Fiction: Driving Lessons

“Where’s Michael?” Ansley’s head bobbed like a cork in a bowl of water as she looked around. As he was short and social in a bar that was small and crowded, he’d been difficult to keep track of.

“I think I heard him tell someone he was leaving.” The girl to her left said then downed a shot of Fireball. A cheer went up from the three men around her, and Ansley rolled her eyes when she giggled.

“He’s too drunk to drive. Seriously? Nobody stopped him?” Ansley was talking to herself as she moved into the packed bodies, pushing between them, her beer spilling on random shirts. “Have you seen Michael?” She asked another person in the crowd.

“Yeah, I heard him telling Pete and Rodney he was leaving. There over by the door.” Jason pointed.

“Damn.” Ansley squeezed her way through to Pete. “Did Michael leave?”

“I think so. A few minutes ago.” Pete turned away. “Hey, who else wants shots? I’ve got five here.”

Ansley tugged on his sleeve. “You didn’t stop him? He was really drunk.”

“He’s a grown up, Ansley, just like the rest of us.” He passed out shots. “You want a shot?”

She set her beer down hard on the table. “No, I don’t want a shot. And the rest of you need to stop drinking soon or someone is going to get hurt.”

“You worry too much. This is fun. Everyone is fine and can get a cab if they need to.”  Pete shrugged at her. “Lighten up.” He raised his voice. “Hey, Sarah, I’m in on the next game! Let me know when it’s done. I got winner.” He left Ansley standing there.

She watched him make his way through the crowd, shot glasses held above his head. People laughed and weaved and drank. It was only 10:00 and over half the people there were too drunk to drive.

Ansley went outside to look for Michael. Not sure where he had parked, she did a visual scan and spotted his truck parked down the hill. She ran as fast as she could in her high-heeled boots and pencil skirt and cursed her own vanity. She heard an engine rev up and his yellow pick-up backed out of the parking space.

“No!” She yelled, still trying to run. The trucks brake lights came on for a minute then went back off as the truck pulled into traffic and disappeared around a corner. She stopped her awkward run, panting slightly and headed back inside the bar.

“Hey, you want a drink?” Natalie stood at the bar.

“No, I don’t want a drink.” She slid onto a seat and put her head in her hands.

Alex got up from a barstool. “I’ll get you a drink. What do you want?”

“A water. I’m leaving shortly. I can’t have any more to drink.”

“A water? Don’t be boring. At least have another beer. It’s early.”

“No, I’m tired and want to go home. Can I get a water?”

“Okay,” Alex held his hands up.

“That’s smart,” Natalie sat next to Ansley with her beer. “This should probably be my last one. I have to head home soon. I have to take Wes to a school thing first thing tomorrow.”

“Yuck. That sucks. Michael just left.”

“He drove?” Natalie looked at Ansley. “That kid takes too many chances. He does this all the time.”

“We never should have let him.”

“No, but look around you. Who’s going to stop him?”

“Good point.” I took a sip of my water.

“You sure you have to leave?” Alex said. “Let’s play one more game first.”

Ansley let herself get talked into the dice game that required shots but had one of the other guys do shots for her. Natalie left before she finally did at 1:00 am. Tired, wondering how she was going to stay awake, Ansley headed to her car. She passed an accident on her way and sent up a quick prayer of thanks as she always did that it wasn’t her in the wreck.

A mile from home, Ansley saw the police lights in her rear view mirror and pulled over.

“Ma’am?”

“Yes?” The flashlight hurt her tired eyes.

“May I see your license, insurance and registration?”

“Sure, but did I do something wrong?” She dug around in her wallet and pulled out her license and insurance.

“Did you know you have a rear light out?”

Ansley breathed a sigh of relief at this response and when she found her registration. “No, I didn’t.” She handed over all the documents and squinted to see the officer’s face behind the light. The female officer had sharp, blue eyes.

“Have you been drinking tonight?” The officer asked.

“No,” she lied.

“Okay.” She took a minute to examine her face before lowering the light and moving away.

A car appeared and hit something, braking with tires squealing. Her car rocked as something landed on it, leaving behind red streaks and cracks in her windshield. Everything froze: time, her brain, her body. There was a ringing in her ears.

As the world came back into focus, she heard voices yelling and sirens in the distance. Someone banged on her window, but she didn’t move. Ansley did not want to know what had happened outside her car. She was safe inside as long as she didn’t look too closely at the windshield or the people around her.

“Miss!” The banging on the window was becoming more urgent. “Miss! If you don’t answer, I’m going to break your window. Are you okay?”

Ansley turned her head and gave a stiff nod. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’m okay.”

“Good.” The man turned away from her and started shouting as an ambulance screamed into view and parked. “Over there.” He gestured wildly to the EMTs who were pulling out a stretcher.

Other cars screamed into view.

The EMTs took the stretcher past her car, and Ansley looked in her rearview mirror to see what they were doing. Curiosity overcame fear for a minute, but only for a minute, and she was sorry she’d looked. She jerked open her car door and vomited on the pavement.

Ansley wiped her mouth and closed herself back in the car.

“I’m okay,” she whispered.

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Fiction: He Loves Me Not

Moolight cast a romantic glow across the sand, the water, the man.

“Adam, where are we going?” I was half-walking, half-running beside him, carrying a pair of gold sandals in one hand. There was nowhere special on this stretch of beach, but he seemed to have a goal in mind. His gaze was serious and focused ahead.

I was a little out of breath as the humidity and awkward pace strangled the romance of the night and made it hard to breathe. It frizzed my hair as well, but I was trying not to think about that. No matter how great I may look at the beginning, it never lasted long: my make-up somehow disappeared; my hair flattened or frizzed; I’d get something on my clothes. Adam, on the other hand, always looked impeccable.

I had tried so hard tonight. My make-up had been perfect, dramatic eyes since they were my best feature; my hair straightened since I hadn’t known we were coming to the beach; my favorite jeans and fitted, turquoise sweater. But nature didn’t care how hard I’d tried; I only hoped Adam did.

He abruptly stopped walking, face me and took both my hands in his.  “I have to talk to you about something.”

I ignored the alarm bells going off in my head and allowed my heart to leap with hope. Finally, after three years of waiting, this was it.

“Yes?” I asked.

He cleared his throat, looking at the sand. I waited for him to get down on one knee.

“I’m in love with Maggie.”

The smile froze. The crashing of the waves amplified in my ears. I pulled away from him, backed up a few steps, tripped and fell. I started laughing.  “Right. Very funny.”

“I’m serious.”

He reached down to help me up, but I scuttled backward like a crab.

“But you don’t even like Maggie.” I stood on my own, backing even further away from him. Maggie, I thought, fucking Maggie.

“Well, I didn’t.” He looked away and put his hands in his pockets. The moonlight reflected brightly off his hair and chiseled jawline. “But we’ve been talking, going to lunch, and I’ve gotten to know her better. We actually have a lot in common.”

I felt nauseated and swiped at the sand on my butt to distract myself, focusing on my task as if getting every grain of sand off my hands was a matter of life and death. “You have a lot in common.”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re in love with her.” He’d never said those words to me, but I had been confident he felt them.

“Yes, I’m in love with her.”

“Okay.” I had nothing to say.  What could I say?

I turned away from him and started walking in the direction we had come from.

Lightning suddenly split the sky, and it started to rain. Perfect.

“Kallie, wait.”

I kept walking. Blocking him out. Blocking his voice out. Pain roared through me as his words sank in, making me want to double over to keep it from tearing me apart.

“Wait.” He grabbed my arm, the rain making it slick, easy to pull away and keep walking.

I wanted to stab him in the heart and push him into the ocean, make my pain disappear with his body.

“Wait.” He stood in front of me. I walked around him, staring straight ahead.

No, I wanted to kill her, make her disappear so he’d have to turn to me.

God, that was so pathetic.

“Kallie.” He was behind me now and hooked his arm around my waist, holding me in place.

I stopped, the tears unstoppable now and mingling with the rain on my face.

He held me close to his body, and I savored the feeling, hating myself, hating him, hating her, hurting so badly that I didn’t know what to do, wanting to get away from the pain.

“Kallie,” he whispered.

I slid through his arms to fall on my hands and knees, burying my fingers in the wet sand, looking for comfort.

He kneeled by my side. “I’m sorry.”

I snorted out a laugh and tipped my head up toward the rain, the cool water falling harder, soaking me, soaking him. I felt weak and tired and sad and hurt and angry. The emotion built on years of friendship, of loving him, of doing everything for him that he ever asked, of dreaming of a future, surged through my body; the hope I’d lived on washed away by his words, his pitying tone of voice, and replaced with shame.

I cut off my emotional circus and faced him, looking him in the eyes. “Really? You’re sorry? For what?”

“For hurting you.”

“Gotcha.” I looked away and pushed myself up.

“I want to love you, but I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.”

I walked blindly in the direction we had come from, or at least I hoped I was.

“I care about you, Kallie. I don’t want it to end this way.”

Why did he keep talking? I needed him to stop talking.

“I want to go home,” I stated.

He trailed behind me, now blessedly silent.

I kept walking and hoped frantically that his car would come into view. I didn’t think we’d walked that far. I finally spotted it – standing alone in the parking lot under a light, looking like salvation. I hurried up the hill, not going all the way to the steps but taking the more expedient hill, stumbling and falling, getting up and moving, dirt now plastering my wet pants and hands. I didn’t care.

He hesitated to let me in the car as I stood facing the passenger door, focused on it as if I could will it open. Why wasn’t he unlocking the car? Why was he just standing there? I couldn’t ask because my throat was tight with emotion, and I did not want to break down.

Maybe he didn’t want me to get his car because I was plastered with mud and dripping water. Tough. The lock clicked open. I glared at the hand that reached out to open the door for me and practically tore the door off the hinges opening it myself.

The beginnings of guilt-ridden explanations choked off and angry words held back hovered and swam in the car between us, but nothing was said.

An eternity passed and then my apartment building came into view.

I walked majestically, at least in my own mind, to the building, but, once out of sight, I leaned against the first wall I reached and sobbed, my body trying to shake itself apart. When the tsunami stopped, I stumbled to my own apartment, my own door, and privacy. I stripped off my clothes, curled into a ball, and held myself tightly in the dark.

Cold, shivering, holding every cell together with my arms and sheer willpower, I stayed that way through the dark hours. I was brittle with the pain which was too deep now to even cry. My head pounded, my throat was tight, and time became meaningless.

My swollen, tired, burning eyes noticed light filtering in the bedroom window. I forced myself up and into a warm shower. The warm water thawed everything, and I melted to the floor.

Crying.

Crushed.

He loves me.

Not.

Fiction: Boo

The open outer door revealed a short, stocky man in navy blue work coveralls on the stoop of my three-bedroom, two and a half bath pride and joy.  I pushed out the inner glass door to let him in and my heart jumped as Boo, my white Maltese, screamed like a woman.

My polite smile froze as I looked down at her.  I’d never heard such an eerie noise from any dog, much less my yappy lap dog.  She was staring at the stranger with the hair on her neck up, the screams stopping and starting, each one lasting a little less time than the previous.

My smile much less certain, I let the man in with Boo’s screams increasing again in volume and intensity.

“I’m so sorry,” I scooped Boo up in my arms.  “She’s never done this before. I’m not sure what’s wrong.”

“That’s okay, ma’am,” the drawn brows belied his words, “if you’ll just show me where your washing machine is I can get started.”

“Of course,” I tried to calm Boo as she continued to scream, more softly now, her eyes following the man’s movements.  I turned mid-stride.  “Oh, I’m Nadine.”  I held out my hand, and Boo growled low in his throat. My face grew warm, but, this time, I was able to keep my polite smile in place.

“Doug.”  We shook hands briefly before resuming our march down the hallway to the small closet at the back of the house that I generously referred to as my laundry room.

The man’s unsmiling demeanor was not helping to calm the nerves my dog was shredding with her bizarre behavior.

“Well, now, I’ll leave you to it,” I gave a short nod and retreated to the living room to keep watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But my mind was on Boo and her reaction, and I couldn’t focus on Buffy and friends killing vampires and other demons even though I usually mouthed the words along with it.

They say dogs have good instincts about people. What was up with this guy? Was he a serial killer? A rapist? What? Even now, Boo was quivering in my lap, eyes trained on the entrance to the living room.

She emitted a sharp bark.

“Ma’am?”

For the second time in a too short period, my heart jumped. If this continued I could well have a heart attack and die, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of death with Doug never laying a hand on me. Jesus, I needed to get a grip.

“Yes?” I made my voice as cheery as possible, looking him in the eyes to allay my guilt for suspecting him of being anything other than a perfectly nice man based on the behavior of a dog. My eyes fell on a red stain on his shirt. Was that blood? No, no, surely not. My smile slipped again before I quickly pasted it back in place and whipped my eyes back to his face.

“I finished, ma’am. It was just a loose tube in the back of the machine. I replaced the tube and the clamp which was corroded.”

I jumped up, ready to get him out of my house. “Great! How much is it?” I knew my voice was squeaky, but I couldn’t control it.

“It’s $75 for the visit, $25 for the clamp, and $45 for the hose so that’s $145.”

“Okay. Here you go.” Oh, god, maybe he was going to do something with my credit card information. Well, hell, he already knew where I lived. SHUT UP, brain! I knew I kept my smile in place this time and wondered if my eyes looked crazy.

“Just sign here.” He handed me the tiny clipboard he had been writing on, and I took it.

Scribbling my name, I handed it back. “Here you go.”

“Will there be anything else?”

Doug had not smiled once during this entire exchange and was directing all of his comments to my growling dog who was staring him down.

“No, that’s it!” I said and led him to the door.

He nodded and left.

“Thank you!” I called after him, hoping I wasn’t thanking a serial killer who would be back tonight to rape and kill me in my own bed. I couldn’t wait to close the door and lock the deadbolt. I had no weapons in the house, but I would just be sure to keep my phone by my bed tonight.

“Ma’am?”

Damn. I opened the door back up. “Yes?”

He was halfway to his truck and looked nervous. “I think I know why your dog is acting so strange.”

“You do?” I took a step back, ready to slam the door in his face.

“Yes, ma’am. My dog died this morning, and I live on a large property. I buried her this morning and realized a few minutes ago that I didn’t change my clothes after. I apologize if I upset you.”

“Oh,” I opened the door wider. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, ma’am. You have a good day.” And Doug, the washing machine repairman, got in his truck and drove away.

I stood in my doorway for a minute, feeling stunned and sad for a minute. Then I laughed. “I’m a silly goose,” I said to Boo, rubbing her head.

I locked the deadbolt on the inner and outer doors but didn’t call my best friend to tell her about the creepy repairman as I had planned. Because he wasn’t really creepy. It was just Boo’s reaction that got my imagination going. I shivered a little then went back to Buffy, finally able to concentrate again.

After dinner, I relaxed in a hot bath then wrapped myself in a robe to make some hot tea.

“What a lovely night, Boo,” I said, looking down at the little, white dog trotting by my side. He started growling, and I laughed. “What now?”

The doorbell rang. My heart jumped, and I put a hand to it as if it keep it in my chest. “Good lord, Boo, who could that be?” I looked through the peephole and stepped back. Doug stood on the other side of the door.

Open it. You’re being silly.

I opened the inner door, the outer door still closed and locked. A fake smile was pasted again on my face.

“Good evening, ma’am. Sorry to bother you, but I left an important tool here by the washing machine and I need it tomorrow for a call.”

“Oh. I’ll go get it,” I said.

“If I could just come in for a minute, ma’am. It’s heavy, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself trying to carry it.”

“Oh,” I said.

He was in here earlier. Don’t be silly.

I opened the outer door. Doug stepped in, pushing me back and shutting the door.

“I hate dogs,” he said.

My heart jumped.

“You know where you left your tool,” I said, turning to the side of him.

“Yes,” he said.

Boo barked and howled and yipped.

Doug smiled.

And my heart stopped.

 

 

Fiction: Loneliness

She looked at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, the mirror lined with pretty bottles filled with alcohol. She saw the long, narrow face with wrinkles around tired green eyes and full lips framed with frizzy, red hair. She supposed it had been a pretty face once, but now it looked old and tired. Looking around the room, she saw no one she knew and no one knew her.

The bartender walked over to her. “A margarita on the rocks, please,” she said, “with salt and an extra shot of Anejo.”

He walked away and came back a few minutes later to set the drink in front of her. “Do you want to start a tab?”

“Sure.” She passed over her credit card and took a sip. The drink was good, and she took a bigger swallow. The alcohol spread through her like a comforting friend, and she smiled. Not looking at her reflection, she didn’t see how the smile changed her face and brought out the beauty still there. The man at the other end of the bar noticed and moved over to sit beside her.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” she said back.

They drank together – her, her margarita, and him, his beer. They had another and another until it was late and the bar was closing. The hours of superficial conversation and alcohol were so they could leave together and have a semblance of a connection. It was a dance she knew well. They walked to the hotel they had determined they were both staying at across the street from the bar.

The sex was good, not the combustion of two bodies with great chemistry or the connection of two people in love, simply contact and comfort and release for a fleeting moment to feel alive and to not feel alone.

When she awoke, it was 6:00 am. The body beside her snored, and she squeezed her eyes shut. One tear rolled down her cheek and she brushed it away.

She got up, went into the bathroom, and stood under hot water. Coming out wrapped in a towel, she found the man sitting on the edge of the bed sliding his feet into loafers.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” she said back.

He stood and put his wallet in his pocket. He got his keys off the table and jangled them in his hand for a moment. Then he walked out the door, nodding her way as he went.

She gave a slight nod back and the door closed behind him.

After a minute, she got dressed, packed her bags, and followed.

At the airport, she boarded her plane and headed home.