Departure

Published June 1, 2014 by Kim

She stood in the doorway of the room, taking a last look at where he had been. The motel was stripped bare–sheets and blankets gone, furniture gone, any usable electronics long since looted–there was no trace of his presence. She knew, however, that he’d stayed in this place, died in this place. Glancing down at her phone, she reread the final messages she’d ever received–

I wish I could see you.
I miss you.
I love you.
Be careful. Get out as soon as you can. I love you.
Goodbye, honey. I love you.

She blinked back tears, thoughts churning. “I’m sorry I didn’t make it.” The words sounded overly loud in the empty space. “I tried. It’s just–everything’s falling apart, and we couldn’t get away, but…” She heard a noise behind her, and turned.

He was a few feet away, a backpack on one shoulder pulling him slightly off-balance. He wasn’t meeting her eyes, but looking at the threshold of the motel room. “Why are you doing that?”

She swiped at the wetness on her cheeks. “I wanted to say goodbye.”

He didn’t respond.

She ignored him, stepping just inside the room. “I’m sorry. I miss you, too, and I wish I could see you again. I love you.” The silence in the room was interrupted by the distant sounds of their group loading up.

He followed her in, his hand brushing against her arm. “We gotta go.”

She pulled away, making a quick circuit of the room, checking again for anything she could take with her.

There was nothing.

She stopped, frozen in grief. After a pause, she closed her eyes and listened. She tuned out the other refugees, his brother, even the sound of her own heart.

Only silence.

When she opened her eyes again, she sucked in a deep breath. “Goodbye, honey.” She turned slowly, scanning the room, and walked out.

He watched her walk away, then fell into step just behind her.

Advertisements

Adrenalin

Published January 10, 2014 by Kim

She squinted in the sunlight, looking up–up, up, up–the cliff face, watching for a flash of yellow to mark his turn to jump.

Cliff-diving. Of all the things… She shook her head. There was no convincing her. He’d tried, but she wasn’t one to give in easily.

Besides, she didn’t need the rush. It had never been a need.

*

The clack-clack-clack of the chains, pulling the cars up the incline, the coaster at a steep angle to the earth below–

Her heart thumping, palms sweating, a smile on her face that faltered as the first car crested the hill–

Screams of laughter turning to a pained silence, and a burning need to be on the ground as soon as possible–

Pulling back into the station and a sense of calm coming over her, feeling convinced she’d enjoyed herself…

*

Stars.

Planets.

Fuzzy spots that vanished when she looked directly at them–clusters. Nebulae. Galaxies.

Millions of years shining down on her–photons traveling at unimaginable speed through the void, past clouds and worlds, to end their travels in her eyes. What had they passed? Who else might have seen what she was seeing? Who might see it a thousand years from now?

The earth, uninhabited by humans. Perhaps, in time, uninhabited by any creature–just a rock in the dark, turning endlessly around its star, other stars moving across its sky, unobserved. Time marching on endlessly…

*

She shivered.

Match #6

Published May 14, 2013 by Kim

March; Tuesday

Her bags were sitting on her bed, half-emptied as she picked through them and started her laundry. The conference swag bag was lying, forgotten, in the floor–a mix of thumb-drives and insulated travel mugs, miscellaneous advertising junk she’d hand out to her colleagues when she got back to the office in the morning.

Right now, however, the fridge was a study in last month’s calendar, she was hungry, and driving anywhere seemed to take more willpower than she had to offer. Instead, she ordered a pizza online, haunting the front door when the tracker told her it was on the way.

She answered the bell before the tones died in the hallway.

She saw the pizza box first, then the red hat and smiling face. He was youngish and lean, with only the barest hint of adolescent softness in his cheeks.

“Jensen?”

“That’s me.” She smiled.

“If you could just sign here, please.” He passed her the receipt and a pen, and she fumbled for a moment with where to lay it. He held out the box, and she dropped the slip onto the lid, scribbling her signature and a tip amount while he held it steady.

She flashed another quick smile as she took her pizza. “Thanks.”

He jerked his chin in a nod and vanished into the dark.

April; Monday

She dragged her laptop across the couch, bringing up her order and submitting it. She didn’t move until the doorbell rang, and shuffled down the hall to answer.

It was the same young man. No hat, this time, and she could see unkempt brown hair sticking up on the crown of his head. She smiled.

“Jensen?”

She nodded. “Yeah.”

He glanced at her, taking in the lavender robe and bare feet. He grinned. “Day off?”

“I wish.” She reached for the receipt. “I feel like I’ve got the plague.” She held out his pen. “Might want to sanitize that when you can.”

He exchanged it for the pizza, making a face. “Thanks for the warning.”

She watched him clean his hands in the car before backing out of her drive.

May; Friday

She called, this time, on her way home from work. He was waiting when she arrived.

“I am so sorry–I got caught at the corner of Clark and Collins when some idiot hit a woman in the back.” She fished out her keys. “I can’t believe you waited.”

He shrugged. “Had a couple of stops nearby. I came back.”

“Oh.” She pushed the door open. “Thank you.” She dropped her bag and shoved it aside with her foot. “Let me grab some cash–hang on just a second.”

He was leaning against the wall when she returned. She passed him a twenty and waved off the change. “Keep it. It’s the least I can do.”

He hesitated, as though he wanted to speak and stopped himself. “Thanks.”

She turned to go back inside and paused. “What’s your name?”

“Daniel.”

“Thanks, Daniel. See you next time.”

May; Sunday

“Twice in one month.”

She looked up from the receipt. “Sorry?”

Daniel grinned at her. “I was here a couple of weeks ago.”

She smiled. “Yeah, well–I’m not in the mood to do dishes.”

He took the receipt. “Thanks–have a good night, Mrs. Jensen.”

“I’m not–it’s Nicole. Just me.” She blushed as the words left her mouth.

His smile hitched a little higher. “‘Bye, Nicole.”

She closed her door and leaned against it until her heart stopped hammering.

June; Monday

“It’s your birthday?”

She nodded, counting out the bills in her wallet.

“No charge.”

She looked at him, brows furrowed. “What?”

He held out the pizza box. “Happy birthday.”

She laughed. “Are you serious?”

He nodded. “Absolutely. My treat.”

Nicole smiled. “Well, I guess I’ll have to tell the girls at work about the nice man who bought me dinner on my birthday.” She held out a few bills. “At least take the tip?”

“No–I’m good.”

She tilted her head, looking at him. After a moment, “You sure?”

He smiled, again. “Completely. Happy birthday!” He was still smiling as he walked backwards down the porch steps.

June; Thursday

“We have to stop meeting like this.”

“I know. My neighbors will start to talk.”

They laughed.

June; Friday

“Got any plans for the Fourth?”

“Not really. I’ll probably go to the park and see the fireworks–that’s about it.” She handed him a twenty. “You?”

“I have to work.”

She frowned. “You have to work on a holiday?”

He opened his arms wide. “The masses demand pizza regardless of season or celebration!”

She giggled. “You’re an idiot.”

He leaned close. “You like it.”

Her cheeks were burning. “Go away, you. The masses are waiting.”

He waved when he drove away.

July; Saturday

He answered when she called in her order. She didn’t catch his voice, and he didn’t recognize her until she gave her address.

“Nicole?”

She paused. “Yes?”

“It’s me, Daniel.”

“Oh, god–Daniel, I didn’t even realize.” They both laughed. “I’m not used to you answering.”

“My manager had to leave, so I’m filling in.”

“So I guess this means it won’t be your smiling face at my door.”

“Probably not.”

“Well–next time, then?”

“Sure.”

July; Wednesday

He didn’t answer, and he didn’t come.

She skipped pizza for a while.

September; Monday

She was on the phone when she opened her door. “No, Mom–”

He was waiting, hair cropped short, shirtsleeves tight across his arms.

“Mom–let me call you back. The pizza just got here…okay–love you, too.” She hung up and looked at him. “Long time no see.”

“Sorry…it’s been crazy.”

She reached for her wallet. “Well, it’s good to see you.” She passed him a twenty.

When he offered her change, she took it.

October; Saturday

It was an uncommonly warm evening, and she was stretched across the couch in front of her open windows, a book on her stomach, enjoying the occasional breeze and the sounds of the families living around her.

Something tapped on the glass above her head, and she opened her eyes. “Daniel?”

He was wet–hair plastered to his forehead, shirt clinging–and smiled weakly. “The house two doors down has a hell of a sprinkler system.”

She jumped up, opening the door and letting him in before hurrying to the bathroom and getting some towels. She tossed one on the floor and he stepped onto it, taking another and scrubbing his head. He looked at her, tufts of hair sticking up all over, and sighed. “Thanks.”

“They turned the sprinklers on?”

He cut his eyes at her. “Their kids did.”

She grinned. “And suddenly, not being a mother doesn’t seem so bad.” She exchanged the damp towel for a dry one. “I hope they tipped you well, at least.”

He snorted, rubbing at his shirt. “They gave me exact change.”

She stopped at the bathroom door. “You’re kidding!”

“Nope.” He tossed her the last towel. “Can I use your phone? I left my cell in the car.”

“Certainly.” She handed it over, waiting at the kitchen door and watching.

“Mike? It’s Daniel…you mind if I swing by my house and change clothes? Some kids got me with the sprinklers…I’m at a friend’s house a couple of doors down…no…okay…really?…thanks, man. See you tomorrow.” He put the phone on her couch. “He told me to cut my shift early. I can go home.”

“What about the money from your deliveries?”

He shrugged. “He knows I’m good for it. I stepped in for him when his wife had their baby early–I guess he figures he can trust me with sixty bucks.”

She smiled, a little confused. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Oh, I thought you were–”

He raised his eyebrows in question. “What?”

“I thought you were still in school.”

He grinned. “I am. Well, until December.” He shifted in his shoes, making a face. “I got hit by a car my sophomore year. I’m still catching up.”

She didn’t bother to hide her surprise. “Oh, my god! How bad were you hurt?”

He shrugged, reciting like it was an all-too-familiar list. “Tibia, fibula fractures in both legs; femur fracture in my right leg; fractured pelvis, fractured ribs–a concussion–road rash like you wouldn’t believe…” He looked at her face. “I was on a bike. The cops said I’d have gone under his car if I’d have been walking.”

“Well…then, good for you. On not giving up, I mean. That’s a lot of hurt and recovery.”

He went back to the door and stepped outside. “My mom and dad made sure I kept my focus. I wouldn’t be graduating without them.”

She followed. “What are you studying?”

He looked down for a moment, then into her eyes. “Can we talk about it over dinner?”

“Daniel, that’s…” She shook her head. “We shouldn’t.”

“Right.” He backed away. “Okay. See you.”

November; Tuesday

He didn’t avert his eyes, he watched her more intently than ever. It felt like she couldn’t sign the receipt fast enough.

“Nicole–”

“Daniel, no. Don’t–please.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

She winced. “Okay, fine. What?”

He smiled. “Go out with me.”

“Daniel! Please.”

He turned serious. “Why not?”

“I’m older than you.”

“And?”

“And–” she looked around, voice dropping to a whisper, “and I’m not some cougar!”

He laughed. “You think that’s what this is?” He pocketed the receipt. “You’re not old enough to be a cougar. You can’t be more than thirty-five.”

She frowned. “A little high on the guess, big boy, but still a cougar.”

He rested a hand on the doorframe and leaned in. “You’re overlooking one important thing: cougars chase boys. Are you chasing me?”

“No.”

He leaned back. “I rest my case.”

“Even so!”

He sighed. “Go out with me. Please.”

She looked at him–his tousled hair, growing back to its pre-summer lengths; his broad shoulders and long legs; his dancing, knowing eyes–and nodded. “Fine. But the first time someone asks me if I’m your mother, it’s on your head.”

He winked.

Freedom in giving up

Published April 16, 2013 by Kim

I’ve given up writing. Serious attempts at it, I mean. Dabbling in one-offs I don’t take issue with–it’s not as if I post often, after all, so what’s the harm? Big stuff, however, like the story in my head about Nathan and Sarah…those will never be done. I’m not a writer, I only ever dreamed about it. I don’t have talent at anything, frankly, except picking apart things and finding their mistakes (never a popular skill, I assure you), so there’s really no point at beating a dead horse.

And honestly, I’ve felt so free since I gave it up. My husband tells me to write, and instead of lamenting my lack of time to try (work, motherhood, keeping house, etc), I can say with confidence “I’m no writer” and go back to what needs doing, instead of messing about with characters and a pitiable plot. Deleting what I have already (terrible as it is) won’t happen–I’m just going to leave it there. If I change my mind, or somehow acquire talent (ha!), I may resume…but I’m not holding my breath. Life is easier, less pressured and less dissatisfying; I am what I am, nothing more and nothing less. My place as one of the nameless and faceless unknowns is as secure as it ever was…I’m just accepting it. 🙂

Meanwhile, I hope to soon post another part of the Match series. They don’t mean anything, really–they’re just doors I’ve opened and peeked through, then shut again–but they’re a pleasant diversion.

Nothing much

Published March 31, 2013 by Kim

So, we’re trying to clean out the house–get rid of toys, outgrown clothes, etc.–but it’s a losing battle with our kids. I put stuff in bags/boxes, they unpack it. I feel like I’m never going to make headway against them! Our house is a mess, and I never have enough time to do what needs doing. *sigh*

Meanwhile, I’m ready for vacation. I want to relax, have fun, and celebrate my birthday…but that’s weeks and weeks away. I’d say I wish it would hurry up and get here, but then it’ll be over just as quick. 😉

I don’t really have anything to say–I’m tired and haven’t felt an ounce of creatively or inspiration in a while. Maybe later?

Match #5

Published February 28, 2013 by Kim

(language warning)

~*~

She walked in, the harsh fluorescents of the hallway giving way to warm, shaded lights in the ballroom. A banner, welcoming everyone to their fifteenth class reunion, was strung along the far wall–a table stood beneath it, laden with wrapped packages and cheap trophies.

She stopped at a desk by the door, finding her name badge and pinning it on her lapel. She permitted herself a look around the room, forcing down the unease that sprang up the moment she recognized some of the faces.

This was a bad idea.

Motion caught her eye, and she smiled broadly in relief. “Julie!”

The woman who’d waved at her hurried to her side. “Dawn! I’m so glad to see you. I didn’t know if anyone would actually make it to this thing.”

You came.”

Julie smiled, rolling her eyes. “As if Ron would miss this. How else is he going to relive his glory years?”

“Ah, the Great Debate of ’98.”

“Oh, shut up. You just wish you’d been on the team.”

“Because I needed one more reason to be a pariah?”

Julie took her hand and tugged her, leading her across the floor to a small cluster of people. “Hey, Dawn made it.”

A circle of smiling faces greeted her, and she relaxed. This isn’t going to be so bad, after all.

~*~

What was I thinking?

She was trapped at a table between Julie and a brunette she didn’t know, waiting for the former class president to finish doling out “awards.” So far, it was a mish-mash of cute and insulting titles: Longest Marriage, Shortest Marriage, Most Children, Furthest Traveled. The pile of prizes was still too large for comfort.

She wanted out. Now.

“Dawn Flicker?”

She cringed, standing. The titters and whispers followed her to the podium, and Marianne Houseman (now Patel) stood beaming, a gift-wrapped block in her hand.

“Congratulations, Dawn, you’ve not changed at all!”

She didn’t miss the not-quite-in-jest jab.

“Is there anything you’d like to say?”

She froze, feeling every eye on her. Looking out across the crowd, she felt the flush climbing her neck, saw the knowing smiles on some of the faces. She set the gift down, tearing the corner of the paper and pulling it back enough to glimpse at the contents. The Dirty Minds Game. She could sense her blush darkening. She swallowed, forcing a smile, and looked back at her former classmates. The tears began welling up, and then she saw him, recognized the shaggy dark hair, those lips curled in a knowing smile. He dipped his head.

She felt a surge of happiness. Here–finally–one person she could trust absolutely.

She turned her body half toward Marianne. “Thanks, Marianne. Actually, there is something I’d like to say.” She picked up the gift, peeling back the paper. She smiled down at it, then tossed the box at her old classmate. “Fuck you.”

The people closest to her gasped.

Dawn smiled out at everyone. “I’m here because I wanted to see someone, someone I haven’t talked to since I was in college. The rest of you don’t matter. So…thanks. For reminding me.” She stepped away from the podium, making a loop past her seat for her purse.

Julie grabbed her hand. “What the hell, Dawn?”

Dawn shrugged. “I gotta run.”

Marianne was yelling obscenities into the mic.

When Dawn reached the door, he spoke, pushing away from the wall and glaring up at the stage. “Shut the fuck up, you damn harpy.”

Marianne screamed at him.

He flipped her off with both hands, hitting the doors as Dawn exited.

~*~

She could hear him walking behind her.

“Language, Miss Flicker.”

She stopped, biting back the smile as she turned to face him. She couldn’t stop the bright blush that painted her cheeks at his words. “Mark.”

He wrapped his arms around her and let her bury her face in his chest.

His hand slipped over her hair. “You always let them get to you.”

“I can’t help it.”

“I know.”

She snaked her arms around his waist. “I’m so glad you were there.”

“Yeah, well, you got lucky.”

She squeezed him once, hard, making him grunt in protest. “You were always there.”

He didn’t say anything, just stroked her hair. Then, quietly, “You always needed someone.”

She laughed, then, pulling away and wiping her nose on her jacket sleeve.

“Classy.”

“Shut up.”

They looked at one another. She was grinning at him.

“What?”

“You are so my John Bender.”

He snorted, looking across the lot and back to the hotel’s entrance. A beat, then–“Does this mean I get to watch you put on lipstick with your boobs?”

She punched him in the arm. “No, you jackass.” She looked down at her chest. “Besides, I doubt the girls could’ve done that trick then, let alone now.”

He flinched. “That’s a new side of you.”

She frowned. “What? Speaking my mind?”

“No. Being…blunt.”

She laughed, again. “Blunt? You have no idea.”

He looked at her for a long moment. “So, you don’t mind if I say you were completely fuckable back there?”

Her face turned crimson. “Mark!”

He turned to walk away, bumping her shoulder with his. “I just wanted to see if I could still make you blush.”

She fell into step beside him. “You always could. Why do you do that?”

He shrugged.

She reached out, clutching at his elbow. “Mark.”

He stopped, brows lifted in question.

“I saw it. What you wrote.”

“Huh?”

“In my annual.”

He stiffened. “I forgot about that.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged, again. “Wasn’t important.”

She rolled her eyes. “You all but admitted you were in love with me. That’s not important? You should’ve told me!”

He shook his head. “Dawn–you’ve always been the good girl.” He pointed back at the hotel. “That’s why they always gave you hell. And I was never the nice guy, you know that.”

“You were always nice to me.”

He smiled. “I didn’t want to be.”

“Then why were you?”

He leaned against a sedan, crossing his arms. “I couldn’t not be nice to you.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“You wouldn’t talk to me anymore, Dawn. If I’d said one thing outta line, that would’ve been it.”

“That’s not true! We were friends. I wouldn’t have just cut you off for one little thing.”

He tilted his head back, looking up at the stars. “Dawn…”

“You should’ve asked me out.”

His head snapped forward. “What?”

“I said, ‘you should’ve asked me out.’ Who knows what would’ve happened.”

“Nothing good, I can promise that.”

She made a noise like a hiss. “How do you know that?”

“Because I wasn’t what your mom and dad wanted you with. I’d have been a bad influence.”

Her face was practically glowing. She stepped toward him. “That’s not fair. It’s not true.”

“Trust me, I have a knack for screwing shit up.”

“Shut up. Just shut up.”

He threw her a dark look.

She waved him off. “Keep your glares to yourself.” She stepped between his legs, nudging his knees apart, and tugged on his arms until he loosened them and they hung by his sides. She wrapped herself around him, tucking her body closely into his, her face against his chest, above his heart.

He let his arms curl around her, and held her there.

She clung to him, not moving or speaking until he shifted under her.

“What about now?”

He cocked his head. “Meaning?”

She looked up at him. “Now. What would you do now?”

He turned away. “I’d kiss you.”

She tugged his jacket sleeve, and when he looked back, she pressed her lips to his.

Personal truths

Published January 3, 2013 by Kim

I’m not entirely a nice person. I’m not terrible, or very wicked, but I’m definitely leaning toward the unpleasant.

All in my head, of course. I’m not going to go about willy-nilly making trouble, am I? No! –I couldn’t. I was brought up to stand up for myself, but be respectful. Tell the truth, but don’t hurt people’s feelings unnecessarily. Don’t be a tattle-tale, but don’t permit wrongdoing. In other words, I was cultivated to be of two minds about nearly everything (like I imagine most of us were done). Adding to that a childhood-long exposure to church, and a deeply ingrained fear of God, and you’ve got someone whose moral compass should point due north in all things.

Except…

(There’s the rub.)

I’m selfish. I’m self-satisfied. I’m preachy. (I’m also a coward, with no willpower or gumption of my own. Not unless I get a fire under me and I stumble out blindly into things, hoping for the best.) Half the time, maybe more, I do what’s right because that’s what everyone expects. It’s what I’m allowed to do. That includes not doing all the things I have the urge to do, simply because people I care about would get hurt, and it’s simply not worth their pain to have some fun of my own. Whether it’s quitting my job and doing something I like, or…other things. (Hey, I’m married, not dead.)

I feel like I’m betraying something of myself–that the girl who grew up being tenderhearted, bookish, and quiet is disappointed. I feel I should be better than I am, that I’ve become base and useless, fouled by choices I’ve made. I regret so many things, and I try to console myself by saying, “Those choices, good or ill, put me on the path that led to where I am now, and where I am now is pretty good.” Still, the words are a little empty. Mistakes made nearly half my life ago still eat at me, still drive me to be nice. I’m trying so desperately hard to make up for all the bad, that I feel like I’m half-hiding from the world.

And then I think…and I know…that if I were to walk out my door and be the me that I am now, it would be a dark and ugly thing. The only other option is the me that’s still in there, pushed aside, decades old and as silly and childish as she ever was–the one that wears funny hats and recites Shakespeare in Walmart, whose voice lapses into different accents and cadences when she reads aloud or talks about certain things, the one who dances in the house only when she’s alone or with her kids (never with her husband around), who quit singing because a friend said she shouldn’t sing, and her husband said it wasn’t so good, and now only ever does it when…well, when she’s alone or with her kids. The one that is more at home in Fantasyland than she ever could be at a club. The one who wanted–wants–to be Belle so much it hurts. She’s still a girl, with a great, wide future and the security of her imagination to keep her company. But she’s been locked away so very long, and it hurts to come out and see what’s changed, to know that future isn’t so wide or great, anymore, and her imagination isn’t what it once was…so she goes back to her room, with it’s colored glass windows and bookshelves to the ceiling, and she imagines herself a painter, or an actress, or a girl on the street bumping into her Prince Charming. In there, in that secret place in my heart, she can live forever as she was, and be happy.

So I’ll keep on stuffing the ugliness down and try being a good girl, because there’s no choice, really, between being good and kind to others or doing what satisfies me right now. I have to do what’s best, and what’s right. Perhaps, in time, I’ll be free enough to wear funny hats and recite Shakespeare in Walmart, and laugh in the faces of those who gawp at me, and tell them–as politely as possible, of course–that if they don’t like it, they can all go hang.