He sat, iPhone in hand, gazing out the rain-streaked window. Relentless rain, soaking, causing a person to shiver in the heat. Even though he was warm and dry, he felt chilled again as he pictured his flight through woods, fields, hills and valleys. Drenched every day. Fat leeches clinging to his feet and legs. If they caught him, he would die a slow and hideously painful death. No mercy. Not for a Western photoghrapher/journalist who had exposed them as the monsters they were.
Memory was clear of the moment he sensed eyes on him.
(A stranger texts the wrong number, and accidentally sends you a declaration of love. The message is so sweet and heartfelt that you know you can’t let it go.) ********************
Dear Hopeful, typed Amber, thinking carefully about her response.
Your email was a surprise! I don’t know you, and I’m pretty sure you don’t know me. Somehow, you got the wrong email address. I hope you find the right one, , because–well, this email is so sweet, and you’ve written it so well, that I think I would enjoy getting to know you.
And maybe you could let me know if/when you find this lucky girl :).
Holy cow, I’m so embarrassed! I’m really sorry! You must think I’m a real loser. My face is, like, BEET red right now! I’m glad. you can’t see me! I promise to let you know how this all turns out.
Amber told her office co-worker about the misplaced email, and the answers that had gone between herself and Rick. Lucy, her close friend as well as co-worker, was horrified! “Amber, what were you thinking? He could be some kind of stalker guy, using this wrong address thing to find vulnerable women! Don’t you realize that a hacker can figure out where your computer is just from your email address? You should change it, right away!”
Amber smiled. She loved her friend, but she just had a good feeling about Rick. “I’ll take my chances, Lu,” she smiled. “My spidey senses tell me he’s a really nice guy.”
“Spidey senses! Ridiculous! You’re crazy, and I hope you don’t come to work dead one of these days! Well, you know what I mean. This could be so dangerous, Amber. Really!”
Amber waited until she was locked in her apartment before she checked her email. There he was! She opened the email, and read,
Hi, Amber! I thought you’d want to know that I talked to the girl I thought I was emailing, and she dumped me like I was a snake or something. I guess she doesn’t return my interest 😦 Well, that’s the end of that, I guess. Disappointed, but life goes on.
Rick, I’m sorry. You need someone to talk to?
Amber, are you serious? I could be a stalker or something, you know!
Hmmmmm. I don’t think so, but we could meet somewhere public, like a park or a coffee place. I work near “Cool Beans.” Do you know where that is?”
Sure, I work near there, too. Tomorrow, noon–we could do lunch?
Sure. I’ll bring my friend, ok?
Yes, and so will I. Good idea :). See you then!
“NO! I will NOT encourage you in this craziness! Absolutely not!”
“Okay, fine, I’ll just go by myself then.”
Lucy sighed. “Oh good grief! You can’t, Amber. You just can’t! TWO guys you don’t know? Ugh! Okay, I’ll go. But you owe me BIG!”
Amber and Lucy walked into Cool Beans at 12:05. There were two nervous-looking guys standing just inside the door, hands in pockets, reminding Amber more of a couple of kids who’d been caught taking cookies from the cookie jar rather than someone waiting for a blind date. And that observation comforted her somewhat. They looked–well, just kind of innocent.
Introductions, where to sit, what to order–all those things took up precious time, in Amber’s opinion. She had to remind herself that this was just a meet and greet, not a DATE! Lucy and James, (James please, not Jim!) seemed to be chatting away, at ease in a short period of time. Amber and Rick, sitting across from each other, occupied their time with not-so-subtle glances each wanting to take the other’s measure but shy about doing so.
Finally, Rick laughed a little. “Amber, this is awkward. We need to be comfortable if we’re going to be able to talk, and it seems we’re both kind of shy. Why don’t you ask me something? Something about the girl I thought I was emailing, for instance?”
Amber thought while she sipped her coffee. Rick’s eyes were trained on her now, not shifting away. He had great eyes, the grey kind that she was pretty sure would change color with the color of his shirt or tie. He had full, straight brows, not too hairy. She hated that. His hair was somewhere between brown and black, curling just a bit on his collar and around his ears. Naturally wavy, lucky guy. He had a good smile, and a strong jaw and chin. Taking all this in, Amber finally said, “Okay, how long had you and email-girl been dating?”
Rick ducked his head a little, but then brought his gaze right back up. Amber was for sure easy on the eyes, he thought. Wonderful hair, thick and straight like a shampoo model. He wondered what it smelled like. Shaking that thought away, he said, “We’d been seeing each other for nearly a year. I thought we were really good together, but I guess she didn’t. I haven’t seen or spoken with her since that embarrassing email.”
“Rick, why did you think it was a good idea to use an email for a declaration of love?” Amber’s almost-purple eyes were serious, not mocking, as she held his gaze.
Rick huffed out a sort-of-but-not-really laugh. “”Pretty dumb, huh? James told me I was an idiot, acting like a junior high kid. He said that at least I hadn’t put any boxes like ‘check this box if you love me too.’ He told me I needed to man up, and it looks like he was right. I was just–I don’t know, shy, scared, nervous, I guess. Didn’t want to face her if she didn’t return my interest.”
When Amber smiled, a dimple winked at the corner of her mouth. “So, you really weren’t sure? I’m guessing you weren’t sure of yourself, either, how you felt about her. Right?”
Rick was staring at the dimple, and took a moment to respond. “Uh–yeah, I guess so. I mean, I haven’t cried myself to sleep or anything,” he said with a grin. “Not suicidal, not starving myself or anything. So honestly? I really don’t know for sure what was going on. Like James said, junior high stuff.”
It was time for Amber and Lucy to get back to work, and the guys agreed that they needed to get going too.
On the walk back to their building, Lucy said, “So, did you get each other’s numbers? Will he call you?”
“Yeah, we did. And yeah, I think he will. He’s a nice man. Not creepy at all. How about you? Seemed like James and you hit it off right away!”
“We did. We’re going out to dinner tonight. Remember when I said you’d owe me for coming with you today? Well, call it even. I have a feeling that you paid up already!”
(You hear news of your next-door neighbor vanishing without a trace.)
Wendy was about as close with her next-door neighbor as anyone could expect. Janet was a recluse. She allowed very few people to cross her boundaries, and most gave up trying in pretty short order. Janet wasn’t in-your-face rude or discourteous. She was. . . . . distant. Always. Wendy had learned to watch Janet’s eyes. There’s dull; there’s crushingly sad; there’s blank; and there’s empty. Empty was the worst. Wendy knew to keep her distance when Janet had empty eyes.
There were no children. Janet had a husband, but he left before daylight and came home after dark, regardless of the season or daylight saving time. He always pulled the car into his garage and closed the garage door as soon as his rear bumper was clear.
There was very little noise from their house. Now and then, the volume of the television would go loud enough to be heard in Wendy’s living room, but usually it was just very quiet. Lights would be switched off in one room, switched on in another. The bathroom light shone dimly through a high opaque window. The other rooms in the house were thickly draped, with only a little light coming around the edges of the windows.
Janet had agreed, hesitantly, to enter Janet’s house for afternoon coffee or tea. She was edgy, though, and clearly uncomfortable. She kept her eyes on her watch, and after just enough time for one cup of coffee, she would jump up and say,”I have to get dinner started. Thanks! ‘Bye!” She would flit away like a shadow, leaving Wendy to wonder if she’d really been there at all.
One day it all came crumbling down. When Wendy heard a tapping at her back door, she looked out the window and saw someone she didn’t recognize. Swollen eyes, patchy hair, nose crushed out of shape. Bruised cheeks, blood, snot and tears. She opened the door, ready to take Janet’s arm and pull her inside. But Janet flinched, and Wendy realized her arm was broken.
“Janet, my dear, please come in. What on earth—-?”
Janet edged inside. She wouldn’t sit down. “I-I-help me? P-please!” She sank to her knees, unable to remain standing.
Wendy said, “Who should I call? Do you want me to take you to the hospital? To the ER? Is anything else broken?” Wendy was walking toward the phone on her kitchen counter when she glanced back and saw the blood on Janet’s top, which was sticking to her back. She thought she might throw up at the realization of what had happened, and the sudden desire she had to commit mayhem on Janet’s husband.
“Did he do this to you? Your husband?” Wendy realized she didn’t even know the man’s name! Janet had never, ever said his name!
Janet nodded, tears spurting from her eyes, her chest heaving with her rapid breathing. Janet punched in the 911 emergency code and asked for an ambulance. It was there in less than ten minutes, and a couple of young-looking EMT’s carefully helped Janet from her knees, laying her gently on their gurney. Still, she winced and cried out.
One of the young men said to Wendy, “Ma’am, we’re going to have to call the police on this one. Will you be here to make a statement within the next hour or so?”
“Yes, of course. I’ll be here all day if that’s necessary.” They thanked her and left. Wendy called her husband at work, something she rarely did. “Can you come home, Jerry? I know it’s early, but I need you, and I’m afraid. Please!”
He was home in 15 minutes, and held her while she described her morning. “You’re sure it was her husband?” ‘
“Yes. She nodded her head when I asked her. Oh, Jerry, it was horrible. He hurt her so badly, I just couldn’t believe how awful—-“
Just at that moment, someone pounded on the front door. “Open up! Let me in or I’ll break this door down!” They knew it was their neighbor. Wendy said, “The police should be here any minute. What should we do?”
“I’ll take care of it,” said Jerry. There was fire in his eyes, and Wendy almost felt sorry for Janet’s husband. She knew what Jerry could do!
When Jerry opened the door, the other man pushed his way inside and demanded to know where “his woman” was. “You tell me, or I’ll take this place apart and you with it!” He was red in the face, with bulging eyes and quivering lips. The anger and hatred that poured off him was terrifying to Wendy. But Jerry blocked the man’s way, looked him right in the eyes, and said, “Listen to me. You touch my wife, or anything in this house and I will take you down. I won’t hold back.”
The two men stared at each other, neither one moving an inch. The neighbor switched his gaze to Wendy. “You know where she is! I know you do! You’ll tell me, or. . . . “
“I will not tell you a thing! Not a thing!” replied Wendy.
Their neighbor made as if to push past Jerry, but faster than he could imagine, Jerry had him on the floor, on his face, with his right arm twisted up toward his head. The man screamed, cursed, and threatened, but he couldn’t move. Jerry had a knee in the man’s back. “Wendy, the police are here. Go let them in, please.” When his captive started protesting again, Jerry cranked his arm up a little higher. “I’ll be happy to break it, you know. Just keep fighting.”
The police had their man cuffed and stuffed into their back seat in no time. One stayed outside to make sure he didn’t try anything stupid; the other took Wendy’s statement, then Jerry’s. “We’ll need you to come down to the station and sign your statements. Do you know where his wife is?”
“Yes!” said Wendy. I know, but I didn’t tell him. Can you keep her safe? Is he going to be locked up?”
“Ma’am, I can’t promise that, but I’m going to do my best to keep him locked up. I’ll keep you two informed. In the meantime–could you tell me, please, which hospital? And her full name?”
“You won’t tell him?” demanded Wendy.
“No, Ma’am, we won’t tell him. Now, please, which hospital?”
“Netta, what on earth?” Mommy didn’t see any blood, but Netta was ghost-white.
“Netta, calm down and tell me. Take a deep breath, let it out. Now listen: You won’t be in trouble. Just tell me.” Mommy gathered Netta up close, waiting.
Through sobs, Netta said, “I went out to get a stick of wood like you said. I took it from the top of the window, and all the wood came crashing down, and–and—there was a HUGE black SNAKE that jumped out at me!”
(This story started writing itself the minute I saw the prompt.The original word count was 176. After the pruning session, this is what was left.)
What happens when you begin working at the same yogurt shop as your crush?
Maddie was stomach-churning nervous. First job, other than babysitting. She’d be able to start putting money away for college on a regular basis.
At 16, Maddie was a 4.0 student, and would take almost all AP courses in the fall. But before that, she had this whole summer to work, play, and rest. She and her family lived on a beautiful lake, perfect for swimming right off the dock. She could swim year-round in their southern California climate. Doing so helped her stay trim and strong. Her girlfriends told her she had the best bod of all, but sometimes she was pretty sure there was a little of the green glint of jealousy in their eyes. She wasn’t concerned about it, as long as she stayed healthy. She also enjoyed martial arts. She really was in pretty good shape.
As she got ready for her first day at work, she brushed her shoulder-length, natural blonde hair until it gleamed. She had to admit, she did like her hair. It had just enough wave to make it interesting. She fastened it back with a gold clip, thinking about the hat she would have to wear at work. Yuk. She hated hats. But the yogurt shop, from all she’d heard, was a great place to work, and she was excited to start.
She would be getting a couple of uniforms today. White pants, red and white striped shirts. Not her best color, but it would have to do. She glanced at her deep brown eyes, inherited from her mom, and shrugged. The standard of California beauty, with her blond hair, was blue eyes, but oh well.
“I’m on my way to work, Mom,” Maddie sang out as she headed to the door. She paused, knowing there would be questions.
“Do you have your cell? A little money? Did you brush your tee—“
“MOM! You don’t have to ask me that any more!”
“Well, it’s your first day. It’s easy to forget things when you’re nervous. Okay, Honey, have a good day. See you at supper. We’re probably going to grill out on the patio.”
“Yup, see you later!” Maddie danced her way to the car, her very own, not an expensive new one like some of her friends had, but it would get her where she needed to be. The main reason her parents got it for her was so no one would have to take her back and forth to work.
Traffic was light in their small town. Maddie was glad for that. Heavy traffic made her nervous. It took her only 15 minutes to pull into the employee parking slot. Gathering her small bag and her keys, she smoothed down her sky-blue tee and walked into the shop through the back door.
And came face-to-face with the only guy in school who gave her butterflies. He was wearing a uniform, which meant he worked here. Here, in the same yogurt shop she did.
Her heart did a somersault. She could feel the blush creeping upward from her neck to her hairline. She SO wished she could be one of those cool, self-possessed girls who pulled that same reaction from the guys! Not her, though. No, she stood there with her teeth in her mouth, with no words to say to this amazing guy she had crushed on since she was in 7th grade and he was in 8th. And he’d never, ever once noticed her or even looked her way. She’d kept her secret to herself, not trusting any of her friends to keep their mouths shut and certainly not willing to suffer the embarrassment of knowing he knew. She figured it was hopeless, and now here she was, face-to-face with the one guy she’d ever cared about.
Brady grinned. “Hey! They told me a new girl was starting today. I guess I’m your trainer for the next couple of days, so we’ll be spending a lot of time together. You ready to go to work? Oh, you can put your stuff in this locker. There’s a combination lock on it, but you still probably shouldn’t bring a lot of money here. And no cells while you’re working, so you can either store it here or just turn it off if you want to keep it with you. But seriously, no calls. You’ll get only one warning. The second time, you’re fired! They’re pretty uptight about that. Older people, you know. They just don’t see why we’re so glued to our phones. But I’m running off at the mouth. You ready?”
“Sure. Be right there.” Maddie was thankful that her voice hadn’t come out in a squeak. She stored her things, including her phone, in the locker. She quickly memorized the combination, then followed Brady out into the shop. This early in the day, it was quiet, only a couple of people enjoying their cups of frozen yogurt at the little tables in the front of the store.
“Okay, first, I guess we need to say our names. I’m Brady, You?”
“We go to the same school, right? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you before.”
“If you’re at the high school, yeah, we do.” What a liar she was, thought Maddie. Of course she knew they were at the same school. She even knew where his locker had been the previous year, and what homeroom he’d had. He, on the other hand, had no idea who she was.
I’ll be a junior this fall. You’re not in my class, or I’d know you.”
“Sophomore,” she responded quickly. She didn’t like to talk about school with kids she didn’t know. They seemed to get the idea she thought she was, like, superior or something because of her grades. So she just didn’t go there.
“Okay, well, maybe we’ll bump into each other when school starts up again. In the meantime, let me show you where things are, and how to work the machines. It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it.”
The owner/manager came in while Brady was explaining things, and greeted them both. She was pleasant, but not chatty. Business, all business. “Did you tell Maddie about the phone rule, Brady?” was all she said. When Brady indicated that he had, she nodded and went into her office.
“Wow,” said Maddie.
“Yeah, but she’s cool,” said Brady. “Just not a talker, which is fine with me.”
The six-hour shift went by fast, and Maddie’s head was full of all she’d learned. While she finished wiping down a couple of tables, Brady said, “Tomorrow, I’ll let you take orders and run the register, I’ll be right there if you have any trouble, but the more you can do on your own, the faster you’ll get it. See you then!” And he ducked out to the back and was gone before Maddie rinsed out her rag and hung it up to dry. She smiled and waved at the kids who had come in to do the next shift, and made her own exit.
(This story is growing, so I’m going to let it “be continued.” Maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday 🙂 )
Brady backed his old beater of a Ford out of his spot, catching a glimpse of Maddie as she exited through the back door. ”What a hottie,” he smiled to himself. “Why haven’t I ever got up the courage to talk to her before? All these years, and she doesn’t know I even exist. Well, karma must be in my favor. So cool that we’ll be working together all summer. I’ll get to know her a little, then maybe asker out.”
Maddie had no idea what a hot topic she was with the guys in school. She never flirted. She never came on to anyone.She was such a knockout, they couldn’t figure out why she kept her distance. They knew she was a brainiac, and for some of the guys, that was a deal-breaker. No guy wanted to date a girl who was smarter than he was, right? Still, Maddie was a babe. Some of the guys dared each other to approach her, ask her out, but no one ever did it. Something about her, like some kind of weird force-field or something, kept them from getting another closer than “Hi, how ya doin’?” To which she always smiled, said she was cool, and that was the end of it.
Brady had watched her since he was in 8th grade. He’d first noticed her when they were both in junior high band. He played trumpet, she played flute. She’d never looked his way, always concentrating on her music or chatting with the girls. She was the center of a whole bevy of girls. Cutting her out of the herd was next to impossible. He’d watched her change year by year, from skinny to–well–curvy; from cute to beautiful, from shy to confident. Four years, and Brady, big shot quarterback starter this coming fall, chased by every other girl he could think of, hadn’t worked up the courage to approach her.
When the other guys started talking about her in the locker room, he shut down. It made him furious when they talked down about her, each guy wanting to believe he’d be the one to break through and take her out. They all gave each other these big shot, knowing grins, as if they had the inside track. Made him want to break some jawbones. Brady had been taught better than to participate in these trashy conversations, and he’d gotten out of there faster than any of the others. He felt protective of Maddie, for no legitimate reason whatsoever.
His drive home was filled with thoughts of spending the whole summer working with her, getting to know her, maybe going out a few times. Well, maybe. If he could man up and ask her, and not be such a dork.
“Mom, I’m home!” Maddie called out as she hung her key on their own hook.
“Hi, Honey! How did it go?”
“It was great. I learned lots of stuff, how to work the machines, where all the toppings and fruit and sprinkles are, how to fill the trays. It wasn’t busy, so it was a good day to start. I think I’m going to like it, Mom.”
“Well, I’m really glad to hear that. Listen, if you want change clothes, go do that. I could use your help getting supper under way.”
“Sure, I’ll be back down in just a few minutes.” As she ran up the stairs, Maddie’s mind was full of her day with Brady. She wouldn’t mention him to Mom, because she would totally freak out. She was dying for Maddie to have her first boyfriend, but at the same time she was a protective mama bear. Weird. So Maddie had learned just not to mention any guys, and things went nice and smooth that way.
Supper was fresh fish from the lake, with a big salad and fresh garden veggies, along with Mom’s homemade dinner rolls. Great food, and the weather was perfect. Maddie relaxed, listening with one ear to her parents chatting about this and that. Her mind, however, was all on Brady. At least she knew she’d see him, talk to him tomorrow. She thought about how tall he’d grown since 8th grade; how broad his shoulders were. He’d started getting some dark fuzz along his jaw and upper lip, which she thought was very cool. His hair was dark, curling a little behind his ears and along the back of his neck. He had the California blue eyes she wished she had, kind of like they had a light source of their own. He had a great smile, especially now that he was done with his braces. He was athletic, something she admired, and she was pretty sure he was a good student. What girl wouldn’t feel lucky to be working with such a great guy all summer? And she loved his voice. Deep, strong, resonant. She thought he was probably a good singer. Maybe she’d get to find out.
Maddie was up bright and early the next day, eager to get back to the yogurt shop. She didn’t have to decide what to wear now that she had her uniforms. She pulled her hair into a high pony tail and pulled it through the opening in the back of her hat. Not much makeup–a little lip gloss, a tiny touch of mascara. The butterflies were beginning to wake up in her stomach as the time came for her to leave for work.
They met in the parking lot. Brady’s smile seemed relaxed and easy, and Maddie tried for the same effect. “Hey, Maddie. You ready to learn the menu, register, and all that?”
“I guess so. Kind of nervous. It seems like a lot to learn in just one day.”
“No, don’t worry,” Brady assured her as they walked to the door of the shop. “No one expects you to have it all down perfect today. It takes a little time and practice. I had a hard time the first day on the register, Poor girl who trained me must have thought I was a total moron. You’ll be fine.” He held the door for Maddie, having no idea at all how impressed she was with his good manners.
The day flew by. She messed up; he helped her sort it out. She was embarrassed; he laughed it off. Gradually, things seemed more familiar, and as her confidence grew, she relaxed. Soon the two of them were laughing together, at ease with each other, and Maddie felt she’d found her groove.
Just before her shift was over, a group of girls came giggling through the door and made a beeline for Brady. Their flirting was, in Maddie’s opinion, more than a little embarrassing. When Brady tried to send a couple of them to Maddie to take their orders, they cooed and batted their lashes and said silly things like, “Oh, Brady, we came to see YOU!”
One of them broke away from the herd. She sauntered to Maddie’s station, smiling but not really. “So, when did you start working here? Maddie, right?”
“Yesterday. And you’re Shelly, right?”
“Right.” Shelly leaned in, practically nose to nose, and whispered, “You keep away from Brady! He’s MINE! Get it? Don’t make me warn you again! Hands off!” She spun away back to Brady’s station, leaving an astonished Maddie gaping after her. None of the girls ordered anything, and soon they were leaving. Shelly turned back to Brady, gave him a slow under-the-eyelids look, and said, “Give me a call, Brady.”
Once the door had closed behind them, Brady shook his head and turned to Maddie with a very red face. “I heard what she said to you. It’s not true. We’ve never gone out, and I never would want to. She’s trouble, and she had no right to say what she did. You okay? She didn’t say anything else, did she?”
“I’m fine. And no, she didn’t. Good grief! That was, like totally embarrassing! “
“Don’t give it another thought. She changes guys like most girls change shoes. You know, pick a guy to go with your outfit,” Brady grinned. “Seriously, she’s not worth another thought. So–you ready to clean up and check out?”
“Yes. Definitely. I need to check my schedule before I go. My folks want to know when I’ll be working next week.”
“No problem. I can tell you that, anyway. You start this same shift four days next week. You have Wednesday free. Saturday hasn’t been scheduled, and you’re not on the Sunday schedule either.”
“Oh! Well, um, thanks for checking for me. . .”
“I just happened to notice that we’re on the same schedule next week. That happens when someone new is being trained in. They try to keep you with the person who got you started. So–see you Monday?”
“Monday. Have a good weekend, Brady.”
(Part 3 coming up. I honestly have no idea where this is going, but it’s been fun to write it and find out 🙂 )
The days went flying by. Maddie and Brady worked many shifts together, and became comfortable being together. When Brady finally asked her for a date, it was easy to say, “Sure, I’d love to.” After that, it was a weekly event. They went to summer league baseball games between the hometown team and other towns in the area. They went to concerts in the park, and movies in the park, and the swimming pool in the park. Finally, Maddie invited him to come swimming off their dock, and they had a great time with her family. They took long walks, sharing things with each other that they’d never shared with anyone else.
Maddie’s girlfriends were crazy supportive, wanting to hear every minute of each date. One day, though, they warned her that Shelly was making all kinds of threats, and that Maddie needed to be careful. Shelly didn’t come back into the shop again, at least not when Maddie was there. Life was too good to worry about mean girls!
School opened after Labor Day. Maddie and Brady had spent the day at her place, with her family and other friends, and enjoyed fireworks as darkness closed in. It had been the best summer ever. All the same, Maddie looked forward to the school year, anticipating her AP classes. She didn’t expect to see as much of Brady once football got under way, but they still did most of their shifts together at the shop.
At the end of the first week of school, Maddie was at her locker, organizing her weekend homework, when someone grabbed her arm and slammed it up against the locker. She whirled, and found herself facing a very angry Shelly. Her squad of followers stood in a half circle, grinning in anticipation.
“I TOLD you to stay away from Brady. I TOLD you he’s mine! I TOLD you hands off, and I TOLD you not to make me warn you again! Now it’s payday, Maddie!” And Shelly swung hard, with an open palm, smacking Maddie’s face while pulling her hair with her other hand.
She hadn’t anticipated Maddie’s strength, or her training in Tae Kwon Do. For the first time ever, Maddie was using her knowledge to protect herself, and doing so effectively. Screaming girls surrounded them, joined quickly by guys who enjoyed watching a girl-fight. It didn’t take long for a couple of teachers and the principal to enter the battle, hauling the two girls apart. Shelly, breathing hard, shouted, “SHE started it! She HIT me! She’s CRAZY!” and she started to cry like a baby when one of her pals handed her a tissue to blot her bloody lip.
“Is this true, Maddie?” asked Principal Tucker.
“No! She slapped me, pulled my hair, and I fought back. She’s lying.”
An uproar of voices rose, and Principal Tucker had to wait for it to settle down. Then, to Maddie’s relief, a strong, deep voice rose over the crowd. “Mr. Tucker, Shelly has threatened Maddie before. Shelly seems to think she has some kind of relationship with me, and it’s not true. Maddie and I have been dating for a couple of months. Maddie doesn’t lie, not even to protect herself.”
There was a general murmur of agreement, except for Shelly and her fan club. Mr. Tucker hushed them all, and took the two girls to his office. He had them wait outside his office, where they faced off in silence, while he phoned both sets of parents. While they waited for the parents to arrive, Principal Tucker had Maddie to her story to the vice principal, while he and Shelly went into his office.
Shelly’s mom and dad got there first, glancing at Maddie, showing no expression as they entered Mr. Tucker’s office. Maddie’s parents came in soon after, and Mr. Tucker invited the parents to stay while the girls waited outside his office. Again, Maddie and Shelly were silent. Shelly let a tear fall now and then, while Maddie could feel the burn on her cheek where Shelly had slapped her.
Soon, Mr. Tucker called the girls into his office. “Do either of you two young ladies want to change anything in your statements about what happened?” he asked. Both Maddie and Shelly shook their heads no.
“All right, then it seems we have to call in some witnesses. Maddie, we won’t be calling Brady; and Shelly, we won’t be talking to any of your group. We’ll call in some kids who are not involved with either of you, and what we learn from them will decide our course of action. I will warn you that, obviously, one of you is lying. It will go harder for you because of the lie. You need to think about that. Now, because it’s Friday, I’m not going to suspend either of you until we get to the bottom of this. All right, you may go. I want to thank both sets of parents for coming in, and for being so supportive of my desire to find the truth. I’ll be talking to you again next week, after we do some student interviews.”
Maddie felt sick. She’d never been involved in anything like this before, and she felt shamed and humiliated even though she’d done nothing more than defend herself. She glanced at Shelly as they headed to their cars, but Shelly wasn’t looking up at anyone.
It was a quiet weekend. Brady called, but work and football were going to keep them from spending any time together. Maddie focused on her homework, and some assigned reading for AP Literature.
She dressed carefully on Monday, wanting to look like herself but quiet, nothing to attract attention. Brady met her on the sidewalk as she neared the building. “You doing all right, Maddie? I wish they’d talk to me about what happened! Everybody’s talking about it, and most of them agree that Shelly started it. I can’t believe she would take it this far. It’s just crazy!”
“I’m fine, Brady. You know they can’t talk to you–you’re prejudiced!” she joked.
They were quickly surrounded by friends, both hers and Brady’s, and they talked and laughed as they entered the building.
Shelly and her friends, on the other hand, were very quiet. No giggling, no flirting. Shelly’s eyes were red and bloodshot, and Maddie almost–not quite, but almost–felt sorry for her. She was very surprised when the whole group approached her at her locker, and she was glad Brady had seen them and was coming toward them in a hurry.
But Shelly wasn’t aggressive. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She couldn’t quite make herself look at Maddie, so she aimed her eyes just over Maddie’s shoulder. “I–um–I talked to Mr. Tucker after everyone else left on Friday. I told him what really happened. He says I have to apologize to you. He even told me what I have to say, so here it is: Maddie, I’m sorry I threatened you. I’m sorry I hit you and pulled your hair. I’m sorry I lied. Okay? Are we good now?” By this time, Shelly was gulping for breath, tears flowing, her face flaming. Maddie actually did feel kind of sorry for her.
“Yes, we’re okay, Shelly. I hope I didn’t hit you too hard.”
“Well, if I’d known you could do that Kung Fu stuff, I probably wouldn’t have started anything,” Shelly said, and finally there was the hint of a smile in her eyes. “You’re pretty good.”
“It’s fun! You should try it. New classes are starting next week.”
The first period bell rang, and they dispersed to various classes. Some of Shelly’s friends dared to glance at Maddie and offer timid smiles. Maddie smiled back.
Brady tugged her pony tail. “You’re a good kid, Maddie. You handled all that like a pro.”
Everything about Davie drooped as he came in through the back door. He put his jacket on its hook, then his cap. Lunchbox on the table. And swiped a tear away quickly so Mom wouldn’t see.
But Mom always saw.
“Davie, what’s wrong?”
“Nuttin,” he lied, trying to sound older than he was.
“Okay, Well, when you’re ready to tell me, I’ll be working in the living room. You can grab some fruit for a snack.”
Mom had been through this before, with each of her children. Davie was the youngest of four, and his older brothers were always teasing him about being a baby. He couldn’t help it if he wasn’t as grown-up as they were! The older boys were all in sports, so Davie usually rode home alone on bus. This was a special time for Davie and his Mom, being alone together and not interrupted by more exciting stuff.
Davie finished his snack and wandered into the living room where Mom was doing some knitting. He leaned against her chair. She glanced up, smiling, and said, “Wanna talk?”
Davie paused, trying to think how to ask his question. Finally he said, “Mom, is it okay for a teacher to tease a kid?”
Mom tried never to answer too quickly. She knitted a few stitches. “Well, Davie, that depends on what happened before the teacher teased the kid. Had the kid been misbehaving?”
“Well, not ezackly. I mean, I–HE!–was jus’t kinda daydreaming, y’know?”
Mom smiled. “Yes, Davie, I know. Then what happened?”
“Well, I guess the teacher said my–HIS–name, and, uh, he didn’t hear her. Then she said it again, and this time—–“
“Davie, you can just say it was you, okay? Otherwise, it’s kind of like lying a little bit, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Davie bumped his toe against the carpet, took a deep breath. “Okay, so Miss Hatcher said my name again, and this time I heard her. I looked at her, and she was sort of smiling, but not really, y’know? Like she was a little bit mad at me.”
“And then what?”
“Well, she said, “Davie, what color is the sky in YOUR universe?” and everybody laughed. I did, too, ’cause I’m not a baby, but it made me feel bad, ’cause she wasn’t smiling a real smile.”
“What did you say, Davie?”
“I said, ‘I wish it was purple!'” and they all laughed again, ‘cept for Miss Hatcher, I guess she didn’t think it was funny.”
“Davie, I think sometimes teachers just get really tired, and maybe they don’t always say the kindest thing. I’ll tell you what, though. The sky in your universe can be any color at all that you want it to be! It can change every day, or every minute! Dreaming is okay, but not when you should be paying attention.”
That night, Davie dreamed that his sky WAS purple! It wasn’t too dark, just sort of like Mom’s lilacs. He loved it, and he was sorry when he woke up.
It was the day for art in school, a subject Davie loved. That day, they were given big sheets of soft paper, kind of not white, but not anything else, either. Davie wondered what color it was.
“Class,” said Miss Hatcher, “Today I want you to draw a picture of something you’d like to change from what it is, to what you see in your imagination. It can be anything at all!”
Davie went right to work. He loved color, loved to blend shades together to make more colors than were in his box of crayons. He’d figured out how to do it so it looked really pretty. He closed his eyes, remembering his dream of the purple-lilac sky. Then he went to work. Only he decided to use his big fat pieces of chalk instead of his crayons, and he had a wonderful time making his picture, with a moon, and stars, and some orangey clouds. And he used his purple chalk, but it seemed too dark, so he played around with some other chalks, combining them, and decided to use both red and blue together. Perfect! He scrubbed a fat line of pink, then scrubbed over it with blue, all the way across his paper. He was so excited about his lilac lavender sky!
Miss Hatcher stood beside Davie’s desk, looking at his picture. “Uh-oh,” thought Davie. “I bet she’s going to be mad at me,”
But she wasn’t. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she said, “Well, Davie, I see you found your purple sky. It’s beautiful. What a good artist you are!” And she plopped a big gold star on his paper, right above his moon.
Davie walked into the house later, his shoulders back and his head up. Mom was going to be so proud of him!
(A masked stranger appears at your front door with a knife.
Stella was startled at the knock on her front door. It was late, almost midnight. It was very cold outside. She’d been on her way to bed, wearing her favorite warm pajamas and fuzzy slippers. She’d just finished creaming her face when she heard the knock.
BAMBAMBAM! It repeated, just as loud.
Uneasy, she scooted into her bedroom and snatched her pistol from the nightstand drawer. She unlocked the safety, chambered a round, and turned off all the inside lights as she made her way to the door. She flipped on the porch light, and was instantly thankful for the fan-shaped window at her eye-level.
Someone–a man? It was hard to tell–wearing a hood that left nothing exposed except for his eyes, visible through the slits in the hood. When Stella called out, “Who is it? What do you want at this time of night?” se heard no response. Again, three loud, fist-pounding raps on the door.
“I’m not going to open my door until you identify yourself and tell me what you want. And take off that hood! You think I’m just going to open my door and invite you in for tea?”
Stella was terrified, but she wouldn’t let it show. No way would she open her door. “I have a gun, and I know how to use it!”
“Open up, you foolish woman! I’ll get in another way if you don’t.” The voice was raspy, deep, and scary.
Stella made sure the deadbolt was in place. Still operating in the dark, she made her way to her cell phone where she’d left it by her favorite chair. Hands shaking, she picked it up and punched 9-1-1. It rang once, then again, and then went silent. At the same time, a window from the kitchen area shattered, and she knew someone was in the house.
She tried the phone again. “It won’t work,” growled the Voice. It’s disabled. Now, just stay where you are and I won’t hurt you too much,”
Stella raced to the front door, fumbled at the deadbolt. Her fingers were shaking and sweaty, and slipped off the knob just as a very strong arm came around her neck. He pulled her tight against his chest, pinning her left arm. She felt the prick of a sharp blade under her ear.
“Don’t be stupid,” growled the Voice. “We need to chat, you and I. You can’t —“
“Boom!” Stella’s gun went off as she pulled the trigger, aiming the best she could with her gun hand caught between them, and the Voice screamed. And screamed. He pushed away from her, falling to the floor, cradling his right leg just above his shattered knee. The knife went sliding under the sofa. Stella figured that was a good place for it.
Keeping her gun pointed steadily at the intruder, she squatted down out of his reach while he writhed in agony. “If you make a move I don’t like, I’ll shoot the other knee, you jerk.”
She got up, walked behind him, and yanked on his hood. He looked up at her, fury in his eyes and agony all over his face. “You didn’t need to do that, Stella. I was just having a little fun with you.” He groaned when she walked around and kicked his wounded leg. She kicked it again, for good measure, and brought tears to his eyes.
” I can’t believe you,” she yelled. “What a filthy rotten thing to do! There’s something WRONG with you! And you and I? We’re done, you hear? DONE!
She went to the front door, unlocked the deadbolt, opened the door wide. She went back and grabbed him by his hair, pulling him behind her while he kicked with his good leg, screaming and begging. She got him out the door, rolled him off her porch.
“Aren’t you going to help me? You can’t leave me like this!” he cried.
“Yes, I certainly can. Go have fun. You’ve earned it.”
She slammed the door behind her, went back upstairs and picked up her landline. It buzzed. Good, he hadn’t disabled it, just her cell. She called 9-1-1 again, made her report and then put on a robe. As she went back down the stairs, she heard the siren.
There are many places I’d like to see, speaking from a purely historic and/or scenic perspective. The reality, though, is that I’m never going to be a world traveler. I’m 74, a little late to be starting, and especially with my cranky old back to take into account.
But here’s another reality: Just about every culture that I’m interested in can be found right here in the USA!
For instance, I’ve always been fascinated by the Amish. We live maybe 1 1/2 hours from one Amish community, a lovely drive. We’ve stayed overnight in a B&B run and owned by a couple who are Mennonite Amish. We went to church with them, and were invited to enjoy a meal with them at one of the members’ farm. What a treat! We asked lots of questions, learned lots of things about their way of life, and we ate some of the best food you could find anywhere. All within two hours of home!
If we go north, we could land in New York City. There are SO many neighborhoods there! Irish, Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, Chinese and more. You pick a culture you’d like to know more about, you can find people who will be happy to talk with you about food, customs, religious beliefs, and especially why they came to America.
Go back south toward the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, and you’ll come across people whose lineage goes back to Scotland, England and Ireland. Some are not open to talking with strangers, but others are open and just as curious about you as you are about them. We took a dirt road nearly to the top of a mountain years ago, and met an older man who was digging along the roadside. He leaned on his shovel and talked with my husband for quite some time. We could hear kitchen noises coming from his cabin, but “his woman” never peeped out the window or the door. I love their music.
If you go farther south, you could land in New Orleans. There, you could meet descendants of the original Cajuns, whose cooking is wonderful. Some of them live right over the water, literally–cabins built on stilts. You would also meet descendants of slaves, all over the South, as well as north, east west–you can find communities that have been created by those who went west on wagon trains, or just stayed on the plantations on which they were born, making a living, just barely. Many became sharecroppers, always a risky business. Lots to learn from all of them, if they’ve been told about their ancestry.
And speaking of west, you can meet some of the most laid-back people ever in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. Lots of the people out West have lineages back to Norway and Sweden, and have ancestors who came to America to farm because they’d heard about the rich soil and that land was literally dirt cheap. Some of them may have started in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Of course, you also have Indian reservations out West, and you can learn a lot of history from those who have ancestry that extends back into the mists of time.
You may say, “Well, what about. . . . . . ” and list a whole bunch of places I haven’t mentioned. America is truly a melting pot, and we have a wealth of cultures right here, if we want to go looking and are willing to try to get people to talk with us. Generally, we have found that if you are genuine in your interest, people will respond well and you can leave with a whole new understanding of what makes up this great nation.
I don’t have to travel the world to learn about culture. I just have to open my eyes and my heart and take a good look at my own country to find a wealth of knowledge that is different from my own.
I wrote this a a short story yesterday, in response to a daily writing prompt. It’s based on a real situation, omitting, of course, names and other identifying factors. I hope you’ll enjoy it–a little change of pace from my typical Sunday posts.
Writing Prompts: Religion and Spirituality
(God speaks directly to you – what does He say?)
I believe that God spoke to people like Moses, Abraham, and others in the Bible. He even spoke to Saul on the Damascus Road. I believe He spoke to the prophets. But today, we have the complete, total, inspired Word of God–the Bible. So, if I did hear God speak to me, audibly, unmistakably, I’d think I was hallucinating. I believe that He has already given the answers we seek through His Word. I also believe that sometimes we need a little help to find those answers, which is one reason I became a counselor in a Christian counseling office. So that’s the direction I’m going to take for this story.
One of the things I enjoyed about being a counselor for 18 years was that there was never one day just like another. There were surprises, Sometimes they weren’t happy surprises, like the time I asked a client, twice, to please clean up his truly foul language. Finally, after a particularly disgusting string of curses, I asked him to either stop cursing or leave. He was furious. Stormed out the door and slammed it hard behind him, shaking the pictures hanging on my wall.
His poor wife, who had to tolerate his mouth and his temper ALL the time, wept quietly. I let her get hold of herself, and when she looked up, she said, “What do I do? He didn’t want to come here today, and when he saw it was a Christian office he almost refused to come in with me. He’s always angry, and I’m at my wits’ end. What do I do?”
In this type of situation, I always start talking to the Lord right from the beginning, because honestly? I don’t really know what to say! I thought of the verse that says, “With a furious man thou shalt not go” (Prov. 22:24) but she was already so wounded, it just didn’t feel right. “God, please give me wisdom, words that are helpful,” was in my mind.
“Has he ever been so angry that he has become physically violent toward you?”
She stared at me as if she’d seen a ghost. “How–how could you know that?” And she was sobbing now, completely broken.
“Have you ever called the police for help?”
She gave me a broken laugh. “Are you serious? He’s a cop! They protect each other. It would only be worse!”
“Has he hurt you enough that you needed a doctor? Hospital? The ER?”
“No, please just listen now. This cannot go on, because he will only escalate. I know, every time he hurts you he says how sorry he is and he’ll never do it again. But he will, and you both know he will. I can’t make you look for help, but you have to know that there are safe houses, Protection from Abuse orders, legal steps you can take to protect yourself. I can help you find a place–“
“I don’t have a car. He won’t let me. There’s no way—“
“Yes, there is. Surely you have a friend, a relative, a neighbor you can call when he’s at work?”
“Well–yes, I guess so, but I’d feel so guilty! It’s like sneaking behind his back!”
“Okay, look. You have two–or three– choices. Stay and put up with his temper until he puts you back in the hospital, and tell whatever doctor who is caring for you. Tell the truth. Say you need help. You can do that, or stay until he kills you. Or, you can let me help you make a plan that will work. The choice is yours.”
And in the back of my mind, the words “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) whispered. So I waited, allowing her the time to really think about what we had said.
And that is how God speaks to me. Sometimes He uses verses I didn’t even know I had memorized, but a lifetime of Bible memory certainly has yielded a rich harvest to help guide me when I don’t know where to go or what to say. His words are always wiser than mine.
(Coffee is illegal and you have to single handedly smuggle it into the country.)
I was exhausted, discouraged, ready to quit. How could coffee be important enough for anyone–me!–to risk everything to get it from the plantations in South America to the voracious coffee appetites north of Mexico?
I didn’t carry it myself. Part of my job was to find and train carriers, whose reward would be to stay in America, if they wished. If not, they were paid well for their efforts, and some of them became quite wealthy. Others died.
Coffee became illegal in America back in the late 21st century, when the countries that produced it were found to be creating inferior beans, but charging a huge tariff, which of course resulted in outrageous high prices for consumers. So it was only natural that a black market would develop. What wasn’t natural at all is that I would become a part of it! I’m not adventurous, or brave, or addicted to coffee. Nor was I born with criminal tendencies.
I am, however, gifted with a nose that can’t be rivaled. I can tell whether a coffee bean on the bush is of poor, good, or excellent quality, just by the smell. You may wonder about that, because unroasted beans typically don’t have much of a smell–except to me. I don’t know why. It just is, and it is that “gift” that landed me smack in the middle of the coffee smuggling business.
Could I quit? Don’t think I haven’t tried to figure that out! But we live in a high-tech world of Big Brother, what with cameras and drones and microphones and all that, never mind the nearly invisible chip that all babies receive upon birth. We can run, as people used to say, but we can’t hide. Can’t even remove the chip, because it’s embedded in our brains. I’d love to have a chat with the evil genius who figured that one out.
I was not the CEO of the outfit I worked for. I was actually considered a necessary evil, because I didn’t like the work and I made sure everyone knew it. I had to travel all over, anywhere coffee was grown. Africa, South America, and Central America mostly. It was interesting, but terrifying to me because I HATE snaky places! Too bad they can’t grow coffee in the Arctic Circle! ‘Course, I’m not real crazy about frostbite either. Sigh.
So. I keep a go-bag packed and ready whenever the call comes in that I have an e-ticket waiting at such and such an airline, landing in such and such a place to go inspect the new bean harvests before they are either roasted or sent green to other handlers. I was also expected to be on the lookout for new talent, because everyone knew I wouldn’t live forever. It wasn’t going to be easy to replace my nose!
I’d met a lot of delightful people over the years. The ones I enjoyed most were the ones who worked the hardest. Planting, cultivating, guarding against disease and pests. I’lll never forget the woman who could catch a bug on the fly and squash it between her thumb and pointer, shake it off and find another one. All day. Good grief.
I hate locating a grower who’s tampered with nature and created a poor quality bean. I have to report it, of course, and that grower will either destroy his entire crop or lose his life. Coffee smuggling is a cut-throat business. No mercy.
I wonder, sometimes, if people understood that their morning joe was so costly in terms of life and limb, if they’d just stop drinking it.
I know I have. It has a strong undertone of blood when it hits my tongue.