“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.

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“Leah’s Discovery” Part 2

               Leah went back to sit on the bed, waiting for Charlie to wake up. That was the last straw. She needed to talk to him about what was going on. He must have felt her presence close to him but not relaxed, because he woke up just minutes later.

               “Good morning, love. Are you alright?” Charlie asked innocently, his eyes full of what seemed like genuine concern.

               “Charlie,” Leah started slowly. “Where did that black wrapping paper come from?”

               “One of the guys gave it to me last night when we went out. He just gave me a little gift.”

               “To celebrate what?”

               “Guys can’t give random stuff to their friends?”

               “Of course they can. But it’s very rare. And not so soon after the recipient gets mystery calls all the time that he doesn’t want his wife to hear but calls that she hears anyway.”

               “What are you talking about, Leah?”

               “I overheard your phone conversation the other night. Saying you can’t wait to see that person again and that you would take a nice bath with them with some wine. That you’re coming up on a relationship milestone.”

               Charlie shifted, laying on his back and staring at the ceiling. He took a deep breath and began explaining. “Leah, I love you more than life itself. But I’ve recently discovered that you’re not the only one I love.”

               “Who else do you love?” Leah knew that it was a man, and that that man’s name was Ryan, but she needed to hear Charlie say it.

               “His name is Ryan.”

               “He came into the shop yesterday. Bought a set of dog tags and asked me to engrave them. So today is your one month mark with him?”

               Charlie looked over at his wife when she said that. He nodded, not taking his eyes away from hers.

               “So you’ve been cheating on me with a man. Is it at all because I haven’t been doing something that you need from me?”

               Charlie immediately got up and went to Leah, kneeling in front of her and reaching up to put his hands on her shoulders. He was about to start speaking, but he stopped. “Hang on,” he said, getting up and going to the bathroom.

               Leah heard the sounds of him brushing his teeth and washing his face, wondering why he cared about morning breath when they were discussing him cheating on her. Morning breath was the least of their problems at the moment.

               Charlie returned, taking his spot on his knees in front of her again and placing his hands on her shoulders once more. “Leah, I didn’t turn to Ryan because of anything you did. You have done nothing but give me everything I want, and you have taken care of me very well, and I still love you more than life itself. You’re still so, so important to me.”

               “But?” Leah asked despite a lump in her throat with tears stinging her eyes.

               “But once when I was out with the guys, I met Ryan. He and I talked a lot that night, and when the guys decided to go to another bar, I stayed to keep talking to Ryan. He bought me several drinks, and we went to a part of the bar that was a little more quiet, and he was telling me about how he used to be straight, but he wanted to try being with another man once, and he was hooked. He isn’t completely gay, he still loves being with women too, but he likes to be with men as well.”

               “So he convinced you to try him that night and you got hooked on it too?”

               “Not that night. But yes, that’s what happened in essence. It’s just different being with him than it is being with you.”

               “So you still love me, but you’re cheating on me.”

               “I would have thought you wouldn’t mind, since it’s another man.”

               “It’s still cheating, Charlie. When we talked about maybe bringing in another woman and how that wouldn’t be cheating, that was because you would be right there with us. It’s not cheating if everyone agrees. You were hiding this from me completely. I only found out because I overheard your phone conversation and then Ryan came into the shop and I saw the same wrapping paper I used on those dog tags in our bathroom trash can.”

               Charlie didn’t seem to know what to say to that. He just stared into Leah’s eyes and when he saw the tears fall from them, tears welled up in his own eyes as well. After a moment, he said, “I’m sorry, baby. I don’t know what to say other than ‘I’m sorry.’”

               Leah shook her head once and moved to get up, forcing Charlie to shift his weight back on his heels so she could move. She walked over to the window and stared out at their yard.

               “Well, didn’t you tell me once that you’d be open to bringing in another man as well? In the same conversation where we were talking about bringing in another woman?” Charlie asked, desperate to keep Leah from being upset.

               “We also mentioned bringing that third person in once and then never talking to them again to preserve our relationship, Charlie. Not an ongoing thing.”

               “So you would be opposed to pulling a Charlie Sheen and having two men living with you?”

               “Charlie Sheen is Charlie Sheen. He can do whatever he wants because he’s Charlie Sheen. And I believe his ‘goddesses’ are mostly there for him, not that they were together and then joined him. This is something where you have a lover on the side and you want to keep him, so you’re asking me if I want to share you with him. This is you trying not to have to make a choice.”

               “I don’t want to have to make a choice.”

               “You married me, Charlie. You made a commitment to me. The fact that you have someone else now that you’re adding into the mix tells me that that commitment means nothing to you. That you just want to keep doing what you’re doing and try to make it seem like the best thing for everyone.”

               “You’d really like Ryan, though. And I think he would really like you, too. You just might fall in love with him, as easily as you fall in love.”

               “Not when he stole my husband in the first place, I don’t.”

               “He didn’t steal me, my love. I’m still here with you. I still love you.”

               “And you lied to me and you were hiding phone calls with him from me and…. You know what, that’s why I let you have guy time and I don’t beg to come along with you. I trusted that you would remember that I’m your wife and I’m supposed to be the one satisfying you. I trusted that you wouldn’t go off and hide things from me. This isn’t even about you being with a man now, it’s about trust and how you broke mine.”

               Leah had given Charlie something else he couldn’t find an answer to. She shook her head again and went to the closet to get dressed. She couldn’t stand to be in the house with him for another minute with how upset she was. She didn’t even care if Charlie brought Ryan over while she was gone. She just needed to get out of the house.

               She called her best friend Marlene and explained the situation as she was driving, and Marlene graciously invited Leah over to her house immediately. Leah spent over three hours with Marlene, crying and drinking the Jack Daniels bourbon Marlene kept in the house and crying more, and Marlene kept up with her in sympathy. Leah didn’t know where to start when it came to thinking of a solution.

               That evening when Leah decided it was time to go home, she was thoroughly intoxicated, so she left her vehicle at Marlene’s house and called a cab to take her home. She managed to unlock the front door and make her way to the couch, lying down and turning on the television to select a movie she didn’t really need to concentrate on. She heard footsteps in the kitchen and sat up to look.

               Charlie was there, and Ryan was with him. They were apparently making dinner and Leah hadn’t even noticed. The men stopped what they were doing and looked at her, and she looked at them. She only held their gaze for a few seconds, however; her body decided it was time that she fall asleep until her drunkenness had subsided.

               When she woke up, she was in her bed with the covers over her. She remembered what had happened the day before, and she was surprised that she had ended up in bed instead of the men leaving her on the couch. She pulled the blanket back and found that they had even changed her clothes. There was also a note on the bed next to her pillow. It read:

               “Leah, I’ve told Ryan about you, and he thinks the three of us could make it work. It’s up to you what you’d like to do, but until you make your decision, I’m going to give you some space to think, and I’m staying with Ryan. I hope we can work things out. Much love, Charlie.”

               “Well, you kind of made my choice for me, didn’t you? Staying with Ryan instead of with me while I think about things. I hope you’re happy with him, since you chose him over your wife.” Leah thought, and went to the kitchen to find the telephone number of a divorce attorney in the phone book.

“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.

“Fatality”

A twinkling eye can mean so many things. The ones that are twinkling at me right now have murder in them. These same eyes twinkled at me with love when I was sixteen years old, just five years ago. My mother loved me with all her heart when I was a child. She was a normally functioning, socially relevant figure, the director of a MADD-like group in our city of Casper, Wyoming. I say “MADD-like” because those women were against… just about everything. Alcohol, drugs, prescription pills, just about anything that wasn’t natural. They didn’t see the good things that prescription drugs could produce, just the fact that they can be used as things to alter brain function and damage a life.

People tried to remind them that almost anything can be made into a drug with enough willpower and the right tools, but we still had permission to use Sharpie markers, White Out, and paint for assorted activities we needed for school and things like that. Those ladies were kind of crazy, but everyone appreciated what they did to keep the children and teenagers away from drugs.

I had a little sister. My dad had divorced my mom when I was ten, and mom remarried when I was fourteen. She got pregnant with Lee’s child within months of marrying him, and I was just about to hit my fifteenth birthday when she had my little sister. I thought it was pretty gross, actually. She made me hold her hand when she was giving birth, because Lee was off on a business trip. No one is ever supposed to see their mother give birth. It’s just wrong. But I stood next to her and held her hand and said nice things to her because I loved her. And I saw my sister’s tiny face and squinkly eyes and… I loved her, too. I guess being there for my mom through the whole pregnancy triggered some kind of maternal instincts in me, too, because as soon as I saw my sister, I knew I was going to keep her safe.

My mom was always there, too. Lee wanted her to stay home with Isabelle, and mom was happy with that. She took great care of both of us, making sure we ate healthy things and did our homework and everything. I actually had a great life, and even though I thought I wouldn’t like Lee because he wasn’t my real dad and all that, he treated me just as good as he treated Isabelle. It was like I was his blooded daughter, too. And I learned to love him like my own father.

My best friend and her family lived on the property next to ours. They had a man-made lake on the property, and we went swimming a lot, despite the water being so cold. My mom always told me to make sure Isabelle never saw me swimming in that lake, because she was afraid Isabelle would want to swim in it even if no one else was around. So I always told my mom when I was going over to swim so she could distract Isabelle and I could hop the fence and I knew that Isabelle couldn’t see the lake from the edge of our property if she decided to look for me.

But one day, Isabelle did see me swimming, and she asked my mom if she could swim, too. My mom told her no, of course, because the water was too cold for her. Isabelle was only three, and she was stubborn and very smart. She decided to go swimming when she knew my mom wasn’t paying attention. Mom knew I was at my best friend’s house, and she had given Isabelle some activities to do so she could have time alone with Lee. Isabelle saw her opportunity, and she went over to that man-made lake and went swimming. I guess she had just eaten lunch, so she must have developed a cramp in her stomach that was only exacerbated by the cold water. She drowned in that lake.

My best friend and I had come outside to have girl talk away from her parents, and we were going to sit by the lake with some blankets and lunch. That’s when we found Isabelle. I took her body out of the water and ran back to my house, yelling for my mom. She came downstairs after a few minutes, in a bathrobe and her hair disheveled. She called 911, but Isabelle had been dead for some time, and there was no way the paramedics could have saved her.

My little sister died because my mother was having sex with her husband. And my mother never forgave herself for it. Rightly so, in my opinion. She knew how Isabelle was, and she knew that Isabelle wanted to go swimming. She knew that I wasn’t aware of where Isabelle was supposed to be. She had my little sister cremated, the ashes placed in a beautiful red painted urn, and she placed that urn on the fireplace mantel. Red was Isabelle’s favorite color.

Things started to go downhill from there. My mother was always out of the house, walking the streets looking for God-knows-what, maybe even trying to find Isabelle. Someone mentioned to me once that they had heard my mother praying to God, asking Him to bring Isabelle back from the dead and back to her. I didn’t doubt it. I think Mom loved Isabelle more than she loved me, although she’d never admit it. She seemed to go a little… mentally ill after Isabelle’s death. She would be making dinner one night and suddenly come to my room, asking me why I was yelling at her when I hadn’t even said anything out loud at all. I would tell her so, but she always contradicted me, saying that I was yelling at her and I just didn’t want to admit to it. Lee actually sided with me several times, defending me against my mother’s random attacks. Then she would yell at him, saying that he didn’t want to have Isabelle and that he took her to the lake so she would drown just to get revenge for Isabelle being born.

Which totally wasn’t the case. Lee loved Isabelle, and she was the only child he ever fathered. He had been hoping that he and my mother could have a child together since they were engaged.

Lee tried to get my mother to go to a counselor or even a psychiatrist to get evaluated, but she kept saying that she wasn’t crazy, she didn’t need help, she especially wasn’t going to a psychiatrist because all they would do was prescribe her drugs that she would get hooked on and eventually overdose. She wouldn’t go talk to any professional, and then she stopped talking to everyone. Lee wanted to divorce her, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave my mother in that state without any support, and he wanted to make sure I had someone to take care of me. I was eighteen, but I hadn’t applied to any colleges and my minimum wage job wasn’t going to pay any bills. And I really appreciated him staying, because I was afraid that I would start acting like my mom if I stayed with her and didn’t have any other parental influence.

Eventually, my mom disappeared. One night she went to bed when Lee was out of town on business overnight, and when I woke up in the morning, she was nowhere to be found. I waited all day, hoping that she would come back from one of her walks, but she didn’t. I went to my best friend’s house, asking if I could search the lake to see if my mother had drowned herself, but my mother wasn’t there. Lee returned, and we waited another two days, and there was no sign of my mother. We didn’t bother calling the police about her. If she had been causing trouble, they would have called us. We didn’t get any calls or visits from the police, so we guessed that she was out there somewhere.  

It was cruel, but we joked that maybe she went out into the mountains to find a place to die and put herself out of her misery. We continued on through life, and still there was no sign of my mother.

Now I’m twenty-two years old, I live in the same house as I did when Isabelle died, and my mother is at the door.

“You’re alive.” I point out, not knowing what else to say.

“I am. And I’m here.” Her hair is disheveled again, almost exactly as it had been when she found out about Isabelle. She is wearing a different nightgown than I remebered, but I guess she must have stolen a new one. She neglected to steal shoes to go with it.

“You didn’t take your key with you when you left?”

“I didn’t plan on coming back.”

“So why did you?”

“I forgot Isabelle.”

“It’s been years. Why now?”

“Because I wanted to take you, too,” my mother spits at me, suddenly slashing at me with a giant kitchen knife she had obviously been using on other things that could bleed, evidenced by the red-stained wooden handle.

I move quickly, dodging her attempt to slice my stomach. Her momentum takes her into the house, and I slam my elbow into the center of her back, hoping to knock her to the floor. I succeed, the impact of falling knocking the knife out of her hand. I jump on her, pulling her arms behind her back and straddling her ass. It must look like a mix between a legitimate arrest and a bad lesbian porno, and I actually chuckle at myself for coming up with such a good analogy.

Lee shows up in the doorway, freezing for a moment and then rushing to call the police. The officer must have been in the area, because he shows up with lights flashing and siren crying in three minutes. Which feels like forever when you’re trying to hold down an insane woman who wants to grab the knife she came to your house with to try to kill you.

The officer clicks the handcuffs, making them tight so there’s no chance my mother can escape. I help him try to lift her up and she kicks me in the knee, hyperextending it. I back away, grimacing and wanting to punch my mother in the face for hurting me.

“Sir, can you hold your wife back so I can get the extra cuffs from the patrol car?” the officer asks.

Lee nods and sits my mother back down, facing the house so she can’t see out the front door. The officer returns in seconds, holding another pair of handcuffs and what looks like a chain that will connect the two pairs. He places the second pair around her ankles and clips the chain to both pairs as I suspected, effectively hog-tying my mother. She is lying on the floor on her belly, knees bent and her ankles in the air due to the cuffs. She turns her head to face me, and her eyes are twinkling with murderous intent.

“I just want both my daughters together. I want to have you near me all the time so I never lose either of you,” she says, her voice strangely plaintive, completely at odds with her stare.

“I’m not dead, Mom. You can’t keep me like Isabelle.”

“Do not say her name!” my mother yells at me, struggling against the steel that holds her wrists and ankles.

“Isabelle. Don’t acknowledge her existence without her name, mother. Isabelle,” I say gently, hoping to change something in my mother.

All she does is scream, and the officer makes a comment about having to take her away and put her in jail until someone gives her the right analysis that would put her in an insane asylum. Lee and I help him take her to the patrol car, lying her on her stomach in the plastic backseat as she screams and spits and yells out curses on all of us.

Lee and I stand on the porch watching the patrol car disappear down the street. We never heard anything about my mother again, although we heard rumors that she escaped from the insane asylum and was hit and killed by a train on her explorations. I’m sure she hated dying a different way than Isabelle died.

“Induced Karma”

 In Albany, Oregon, Sarah and David Carter seemed like newlyweds, holding hands under the table when they were out in public and smiling at each other every once in awhile, although they had been married for six years, since Sarah was 23 and David was 25. Chessy and Jasmyn, Sarah’s two best friends, spent some free time with Sarah at Sarah and David’s house, always waiting a few minutes for Sarah to open the door when they arrived. It always struck the two as odd– Sarah was very polite and friendly, but she never answered the door immediately, even if it was evident that she was in the kitchen, close to the front door. No matter what Sarah was doing, there was some music playing softly from the stereo in the living room, as if she never wanted simply to sit and enjoy the melodies, and she always seemed to be doing something around the house. There were always vacuum lines on the plush dark grey carpet, no dust on any of the beautiful pieces of art that hung in nearly every room, the decorative mirrors were always newly polished, there were never any dirty dishes in the sink. In fact, it was a bit peculiar, Sarah was always buying new plates and bowls with different designs, but they were always ceramic. Sarah loved ceramic dinnerware. Chessy asked once why Sarah was always getting new plates and things, and Sarah laughed and said she didn’t like to keep things always looking the same. Chessy and Jasmyn didn’t see much of David, because he was always out in the work shed in the backyard.

    David worked as a mechanical engineer, helping to design new machines for national and international factories, sometimes going out of town to work on a project. He made at least $100,000 per year after taxes and because of this, he bought Sarah almost anything she wanted. Their house was immense, approximately four thousand square feet, and they had four acres of land. Everything inside was top-of-the-line, from the granite countertops to the plush, thickly padded carpet to the cherry wood cabinets and thick oak doors. Sarah had modest taste in art and home decorations, but David bought her the highest valued versions of everything she wanted. They seemed to have the perfect life from the outside. The house always seemed to be filled with energy and light, as if God Himself resided in their house.

    Sometimes the three women went out to Wilhelm’s Spirits and Eatery or the Vault 244 Bistro to have a drink when David went out of town or had errands to run, and Sarah was always the one that turned the most heads. Most men found Sarah extremely attractive; her pale creamy skin made her dark hair look like the shiny feathers of a raven and her pale green eyes sparkled when she laughed or smiled. The same warmth her friends felt in her house almost emanated out of her eyes, and her skin seemed to glow with an angel’s touch. She looked away when an unfamiliar man walked by and seemed captivated by her, or she would point the man out to one of her friends to encourage them to introduce themselves. Chessy and Jasmyn were not unattractive by any standards, Chessy’s mahogany hair and hazel eyes matched her tan skin beautifully, and Jasmyn’s smooth skin was the color of coffee with a dash of cream, but she had dark blue eyes that seemed to know everything. The three women had a good time flirting with their eyes or venturing a playful but innocent wink from across the bar, but they all knew that Sarah was all looks and no touch. She always seemed perfectly happy with her husband and with her life in general. Sarah laughed a lot when she was with her friends, making jokes of the small things that seemed to bother her friends to try to make them feel better about their problems.

    On September seventeenth, 2004 at around eight o’clock pm,  Sarah was watching television in bed. She was alone in the house because David had gone out that afternoon to get the license plates on the car renewed. It shouldn’t have taken until evening, but David liked to go to the bar with a few friends every once in awhile like Sarah did. She honestly didn’t expect him home until after midnight.

    The doorbell rang, and Sarah got out of bed slowly, pulling her thick robe on over her pajamas and putting her feet in her slippers slowly before going to the door. She took her time walking down the hall, but not too much time. She never took so much time that the visitor would walk away. She saw the figure of a police officer in uniform on the other side of the door and when she cracked the door, he showed her his badge to assure her he was a real officer.

    “May I help you, Officer?” Sarah asked tentatively, her heart sinking.

    “Yes, ma’am. I believe you are a Mr. David Carter’s wife? We found your address on Mr. Carter’s drivers’ license.” the officer reported. When Sarah nodded her head and asked him to come in, he took off his hat and wiped his shiny black shoes on the welcome mat before entering. Sarah led him to the living room, offering him a seat on the cream colored suede couch.

    “Mrs. Carter, I’m Officer John Marquez. I’m very sorry to bring you this news this evening, but we got a call this afternoon about a shooting and a car accident. We found your husband in the car, and he died right after the paramedics got there. They couldn’t revive him.”

    Sarah’s breath caught in her throat and she found herself frozen.

    “Ma’am, I’m afraid I must ask you to come with me to the hospital; we need someone to identify his body.”

    After a moment, Sarah snapped out of her stupor, asking if she could dress in street clothes before they left. The officer nodded and got up when she did out of respect. He sat back down as he waited, and when she came back out, he rose from his seat again, stating that he could take her in the police car and drop her back off at home when their business was done.

    Sarah’s body went with the officer to the patrol car, getting into the front seat, but her mind was far away, picturing what could have happened to David and expecting the worst.

    At the hospital, Officer Marquez was very respectful with Sarah, answering her questions about who called and what the first responders found and how they dealt with the situation as gently as he could. He made sure she was sufficiently prepared emotionally before he pulled the white sheet back from David’s face. The bullet had hit him right in the temple; there was a perfectly circular hole leading into his head. Something must have slowed the bullet down before it hit David, because there was no gaping exit wound on the other side of his head. The coroner had cleaned up any blood there might have been before Sarah arrived.

    Sarah stared at her husband’s corpse, noting that he seemed to smell different than the scent that lingered in the morgue from countless other dead bodies. He smelled almost sweet, like there was a hint of vanilla or jasmine on his clothes. Had he been out with another woman? The smell seemed very familiar though. She knew she had experienced it before, but it wasn’t at the times that David came home from late at a bar. It reminded her of when she was home with her husband. She confirmed that the body on that stainless steel table was that of her husband, rubbing her arms to ward away the cold that had seeped into her bones. Officer Marquez nodded and gently put his hand on her shoulder, leading her out of the morgue and driving her home.

~~~

The day after the funeral, Chessy and Jasmyn drove to Sarah’s house. They had just stopped off at Carino’s restaurant to pick up Sarah’s favorite pasta, a blackberry Italian soda and mini chocolate cake. She needed to indulge today.  They came up to the door with the big stained glass window and rang the doorbell, not expecting an immediate answer. Sarah had never been one to come to the door immediately. They were surprised, however, when Sarah opened the door after only a few seconds. She never answered the door immediately. The sound of Mozart’s “Moonlight Sonata” filled the house from the stereo in the living room. The music was a welcome normality. What wasn’t a normality was the small pile of dirty dishes in the sink and this morning’s breakfast cookware still out on the stove.

    “Hello, Sarah, how are things going today?” Chessy asked, failing to conceal the concern in her voice.

    “I guess it hasn’t hit me yet. I haven’t shed one tear,” Sarah answered with an almost emotionless expression to match her tone of voice. Her eyes were glassy, unfocused, and there was no hint of emotion in the lines of her face- her eyebrows were smooth, not bunched up in grief, her mouth was relaxed, her nose was not red from being blown after a cry, and the whites of her eyes were normal white, not red from tears.

    Jasmyn shifted the weight of the bag she was carrying to one arm and put her free hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “We’re here to help you let go, if you’ll have us.”

    “Not today, girls, I have things to do around the house.” Sarah dodged the offer of emotional support. This was another surprise for her friends.

    “Well, at least let us set the food down. We brought your favorite,” Chessy suggested, knowing that Sarah needed the company right now and knowing she wouldn’t throw them out immediately after they brought her comfort food.

    “Well,” Sarah hesitated, “for a minute or two. I really do have things to do, okay?”

    “Absolutely. We won’t stay long,” Jasmyn said, giving Chessy a meaningful glance as Sarah turned around to lead the way inside.

    Once inside, Chessy and Jasmyn made their way to their best friend’s kitchen to set the food down on the granite top island. Chessy took it upon herself to tidy the kitchen a bit, putting all the dishes in the sink and filling it with water and a few drops of dish detergent to soak. Jasmyn took a washcloth and wiped down the counter and stove. When they entered the living room, they found Sarah carefully sitting on the couch. Her shoulders were very tense, bunched up close to her neck, almost straining with the tension and acceptance of her weight resting in the joints. Her legs were bent, her thighs not parallel to the floor but at an angle, as if she wanted to bring her feet up onto the creme suede and curl up like a frightened child. Chessy and Jasmyn had never seen Sarah sit on that couch before. She was always seated in her recliner to the right of the couch. There seemed to be a glow on Sarah’s right side, but it didn’t come from the overhead ceiling fan light. It was almost as if there was someone sitting next to her that made its own light source. She smelled different, as well. She was wearing some kind of vanilla perfume that Chessy and Jasmyn had never known her to wear before.

    They took seats on either side of her, each taking one of her hands to comfort her. The glow to Sarah’s right moved away when they sat down. “Tell us, honey, how are you really doing?” Chessy prompted.

    “I’m okay. Really. Like I said, it just hasn’t hit me yet that he’s gone,” Sarah said, looking around with eyes that seemed clouded with memories. Her words echoed with the pain she was feeling.

    Jasmyn looked at Chessy and changed the subject, hoping that Sarah would open up after some light conversation. After about ten minutes, Sarah stopped adding to the conversation and fixed her eyes on a spot on the cherry wood coffee table.

    Jasmyn and Chessy had known Sarah for many years, and they knew that Sarah would speak her mind in her own time. They just held her hands and waited.

    After a time, Sarah took a breath and started talking. “I’ve never sat on this couch before. I’ve never answered the door right away. I’ve never been able to enjoy music while just sitting here in the living room.”

    She shifted her gaze from the coffee table to her hands and saw them intertwined with those of her friends. Her smooth pale hand was wrapped around that of Chessy’s warm tan one, and Jasmyn’s mocha latte complexion complimented her own creamy skin tone. She squeezed their hands, and her vision got blurry with tears.

    Her best friends knew not to say anything for fear of interrupting her willingness to speak.

    “I know it always seemed like David and I were the perfect couple… but that was only on the outside. At home, alone with each other, he was one of the worst men I’ve ever met. He never complimented me, never gave me a pet name to call me on the rare times when he was happy. He would often come home from work angry about something that had happened and he would take his anger out on me, yelling at me for not doing something small like doing the dishes or not having the laundry done or sometimes even if he didn’t like something I was wearing. He criticized everything I did and forbade me to do so many things I had once enjoyed. In high school, I loved sitting on my couch or bed with no light except a candle, listening to classical music. He hated that and made me stop doing it. He allowed me to listen to music, but I couldn’t be sitting and not doing anything productive. Every once in awhile when I was making dinner, he would wait until I had the dishes in my hands to set the table and he would pound his fist on the refrigerator or the countertop once and scare the living shit out of me. Several times, I dropped the dishes I had in my hands and they shattered. After he quit laughing at me, he yelled at me and commanded me to pick up the pieces with my hands instead of with a broom and dustpan. He watched as I picked up the big pieces and chuckled when I happened to cut my fingers on the sharp edges. It was strange though, when that would happen, I would look up at him with tears in my eyes and I would feel this warmth on my hands and I thought it was blood dripping down, but most of the time when I looked, the cuts were partially healed. I never let him see that, but it happened, and when it did, I smelled that vanilla or jasmine or whatever it was. The same smell he had when I saw him in the morgue.” She stopped to take a deep breath. “He even hit me a few times. He never hit me where it would show, but he did hit me when he was especially angry at something I had done wrong. He needed the control.”

    She paused, reflecting on her confession. She blinked several times, trying her hardest to keep her tears from falling. “And in spite of all that, I loved him, because I still saw in him the younger man I fell in love with. He still had the same expressions when he wasn’t angry. He still cuddled me sometimes, when he was having a good day. He did everything he could to make sure I had the house and life I wanted because he had the money to provide it for me. He let me go out with you two when I wanted to, and most of the time he said thank you when I would have dinner ready for him when he got home. Sometimes, he was still the man I knew and loved. I can’t bring myself to say…. Oh who am I kidding.” She finally snapped.

    “I fucking hated him. Everything about him, right down to the soul, I came to hate him day by day and month by month. Every time he hit me, I wanted to drug him and take him to the garage and run over him with the Jeep until there was nothing but a pile of meat on the floor.”

    Chessy and Jasmyn continued to listen in horror; they had never known this about their best friend. She was apparently extremely talented at hiding the truth.

    “I wanted to smash everything he ever loved because I knew that he loved those things and he didn’t love me. Those cars in the work shed, he was out there every night making sure everything in them was working perfectly. Do you want to know why he stayed with me? I was because I knew how to pleasure him just the way he wanted and I was easy for him to manipulate to do just about anything for him. He humiliated me time after time in bed, just so he could get off and go to sleep with that satisfied smirk on his face, and I was left bruised and sore for several days. And he didn’t care if I was still sore from the last time- if he wanted me again, he would take me no matter what I did. I’m glad he’s gone… I wish I had killed him myself! I went to his grave last night… and I spat on it. I actually spat on his grave. And I told him I hope he’s hot enough in hell, where he’ll be for eternity.”

    Chessy leaned close and put her arm around Sarah, wishing she had known exactly what was going on in her friend’s home life so she could have done something. Sarah never let on that these things were going on. Tears flowed down Jasmyn’s face; she nearly broke down sobbing for the guilt she felt at not being able to do anything to help protect Sarah while David was alive. Sarah resumed her composure, retreating into herself and adopting that flat affect again. She fixed her eyes on the stained glass window set in the front door this time. She held her friends’ hands not because she wanted comfort or because they needed comfort, but because that was where her hands were and she didn’t want to move them. She did, however, feel lighter inside. The weight of her secret was lifted from her, and she felt like she could take a deep, normal breath now. She just sat there while her friends hugged her, hearing her heartbeat echo in her ears and feeling the breath whoosh in and out of her body. It suddenly occurred to her that Sarah didn’t smell like that vanilla perfume anymore.

    The angel stood outside the house, looking through the window into the living room where the three women sat. She remembered every time David had made Sarah bleed, when she healed Sarah when she wasn’t paying attention. She had done her job, making sure that David was driving in the area of town he had been in at that time. She had known that those teenagers were going to get into a gunfight and that one of them would accidentally pull the trigger when he tripped, sending a bullet flying. It had taken a lot of influence, but she convinced David that he had needed to go downtown to get his license plates renewed at the exact time he did, putting himself in the path of the stray bullet. The angel would have to answer to The Almighty for causing a human’s death, but she didn’t care. She was Sarah’s guardian angel, and she couldn’t take watching David treat Sarah the way he did any longer. She knew that Sarah was safe now, and that was all that mattered. She hoped that the scent of vanilla that emanated from her would put Sarah at ease every time she smelled it from now on.

Excerpt from “The Hand That Gives The Rose”

 “The shore is fuming at the waves. Do you see the wisps of smoke that rise from the edge?” she said, not shifting her gaze from the ocean. Her hair was up in a bun on the nape of her neck, but a few shorter strands escaped and got caught in with her long sideswept bangs that moved with the sea breeze.
 
“Seriously. How do you know I’m there?” Aimee asked, stopping next to Lucy.
 
Lucy chuckled softly and replied, “I’ve told you before, beautiful one. Your presence becomes apparent before I can see you. You have a very unique spark in your aura.”
 
Aimee paused, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. “You know, a normal person would have said that it was my shoes on the sand or something.”
 
Lucy remained quiet for a few moments, but finally said, “I know you don’t believe in the supernatural like what I have. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my powers. You should learn to accept what you don’t see instead of shutting it out. The more open you are, the more the supernatural can help you, bambina.”
 
“But that also leaves me open to the bad side of the supernatural, too. So I’d rather not. I’d rather just look out for myself. Thanks though, girl.”
 
“You Americans are so untrusting. That’s why you all hate each other.”
 
“We keep out of each other’s business.”
 
“Except when your government sends your military to other countries to help in their wars.”
 
Aimee winced, keeping quiet after her friend’s comment. She sat next to Lucy, close enough so their elbows touched.
 
“You need comfort again, beautiful one?” Lucy asked tenderly, reaching over to play with Aimee’s light brown hair.
 
“I don’t want to be a burden on you.”
 
“I will go to the ends of the earth to help you, bambina.”
 
“Jeff broke up with me,” Aimee said after a ragged sigh. Tears formed in her eyes, making them shine with the reflection of the ocean. “A month ago. I just haven’t been able to face it.”
 
“Face me,” Lucy gently instructed.
 
Aimee complied, sitting cross legged and instinctively held her hands out to her friend. Lucy took Aimee’s hands, squeezing them gently. Her lips moved, but no sound came out as she said a silent incantation. Thunder rolled form the dark clouds a few miles in the distance and mist floated over on the breeze. As Lucy’s incantation went on, Aimee shivered as the thunder rolled closer and the ocean’s waves seemed to chant Jeff’s name.
 
Suddenly, Lucy’s mocha brown eyes focused on Aimee’s face, holding her attention. “Do you wish him back? Or do you wish to find better?”
 
The American paused, and Lucy said, “Quickly.”
 
“Better.”
 
Lucy nodded and closed he eyes, finishing her incantation. Thunder rolled continuously now, from different parts of the sky, closing in on the two young women. She opened her eyes again, shifting both of Aimee’s hands into her left and cupping Aimee’s face in her right. As soon as the gentle contact was made, an enormous bolt of lightning ran across the sky directly above and between their bodies and Lucy smiled.
 
“”You will find love. The Almighty places His favor in you. You will not know when your love will come, but when you find him, you will feel the echo of that lightning strike in your heart and you will know that he is your beloved.”
 
When Lucy stopped speaking, the thunder stopped and the breeze stilled. Clouds remained overhead, warning of a storm yet to come. “Way to go, Lucy, that was the most generic reply you could have given me… I don’t really feel all that much better,” Aimee said, trying to still her quivering lip and fighting the tears that filled her eyes. One managed to escape, and Lucy wiped it away with her thumb.
 
“I know it sounds generic, beautiful one. But you have to trust me. If you like, I can simply give you a hug and be silent with you if it helps you grieve better?”
 
Aimee sniffled and nodded, moving to sit next to the slender Italian. “It’s hard to hug this way,” she commented with a quiet laugh.
 
“I can make it easier, if you like?”
 
When Aimee nodded, Lucy got up and sat behind her, positioning Aimee between her knees and wrapping her arms around her. Aimee stiffened, but Lucy said, “Just let go. You need this, beautiful one. I just want to make you feel better.”
 
The Italian’s words hit Aimee and she did let go, letting the tears fall down her cheeks and sobs tighten her body. She knew Lucy was saying things to her, because that soft accent comforted her, but all she knew was the tension in her body that eased with each breath that dragged into and out of her lungs. She finally forced herself to take slower, deeper breaths and mopped her face with the sleeves of her pullover. She looked over her shoulder, feeling Lucy’s head leaning against her an enjoying the gentle pull of her friend’s fingers running through her hair.
 
Lucy lifted her head, but kept caressing Aimee’s hair as Aimee’s breathing slowed. Their eyes met, the hazel and mocha focusing on each other. Although there was no more thunder, a sudden lightning bolt sliced the sky, right over the two young women. Lucy smiled gently and Aimee gasped quietly, breathing faster. Lucy could feel the thumps of Aimee’s hard as the beating sped up, but remained quiet.
 
Taking three fast breaths, Aimee steeled her nerves and jumped in– she kissed Lucy’s lips, letting a few seconds pass before she broke the contact. She regained eye contact, surprised at her action.
 
“As I said before, bambina, I’m here to e whatever you need,” Lucy said, kissing Aimee’s shoulder.
 
“I felt the lightning,” Aimee said, feeling like a child stating the obvious. “It was inside, right when the lightning flashed overhead. Did you do it?”
 
“All I can do is pray that you find love, beautiful one. I sense things, I don’t create or change them. If you felt lightning, that’s the doing of your heart and of the Almighty.”
 
“But you said it would be when I saw him. You said ‘him’.”
 
“I said ‘him’ because you told me you are heterosexual. I did now know you could feel teh lightning for a female.”
 
“So I’m bisexual?”
 
“You may be. How do you feel?”
 
“All these things are running through my head, starring you and me… and I like them. I’m tryinig to replace you with a male, but you keep coming back.”
 
“Then you are bisexual. And the lighting was for me.”
 
“How do you feel about it?” Aimee asked, turning her body slightly so she could see Lucy’s expression.
 
“I believed I would be with a male, as well. But when you kissed me, I felt clean inside. My element is water, as I’ve told you before. I feel water where you feel lightning.”
 
“So we just fell in love with each other?”
 
Lucy chuckled. “Not in love. but we formed a bond that could lead to love, depending on how we treat it.”
 
“And if we don’t treat it like romance?”
 
“Our friendship will grow stronger.”
 
“What do you want to treat it as?”
 
“That is your choice, bambina. I have embraced the possibility of being bisexual. It is new to you.”
 
Aimee turned her head to the ocean, bot did not move her body away from Lucy’s. She thought for a few minutes and finally asked, “Would you be open to letting me try? With you?”
 
“I would lvoe to try with you, beautiful one. In fact, I was hoping that you would want to try.”
 
Settling back against Lucy adn putting her head back on Lucy’s shoulder, Aimee said, “I wouldn’t want to start it with anyone but you.” After a pause, she resumed, “I just realized something.”
 
“What’s that, bella?”
 
“When I first met you, I really wanted you to like me. Do you think that was a crush starting, and I thought it was just a thought becaust I didn’t know I’m bi?”
 
“It may have been. I know I felt a spark when I met you, as well. That may also be why I feel a particular spark in your aura. We can certainly find out.”
 
“So are we in a relationship now?”
 
“I leave the decision to you.”
 
“Well I know it’s not a rebound, because it’s been a month since Jeff. And we know a lot about each other. I think it would be good.”
 
“Aimee.”
 
“Yeah?” Aimee said, suddenly feeling dread, as if Lucy was about to tell her bad news.
 
“I would be honored if you would accept me as your romantic partner.”
 
Aimee’s heart beat fast again, and she took a deep breath to try to calm it. She nodded and said, “I would like to be your girlfriend.”
 
Lucy wrapped her arms around Aimee, bringing their bodies even closer. “I’ll treat you as nothing less than a goddess, bella.”
 
“All I ask is that you’re patient with me. This is a first for me.”
 
“I know. I’ll let you tell me what you need and I will do everything I can to meet those needs.”
 
“I need to feel sure.”
 
“Well, I can’t help you to be sure.”
 
“Yes, you can.”
 
“How, love? Tell me and I will do it.”
 
“Love me.”
 
“I already have feelings for you.”
 
“That’s not what I mean.”
 
“You need physical affection?”
 
Aimee paused. “Yes.”
 
“Then let us go back to my room and I will love you.” And remember, if at any point you feel that we are moving too fast, you may tell me no.”
 
“No, I want this. I want to be with you.”
 
Lucy put her hands on Aimee’s ribs and guided her forward to give herself room to stand. She held Aimee’s hand, waiting to help her up. Aimee stood up, tightinging her grip when lucy tried to let go of her hand. “I like holding hands with my significant other.”
 
Smiling, Lucy re-tightened her grip and brought their hands up to kiss Aimee’s knuckles.
 
“I’ve never been to your room before,” Aimee observed as they walked the short distance to the beach-front property. “You’ve always come to mine.”
 
“My room is even more splendid than yours.”
 
“Understandable, your family owns the hotel,” Aimee said with a laugh. “What about your brother?”
 
“He is out of town today through the end of the week.”
 
“With Angelo?”
 
“I believe so. Purely business, however. Luca does not favor Angelo any longer.”
 
“I wouldn’t either. I’m surprised Luca hasn’t killed him in his sleep.”
 
“He has considered taking revenge on my account. But the Almighty frowns upon revenge. We trust that the Almighty will give Angelo ‘his just desserts’ as you Americans say.”
 
“Well, I’m here to help you get over Angelo, too, you know. Now that we’re… in a relationship.”
 
“Thank you, bambina. I believe we will be good for each other. We have both been scalded by the heat of romance recently.”
 
“I love how eloquent you are with words.”
 
“It is the difference in the words Italians choose versus the words Americans choose. Italians have slang words, too, of course, but Americans are always looking for new colloquial ways to speak to eaach other. I am simply more comfortable speaking in a proper manner.”
 
“When I go back home, I hope I will have picked up that habit from you. It’s a big difference compared to how people at home talk.”
 
“When do you go back home?”
 
Aimee stumbled, as if the realization that she wasnt’ staying in Italy forever had become a stone for her to trip over. “I’m supposed to be back in January.”
 
Lucy let her eyes drift to the path they walked on, dismayed at the thought.
 
“Well, you never know. I really do love Italy. I might decide to stay. January is still eight months away, Luce.”
 
“I know, bella. And I will enjoy every moment I have with you whether you stay or go back home.”
 
Aimee stepped closer to Lucy, putting her arm around the Italian’s waist and caressing her ribs. “It’ll be alright. I’m going to put a lot of thought into it, and we’ll see how things end up. For now, you’re right, we need to enjoy every moment we have. Okay?”
 
Lucy smiled , nodded, and reached across herself to cup Aimee’s cheek in her hand again.
 
They reached the hotel just in time before the rain started, fat drops of water falling from the ash-gray clouds and spotting the sand until there were no dry spots. It continued, as if the goal was to create new rivers among the beachside buildings. Lucy’s and Luca’s room was on the top floormore secure than the other rooms in the hotel.
 
“I love hearing the rain here. It’s like it echoes on all the buildings even though the ocean is out there to grab the sound away,” Aimee said, waiting for Lucy to unlock the door and let them in.
 
Holding the door open, Lucy gestured to Aimee to enter the room first, and Aimee smiled shyly and looked at the floor as she walked past her new partner.
 
“I told you, beautiful one, nothing less than a goddess.”
 
Aimee let her feet carry her around the room, noticing the personal effects stored throughout the room, indicating that this truly was their residence instead of a temporary room. Without knowing why, she suddenly missed her dog and wished that furry baby would bound up to her out of nowhere, ready to welcome her home.
 
“I can take you back to your apartment, beautiful one, if you wish to see your dog?”
 
“No, Luce, I’m alright, I can see her later. But how did you know that that’s what I was thinking?”
 
“I felt a change in your aura that indicated missing someone close to you, and I took a peek into your thoughts and saw the face of your dog.”
 
“You can read my thoughts?”
 
“Only sometimes, and only voluntarily. It is a new ability that I discovered only recently, about two weeks ago. I would never do it frequently, love.”
 
“I didn’t think you would. I was just surprised that you can. What else can you do?”
 
“”There are many things I can do that do not come to mind at the moment, and I’m not sure that you are ready to hear them. I think it would be best to let you find out as we go along, so that you are not overwhelmed. Does that make sense?”
 
“Yeah, it does. I think that’s a good idea. Um, so I was just thinking, now that we’re in a relationship, I was wondering if we’re going to use pet names or… whatever. I mean, I know you call me ‘beautiful one’ and things like that, but more intimate things like ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ or whatever.”
 
“You may call me whatever you like, love. Is there something you would prefer that I call you?”
 
“Actually, I’ve always wanted someone to call me ‘querida.’ I know it’s Spanish, but it’s always been a fantasy of mine. Other than that, it’s whatever you like, and I’ll tell you if I don’t like something?”
 
“I can do that, querida. Italian and Spanish share many phonemes, so it isn’t a problem. In fact, I like that word.”
 
“Is there something you would love for me to call you?”
 
“Whatever you are comfortable with, as well, precious one. I don’t want to rush you or make any requests as of yet.”
 
“Okay. Thank you… honey.”
 
Lucy smiled in response.