Work in progress on “Misty”

As if the pain of her parents’ divorce wasn’t enough, Misty’s mother allowed the new boyfriend to live with them. She hated the boyfriend; he was nothing like her father, although she supposed that was the point.
    Days and weeks passed, her mother and the boyfriend getting closer and more comfortable with each other. It was, to say the least, revolting.
    Late at night, after she told her mother she was going to bed, she quietly began to pack her belongings by candlelight. She had just enough space in her luggage to accommodate her clothes, and a couple of purses held the rest of her necessities. She didn’t know how long her phone would have service after she left, and she didn’t want her mother seeing who she called and come there to get her. She left her phone, first writing down the numbers of people most important to her and then deleting the entire phone book. She brought her iPod Touch, knowing that she could use it to message those of her friends with iPhones, wherever she could get Wi-Fi.
    Carefully raising the blinds, she opened her window, knocked out the screen, and set her luggage down in the front yard. At the moment, she really hated that the front yard was landscaped with rocks instead of grass– it was that much harder for her to sneak out, but she managed to get her luggage safely set on the driveway without making too much noise.
    She made sure she had packed everything she needed and began to take the comforter off her bed and fold it carefully, along with two other blankets. She paused, realizing that she could have used the blankets as a makeshift carpet over the rocks to soften the sound of her footsteps on the way to the driveway.
    She put her pillow on top of the blanket pile and went to the garage to pick up the laundry she had been washing, even though she had already told her mother goodnight. It didn’t matter anyway- she frequently did laundry at night and her mother was softly snoring in her recliner as Lucille Ball rushed to hide the chocolates she was supposed to wrap on the television.
    On her way to her room, she got a few towels and sheet sets from the linen closet to add to her pile. Unfolding a comforter, she set everything in it and tied it up to use it as a bag.
    She saw that her iPod was fully charged and unplugged it, stashing the power cord in her blanket bag along with her headphones. It wasn’t long before she heard her mother shuffle to her room and crawl into bed, the worn out springs creaking under the added weight.
    She only had about an hour before the boyfriend returned so she had to move quickly. Managing to get her blanket bag out the window quietly, she carefully chose her steps to make the least amount of noise. Packing the car went quickly.
    She was thankful that she had thought to keep the car in the driveway. Without turning her headlights on until she was free of her block, she sped away, not knowing where to go for the night. First stopping at an ATM, she removed every dollar from her account, totaling about nine thousand dollars, thanks to her high paying summer office job.
    She drove until she reached a hotel on the outskirts of town where she could get Wi-Fi to send her friends messages. She filled up her gas tank and went inside, asking if she could get a room on the interior of the complex, wanting to hide her car from being seen from the main roads.
    Using iMessage, she sent messages to the few friends she had who owned iPhones, telling them her situation. Two hit her right back, to her surprise, and said she could stay with them. She replied, telling them she didn’t want to stay in the city for fear of seeing her mother or someone who would tell her mother where she was.
    One of them offered to move out of the city with her if she could stay at the hotel long enough for him to pack his things.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
She heard when her daughter came back out to the living room and went into the garage. Even with the thick padded carpet she had in the house, footsteps made noise. She pretended to be asleep, but inside she was laughing at Lucille Ball trying to wrap the chocolate candies in the factory on television. Her daughter was gathering the laundry– she could hear the dryer door open and close from where she was sitting.
She had noticed that things in her daughter’s room were becoming neater and that things were disappearing. Her daughter had also brought down the only two suitcases and the duffel bag she owned from the closet.
All of a sudden, she wanted to cry. She didn’t want her daughter to move out just because she had started dating again after the divorce. It had only been a few months, and she could understand why Misty was upset about it.
She didn’t want Misty to be upset. But she also didn’t want to stop dating. She was finally happy! She had wasted too much time on her ex-husband and she deserved to be happy!
She debated whether to say something when Misty came in from the garage or simply to let her go in silence. The garage door opened… and she quickly let her head fall back on the recliner, letting her mouth fall open as always happens in sleep.
She should have said something when she heard her pause before she got to the hallway. But instead she decided to keep up the sleeping act. After all, Misty was sixteen now. She was a young woman, no longer a child.
Misty was a tough girl. She could handle it. She wouldn’t miss her ornery old mom. Still, tears stung her eyes and one escaped, falling onto the arm of the recliner. She decided to turn everything off in the living room and go to bed. Twenty minutes later, she heard Misty’s car engine turn over and drive away. Her daughter was gone, likely forever.
Lying in her bed, her mind wandered. Maybe Misty would call every once in a while, maybe a card here and there. But honestly, she felt that she hadn’t treated her daughter well enough to deserve any correspondence. She had barely met the requirements of being a mother; she had provided food and shelter, clothing and relative safety, and all kinds of technological gadgets on top of that. But she guessed she had never really been very supportive as her daughter was growing up. Misty was always much closer to her father. And when she started dating other men to fill the void in her own heart, she supposed Misty felt pushed away.
Should she attempt to get her daughter back? She knew who Misty’s friends were and where they lived, but she was sure she would answer her phone. She would try tomorrow, and if that didn’t work, surely her friends would know how to reach her.
Why was it that you didn’t realize what truly brings you joy in life until it leaves you?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Glen got to the hotel an hour and a half after he offered to stay with her. He texted her when he got there, and she replied with the room number she was in. He found her car in a corner space and parked in the space next to it, to protect it from others who might park too close and hit her doors with their own. Her room was up the set of stairs closest to the car, and he was grateful for that. Who knows what kind of riffraff would be hanging around her door at night if she was on the ground floor? When he reached the door, he knocked softly, hoping not to startle her. He thought she might have fallen asleep when she didn’t immediately answer, but then he heard movement and the door opened.
    “Is that all you have?” she asked when he set down his one suitcase at the bottom of the little closet.
    “I’m a guy, remember? I don’t have millions of outfits like you do,” he teased as he set his car keys on the nightstand on one side of the bed. When he sat down on the edge of the bed, she jumped up and folded her legs, landing square on her bottom on the soft mattress across from him.
    “But you’re nineteen, shouldn’t you have more things?”
    “Nah, girl. I don’t need all that much.”
    There was an easy but sad silence. Misty was the one to break it. “Thank you for offering to stay with me. I honestly don’t know what I would do alone. I don’t exactly have the best feeling about this.”
    “Of course you don’t. There’s not a whole lot you can do on your own at sixteen, no offense. What are you going to do when the registration on your car expires? Things that someone over eighteen needs to do?”
    “I don’t know. But that’s not what I was talking about. I mean like the bad feelings I get right before something bad happens.”
    He stared at her, leaning forward and tilting his head to try to catch her attention when she turned her head and stared at the carpet to her right. She met his gaze when he reached his hand out to her and without thinking about it, she launched herself into his arms. He didn’t push her away. Instead, he put his hands on her hips and moved her with him so he wasn’t about to fall off the edge of the bed and turned her so she was sitting on his lap with her knees around his hips. He reconsidered, afraid she might think he was trying to make a sexual move, but she draped herself over his left shoulder, hugging him and covering her face when she started to cry.
    They sat that way for a long while, until her breaths became deeper and more regular. He softly called her name and when she didn’t answer, he picked her up and set her on the bed, pulling the comforter over her so she could sleep the rest of the night comfortably. Those denim shorts she was wearing probably weren’t comfortable, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to remove them from those slender hips. He unfolded one of her blankets and draped it over himself when he lay on the bed next to her and switched off the light.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Misty checked the time on her phone yet again. It seemed like no matter how many times she looked at it, the time didn’t register in her brain. Finally, she made a comment about the time to try to solidify it in her brain.
    “It’s six –thirty-three. He said he would be here at six-thirty. Maybe the traffic is bad,” she said to herself.
    The mountain road had several picnic areas, and she had chosen one that overlooked the city, and she sat on the concrete barrier that kept vehicles from tumbling down the steep side of the mountain into deep crevices, beyond the capability of a wrecker or a crane. As hard as she tried to focus on the sun setting on the horizon, backlighting the buildings, her eyes drifted back to the cemetery time and time again. She could almost pinpoint where those two headstones lay next to each other, bearing the names of her father and her mother. Her shoulders shook, partly because of the chill of the breeze that teased her blonde hair into her face and partly because of the emotion that overwhelmed her. She knew the feeling well; it was as if she could not progress in her stages of grief despite having been an orphan for two years.
    “It really doesn’t matter how old you are,” she thought, “when both of your parents are gone, you’re still an orphan, missing a piece of your very essence.”
    She sat in silence, shivering as if the cool breeze was instead from the Arctic Circle, now focusing on that green lawn pitted with markers of the remains of people who used to live and breathe and love just like her. After what felt like an eternity, she checked the time on her phone again. Nine minutes after seven. She resolved to wait until seven-thirty before she gave up on waiting. A few minutes later, she took notice of a truck pulling into the picnic area, drenching her in light and then leaving her back in darkness. She didn’t turn around to look at the driver. She knew it was her date, and she was not happy about how late he was.
    He parked the truck and turned it off, almost running toward her, clambering over the concrete barrier, running his mouth already. “Misty, I’m so sorry, I fell asleep after—“
    She cut him off quickly, her voice rough and demanding, “Stop.”
    He immediately shut his mouth, hanging his head but looking up at her with sad eyes. She knew he was truly sorry for being late. She could almost feel the emotion tightening up his chest, and she shifted her shoulders as if his sadness was tangibly pushing her.
    “Aaron. It might have occurred to you to message me when you did wake up, to tell me what happened. If we had met at a restaurant, I would have ordered to go, paid, and left by now. Why didn’t you keep me informed?”
    “I didn’t want to waste—“
    She cut him off again, “Waste time. It doesn’t take that long to type a quick message.”
    “I realize that now. I’m really sorry, Misty. Are you really that mad at me? I honestly didn’t plan to fall asleep…” His voice trailed off and she got that feeling again, as if his deeper sadness was pushing her again, harder this time.
    “No, Aaron. I’m not angry. I would just like you to know that it’s courteous to let someone know when you’re going to be late.”
    “Of course, I promise I won’t do it again.” He moved in front of her, looking her straight in the eyes. “Your eyes are almost glowing right now, they’re so green. Are you okay?”
    She knew what her eyes must look like. Whenever she cried, the whites of her eyes became red from the blood vessels expanding, which emphasized the green of her irises.
    “Meeting here was a bad idea. Do you see that cemetery?” She pointed.
    Aaron nodded his head, eager to hear what she had to say next.
    “My parents were murdered two years ago. Two years and three months. I had to identify the bodies. Their deaths were as far from natural as you can get.”
    He stood there in front of her for what seemed like years, not even opening his mouth to say anything. There was so much emotion in his eyes; she looked up at him and saw pain and anger and disbelief all at the same time.
    “You don’t have to say anything. It’s not like meeting here was your idea. I probably shouldn’t have said anything, considering we’ve only met a handful of times. I think I just needed to say it out loud. I’ve never actually admitted that to anyone outside the family.”
    He nodded, stepping closer to her and extending his arms to hug her, but she put her hand up to stop him. “I’ve got my tears under control. If you hug me at all, or say anything to try to comfort me, I’m not going to be able to hold back.”
    “But it’s always good to cry. I mean, not that I’ve ever been through anything even near what you just told me, but I know that when my girlfriend broke up with me last year, I cried. And it helped,” he said, moving even closer and bringing her into his arms.
    He was so much bigger than she was, standing at six feet four inches, almost dwarfing her five feet three inch frame.  And he was packed with muscle. If he so chose, he could strangle her with a small shift of his arm and a flex of his bicep around her neck. His easy-going personality so contradicted that powerful body. He was always so shy. He wore spicy cologne, the scent filling her nose as she took deep breaths to try to control her emotions.
    He comforted her, telling her it was okay to cry and that he would rather her have a shoulder to cry on than her crying alone. The more he spoke to her and the more he stroked her hair and softly massaged her shoulders, the harder it was for her to contain herself. The more deep breaths she tried to take, the more they turned into short, powerful sobs. Her body tensed and her face morphed into a grimace of sheer emotional torture. She tried to bring her hands to her face so she wouldn’t soak the front of his hoodie, but he just held her closer, and she couldn’t help but reach around and grab fistfuls of the soft cotton at his back.
    They stood there wrapped up in each other’s arms, he whispering to her in a soft, low voice, she fighting a losing battle to control herself. Her sobs became shorter and shorter, and after several minutes there were no longer tears escaping her eyes and she started to hyperventilate.
    Aaron noticed the change and pulled her away from him, placing his hands on her shoulders and hunching over so he could make level eye contact with her. “Hey, alright, let’s take some deeper breaths now okay? Think about it. Just take some deep breaths with me.”
    She did what she was told, making a conscious effort to take deeper breaths. Her heart was pounding from the energy she had let go, and she felt embarrassed that she had, indeed, soaked the front of his hoodie with her tears. She managed a small smile and then bowed her head, reaching up to wipe the dampness from her face and clear the mascara from her cheeks that no doubt made her resemble a raccoon and a cheetah at the same time.
    She stared up at him, unable to look away or even manage a smile. She was unable to do much of anything, after that episode. Her heart slowed, her breathing slowed, and the breeze got cooler and cooler as the moon became brighter and the sun was only a memory. He stared back at her, smiling softly as if he wanted to say she didn’t have anything to be worried about.
    “Well, what was supposed to be a nice date on a mountainside turned into me making a fool of myself, telling an acquaintance something my best friend doesn’t even know.”
    “Maybe that’s a sign that I’m meant to be someone important in your life,” he said with a wink.
    That made her laugh. “Well, I’m definitely more comfortable with you than any other guy I’ve been with. With anyone else, I would have excused myself right after I told you about my parents. Whether you turn out to become my next boyfriend or both of us become comfortable with keeping things at the ‘friends’ level, I’m glad we met. I’m also glad you were willing to just hold me during that crying session. To be honest, I haven’t cried since my parents’ death. I’ve been in the grieving process since then, but I haven’t been able to heal because I haven’t truly come to terms that…” her breath caught in her throat. “That my parents are truly never coming back.” Another tear escaped and slid down her cheek, this time getting caught in the fabric of her shirt. 
    An involuntary wince passed over her face when his hand came up to wipe the tear from her cheek, and he frowned. “I’d think after just letting you cry and holding you that you couldn’t possibly think I would ever hit you…”
    “I lost myself for a minute. Sometimes it’s a knee-jerk reaction. I know you wouldn’t hurt me,” she said, adding, under her breath, “like he did.”
    “Someone hurt you?” He squared his shoulders, tensed his muscles and made fists as if he was ready to find whoever it was and avenge her. His words came out in a deeper voice than his normal speaking voice, and they had an edge to them that almost resembled a wolf’s growl.
    She didn’t think he had heard her, but seeing his reaction made it very clear that he had. She wasn’t sure whether to calm him or to tell him about her mother’s boyfriend and tell him where the bastard was and let them fight. It was obvious who would win, and seeing a man want to go all hero for her was actually pretty sexy.
“It’s an insanely long story and it’s already getting late. But can I ask you for a favor?” she said, dreading the thought of going home alone again.
“Anything you want or need and it’s done.”
“I’ve been feeling bad things at night at the house recently, for the past couple of weeks. Can you go with me and make sure no one is waiting for me?”

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“Rights”

               “Honey, this is where I belong. Women belong in the house to keep it clean and tidy for their husbands and make sure there’s a hot dinner waiting for them when they get home,” Rita said, staring up into her husband’s eyes.

               Jim stammered for a few seconds before he could overcome his frustration enough to talk. “Rita, women have rights. You don’t need to be here all day just to take care of me! I’m a big boy, if you happen not to be home when I get home, that’s okay! I can make dinner for you, too, you know.”

               “But that’s what a wife is for—to take care of her husband!”

               “Stop saying that. You’re not a fff—,” Jim almost cursed at his wife. He caught himself, took a deep breath, and resumed talking. “You’re not a slave. You need to get out of the house, get a job if you want to, take your car and drive somewhere – anywhere—and enjoy yourself! It’s your life and it’s just wasted if all you do is sit and wait for me to get home.”

               “My love, I don’t sit here all day. I vacuum, I dust, I make a list of small things that could use fixing whenever you have a chance,” she said, smiling up at him.

               “That’s another thing! You’re so smart, love, you can figure out how to fix those little things. The car and the air conditioning and stuff like that, yes, I can do that. But little things like a loose screw or a squeaky hinge on the kitchen cabinets? You can do that! You don’t need me to fix little things like that for you.”

               “A woman shouldn’t get her hands dirty, honey. Fixing things is a man’s job.”

               “Rita. We’re not in the fourteenth century here. We’re in the twentieth century. Look at all those movements people are starting to get women more rights! You have power! You’re not inferior!”

               “But we are inferior, honey. We’re women. A man is always above a woman.”

               Jim was so frustrated that he couldn’t help but yell. “No! You’re not inferior! You can vote, you can go into a bar and drink, you can go out and get a job and earn money to buy yourself things instead of relying on me! Sometimes I can’t afford to get you something you want because the car breaks down or whatever, but if you had your own money, you could get whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it!”

               “I’m not strong enough for a job, Jim.”

               “I’m not talking about construction, Rita, I’m talking about a job as a waitress or a small sales position or whatever you want to do!”

               The more Jim yelled, the quieter Rita got.

               “You really do believe you’re not strong enough to do anything more than do housework. You really believe you don’t have the rights I have.”

               Rita nodded. It was all she could do, because if she tried anything more, her cheeks would soon be wet with tears. In fact, a few tears did fall even though she really wasn’t that upset. She was just as frustrated as her husband was—frustrated that he didn’t understand that in the house was where she belonged. Jim was frustrated because he knew that Rita deserved to exercise her rights in the world and enjoy her life.

               The two were silent together for a few minutes. Jim pulled his wife into his arms as she cried, holding her tight and not caring that the front of his shirt was going to be soaked when he let go of her. He breathed deeply, the scent of the shampoo that she always used bringing back memories of the romance they shared for so many years.

               When Rita could finally take deep breaths again, Jim spoke. “Tell you what, sugar. I’ll take the day off tomorrow and we can go to a few places that you might like to work and you can talk to the managers to see if they could use some help. You can tell them that you’re not sure if you want a long-term job right now, that you just want to try it out. There are a few places where I’m friends with the managers, and we can see if they’ll bring you on temporarily, so you can see what it’s like for a month or two. You can decide if you like it or not, but only after you spend enough time there to get a real feeling for the work. Okay?”

               She thought about it and decided she would try, if only to make Jim happy. She had always been curious about what it would be like to work and bring in her own money. Maybe, if she got comfortable enough with working, she could try other rights she apparently had, too. Things like voting, or maybe going out for a drink like Jim said. Yes. She was going to enjoy her life from now on. People were out there fighting for her to have rights like men, and she was going to make their time worth the effort.

“Lina”

        

 

       I can still see her standing near the shore, a giant tropical printed towel tied under her arms and her feet buried in the sand. It was the end of summer, and we were just twenty two years old. Twenty years of knowing each other thanks to our parents meeting at AA and making friends and setting up “play dates” because they were so excited to have children who shared a birthday. We knew how hard it was to have parents who struggled with an addiction, and we helped in every way we could, but the beach was our escape. We had a standing date every Saturday since we were fifteen to go to the beach in our hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.

               She always walked right next to me, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes wrapping her arm around my waist, sometimes trying to reach up to wrap her arm around my shoulders. But once we hit that warm sand, she took off, dropping her things anywhere there was an open spot on the sand and practically belly-flopping into the shallow water to let the gentle waves wash over her. To me it always looked like she was trying to give her soul a running bath, head first. Maybe she was. Because every time she did that, she wouldn’t say a word. She wouldn’t look back at me, wouldn’t yell back to me, wouldn’t even acknowledge that I—or anyone else for that matter—was there for at least a half hour.

               And as she bathed her soul under that south Texas sun, I watched her and I watched the waves and I went back to watching her as I breathed in that salty air deep in my lungs. I suppose that was how I mirrored her soul bath. When she was done, she would crane her neck trying to find me around the other people who shared the beach with us, and when she found me, she always got the biggest smile on her face. Everything bad in my life disappeared when I saw that smile. Her light hazel eyes glistened with reflected sunlight as she looked at me, and she would give me a salty wet kiss on the cheek when she reached me as she grabbed her towel. She would always go back to the brink of where the waves met the sand, just far enough back so her towel didn’t get wet.

               She buried her toes in the sand to keep from burning them and spent a few more minutes just staring out at the water, even when it wasn’t all that beautiful because of debris or grime or whatever ended up in oceans and seas. I found it so difficult to keep my eyes off her. She was the one for me. I had dated other girls every once in awhile as I got closer to my twenties and she had dated other guys, but I knew that she was The One. But I never wanted to bring it up to her.

               But one of those days, I did bring it up. While we sat on the beach snacking on shredded chicken or fruit or whatever we happened to bring, there was a quiet moment. And my heart pounded as if it wanted out of my chest, but I asked her.

               “Lina, can I ask you something?”

               “You can ask me anything.”

               “It’s a serious question.”

               “So I’ll give you a serious answer,” she said, turning her whole body to face me. God, she was gorgeous.

               I swallowed hard and took a breath. “Have you ever thought about us dating?”

               She just sat there and stared at me for a few moments, blinking those long eyelashes. Her eyebrows pulled together in the center like they did when she was about to cry. It made me feel horrible that I had asked a question that might have made her cry. But then she answered me.

               “Sebastian. I’ve loved you since I was seventeen. I mean, I’ve loved you all my life, but I fell in love with you when I was seventeen. But you dated those girls and I didn’t think you were into me. I thought you wanted to keep it like I was your sister or something.”

               “Really?” It was my turn to blink at her.

               It seemed like she couldn’t say anything else, because all she did was nod. And then she tackled me, having the courtesy to make sure my chicken sandwich didn’t touch the sand. She laid me down on my back and she actually laid on top of me, her breasts meeting my chest, the inside of her thighs spread around my hips. She kissed me long and deep, slipping her arms around my shoulders to hold me tight. And that was what I had dreamed of since I was thirteen. I knew I didn’t love her until sixteen, but I knew that this was how I wanted it. As she kissed me, her light brown hair with its natural blonde highlights fell over her shoulder and tickled my neck and I couldn’t help but move it.

               She laughed and sat up, then took her place next to me again and crossed her legs. As perfectly as that bikini fit when she was standing up, it was a bit loose when she sat down, and I could almost see what she looked like under that bottom piece. She saw me looking at her and pulled her towel over herself, blushing.

               “Lina?”

               Her eyes met mine again. “Yeah?”

               I took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

               She smiled that huge, beautiful smile and nodded. I could tell she wanted to tackle me again, but she didn’t this time. I leaned over to her, letting go of her hand so I could reach up to stroke her hair, and I kissed her.

               “I think there’s something you need to know, though,” she said when I pulled back.

               “One of the guys you dated gave you herpes.” I teased her.

               She punched me in the arm, shaking her head and smiling. Then the smile faded and she said, “No. Actually, I was never intimate with any of those guys. I’m a virgin.”

               I was so surprised when I heard the V-word come out of her mouth. “Seriously?”

               She nodded and hunched in on herself, like it was something to be ashamed of. “Sweetheart,” I said, “I’m sure those guys wanted to, and that it was your decision not to. You’re too beautiful for them not to have wanted you. And I think it’s awesome that you didn’t just give in.”

               She relaxed a little when I said that. “Do you want to know why I didn’t give in?”

               “You’re a lesbian.” I joked again.

               She punched me again and laughed. “Noooo. It’s because I wanted it to be special. And I wanted my first time to come from you.”

               “Me? Really?”

               “Yes, Sebastian. I told you, I’ve loved you since I was seventeen. None of those other guys would have come close to how I would feel if you were my first.”

               “Baby, I’m not a virgin though.”

               “That’s okay. As long as you’re clean, that’s okay.”

               I smiled. “I’m clean. I wrapped it every single time.”

               “So you don’t have any kids I don’t know about then?”

               This time I laughed. “Not a chance.”

               She moved, bringing her left hip right up against my right hip, and I couldn’t help but put my arm around her shoulders. I didn’t have a clue as to what she was thinking, so I kept quiet and gave her space to think.

               “We’re twenty-two years old,” she finally said.

               I nodded.

               “Let’s go get a room at one of these hotels.”

               “To cuddle?”

               “Among other things. I want to give it to you today, Sebastian,” she whispered in my ear.

               There was no way I was going to be able to walk to the street, much less to a nearby hotel without someone seeing the tent that was the front of my swim trunks. Lina giggled, delighted at the reaction she caused. I didn’t want to walk around like that, but I didn’t want to deny her, either. I wanted to love her like she fantasized about, and then tell her that I loved her. And then I was going to make her dreams come true for the rest of her life.

               So I decided to see if telling myself to go limp just for twenty minutes worked. And it actually did, for the most part. Well enough to hide, anyway. We got to the hotel without people staring at me with disgust, and I paid for a one-bed suite. I told them to bring up a few choice drinks from the bar as well as a dessert for each of us. She insisted that that was too much, but I was going to romance her. She deserved nothing less than the best.

               So we got up to the room and set our things down in the corner. I pulled the curtains that were really thin, but left the thick curtains open so we’d have good lighting in the room. She was putting the rest of the food in the mini-fridge. I turned the TV on to find something good to watch until the room service came and went and we had our privacy. Surprisingly, it didn’t take very long for the waiter to get there, and I tipped him well.

               I set things up on the little end table and sat in front of Lina on the bed. I had the brilliant idea to feed her her dessert, and she loved it. After a few bites, she stopped me, stood up, and faced me. I wasn’t sure what was wrong and I was about to ask her what happened until she reached behind her and pulled on one of the strings of her bikini top and released the little bow, repeating with the tie that was around her neck. She didn’t let the top fall for a few seconds, like she was nervous about it, but then she did let it fall.

               I had never noticed how beautiful her breasts were. I mean, I had noticed what size they were, but until that moment I had never noticed how perfectly smooth they were or how perfectly round. And the tips were so cute, small and so light brown they almost completely blended in with the rest of her skin. I wanted to echo her move, but I had had my shirt off since we were at the beach and I wasn’t about to make her think that I wanted to go any faster than she dictated. Especially since I was now sporting a baseball bat between my legs.

               She sat back down on the bed and I smiled at her as I kept feeding her her dessert. But she stopped me a second time and insisted that it was my turn.

               “No, babe, this is for you. I can eat mine in a few minutes,” I denied her.

               She smiled coyly and started to feed me my dessert anyway. And we exchanged feeding each other bites until they were gone. We started in on our drinks and after the first one, she told me she was going to save the other for later because she didn’t want to get too buzzed.

               I stopped with her out of courtesy. She placed her hands on my shoulders and pulled me closer to her on the bed, and I followed her lead, lying down with her and kissing her deeply. She let her hands explore my body and I almost lost it when she started to untie my swim trunks, but my self-talk came to the rescue again. While she explored my body, I explored hers as well, making my hands and face and mouth familiar with her upper body and those perfect breasts.

               She just had one problem.

               “I don’t want to mess up the bed,” she said, and I could hear the nervousness in her voice.

               “We can take a shower together,” I proposed.

               She considered it and nodded. She was about to get up but I stopped her, wanting to make her comfortable with what we wanted to do. I took off my swim trunks instead of leaving them wrapped around my thighs and reached for her bikini bottom slowly, as if I was asking permission without words. She just kissed me some more, so I slid that little piece of fabric off her legs and for the first time, noticed that she was pretty muscular. Not overly muscular, but a perfectly feminine kind of muscular.

               I caressed her as we kissed, and she was more than ready for me. I couldn’t help but bring my face down close to her so I could make my tongue familiar with how she tasted before we started anything, and it wasn’t long until every muscle in her body contracted and she grabbed my shoulders tight and said my name in a breathy, shaky voice. And I loved every moment of it.

               When she recovered, I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the bathroom, starting the water and bringing it to a comfortable heat before we stepped in. We still took it slow, but I made love to her in the shower, ignoring the pink tinted water that ran down the drain.

               That was the moment I knew no one else would ever be good enough for me. And that stands to this day, even though Fate or God or whatever you prefer to call it took her away from me much too soon, at the grill of a drunk driver’s SUV.

               She had been on her way home from the hair salon to get a new haircut and to get her nails done professionally as a treat for her thirty-fourth birthday. It wasn’t late enough for people to be going to bars, but this man was thoroughly intoxicated. Witnesses told police that the driver mistook his turn and ended up on the wrong side of the median, speeding more than twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. The road was busy enough that my Lina couldn’t change lanes to avoid the driver because there were people blocking her, and the drunk driver hit her head on. The police said she died on impact. I sincerely hope that was the case. My Lina was far too beautiful and too sweet to suffer any kind of pain, much less the pain of a severe head on collision.

               I’m sitting here by her gravestone thinking about what we’ve been through and the irony of life. Lina’s and my parents met at Alcoholics Anonymous, recovering from the urge to get drunk all the time. And Lina’s life was stolen from her by someone who didn’t have the strength to recover from his addiction. I’m a thirty-four year old widow and I know I will never court or date anyone else as long as I live. I can only hope I can have the strength to dull the pain by doing something constructive like trying to convince others to quit alcohol and not by getting intoxicated myself. May Lina rest in peace and find happiness, wherever she is now.

“Z-Day” Part 2

DISCLAIMER: I know some of this won’t make much sense or will seem scatterbrained. I’m aiming to clean it up before I do anything else with it, but I can’t seem to write anything coherent anymore, so I’m leaving it as is for now. Please forgive the work in progress.

 

      “Mia Sprague, please. It’s urgent,” the male voice said with a quavering voice.

               “May I ask what this is about, sir? Dr. Sprague is very busy,” the middle-aged nurse said, keeping her voice steady despite her rising heart rate. She had gotten three calls like this so far today, and the nurse before her had gotten two.

               “I have visual information about someone who seems to be displaying some kind of sickness, his skin is getting really thin and he doesn’t see it yet but there’s a patch on the back of his neck that’s starting to peel off the muscle,” the voice answered frantically.

               “I’ll have her come to the phone right away, sir. Are you calling on a cell phone?”

               “Yes.”

               “Okay, sir, please bring this man to our hospital right away; Dr. Sprague will want to see his symptoms. Please do not let him come in close contact with anyone. Do you understand? Do not allow him to get close to anyone, and do not let him breathe on you or touch you.”

               “Yes ma’am, we’re on our way right now. I called you right after we started driving. Will Dr. Sprague see us soon?”

               “She’ll make time for you, sir. We need to deal with this. I shouldn’t tell you this, but your friend is one of several coming in with those symptoms. It seems to be becoming a problem. Don’t tell anyone though, alright? We don’t want to cause a panic.”

               “You got it, ma’am. I appreciate your help, and we’ll be there soon.”

               “Be careful, sir. Here’s Dr. Sprague.”

              

 

               Eleven patients with the same symptoms in two days. And I still haven’t been able to create a vaccine. And there’s no telling how many people those eleven people infected. We’re about to have an epidemic on our hands, and maybe even a pandemic, Dr. Sprague thought as she sat at her desk with her office door locked. There wasn’t much she could do while she waited for the lab techs to duplicate the three new batches of the vaccine she was going to try.

               There was a knock on her door. “Come in,” she said.

               The nurse walked up to her desk and hung her head. “Dr. Sprague, three of our patients have passed away.”

               The doctor immediately sprang up out of her chair and said, “Get the live patients out of that room!”

               The nurse’s eyes went round with fear and both women ran to the quarantine sector, yelling to the nurses right outside the room to take the live patients to the other quarantine room directly across the hall. As the nurses did what they were told, the doctor watched the dead patients, looking for any kind of movement. She wasn’t even sure there would be any movement, but with how little they knew about this virus, anything was possible.

               The nurses came back to stand with the doctor when the other patients were safely in the other room, wide-eyed.

               “Did any of you touch any of them or vice versa?” Dr. Sprague asked.

               The nurses shook their heads, but one of them spoke. “When I was taking vitals earlier, one of them sneezed– I couldn’t tell which one–  and I’m afraid I’m going to get the virus.”

               “Did you have your hazard suit on?”

               The nurse nodded, but his eyes were still filled with worry.

               “If you had your hazard suit on the right way, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

               “But I’ve been feeling really itchy and I noticed a patch of skin on my belly that’s really dry and it’s starting to peel.”

               The other nurses took several steps away, covering their mouths and noses with the lapels of their scrubs. The doctor closed her eyes and dipped her head, as if she was praying. “And you haven’t said anything before now.”

               The nurse shook his head.

               “And you’ve been around all of us with symptoms like them,” the doctor said, gesturing toward the patients in the quarantine room.

               The nurse closed his eyes and hung his head. That was enough for the doctor.

               “Well, everyone, we’ve now all been exposed. And with how we have to move around here, the rest of the people in the hospital have also been exposed. I’m putting the entire hospital on lockdown. All of you, stay away from other people now. Don’t go to the break rooms or anything, in case others haven’t been exposed.”

               Dr. Sprague placed the lapel of her jacket over her nose and mouth and picked up the phone on the corner to call the head of the department. Soon after she hung up, the head of the department spoke over the PA, “Attention all medical staff, patients and everyone within the hospital, due to unforseen circumstances, the hospital must be placed on lockdown until further notice. No one is allowed to leave the building and no one is allowed to enter. We’re sorry for any inconvenience. The police have been called to act as enforcement of the lockdown and will be strategically posted outside the building, so do not be alarmed. Thank you.”

               Dr. Sprague was impressed with her supervisor’s calm demeanor, but she knew better than to believe that the calm was anything but a mask to protect everyone from panic. They were going to have a huge problem on their hands, and with the recent history of how quickly this virus was spreading and affecting people, it wasn’t going to take long.

 

 

               There were five of them left in the house. The monsters outside had gotten hold of the other four. Z-day had arrived a few months ago — zombies were everywhere outside. They walked into and out of the unlocked houses in the area, knowing that they smelled the live meat in the one house that was locked, but they couldn’t reach it. The five left had seen what those monsters did when they found someone that wasn’t dead like them. It was horrifying, but they hadn’t been able to take their eyes away from the gruesome sight. The dead people grabbed the live one and tore him to pieces, shoving the raw muscle into their mouths like animals.

               The five left – Jerry Myers, Claudia Goodman and her twin sister Cynthia, Michael Monroe, and Logan Fisher – had enough ammunition to take care of the ones in the area. Michael and Logan had been United States Marine snipers, so they took extermination duty and the trips to get more ammunition and gasoline for the cars. Jerry and Cynthia took care of finding food, shooting down birds with a bow and arrows they found in one of the neighborhood houses and ravaging stores for what was left. They had to go farther and farther to find food now, but the sounds of Michael’s and Logan’s gunshots drew zombies from miles around to exterminate close to their house, so trips weren’t too dangerous anymore. Claudia spent most of her time sitting in the corner of the master bedroom’s small walk-in closet crying.

               Jerry had been a personal trainer for several years, but before that he had been in a gang until a rival gang member threatened his mother. He was jumped out, and led a productive life. Cynthia was an office professional who worked for a company who sold alcohol. Claudia went from minimum wage job to minimum wage job because she got bored or because the job wasn’t good enough for her. With the exception of the twin sisters, none of the nine had known each other before the zombie outbreak. They had all been wandering looking for food and had found each other little by little. As they traveled, they found the house they claimed unlocked and stocked with several weeks’ worth of food and water. It was a roomy four bedroom house, and they made it work even with nine people. On a mission to find food, four of the nine had been attacked, just three blocks away from the house. Logan had seen them coming from his post on the roof and advised the others to help while he took well-aimed shots, but the four in the house hadn’t heard Logan’s warning, and didn’t make it to help the four who were on their way back.

               Logan finished exterminating the monsters in the area and went into the house to tell the others what happened. They were shocked and felt guilty about not helping, but there wasn’t much they could do after it happened. They walked the few blocks to gather the food and back to the house to have a few moments of silence. They settled into a routine and assigned the duties of extermination and hunting, and Claudia had been assigned the task of keeping the house tidy, but she frequently disregarded her task.

               The three men were getting tired of Claudia’s uselessness. She had become a waste of food and space. Jerry proposed using her as bait to draw in more zombies to kill, but Cynthia would have none of that. Logan proposed Cynthia shut her mouth and realize that in times like this, either one contributes or becomes bait, but Cynthia ignored him. Michael kept his mouth shut, but as soon as Cynthia wasn’t paying attention, he told the other men that he agreed with Jerry’s proposal.

               One night after Cynthia had fallen asleep, the men were keeping watch and Claudia wandered outside into the backyard to relieve herself.

               She walked up behind Logan and whispered, “Cover me, okay? I’m just going around the corner. Make sure they don’t get near me, okay? But don’t look at me peeing!”

               “How am I supposed to watch that they don’t get near you if I’m not looking in your direction?” Logan said dryly and stared at her.

               She just stood there and blinked at him.

               “Go on, then. We’ll cover you.” He finally whispered, nodding at the other guys.

               Claudia let out a relieved sigh and disappeared into the darkness.

               “I’m about tired of her bullshit. This ends tonight,” Jerry pronounced, stalking into the darkness after Claudia.

               Logan and Michael stared blankly into the inky void and heard Claudia gasp. Immediately after that, they heard a loud snap, like someone had broken a tree branch. They got up and went to see what happened. Jerry had redressed Claudia and thrown her over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

               He scaled the exterior gate, coming to the high fence that separated the backyard from the street. Carefully, he lifted her limp body off his shoulders and set her up on the wall. He set her feet between his own on the top of the wall, leaning her body first against his own and then attempting to stand her up straight. He leaned her back and let go of her.

               Her body fell and there was another snap as it landed on its back. The scene looked just like Claudia had jumped, or rather simply let herself fall backward from the top of the wall.

               Jerry noticed the two other men coming up behind him. “She didn’t say anything. Just came out here like she was gonna take a leak and we didn’t’ hear anything but that crack. Right fellas?” he asked, raising his eyebrows and nodding his head to convince the men that the story would work.

               Michael just shook his head in disbelief as he walked back to his chair in the middle of the backyard. Logan nodded, letting out what seemed to Jerry to be a sigh of relief. Jerry let himself drop from the wall, landing on his feet. He walked over to the house, coming to the window of the bedroom Cynthia slept in.

               “Cynthia!” he yelled. “Cynthia, wake up, come outside!”

               In a few seconds, Cynthia flew out the back door, hair sticking up everywhere, clothes wrinkled and off-center from sleep. “What? What happened?”

               Jerry paused, looking at the guys. He took a breath to gather his thoughts and told her the story.

               Cynthia’s mouth fell open and her legs gave out, and she crumpled to her knees on the damp grass. Michael went to her, placing her between his legs so he could cuddle her and keep her warm and comfort her all at the same time. For a few moments, the four sat in silence.

“Leah’s Discovery” Part 1

               “Oh, I’ll be right back, sweetheart, I need to take this call,” Charlie said, bracing his hand on Leah’s knee as he got up. He didn’t press the ‘send’ key until he had reached the back porch and closed the sliding glass door behind him. He hadn’t even waited for her to say anything.

               He never missed seeing The Big Bang Theory. Ever. No matter how many times episodes were run, Charlie watched them and sometimes spoke the lines along with the characters. But lately he had been missing more and more of them for mystery calls like the one he just took. Leah had been suspicious of him for several months, but in the past two weeks, Charlie was over-doing the secretive thing. And it wasn’t because her birthday or their anniversary was coming up and he was trying to hide what kind of present he was getting her. He had worked to keep presents from her, but nothing special was coming up anytime soon. He used to drop by the shop she owned every single day to take her something special for lunch and spend an hour with her during the day, but for the past few weeks he had been coming in less and less often. She knew his work wasn’t getting too busy for him to be coming in, either. He was a car salesman, working at the Dodge dealership close to her shop, but he always made sure he came in around lunchtime whenever he was done with the customer he happened to be working with.  

               Leah had come to the conclusion that Charlie was cheating on her. Without turning on any extra lights, she walked to the kitchen where she had left the window open to air out the room, keeping it from smelling like the salmon she had prepared for dinner. She heard Charlie’s voice right outside the window, so he must have been leaning against the house as he talked to whoever was on the phone. She knew that she shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but she couldn’t help herself from trying to find out if her suspicions were correct.

               “Oh, I’m just sitting here with my wife watching The Big Bang Theory. What? I know, but at least I do spend time with you when I can, you know that. I know, I can’t wait to see you again either. You know what I realized the other day? We’re almost hitting a relationship mile marker soon. Yes, I’m excited about it. I have something special planned. I don’t know what I’m going to tell her yet. Don’t worry though, I’ll tell her something and you and I will have a special evening, you have my word. Okay? Don’t you trust me? Yes, we’ll have plenty of time for that. Take a nice bath together or something to start off with, how’s that? I’ll stop by and get us some wine to enjoy, too. Yeah, I think I like getting you drunk…” Charlie paused in between sentences, letting the other person talk.

Leah couldn’t listen to any more. She walked back to the couch, sat down, and blankly stared at the television. After a minute of staring, she decided she’d like to go and take a hot shower instead. It hadn’t sounded like Charlie was going to be done with his conversation in the next few minutes, so she started taking off clothes on her way to the master bathroom, dropping them on the floor when she felt cool tile under her toes. For the first time since she married Charlie nine years ago, she closed and locked the bathroom door as she finished undressing and turned on the water. The bathroom was completely lined with tile, so she knew the sound of the water falling from the showerhead would overpower any sounds she made if she started crying. Which she did.

Her body shook with sobs, and she braced her hands on the wall the showerhead protruded from, letting the hot water fall on her. Her long blonde hair had fallen over her shoulders and was now plastered to her breasts, covering her nipples. She had the fleeting thought that her hair was long enough and thick enough to keep her breasts from swaying obscenely as she cried. That thought led to memories of Charlie in this very shower with her, his hands where her hair was now, pulling her body tight against him. She wondered what his mistress looked like, and if his hands cupped her breasts as gently as they did hers. She wondered if the mistress’s head met Charlie’s chest at the perfect height like hers did, if he stared into her eyes with as much love as he had stared into hers. She knew it was even worse for her to be thinking those thoughts than listening to that conversation, but she honestly couldn’t help wondering where she had failed her husband for him to find someone else to satisfy whatever need she couldn’t.

She cried harder, until her legs became weak and she sat on the floor of the full-size bathtub, her head right under the hot spray, droplets of water that fell from the showerhead disguising the drops of water that fell from her eyes. She knew she couldn’t hold back all the noise she made crying, but what noise she couldn’t hold back, the echo of the running water would cover. So she let out all the hurt that had filled her heart through all of her suspicion.

Then she heard a knock on the bathroom door. Charlie’s voice filtered through the door, “Honey? Are you okay in there? You never lock the door when you take a shower.”

“I’m fine, Charlie, just needed some me time.” Leah knew that excuse would work.

“Okay, sweetie. I was just going to come in to use the restroom, though.”

“You can’t use the bathroom in the hall?”

“I meant I wanted to take a shower, too.”

“I’m using the shower right now, I’m almost finished.”

Charlie paused. “Oh. Okay, honey. Just let me know when you’re finished. I’ll be in the living room.”

Leah waited until enough time passed that would allow him to get to the couch and get comfortable, and then she shampooed and conditioned her hair, shaved her legs, arms, and for the first time in several weeks, the area between her legs that made her entirely female. She couldn’t resist giving herself a little extra pampering, making herself as beautiful as she knew how. She would get Charlie all worked up, and then tell him that she was going out with her best friend Marlene.

She would call Marlene on the way, of course, asking for permission to go to the house and have a glass of wine and maybe watch a chick flick. But she would make Charlie miss her. And then she would leave him hot and hard and ready for her and then just… walk away. She could do that. He deserved balls the color of a Smurf. Of course, if she went out and left him hard, he would likely call his girlfriend over and make love to her in their marital bed.

Maybe she should just get all prettied up and then go to bed. Let him wonder why she’s so smooth and moisturized and sexy. That sounded like a better plan.

“Okay Charlie, I’m done,” she called to him when she was finished.

“I’ll be there in a sec, sugar, the show’s almost done,” he called back.

Before that phone call, Leah would simply have gone about her business and left him alone. Now, however, she wanted to know what was really going on.

She approached the living room and stopped just before the corner, angling her head so she could see his reflection in the glass front of the kitchen cabinets. The Conan O’Brian show was on, The Big Bang Theory had ended. Charlie hated Conan. So she peeked her head around the corner just enough so she could see, and she didn’t have to worry about him seeing her. His eyes were closed, his pants were low around his thighs, his shirt was up around his chest, and he was pleasuring himself with one hand and holding his cell phone up to his ear with the other hand. He wasn’t saying anything, but Leah was guessing that the other party was happy with doing all the talking without getting anything in return. She wasn’t sure how long he had been working at it, but she didn’t want to see him climax listening to someone else’s voice.

She went back to the bedroom and got into bed, hoping to fall asleep quickly so she didn’t have to see him walk in trying to cover up the mess he made on the way to the bathroom. The mundane noises in the house and coming from outside faded in and out, and she was grateful to fall asleep quickly.

The next morning, she woke up with her alarm and found that Charlie was already gone. Sometimes he did leave before she woke up, so that wasn’t any cause for alarm. He had done that since they were married. She finished her morning routine and left for the shop, hoping today was one of the days that he didn’t take her lunch.

Customers came in and out steadily throughout the day, purchasing small gifts for their loved ones. Most of them were repeat customers, and she knew they didn’t need her help. One customer, however, she had never seen before. As he walked in, he looked a bit lost, so she asked if he needed help.

“Uh, yes, ma’am, I’m looking for something special for my boyfriend?”

He didn’t throw off any “normal” signs of being gay, and the statement took her back for a moment. “Of course, sir, do you have an idea of what you’re looking for?”

“Well, I see that you have sterling silver jewelry, and I was wondering if you do engraving or if you have personalized jewelry or things like that?”

“Yes sir, I do, and I will engrave anything you like, if you give me about an hour and a half. The most popular things I have that people engrave are in this case over here, let me show you,” Leah said as she led the young man to a glass case.

After looking over what she had, the young man decided to purchase a set of sterling silver dog tags. He pointed them out and looked up at her with a bright smile, as if he knew this was exactly what his lover would want.

“Great choice! What would you like me to engrave on them?” Leah said, unlocking the case and taking out a spare, brand new set of the dog tags.

The young man said simply, “On one, ‘To Charlie’ on one side, ‘Love Ryan’ and on the other one, I’d like ‘One month’ and tomorrow’s date?”

Leah stopped for a moment again, and then convinced herself that he couldn’t be Charlie’s lover. Charlie wasn’t gay… was he? “That sounds wonderful, congratulations on one month together.” It took a lot of effort for her to smile over that, but she did, and she was confident that it looked genuine. She hoped it looked genuine, because she didn’t want this young man to think she disapproved at all. She truly was happy for him and his partner. “I can have that ready in about an hour and a half, or possibly sooner, does that sound good?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am, that sounds great. I’ll be back around that time, then.” He handed her his credit card and paid for the item, walking out with a big smile.

Leah couldn’t help but be happy for the young man, seeing his happiness at buying a gift for such a short-term anniversary. First, she hoped it wasn’t her Charlie, and second, she did hope they were happy together.

She engraved the dog tags just the way he wanted it, with a font that suggested both masculinity and a touch of class. It only took her 45 minutes to finish the engraving, and her other customers were all regulars that she knew didn’t need help, so she took an extra step with the gift and wrapped the box in black wrapping paper and added a deep red ribbon, working hard to make the bow perfect.

The young man came back just as Leah was finishing the ribbon, and she was very pleased to hand him his gift just as he walked back up to the counter. He seemed very pleased with how quickly the engraving was done, and he left her a tip, telling her not to tell anyone.

Leah finished her day without any other big event, and threw herself on the couch as soon as she got home, not bothering to take off her shoes or anything. She quickly fell asleep.

When she woke up, Charlie was leaving the house, evidently after having a nice shower and making himself look very handsome. Leah almost told him to come to her and make love to her, but instead she asked where he was going.

“I’m just going out with the guys, sweetie. I’ll see you in the morning, okay? I love you,” Charlie replied, not even coming to her to say goodbye or even kiss her on the forehead.

Leah almost began crying again, wondering if there was anything she could do to get her husband back. She was still so in love with him, and she was willing to do almost anything to get him back and keep him. All she could do now was make herself dinner and relax for the night, watching a movie to try to keep her mind occupied.

The next morning, Saturday, Leah woke up before Charlie, and when she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face, she saw black wrapping paper in the wastebasket. She also saw a red ribbon that Charlie had tried to cover up with what had been in the wastebasket before. There was also a set of dog tags in Charlie’s shaving kit.

Excerpt 3 from “The Hand That Gives The Rose”

Image

               “Anger suffers as grief withdraws,” Lucy said. “I don’t feel anything anymore. Not toward him.”

               “You’re always so cryptic, girl. What do you mean, ‘anger suffers as grief withdraws?’” Aimee whined.

               Lucy chuckled at her friend’s confusion. “I was grieving my relationship, so I was angry, bella. Anger is a part of the grieving process. As my grief withdraws, anger suffers as well. Anger wants to burn hot and bright but I’m over my grief now, so my anger is also dying.”

               “So why didn’t you just say that you’re over him so you’re not angry anymore?” Aimee said, giving her friend a playful shove. “Why do you have to be so confusing with your fancy words?”

               “Using eloquent words is a dying art, beautiful one. I choose to practice the art and differentiate myself from others who use colloquialisms.”

               “Well, it does make you sound smarter. And more caring, somehow. I don’t know why, but that’s how it feels to me,” Aimee said.

               “I do care about you. Despite the short time I’ve known you, I care about you very much.”

               “It doesn’t seem like it’s been long enough for us to get to like each other so much, but I care about you a lot, too. When you told me what happened with Angelo, it hurt me and angered me almost as much as it afffected Luca. How’s he doing now, by the way?”

               “My father has commissioned both Luca and Angelo to make a deal with a realty company to build a new hotel. It is a big project, so the men will be working together for several weeks. Luca is very much not happy with the situation, but he knws as well as our father does that he and Angelo can get the project finished in good time with great financial benefits.”

               “And do you know how Angelo feels about it?”

               “He knows that he has wronged me. And he knows that Luca now despises him. I believe he regrets his decision, but he has not made an attempt to assuage his guilt by apologizing to me. In fact, he does not even enter my hotel. And rightly so; the employees now know what happened and they would not respect the Almighty’s right to revenge as Luca and I believe. Angelo is not welcome in the hotel.”

               “So he feels bad but he knows no one around here is going to do anything—“ Aimee stopped before she finished her sentence. “Speak of the devil.”

               Angelo was walking toward them with one hand behind his back. Aimee got closer to Lucy, offering to let Lucy lean against her. When Angelo reached them, he stood in front of them, between them and the ocean. The three of tehm remained silent, just looking at each other. Angelo couldn’t seem to hold eye contact with Lucy for more than a second at a time. Lucy stared at him, waiting for him to say something. His hand was still behind his back, but he brought it in front of him, holding a bouquet of blue roses. He knelt down, holding it out to Lucy.

               Lucy raised her eyebrows, not accepting the bouquet.

               “I’m sorry, my love. I’m so very sorry,” he said, still holding out the bouquet.

               “You’re sorry I caught you,” Lucy said, her voice rough with irritation, her eyes steely with indignation.

               Angelo breathed faster, bringing the bouquet closer to his body. Now he looked at Lucy, not taking his eyes away from her. The longer he looked at her, the more pain twisted his handsome features, his eyes brimming with tears.

               “Your tears will not sway me, Angelo. I gave you everything you wanted and still it was not enough. You were all I wanted and more. But it is apparent that you wanted something I could not give you. And I believe this,” Lucy gestured toward the roses and Angelo’s now tear-stained face, “is all an act. I do not accept your apology. And I do not accept those roses that symbolize impossibility.”

               Without another word, Lucy got up and walked back toward her hotel, standing taller than she ever had before. Angelo shifted his weight from kneeling to resting his knees on the sand, breaking down into sobs and hyperventilating, but keeping the bouquet protected from the sand.

               Aimee stared at him as he cried, torn between following Lucy to comfort her and watching Angelo express the pain he deserved. She decided to follow her friend, leaving Angelo to cry alone.

“Z-Day” Part 1

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Photo Credit: ~zomgwaffles on deviantART

 

The harder she scratched away at her forearm, the quicker the flesh pulled away from the muscle underneath. From outside the sealed quarantine unit, Doctor Mia Sprague watched in dismay as she saw her patient’s body fall apart. Her fourth attempt at a vaccine had failed. The virus was still too powerful, or perhaps she just hadn’t analyzed the entire virus and its characteristics well enough. This woman was going to die and her body would reanimate, just like the movies they made. God only knew what she would act like, however. Would she be fast? Slow? Eat all available flesh or just the brain? Would she be superhuman strong or retain her current body’s strength? How fast would her reanimated body decay? How contagious was this virus? Had she already infected others? She was the second patient that had come in with this condition, so obviously the virus was present in the general population, but she had had a close relationship with the last patient. And the last patient had effectively set herself on fire in her own house when Dr. Sprague had told her what would happen when the virus took over her entire body, so they didn’t know what would occur if the patient was allowed to reanimate.  Dr. Sprague had to tell the media. She needed to have them tell everyone who had unexplained flesh wounds or thinning of the skin to come to her hospital to address a non-life threatening condition. She knew that the virus was, in fact, life-threatening, but she couldn’t cause a panic. She couldn’t afford to cause panic yet.

 

               Heidi Baker kept picking at her wound. First the nail of her index finger to start a foothold of sorts, then slipping the pad of her index finger between that foothold and the muscle underneath. The skin gave way, tearing and pulling away from her body, turning white as the tissue died. It hurt, but she felt compelled to keep picking at it, as if she were someone else pulling the flesh from her arm. She knew she needed to stop before she pulled all the skin from her arm, but she couldn’t seem to make herself stop pulling at the loose flesh. There wasn’t a stopping point like other wounds she had had in the past. The more she pulled, the more came loose. She was really sick. The medicine hadn’t worked. She was going to die, probably from exposure to the elements without the protective barrier of skin, even though she was in a quarantine room in the hospital that was kept super extra clean. She even had her own heating/air conditioning system so she couldn’t catch any other illnesses from other patients in the hospital and so she couldn’t infect any other patients with her virus.

They didn’t even have a name for the virus she carried yet. Her doctor hadn’t even told her any other symptoms that would happen to her. She was finding out about symptoms as they happened to her. For example, one of her molar teeth had started to feel loose the past couple of hours, and she couldn’t help pushing her tongue against it to see how much looser it was feeling by the hour. She hadn’t had a chance to tell her doctor about that yet though. The stupid bitch was just standing outside the room, watching her with a concerned look on her face instead of out in her lab or wherever doing research on how to fix this problem. She obviously wasn’t coming in anytime soon, either, because she was still wearing her nice clothes and pristine white lab coat, not those horrid orange hazard suits the staff had to wear when coming into the quarantine room.

She stopped picking at the flesh on her arm, got up from her bed, and pulled the curtain to cover the window and went back to her bed. She didn’t feel like being a zoo animal any longer. All she wanted to do was follow Sarah and go home to set herself on fire. On second thought, no, she didn’t want to set herself on fire. She had been devastated to find out how Sarah had killed herself. Heidi had always had a feeling that Sarah had a tendency toward suicidal thoughts, but she never thought that those thoughts would be violent. Perhaps Sarah had pictures of Hollywood-style zombies in her head and she didn’t want there to be a chance of becoming one of the undead, so she burned herself and her  house.

Heidi took a minute to think about why Sarah committed suicide the way she had. Had she been right? Was this virus going to be the cause of a zombie outbreak like in the movies and comic books? She couldn’t be right. In the movies, people looked completely normal until they died and came back to life. They didn’t start rotting before they even passed away. She found some comfort in that thought.