Art walked past the store daily, smiling to himself at what people thought were antiques. Why, some of the things in that store were just like wedding gifts he and Rosie had received over 50 years ago! “Antiques! Huh!
Then, one morning, he stopped in shock, staring at the lovely wedding dress. Time misted his eyes with the memory of sweet Rosie walking down the aisle to marry him, wearing that very dress!
“Over 50 years,” he thought. “I wonder what the story is.”
He decided not to inquire. He hoped another couple had found joy, like his and Rosie’s.
(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?”
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.”
(You got ditched at the last minute before prom – who will your date be?)
Sharee was frozen in disbelief. She had spent time on the perfect hairdo, the perfect makeup, the perfect dress and shoes. She knew she looked really good, and she’d been excited for this, her first prom ever, with her friend Brandon at her side. Not a boyfriend. Just her date for that night, a guy she enjoyed.
She had though he enjoyed her, too.
When the phone rang, someone picked it up downstairs. A few minutes later, her mom came to her room, tapped once, then opened the door. “Sharee, honey, that was Brandon. He–uh–isn’t going to make it tonight.”
“WHAT? Why? Did he say why?” Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks, wrecking her perfect makeup. She blotted them with a tissue before they could spot her pretty dress.
“No. He just said to say sorry, but he couldn’t make it. You going to be okay? What are you going to do?”
Sharee took a few minutes to process the news. All dressed up and no place to go? Oh, no! Her temper began to rise, and her mom recognized the familiar glint in her eyes as determination. Sharee had always been a very determined girl. Her mom thought it was terrific.
“I’m going to prom, Mom. I’m not going to waste the money we spent for this night. I’ll go alone. Brandon is missing out! Can you let me have the car tonight?”
“Yes, that should be no problem. Are you going out afterward?”
“Probably not. Usually it’s just couples who do that. I’ll have my cell. I’ll call if anything changes.”
Giving her mom a quick hug, she grabbed her small purse and a wrap, went down the stairs like a queen, took the car keys from their hook. She opened the garage door, slid into the car, started the engine, and backed out. Closing the door, she did a Y turn in the driveway and headed out onto the street.
Her stomach was clutching. Going to prom alone was cool for guys, but not for girls. Most girls would find a group to join rather than going alone, but it was too late for that. Well, Sharee was used to making her own choices, and this was no different. It could turn out to be an interesting night,
Arriving at the school parking lot, she backed into a space. She grabbed her purse and shawl, dropping the keys into her little bag. With her shawl loosely draped, she walked steadily to the entrance, holding her head high. She stopped at the welcome table, accepted the stamp on her hand. When the girl asked her, “Where’s your date?” she said, “He couldn’t come. Something came up at the last minute.”
Not waiting for a reaction, Sharee continued into the gym. The committee had done a wonderful job. It certainly didn’t have any resemblance to the gym that housed basketball games, with sweaty players and screaming fans. The music was good, too, and Sharee’s feet itched to dance.
She stood quietly off to one side, looking over the groups not dancing, and finally spotted a group that was just guys, no girls. Taking a deep breath, she approached them as if she owned the place. Digging down for her best smile, she said, “Hi, guys. Would any of you care to dance with me?”
There was dead silence for about three heartbeats. Then a boy she recognized as a quiet, studious kid in her study hall stepped forward. “I’d be happy to dance with you. Sharee, right? I think we’re in the same study hall. I’m Lucas. Shall we?” He held out his hand, and she put her own hand in his.
(A stranger sits down next to you on a train and gets up, leaving a package behind. Do you investigate the package?)
The man had been reserved, but polite. They exchanged the usual inanities about the weather (hot) and the economy (lousy). Once they had observed the courtesies, they lapsed into silence.
He left the train three stops later, and it wasn’t until they had started moving again that Mimi noticed the package under his seat. Curious as always, she bent to pull it out. As she did, the big feet of the conductor paused at her seat. “Help you with something, Miss?”
“Uh, no, I’m–I dropped something. I have it. Thanks!”
Now, why had she done that? Should have given it to the conductor and been done with it, but no, Curiousity always won out. Mimi loved a good mystery.
She turned the small but heavy box around, then flipped it over to look at the back. She took a quick breath when she saw the message printed in red:
“If you open this, it will become your problem!”
She dropped it as if it were a snake! It landed back on the floor, and Mimi pushed it back under the seat with her foot. She glanced around, The train was nearly empty, and she was sure no one had seen her.
Her curiosity nagged at her while she waited through three more stops. Finally, she could walk away from that terrible package and forget about it!
Mimi gathered her purse and her briefcase, adjusted her scarf, and was on her feet before the train had come to a full stop. She usually enjoyed this ride through the countryside, especially in the fall, but not this time. Her nerves were all wide awake.
She stepped off the train into a solid wall. A pair of hands grabbed her arms to steady her. A very handsome young man, whose chest had been that wall, was watching her carefully. He said, “I’m so sorry. I was hurrying and not watching.” He lowered his voice, pulling her close, and spoke into her ear. “Did you pick it up? Do you have it?”
“WHAT? Wha–why–who–who ARE you?”
“You don’t need to know. Do you have the package?“
“No! What pack–” The man shook her lightly, once, pulling her away from the train as people began to board.
“Let me go! You have no right!”
“Look, lady, just give me the package and we’ll pretend we never met,” he said, in a pleasant tone. His eyes, however, were not pleasant. And he was still holding her arms.
“I can’t! I-I–put it back under the seat! I was afraid!” Mimi blurted, embarrassed and more terrified by the minute.
“You didn’t! We were sure you wouldn’t be able to resist opening it. We thought–well, we guessed wrong. Okay, look, you’re coming with me. We need to get that package!” And he dropped one of her arms, but held firmly to the other, dragging her along as he fast-walked back to the train.
Just as the door was closing, and the conductor waved them away, he saw two men watching them. He shoved Mimi in front of him and turned them both around, looking for cover. He dragged Mimi into a crowd of people coming off another train and followed the pack toward the depot. By this time, Mimi was panting, trying not to cry, both angry and terrified.
“I’m Mark,” he whispered in her ear. “You can trust me. Just go along, and I’ll get you to safety as soon as I can.”
“No buts! Now move!” He dodged into the small depot, quickly crossing to the exit. He glanced out the nearest window, spotted their tail, and turned instead to the restrooms.
“Noooo! I’m not going in there!” cried Mimi. But she couldn’t resist his shove.
“If you want to get out of here with a whole skin, you’re going to have to trust me. Those guys believe you have the package, or that you gave it to me. We have to hurry. Do exactly as I say, no questions. I’ll explain when we can find a safe hiding place.”
She had no choice, really. She did what he said, amazed at his ingenuity. She thought maybe they’d pull it off and get out of there safely.
(Your dog begins speaking in a human voice one morning.)
They named him Sproing because it’s what he did. Besides, he was born in the spring, and he was a Springer Spaniel. So. Sproing!
Jilly wanted to name him Joy, but Billy put his foot own. “That ain’t no name for a dog, ‘specially a boy dog!” So, Sproing it was.
He was, indeed, full of joy, that dog. He loved life. He loved his people. He loved everybody, really. He’d have made a lousy guard dog.
His kisses were sloppy, but Jilly and Billy (yes, they were twins) didn’t mind.
Every day with Sproing with a good day.
Until the morning Billy opened his eyes because–dog breath. Right in his face. Sproing stood spraddled over him, his wet nose touching Billy’s. Sproing said, “You plannin’ on gettin’ up sometime today?”
Billy squinched his eyes shut, shook his head, reached out to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Sproing was there. “Billy? You okay, man?”
“Wha–how–when–Hey! Dogs can’t TALK!”
“Huh! Well, I’ve always wondered if I were really a dog!”
“Nope!” declared Billy. “Not happenin.’ No talking dogs!”
Sproing grinned. “You wanna go ask Jilly?”
“Don’t GRIN at me, you mutt!”
Sproing took Billy’s pajama collar between his teeth, pulled him off the bed, and trotted down the hall to Jilly’s room. The door was partly opened. Sproing nudged Billy into the room where Jilly sat on the edge of her bed, looking gob-smacked.
“Jilly? You awake?”
“BILLY! Did he–um–TALK to you?”
“Uhuh.” Jilly nodded her head. Sproing jumped up on the bed, sticking his nose under Jilly’s arm. Pushing through, he licked her chin and she scritched his ears.
“What’ll we do?”asked Jilly. “Mom and Dad will never believe it.”
“They’ll have ta believe it when they hear it. C’mon. Time for breakfast.”
They trotted down the stairs, thundered into the kitchen. Sproing whined and jumped, begging for a piece of bacon. He snapped it up, went to his food bowl and gobbled down his breakfast. He never said a word. Of course he didn’t.
Billy and Jilly looked at each other, mirror images except her hair was long, curls bouncing off her shoulders. She raised her eyebrows, he shook his head. Mom laughed, watching them. “What are you two talking about?”
“Nothin,'” (Billy). “Right. Nothing,” (Jilly). Finishing their eggs, they took their dishes to the sink, pushed in their chairs. “Okay if we go outside?” asked Billy.
“Of course,” answered Mom. “Take Sproing, okay?”
“As if,” thought Billy. Sproing always went out with them.
Once out of earshot, the twins, hands on hips, glared at Sproing. He sat, tail curled around his feet, and grinned back at them. “What? You guys have something’ to say to me?”
“Why didn’t you talk to Mom? Why didn’t you say somethin’ while we ate?”
“Billy, grown-ups can’t hear us dogs. We all talk, but just to kids. It’s one of the best-kept secrets of all time. No grown-up even remembers dogs talking when they were kids. It’s like they have brain-freeze. They can’t see the fun stuff any more.”
“So–you mean we have to keep it secret? They won’t believe us?” (Jilly)
Sproing’s ears quirked. “Rrrrr-OWF!” he barked. The twins turned to see what he was seeing, and they saw the neighbor lady, Mom’s friend, coming across the yard. “Hey, guys! What’re you up to?” she greeted them.
“Uhhh, nothin.’ Just standin’ here talking’ to Sproing.” Neighbor Lady laughed. “And I’m sure he answers you, doesn’t he?” Laughing again, she walked up to the front door, waved at them, and entered when Mom opened the door.
(A mysterious creature speaks to you in your dreams and tells you that when you awake, you will have the ability to see into another realm.)
Note: I have to admit, this is way out of my comfort zone. I’ve read very little of this type of fiction, and just never found it to my taste. However, deep breath, here I go!
Always a restless sleeper, Livvie was used to strange dreams that disturbed her rest. Her earliest dreams were horrifying, with chases in which she could not run, formless creatures pursuing her in the dark, and the thump-thump-thump of the feet that followed her.
But this? This was new! And entirely too real. A shapeless form, an ethereal voice, neither male nor female, jerked her out of a dreamless state into cold, dark reality.
“Livvie! Wake up! There is a message for you, and you must heed it! You will fall back to sleep, and it will be a sound, restful sleep. When you wake, you will be able to see a different realm than your own. You will live normally, in your own realm, but you will see that you and your kind are not the only inhabitants of the air.”
“But–what–WHY? Really? Oh this is only another of my nightmares! I don’t want to ‘see another realm’–I just want to sleep. . . . leave me alone. . . .”
“Livvie! You will remember! You will see! What you do with your new ability is up to you. Use it wisely.” And the form vanished, leaving no trace. Livvie plopped back down on her bed, her head pillowed deeply, and found sleep.
She woke with a jerk, the memory of her vision crystal clear. She was afraid to open her eyes. She peeped out from under her blankets. Ah, what a relief–nothing had changed. Her room was the same, her bed the same. Her mother’s voice, too, was the same.
“OLIVia! You’re going to be late for your new job! Up and at’em, girl, or I’ll come up there!”
Livvie sighed, wondering if her mother would ever, ever let her not be a child. She needed to find her own place!
Her morning routine under way, Livvie stood in front of her bathroom mirror, blowing her hair to reduce the curls and make it manageable. Her hair had plagued her from childhood. At least, over time, she had learned what to do to smooth it down and tame it. Everyone told her it was gorgeous, but she hated it. The only good thing she could see about it was that it grew fast, thick and strong. And with the right product, it was glossy. Not quite red, not quite brown, but somewhere in between, she fussed with it more than with her makeup or her outfit for the day.
Realizing that her mind had wandered, she looked back in the mirror and saw, with sudden panic, that it had shifted into a panorama straight out of a fairy tale–and she was in it! Only she was dressed in an outlandish set of clothing she never would have worn in her real life. A gown (who wore gowns?) of deep purple shimmering to royal blue and back again, draped her from shoulder to ankle. Her shoes were heeled slippers of silver. Glittering jewelry dripped from her ears, neck, and hands; there were jewels in her hair! How did they stay anchored? Surely they would fall out!
At first glance, she was alone in a vast area of lush green parkland. Tall, multi-colored (!) leafy trees shaded her from an orange (orange?) sun. Pink clouds (pink?) scudded across a lavender (really!) sky.
“Good grief!” muttered Livvie. This was ridiculous!
Looking around, she realized she was not truly alone, but that she was followed by a Cinderella coach, pulled by silvery horses; there were gentlemen and ladies dressed in finery similar to her own, just with fewer glitters and bangles. They sat their horses as if they’d been born to it, all waiting, it seemed, for her to decide where they were going.
On closer inspection, Livvie found to her horror that none of the people she saw had faces! Shocked, she touched her own and found eyes, nose, mouth just where they should be.
The voice from last night spoke. “You will need to give them faces, Livvie. Imagine them, and they will appear.”
Livvie sighed. This was going to be a long, strange day.
Maybe that’s because there are so MANY directions one could take for this one-word prompt.
Let’s see. How about a bite of fiction?
Peanut butter and jelly. The ultimate American sandwich champion. For kids, at least.
Lizzy watched her ten-year-old champion eater take a huge bite of his sandwich. Grape jelly, always. Leaving a circle around his mouth, always. Which he swiped at with his arm, always. Topped off with a milk mustache, always, as he ran out the door to continue his important project of the moment. He’d be back inside within an hour, looking for cookies or an apple or whatever he could wheedle out of her. Always hungry, always on the move.
She loved him more than she had ever understood a mother could love her child.
Taking her after-lunch tea into her living room, she curled up in her reading corner. Taking a bite of her own sandwich, a much smaller bite than Jeffie would have taken, she relished the combination of salt-and-sweet. Her husband teased her about still loving her favorite childhood sandwich, but it didn’t bother her. He never turned down a pb&j, either.
Her book open on her lap, Lizzie let her mind drift to five years earlier, when Jeffie didn’t want anything at all to eat. He would pick listlessly at every tempting morsel she could create. One bite, maybe, but no more.
He was pale, losing weight, and had no energy. Finally, they took him to his pediatrician, who dropped terror into Lizzie’s heart when he referred them to a pediatric oncologist.
Lizzie didn’t dwell very long on the next couple of years. Tubes, needles, surgery, fear, cold sweat, sleepless nights, terror-driven trips to the ER. The feeding tube was unbearable to her. How she longed to see him take a huge bite of his messy sandwich, wiping the residue on his sleeve. She swore that if he survived this monster, she would never fuss at him again for wiping the jelly on his sleeve.
He did survive. He was a tough little kid, even at only five years old. He was eight before he really started to return to normal. Now, at ten, he was unstoppable. It was glorious!
And she never, ever scolded him again for wiping that last bite of pb&j off his mouth onto his sleeve.