almost above and beyond what guests should hope for there.

Placing my backpack on the bed I sat down next to it, wondering what I should do next. Now that I was safely off the road, I needed to take the time to reflect on what had happened. Somehow my life had gotten out of control but I felt helpless to do anything about it.

As thoughts of Clay, Lilly, family, friends and my job all started to swarm in my mind I was overwhelmed. I wasn’t going to be able to handle it all at once. I needed a logical approach. Deciding a list would help I stood and started opening drawers, looking for a pen and some paper.

I was not surprised when I found nothing of use. Plan B. Grabbing my laptop I placed it on the table, opening it and watching it boot up. While I waited I changed my mind. I didn’t want to use the computer for this. There was something about writing out ideas that flowed better with a pen and paper. In high school and college I’d faithfully kept a journal. I had found it was an important way for me to sort out my thoughts and feelings. When had I stopped?

Snatching the room key and my small purse from the table I headed out to find something I could write in. This was not a problem that was going to solve itself.

I vaguely remembered seeing a pharmacy of some sort across the street from the Citgo station so I decided I would walk over. Not an area frequented by pedestrians, there were no sidewalks or crosswalks. Waiting for traffic to clear so I could cross the street, I dashed across at the first opportunity. Warmed and winded by the short sprint, I found the cool interior of the store refreshing and paused for a minute to catch my breath as I entered.

Deciding I really was out of shape I resolved to include fixing that as one of my longer term goals.

The clerk at the front counter looked up from what he was doing and asked hesitantly, “Can I help you?”

Realizing I might look harried instead of unfit I forced a smile on my face and replied, “I’m looking for a notebook or a journal.”

“In the back on the left,” he said, pointing to the far corner.

Walking past the aisles of tall shelves I spotted only one other customer, his back turned as he examined the shelf where the sleep aids and cold medicine were stored. I almost stumbled when I saw him, his stance and build so closely resembling Clay’s I could do nothing but stare.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Cursory 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 Will Happen Now That I Have a Place to Hide?

What Will Happen Now That I Have a Place to Hide?

A half mile down the road the dirt shoulder was wide enough for me to pull over. As I did, the car that had been behind me at the intersection flew past, inches from my side mirror. The silver blur was gone too fast for me to do more than register its presence but after it was gone cold fear dripped through me.

It couldn’t have been him, could it? It was the right color but I really didn’t see anything else. There were a lot of silver cars on the road. I couldn’t allow myself to jump every time I come across one.

If it had been him he wouldn’t have just driven past, would he? I sat completely still, waiting without knowing what I expected to happen. Did I think he was going to come back for me? If so, why hadn’t I pulled a U turn and run the other way? And yet I remained frozen as the minutes passed in silence.

I was pulled from my trance-like state when another vehicle passed, a silver Toyota Camry. Perhaps because this proved that his wasn’t the only silver car I was able to function again, my mind resuming its ability to process information.

I pulled Google maps up again, searching for the closest hotel, almost desperate now to be off the road. Finally determining the nearest one was almost 10 miles away, I hit the button for directions. The disembodied female voice instructed me to turn around, which I gladly did. Returning to the intersection I then turned right, heading back in the direction from which I had come.

Passing the ramp to the highway I followed the road under the overpass, finding myself surrounded by fast food restaurants and gas stations typical of highway exits that exist solely to meet the needs to travelers.. On the right side, behind a run down Citgo station with 2 pumps was the nondescript two story hotel to which I’d been guided.

As I pulled into the lot I noticed that the building, although ancient, appeared to be well maintained. Walking into the lobby I found the area to be clean although plain. I approached the front desk, setting my backpack at my feet.

Within minutes I was signing the credit card receipt and taking the key from a woman whose appearance and demeanor so perfectly matched the establishment I felt she must be the proprietor. Her simple black slacks paired with a white button down shirt, her shoulder length hair pulled back severely into a bun, along with her quiet ease drew as much attention to the hotel agent as the off-white exterior walls and stark landscaping brought to the building itself.

It may not have been as elegant as where I had been staying, but this would be the perfect place to spend a few days thinking about my relationship with Clay and planning my future.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Even Google Didn’t Know Which Way I Should Turn.

Even Google Didn’t Know Which Way I Should Turn

I watched the numbers on the clock change as I struggled with uncertainty. After five minutes I resolved to give it two more before I tried to move over. I wasn’t sure that would be enough time but I didn’t want to miss the exit. Time crawled by until finally the moment came. I hesitated, the fear bubbling inside me threatening to take over.

Pushing my despair aside I accelerated slightly, pulling ahead of the truck. I signaled and was able to pull in front of the truck easily. With that one small success, I filled with determination. I was going to get off this highway. I would get away from him. I would figure out what I needed to do. I couldn’t let him get to me this way.

The car that had been behind me passed, quickly closing the gap I had left with the car that had been in front of me. I ignored his angry glare. He couldn’t possibly understand how desperate my situation was.

Now that the truck wasn’t blocking my view I took a moment to check out the situation. The sign overhead indicated the exit was just half a mile away. I glanced toward the breakdown lane but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Did he already pass?

Hope grew as the exit came into sight. I pulled into the lane to my right, cutting off one of the other drivers. I had been so intent on my goal I hadn’t looked where I was going. I would have to be more careful. An accident right now wouldn’t help me at all.

With relief I pulled onto the off ramp, speeding to the stoplight at the bottom. Unsure where I was or where I was going I decided to turn right, simply so I wouldn’t have to wait for the traffic signal to change. I slowed down but since there was no one coming I rolled through the red light

I found myself on a rural two lane road and as the trees surrounded me I felt like I was a million miles from the beach house. I drove for another ten minutes, simply appreciating the perceived freedom of being away from the traffic. I found my speed constantly creeping up so I tried to focus my attention on maintaining 5 over the posted 40 mph limit.

As I hummed to myself in the silence of the car I suddenly realized the radio was still off. When I clicked it on music filled the space. Eerily it was one of the songs that had been played at the festival Clay had been part of so long ago.

I pushed the fanciful thought aside. In the weeks we had been together we had listened to a lot of music. It really wasn’t that surprising one of the songs would be playing on the radio, even though I hadn’t realized the local band was big enough to be played so widely. My paranoia was getting the best of me. I reminded myself not everything was about me, or this situation. It was simply a coincidence that this song happened to be playing at that moment. Still, I turned the radio off again.

Coming to a stop at a four way intersection it occurred to me that I had no idea which way I should go. Picking up my phone I opened Google maps. It appeared there was nothing around me for miles. Why on earth was there an exit from the highway to this land of nothingness?

In my zealous haste to escape the traffic I’d ended up literally in the middle of nowhere.

I typed the word “hotel” into the search bar and nothing appeared. As I expanded the area of my search a car approached quickly behind me, coming to an abrupt halt inches from me. The road was dim with the sun beginning to set beyond the trees, making it difficult to make out much about the car or driver behind me.

I jumped when he honked his horn. Making a hasty decision I turned left, unsure where the road would take me.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Zealous 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 Only Hope Was to Remain Hidden.

My Only Hope Was to Remain Hidden

Suddenly the cacophony seemed to swell around me, almost overpowering. The sounds of cars zipping by in the other direction, horns blaring as one driver got mad at another, the air from the air conditioner being forced through the vent and the music on the radio all combined in a crushing dissonance. I needed to think but couldn’t with the commotion coming from all directions. I desperately wanted to cover my ears to block out the noise, but instead was limited to switching off the stereo and turning down the fan.

Looking in my mirror again I could see the car in the break down lane was still closing the distance. He was moving slowly, possibly checking the cars in traffic for mine. There was no way to conceal my huge SUV and nowhere for me to go. Anxiously I looked around wondering what I should do. Immediately I spotted a tractor trailer truck not far ahead in the middle lane.

With determination I turned on my directional and was thankful the person next to me let me slide into the lane before him with no hesitation. Five cars now separated me from the only vehicle large enough to hide the Pilot. The traffic to my left was going just slightly faster than I was. I hoped it would be fast enough so I could get to the other side of the truck before he reached me.

I signaled again but the car to my left refused to slow down. Frustration boiled inside me just before the next driver opened a gap large enough so I could move over. I turned to look behind me but couldn’t see the car any longer. Impatiently I crept up on the bumper of the car in front of me. At the angry glance I received I backed off slightly, tapping my hand on the steering wheel to relieve some of the tension.

Gradually we inched closer to the truck, until finally I was engulfed in its shadow.

I wasn’t sure how long I would need to stay concealed. I didn’t want to miss the next exit but it was more important to remain hidden at least until he passed. I slowed my pace down to match the speed of the truck, peeking in the rear view mirror to offer a silent apology to the person behind me who had been kind enough to let me into the lane.

I tried to breathe deeply to calm my growing hysteria. I checked the clock. One minute had passed. How long should I wait? Nervously I thumped the wheel in a rhythm that matched the beating of my heart. Five minutes? Ten? If my estimation was correct and the exit had been 15 minutes ahead earlier then I wouldn’t have ten minutes to spare.

Another minute ticked by as I tried to decide what to do.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Who Would Drive So Recklessly?

Who Would Drive So Recklessly?

Mentally reviewing the conversation, I filled with grudging acceptance. My friendship with Lilly might be irrevocably damaged. I still didn’t understand why she was so angry. We had been friends for too long for her to make such a fuss over one weekend.

As the truck in front of me slowed unexpectedly I realized that was a problem I would need to think about later. The vehicles ahead of me gradually came to a halt as we approached congestion. It never failed. Traffic was always worst when I was in a hurry.

I eased my car into the breakdown lane to my left, trying to determine how bad the bakcup was. From what I could see it extended for miles, far beyond where the road turned out of sight. I grabbed my phone and pulled up Google maps, the red line indicating slow traffic that seemed to go on forever.

There was no way I could sit through that. I had to get off and either find a place to stay or maybe a different route. It might have been irrational but I felt vulnerable, trapped there among the cars that just a short time before had made me feel protected, concealed.

Slowly I worked my way across the lanes until I was in the far right lane. Again looking at the map on my phone I tried to figure out how far the next exit was. At this painful crawl it appeared it would be at least 15 minutes before I would reach it.

When I glanced up I scanned my mirrors, out of habit more than anything else. In the passenger side mirror I saw a silver car recklessly driving down the breakdown lane.

In shock I could do nothing as it approached.

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

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Why Was She So Mad at Me?

Why Was She So Mad at Me?

My heart soared as I reached the on-ramp with no further issues. Merging with traffic I was grateful for the perceived anonymity that came from being among the other vehicles on the road. Anxious to leave town I navigated to the passing lane and fell behind an older Toyota Tacoma going 10 over the limit.

I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment. No one even knew I was going away. I hadn’t spoken with any of my friends since the disastrous trip to the house by the river. Although I missed all of them, I longed to reach out to Lilly most, to hear her calm voice tell me everything was going to be okay.

Now that I was learning what Clay might be capable of my eyes were opening to who he really was instead of the man I had imagined. Maybe Lilly would talk to me again if she knew I wasn’t with him any longer.

Anxiously I scrolled through my contacts as I kept my car at a steady 75 mph. After I hit the phone icon next to her picture I switched the device over to bluetooth so I could keep both hands on the wheel. The phone rang four times and just as I was sure it would go to voicemail Lilly answered in a tone much cooler than the one with which she had used to greet me in the past.

Saddened by the distance I felt between us I forced myself to speak. “How are you? So much has happened. I need to talk to you.”

“Honestly, I don’t think I want to hear about it,” she replied tersely.

I bristled. I knew she didn’t approve of my relationship, and in hindsight she wasn’t wrong, but why did she sound so mad at me?

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that I finally understand why you had such an issue with Clay,” I began.

“Listen, what is happening between the two of you is really none of my business. You made it perfectly clear where your loyalties were,” she stated hotly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, intentionally keeping my inflection flat to avoid sounding defensive.

“When we were together that weekend it was obvious you only wanted to be with him. My feelings are hurt and it seems like I’ve lost my best friend. You haven’t been yourself since you met him.”

“I tried to spend time with you. What was I supposed to do, just leave him by himself?” My voice rose with my frustration.

“Nothing. Look, I have to run. Let’s catch up later,” she said just before disconnecting the call.

Vexed by Lilly’s attitude I tossed my phone onto the passenger’s seat and gripped the wheel with both hands until my knuckles were white.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Vex and is part of something longer I am working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Was He Trying to Kill Me?

Was He Trying to Kill Me?

I slipped into my 2015 Honda Pilot and backed out of my parking spot, unsure when I would return. Leaving the lot I turned right, heading toward the highway. I still hadn’t taken the time to figure out what I should do, but instinctively I felt I should leave town. I knew if I headed North there would be hotels not far from the highway.

Some time alone should help me evaluate the situation more objectively.

I had been lost in thought, again, almost missing the next turn. This was becoming a common occurrence. What was wrong with me?

I turned to the right at the last minute, my tires screeching on the pavement. Spying a car behind me do the same, my heart started to pound in my chest. It was a silver Porsche, just like Clay’s. This was not an affluent neighborhood. Luxury vehicles stood out among the more practical minivans and sedans common for the families living in this area.

What was he planning to do?

As the question formed in my mind, his car drew closer, dangerously close in my opinion. I sped up to increase the distance but he immediately closed the gap. Going well over the speed limit on a largely residential street I was afraid to accelerate much more.

Looking in the rear view mirror I was unable to be sure the driver was Clay as he was wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. It had to be him though, didn’t it? What was he doing?

As his car came within inches of mine, I was suddenly sure he was going to hit me and I braced myself for the impact. Seconds before our vehicles collided he swerved into the other lane. Fortunately there were no oncoming cars. He blew past me then cut back over just a breath away from my front bumper.

As he did, he slammed on the breaks. Shocked by what was happening as he passed me I had already started to lose speed, but I was still forced to veer into the empty parking spaces to my right in order to avoid a crash. Fearing a confrontation I turned right just as he crossed the next street at the end of the block.

Although I was relieved that I’d been able to prevent a wreck I didn’t allow myself time to celebrate. It was clear that my impulse to run was justified. Now I just had to get to the highway before he found me again.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Spying and is part of something longer I am working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after Was It Time to Say Goodbye to the Past?

Was It Time to Say Goodbye to the Past?

Thinking about it as I sat there, my relationship with Clay was redolent of my past affair. In both I had made assumptions. I had been quick to fall in love with the person I thought they were, without taking the time to truly get to know them. I had been infatuated with the romantic image of being the girlfriend of a wealthy older man.

Was money really that important to me? Was I incapable of learning? Had I not changed at all in the past 10 years? Was I destined to repeat the same pattern my whole life?

I was going to have to figure that out, but at the moment there were more pressing matters. Apparently Clay had not believed me when I had told him I’d be back after I left the cafe. He had obviously come to my apartment when I was at the police station, but had not stayed. I considered the possibility that this would be the end, but my intuition told me he would not be dissuaded so easily.

Looking around, I was sad that I would once again be leaving my quirky little apartment. I had been happy there, or I suppose more accurately I had thought I’d been happy there. Maybe what I’d really been doing was hiding, barricading myself from the world, protecting myself from being hurt.

The realization flashed through my mind without conscious effort, but deep within me I felt the truth of the idea. Lilly had tried to tell me as much over the years but stubbornly I refused to admit it. I had argued that I still went out, saw my friends, went to work. But maybe I was starting to understand what she had been trying to say.

Standing I picked up my backpack. I briefly contemplated what I might want from my home while I was away. Realizing I’d been without everything there for weeks I decided it was better to walk away from it all. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, but there was nothing there I truly needed.

I grabbed the keys from their hook next to the door, then paused with my hand on the knob. Looking back over my shoulder at the quaint space that had been mine, I sighed with resignation. Like it or not, my life was about to change. I would no longer be able to hide in my sanctuary.

A tear slipped down my cheek as I left my past life behind me.

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Redolent and is part of something longer I am working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after How Do I Know if It’s Love?

How Do I Know if It’s Love?

I had no idea what love really was. My one relationship, if you could call it a relationship, had been such a failure I had seldom dated afterward. I had thought that was love, had actually believed we were going to get married and live happily ever after. The truth turned out to be too humiliating to handle.

It had begun the year my mother passed away. I had been 28 at the time, still deeply affected by my mother’s death even though 7 months had passed. I had barely left my apartment except to work. My friends had been concerned about me, but I told them I needed time to deal with my loss. She had been my best friend, my biggest supporter, and I felt lost without her.

At the time, I was working for a law firm as a receptionist and a man had come into the office for a meeting. As he waited he’d leaned against my desk chatting with me. It wasn’t until a coworker returned from showing him into the conference room bubbling with excitement that I even considered his conversation might be something more than a way to kill time.

Before he left he once again stopped in front of me, this time to invite me for a drink after work. I was flattered but also flustered. He was clearly a successful older man. What could he possibly see in me? But with my coworker nodding her head exaggeratedly behind him it was difficult to say no.

That night began what I thought was a romantic love affair. It turned out he was a businessman with dealings all over the world. He had homes in several countries, and rarely spent long in any one place. But over the almost 2 years we were together we would spend virtually every night he was in town in his magnificent penthouse apartment overlooking the city.

I had been so sure he had been in love with me. He brought me lavish gifts from his travels and emailed me often when he was away. It had been a complete shock the night I’d received the phone call, the anonymous woman on the other end of the line telling me to leave her husband alone.

I refused to believe what she had implied, but after some internet searching I found a Facebook page that was hard to refute. When I confronted him about it he didn’t deny it, didn’t even have the decency to apologize. I had been heartbroken.

Because of this, I had an abiding distrust of men and relationships. I avoided becoming romantically entangled with anyone, which is why what had happened with Clay had been so surprising. Surely now that I was approaching 40 my judgement had improved. Hadn’t it?

This post is in response to the daily writing prompts Abiding and is part of something longer I am working on.

This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after What Did He Say in the Letter?