The Lies You Tell

Prompt: A lie that gets bigger and bigger

Lying is a tricky thing. It takes practice and just a hint of sincerity. You have to commit to the lie. Which is something bad liars never seem to understand. You have to tell a lie until you can recite it in your sleep. You have to say it out loud. You have to make every lie so beautiful it will break a person’s heart just to hear it.

You can never believe the lies you tell. Not really. When you start to believe your own lies, the only heart that will break is your own.

Fool that I am, I thought that rule wouldn’t apply to me. I was wrong.

Some people have faces that pull others toward them like magnets. He had that kind of face, beak of a nose and all. Some people have voices so striking that everyone stops to listen when they speak. His voice was like that, sharp enough to cut through the noise around him and still smooth like butter.

But maybe you already know what he’s like. Maybe you can imagine and I don’t need to say anything else.

I suppose everyone had to love him, just a little. That’s how it started for me, slightly dazzled but distant enough that it felt harmless.

He breezed into my life, my town, like a whirlwind. He left chaos in his wake until it all righted itself and it felt like he’d always been there as a clerk in the bank.

He flirted with everyone. He talked to everyone. We all knew. You probably noticed yourself. But it never felt like that. It felt like you were the only person he saw. I never knew what it meant in a book when a heroine said she blushed uncontrollably until the first time I had to stammer through a conversation with him.

I told myself it didn’t matter. That was the first time I lied to myself.

It’s almost imperceptible sometimes, when someone starts to matter dreadfully. My eyes began to track his movements across the bank whenever I was there. I started to watch for him. Wish for him. I didn’t even know his name.

I barely had savings and little need for a bank. Still, I found excuses to be in there almost every day. Loose change to trade for bills. A quick deposit when the ATM had a line. Inquiries about new account options. Any reason I could take. Speaking to him was the best, of course, because it always felt like something could happen. If he was busy–or worse not there–I would finish my business and get on with my day. If I managed to catch his eye before I left all the better.

I told myself it didn’t matter so much, either way. That was the second time I lied to myself.

The problem with lying to yourself is that it becomes much harder to keep track of the truth. It’s easy to get lost.

He always had a smile for me and, on one sensational day I won’t soon forget, a wink. I didn’t stop to think it might mean anything. The line between fantasy and reality was already too blurred for that. I could imagine any number of sensational scenarios. It wouldn’t change the fact that he was paid to be affable and polite. It wouldn’t change the fact that he didn’t know my name.

I wouldn’t know it for some time but those turned out to be the biggest lies I ever told.

I was near the bank just after closing. Not to see him, for once. I was finishing my own shift at the supermarket–one of the few places in town that would hire high school students when I started applying that fall. I was a senior waiting for graduation to finally roll around. He caught up to me while I waited as the bus stop.

Despite all of my surprise visits to the bank, I was still shocked to see him outside its walls, out from behind the big counter where all of the tellers stood. His hair was still carefully combed but he had on a t-shirt now instead of the button down shirts all of the men at the bank had to wear. It was a few seconds before I realized I was staring at his upper arms, at the curve of his neck without a collar obstructing it.

He pulled off his sunglasses to smile at me. I wished, desperately, that there was a bench at the bus stop as I was no longer certain my legs could continue holding me.

“I see you in the bank all the time.”

I nodded dumbly before I replied, ever so witty, “Finances are very important.”

His teeth were so white when he smiled that I immediately forgot how idiotic I must sound.

“So, this is embarrassing because you’re always at the bank, but I don’t know your name.”

He stood so close to me that I could see the stubble beginning to shadow his jaw. It made him look older–the way he was supposed to look, I realized with a shock–not the fresh-faced boy who had been inhabiting my imagination for months.

“I’m Isabel,” I said slowly. “Isabel Downes.” As soon as I said it, I regretted giving him my full name.

“Such a proper name.” Another smile. He stepped closer to me which didn’t seem possible when he was already the only thing I could see. I had spent so long willing him to talk to me like this at the bank. It was only now, when it was actually happening, that I stopped to wonder why he would possibly have anything to say to me.

I licked my lips, nervous and not sure why. “Shouldn’t you tell me your name now?”

“Don’t you think we’ll have plenty of time for that?”

“My mother told me I should never talk to strangers,” I said with a smile as if I were flirting. Another lie, this one too small to even track.

“My name’s Ian,” he grinned this time, all sharp teeth and wants I couldn’t quite name. His eyes roved down to my chest for one beat too long before he finished. “Ian Johannes Abbington.”

I smiled back tightly. His gaze shifted to the bus that was coming. I tugged the neckline of my top a bit higher. Not that it mattered. The shirt, I realized, wasn’t too low cut at all. I tugged on the red sweater I had in my bag, buttoning it despite the heat.

As the bus doors opened in front of us, I tried to think of reasons to walk away. It suddenly felt like too much. He was too close to me. He was too happy to see me. It was too fast despite my own efforts to speed things along. A bead of sweat trickled down my back under the sweater as he gently took hold of my elbow before I could move away.

“Now that we’re not strangers, I think we’ll have a lot to talk about on the ride.”

I stared at him as we moved toward the bus door. The way the night might go unfolded before me. It could be everything I had wanted so badly since the day I saw him. More even, if his behavior was any indication. Or it could be a disaster. The worst mistake I would ever make.

I still wasn’t sure as I followed him onto the bus.

He waved me into a window seat before settling himself beside me, his arm already around my shoulders. “I always like meeting new people,” he said as the bus lurched forward.

“Oh, so do I,” I replied automatically as I watched the bus stop get smaller and smaller in the window.

It was hard to tell, with so much good humor and so many smiles, which of us was lying.

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The Day After

Prompt: A conversation with a stranger.

“What if I told you I might be falling for you?” he asked as they walked toward the entrance to the subway.

Strolling near the park should have been romantic. The perfect ending to a day of adventure and surprises. It could have been, if she let it. But she already had what she needed from him. Even without knowing each other’s names or any personal information, she already felt like he knew too much. She felt like he had come much too close.

“That isn’t going to happen. You don’t even know me.” She pushed her glasses higher on her nose.

“I know enough,” he said, as he pushed a tendril of her red hair behind her ear.

They walked into the subway in silence. He already knew they were going in opposite directions. She’d made sure to tell him that much.

His train was first. She stood with him near the top of the stairs. She took his hands. “You aren’t going to fall for me. You don’t love me. After tomorrow you never will.”

“What are you talking about?”

A train had come. She timed her reply with the onslaught of people. “None of this, nothing today, had anything to do with you.” She let go of his hands. “You had something I needed. I have it now. That’s all this ever was.”

She moved away and disappeared down a set of stairs before he could follow. It didn’t surprise her when she found him staring at her across the tracks. Nothing about him surprised her. Not after today.

“I don’t understand. Why did you do this? Why would you tell me?” he shouted at her, voice stricken.

She remembered when she kissed him, hours ago, probably harder than she should have. Definitely longer. She remembered forcing her hands out of his hair, her body away from his.

She couldn’t kiss him now. Not with an entire set of subway tracks between them. Her glasses were dirty and she could barely see him across the platform. She knew he was upset. But she could only guess at his face. Was he angry? Sad? She wondered if he would look for her as she yelled back, “Because we’re never going to see each other again!”

Her train was coming. She heard the rumbling and saw the gleaming light moving out of the tunnel. He finally noticed the train a moment after her. She watched him turn toward the tunnel.

“I’ll remember you!” he called when he realized he was running out of time. “I’ll remember today and I’ll remember you! I don’t believe it meant nothing!”

“I am sorry! Believe that at least!”

The train came then. It was too late to say anything else. It had always been too late.

She walked into the train car. He watched her, offered a feeble wave. She put her hand against the glass and smiled at him. She didn’t know if he saw it. She couldn’t tell if he watched the train as it left the station or if he would try to follow her. He wouldn’t find her. She knew that much for certain.

She left her glasses on the train when she got off at the next stop. Her vision cleared without the dirty lenses. For the first time all day she could see properly.

She waited until she was in the middle of a crowd before she pulled off the red wig. Her own dark hair was already in a bun. She threw her green sweater into the trash as she wove her way through the station to a different train. She kept her purse. It had the clone of his cell phone—the one that would clear all the obstacles that stood in her way. Tomorrow night she’d use it to buy her freedom. Then she would walk away.

She would sell the phone as promised. There had never been a choice about that. But she also knew she would save the information somewhere. Just for her.

He could try to look for her. Part of her hoped that he would. But he wouldn’t find her. It was much too late for that.

But maybe the day after would be early enough for her to try to find him.

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Ode to A. Hitchcock

Prompt: A story that is 500 words or less.

The best part of the Jersey shore is the annual sand sculpture contest. People flood the beach in the pursuit of handcrafting works of art – art that will eventually be gobbled up by the ever rising sea.

Every year my sister Erica and I stand on the sidelines, speculating. Not this year. This year we’re participating. It doesn’t matter that I hate sand and she has no artistic ability. It doesn’t matter that every sand castle I ever built crumbled in mere seconds. It doesn’t matter that Erica doesn’t want to be here.

The day is overcast, the sand sticking to all the wrong places. For a split second I regret this decision, but with a hot pink bucket and gardening shovel I’m ready.

“What’s the plan Stan,” Erica asks.

I take out a crumpled up sketch, and pass it to her.

“You’re kidding right?! There’s no way in hell we’re sculpting a mermaids.”

“Watch your language,” I say in my mother’s tone.

“Hell isn’t a cuss word. If it was it  wouldn’t be in the Bible.”

I ignore her and begin sculpting. Erica sits back, sunning herself. I stop for a sip of water and to wipe sweat from my brow.

“Whoa!”

“What is it?”

“Look at all those seagulls, there’s about a hundred of them.”

“Don’t exaggerate, there’s like ten.”

Seriously, there are hundreds of the beasts flocking overhead. They make me nervous. I continue on sculpting and shaping the sand, coaxing it to do exactly what I want it to. But the birds continue to flock, swoop, and fly.

I try not to let the birds get to me.  But as the clouds roll in the birds seem to ascend upon the beach, pecking at half eaten sandwiches, squawking at the people. I’m scared. So much so that I hastily gather my stuff and pull my sister up from the sand.

“We’re leaving!”

“What? Why?!  You haven’t even finished.”

“Somethings not right,” I announce. The air is eerily silent, the waves that were crashing simply lap at the shoreline. I turn slowly, and take in the nighmarish scene — seagulls pecking at the people. There’s one tangled in some woman’s hair. I ran. Hands covering my head I pray I wouldn’t call victim to the birds. Erica, with her longer legs is  just ahead, just out of reach. I call to her, but she keeps running farther away.

“Erica wait!” I scream. And as I screamed the largest seagull I have ever seen lands on my sister and it pecks and pecks.

“No, please stop!” I shout.

—-

“Erin! Wake up! Wake up!”

My eyes crack open. “You’re alive!”

“It was just a dream.”

“But the birds –”

“That damn movie! I told you you shouldn’t have watched that.”

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Notes in Books

Prompt: Write a story that is 500 words or less.

Notes in Books

I stand awkwardly in the cafe wondering if she’s here yet.

In my last note I said I would be wearing a blue sundress and a hot pink cardigan. Check.

I considered going for a brighter, more obvious dress–what if the cafe is hot and I have to take off the cardigan?–but my only other clean dress was the yellow one from Aunt Maureen. Aunt Maureen still thinks I share her and mom’s pale complexion instead of dad’s brown skin and crazy curly hair. She somehow missed that yellow does nothing but wash me out so I look sick, sick, sick.

I look around when the door chimes as it opens.

In her last note my friend said that she would have a purple shirt and a black twirling skirt. I’m still not sure what that means but I think it’s probably a dirndl skirt.

We’ve moved onto writing each other postcards and letters but this all started with a sticky note in my favorite book at the library.

I always leave notes when I’m browsing at the library.

I never thought someone would write back.

When I opened the book three months ago a note fell into my hand.

Sometimes I left my notes in the middle. Or at the very last page.

“This book saved me life,” I wrote once. “It felt like nothing was going to be right ever again. But then this book was perfect. And slowly, so slowly, it started to feel like other things could be okay–maybe even perfect–too. I hope you loved it. I hope you’re okay.”

It was that same copy–I recognized the torn and wrinkled dust jacket.

I stared at the note in my hand and then the book before I turned to the last page. The sticky note I left was still there. It still declared that this book saved me and it was still true.

On the folded paper was an address and in thick, blocky capital letters the words THANK YOU.

I added another sticky note beneath the original.

“You’re welcome.” Beneath my note I wrote my address before I could talk myself out of it. I placed the book back on the shelf.

Her name is Olivia and she told me her family is Mexican by way of Newark. We are both avid readers and she might be my best friend. This is the first time we’ll ever meet.

We exchanged numbers last week when we settled the details. I am clutching my phone wondering if she will call to say she’s arrived.

Or maybe send a text to say she changed her mind.

The door chimes as it opens. I hear a girl shout “Lisa!” as she runs toward me, a blur of black and purple. She crashes into me, her arms already hugging me.

I smile.

“I’m so happy to finally meet you!”

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Home

Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.

When my parents died six years ago Poppy was the only family I had left. And at that time, he was barely that. But still, without hesitation, he took me in. And he provided me with, not only the basics, but so much more. Poppy loved me unconditionally right from the very start.

It didn’t matter to him that my existence was news to him. It didn’t matter that we first met the day my parents were being buried in the cold ground. He loved me.

Truth be told,  I didn’t love Poppy. Not at first. I barely knew this man who seemed to have more hair sprouting from his ears rather than from the top of his head. For twelve years, he was a mystery I never dared question. But as days turned into months, and months turned into years I grew to love Poppy. I loved him like I have never, ever loved before. After all, he became the father I never really had the chance to have.

Of course we had our ups and downs. Poppy had a temper and I had a stubborn streak. But we always made it through – and never went to bed angry with one another. Even when life wasn’t great, it was good.

Until the day the doctor told us that Poppy was sick. The world stopped revolving, and as the doctor talked my heart barely beat.

Poppy had early onset dementia – a disease that would eventually strip Poppy of his memories. As time went by, the illness would progress from dementia into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.

The doctor talked about the different stages that both Poppy and I would experience. He talked about medications that would, not cure, but would prolong the disease’s progression. He talked and he talked. But the only think I was hearing was the Poppy could, and would probably forget everything and everyone … including me.

I decided then and there that I’d make the most of my time with Poppy. I would do everything in my power to take care of him the way he took care of me when I needed him most. That meant, dropping out of school a few months shy of graduating. That meant putting my life on pause in order to give him the fullest one possible. That meant breaking a promise I swore – to both myself and to him – that I’d keep.

After having found out that he was sick, Poppy sat me down to have a heart to heart. We were sitting in a cracked vinyl booth of our favorite diner. Both of us pushing food around our plates. Poppy’s fish and chips were getting cold, and the cheese on my bacon cheeseburger was starting to harden.

“Kiddo, listen. I know this is a lot to process. And I know the gears in your head are already fast at work thinking about what you can do to make this better. There is nothing to make this better.”

“You don’t know that,” I responded quietly.

“There are things we need to talk about — things I need to say and you need to hear.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You don’t have a choice. I’ve never been stern with you Ginny, but I’m putting my foot down.”

“Fine,” I huffed.

“There’s money in an account. There is enough to cover my expenses at the Cherry Blossom nursing home.,” he started, but I stopped him before he went any further.

“Stop talking like this, I’m not putting you in a home.”

“You don’t have a choice in this, I refuse to be a burden.”

“You’re my grandfather, it’s my responsibility to take care of you,” I argued.

“No, it’s my responsibility to take care of you kiddo. And I won’t be able to do that for much longer. When the time comes, I want you to take that money and check me into the home. My name is already on the waiting list.”

He wanted me to promise him, but I refused. He didn’t press the issue, but I knew this wasn’t the end of this discussion.

He continued, “The house is yours, everything in it, and the property it sits on. I’ve already had the deed put in your name.”

“It won’t be much of a home without you,” I said quietly.

“It was never a home until you move in kiddo. But I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything, Poppy,” I said without a hint of hesitation. He could have asked to me knock off the local liquor store, and I would have gladly. I would do anything and everything for this man, and he knew that.

“Promise me that that house will always be your home, always Ginny.”

I couldn’t fathom why he would want me to promise such a thing when he already knew that that house was more than a house that sat upon a pebble driveway. That house was home, and would forever be my home.

“I promise, Pop.”

—-

At the time I swore I could keep such a promise. After all, it wasn’t a difficult one. But after a time, it seemed like with each passing day a little bit of Poppy’s memory slipped. Before long, I faced reality: I couldn’t take care of him any longer.

The first few days after leaving him in that place was hell. I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. But eventually I learned to live on my own in that big empty house that sat upon a pebble driveway. I learned to function like a normal human being – working during the day, visiting Poppy at night.

Money was tight and emotions were high, but I thought I was doing okay. Sure I was a few payments behind  on a bill or two, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I had already handled my worst nightmare. But when the bank sent notice that because of one  too many missed payment, they were foreclosing on the house.

I begged. I pleaded. And I borrowed for anyone who would lend me a dime. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to save me, to save the house, to save the only promise I ever made.

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A Promise Kept

Prompt: A promise made and/or broken.

A Promise Kept

My name is Lilac Dupree and I always keep my promises.

The man I want to kill barely spares me a glance as I pass him on the street. Violet laments the duration of our extended mourning period and bemoans the black crepes and silks that comprise our entire wardrobes. I’ve reminded her several times that it is only a matter of weeks until we can transition to half mourning when she’ll be able to wear some of her precious mauves again. She hardly cares.

No matter. Mourning attire suits my purposes just fine. People rarely pay any notice to a young woman bedecked in black from head to toe. Even the men keen to spot a well-turned ankle coming out of a carriage quickly avert their eyes when they see that ankle is covered by a black dress. Their eyes quickly pass over any pretty face obscured by a black bonnet or parasol. It helps, I think, that the black does little for my complexion beyond washing me out to a sickly pallor against my dark hair.

In mourning I am able to all but disappear. And I need to disappear if I want to exact my revenge.

The man I want to kill walks the city for most of the afternoon. I am grateful for the work boots I borrowed from Josiah and the way that they blend with the black of my skirt and petticoat. He won’t appreciate the strength of my need, or the absence of his boots, when he needs to muck out the stables. But I can hardly be blamed because Mother took the opportunity of transitioning the house into mourning to also transition my own sturdy boots into the trash. Mother claims young women of quality should always wear appropriate footwear. I would like to see Mother tromping around New York City’s cobblestones in her boots with their spool heels. At any rate I could hardly be expected to accomplish anything in such boots. Luckily Josiah is but eleven and has not yet hit his growth spurt. I only needed one extra pair of socks to make his boots fit.

If I didn’t know better I would say the man appears melancholy, morose even. I linger near a window when he walks into a corner pub. The sun is setting. It is the first time I have been out near dusk without a chaperone. I instructed Violet to tell mother I was dining with the Peabodys and staying with their daughter Olivia for the evening. I can only hope the two dollars I gave her with the promise of a new jet bead purse will help to make her a better liar.

My black dress blends into the shadows until I can scarcely tell where one stops and the other starts. Unfortunately it does little to help me blend in. Unattended women are not supposed to venture this far downtown, certainly not this close to the water. The anonymity I enjoyed in the bright afternoon light is quickly morphing into unwanted attention and lingering stares that make my skin crawl.

Just when I begin to question the wisdom of my outing, the man I want to kill exits the pub and passes entirely too close to where I am loitering near the entrance. His eyes are glassy with drink and I sag gratefully with relief when he passes me without a second glance. I lift my skirts to my ankles so that I can follow him more quickly down the street as he rushes through the intersection.

With only a rough idea of where I am in relation to the family brownstone, I can little afford to get lost tonight. I can worry more fully about how to get home after I exact my revenge. I quicken my pace again as the man begins moving east.

My father was murdered eleven months ago. He was a respected banker and much loved by his wife and his two daughters. Everyone says it is a tragedy—his life shot down far too soon. No one knows why anyone would have wanted to kill him. No one knows that I was on my way to meet Father when he was shot.

From across the street I watched the tableau unfold as Father raised his hands in the air before being pushed to the ground by the force of the bullet striking his chest. The street became a throng of people then, a mob of gawkers and Samaritans alike trying to get to Father while still others panicked and tried to run in the opposite direction.

My feet felt rooted to the spot as I watched a man taking in the scene. Our eyes met across the street before he began walking briskly through the mob.

No one stopped him. No one, I realized later, saw him. In that moment I promised myself that I would find him and I would get justice for my father.

I keep my eyes on his brown jacket now as he moves through the street. His red hair is easy to spot in the gloaming—a bright spot in the otherwise darkening night. It took months to find him, tracing his movements on that day eleven months ago by asking merchants in the area and other witnesses. I had despaired of ever finding him when I noticed him near the bank yesterday skulking from shop to shop looking for work or perhaps just gauging if anyone were tracking his movements. My vigilance was rewarded when I left the house early this morning and was able to follow him from the bank all the way downtown to here.

I stop abruptly at a corner to avoid barreling into the man. I’m not a fool. I know I cannot confront him in the middle of a crowded street. My hope, as he winds his way through the streets of the Bowery, is that I might find whatever rooming house he is calling home so that I might enter his room. I grasp my clutch in both hands. After I get him alone, Mother’s pearl handled revolver will do the rest.

It is full dark now. I can only hope we are near his destination. Already my attire is drawing stares amidst the poverty of this neighborhood. Women here have no money to spare for full mourning and women who can do not walk alone at night. I am drawing unwanted attention. The part of my mind not occupied with watching the man’s progress begins to worry how I will get home in one piece much less unnoticed.

The man rounds a corner and I follow quickly down an alley. The only light comes from a door that has been wedged open with a discarded brick. It is not enough to illuminate the man I have been following where he hides in the shadows. I walk into his hard chest before I realize what has happened. His hands clamp around my arms before I can think to back away. No one knows where I am or what I had planned today. Not even my little sister Violet. For the first time since I began my search, I realize I have been the worst kind of fool.

The man turns me so that we are both closer to the light. I am surprised when I see that his eyes are concerned and not at all glassy after his time in the pub. Instead his gaze is shrewd. His hold on me loosens when something like recognition passes across his face.

I waste no time reaching for my clutch. The effect is somewhat ruined by the way my hands shake as I pull Mother’s revolver out of my clutch. “You killed my father.” I raise the revolver until it points to his chest.

“We both know you aren’t going to shoot me, Miss Dupree.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I say as I fumble with the hammer on the back of the revolver. Much to my horror it catches on the lace of my glove. He stares at me a moment before he easily palms the revolver.

“I know many things about you, Miss Dupree. Including the fact that you placed yourself in great personal peril by following me today,” he says as he places the revolver into his jacket pocket.

I open my mouth to deliver a choice retort when a more pertinent question occurs to me. “How do you know my name?”

“Why do you think I killed your father?” he replies as he leans against one of the alley walls, eyeing me warily the entire time.

“I saw you there. You looked at me, calm as you please, before walking away. What else would you have been doing there?”

He clenches his jaw and stares at something just above my shoulder. “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that I had been hired to protect your father?”

“I’d say you did a miserable job of it for starters!” I reply indignantly.

“No one would argue that point,” he says with a shake of his head. He returns his focus to me. “My name is Cormac Breen. Your father had reason to believe his life was in danger and he hired me to provide some measure of protection.”

“I dare say you’ve been out of work for the better part of this year then,” I snap. “And I will need that revolver back, Mr. Breen. My mother will miss it.” I hold out my hand for the gun.

“You’ll get it back when I know you won’t try to shoot me again.”

“I thought you said we both knew I wouldn’t shoot you,” I reply caustically. “Changing your mind already, Mr. Breen?”

“Let’s just say I hadn’t heard about the elder Miss Dupree’s temper. As to the matter of my employ: Your father paid generously and I dislike failing. I have been conducting an investigation into your father’s shooting.”

“Wouldn’t that fall into the jurisdiction of the police department?”

“It would,” he says with a nod. “Which is why it’s fortunate that I was only moonlighting for your father.” He lifts the lapel of his jacket to show me a badge. “It’s actually Detective Breen, if you would be so kind, Miss Dupree,” he adds with a smile that is entirely too flattering to his overall countenance.

I do not smile back. “It would seem to me,” I say after a moment, “that between your so-called moonlighting and your official job with the police department that you might have found answers long before now.”

Detective Breen leans forward unexpectedly; close enough for me to see the green of his eyes and the ghost of stubble along his jaw. I take a careful step back as he says, “What would you say, Miss Dupree, if I told you that your father’s death is but the beginning of a conspiracy I am only now beginning to fully grasp?”

“My father was just a banker, Detective,” I say with a scoff as I wonder if Bellevue is missing one of its inmates.

“I assure you I am deadly serious, Miss Dupree. Your father was involved with something that got him killed. I intend to find out what.”

“And what does any of that have to do with me?”

He takes a step closer so that now I am the one against a wall. He has an excited gleam in his eye as he answers my question. “A police detective can only go so far in your family’s world. Particularly an Irish one. You, however, have no such barriers and have already proven yourself an adequate investigator. Since you are so keen to avenge your father and clearly have no regard for your personal welfare in the process, I may be persuaded to accept your assistance so that I can keep my eye on you and assure that another tragedy does not befall your family.”

I stare at him for a moment.

He takes my hand and places the revolver in it. “What do you say, Miss Dupree?” he asks as he holds his hand out to me.

I place the revolver into my clutch again before I reply. I already know my answer. I suppose I’ve known since Detective Breen told me what he was really doing. I suspect he knows as well.

“I promised myself I would find out what really happened to my father, Detective Breen. And I always keep my promises.”

We seal the bargain with a handshake before I can change my mind.

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Fried

Prompt: Write a story inspired by an image of your choice (found online).

summer-sidewalk-hot-enough-to-fry-egg_shutterstock_14073988

“I’m bored,” Callie whined as she folded a torn out magazine page into a fan. “It’s hot. Let’s go inside.”

“You’re always bored, Callie.” I replied absent-mindedly. It’s true, Callie is always bored. Always buzzing from one activity to the next, she has never followed through on anything. Except being my friend — best friend.

“Come on, Lizzie! Let’s do something fun!” She squeals from the lounge chair next to me.  I barely look up from my magazine. Something fun equals me getting in trouble.

“Want to jump in the pool?” I suggest. “We could play Marco Polo.”

“Marco Polo is lame with only two people.”

“We can play UNO.”

“Even lamer than Marco Polo.”

Exhausted from this conversation, I sigh. “Than what would you suggest? And don’t say watching TV.”

“Oh! I know! Let’s play mad science!”

I don’t like the sound of mad science. The last time I played one of Callie’s made up game, we ending up blowing the door of my microwave and breaking my mother’s favorite coffee mug. I was grounded for an entire month. Even worse than being grounded was the fact that I had to take all of my life savings to buy a new microwave.

“I’m not in the mood to blow up the microwave again.”

“We’ll think up a new science experiment! And I promise we won’t blow anything up.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Let’s play a joke on Simon!” She says enthusiastically. Simon, my older brother who’s home from college, hates to be bothered. From August to May he studies furiously. He’s been a straight A student since he came out of the womb. Or at least that’s what I’m told. However, any break or day off he sends furiously gaming.

“You know Simon doesn’t like to be bothered. Besides he’s in the middle of some big quest or something. Dork!”

“Come on Lizzie! Please!”

I don’t want to admit this to her, but playing mad science would be better than what we’re currently doing. She stares me, making that sad puppy dog face that she knows will sucker me into any one of her crazy ideas.

“Let’s play handball,” I suggest. I rule at handball. “My mom just bought me these purple tennis balls!”

“You know I don’t like handball. I have no hand eye coordination. And beside the last time we played you whacked the ball so hard it bounced off the garage door and whacked me smack in the nose. I had two black eyes thanks to you.”

“That was an accident. I still feel terrible about that. I promise I’ll go easy.”

She shakes her head. Callie has never been athletic. Her idea of organized sports is shopping at Macy’s on black Friday. It’s reasons like this that make Callie and I best friends. We’re complete opposites. The only thing we have in common is that we were once the new kids at school.

“What about extreme hop scotch,” I say enthusiastically. Extreme hop scotch was a game that Callie and I invented last summer. Instead of eight boxes we made our board with sixteen. And with each toss of the shooter we didn’t just jump – we created different ways to get to the end of the board. One of the ways was by slapping on a pair of old school roller skates and jumping to the end of the board. It was a good idea until I fell, hard and broke my ankle.

“Yeah, let’s play that again. Maybe this time I’ll break my ankle,” she says sarcastically.

I give up. I wave my white flag of surrender.

“Fine, let’s play made science,” I say. After all, I’m just as bored as she is.   “What’s the plan?”

“Mom was telling me about something her and Aunt Jeanie used to do when they were little,”

“You mean, younger. Both your mom and your Aunt Jeanie are short,” I say with a chuckle.

“Don’t get technical,” she huffs. “Anyways, they used to fry eggs on the sidewalk.”

“That’s impossible Callie. Not to mention a waste of a perfectly good egg!”

“You don’t even like eggs, so what do you care if it’s a waste.”

“It’s not that I don’t like them, I’m allergic.”

“Still, who cares. It’s only a few eggs.”

I don’t know why I give in so easily. “Fine, but we can’t use the eggs in the fridge.”

“Why not?”

“They’re old. Like super old. We were supposed to color them for easter. Instead they were shoved to the back and forgotten about. So, yeah. Rotten eggs on a hot day … yuck!”

“Let’s go to the store. Do you have any money?”

“No, but I know someone who does.”

“Who?” she asks.

“Simon. He leaves money in his pants pockets all the time. Mom hasn’t done laundry yet, so I bet we could scrounge up a few bucks. Maybe even enough for eggs and a slushy.”

We head inside and into the laundry room. At the top of the hamper I spy a few pairs of Simon’s shorts at the top. Score! I reach in and pull out a camo cargo pair. There are many pockets. The more pockets, the more bank. I reach my hand into the first pocket and find only pennies. In the back pocket I find lint and a partially ripped dollar bill.

When the cargo shorts proves fruitless, I move onto the pair of jean shorts. Three of the four pockets have used tissues. I’m thoroughly grossed out. The fourth pocket of the shorts, I reach in and find a ten-dollar bill.

“Victory! Ten bucks – enough for eggs, slushies, and then some.” I announce waving the money in front of Callie’s face.

We walk to the quick mart. The cool air circulating from the overhead vents blasts us as we walk in. The store isn’t the best – it’s kind of dirty, the customers are sketchy, and you have to check the expiration dates on everything – even the water. We wave at Tammy, the check out girl. She’s flipping through one of those books with the half-naked guys on the front cover.

“Hey girls,” she calls from the counter. “Cherry slushy machine is broken, only blue raspberry works.”

We nod in Tammy’s general direction as we make our way to the refrigerated section. We’re scanning the coolers looking for eggs. When we finally find them, we dig out a carton that isn’t expired or doesn’t contain any cracked eggs. We also get a jumbo sized blue raspberry slushy to share, a pack of strawberry pop rocks to pour into said slushy, as much junk food as the remaining five dollars can buy.

Once home, we stand on the sidewalk an egg in each hand.

“Do you think we should use some of that spray oil?”

“For what?” I ask.

“So it doesn’t stick.”

“You’re not going to actually eat this egg, are you?” I say with just a hint of disgust in my voice. She doesn’t answer me. I can see the gears turning in her head. She’s actually considering eating the egg. “Callie, you are not eating the egg. It’s disgusting! Do you know what kind of things happen on the sidewalk?! People’s dirty shoes trample all over it. There are bugs. Animals go to the bathroom on the sidewalk.”

“Okay, I won’t eat it.”

“So what do we do? Just crack the egg on the ground?!”

“Basically.”

We find the perfect spot of concrete – no shade with the hot full sun beating violently down on it. I press the palm of my had to the ground to see just how hot the ground is. Picking it up quickly, the ground feels as if it’s on fire. Squatting down side by side, Callie and I tap the hard white shell against the curb. When a think crack appears, we jam our fingers into the shell, and crack it wide open, and let the gooey egg drop. Standing we take a few steps back to make sure our shadows aren’t blocking the sun.  We stare. We wait. We stare and we wait.

Nothing happens. An army of ants consumes the egg. Before long, all there is a sea of tiny black wriggling insects.

“Well, that’s gross,” Callie says, disappointed.

“I don’t think the ground is hot enough. We need something that will conduct enough heat to get a sizzle.”

“Like what?”

“I know!” I say as I run into the house. “Foil! It’s the perfect conductor.”

With foil down, we crack some more eggs. And still  … nothing but ants.

“This is useless,” I say sitting on the drying grass of my front lawn. “I knew this wasn’t going to work,” I mutter to myself. Calling is still looking at the eggs hoping for the slightest simmer.

“I’ve got it! We need more heat!”

“Duh,” I exclaim.

“No, more than the ground and more than the foil. We need a car!” She runs over to Simon’s beat up Jetta. And before I can stop her, she is cracking an egg onto the car’s hood. I run over, intrigued to see if this is actually going to work. After a few seconds we hear a faint crack, pop, and fizzle.

“Callie, you’re a genius!”

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The Tree and the Bicycle

Prompt: Write a story inspired by an image of your choice (found online).

BE3k7BYCcAEvHGdThe Tree and the Bicycle

Everyone knew about the bicycle in the tree.

Local children measured their height against how far they were from it and their bravery by whether they could climb to it. Teenagers at the high school north of town passed along the superstition that touching the bicycle’s tire could bring good luck. The high school to the south believed touching the same tire would give you a broken heart that no love would ever mend.

There were other rumors, of course.

Mrs. Doyle claimed the bicycle belonged to her sister. That she left it chained to a tree before running away in the middle of the night to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. But everyone knew Mrs. Doyle’s sister ran away with a newspaperman with a nasty temper and a drinking habit to match. Everyone knew they eloped and died in a car crash before any kind of honeymoon.

Old Tom Button once suggested the bicycle was left by a boy before he went to join the army. That was too plausible to believe.

The only person who might really remember was Paula Putnam–the oldest woman in town. Busy with her wealth and whatever being ninety-nine might involve, Paula Putnam kept to herself. She did not visit anyone. She did not invite anyone into her mansion. The only time she was seen in town was every Founder’s Day. The pub had an ongoing pool for when Paula Putnam would finally die. Odds were recalculated and bets renewed once she made her appearance. Some people wondered if she would ever die.

Paula Putnam did not waste her breath on idle conversation. But every year at the Founder’s Day dinner she would tell anyone who would listen about waiting at the tree every night for five years to meet her sweetheart. He rode his bicycle over from the neighboring town–one hour each way, she said–just so he could gaze into her bright eyes and try to steal a kiss. For years he told Paula Putnam that he would marry her. For years Paula Putnam told him she was too young to marry anyone, especially a handsome young man with a fine bicycle and little more to his name beyond striking violet eyes.

But then the story got strange. Paula Putnam did get older eventually, as people are wont to do. Her bright eyes got sharper, her face thinner and suitors came calling from all around. But Paula Putnam’s thoughts stayed with the handsome young man and his fine bicycle.

Paula Putnam didn’t notice it at first. It’s hard, she always said, to notice changes in a person when you see them every day. But then Paula Putnam turned twenty-one and that called for parties and dinners and such that she couldn’t get away even for a moment to meet her sweetheart by the tree.

A week passed.

Paula Putnam saw her sweetheart one more time beneath that tree. She always said it wasn’t the same that final time. She always said that absence doesn’t always leave a heart aching although even those who never knew the full story understood that part for the lie it was.

Paula Putnam ended the story the same way each year late into the Founder’s Day dinner. With her walking away while her sweetheart watched from the tree. She looked back once, she said, and saw him there watching. The moonlight cut through the night in such a way that his brown hair seemed to glow red and even with an entire path between them, she saw the hurt in his unusual violet eyes.

Paula Putnam never saw her violet-eyed sweetheart again but the bicycle stayed there. Paula Putnam told the story as if the bicycle were a reminder of her beauty and her discriminating taste. Nothing more. She would not allow herself to consider what she knew she would never have again.

No one ever knew if Paula Putnam could be trusted. Most people thought she could not. Most people were certain her Founder’s Day story, as it came to be called, was just a story. A way for an aging woman to remember what it felt like to be beautiful and young with her entire life ahead of her.

If anyone did believe Paula Putnam’s story, no one admitted it.

Still, everyone wondered about the bicycle in the tree. For years and years they wondered. Like so many things that become a part of town tradition, the bicycle and the tree started to blend in until it was part of the larger backdrop of the town. Sometimes people would walk by the tree, look up, and remember the strange stories.

When Paula Putnam died the local paper published her story. People talked about it for a while. But nothing lasted forever; not rumors or stories and certainly not memories.

Eventually the tree and the bicycle were forgotten.

Gabriel Sullivan waited a very long time for people to forget.

Covering violet eyes or darkening brown hair to black were easy things in this modern age. It was harder, he found, to erase a previous century’s behaviors. It was harder to change a dialect more commonly associated with another time. Aside from which the colored contact lenses always made his eyes ache.

Gabriel was used to waiting. He had gone entire decades doing nothing else and would likely do so again. He waited for Paula Putnam to stop telling her story about her violet-eyed sweetheart with his fine bicycle. When it became obvious she would never stop, he waited instead for her to die.

It was an easy thing, waiting. Gabriel had nothing but time.

Many years ago Gabriel’s tutor told him once that legends rarely knew they would live forever in myth or song. They were just ordinary people, he had said, often leading ordinary lies. His tutor told Gabriel every subject of every legend was dead and gone long before their stories were told.

Back then Gabriel believed his tutor. It was a long time ago and Gabriel believed things much more readily.

Now he walked, a legend of sorts, through the town that had forgotten him.

If anyone had passed Gabriel they would have noticed the cut of his trousers was a bit sharper than most off-the-rack clothes found in the area. They might have thought his coat a bit out of fashion as he walked toward the cemetery, his hairstyle wrong. Odd. They may have wondered why he stared so intently at Paula Putnam’s tombstone. But it was raining and Gabriel was the only one outside. He preferred it that way.

Gabriel had needed to wait longer than he expected to make this trip. The carved name on the tombstone not nearly as sharp as he would have liked. He brushed moss away from the top corner while he said his goodbyes. He placed a ring box in front of the grave. She deserved more but he had nothing else to give.

He stopped, briefly, to stare up at his bicycle.

He remembered the night he left it chained to the tree. Remembered when the tree began to grow around it and pull the bicycle up off the ground. Gabriel had watched it often, from a distance, over the years. The same way he watched Paula Putnam

Staring at it now he remembered her. She was the prettiest girl in town, no one denied that, but she was also the smartest. She was the one Gabriel loved without quite knowing how much it would hurt. It would be many years before he learned to consider consequences so he courted Paula with wild abandon despite being eight years her senior–with flowers and late-night confessions, with stolen kisses that lasted long than would be deemed proper even now in this modern time when women wore trousers and skirts above their knees.

Gabriel had been so used to time working in his favor. It never occurred to him that a week apart would be his undoing.

Paula Putnam had been meeting Gabriel under that tree for five years when she turned twenty-one. Gabriel was used to watching for small changes so even before that night he noticed how Paula Putnam had aged and grown. He never realized until that night how Paula Putnam might notice some things as well.

Staring at him under the too-bright moonlight she saw his unlined face and its open admiration. She saw that he looked exactly as he had when they first met those five years ago. She asked him what it meant, of course. If he had laughed at it or shrugged her question away, things might have gone differently that night. Except he had no answers. He had no reassurances beyond his love and a ring she would never see.

Gabriel’s eyes stayed on the bicycle as he remembered the fear in Paula Putnam’s eyes as he tried to explain, to tell her it didn’t matter. Paula Putnam was the prettiest girl in town, no one denied that, but she was also the smartest. She knew better than Gabriel himself how much staying with him would cost. She knew letting him go would be nothing compared to getting older and watching his beautiful face stay exactly as it was.

Paula Putnam left him with his bicycle under the tree. Even with an entire path between them Gabriel knew her bright eyes were already turning away. He walked away too, leaving the bicycle behind–another reminder of what was lost to him.

Legends could last for lifetimes stacked one on top of each other. But memories only lasted as long as you let them. Gabriel, for all that it hurt, knew he would remember Paula Putnam for a very long while. But only when he wanted to because Gabriel had lived long enough to know when it was time to move ahead to new places and to new people as well.

Now was such a time.

Nodding once he turned his back on the tree and the bicycle and walked on, pulling his hat down against the thickening rain. Gabriel had seen a great many places and done a great many things. Now that he had said a proper goodbye to the girl he might have married and the life he might have had, he planned to do many more.

After all, Gabriel had time on his side.

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Little Women Stories is back!

After a long absence, Nicole and I have decided to resurrect Little Women Stories. We’ll both still be blogging at The Book Bandit’s Blog and Miss Print, respectively, but we want to also use this site to hone our creative writing.

Here’s how this new incarnation is going to work:

  • Nicole will pick the theme for the first half of the month.
  • Emma will pick the theme for the second half.
  • Emma’s stories will post on the first and third Mondays of the month.
  • Nicole’s will post on the second and fourth Mondays of the month.
  • We’ll explain the prompt in each story post.

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October Writing Prompt

The October writing prompt is:

“Something spooky story or a horror story and/or something Halloween related.”

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