Charles Hayes, a multiple Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, and others.
“Time for you to go,” she said. Yet slipping on my clothes and walking out the door, I turn to see her sleep.
Sitting on the curb coming down, swept like the chip bag that tumbles by, I bump the earth, my seesaw stacked. A news bundle drops across the way, its echo bouncing off the canyons of my turf. Like a little rat on the run, a quarter from my pocket falls, and spins for the grate. Fleet of foot, I mash it down.
With just enough to get some joe, I shuffle to the coffee stand. “Same as usual, handsome?” the barista girl inquires. Nodding, I dump my change and sniff the steam. The girl smiles and slides my coffee near. “How’s your gal?” she asks. Blankly I meet her eyes. “The one you strolled arm and arm with last eve,” she says. Scalding my lips with a first sip, “Busy,” I reply.
Jasmine Williams is a 23 year old artist. She studies at Full Sail University and hopes to learn more about her love for the arts field. She has two snakes and a husky. She spends most of her time writing, modeling, singing, dancing, and riding horses. She finds freedom through her works and hopes to be able to share them with people that enjoy fiction as much as she does.
A LOSS IN TIME
It was morning already. I had been sitting at the truck stop all night. It was getting a bit cold outside by the looks of it. The wind was blowing the leaves around and it was a bit cloudy. It was completely normal weather for Washington, though. I needed to get to California, desperately. My car had broken down and my sister had gone into labor. I had contemplated hitching a ride with one of the truck drivers, but that did tend to be scary for a lady of my petite size. It was an emergency, though. I watched a man walk in. He was tall and scrawny. His beard was a bit on the unkempt side and he looked like he needed some rest. He chatted with the clerk for a moment, retrieved his cigarettes, and went on his way.
I decided to follow him.
“Sir,” I mustered to get out as I raced out the door behind him.
He turned his head slightly in surprise before he shrugged and motioned for me to follow him. We arrived at his truck and he grabbed the handle from the gas pump and started to fill up his truck.
“What’s the emergency, sweets? You look rushed,” he said, chuckling.
“I suppose I am, yeah. My sister is having a baby and I really need to be there. It’s in North Cali, if that’s not too much trouble,” I exclaimed, sighing.
“No, ma’am. My delivery just happens to be in Los Angeles and then I have to drop the truck back off in New Mexico before I go home. I wouldn’t mind the company,” he exclaimed.
“Oh, well thank you,” I said shyly as I hopped into the cab.
I waited for him to finish pumping gas as I stretched out a bit in my seat. I was exhausted, and I was sure I would have a few hours to sleep. We still had to get through Oregon, yet. I reached over to pop the door open just before he hopped in and we were on our way.
I awoke to a loud, screeching noise. My head hurt. I could see, but everything was hazy and upside down. I tried to lift myself up, but I wasn’t very successful.
“Ma’am, we’re going to need you to stay where you are and remain calm,” a voice said sternly.
I tilted my head to see a few paramedics out the window of the flipped truck. I suppose I wasn’t going to make it to my sister’s birth. I looked over to see the driver, unconscious and covered in blood, before I passed back out.
g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/
Along this stretch of Lincoln Highway once stood a town of about two hundred people. There was business on Main Street, two churches, one bar and as with small towns everywhere a whole lot of gossip. The town of Stanton had prospered for over a hundred years but with young people moving out the town died a slow death. All that remains is a plywood covered church that shadows a cemetery of people long gone. The only guy who remains lives on the outskirts of what was once the town, the last Mayor, Herbert Pechin III. Herbert is the last living member of his family and still calls himself the Mayor for he was the last elected and no election had been held since. Just outside of Stanton is the township of Magnolia, population one hundred and fifty. The only legitimate business there is Fat Boy Joe’s Diner along Lincoln Highway. Fat Boy couldn’t afford to have one of those pre-fab diners placed on his property so he built one out of wood and brick and covered it with shiny steel siding to make it look like one. The diner had been there since the early 1980s and Fat Boy was getting ready to close the joint up. He was a short man of about five foot two with stumpy legs and short arms but a very large chest and stomach. Fat Boy lost most of his business to the interstate highways and depended on the orchard growers and farmers that were left for his weekend business. Fat Boy would lament over the loss of the truckers and all that Sunday business before the church’s left town. The diner was only open nine to five on the weekdays and seven to three on the weekends. Ornery Oscar was the cook. Oscar was from Mexico and no one ever asked how he ended up this far north or how he ended up at Fat Boy’s. He lived in a small home located behind the diner with Fat Boy. They had lived that way for over fifteen years now. Three ladies staffed the joint. All of them single in an area where there weren’t many eligible men. Mabel ran the cash register and was getting a little long in the tooth as they say around here. Mindy and Shelia were the waitresses. Both never completed high school and were in the early twenties. The girls lived on their family farms where their parents kept asking when they would get married. It seemed like everyone left in Stanton and Magnolia just barely got by. What was left of property in Stanton was up for Sheriff’s sale by the county, not that anyone put a bid on it. The only tax paying citizen was The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III.
It was a Sunday to remember at Fat Boy’s. The locals were in and Herbert Pechin III was providing everyone with his political views of the week. As there was no newspaper the only local news came from Herbert. Fat Boy enjoyed listening to him and would let him go on for over a half hour. What the good Mayor did not tell them was he had spent the last ten years buying up all the property for Sheriffs sale in Station. The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III had a plan and in the coming months the folks at Fat Boy’s would learn more. Right after his address something happened that hadn’t happened in years. An outsider walked into the diner. He was a man in his forties, tall, salt and pepper hair, well dressed and it was noted he parked a BMW outside. Mindy and Shelia jointly waited on his table, served up a Fat Boy Breakfast Special and were twirling their hair and batting their eyes at the man.
The stranger was enjoying all the attention he was getting from Mindy and Shelia and sweet talked them as their flirting intensified. Soon he was joined by Herbert Pechin in his booth and the two men spoke quietly for over two hours while the others strained to hear. The stranger stood up.
“My name is Henry Boyle. I own the Eco Energy Company and I am pleased to say I will be a neighbor of yours in a short time. I have agreed to purchase the old church and restore the cemetery over in Stanton. I plan on living in the church while I develop our production site. Folks you are all sitting on a large amount of natural gas and I aim to get it all!”
Herbert and Henry sat in the booth signing papers until Fat Boy’s closed.
It was less than six weeks after Henry Boyle made his presence known that the folks at Fat Boy’s found out that Herbert sold what was the town of Stanton to Eco Energy to include his own house.
Herbert told the folks that his house would be the first office on the site and he was heading south to enjoy the rest of his life in the warmth of the sun. With that, no one ever saw or heard from The Right Honorable Herbert Pechin III again.
Things were changing at Fat Boy’s. The construction workers from the church and the Pechin house were coming in for breakfast and dinner. Eco Energy had set up mobile homes along the old grid of Main Street. What had been the forty street grid of Stanton was now fenced off and the folks watched as heavy equipment and drilling apparatus made their way up Lincoln Highway to the new Eco Energy Facility at Stanton. From what the folks saw it appeared that Henry Boyle was in the midst of building his own modern company town. Mindy from Fat Boy’s was now working as an assistant to Henry Boyle and her parents had sold the farm in Magnolia to a developer. The Stevens family had sold everything but one acre and their house. The township and the county all signed off on the development plans. There would be four hundred new houses, an apartment building, a small shopping center all on what was once the Stevens Farm. Fat Boy continued to get a lot of business from the workers and began to explore selling off the twenty acres he owned across from the diner. He spoke to the developer of the Stevens Farm and soon some men from the city came to visit him.
In less than a year the Pechin House Motel and Conference Center was built right there on Lincoln Highway along with a modern convenience store and gas station. In the woods behind the diner Fat Boy had two homes built, one for Ornery Oscar and one for Marge and Fat Boy. Seating became a problem at Fat Boy’s so he had an addition built on to seat fifty people. Fat Boy now had nine employees to work the diner and four in the kitchen, he even had Wi-Fi installed.
One Monday morning about twenty people showed up at the gates of Eco Energy. They were carrying signs protesting “fracking” at the site. Most of the locals figured they would leave after a short time, but they didn’t. Many wanted them to go away but not Fat Boy. There was no down side to having the drilling, even those who were opposing it were eating at the diner. News crews even showed up to cover the protesters and of course went to Fat Boy’s.
The sky was clear, sun strong and a gentle wind caressed Herb Pechin as he stood on the beach in front of his condominium in Clearwater. He spent most of his day walking the beach, reading and of course hanging out at the senior center where he was elected chairman of the advisory committee.
He loved the energy of the place with all the Brits and French coming here for vacation. There were
dozens of restaurants to choose from and Herb was happy about that. He often thought back to Stanton where he watched the town die and fade into memory. That evening he watched the national news and there was on story on about Eco Energy. The news showed Fat Boy’s and the development on the Stevens Farm, the new motel and conference center, the protesters. He watched as the reporter spoke of the water table and discharge from the drilling. He watched as photographs of the old town and its former Mayor flashed across the screen. The protesters said he was an opportunist who used his position to buy up old property and sold it for a profit to Eco Energy. The report ended with an interview of Fat Boy.
“This place was heading to a bad end. Stanton survived in the past because of the carpet mill but when it closed the town quivered and died quickly. The Right Honorable Herbert Pecchin III had other ideas and was a man of vision. There is life here again and hope for young people.”
The camera panned a large photograph of Herbert Pechin hanging in Fat Boy’s, then to the reporter.
“An opportunist or a man of vision? It depends on your point of view. There is life in this place again but at what cost?”
Ilyse Steiner is a writer from Chicago and has published articles and essays in
The Chicago Tribune, Boulder Weekly, PurpleClover.com, DigitalTrends.com, littleoldladycomedy.com and others. She lives with her husband, three dogs and has two sons in college. Her first published piece was an Op-Ed in The Chicago Sun-Times lamenting the difficulty in finding a job after finishing college. She graduated from The University of Wisconsin, Madison.
YOGA PANTS & COLLAGEN PEPTIDES
Rachel nearly ran over an old woman in the grocery store parking lot. After she slammed the brakes and stopped the car, she was astonished when the elderly woman gave her the finger. As if the mere idea of being run over was not an assault on the woman’s dignity, but on Rachel who nearly had the audacity to do so.
“I’m so sorry!” Rachel yelled through the closed windows. The woman turned to her shopping cart filled with grocery bags and marched past.
She was running late but sat immobile until blasting horns jolted her out of her inertia. She glanced at the time and realized that she’d be late, so she floored it across the parking lot towards the coffee house. The café was a bohemian oasis across a strip of suburban mediocrity.
The café door opened, jangling the bell that hung from it. Cindy saw Rachel enter then looked back at her iPhone. She was ten minutes late. Rachel smiled, pulled a chair out and sat tucking her left leg under her right as she unzipped her hooded sweatshirt.
“You won’t believe what just happened to me.” Rachel said. She placed her keys on the wood table and moved the chair closer to Cindy.
Cindy glanced up at her again. She wanted to roll her eyes. Rachel was always late and she always had some kind of story explaining why.
“So, I was pulling into the parking lot,” Rachel said. “and I nearly hit an old lady, and when I slammed on the brake she gave me the finger! Can you believe that? She was well over 80!” She sat back and tilted her head, waiting for a response she wasn’t getting.
Cindy stifled a sigh of disgust and glanced up at Rachel again. And then she put her cellphone down.
“What?” Rachel said.
The woman sitting across the table wasn’t Rachel at all, Cindy realized. Who was this girl with dark, curly hair, thick eyebrows and unblemished skin? The girl’s pink tank top hugged her breasts and slender waist in a way Cindy remembered but hadn’t seen in herself or her friends’ bodies in a very long time. Rachel was on the zaftig side. Rachel had a muffin top. The girl leaned in toward her. She raised her shoulders.
“What’s wrong Cindy?” she said, her dark eyebrows arched.
Cindy’s hand flew to her own thinning brow and traced it. And then she realized what had happened, how this person knew her name.
“Oh! Where’s your mom, Lizzie?” Cindy asked. Rachel must have sent her daughter ahead to make her excuses. And Cindy had just had a senior moment, a realization that shook her to her core.
“What?” Rachel asked.
“I’m sorry.” Cindy said. Her brain clouded again and she imagined tangles and plaques multiplying all over her frontal cortex. “Where’s your mom?” she asked again. This time she took a deep breath and held it.
“Why are you asking about my mom, Cindy? Why are you calling me Lizzie? Lizzie is at school.” Rachel laughed and crossed her arms across her chest.
It was the right laugh. High pitched like Betty Rubble, but no. This was not Rachel. “I’m sorry,” she said. She cleared her throat. “I think you have me confused with someone else.” Her heart had started to race. Her hand rose to her chest and she clutched the fabric over it.
“It’s me Cindy! It’s Rachel.” The woman was pointing to herself as her voice rose. “We went to college together! We were roommates!”
Cindy forcefully exhaled the last bit of air left in her lungs. She laid her manicured hands flat on the table as if she hoped pressing into the wood would ground her thoughts. Rachel was tapping one foot rhythmically bouncing the leg that was resting on it.
“Rachel?” Cindy said, trying to smile while remaining calm.
“Yes! It’s Rachel! Are you ok?”
“You, you don’t look right. I mean, you don’t look like you did the last time we met.” Cindy could not believe her eyes.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Rachel became indignant as she fiddled with the zipper. “I mean, come on Cindy. I don’t work out as much as you, but I try….”
Was this some kind of mean joke Rachel had decided to play on her? If so, this girl was sticking to character. Cindy realized she had to think fast before this got out of hand. She grabbed her purse and dumped its contents onto the table. Just a notepad, two pens, a tampon. She unzipped the side compartment and found lipstick.
“What are you doing?” Rachel said. “You are worrying me.”
Finally, Cindy found what she’d been looking for: powdered concealer with a mirror. She opened the make-up and handed it to the girl sitting across from her.
“What?” Rachel asked. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Look at yourself.” Cindy said and she sat back in her chair and watched Rachel.
Rachel tilted the mirror at her face. And then her lips parted and she gasped. “Oh my God,” she said. She aimed it towards her widened eyes and touched the smooth skin around them. It was all an act, Cindy knew, but she found herself replicating the explorations on her face. The skin around her eyes was thin and papery. A little botox here a little botox there, she thought. Then Rachel’s fingers grazed over her neck. Cindy’s was less taut. A little micro-dermabrasion here. Rachel opened her mouth as if to speak but didn’t. She ran her hands underneath her shirt across her abdomen as if feeling for the excess fat she’d carried since having children. But her flat, belly bore no witness to having babies. “What’s happened to me?”
Then it dawned on Cindy. The woman sitting across from her was not someone acting. Somehow, incredibly, this was really Rachel.
Cindy had consumed a generous scoop of collagen peptides in her black coffee that morning and had eaten a macrobiotic breakfast hours before Rachel had risen from bed and brushed her teeth. Before meeting at the coffee house, she had taken an Omega 3 and multi-vitamin and completed a cross-fit and yoga flow class. Rachel, however, always seemed immune to worries about her wrinkles or grey hair and had no understanding of her slowing metabolism or the benefits of a cardio and strength class.
“How did this happen?” Cindy asked. Her voice cracked. She was unsure if she was asking or demanding an answer.
“I don’t know.” Rachel said and she shrugged her shoulders.
“You must have done something.” Cindy said. “What did you do?”
Her changes were remarkable. Whatever Rachel had done, she was ready to do it too. No matter what it was. How many magazines had she pored over, and products and medi-spas had Cindy visited? How much more physical activity could consume her day, working muscles and burning calories so she could remove all imperfections to maintain her younger than her years appearance?
“Nothing.” Rachel said. She sounded like a girl. “Maybe it’s genetic?”
Cindy snorted. One doesn’t genetically revert to their younger self and say DNA did it or their parents would be toddlers. Rachel was holding back she was sure of it.
“I have to go,” Rachel said. She closed the compact and pushed it towards her friend. “I have to call Benji.”
“Benji?” Cindy said. “You mean your husband Ben?” She rolled her eyes.
Rachel bit her lip. “Yes.” She pushed the chair back, zipped the sweatshirt and rose. “I’ll call you,” she said and hurried towards the door.
Before she got up, Cindy returned to her phone and cancelled the dermatologist appointment for the following week. Instead of leaving the café, Cindy approached the counter and pulled money from her wallet. Maybe Rachel had some secret plastic surgery? Or maybe that old lady in the parking lot had given her some kind of reverse witch curse? Maybe, Cindy thought wildly, she should get in her car and drive around the parking lot looking for her.
“Can I get you something?” asked the woman behind the counter. Cindy rested her forehead in her hand and closed her eyes. The woman behind the counter continued wiping a mug. After a moment, she stepped back and pointed to the lemon-poppy seed pound cake that reminded her of her grandmother.
Maybe it was time to give in to the pastries and relax on the couch. She didn’t know what happened to Rachel, but she couldn’t condemn her for her transformation. Maybe she would find her grandma’s yellowed cookbooks when she went home. The one with the handwritten notes in the margins. She could speed walk with her neighbor another day.
A lifelong resident of Minnesota, Bonnie Oldre is a writer who lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Randy Oldre. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Minnesota, and an M.L.I.S. degree from Dominican University. Her short stories and articles have been published in small journals and newspapers, and in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is working on a novel while enrolled in The Novel Project, a year-long course taught by the author, Peter Geye, at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
Bonnie is a retired librarian, wife, mother and grandmother. In her spare time, she enjoys a variety of activities including reading, singing in a chorale, gardening, travel, swimming, biking, and camping.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
You come to certain realizations when you’re sitting on the ice, after falling flat on your rear end on a cold and clear New Year’s Day. One is that if you haven’t skated it 15 years, it might take awhile to relearn how to do it. The other is that a little extra padding is not necessarily a bad thing.
The skates were a gift from her boyfriend, Alan. She smiled wryly as she recalled his enigmatic smile when he handed her the large gift wrapped in red foil paper and tied with a bright green ribbon. It was an uncharacteristic gift for him to give to her. For their two previous Christmases as a couple, he’d selected practical gifts. He’d gotten her a vacuum cleaner last Christmas, to encourage her to be neat; and a watch (guaranteed accurate for life) the year before, to encourage her to be prompt.
She’d called the warming house before she came, half hoping that they’d be closed for the holiday, and she would have an excuse to stay home, but they were open, so here she was. She took a deep breath of cold air and stepped out onto the ice. Her skates slid out from under her, and she sat down hard.
The extra twenty pounds of padding she carried bothered Alan a lot more than it bothered her. Still, like many other women, she wouldn’t mind being slimmer. For the past three years, her New Year’s resolution had been to lose weight. The first year that they were together, she’d mentioned her resolution to Alan. He had been very enthusiastic. He’d gotten her a food scale, and fixed gourmet diet meals for them, but the pounds had refused to budge, and after a few weeks, they stopped talking about it. Since then, if she mentioned she’d like to lose weight, he pursed his lips and looked away. He’d been pursing his lips a lot, lately. Marie hated it when he did that.
Marie started skating around the rink, feeling like an uncoordinated robot trying to walk. She flailed her arms to keep her balance. Suddenly, she fell again and hit the ice with one knee. Sharp stabs of pain brought hot, stinging tears to her eyes.
“This was a lousy idea,” she thought, “just one of a series of lousy ideas, like wasting the last two-and-a-half years of my life on Alan.”
He said goodbye a couple of days after Christmas. The skates had been a farewell gift. He told her there was someone else, a woman from the bank where he worked. He’d said, “he hoped they could still be friends.”
Since then, when she wasn’t at work, she ate everything she could get her hands on and cried herself to sleep at night. This morning she’d woke up, sick of the whole thing, and had decided she needed some fresh air. So here she was, her knee hurt, and she felt worse than ever. Marie started, half skating and half limping, back towards the warming house. Suddenly a large man hurtled towards her.
“Help! Help! Get out of the way! I don’t know how to stop!” he yelled.
Before she could react, he had grabbed hold of her, and they both slid, helplessly, across the ice and landed in a pile of snow. He jumped back to his feet, slipped around crazily, sputtered, and alternated between brushing snow off of himself and swinging his arms wildly to maintain his balance. After he’d achieved a tenuous balance, he held out a mittened hand to Marie.
“I’m so sorry, let me help you up,” he said.
“Newer mind, I think I’m better off getting up on my own,” she said.
Marie crawled up on her hands and knees and then slowly stood upright.
“Oh, I am so sorry! I hope you’re not hurt,” he said.
Marie looked into the concerned brown eyes behind the round glasses slipping down his nose and smiled in spite of herself.
“No, I’m all right, but I think I’ve had enough for one day. Goodbye, I would say it was nice bumping into you, but, you know.”
She turned and started back to the arming house. He staggered up alongside her. “Do you need any help? I mean, are you sure you’re okay?”
Marie laughed. “Are you offering to help me get off the ice? I think you’d better concentrate on helping yourself.”
“I guess you’re right about that. I think I’ll call it quits, too, before I kill somebody,” he said.
Marie struggled off the ice, walking on the sides of her feet, up the ramp, and into the warming house. He followed her. She plopped down on the first bench. He sat down next to her.
“I’m not trying to be a pest,” he said. “I just couldn’t go any further.”
When he pulled off his stocking cap, static electricity made some of his shaggy brown hair. He was a big man. Marie was glad that he hadn’t landed on top of her.
She unlaced her skates quickly, trying not to look at him again. She had no desire to prolong a relationship that had gotten off to such a bad start. She quickly crammed her feet into her boots and left. Her boots felt wonderfully comfortable, compared to the skates, as she walked to the parking lot.
It had only been about a half-hour since she’d parked her car, but the windows have been fully covered with a thin coating of frost. She would have to scrape it off while the car warmed up.
She threw her skates into the car, climbed in, and fumbled the key into the ignition. The cold penetrated through her parka, and her teeth started to chatter. Staring at the blank white windshield, she turned the key and stepped on the gas. The engine whined, coughed, and died. She tried again but still had no luck. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, pulled off a mitten and, after blowing on her fingers, tried to call her sister, but the phone didn’t work. Either it was too cold, or there wasn’t any coverage. Marie swore and pounded on the steering wheel in frustration.
She jerked the key out of the ignition, jumped out of the car, slammed the door, and kicked it.
“Having trouble?” a man asked.
She turned and saw the man who’d run into her on the ice rink walking towards her, his skates hanging over one shoulder.
“It’s this rotten car. I need a jump start. I tried to call for help, but my phone doesn’t work, either. Maybe it’s too cold,” she said. “You don’t have jumper cables, do you?”
“No, I don’t even have a car, at the moment. I loaned it to a friend for the weekend, but I live right over there.” He pointed to a green house across the street. “You can use my phone, and warm up while you call someone for help.”
Marie hesitated a moment, but then decided he was harmless. They trudged across the street and after peeling off layers of jackets, mittens, and scarves, she tried again to call her sister. She got a signal, but her sister wasn’t answering her phone, so she tow truck for a jump.
“It’s going to be a wait,” she said. The towing companies are all busy because of the holiday and the cold weather. If you have things to do, I can go back to the warming house to wait. I don’t want to be in the way.”
“No, I don’t mind,” he said. “We’ll have time to get acquainted. I’m Mike Anderson.” He’d made some cocoa for them while she was on the phone. He handed her a mug, and then transferred his mug of cocoa to his left hand, to shake her hand. Several marshmallows rolled out, unnoticed.
“I’m Marie Sterling,” she said, as she shook his hand. It was big, warm, and firm.
“Come into the living room, and we can get comfortable,” he said.
She followed him, her eye level at his flannel-shirted shoulder level. She settled down on the opposite end of his old brown sofa and found a spot on the coffee table between stacks of newspapers, books, and magazines for her mug.
The room had a bachelor look. The floor was bare wood, and the furniture was old, but sturdy looking. A bookshelf lined the wall across from the coach. I contained a mix of books, CDs, magazines, games, a stereo, and a TV. Marie spotted a Scrabble game, which she pointed out, and they decided to play a game, while they waited. He was as good of a player as she was and the time passed quickly while they played and talked.
He told her he was 34 years old and had grown up in northern Minnesota. He talked about his childhood in Bemidji and laughed about being one of the few boys in northern Minnesota who wasn’t an ice-skater. “I noticed the ice-rink in the park, and decided to give it another try,” he said. He’d moved to Minneapolis several years ago. He was a high-school math teacher at Central High.
Marie told him she was in her late twenties, had grown up in the suburbs, and worked in a bookstore. She’d started working there, part-time, while she was in college, continued full-time after she graduated, and eventually had been promoted to store manager. She didn’t mention Alan.
Marie felt very comfortable talking to Mike, and it seemed only a short time before the tow truck was honking outside of the house before they finished their Scrabble game.
“Can I see you again?” Mike asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so,” she said, furiously tugging at the zipper of her jacket.
“The last thing she needed was a romantic complication in her life,” she thought.
“Why not?” he asked.
“It’s just not the right time.”
“Not even just to finish our game?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
Marie crammed her hat down on her head, threw her scarf around her neck, and stomped her feet into her boots.
“Thanks for the cocoa, and everything. Goodbye,” she said.
A couple of weeks later, on a Friday, Marie sat behind the counter in the bookstore, catching up on some paperwork. It had been a slow week, and the day was dragging. The Christmas rush was behind them, and the weather was bad enough to keep people home.
Marie heard the door open as a customer entered, when she looked up, Mike Anderson standing in front of her. Her heart skipped a beat and then started thumping loudly in her chest. He just nodded, walked past, and started browsing the shelves. She bent back over her work and tried to concentrate.
“Don’t’ be so silly,” she thought, “you’re a grown woman, and you hardly know the man.”
After a few minutes he walked over to her and said, “Hi, I wonder if you could help me.”
“Certainly, what is it that you’re looking for?” she said, keeping her voice professionally polite.
“A Scrabble dictionary. I’ve recently developed a keen interest in the game. Do you have one?”
“Oh, yes. I’ll show you where they are.” She led him over to the reference section and handed him one. As she gave it to him, her fingertips brushed his hand. A surge of electricity passed between them. She pulled her hand away, sharply, hoping he hadn’t noticed. He followed her back to the cash register.
“Will there be anything else?” she asked, maintaining a cool and polite tone.
“There is one other thing.”
“And what is that?”
“An opponent. Would you play a game with me? I still don’t know if you can beat me, or not.”
Marie couldn’t repress a smile, “I can’t pass up a challenge. Sure, why not? Shall we make it my house, this time? Be sure to bring your new dictionary.”
The next evening Marie was pouring chips into a bowl when the door bell rang. She glanced at the clock.
“He’s early,” she thought.
She patted her hair, wishing she had time to check it, and opened the door.
“Hi,” she said, smiling, then her smile faded when she saw that it was Alan.
“Hi, can I come in?” Alan asked. “Just for a minute, I want to talk to you,” he pleaded when she hesitated.
Marie reluctantly let him pass. He went into the living room and sat down, while she remained standing.
“What is it, Alan? Someone is coming over in a few minutes. I don’t have time to talk to you now.”
“Who’s coming?” he asked.
“That’s none of your business.”
“It’s only been a few weeks since we broke up. Are you seeing someone already?”
“As I recall, ‘we’ didn’t break up. You broke it off. You said you’d met someone new.”
Alan smoothed back is already smooth blond hair. “That’s what I want to talk to you about. I made a mistake. I want us to get back together.”
“Will you please leave? We’ll talk another time.”
“Is that all I mean to you after over two years together?”
There was a knock on the door, and when she went to open it, Alan followed her.
“Hi Mike, come in,” she said.
He stepped in and stood on the rug in front of the door, wiping the steam off of his glasses.
“Hi, Marie.” He squinted at Alan. “Oh, hi there.”
“Mike, this is Alan Portice. He was just leaving. Alan, this is Mike Anderson.”
“Nice to meet you.” Mike held out his hand to Alan, and they shook hands. “Are you a friend of Marie’s?”
“More than friends, we’ve been going together for years.”
“Oh, is that so?” Mike looked at Marie.
“No, not really,” Marie said. “We were going together, but now we’re just friends. Isn’t that right Alan?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that was right, at all,” Alan said and pursed his lips.
“I’ll talk to you later,” she said to Alan.
“Why don’t you get rid of this guy, and we’ll talk now,” Alan said.
“Because I invited him over, and I didn’t invite you!” Marie said.
“Maybe I should go,” Mike said.
“Good idea, why don’t you do that,” Alan said.
“Alan, go!” Marie said, and grabbed hold of his arm and started to pull him towards the door.
“Let go of me!” he said and jerked his arm free.
Mike stepped between them. “If she wants you to go, you should go,” he said.
Alan looked Mike up and down, and then walked around him and out the door. “I’ll call you,” he called over his shoulder to Marie.
Marie was shaking. “Oh, that man! I’m sorry that happened, Mike. I had no idea he was coming over. We broke up a few weeks ago, and I haven’t seen, or heard from him, since, until tonight.”
“It’s not your fault. I don’t blame him for being jealous.”
“You’re too nice for your own good,” she said, with a little chuckle. “Would you like a glass of wine? I feel like I could use one.”
“Sure, that would be nice. Let’s not let this spoil our evening,” Mike said. “I brought the book,” he held up the Scrabble dictionary, “and I’m ready to play.”
While eating pizza and drinking wine, they played. It was a furiously fought game. First one, and then the other, was in the lead. Mike was stuck with the Q late in the game, and Marie beat him by a few points. By the time they’d finished the game, they’d also finished the bottle of wine.
“I win, I win!” Marie gloated, and jumped up and did a little victory dance.
Mike laughed at her antics and then, suddenly became serious, took her hand and gently pulled her down to sit next to him on the sofa. He leaned over and kissed her softly. His lips were warm and sensuous. Marie felt dizzy from the wine and the kiss. She pulled away and took a deep breath.
“I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” she said.
“Sure, I understand. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rush you. I’ll call you in a few days, okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
After Mike had left, Marie sat staring at the Scrabble board, thinking about Alan and Mike. Finally, she decided she would call Alan tomorrow, and meet him for lunch to talk about their relationship. He deserved one last chance.
A few days later, she sat in a restaurant with Alan. The conversation had been awkward, and she wished that she were anywhere else but here.
“I think you were right when you said we should just be friends,” she said after a tension-filled pause. “I think we should date other people until we’re sure how we feel about each other.”
“All right,” Alan said, “If that’s what you want. I guess you have to have your little fling to get even. I know the better man will win.” He smoothed back his hair.
The waitress came to the table, and Marie ordered her favorite dessert, the white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. Allan didn’t order dessert. After it had been served, he sat watching her eat, his lips pursed.
“What’s the matter?” Marie asked.
“Do you think you should be eating that?” he asked.
“Well, all the calories…” he began.
“Alan,” she threw her spoon down in disgust, “I have come to a momentous decision. I never want to see you again!” she said.
“What? Why? Just because I…”
“Because I’ve wasted enough of my time on you. You are a twit!”
“I don’t have to sit here and be insulted by you!” he said. “When you come to your senses, you can come crawling back to me. I’m leaving.”
He got up and stormed out, leaving her with the bill. “A small price to pay to get rid of him,” she thought. She picked up her spoon and finished eating her dessert with relish.
A few days later Mike called to ask if she wanted to see him.
“Yes, I’d like that,” she said.
“Did you work things out with Alan?”
“In a way. I broke it off with him, for good.”
“That’s terrific, for me, anyway.”
“I think it will be terrific for me, too,” Marie said.
“Would you like to go out this weekend? I’m not sure I’m quite ready to lose another Scrabble game. Maybe we could go out to eat,” he said.
I’d love to. I know a place where they serve the best white chocolate mousse,” she said.
Zia Marshall holds an MPhil and PhD in English Literature. She is a Learning Designer and Communication Specialist skilled in performance and competency development for personal and professional growth. She creates context-sensitive, solution-oriented e-learning, blended learning, and mobile learning programs for corporate houses like Wipro, Infosys, HCL, DHL, IIIT, Macmillan and also for the education sector. She is skilled at applying instructional psychology to learning environments and aligning learning programs with business goals and strategies. She has designed and written several courses deploying life skills, communication skills and skills in dealing with workplace issues. She has also conceptualized and designed products and solutions across multiple industries and verticals such as banking and finance, business logistics, management coaching, performance management, software training, product training, process training and sales and service training. She has worked extensively in the K-12 sector to transform conventional textbook material into story-based multimedia solutions and feedback-oriented assessment banks. Her articles have been published in http://www.selfgrowth.com/, https://elearningindustry.com/,http://havingtime.com/, https://overcomingms.org/community/blog/. Her short stories have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine and the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore.
A WRITER’S WORLD