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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through nineteen HERE!

alive

Gladys can see what looks like the school Principal standing outside the doorway of the hospital room. He almost looks like he’s on watch – him against whatever dares try and make its way in.

But when she finally makes her way down the long, glossy corridor, Gladys can see that Mr. Anass is anything but on guard. His eyes are moist and his cheeks, slack. His face is so forlorn it immediately brings tears to Gladys’ eyes.

“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”

Gladys can’t help but think that referring to it as good is pushing it.

“Hello, Mr. Anass. I didn’t expect to see you here.”

He looks at the floor.

“Well, school business and everything.”

It’s clear to Gladys that that end of things could have been dealt with elsewhere, would’ve already been taken care of. He has no need to be here. Anass is here because he’s chosen to be.

“Yeah, I guess that puts you in the middle, doesn’t it. I’m sorry about that.”

“No, no. I, uh, am happy to be…” He stops. “Happy is the wrong word. I’m thankful to be of some service.”

“Can I go in?”

“Helena’s in there.” He gestures with his head towards the door behind him. “Under normal circumstances, it’s just immediate family, but since that’s not possible…”

They exchange a glance and Gladys swallows past the lump in her throat before reaching out to push open the dense yellow door.

It’s quiet in the room until a sharp beep from the life support machine pierces the air. Bitty lies still in the bed apart from the small, slow rise and fall of her chest under the delicate, light blue sheet. Her face is bruised and swollen. Her eyes sharp slits, her hands at her sides, cut and battered.

‘Shit,” breathes Gladys.

“She’s in a coma.” Helena whispers.

“What the hell happened?”

“Good evening, Ms. Harris.”

Again, with the good crap.

“My name is Stephanie Statton. We’ve met before. I’m sure you remember. And I’ve called a couple of times as well…left messages on your machine.”

The tall willow of a woman rises from her chair in the dark corner and takes a step towards her, extending her right hand, which Gladys shakes distractedly.

“What is going on? What’s happened to this poor girl? Who is she?”

“My friend.” Helena says dryly. “She’s my only friend.”

“I should explain, Ms. Harris.”

“Damn right, you should explain. You had me thinking it might be my daughter in this bed. Your message was so unclear.”

“I really do apologize. I was…well, I was panicked, quite frankly, but you’re right. I should have left more detail.”

Gladys looks at Helena and her heart swells. She’s okay. Still here. Still hers.

“I happened to be with Helena when the call came in. I knew she and Bettina had become friendly and I thought, considering Helena’s circumstances…and I guess, Bettina’s, that she should come along.”

“Helena’s circumstances?”

Mrs. Statton reaches into her bag and slides Helena’s essay out of one of the pockets.

“This is what I’ve been calling you about. I don’t know how much you’re aware of.”

“Okay,” Gladys lets out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not sure this is the time or the place. This poor girl,” she points towards Bitty’s beaten body, “is obviously fighting for her life.”

“She tried to end her life.” Helena says quietly.

“What? She did this to herself?”

“Well, no.” Mrs. Statton begins to explain. “It’s more complicated than that. Please bear with me. I’m only just piecing it all together myself through what I’m hearing from the police. Bettina has been…”

“Bitty,” Helena croaks. “She’s Bitty. Not Bettina.”

Mrs. Statton takes a breath.

“Yes, you’re right. Bitty has been on her own for some time. She used the address of a house where she dog sits occasionally to register for school, but doesn’t actually live there, we’ve since found out. She lives in a hostel. Pays for it through the dog grooming and I guess, the occasional sitting job.”

“She’s all on her own? No family?”

“Another piece we’re learning.” Mrs. Statton advises. “Her mother threw her out when an Uncle, and that title is questionable, got too close to Betti…Bitty. She never went back.”

“I don’t get it. Why this…now?”

“Her mother.” Helena says, still staring at Bitty.

“Her mother?” Gladys is even more baffled.

“Her mother came looking for her.” Mrs. Statton’s voice is working hard at sounding calm. “The Uncle finally ditched her and she decided Bitty was to blame. But Bitty wasn’t having it and when the mom realized she was being challenged she went off the deep end. Beat her daughter senseless, right there in the hostel room. Apparently slammed her face into the porcelain sink.” Stephanie gives up the battle and her voice breaks. “She took some cash from the room before she left, but what she didn’t realize was that a bottle of Vicodin had fallen out of her purse.”

“She swallowed every pill.” Helena is bent at the waist, twisting her hair, a shadow of a mass forming at her feet.

“God, it’s so awful I can’t even imagine.” Gladys looks from Mrs. Statton to Helena. “But I’m sorry. I still don’t understand the connection with Helena, other than, as you say, they’ve become friendly.”

Mrs. Statton looks to Helena and gets what Gladys deems as permission.

“Ms. Harris, do you know why Helena wears those bracelets?”

Confusion passes over Gladys’ features.

“She likes them? I mean…I know I bought one of them for her at the Dollarama. That one with the crosses. Remember Helena?”

“I remember.” Helena does not look up.

“Ms. Harris, she uses the bracelets to cover a scar. A scar I’m guessing you’re unaware of.”

“A scar? What kind of scar? Helena, what did you do?”

“Nothing. I stopped. I fixed it.” She finally looks away from Bitty and Gladys can see that this is about so much more than bracelets and scars.

“You got stuck with me. You think I don’t know, but I do.”

“Helena, I was never…”

“He left me.” She chokes, her quiet demeanor vanishing. He left me and he left you with me…with no choice.

“There’s always a choice, honey.”

“You drink because of me!” Helena is now pulling hair out by the tufts.

“Helena, I drink because of him. You’re the reason I don’t drink more.”

“Why would you want me? Helena practically screeches. “Why would I stick around for this?” She stands and her arms open at her sides, palms facing the ceiling in defiant question, bracelets swinging with the force of her movement. “You’re not even my mother.”

Mrs. Statton tries to quell the sound of her sharp breath.

The long, vertical scar on the underside of Helena’s wrist becomes visible and no one speaks for a moment. Even in her frenzy, Helena is aware that she and Gladys now share the wound.

Gladys swallows. Her mouth is dry and there is a pounding at her temples, a bellow for alcohol. Her hands shake as she takes the now slightly rumpled documents from her purse.

“I am your mother, Helena. He signed. Today.”

Helena pulls her flannel shirt tight around her chest.

“Signed?”

“I’ve been trying for years. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

What did you want?”

You, honey. When I first met your father, I knew he didn’t really love me. He was using me to raise you after your mother died, but I didn’t care. I loved you and that’s all that mattered to me.”

Helena sniffles, kicks at the hair on the floor and pulls her shirt tighter.

“He ditched you with me. I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“No, he was leaving me and he was going take you. Find someone else. I begged him to let me have you.”

“Then why was it so hard to get him to sign me over?”’

“Oh, sweetheart. I know it’s tough to understand, but the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing. No matter what, it would be difficult to give up your child. To admit that you’re not what’s best for them.”

Helena looks back at Bitty. Her face bruised beyond recognition, the tubes and pumps trailing off the bed, the sucking sounds of machinery replacing her lungs and suddenly she understands.

Like her own scar, Bitty’s tattoo means she’s alive.

~ The End ~

 

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through seventeen HERE!

The gray, floor length sheers billow with the force of the floor vent below them as Gladys opens the front door. She pauses. Other than the curtains, there’s no movement in the house. No sound. No Helena.

Her heart flaps.

She shouldn’t have been away so long. She should have left more food in the fridge. She shouldn’t have left her to her own devices. Maybe she should have told her where she was going…why she was going. Or better yet, brought Helena with her.

Unsure, she tiptoes to the kitchen counter to set the groceries down. The crumple from the bags scratches against the silence and suddenly, she feels like she’s wearing a buttoned-up raincoat on a hot day. Trapped sweat makes its way down her back as the realization that she must check Helena’s room engulfs her.

Blurry images of a face, glossy-eyed with blue-lined lips, pool at the bottom of Gladys’ spine soaking into the waistband of her jeans. Swills of pills, strewn bottles, creased sheets and dangling fingers wade through her watery mind. Flashes of flowers and cascades of cards, torrents of tears and wallows of whiskey wash over her, muddling at her feet.

She puts the signed papers on the counter beside one of the brown sacs and sits on the cool of the waxy tiles. She’d almost made it. So close only to have it whipped away. In an instant. The reason she’s still here. The reason she still tries. The reason she’s still a Harris, withdrawn.

But she remembers Sharona. Her tale of the policeman and his walkie talkie.

Gladys heaves her heaviness off the floor and flies to the answering machine, fumbling to push the stiff play button with its insistent flashing light.

No, she won’t find Helena in her bed. There will only be the aching, hollow space where she had once been.

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through sixteen HERE!

Helena sits in the mint colored booth, dressed in a flannel plaid shirt and jeans that most women Mrs. Statton’s age would consider tights. She moves the straw around slowly through her vanilla shake and waits for what she knows is the inevitable question.

“So, how long have you liked reading?”

Helena’s brow instantly furrows. It’s not what she was expecting.

“The first day we met, you said Book Club would be social suicide for you. There’s a difference between that answer and simply saying you’re not into reading.”

Helena’s furrow turns to a blush.

“I dunno. I’ve always liked reading. Since I was little. Probably ever since I could, I guess.”

“I enjoy reading too. It gets me away from my real life crap.”

The word crap, coming from Mrs. Statton, surprises Helena yet again but she recovers quickly.

“Define crap.”

“Well, it’s probably not your idea of crap, but there’s definitely crap.”

Stephanie’s sip leaves a faint strawberry smear on her lower lip, which she licks away instinctively. She’s starting to perspire despite the cool air of the ice cream shop and hopes Helena can’t detect her discomfort.

“Speaking of crap, maybe we should discuss the essay you handed in to Mr. Crawford.”

“Oh, okay. So an F.”

Helena hangs her head, embarrassed at having put herself out there only to receive a failing grade. She should’ve known better. She did know better.

God, no.” Again the counselor is bold, using language not common for school admin. Their eyes meet and Helena has to look away, realizing in the moment, that Mrs. Statton knows everything. Knows all her crap.

“It’s just,” Stephanie plays with her wobbly wedding ring. “When a student writes about something like that, it’s our responsibility to follow up on it.”

Our? Who else has read it?” Helena doesn’t have time to mask her panic-stricken face.

“Well, Mr. Crawford, of course. But when that type of material is passed to me, it’s my duty to bring it to Mr. Anass’ attention as well.”

Helena cringes and her hand flies up to her hair. She’s disliked Anass since shaking his sweaty, flimsy hand in front of the office that first day and has done everything possible to stay off his radar until this. She somehow hadn’t understood the big picture upon handing in her essay and sitting here now, she’s baffled by her own naiveté. Anger surfaces at having brought herself into the forefront, the opposite of where she likes to be.

“I’m sorry,” Stephanie starts to apologize, “I had to. But, I’ve told him I’ll deal with it from…” A shrill chime cuts her off mid-sentence.

“I have to go.” Her face looks pained. “I can drop you…actually, no, I think you should come with me.”

Helena has little choice but to follow behind her counselor, wondering why in the world she’d ever put pen to paper.

“Anyway,” says Stephanie, rushing to get to her car. “I have no choice but to bring your mother into the loop too, but I wanted to talk to you first.”

Her mother. Gladys is the one thing Helena had kept to herself. After all, that wasn’t her crap to tell.

diner_restaurant_row_deuce_booths

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through fifteen HERE!

Gladys inhales deeply. Even the measly electronic cig manages to get her blood pumping in her euphoria. Sure she’d had to stoop to a little rub and tug, but what was that compared to what she scored in return? No skin off her nose and certainly nothing she hadn’t resorted to before to get what she wanted out of William.

Her drive home is long and smooth. She dangles her arm out her open window the entire way, while tune after tune has her singing at the top of her lungs.

It isn’t until darkness falls that familiar landmarks start to appear. She flashes left and pulls into a mini-mart close to home. Her mood still light, she decides she’ll bring home mojos and a tub of fudge ice cream – two of Helena’s favorite things.

Entering the market, she dials home hoping to talk to Helena, but has to leave a message instead.

Probably in the shower, she thinks. Where does that kid ever go?

She strolls through the aisles, still humming and putting a little more in her basket than she initially intended. She hasn’t eaten all day. She doesn’t count the coffee and odd nip of whiskey.

Whiskey.

Her last sip had been at the bait shop just before taking care of business with Will. She’d excused herself and crouched on the grody toilet lid in the stunted rotting bathroom, taking not one, but two large burning slugs from her flask. For good measure, she’d swiped some over her hands once back in her car, thinking it couldn’t hurt.

She grabs some potato chips. Salt and vinegar, they both like those. And a few bananas and a tub of yogurt out of guilt.

“Ms. Harris! You’re in late tonight.”

She looks at Sharona, a cashier she usually tries to avoid. Strange girl. Always fishing for gossip and a nosy twit by Gladys’ standards.

“Yeah, I guess it is late, Sharona. Whaddya know?”

“Oh, funny you should ask! I actually did hear something interesting tonight.”

The beeps from her scanner punch the air as she slowly slides each item over it. Gladys can see the ice cream is already starting to melt.

Sharona pauses for encouragement. Sensing none, she manages to muster up the enthusiasm to continue on her own.

“The high school. Some kinda trouble tonight.” She squints at the bag of mojos, frustrated its barcode won’t scan. “Yeah, there was a cop in here earlier. Got the last doughnut and the dregs from the coffee urn just before the deli shut down. Heard the call on his walkie. Cuz he paid at my till, right?”

“Are you asking me?”

She ignores Gladys’ snide snip and types in the crumpled barcode by hand, her nails clicking loudly on the keys.

“Turned it off though, before I could hear the whole thing. Guess I looked too interested.” She raises her over-tweezed eyebrows expecting praise. Confirmation she’d done well.

No longer anxious about her melting ice cream, Gladys pays and rushes to her car, fumbling for the keys.

Why isn’t Helena answering the phone?

police-walkie-talkie-300x212

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through fourteen HERE!

 

She doesn’t see a doorbell, so instead knocks a somewhat non-committal knock, half hoping it won’t be heard. She’d called from the office before leaving but no one answered. Stopping in on her way home, potentially catching someone off-guard was risky and she is no longer sure she’s made the right decision.

She stands in the cool evening breeze and waits. A minute or two passes before she hears someone shuffling toward the door. Her heart rebounds off the wall of her chest as the fingers on the other side twist the bolt.

Helena looks softer standing in the doorway of her own home than she does in the school’s halls. Her scant hair is pulled into a loose and low ponytail and she’s wearing what Stephanie hears the girls refer to as a onesie on their scheduled pajama days.

“Mrs. Statton.” Helena’s face flushes.

“I’m sorry, Helena. I did call, but…”

“Oh, I uh. Well, I was in the shower earlier.”

Stephanie can indeed smell the apple body wash hanging in the air between them and Helena’s face is dewy from a recent douse of cream.

“Is your mother home?”

“No. She wasn’t here when I got in from school. Don’t know where she went though. Or when she’ll be back.”

“Ahh, I see.”

They stand awkwardly, Stephanie trying to decide what to say next, Helena unsure where to put her hands seeing as her hair is tied back and there are no pockets in the onesie.

“Could I maybe come in?”

“What for?’

An instant flash of hard hallway Helena.

“So we can talk.”

“I guess.”

“Or we could go grab a milkshake. You know, if you’re willing to unpeel.” Stephanie smiles, eyeing up Helena’s sleep suit.

“I don’t have any money. I bought dinner and stuff. Me and Bitty…”

“Oh no, honey. I’m buying. You just worry about what you’re going to choose.”

milkshakes1

 

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through thirteen HERE!

It doesn’t take Helena long to realize Bitty knows nobody. The youth hostel has let her reinvent the meaning of a temporary stay, she goes to school only when she can and talks to no one.

“Why me?” Helena asks carefully.

“Why you, what?”

“Why did you talk to me? You don’t seem to talk to anyone.”

“I wanted to find out where you get your hair done.”

“Very funny.”

They are sitting on the very thin mattress that covers the very basic bed Bitty sleeps in. There are four wooden drawers built roughly into the underside of the bed, a sink screwed into the wall and a hook on the back of the door.

“Where do you keep all your stuff?”

She hops off the bed and opens the four drawers. All are empty but one. Helena takes in its contents. A clear plastic bag that has seen better days contains a toothbrush and a travel size tube of toothpaste. There’s an ancient looking pair of clippers and a comb, two worn looking hand towels, a few pairs of underwear, socks, a plain black t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

Helena has to stop herself from asking if this is it. If this is all Bitty owns in the whole entire world.

“How do you afford this?”

They look at each other and an understanding passes between them. An appreciation that this isn’t all that much. That in the big world, this is less than nothing, but that in Bitty’s world, it’s everything.

“I groom dogs.” She tells me after sitting back down on the bed. “I go to people’s houses and I actually wash, trim and clip their dogs.”

“Amazing.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious. It’s amazing. Do you like it?”

“I love it. The dogs are awesome. I can’t believe people pay me to do it. I mean, why wouldn’t they just do it themselves?”

“Lots of reasons, I guess. My neighbors have a dog and they even pay someone to walk it.”

“Crazy, right? I get paid to play with pups. Every kid’s dream.”

“You should start offering the walking thing. You could double your money.”

“Maybe. I’m already having a tough time fitting in school and homework around having a pseudo job.”

“I guess you cut your own hair?”

“Gee, thanks. Is it that obvious?”

“Now you shut up. Look who you’re talking to.”

Helena’s hands rush up to feel her patchy scalp.

“I’m asking because it’s so perfect. So even. Clearly you’ve had the opportunity to practice. Besides, I saw the clippers in your drawer.”

“You’re right. I am amazing.”

“Nice try, but that comment was about your gig, not you.”

Bitty lies back on her flat pillow and lifts her legs up to rest on the wall in front of her.

“Admit it, Harris. “I’m the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.”

amazing

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through twelve HERE!

Anass tries to win her over with his stare. She can see his upside down reflection in the shiny surface of her newly cleaned desk, but refuses to look up and make eye contact. She’d stayed an extra hour past school’s end to sort through paperwork and tidy her office after leaving a message for Ms. Harris to come in at her earliest convenience. She’d planned on calling Helena down as soon as the bell rang, but Mr. Anass descended upon her before she could even brew her morning tea.

“Honestly, I think it’ll go more smoothly if we’re alone.” A waterfall of fingers cascades over Anass’ boggy image. “I just think she’ll be more open about things.”

“That may be so, but I am the Principal of the school, Stephanie. I should be here.”

“And what good will that do if she won’t talk?”

“You don’t know she won’t talk. You’re assuming.”

Her skin crawls with the familiar frustration of Anass’ obstinate disposition. She’d been here many times with him and wasn’t about to back down on this one.

“I offer counseling to kids, Rupert. It only works when there’s trust. I’ve built that up, you haven’t.”

“They like me just fine.”

Stephanie suppresses the urge to make what will most likely be an offensive sound.

“You’re right. You are the Principal. And because of that, they avoid you at all costs.”

She gets ready to wield her last resort, the student/counselor confidentiality speech, but there’s no need. As Anass stands, his defeated physique slumps like a sagging marionette.

“Alright Steph, you win. But dinner at Manger next week.”

“You know I’m…”

“There are details to discuss, not to mention some upcoming cuts you might be interested in. Always good to stay in the loop.”

He leaves a trail of musk in his wake and Stephanie, reading between his lines.

marionette___pinnoch_emo_by_undercovercottonswab-d2yqugm

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through eleven HERE!

 

“It means I’m awful at telling jokes,” Bitty explains when Helena finally gets the nerve to ask.

She squints once more at the almost microscopic letters. She’s never heard of the word and although she has a pretty good view from the bus seat behind Bitty’s, the ink is so neatly tucked away behind her left ear that Helena wouldn’t have been able to make it out if she hadn’t just been told what it said.

“Why would you want a tattoo to remind you of that?” She almost bites her tongue as the words pop out of her mouth. She sounded so judgmental.

“It meant something to me at the time.” As Bitty turns to look out the window the moment, much like the tattoo, vanishes.

Left with only the hum of the bus between them as lampposts and cracked sidewalks whiz by, Helena twists her hair, trying to think of something to say.

“I don’t have any.”

“Jokes?”

“Tattoos.”

“Well, both are overrated, if you ask me.” Bitty declares.

“It just seems so permanent. I’d be sick of what I’d picked within a month. Some stupid doodle or saying or something. At least yours seems exotic.”

“Exotic?”

“Well, mysterious, I guess. Kind of like a foreign word no one’s ever heard of.”

“I’m sure there’re some people that know it.”

“Anyway, you can get rid of them now. With a laser or something.”

“I hear it leaves a scar.”

Helena’s fingers comb through her band of bangles, straightening them into tidy lines that bump up against one another.

“I decided I’d rather have an ugly tattoo than an ugly scar to remind me.” Bitty says.

“Remind you of what?”

“You know. Not to read the same page twice.”

“It’s not the scars,” Helena says more to herself than to anyone else. “It’s what they bookmark that’s ugly.”

Open_Book

 

 

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through ten HERE!

“Neither if you begged me, William.” Gladys says with a strength she summons from somewhere deep within.

He’s still behind the counter, but stands up straight now, staring her down with eyes that, after all these years, still feel like icepicks pecking at her chest.

Apart from the two of them, the shack is empty. A static-distorted radio floats an Eagles song through the saloon style doors and she realizes he’s humming it under his breath. He always did know how to unnerve her.

“I’ve been trying to reach you. Did you change your numbers or something?”

“Nope. Not in fifteen years.” He says smugly.

“That means you’ve simply been ignoring me, then.”

He shrugs, maintaining eye contact and continuing to hum.

“Been busy, Gladys. What can I say?”

She looks around the dusty, vacant room.

“Sorry. You could say sorry.” She feels her face prickling as a rush of blood makes its way to the surface of her thin skin.

“Sorry for what?” His humming has stopped and his arms are now folded across his narrow chest. “For giving you what you wanted?”

“This is isn’t how I wanted it, Will. You know that.”

“You’re better off, Gladys. No me to mess things up.”

“We were working on that.”

You were working on that.”

Gladys looks at the floor. He’s right. He had never had any interest in changing. Standing here with him now may as well have been fifteen years ago. Time had done nothing to him. He hadn’t even aged for God’s sake. His tanned skin is rugged and vibrant and his salt and pepper hair feathers down over his ears, swooping the nape of his neck, making him appear both boyish and sophisticated all at once.

What must he see…deepened crow’s feet and tiny veins beginning to burst around her nose, her hair wiry now that she has to cover rapidly sprouting greys and a well-weathered cleavage line peeking out from the V-neck t-shirt she’d chosen that morning.

She allows these thoughts to distract her, but not for more than a moment.

“I need you to sign, William. It’s the only reason I’m here.”

“Got time for one more? It gets pretty lonely ‘round here.”

She mustn’t look as bleak as she believes.

“You’ve never had any trouble finding company and I’m sure that hasn’t changed either.”

It’s his turn to look away and she almost thinks she sees shame cross his face.

“My social life stopped being your concern years ago.” His voice is hard.

“I’m not getting into it, Will. Not interested. I’m tired. No, exhausted. Just sign and be done with it.”

“I ain’t signin’ nothin’. All’s I need is black and white proof I’m a douchebag. She already hates me.”

“How would you know? It’s not like you’ve ever bothered to ask her.”

“No need.”

“Children don’t hate, William. Their hearts just crack right down the middle.”

Broken-heart-two-part-heart-wallpaper

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*This piece is part of an ongoing short story*

You can read parts one through nine HERE!

Hotly Anticipated iPhone 5 Goes In Sale In Stores

She’d seen Helena in the cafeteria today. She was talking to a petite girl with short, dark hair. Bettina, Stephanie thought her name was, but couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. The room was bustling and Helena and her friend were on the other side of it, mere blurs amongst the crowd.

She takes another long sip of her wine, sets it on the low coffee table, and allows the mouthful to wash over the lump in her throat as she swallows.

Watching from across the room what has now become familiar, the unconscious twisting and turning of the hair, the swoop of her long neck and the band of bracelets that has widened since her arrival make the second reading of the essay in Stephanie’s hand even more haunting somehow. The carefully selected words produce an ease and flow contrary to the torment of choosing them. It’s apparent the open wounds and blunt truths had dropped sharply onto the page, and only then were smoothed by a cohesive, composed mind. If it weren’t so painful it would be breathtakingly beautiful.

She sets the curled pages down onto the empty cushion next to her and reaches for her glass.

“Anass came on to to me again.” She divulges, swirling her drink.

Rick lifts his head off the couch, eyebrows raised, forehead wrinkled.

“Did you tell him you’re taken?”

“Very funny, darling. You and I have only been together at every Christmas party and staff picnic for the last five years. He knows.”

Rick lets out a big yawn, flips onto his side and takes his phone out of his pocket. Sensing her silence begs a response, he sighs.

“Are you sure he hit on you? What did he do?”

“Well, he leaned in.”

“Leaned in?”

“Yeah, you know…”

All of a sudden she feels silly, flustered.

“He insinuated.”

“Insinuated?”

“Never mind,” she concedes. “It was nothing.” But when she looks to him for reassurance, he’s scrolling through his messages and smirking at whatever’s on his screen, unaware they are still in conversation.

Stephanie picks up the essay and holds it in front of her face – a barrier between them. Whether it be the wine, Rick’s disinterest or Helena’s aching words, a brew of all three she assumes, the lump in her throat turns to hot streams running down her cheeks.

She’ll call Helena to her office first thing.

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