The Cruise (Fiction – With Photo By Emilio Pasquale)

Well, I did it again… Emilio Pasquale (at Photos by Emilio) gave me this photo to write for December, but I’m a tad bit later than I hoped I’d be.  If you aren’t familiar with this collaboration, Emilio sends me a photo for inspiration and I write a story… my story follows immediately after the photo.  Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Emilio’s work, you really should click the link above to check it out 🙂

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story, by me
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story, by me

“You can’t do it?” Nikki laughed.  “Oh, it’s too late to back out now, Laura.  A deal is a deal.”

I cleared my throat.  “Look, I had too much to drink and I over-committed myself.”

Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she handed me an envelope.  “The cruise leaves at five o’clock on Friday.  You’ll have about 24 hours to accomplish what you promised.”

“I just told you, I can’t do it.”

“You’ll get the $500 when you bring me proof that you took care of business.”

“Do you want me to bring his heart back in a box or what?”

Ignoring my sarcasm, Nikki smirked.  “No proof, no cash.”

“So when do I find out who he is?”

“You’ll know when you see him.”

I grunted.  “So that’s it?  Nothing else to go on?”

“Nope.”

“And why a cruise?  You know how I feel about boats.  And water.”

“Good thing it’s a ship then.”

I stared at the cruise ticket and itinerary in my hand.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”  I stood and stomped from the restaurant, fuming that Nikki’s laughter taunted me all the way to the front door.

***        ***        ***

I’d learned a valuable lesson on New Year’s Eve that business and friendship didn’t mix, and deals should never be made over cocktails, behind the cloak of new years and fresh starts.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the corporate world had gotten so messed up.  My new policy is that alcohol should be consumed alone (if ever), and if others are present, complete silence is preferred.  I’d only had a few days to prepare, but somehow, I crossed the gangway fifteen minutes before departure; make-up and hair professionally done, wearing a knee-length party dress with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.

I scanned the room and immediately realized I was over-dressed- as in wearing too much fabric.  I’d long suspected it, but this just proved that imagination had become endangered through evolution.  I remained determined to not let it go extinct.  I lifted my chin in protest, proud that I was not one reach away from a wardrobe malfunction.

The conflicting scents in the room made me dizzy.  Musk, floral, citrus- they all smelled like desperation to me.  But the dusting of glitter on too-exposed bodies made it pretty, I guess.  I winced.  Nikki might’ve been right:  I’m too sarcastic to socialize.  I reminded myself that this wasn’t a social event, per se.  I had a task to accomplish.  I shook my head to clear the perfumed thoughts and searched for anyone who appeared like they were looking for someone else.  Isn’t that everyone here? I wondered in frustration.

“Hey, sweetie.  Looking for someone?”

My nose involuntarily wrinkled as I turned toward the male voice right next to me.  I forced my gaze away from the silky sheen of his gelled hair; the lights literally glared off it.  I shook my head and stepped away.  “No.  Actually, I’m not.”  I almost laughed at the stunned effect of my honesty, so I walked away before he mistook the reaction as a come-on.  I happened upon a staircase leading to the upper deck.  As I climbed, I smiled; thankful I had sense enough to wear ballet flats rather than pinchy, strappy high heels.  They have rhinestones, I reminded myself, as if to justify my shunning of fashion.

I leaned against the railing that had been strung with white lights.  The golden lights from nearby vessels seemed magical against the backdrop of the darkening sky.  They almost made me believe in fairy dust, unicorns and love, but when I closed my eyes, I could still discern between fantasy and reality.  My shoulders slumped when the thought occurred to me that gazing at lights did nothing to complete what needed to be done.  I turned toward the stairwell and tried to make myself move, but my feet remained firmly planted.

Then I saw him and gasped.  It couldn’t be.  But his profile looked just like Chas Spencer, my ex-fiancé.  From a distance, one might view him as cunning, even clever.  But I knew better.  I knew there was no substance behind his too-white smile- or beneath the knock-off designer clothing and Calvin Klein boxer briefs- I could see the waistband peeking between the top of his slacks and the bottom of his untucked shirt when he leaned over to tie his shoelace.  I knew he tried to project the air of casual wealth, but the message I got was:  I’m broke and make bad decisions.  I spent all my money on underwear so I couldn’t afford a belt.

Certain he was the real deal and not a doppelganger; I became furious at Nikki and grew more determined than ever to succeed at what I came here to do.  More than the $500, I needed to prove Nikki wrong.  I could do this.

I would rather have been at home wearing fleece pajamas and eating Häagen-Dazs while watching movies on Netflix, but I pasted on my best smile in hopes of hiding my true feelings.

“Chas, is that you?”

His eyes widened.  “Laura!”  His gaze darted from one side to the other, and then back to me.

“Are you here with someone?”

“Well, uh, sort of.  Oh, man, this is awkward….”

My smile became more genuine.  I truly enjoyed watching him squirm.  “Oh, I’d love to meet her.  Where is she?”  I raised my eyebrows.  “It is ‘she’, right?”

“It’s a blind date.  I haven’t found her yet.”

“I think maybe you have.  Nikki sent me here.”

The color drained from his fake-tanned face.

I shrugged.  “Sorry dear, but it looks like it’s you and me tonight.”  I wasn’t really sorry.

“I-I was supposed to start the New Year with a fresh start.”

“Isn’t that kind of hard to do when you’re the same old you?”

He glared at me.

“Look, we’re stuck here, so we might as well make the best of it.”

“What’s your game?”

I tilted my head to the side.  “Game?”

“Yeah, when you found out I cheated, you told me to drop dead… and some other things.”

“You never did listen very well.  Hey, how about we get a drink?”

After several seconds of skeptical scrutiny, he headed to the stairway.  I followed and exhaled a relieved sigh.  Once upstairs, I told him I’d get the drinks.  He started to protest, but I pretended not to notice and walked away.

I handed him his usual: vodka gimlet.

“What did you get?”

“Rum and Coke,” I raised my voice so he could hear over the band that just started playing.  Minus the rum.

Fifteen minutes later, I plucked the empty glass from his hand.  “I’ll get you another.”  He didn’t argue.  His attention was focused on the band’s lead singer; a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather.  This is almost too easy.

After the fifth drink, I noticed it was almost midnight.  I asked, “Do you mind if I take our picture?  You know, for old time’s sake?”

He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me toward him.  I snapped the picture just as his lips landed on my cheek.  I extracted myself from his grip and offered to get him another drink.

I lost count of the drinks, but I was down about fifty dollars when I noticed Chas struggling to balance on the backless stool.  “I think you’ve had enough.  I’ll walk you to your room.”

He smiled; a sloppy grin.  “You just want to get me alone.”

“You got me figured out.”

Using me for balance, Chas managed to get to his room, falling only once.

“I need your room key.”

He leaned against the wall by the door.  “It’s in my pocket.”

I sighed.  “Which one.”

He winked.  “I don’t remember.”

Five hundred dollars, I reminded myself.  I guessed right and found the key in his left front pocket.

Chas fell onto the bed and pulled me on top of him.  I scrambled away.  “I need to use your restroom.”

“I’ll be right here, baby.”

His slurred words made my stomach lurch.  I stayed in the locked bathroom until I heard his rumbling snores.  I slipped out of the bathroom and searched the duffel bag by the bed.  I found what I needed and stuffed it into my purse. I ran from the room, relieved when the door latched behind me.

I did it.

***        ***        ***

“I don’t believe it,” Nikki said, mouth agape.

“I think you owe me $500.”

“I-I didn’t think you’d do it.”  Nikki handed me the envelope.

I lifted the flap and counted the bills, then shoved the envelope in my purse.

“You don’t trust me?”

I smiled.  “I used to.  Before you and Chas.”

Nikki stared at the table.  “I regret that.  I wanted to make things right again; to get you back together.”

“Not in this lifetime.”

She lifted her gaze, puzzled.

“Nothing happened.  After he passed out, I took a pair of underwear from his duffel bag.”

“You cheated!  The bet was that you had to spend the night with someone I set you up with.”

“No, you cheated. I just played your game and won.”  I smiled.  “And I did spend the night with him- a very long evening of observing who he really is.  You know, I hated you for what you did, Nikki, but you actually saved me.  I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I do forgive you.”

This time, I strode out of the restaurant in peace; leaving Nikki in stunned silence.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

The obvious inspiration for the story was Emilio’s photo.  But I’ve had other stuff on my mind that may have affected the story that developed.  Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and how hard it can be to reach that point where you can truly release a hurt and heal.  I also think when we’ve hurt someone, sometimes our attempts at “fixing” things are misguided (like Nikki), and might be more for the benefit of easing our own guilt, rather than for the person we’ve hurt.  Now, I’m thinking I just might think too much… so I’ll stop now 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week!

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At My Worst

If we wait long enough, there is always a break in the clouds...
If we wait long enough, there is always a break in the clouds…

Last week, I hinted at fiction for this week… that’s still on- for Thursday, I think 🙂 But tonight, as I work through some stuff in my head, I had some thoughts I was moved to share.

When we have a disagreement with someone, we often comment that we’ve seen them at their worst. On the surface, the disagreement seems like a negative thing. In the aftermath, we tell ourselves the hurtful person that emerged and attacked with well-aimed emotional missiles was just a result of the situation. It’s not really who they are.

It occurs to me that this “worst” isn’t always an abnormality in behavior, but rather the truest sense of the person that appeared from behind the mask usually held firmly in place.   What seems like a bad thing turns into a blessing because it provides a glimpse of what lives in the person’s heart. It’s better to know what we’re dealing with.

It got me thinking about what I am at my worst. I’m there right now…

I struggle to keep seeds of resentment from taking root. I battle anger with regular exercise and prayers to “let it go.” I linger in lows where hope could slide through the eye of a needle.  Sometimes I feel like a doormat and I want to shout all the things I bottle up inside, but I refuse to retaliate with hatred. I seek peace instead.  Bad feelings might be around me, but they will not become me.

This is who I am at my worst.  I’m far from perfect, but I could be worse…

What do you think – is our worst a true indication of who we are?

Where The Stream Ends (Fiction)

03-30 Woods Canyon Lake1

July, 1989

Lucy grasped the back of Aaron’s t-shirt, the fabric twisted in her sweaty palm, as she stumbled to keep pace. “Slow down!”

Aaron grinned, even though- or maybe because- she couldn’t see him. “I’ll tell you when you need to watch your step.” He laughed. “Trust me.”

“I want to take the blindfold off.”

He stopped. With his hands on her shoulders, he said, “I know you don’t understand yet, but you will. If I remove it, you’ll know the surprise too soon.”

She sighed. “Okay. But how much longer?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

She held her hand out and searched for his shirt. She gasped when she felt the warmth of his fingers intertwine with hers. The tingling traveled up her arm; an unexpected shockwave that triggered a flutter in her chest. She had been friends with Aaron since fifth grade, when he stole the ribbon from her ponytail during recess. He’d held it high above her head and with him being a good six inches taller, she was certain he hadn’t expected her to lunge at him, knocking him to the ground. She’d dusted her knees off and plucked the purple ribbon from his fingers and then offered her hand to help him up. He’d refused, and pushed himself up instead.

“Come on, Fridge… we’re almost there,” Aaron said.

She could hear the smile in his voice. For seven years, she’d been known as “Fridge,” the nickname Aaron started calling her after she’d tackled him near the swings. William Perry had always been one of his favorite football players. She’d protested because Perry was a large, imposing figure, while she was on the short side and rail-thin. It didn’t take long for others to join in and she found that undoing a nickname was just as impossible as getting an “A” in Mrs. Foster’s English class.

“Okay, we’re here.” Aaron untied the blindfold and stood beside her, shoulders nearly touching.

“Oh! It’s beautiful. Where are we?”

“Where the stream ends.”

Lucy tilted her head and furrowed her brow. After contemplating for several seconds, confusion melted away into understanding. “From that story you wrote sophomore year?”

Aaron nodded. “Yep. This is it. I go fishing here with my dad. Been that way for as long as I can remember.”

“It’s nice. That was the most romantic story I’d ever heard.”

“Shut up.”

She smiled when she noticed the tips of his ears redden. “Come on, it was sweet.”

“I didn’t know Mr. Cleary would read it to the class.”

She laughed. It really didn’t help the tough guy persona he’d been trying on at the time. “Girls love that stuff, though.”

He shrugged.

“So why did you bring me here?”

“Just thought you’d like to see it before you leave for U of A, is all.”

Lucy tossed a pebble into the water. “Life is a meandering journey,” she said as she watched the ripples widen and then disappear . In her peripheral view, she saw his head turn and sensed him studying her.

“You remember that line?”

Avoiding his gaze, she responded, “Of course. You can recite monologues from The Godfather, why wouldn’t I remember it?”

Only the cawing of birds soaring overhead interrupted the quietness that stretched between them.

“I got in. I go to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in November.”

It took a few seconds to absorb his words. “That’s great! You were really hoping for that.” She was happy for him, so she couldn’t explain the feeling she had deep inside. Was it disappointment?

“I hope I’ll get to see you on leave,” Aaron said as he nudged her shoulder.

Tears moistened her eyes and she turned her head away to hide them. “Sure, of course. We’ll definitely stay friends.”

Lucy felt like he had something else to say. She waited for conversation, but instead, they steeped in silence a while longer before trekking back to the main trail.

***        ***        ***

March 2015

Lucy followed the dirt path, side-stepping brush that had overgrown in some places. The last time she’d been to the lake was when Aaron told her he was going into the Army.

That thought brought a pang of sadness because they had not remained friends. Sure, she saw him a couple times, but that was it. And then she heard from Joanie Graeber that he’d gotten engaged a few years later. A year after that, Lucy married Scott Trimble and moved to Chicago. She’d marveled at her fortune; finding her prince and a Disney fairy tale life.

She frowned. She discovered that beyond the endings in the pages of a book, after the “I-do’s” and happily-ever-after, a tarnished reality lurked. Instead of bringing them together, time spun them in circles and sent them in separate directions. Glancing at her naked ring finger, she admitted that being forty-three and single was not a truth she’d considered.

A smile crossed her lips when she spotted the end of the stream. Twenty-six years evaporated like rain in the desert as she stared at the same muddy banks she’d stood on with Aaron. She noticed something in the cluster of trees on the other side of the bank, so she made her way around the water’s edge, her sneakers sinking and sliding in the mud.

Lucy paused when she made out the shape of a bench. Not a regular wooden bench, but a marble one, placed under the protection of the tall pines. She inched closer, pine needles crunching beneath her feet. She noticed that the seat had not accumulated pine needles, so someone had to care for it, even though she hadn’t seen anyone yet today. Standing in front of it, she ran her fingers over the engraved message on the back:

In loving memory of Aaron McCarthy, 2014. You will always be here.

Numb with shock, and dizzy, she lowered herself onto the bench. Once the tears began, they flowed like they would never stop. She leaned forward, face in her hands, and succumbed to the emotions she thought she’d given away long ago. She wailed for God to save her and to ease her pain.

“Ma’am, are you okay?”

The voice startled her and when she looked up toward the voice, she realized her need for a tissue. “I, uh- well…”

He dropped his fishing pole and tackle box kneeled down beside her. “Lucy? Is that really you?”

Her eyes widened. “Aaron?” She shook her head, “But you… I saw.” She pointed to the inscription.

A familiar smile returned to his face. “My dad died last year. I’m junior.”

“How come I never knew that?”

He shrugged. “You never asked, I guess.” He slipped off his nylon fishing shirt worn over a t-shirt and handed it to her. “You might want to dry your face.” He slid onto the bench beside her.

She felt her cheeks color as she accepted the offering and followed his advice. As she wiped her face, she breathed in his scent that lingered in the fabric. She brought the shirt back to her lap.

He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees. “I hope your life turned out to be everything you wanted it to be.”

Unsure how to respond, she watched him as he stared at the receding water. “I’m sorry about your dad, Aaron.”

“I come here most Saturdays, so he doesn’t feel so far away.”

Lucy’s fingers played with the silky fabric of the crumpled shirt in her lap. “It is a beautiful place to be,” she whispered, somewhat distracted by the warmth of his thigh barely touching her leg.

Like it had twenty-six years ago, silence surrounded them as they retreated into their own thoughts.

He sighed. “I’ve never forgotten you, Lucy.”

Tears welled again. His words triggered the memory of the words he’d written all those years ago. Life is a meandering journey. It takes us where we least expect it and changes up the future as we planned it. But through it all, I never forgot that where the stream ends, love begins.

“You okay?”

She took a deep breath. “Was that story about us?” She rushed the words before fear changed her mind. As soon as the words tumbled out, she wished she could take them back. Listening to his measured breathing for several seconds did nothing to ease her regret.

“It’s always been about you,” he whispered.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

I don’t normally write romance-y type stuff, which is why I decided to stretch myself and write this.  It’s much easier to write some twisted story where someone dies or something freakish happens!  Thanks for stopping by to read.  I hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend!

When?

01-15 Rim trees6

I remember…

how the newness sparkled,

radiant beneath glittering light.

Now, I see a finish dulled-

dormant in the heavy night.

When did the rose hue

turn a lonely shade of blue?

 

I remember…

the optimism, swearing

winter wouldn’t freeze us;

my fingers chilled, I realize

I’ve forgotten my gloves.

When did summer drift

away on golden leaves?

 

I miss…

musings about the future,

imagining the reminiscing

of life snapshots

collected in our hearts.

When did hope fail

to illuminate tomorrow?

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Inspiration:  I wrote this about a month ago about my marriage and how it began as full of hope and faded into what it is today.  My goal is to write something that isn’t utterly depressing soon… maybe some fiction (it’s been a while!)   I’m glad you stopped by…. have a beautiful Thursday 🙂

Stranger Inside

Sometimes we find familiar around the next curve
Sometimes we find familiar around the next curve

Your eyes,

your face,

your smile (absent for too long)-

they are all familiar

impressions on the

repressed memories

lurking in the recesses

of my sub-conscious mind.

I wrestle with the

incongruity of

past and present-

the surreal shadow

that slithers across

the barren landscape

of a new reality.

I hope you can find

yourself,

your smile,

your life (reason to live)

all buried beneath

the stranger inside-

the person I once knew.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Inspiration:  For those who look to this part of the post to explain what on earth I was writing about, I won’t leave you hanging.  This poem has dual  meaning.  It was written to/about a person consumed by drugs.  He looks like the person you’ve known all along, but inside, he is gone.  His good heart belongs to his addiction.  It is also written to/about his parents; the people who have struggled to accept their only child is no longer the boy they raised.  How do you come to terms with that?  Not very easily.  That’s all I know.  Sometimes I can’t believe these are the same people I remember fondly from my childhood.  They are so different now; so sad and broken.

Unfortunately, this is about my family.  Just in time for the holidays, relationships have been severed and only time will tell if they can be repaired.  Right now, I’m sort of in the middle and will walk the line as best I can.  In the meantime, all I can do is offer prayers for peace, strength and forgiving hearts.

I realize I’ve neglected my fiction here lately.  I’ve written a couple of stories I plan to submit for publication, so I can’t post them here, but I do have a couple ideas.  I hope to post some fiction soon (either this week or next.)

I’ll sign off with this… if we look closely enough, we can find even the tiniest blessings in times of trouble.  I hope you have a beautiful week!