Work On A Saturday

Who works on Saturdays?  Me apparently.  I unlock the door to the store and am immediately assaulted by the smell of new books and cinnamon rolls baking in the oven.

Reads & Eats is a book store and café.  Or a café that also sells books.  Depends on how you look at it.  My father opened the shop when he was in his late twenties.  He had never planned on being a shop owner but when he was laid off his construction job he decided to go down another path.  He took out a loan, bought an empty building downtown and spent the next year using his construction skills fixing it up, outside and in. When asked why he decided to turn it into a bookstore, he always said he hadn’t even realized that was what he planned to do until one day he started building shelves.  And so Reads & Eats was born.  Then one day a few months after he opened the shop, my mom wandered in looking for something new to read.  She left with two new books, a free cup of coffee, and a date for that coming Friday.

It’s a tale my dad loves to tell to any customer who will listen.  There are pictures of them up around the store – having coffee at a table in the café a few months after they got together, loading new books on to the shelves, standing outside the store on their wedding day, and a picture of the two of them holding me as a wee little baby, happy as could be.

My parents are my favorite love story.  As a kid, instead asking to hear stories of princes falling in love with fair maidens and defeating evil queens, I asked for stories about my parents.

Why can’t I find a love like that?

The jingling of the bell above the door announces my presence and Sarah, our café manager, sticks her head out of the kitchen.

“Isabelle!  What are you doing here on a Saturday?  It’s your day off.”

“I know, I know,” I say as I put my purse and jacket down behind the check-out counter. “I have nothing to do today so I figured I’d go through the new shipment in back for a while.  It’s a little unorganized.”

Sarah shook her head and made a clucking sound with her tongue.  “It’s a weekend!  You should be out having fun.”

“I had plenty of fun last weekend.”

“You take life much too seriously,” she makes another disapproving sound before disappearing back into the kitchen.

I sigh. “I know.”

I keep busy behind the registers until Joy, one of the assistant managers, arrives twenty minutes later to open the store.  After some polite chitchat, I retreat to the backroom.  I would much rather stay out on the sales floor, sit back in one of the arm chairs by the front window and enjoy one of Sarah’s cinnamon rolls, but the boxes really do have to be emptied and organized.

By the time I am done opening boxes and organizing the back stock it is well past noon.  My stomach growls in agreement with the time and I realize I had skipped both breakfast and lunch.

I dust myself off and steer the book cart I’d filled with new books out to the sales floor.  There are a few people milling around the stacks, and a table in the corner of the café is occupied.  The sight of people in the store always makes me smile.

“Done organizing?” Sarah asks when she sees me.

“Yes and now I’m starving.”

Sarah waves a hand at a table.  “Sit and I’ll bring you something for lunch.”

I do as she says and five minutes later I’m happily munching on a BLT and a bag of potato chips, and sipping a soda.

Thank god for Sarah, I think as I take another bite.  It’s not hard to make a sandwich but somehow she always makes simple things taste gourmet.

“You make that sandwich look really good,” says a voice beside me.

I look over and there is a guy standing beside my table.  A really hot guy.  He looks to be about my age or maybe a little older, green-eyed, scruffy, and tall.  And he’s carrying a bag of books from the store.  There’s nothing sexier than a reader… Except a reader who buys his books from Reads & Eats.

“It is really good,” I say. “It’s the best thing I’ve eaten all day.”  The only thing I’ve eat all day, but he doesn’t need to know that.

“Maybe I’ll have to get one,” he says. “I’m Dan, by the way.”  He holds out a hand.

I return the gesture. “Isabelle.”

Dan pulls out the chair across from me and sits down, dropping his bag on the table.  “What brings you to the bookstore today Isabelle?”

“I work here.”

“Here in the cafe?”

“Not exactly,” I casually take a sip of my soda. “I own this store.”

“You own Reads & Eats?” He’s visibly surprised.

I nod.

“For how long?” he asks.  “The last time I was here it was run by an older guy.  He told me he built the place himself.” Dan says. “He was nice.  Used to talk about how he met his wife here.”

Typical Dad.  I laugh. “That’s my father.  And I don’t think there are any customers who have ever managed to get in and out of this place without hearing a story.”

“Your dad?  So that’s you?  The baby in the pictures around the store?”

I feel my cheeks redden and I nod. “Me in all my glory.  When I was younger he used to use me as a prop for his stories.” I push my plate to the side.  “He still tells the tale even now that he no longer runs this place.”

Dan chuckles. “Well I didn’t mind.  I was just killing time when I stopped in here for the first time.  After that I stopped by every time I was in town.  This place just feels so,” he searches for a word, “cozy.  Comforting.”

The store is cozy, and has always had the feel of someone’s home and not a business.  The walls, though they can barely be seen behind all the book shelves, are light green and the floor grey carpet.  There are floor-to-ceiling shelves on every wall, and more standing here and there in the middle of the shop, comfy arm chairs and low benches hidden among them for flipping through a book or magazine.  The left side of the shop opens up into the café, with its brown walls, tiled floors and bistro styled tables.  The whole shop is decoratively cluttered, framed pictures and paintings hang on every available space, and the wall behind the café cash register is a painted mural of the Reads & Eats storefront.

I beam at his words. “Thank you.” I want to leap over the table and kiss him.  I’m proud of Reads the way a mother is proud of her child.  Technically the store isn’t my child so much as an older sibling, but still.  “So when was the last time you were here?”

“Oh, it’s been years,” Dan says. “I was 18 then and my girlfriend, now my ex, lives around here.  I was waiting for her to get out of work and thought I would browse around.  It kind of became a regular thing that year.  I’d stop in and get a coffee, maybe buy a book or two.  But I haven’t been back here since.”

“Why did you stop coming?” I ask.  “Bad break up?”

My teasing tone brings a smirk to Dan’s face. “Not exactly.  I went away to college.  After my freshman year I leased an apartment and moved up there permanently.  Ultimately, that’s what killed our relationship, though I don’t think we ever had a real chance.”

“So are you moving back here now that you’re done with school?”  The more I talk with him the more I’m sure he’s a few years older.  None of the guys I know are this mature.

“I am done, but I’m not here to stay.  I’m,” he pauses, “I’m just here for a little while.”

“Doing some visiting?”

“Sort of.” He looks down at the table. “My mother died last month.  So I’m here to keep my old man company.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry,” Impulsively I place my hand on top of his and then remember that we are still practically strangers and wrap it back around my cup. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

He smiles sadly at me, “Thank you.”

Our table is silent and I feel guilty about the frown on Dan’s face. “You know what you need?” I stand up. “You need one of Sarah’s cinnamon rolls. Wait right there.”

After a moment I come back out of the kitchen balancing a plate and two steaming cups of coffee.

When I set the plate down on the table in front of Dan he inhales blissfully.  “Those,” he says, “smell awesome.”

“And they taste even better,” I say with a smile. I hand him a fork and dig into my roll. “When I was a kid there was nothing that made me happier than one of these cinnamon rolls.” I lick a glob of frosting off my thumb.  “Nothing ever seems quite as bad once you’ve had one.”

Dan’s smile is back and we eat our rolls in a happy silence.  I’m glad I haven’t ruined his mood.  When I’m done I lean back and sip my coffee, watching Dan savor the last few bites of his cinnamon roll.

“That,” Dan says with a sigh, “was delicious.” He smiles brightly at me.

I smile back and try to ignore what the sight of his perfectly straight white teeth is doing to my tummy. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“I did.  And I’m happy I stopped in here today.”

“Good.  Good.” I get up from the table. “I’ll leave you to the rest of your coffee.”

I get a few steps away when he calls out my name.  I turn around.

“It was really nice to meet you,” Dan says.  “Maybe I’ll see you around.”

I smile wide and turn to leave.  Coming to work on a Saturday was the best idea I’ve had in a while.

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Burgundy Carpet

I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was following me.

I was wishing I’d brought a thicker jacket with me as I hurried back to my dorm from the library, hugging my books to my chest.  I could hear the faint bass of dance music and drunken laughter coming from the other buildings on campus.  It was a Friday night and I spent all of it studying.  But if I didn’t ace my calculus exam the following Monday I would probably end up having to re-take the class next semester.  And the last thing I wanted was another semester of math.

A leaf crunched somewhere behind me and I had to suppress the urge to run.  A quick perusal of the walkway behind me confirmed that my jitters were unnecessary – the path was empty.  I scolded myself for being so jumpy.  The wind could have easily scraped the leaf across the walkway.  I chalked it up to my nerves over my test and the late hour.  I needed to sleep.  I had literally spent the entire day holed up in the library.  I picked up my pace and before I knew it my dorm building loomed up ahead of me.

I pushed open the door to the lobby and sighed a breath of relief.  I had made it back to my dorm in one piece; my paranoia had been for nothing.  But as I moved to take a step towards the stairs an arm wrapped around my waist and suddenly there was a white cloth pressed to my face.

Chloroform.  I struggled to keep my eyes open and then my world went black.

_

My shoulders ached.  That was the first thing that registered when I woke up.  The events of the night came back to me and I shivered with fear.  My heart pounded mercilessly against my ribs and my cheeks were wet with tears.  My mind was still fuzzy, and my body and head felt heavy.  I couldn’t even tell if I was laying down or sitting.

I took a few shaky breaths to gain composure.  I needed to calm down.  I opened my eyes, squinting against the bright light of the lamp above me.  I was laying on a carpeted floor in a room somewhere, hands bound behind my back.  My cheek itched from where it’d been rubbed against the rug.  I pushed myself up on to my knees with difficulty before looking around.  The room had two windows, both with shades closed tight, a couch and a TV, and a kitchen area, lights dimmed.  There were three shut doors, two behind me and one directly across from me that I was sure led to a bedroom.  Have I been here before?  I tried to shake my still foggy brain into focus.  I looked down.  There was something about the carpet.  It was burgundy.  And scratchy.  Old and burgundy and scratchy and ugly, just like the one I used to sit on at … at Johns.  Oh God.  My head shot back up, my gaze finding the fridge in the kitchen and the pictures scotch taped to its front.  A picture of a girl sitting Indian style on a rug, this rug.  A picture of me.  No.  My chest was tight, I couldn’t breathe.  Please no.  I squeezed my eyes shut tight.  I couldn’t look at that familiar burgundy anymore.

The door to the bedroom creaked open and heavy footfalls came toward me.  I kept my eyes shut.  I didn’t need to see who it is, didn’t want to see.  Strong hands gripped my arms and pulled me up on to my feet.

“You’ll never leave me again, Baby Girl.”

Seaside Goodbye (Part 3)

*Continuation of Seaside Goodbye (Part 1)  and Seaside Goodbye (Part 2)

The narrow staircase near the master bedroom led up, up, up to an old wooden door.  It opened onto the roof to reveal a small railed off deck that overlooked the ocean.

Up until a few years ago the widows walk was in disrepair, but Carlos had it fixed up as a surprise.  Whether the surprise was for Grammy or for me, he never said, but I’m fairly certain no one uses the walk except me.

I stepped up onto the wooden surface and shut the door behind me.  I couldn’t count how many times I had disappeared up here.  It was my escape.  My hideout.  I sighed and walked up to the rail.  The view up there really was spectacular.  They say sailor’s wives would stand on these decks and scan the horizons, hoping to see their love sailing home.

I worked on calming myself down.  I closed my eyes and concentrated on the feel of the sun on my skin, the breeze in my hair, the smell of the sea.

“Never would have pegged you for the type who ran away from her problems.  But I guess I don’t really know much about you, do I sis?”

I turned to see Althea leaning against the closed door.  Her arms were crossed, her body tense.

“Everyone’s worried about you down there you know.  Freaking out,” Althea continued, “because Grammy’s precious bambino is upset.”

Subconsciously I mimicked her body language, my arms crossing over my chest on their own accord.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you sounded just a tad bit bitter, little sister.”

“You shut up,” she hissed.

“Go back downstairs with our mother.”  I turned my back to her.

“Don’t just dismiss me,” she said behind me.  “You think you’re so special, don’t you?”  I felt her step closer to me.  “Everyone’s favorite little girl.  It’s no wonder though, with that perfect little attitude of yours.  So cheery and smart and just so damned cute.”  She yanked on one of my curls.

“Hey!”  I slapped her hand away.  “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m so sick of your fucking superior attitude.  You’re not better than me.  I’m my own person!  And I will not,” her fists clenched, “just be a mini version of you.  I am so sick of constantly being compared to your flawless self.  I don’t need to be anything like you.”

I looked at my sister.  Once again I marveled at all her anger.  Where was all this coming from?  I had a flash of a giggly little girl, full of life.  That was a long time ago, but still.  My little sister was a stranger to me now.  An angry stranger who seemed to blame me for whatever problems she thought her life had.

“Is that what you think?”  I asked.  “That I’m prefect and everyone’s favorite and you have to be just like me?  Who ever said anything about you having to be like me?”

“It’s what they think.  Mom, Grammy,” she paused, “even Dad thought that way.  He loved you best.  Everyone loves you best.”  Angry tears were squeezing from her eyes, her voice steely.  “You’re their perfect Iuliana.”

“Bullshit.  Don’t blame me for the way people treat you.  Maybe if you smiled once in a while and stopped scowling, people would actually enjoy your company.”  Now I was angry.  “And don’t you dare say Dad didn’t love you.  Or that he preferred me over you.  That’s bullshit Althea.”  I jabbed my finger at her.  “You were the one who never wanted to come to lunch with us.  You never wanted to stay over or answer his calls.  You never wanted anything to do with him!”  Tears were welling up in my eyes.  “You broke his heart every day.”

She looked away, arms still crossed.

I wiped my tears away and turned toward the ocean, trying to compose myself.  Althea could never justify the way she treated our father, but I never knew she felt second best.  That was an awful thing to feel.  And I felt sorry for her.

I turned back around.  “Althea -”

But the deck was empty.  Below me I heard the deck door slam shut and I watched as Althea made her way through the grass down to the beach.  I watched until her retreating figure disappeared and then went back downstairs to join the family, and say goodbye to my father.

Paper Plane

I want to right my wrongs.  I want to fix things.  I broke them and now I’m trying to put the pieces back.

The plane ride is smooth.  The flight feels effort less.  Like the metal body of the plane is weightless. We weren’t traveling in a machine, using power to get from point A to B, we were being carried by the air.  I couldn’t help but picture those paper airplanes you make as a child.  A white paper plane wafting through the air on a sunny summer afternoon.

I go over everything I want to say.  Every apology I need to make.  Some I already wrote in the message I sent you, but there’s more, so much more to be said.

The airport is busy.  The plane empties and its temporary inhabitants clamor to grab their suitcases from the baggage return.  Families, reunited, hug and laugh. People are greeting each other, and group by group leaving together.  I sit down.  There is no one here I recognize.  But I’m sure that there will be soon.  I’m sure you’ll come.  So I wait.

The Emerald Strike

Sharp, angry knocks resounded through my sparsely furnished apartment and I groaned, burying my head under my pillow.  I ignored them in the hope that whoever it was would get the hint and disappear in a timely manner.  Who was pounding on my door at this time anyway?  The knocking ceased and I relaxed into my lumpy mattress.  Just then a deafening crash boomed through my place as the door slammed back against the wall.  I scrambled out of bedroom and came face to face with my landlord.

Frankie Artworth was not the type of guy you would want to meet in a dark alley.  He was a believer in the death penalty, an ex-linebacker, and probably an ex-convict of some kind.  He just had that look to him.

As I took in the sight of him in my apartment, I was filled with dread.  This was not good.  Frankie’s face was bright red, and a vein throbbed dangerously in his neck as he eyed me wildly.

“Where’s my rent money Gerry?”

I swore silently to myself.  That was due again already?  “I’ll get you the money, Frankie, I swea-”

I was cut off as Frankie’s hand wrapped around the neck of my shirt and pulled me forward until I was very well acquainted with his face.

“That’s what you said last month, and the month before!” He roared as his grip on my shirt tightened.

“I just need a few more days!” I begged.  “Honestly, Frankie, I’ll have it.”

He snorted disgustedly and tossed me down to the floor, like I wasn’t even worth the effort of threatening.  Frankie towered over me, glaring as he shoved his index finger in my face menacingly.

“I want you out of my building in twelve hours.  Don’t make me drag you by your shirt Gerry.”

He stalked out of my apartment and my broken door slammed awkwardly into the doorframe as he shut it angrily in his wake.

I stared at my slightly askew door for what felt like hours before it hit me: I was just evicted.  I had twelve hours to pack up what little crap I had and leave.  I sunk down onto my moth eaten couch and held my head in my hands.  My life was a mess.  I was a thirty year-old loser with no family, no job and now nowhere to live.  Unless I could come up with the three thousand I owed Frankie in the next twelve hours… Yeah, I was screwed.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t alone until she cleared her throat.  I looked up to see my girlfriend Crystal standing in the doorway.  An impatient look marred her pretty face.

“Crystal?”  I hadn’t seen her in a few days.  Or was it a week now?  “Where have you been?”

“I just came to give this back to you.” A key bounced onto the cushion beside me.

I held it up.  “Why are you giving me back your key?  What’s going on here?”

“You really don’t listen to anything I say, do you?” She scowled. “I’m done with this Gerry!  I don’t want to live in this dirty, crappy apartment with you.  I’m leaving, and I’m taking the car with me.”

She gave me one last disgusted look before she turned and abruptly disappeared down the hall outside my door.

I picked up the worn silver key Crystal had thrown at me.  She left me.  And now I’m a loser with no car as well.  At least things couldn’t get any worse.

“She’s hot, that one.  I’d ask if she was your girlfriend, but from the end of that conversations I’d say she’s an ex now.”

My head snapped up at the gruff voice coming from my doorway.  I groaned internally.  Two beefy guys stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking any way in or out of my apartment.  In front of them stood Scott, the guy I gambled with almost every weekend.  Physically, Scott was nothing to be afraid of, but the two body guards he traveled with were.

Scott sauntered into the room, the two beefcakes following him.  “You know, I like you Gerry, I really do.  But you have to understand,” he said, stopping in front of me, “that it’s just good business.”

He snapped his fingers and I was violently hauled off the couch by beefcake number one.  It happened too fast to react.  I was on the floor and steel tipped shoes were coming in contact with my ribs, my back and stomach over and over, while a fist covered in blood, probably my own, pounded into my face repeatedly.  All I could comprehend was the pain.  There was so much pain.

“Make sure you come by with my money sometime this week, yeah?” I heard Scott call out as they walked out of my apartment.  “It’s been lovely, Gerry.”

I don’t know how long I laid there in the middle of my floor, blood from my nose pooled on the floor and gasps for air filling the space around me.  I felt like I was dying.  Then there were hands helping me up, hands that carried and dragged me to the couch, hands that held a cold wash cloth to my face and an icepack to my ribs.

Had Crystal come back?  I cracked open a swollen eye.  There was a pair of neon green eyes staring back.  The sight was enough to shock me into a sitting position, and I ignored the pain in my body as I took in the man in front of me.

He was at least 50 years old, with age lines and white hair that was a stark contrast to his tanned skin.  The man was dressed in a faded… a faded… well, the only thing that came to mind was, a faded superhero costume.

______

“So wait, wait, wait. Hold on, you’re saying that you’re the Emerald Strike?”  I was propped up on my couch, an icepack to my ribs, and a tissue to my nose to stop the bleeding.  “The superhero I made up as a boy?”

The man stood up straight and placed his fists on his hips.  “That is true, son.  I am the Emerald Strike!  Where there’s crime, my strike of justice will not be far behind!”

Insane.  This man was insane.  Maybe he had escaped from some sort of psych ward.  Granted, his costume was close to what the Emerald Strike used to wear in my childhood sketches – dark green tights under a black, bullet-proof leotard, tall black leather combat boots, and an emerald colored cape with a lightning bolt down the middle – but that just made things even crazier. How had he found my old drawings?  How did he find me?

“I’m here to help you Gerry,” the man said.

“Help me?”  I looked at him.  “I don’t think I’m the one who needs help in this room.”

“You need my help now more than ever.  Let’s get you your life back.”

______

Startled, I sat up on the couch.  The room around me was empty, my door was back on its hinges, and my ribs weren’t throbbing.  I was about to thank my lucky stars that it was all a dream, when the old man came sweeping through the kitchen doorway, carrying a tray of food and a steaming cup of coffee.

“Are you hungry?  I made you some breakfast.”

I groaned and laid back down on the couch.  This could not seriously be happening.  This old man could not seriously be in my house.  He could not seriously think he was really a superhero, let alone the very superhero I made up as a kid.  This was not seriously happening.

“So, Gerry, I think we should get to know each other again.  It’s been a long time.”  He set the tray on the coffee table, and then the couch dipped as he sat down beside me.  “You know me just as the Emerald Strike,” he said, “but you can call me Albert.  Albert Walters.”

I just looked at him.  “Who are you?  What the hell are you doing here?”

I just told you.  My name is Albert and I’m here to help you.”

“Help me with what?”

“Help you get a job.  Help you keep your apartment, even though it’s sort of crappy… Help you pay your gambling debt and get Crystal back.  It’s a lot for one person to tackle.”  Albert stopped and smiled at me.  “But I’ve always got your back Gerry.  Let’s strike while there’s still time!”

The above is one of my discovered works, a story I started for my creative writing class.
One morning Gerry woke up in his apartment from a knocking on his door. It was his landlord, who told him he was evicting him and why. After the landlord left, a couple tough-looking men came in, beat him up, and told him he would be missing a finger if he didn’t pay money he owed from gambling. Then his girlfriend came to return his apartment key. He hadn’t had time to realize she had left him. Last, an elderly man in faded spandex appeared at his door, claiming to be a superhero Gerry had created when he was thirteen, and had come to rescue him from his difficulties.

 

Wasted Youth

Leia hummed as she got out of her car.  She was in a good mood.  She had just worked an eight-hour shift at the bookstore one town over and now had a bag of new books sitting in her backseat.  The job at the Baker Books was her favorite – she loathed cashiering at the local grocery store.  Leia skipped happily up the front steps of the Stone residence, excited to hear about Eowyn’s doctor’s appointment.

Leia sang softly as she unlocked her best friend’s front door, some upbeat pop song from the radio stuck in her head.  “Eowyn!” She called out as she stepped inside.

Leia was greeted with silence.  She shook her head and closed the front door behind her.  The lazy girl had probably gone back to bed, or was trying to take a quick shower before Leia got there.

She took the familiar steps quickly and knocked on Eowyn’s door three times before swinging it open.  It swung halfway before it thumped against something.

“Oh!” She jumped as the door bounced back toward her.  She squeezed through the small gap and peaked around the door.  Leia gasped.

Eowyn sat slumped against the wall behind the door, dressed in a pair of loose sweatpants and a bright-colored tee that hung loosely over her slightly swollen belly.  Her honey brown hair was in disarray, down around her shoulders.  Her wispy bangs fell into her brown eyes, whose green flecks would glint in the light like emeralds.  Eyes that were wide open, their empty gaze on fixed on Leia.

Leia reached down and touched a shaky hand to Eowyn’s face.  Her hand jerked away when her fingertips met cold skin.   A broken sob left Leia’s throat as she turned and ran from the room.

______

Leia sat huddled in a blanket in the lobby of the police station.  She had called 911 after she fled from Eowyn’s room and watched as the police studied the scene and as Eowyn’s body was taken away.  She had been questioned relentlessly by the police.  How could they get in touch with Miss Stones family?  Did you see anything out of place?  Is there anything missing?   She was taken back to the station from the scene.  Leia had no idea how long she had been there.  She vaguely remembered being told her mom would be there as soon as possible, and that her dad hadn’t been able to get away from work.

“Miss?” the young officer who had gotten her the blanket was standing in front of her.  “Could you come with me?”

Leia nodded mutely and followed him through the hallways until he opened a door for her and ushered her inside.  The room was small and held only a table and two chairs, one of which was occupied by an older officer whose hair was beginning to gray.

She sat down wordlessly and pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders.  The officer in front of her was giving his condolences, asking if she wanted something to drink.  His name-tag said Officer Mack.

“Miss Valenti, could you please tell me the nature of your relationship with Miss Stone?”

“She was my best friend.”

“Could you please tell me what happened when you arrived at the Stone residence today?  From the beginning.”

Leia nodded and took a steadying breath, clutching the blanket even tighter.  She looked down at the scratched metal surface of the table as she spoke.  “I went straight to Eowyn’s after work.  She had wanted me to come over after my shift so she could tell me something.  Since she was expecting me, I let myself in when I got there.”

“You told the officers on scene that you have a key to the Stone residence, is that correct?” Officer Mack interrupted.

Leia nodded.  “I’ve had one forever.  Eowyn and her mother Sarah are practically fam – family.”  Tears welled up in her eyes and Officer Mack gave her a sympathetic smile.  She continued shakily. “I called her name and when no one answered I figured she was asleep or something and went upstairs to her room.”  Leia paused, her voice falling to a whisper.  “I went to open the door but it h – hit something.  When I stepped around it I sa–” Leia closed her eyes. “I saw her.  Her eyes were still open and when I touched her she was so cold.”  She wiped away the tears that squeezed their way from under her lids. “That’s when I went downstairs and called 911.”

Officer Mack slid a box of tissue towards her.  “Why didn’t you stay upstairs?”

“I – I couldn’t,” Leia said softly. “I felt so bad leaving her alone but I just couldn’t.”

The officer nodded.  After twenty years of being a cop it was still hard for him to be around death.  “Did you touch anything in the room?”

“No.”

“Did you notice anything different about it?”

Leia shook her head.

“Nothing seemed strange or off about the room?  You didn’t find anything odd about it?”

“I overheard one of the officers asking if anyone found a cellphone.  I guess that’s odd,” she said.  “Eowyn always had her phone with her.”

Officer Mack nodded and made a note is his notebook.  “Were you aware that Miss Stone was pregnant?”

Leia nodded gravely.  “Yes.”

“Do you know who the father was?”

“Her boyfriend, Adam.  Adam Ross.  Oh, God.”  Leia gasped. “Does he know?”

“Yes.  We’ve spoken with him,” Officer Mack said.  “How were Miss Stone and Mr. Ross getting along?”

“They got along just fine.”

“How did he feel about the baby?”

Leia looked questioningly at Officer Mack before answering.  “It was a bit of a shock for him at first, but I mean, it was a shock to me too.  A shock for all of us.” she said. “It wasn’t what either of them wanted, but he was coming around.”

“Are you sure about that?”

She narrowed her eyes at his tone.  “Yes.”

“A young man like Adam has a bright future ahead of him.  Got accepted to Harvard didn’t he?

“Yes, but –”

“Where does a child work into that future?”

Leia’s mouth hardened into a thin line.  “What are you saying officer?”

“I’m saying that we are holding Adam Ross as a suspect for the murder of Eowyn Stone.”

Leia gasped.  “You can’t be serious!  What evidence do you even have?”

“Forensic evidence and there’s no one to back up his alibi.  Plenty to hold him here.”

Leia shook her head.  “Adam would never kill someone,” she stated firmly.

Officer Mack shrugged and stood up from the table.  “That remains to be seen Miss Valenti.”  He moved to the door and held it open for her.

“You’re wrong,” Leia said softly as she passed him.  “Completely wrong.”

______

When Leia’s mother Emily collected her from the police station her eyes just as red and wet as her daughters.

Leia couldn’t sleep.  In the morning her eyes were red and swollen and she had dark bags under them.  When she went downstairs to join her parents for breakfast, her mother, to Leia’s relief, immediately called the school to inform them her daughter would not be coming to class for the rest of the week.

The only time Leia left the house that day was to visit Adam.  She knew being allowed to see him was a long shot but she had to try anyways.  Luckily the nice, young police officer she had met the day before (whose name was Officer Pires) was there and he agreed to let her see him.  He led her to the room she had been questioned in the day before and told her to wait.

A few minutes later Officer Pires came back with Adam.  “I’ll be right outside this door.  You have five minutes.”

As soon as the door shut Adam pulled her into a hug.  “Leia.”

“How are you doing in here?”  She asked him, though the answer was pretty obvious.  Adam was pale, his clothes wrinkled from having slept in them.  His eyes were red rimmed and he had deep bags under them.  He looked horrible.

Adam shrugged.  “I’m great,” he said sarcastically.  But more seriously he added, “I’m just trying to stay together.  I don’t want to fall apart in here, you know? But,” his voice broke, “God, I can’t believe she’s gone.”  He moved to one of the empty chairs and collapsed into it.  “They think I killed her.”

Leia sat down next to him.  “I know.”

“I just – I can’t believe it.  How could anyone think that I would ever hurt her?  Kill her? Kill m – my child?”  Adam hung his head.  “I could never.”

She put her hand on his arm and gave a reassuring squeeze.  “I know you didn’t do it,” Leia said softly.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

When Leia left the station a few minutes later she was determined to prove Adam was innocent and to find the bastard that had killed her best friend and god child.

______

“I need your help.”

Leia had never been the type of person that asked for help.  Her mother always told her she was too stubborn for her own good.  But trying to find a murderer was more than Leia could do on her own.  By the time she came to this conclusion it was well into the early hours in the morning, but she didn’t notice.

“Leia?” A deep voice thick with sleep asked.

“Dex,” Leia sobbed, “I need your help.”

Growing up, her cousin Dex had always had a knack for finding things out.  It was impossible to keep a secret from him.  Though he co-owned and helped his father run their family hardware store, Dex did “detective work” on the side.  He called it his fun money.

Dex sat up in his bed.  “Leia, talk to me.  Is this about Eowyn?”  He hated the heart wrenching sobs Leia was making.

“Yes.”

Though he was a good seven years older than his cousin they had always been close.  Family was important to Dex and right now his cousin needed him.

“I’ll be there in the afternoon.”

______

When Dex pulled into the Valenti’s driveway, Leia was huddle on the front steps, chin resting on her knees.

She lifted a tear-stained face when Dex walked towards her.  Wordlessly, they met in the middle and Dex wrapped his arms around the younger Valenti.

“Tell me everything.”

And she did.  She told Dex the same story she gave the police, only adding in the recent activity.  “I know Adam didn’t kill her, he couldn’t have.  I don’t know what “forensic evidence” the police think they have, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough to hold him there on its own,” Leia said.  “These small town police are grasping at straws.”

“So who do you think did it,” Dex asked, looking up from the list Leia had given him.  He had asked her to write down all of Eowyn and Adam’s friends and family.

Leia’s shoulders slumped.  “I don’t know.  Who would want to kill Eowyn?  You knew her.  She was always so sweet.  And with a baby coming…”

He squeezed his cousin’s hand.  “We’ll find out, okay?  Now let’s go talk to this,” he looked at the list, “Victoria person.”

“I’m coming with you?”

“Of course,” He stood.  “You can be my beautiful sidekick.”

______

Victoria Fry was a bitch.  But she was also Adam’s best friend.  She lived near the middle school in the “upscale” part of town.  The whole town was pretty nice, but the houses near the school were doubled in size and their owners twice as snobby.

Dex had instructed Leia to ring the bell to the Fry residence alone and she wished he were there beside her as she rang the doorbell.

Tori was not glad to see Leia on her front steps.  “Oh God.  Why are you here?”

“I – uh,” Leia fidgeted under Tori’s glare.  “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Talk to me?  What on earth could I possibly have to say to yo – Oh!  Hello.”

Dex had walked up behind Leia, and was standing on the front stoop with his hands casually stuffed in his pockets.  He flashed Victoria a boyish grin that made his dimples stand out.  “Hello to you too.”

Leia had always been annoyed with Dex’s good looks and his tendency to flirt his way through everything, but now she was grateful.

“Can I help you?”  Victoria had stood up straighter and put her charmer smile on.

Dex stepped closer to me.  “Just came along with my cousin.”

Tori’s smile faltered only a moment.  “Well come in, both of you.”  She ushered them inside.  “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“Well, Eowyn actually.”

Not even Dex’s presence could stop the ugly sneer that came over Victoria’s face.  “Eowyn?  Why the fuck would I want to talk about that little slut?”

“She’s not a slut,” Leia grit out.

“Oh?  She’s pregnant isn’t she?  That screams ‘slut’ to me.” Victoria sneered.  “And poor Ada –”

“Poor Adam nothing!”

“He has his whole life in front of him!  Fucking Harvard!  And that bitch,” Victoria spat, “is trying to trap him!  They’re only 18 for Christ’s sake.”

Leia was fuming.  “Well that ‘bitch’ is dead.”

The color drained from Victoria’s face.  “What?”

“Eowyn’s dead.”

The room was silent until Dex spoke.  “Victoria, can you tell us where you were Saturday morning between the times of 9 and 12 o’clock?”

“I – I was at my Aunt’s all day Saturday,” Victoria said softly.  “You can ask my parents.  She’s really dead?”

Leia nodded, “yes.”

“Well,” Victoria said after a moment, “good riddance if you ask me.  Her and her baby would have ruined Adams life.”

Leia looked like she was ready to jump across the room and strangle Victoria.  Without another word she turned and left, Dex following close behind.

______

They spent the rest of the day questioning people, with no luck.  Everyone had solid alibis and couldn’t supply no insight as to why anyone would want to murder Eowyn.  By 7 o’clock that night Leia was tired, disheartened, and out of suspects.

“We’ll find who did it,” Dex said.  “We’re not done yet, don’t worry.”

Leia nodded.  “Can we stop at the Stones before we head back home?  I want to see how Sarah’s doing.”

Sarah had been on a day trip a few hours away with a friend when Eowyn had been murdered.  Leia hadn’t been around when Sarah had been told about her daughter and she was concerned about the older woman.

When they pulled up to the Stone’s house Sarah’s car was in the driveway, a sleek shiny black car parked next to hers.

Dex whistled.  “That’s a nice car man.  Whose is it?”

“Never seen it before.”

At the front door Leia hesitated, and then reached out and rang the doorbell.  She could hear laughter inside and when the door swung open it revealed a smiling, well dressed Ms. Stone.

Leia was surprised.  For someone who had just lost her daughter Ms. Stone looked very put together.  One could even say she looked happy.

“Oh! Leia, what are you doing here?”  Mrs. Stone glanced behind her.

“Who’s at the door baby?” A handsome and obviously tipsy gentleman appeared in the doorway and snaked his arms around Ms. Stone.

There was an uncomfortable silence where it seemed neither Ms. Stone nor I knew what to say, and tipsy, hot car guy looked between the two of us with an eyebrow raised.

“I, uh, didn’t get to see you yesterday, so I thought I’d stop by.” I said awkwardly.

“We’re so sorry for your loss Ms. Stone,” Dex added.  “Your daughter was a special girl.”

“Wait,” the guy let go of Sara, “you have a daughter?”

“Had,” Dex corrected.

Sarah turned toward her guest. “Baby, can you give me a few minutes?”  She flashed him a flirtatious smile and squeezed his arm.  He smiled dopily at her before kissing her cheek and walking away toward the kitchen.

As soon as he was out of ear shot Sarah whipped back around to face Dex and me, lips tight.

“What are you trying to do?” She asked angrily.

“Trying to do?” Leia asked. “I just – I wanted to see how you were doing.”

Ms. Stone glanced behind her into the house. “I’m doing fine, Leia.”  She turned back the young girl on her porch. “Thanks for coming by.  Have a nice night.”

Leia jumped as the door clammed shut in her face.

“What just happened?” Dex asked.

Leia looked strangely at the closed door.  “I don’t know.”

The above is the beginning of a piece I discovered when looking through my documents, written for the creative writing class I took last year.  The assignment was to write a murder mystery.

 

Gravity

The seat lurches over the top and your stomach drops.  Your butt lifts off the seat and suddenly there’s nothing under your feet.

Your world turns upside down, then right side up, upside down and right again.  The cage you’re in is pulling you in circles.  It clanks and creaks and cracks and makes all sorts of unhealthy sounds as it propels you around and around.

You clench the bars before you like a lifeline as the ride plays tricks with gravity.  The ground rushes up to meet you as the cage swings downward and you scream, but all of a sudden you’re swinging back up toward the sky.

Laughter and screams and music are all around you, and from up high you can see the whole fair as you whirl through the air.  All the lights all the people.  The ride dips one more time and you’re no longer sure what’s up and where’s down.  You squeeze your eyes shut.

When it’s over you say you loved it, you’ll definitely go on again.  But your hands are clenched tight to stop the shaking and your throat feels raw.

Nature At Its Finest

Birds tweet and twitter at each other from the trees overhead.  They flit and hop from branch to branch.  They seem very busy, and yet not busy at all.

Everything out here is green.  The grass, the trees, and the reflective surface of the pond I’m sitting next to – all green.  It’s nature at its finest.  The Great Outdoors.

I hate it.

It’s too loud.  Every hour of the day there are crickets chirping, the leaves in the trees rustle with the wind, and the birds are singing at the top of their little lungs.  I want to throw a rock at one of those flying jerks.  Can’t I get some peace?  Isn’t that what this damn camping trip is for?

And another thing.

Where’s the traffic?  The sound of car horns and engines and sirens?  The murmur of my neighbors’ TVs or the shouting from the streets?  It’s much too quiet here.  How can I possibly be expected to relax?

My boyfriend loves it.

“Don’t you love this fresh air?” he asks me.  “Look at all that sky!” he says to me.  “This is wonderful!” he exudes.

I’m convinced he’s lost it.  Snapped.  What does “fresh air” or the sky matter when my cell phone is dying?  When my allergies are acting up?  When there’s no running water?  When I feel like we are miles away from any form of civilization?

I don’t know what he was thinking, suggesting a camping trip.  Or what I was thinking, agreeing to come out here with him.  Maybe we’re both cracked.

Now he’s talking about coming out here once a month.  About maybe renting a house in the country.  “Wouldn’t that be great?” he questions, “think how relaxing it will be!”

I think I’m going to pass out.  Once a month.  A house in the country.  This camping trip, like our relationship, clearly needs to come to an end.

Silent

I spoke.  She was silent.  My confession hung in the air between us.

“I…” she started her sentence but never finished, her voice trailing out into a whisper.  It was as if she had run out of words.

I just looked at her, waiting for something.  Waiting for her to speak again, for her to make any sound at all.  She was still.  No sobs, no sniffles.  Her shoulders didn’t quake and her lips didn’t tremble.

I felt I should apologize, but I didn’t speak either.

She looked broken.  Utterly broken.  The urge to take her in my arms and soothe away the hurt was unbearable.  I wanted to thumb away her tears and kiss her eyelids.  I needed to do something.  But her silence felt like an impassable barrier, a physical force stopping me from doing anything whatsoever.  I watched helplessly as her eyes dripped rivers of hurt down her cheeks.

What could I even do though, to make this right?  Was it even possible, to fix something so destroyed as us, when you were the one responsible for wrecking it?

The look in her eyes said no.  She could always sense where my thoughts were going, always knew what I was thinking before I thought it.  There was no fixing this.  Her lips had no words for me, but her eyes said it all.

Omen

One of my first memories is of water.  A wave roars against a pillar and water splashes up onto the wooden boards at our front door, the spray cool against my face and arms.  I remember squealing with delight at the feeling and the twinkling sound of my mother’s laughter.  Since the day I was born water has been a constant in my world.

The air here perpetually smelled fresh and briny, and the taste of salt lingered on tongues.  One could always hear the roar of the water, the splash of waves as they crashed against the thick wooden pillars that held the village above the surf, and the cry of the seagulls.  The sounds were almost as musical as the harmonious speech of the villagers, the Omenai, whose words wove a dulcet melody in the air.  The sun shone bright over the deep blue water that covered the entire surface of Omen.

The only piece of land the world possessed was The Mountain in the east that towered over the immense village at its base.  The Mountain stood tall and proud above the immense expanse of choppy water, almost as if it were the Guardian of all that its shadow reached.  It seemed to burst out of the water without any indication of its origin and went up, up, up, until it ended in a snowy peak high in the clouds.  High green grass swayed over most of it for the majority of the year, strong rooted trees rustled in the wind, shed their leaves, and offered shade, and the few animals the world had left inhabited the fields.

Centuries ago, there had been villages in the low fields and the high reaches of the mountains as well as the stilted homes over the water.  When the world suddenly found themselves with a depleted amount of land and more and more water every day, they ran to the mountain for protection.  They built their homes out of reach of the surf and saved whatever they could.  Earth became Omen and nothing was the same again.  Though some folks still dwelled in the high grassed fields, the majority migrated down to the water once the ocean became steady.  Now bridges of wood and rope branched out from docks at the base of The Mountain and stretched on for miles over the water.  They were a network of paths that, to a new comer from the grasslands, may have seemed confusing, but were the villagers’ links to each other and to The Mountain itself.  They connected house after house and all the platforms, swaying and creaking in the breeze even though they were sturdy in build.

The tip top of The Mountain was a place that these days only few were allowed to see.  It was a sacred place, heavy with importance and power – The home of The Elders.  The Elders had been the voice of the people.  They had been the law.  The Elders of the east had ruled the villages in the shadow of the mountain, had protected the people and helped them lead healthy lives.

Life under The Elders was organized.  The men fished, or farmed, and kept an eye out for bridges that may need fixing.  The women raised the children, were healers, and shop keepers.  Everyone was treated the same under The Elders.  Yes, everyone had different responsibilities, but they were necessary positions that kept the villages alive. Everyone in the east part of Omen got the same amount of yearly spending money from the government.  It was what the villagers did with their money that separated classes, but they weren’t extreme in their differences.

20 years or so ago the Elders had been taken with an idea: what if they could find out what was under the wavy expanse?  The waters in which the villages rested over were deep, but shallow enough to build in.  No one alive had ever seen Earth, what Omen was before.  Curiosity as to what lie in the mysterious depths beyond the villages quickly spread through the east.  The Elders wanted to expand, and the people were all for it.  They trusted their leaders and lived happy lives.  The Elders, however, were no more.

They had been overturned by a bitter man who now ruled the east of Omen with an iron fist – Nicolai.  His voice was jarring compared to the others in the villages, his discordant tone slicing through the air whenever he spoke.  He did not believe in full equality as The Elders had and he did not approve of exploring the deep-sea or even living in stilted houses.  Nicolai hated the water – He did not trust it.  He warned us all of the danger.  What if the water rose up against us, as it did in the days of old, and drowned us all?  Life on the water was no life at all, was what he preached.  All talk and plans of exploring the water were put to a stop, and, slowly, Nicolai was forcing the people back onto the mountain.

I was only a child when Nicolai came into power.  I was too young to fully understand what was happening around me, why my mother didn’t seem as happy anymore, or why my brother had joined the guards.  I didn’t understand where the cruel set lines around my father’s mouth had come from.

I heard the whispers when I left our house at my mother’s side.  Heard how parts of the outer town had collapsed, sturdy bridges just falling into the choppy, unforgiving water one night.  Some whispered it was the new government.  Others wondered aloud if the mountain truly was a safer place to live.  My mother scoffed at those people, but she never joined in the whispers.  I was too young to understand just how dangerous my world was becoming.

The above is a piece I discovered when looking through my documents, written for the creative writing class I took last year.  The assignment was to create an entirely new world.