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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 The reason she’s still a Harris, withdrawn.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.

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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?

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Ooo, I am so torn today.

 

I want to give you more story, partly because I feel pressure to seal that deal, but even more importantly, you’re dying for it. I can tell. Each one of you is waking up every morning with a head full of pressing questions – What color is Helena’s onesie? How many electronic cigarettes does Gladys smoke in a day? What does Anass eat for breakfast to make him, well, such an ass? How can I get my hands on Rick’s number? Do you think Stephanie would mind? And to state the obvious – what color are Bitty’s sheets?

 

I get it. It’s my own fault. There’s no doubt I set you up for this. I mean, I’ve created such a riveting, compelling story line, what do I expect but to be harassed for more? You’re a little intense though. You can lay off just a tad. I appreciate your enthusiasm an’ all, but climbing your way into my dreams and clawing at me like the Walking Dead is slightly off-putting. In fact, I’m not too proud to admit it’s downright scary.

 

Okay, just kidding. Don’t stop. In fact, bring in the White Walkers. I like a good show.

 

Anyway, zombies and icy-eyed cold dudes aside, you’re not getting more story today. There are a couple of other things I feel are more significant for now.

 

It is my 21st wedding anniversary. What can I say? I married when I was 14 – my dowry was irresistible. It has been many years (well, 21 to be exact) of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, the splendid, the dodgy and the dull, all rolled into a wonderfully snug union of seemingly endless time.

Paraplaner 1

And then yesterday, as I sat in the hot sun tempered with a light breeze, watching a paraplaner sail the serenely blue sky above my neighborhood, the phone rang and I realized there is no endless.

Aside from expected soreness, my husband is unharmed as was the other party involved. Our lucky day.

Aside from expected soreness, my husband is unharmed as was the other party involved. Our lucky day.

This, you cannot take for granted.

 

Maybe not yesterday, maybe not tomorrow, but endings there will be. Try to make them happy.

700 Strong

Thank you for this

 

 

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Well, hello!

 

While I enjoy writing my story, it’s a bit of a curtain, isn’t it? I get to hide behind it, keeping it shut tight while I madly hit the keys.

 

I’ve missed you.

 

It’s been a very big month here at the Hazy homestead. My oldest son has graduated. Wow. I still can’t take that one in. We attended his commencement and it was slightly surreal. We are now the picture that comes with the frame, proud parents standing beside a kid in a cap and gown.

 

Next was Dry Grad. These kids are so spoiled. I don’t know about you, but I never had anything like this. And, I wish I did. Off they went to a dinner dance at a very shhwanky venue. Dressed to the nines in tailored suits and dapper duds, the girls in the glitteriest gowns I’ve ever ogled. Bejeweled to the bejeezus. It was a spectacular thing to witness. Besides the fact that he came through the door at 7:30am. I digress.

 

Then he turned eighteen. Another inconceivable moment in a parent’s life. The kids seem to take it just fine. So yes, he’s eighteen and he will head off into a wild blue yonder called University, where, instead of being a few footsteps or a dinner call away, I will have to take a ferry to see my boy.

 

Father’s Day came and went in a flurry of food and festivities. Barely commentable seeing as life is all about the kids these days. So it took a Father to get them here. Minor detail.

 

My youngest, my girl, is also graduating to the big house. She’s trading in the scissors and glue, silent reading and recess for cramming, crushes and relentless temptation.

 

Yeah, parenting is so easy.

 

 

I’d write about my middle boy but he’s the only one not giving me anxiety right now. Knock on wood, he’s on an even keel and I’m enjoying it while the waters are calm. There have been days in the past where I could be heard begging them to go outside, find a friend, hang out. Now, I find solace in knowing he’s locked himself in his little room, stuffy and hot because he refuses to open the window. He’s here. He’s healthy. He’s home. He’s mine.

 

We did have a kid’s camp thrown in there too. Surrounded by fifty rambunctious thirteen year olds for three of the coldest days I’ve felt since winter, but hey…the kids were awesome. They didn’t try to shave my eyebrows or sharpie my face while I slept, I got to be a good mum and…drum roll please…the camp had a “Stillbucks” where I wrote to my heart’s content. Not too shabby if you ask me.

 

Hey! Is that a happy face in my beer residue? Why yes, I choose to believe it is…

Beer Face 2

Photo untouched, unedited. :)

 

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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.”

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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.”

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