How the Cookie Crumbles

Life and scribbles on the far side of SIXTY-FIVE


84 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 49 – Prompt: Lollipops

Join us at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Genre: Drama

lollipop-356401_960_720 Pixabay

This is a type of Lollipop

Change

Nothing had changed in ten years. Liz hadn’t cared he wasn’t a romantic when they married. She’d accepted it. Why did it matter now? Was the sound of the clock ticking louder and louder towards her thirty-fifth birthday putting her on edge? Possible, but not probable. Her birthday was three months away. She yearned for something, something to change. Did the why matter? Sam was a good man. Eyes wide open, she’d married him, hadn’t she? Put aside yearnings and whimsy for married life.

Lost in thought, she started when Max the family poodle nudged her hard enough to knock her over. She landed bent over the kitchen counter. “Hi you—oh!” Liz squinted at the wall clock surprised at the time. “Thanks, boy. Better hurry and clean up.” She patted his woolly, apricot head. “Don’t want a nickname like painted lady and scare the other parents, do I?”

Before rushing out, she shut the door to the studio at the back of the old house. A warm glow filled her, as it did each time she admired the huge window Sam had insisted she have. No, he might not be romantic, so what silly goose? Still, Liz craved something. She didn’t understand what.

Her teeth chattered. The temperature must have dipped since early morning. Hands buried in yellow wool gloves, she drew her hat lower and clutched the white quilted coat at the throat. A throng of other parents at the corner stamped feet and circled round each other like piranhas in a fish tank. She laughed aloud at the thought hustling to the bus stop stomping as well. At the sound of crunching snow, several of the waiting looked up, waved or nodded. The shake and rattle of the school bus caught their attention. They turned as one. No one noticed Liz wave. The changing gears grated, whined, and stopped. The door screeched opened. Six-year-old Cat lumbered down the stairs first as always, wobbling past the throng of parents into her mother’s arms. “What a sight you are, darling.” Hat askew, blonde bangs and hair messy as a haystack, the girl’s face red from the overheated vehicle showed no concern. Her eyes glowed, a smile stretched across her face, missing teeth yawning.

“Mommy, Mommy. Wait till I show you my picture from school. My friend Nathan—he’s a artist like me—made a wonderful picture with me. My teacher wanted to hang it in class, but I said no.” Liz zipped her daughter’s snowsuit and wound the scarf round and round her head.

“I want to know all about your valentine’s party too, but not now.”

“Hey, I can’t talk.” Cat pushed the wrapping beneath her chin.

“Darling, it’s too cold to talk. Tell me at home. Let’s hurry. Mommy’s freezing. Aren’t you?” Liz caught her daughter’s hand. “Let’s run. Bet you can’t beat me.” Cat yanked her hand from her mother’s grasp and tottered forward like a miniature Michelin man. Liz stomped in place holding back.

At the bottom of their front steps, Liz swung the backpack over an arm, grabbed Cat beneath the arms from behind, and frog-marched them to the door. Inside Cat unwound, unzipped, tugged and wrenched, sweating like a lumberjack. “Darling, you’re hot.” Liz dropped to her knees, seized the bottom of her boots and heaved off the one-piece snowsuit.

Without missing a beat, the girl dumped the contents of her backpack on the floor. Wrapped chocolate kisses, a box of Reeses Pieces, and loose valentines scattered all over the floor. Hands shaking, a look of reverence on her flushed face, Cat unfolded a white sheet of paper, studied it for a couple beats, and nodded. She stood as if in a trance offering the gift to her mother.

Biting her tongue and blinking back tears Liz knew that look, understood the satisfaction and amazement her daughter was experiencing. Her heart swelled all the way to her throat. “Let’s see. Ooh.” She swallowed hard to push it back. “Wait till Daddy sees this. Your attention to detail is astonishing.”

“So, you like it, Mommy? Happy Valentine’s Day.” Cat drew invisible lines on the ceramic hallway tile with a stockinged toe, hands clasped behind her back.

Liz sank to her knees, clasping the girl as tight as she dared. “This is the best Valentine’s gift ever. Thank you. Come. Let’s make a special supper tonight to celebrate.”

“I’ll set the table. Want the dishes from the china cabinet?”

“Good idea. Wait. l’ll take them out for you. Your favourite tonight, roast chicken.”

Cat clapped her hands, stopped and tore down the hall.  “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Liz chuckled. “Don’t forget to wash your hands.” I’ll open a bottle of wine. It’s Valentine’s after all.

* * *

An hour and a half later, the doorbell chimed. Mother and daughter stared at each other. “Who can that be?” Cat turned to the door. “No, you don’t young lady. I’ll get it.” Shoulders back, Liz snatched open the door. Her jaw dropped.

“Are you Liz Wilson?”

She nodded if you could call it that. The deliveryman handed her a bouquet of yellow flowers, spun around, and disappeared down the drive.

“Mom, you’re letting in the cold. What is it?” Cat lingered down the hall knotting fingers together.

With gargantuan effort, Liz unglued her feet from the floor and closed the door. “Flowers.”

“They’re pretty. Who from?” The girl tiptoed within reach of her mother, extended a finger.

“Don’t know.” She held the cellophane wrapped bouquet away from her body, eyes feasting on them. Yellow. My favorite color.

“Open them.”

“What?”

“Doesn’t it say who they’re from? My teacher got flowers today. There was a card.”

“Oh. Yes. There is.”

A key in the door announced Sam’s arrival. He grinned. “They’re Lollipops. Like ‘em? Cat, these candy ones are for you.” His daughter squealed.

Blinded by tears, Liz grabbed Sam’s tie and pulled, crushing the flowers between them.

The End

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles.

Image from Pixabay: No attribution required.


62 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 48 – Prompt: Chasm

To join us and / or to meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:  

  1. 1000 wordsmax
  2. fictionaltale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG(no more than PG-13Content– let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/or include a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive the awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage.

**********************************************************************

Part 1 here

Part 2 here

coffee-667052__180

Image  from Pixabay. No attribution necessary.

Along Came Polly – Part 3

“What is that awful noise? ‘There birds in here?” Raising her bird’s nest bedhead, Grace unglued a puffy eye. “Wha…?“

Frrrrrr frrrrrr frrrrrr frrrrrr.

Blinding light suffused the room. She rolled over, face pushed into the pillow.

“Never known you to sleep this late. Everything okay, baby sister? Here. Brought you coffee.” She plunked a mug on the night table and dropped into the tub chair alongside, already fully dressed in Khaki pants and white blouse. “Polly, talk to me.” She sipped her coffee.

Her sister rolled over; grabbed her glasses. Squinting at Grace, her fingers fumbled for the coffee. “Why’s it so darn bright?” Grasping the pillows, she swooshed them against the headboard, and scooted back, leaned in and sighed. “Thanks for the coffee.”

“It’s past nine—you didn’t answer my question.” Grace lifted her mug. “You look like something the cat threw up.”

“Says you. Truth is I didn’t sleep well, at-all, at-all, at-all.” She slapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn. I fell as if into a chasm at the first hint of day.

“Oh? Do tell.” Grace’s eyes wandered to the window as if she could care less, ever watchful from the corner of an eye.

“Tommy called last night. I didn’t pick up.” Polly turned her cup round and round studying its contents as if reading tea leaves. “Terrific coffee, sis. You’re looking perky. You had me worried last night.”

“Uh-huh. This is news? Boohoo for Tommy. What’s really eating you? Don’t bother fibbing ‘cause you can’t fool me, like you think you’re doing.”

“Duh.” Polly made a face. “Better get up if I want more coffee.”

“Cut the crap already, what did you get into when I went to bed?”

“Nothing.” Hazel eyes innocent and enormous, she bowed to her coffee.

“We’re sisters, but you are trying my patience.”

“You heard any rumours about family secrets—being the older first child—you know?”

Grace’s mouth dropped. “What are you talking about?” Forehead furrowed, she swung her head around like a puppet, blinking, scanning the files in her head. “This isn’t like you. What’s going on? Is Tommy blackmailing you into marrying him?”

Polly snorted, coffee splattered over the lily-white bedcoverings. “Sorry-sorry-sorry.” She bounced out of bed hauling off the stained candlewick bedspread and top sheet. “Forget Tommy. He’s not news.”

Grace grabbed the bottom of the heavy spread. “Laundry tub, downstairs, I think. I’ll start the soap and water. Bring the vinegar?”

“Here. What do you know about granddad and Uncle John?” Polly swished the soapy water while her sister added the vinegar.

“What an odd question. I have no idea what you mean.”

“Uncle John was not to be trusted. Dad worked his fingers to the bone in Grandpa’s business.”

“Oh yeah? What if you’re wrong? How about breakfast. I’m starving. ”

Polly watched her sister through lowered lashes. “Wrong? I don’t understand. Dad was the good son. Worked and slaved—he saved Granddad’s grocery store from ruin. Uncle John was the black sheep. Everyone said so.”

“Or scapegoat. Help me lift this in the tub.”

“What?”

“Let’s play what if. Coming?”

“What if what?”

“Both Dad and Uncle John worked for Grandad, right? What if Dad had a gambling problem?”

“What? No way.”

“What if he had sticky fingers and helped himself to the till and the store check book.”

“I don’t believe you. Is that why—?”

“Why, what? You want eggs or oatmeal? Why, what?”

“Nothing. Eggs. You too? Great. I’ll do the eggs.” Polly opened the fridge.

“Back in a shake. Have to rinse the bedspread.”

“I’ll do it. It was my fault.”

“Thought you’re doing the eggs? Get cracking. When I return, I’ll expect answers. Tut tut.”

* * *

“Grandma’s spread is good as new. It’s in the washing machine now. You still look like last week’s leftovers. Why couldn’t you sleep and why all the questions? Good. I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

“Coffee?” Polly grabbed the pot and poured two cups. “Going to the attic today?”

“Tut tut. Come on. Clean slate. What’s on your mind?”

Her mouth full, the younger woman chewed and chewed. And chewed. Eyes growing by the minute, she swallowed hard. “I found something in one of the boxes last night.”

Eyes narrowed, Grace clutched the mug to her chest, still as a statue. “What?” Her voice gruff, she cleared her throat.

“It’s better I show you. Be right back.”

Lost in thought, Grace jumped at her sister’s reappearance. Polly thrust the paper under her nose. Studying her sister’s impassive face, she dropped into her chair. Arms around her torso, she rocked in place. The air sizzled with tension. Grace fanned herself with the birth certificate. The women stared at each other.

“Anything else in the box you found this?”

Polly blew out a breath. Her body sagged. The words spilled out in a tumble. “Know anything about this?” She gripped her fingers till the knuckles turned white.

Grandpa handed over the business banking to Uncle John when dad’s bad habits surfaced. The checks to cash were for his gambling debts. He paid them off in person, in cash. Uncle John didn’t want a paper trail.

“And the birth certificate? Why was brother Frank a secret?” Her voice, though a whisper, cracked.

Grace exhaled loud and long. “Mom couldn’t kick dad out, but she’d had it with him. He up and disappeared one day. Frankie was born a year before you, but he wasn’t right…died. You came seven years later.

“Before dad left—“

“No. Grandpa lived to see Frankie. Not grandma. It would have broken her heart. Everybody’s gone now. I’m glad I’m moving into a gated retirement community. Too many ghosts here. You should come.”

Polly shook her head, hand up open-palmed. “I don’t understand, then who…? Not Uncle John, of course, because he was…

“I guess he wasn’t.”

“He’s my fa…?”

The End

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles


65 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 47 – Prompt: Forest

To join in the fun and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:  

  1. 1000 wordsmax
  2. fictionaltale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG(no more than PG-13Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered aroundthe theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainmentvalue!
  6. State the Genre of your storyat the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive the awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage.

**********************************************************************

chest-371386_960_720 Pixabay

Image  from Pixabay. No attribution necessary.

Along Came Polly – Part 2

Part 1 here

Grace’s eyes swept the attic one last time. Enough for one day. Her sister grumbled, teetering on the ladder, an arm hugging a box and the other white-knuckling the beam.

“You okay, baby sister? What’s the matter? Out of shape?”  She stooped near the top of the folding ladder with a chuckle. Forehead glistening, Polly glared back, face a blistering red. “Going to live to your 60th birthday?” She shrieked with laughter till she choked with a coughing fit.

Polly stumbled to the floor below and released her box. Thump. Folded at the waist, she gasped for air, knees clutched as she heaved. “Make way. Coming down.” Grace sing-songed in a cheerful voice. The ladder quivered and creaked beneath her weight. Her sister already halfway to the kitchen, booted the box down the hall. A tap gushed water. A cupboard door slammed. Arms around her box, Grace peered around the corner. Her sister gulped water as if it might be her last chance to drink. She grinned and whacked the wall with the flat of her hand. Polly spun round, the glass grasped tight, eyes huge behind tiny granny glasses.

“Something in the dust you ate? Settle down, Grace. Aren’t you thirsty and tuckered out?” She grabbed another glass, filled it with water and handed it to her sister, who glugged it too. Simultaneously, the women dropped into chairs eyes locked on each other. Polly broke the stare first. Slamming her glass on the table, she giggled like a school girl. “You should see your face.” Yanking the kerchief off her head, she wiped her forehead. “I’m all sticky. Mind if I take a shower first?”

“Go. Where’s the day gone? I’ll rustle up something to eat. What do you feel like?”

“Surprise me.” Polly, rescued overnight bag in her hand, had made her way half-way to the bathroom, her voice faint.

* * *

 “How many boxes do you suppose there are?” Polly settled on the floor in front of the sofa, slicing the air with her mug. “A couple dozen?” Tucking the fluffy white robe from her sister’s guestroom around her knees, her chin pointed at the ceiling.

Eyes glazed, Grace shrugged in her pink velvet robe and stifled a yawn.

“Did you see the trunk buried beneath the boxes? I’m anxious to peek inside first thing tomorrow. What if it’s locked?”

“We’ll find a way.”

“Grace, are you all right? Too much, too soon? You haven’t had time to recuperate after the flu. Off to bed with you.” Led by the arm, her sister toddled down the hall to her room. “Sleep as long as you like. Don’t you dare get out of bed till you smell the morning coffee.” Polly pulled back the covers and padded the mattress. “First, hugs.”

The boxes in the living-room had lost their appeal. Plunked on the carpet like discarded presents, Polly eyed them with trepidation, but only for a moment. Ignoring her cooling coffee, she tore the top off the nearest box, her curiosity overpowering. Envelopes of bills and receipts bound with disintegrating elastic bands filled the box to the brim. Mouth pinched, she removed layer upon layer of envelopes. Disintegrating rubber crumbled in her hands and onto the gray carpet. On the bottom lay a large record book. She flipped through the pages, stopped and blinked. Wait a minute. What is Uncle John’s signature doing on the checks? The bills were in her grandfather’s name. Some checks were for five hundred and one for a thousand dollars made out to cash. Strange. Why cash and why such large amounts with Uncle John’s signature?

A page floated into her lap, less yellowed than the book pages. Light-headed as if floating in a dream, Polly dropped the book and unfolded the paper, heart clenched like a fist. Unable to focus on the writing, she closed her eyes. Why am I so nervous? This has nothing to do with me. Her head hurt as if gripped in a vice. She peered at the writing. A birth certificate? Still the words swam in a murky fog. She gripped the sheet and brought it to her nose. Too close. Back again, the words became clearer, sharper. Polly dropped the paper as if her hands burned and stared into space. Not possible. She covered her face, rocking against the foot of the sofa.  No. No. No.

Her cell chirped in her handbag on the sofa cushions. Not wanting to talk to anyone, she ignored the phone, but as always her curiosity won. She dug the cell out of her purse.  Tommy. Why didn’t he give up? How many times did she need to explain she liked her singlehood? Re-marrying was not in her future. She chucked the phone to the cushions concerned with more important matters.

This must be some kind of mistake. She planned to do a birth record search online, but not tonight, though tempted. This latest development had sucked the life out of her. Not confident she would sleep, Polly threw the paraphernalia back into the box anyway, shut off the lights, and tiptoed to the guestroom, the unsettling evidence clasped to her chest. She stopped at her sister’s door, her ear to sleeping mumbles. A chilling thought struck her. Sometimes, a forest of trees hides what you’ve always known or thought you had.  

To be continued

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles


67 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 45 – Prompt: Dive

To join  and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:  

  1. 1000 wordsmax
  2. fictionaltale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG(no more than PG-13Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered aroundthe theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainmentvalue!
  6. State the Genre of your storyat the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/or include a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive the awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage.

***********************************************************

woman-933488_960_720

Goldilocks?

An unusual number of parked cars clogged the street in front of her apartment. Sandy grumbled and turned left twice to the underground garage, at the back of the building. She reached for the remote but it wasn’t on the visor. “Where the…?” An impatient car horn sounded behind her and inched forward closer. She tapped her horn back at him. Wait. The driver laid on the horn again like there was a fire.

Though early spring and breezy, Sandy’s armpits soaked through her light jacket. Blinking in concentration, she pawed the passenger seat, in the crevices, and on the floor. No luck. Her head snapped at the thump on her driver’s window unable to identify the face bent towards her.

“Open the window.” A man’s voice growled the words, and pixel by pixel, she discerned a human face: short clipped beard, mustache, angry brown eyes, nose skimming the glass. “Well?”

She snapped into action and cranked the handle a couple times. “Sorry. I’ve misplaced my remote. Let me in with yours and I’ll be out of your hair.” She wound up the window, forced a smile and set her hands on the steering wheel. Eyes bulging, he threw his hands into the air. Muttering something colorful, he slapped the window again, and stomped off. Heart racing like a thundering locomotive, her focus on the garage door, Sandy gripped the steering wheel. The double-door creaked and yawned open. Without skipping a beat, she lurched forward and around the corner to her designated spot.

Parked, then out in a flash, she noted the remote on the floor on the driver’s side. She dashed towards the trunk, grabbed her parcels and raced to the elevator. She did not intend to share the pleasure of his company in such a cramped space. Before the door slid shut, a hand plunged to the button on the wall outside without success. Muscles tense and rigid, Sandy shrieked and watched the door slip to its final destination. “Yes!”

The elevator stopped on the third floor. Sandy grasped the handles on her shopping bags and backed into a corner. Old Ma Murphy, as the the tenants called her, tapped her way into the elevator, the splitting image of the famous Einstein. “Hello, dear. Don’t you look a fright. Everything okay?”

Sandy raised a clutch of bag handles to her chest and exhaled. “Sure. I’m good. Had a tense moment with a nasty driver.”

“One reason why I never took up driving, especially these days.” The door creaked shut an inch from Ma Murphy’s behind. She poked her cane at the scruffy carpet. “Mrs. Swain is home from hospital. In need of pleasant company, she said. Going to make her tea.”

Sandy glanced at the red floor numbers. Creak. Creak. They stopped on five. Old Ma Murphy pointed the stick at her packages. “Ever wonder if you spend too much money on nonsense?”  She said, “Tsk-tsk,” circled round and shuffled out, shaking her head. “Young people these days.” The door scraped to a close and rocked upward taking its sweet time to the 11th floor.

Her floor was empty.  Already smells of early suppers cooking reminded her she’d forgotten lunch. Dropping the bags in front of 1105, Sandy fished for keys in her purse. She came up empty. This isn’t happening. It’s not happening. Hairline damp, she stamped her foot and tried again. Teeth clenched, fingers fumbled and clawed. They closed around the key ring. A door slammed in the hall, but she didn’t look up. Instead, she stabbed the lock and pushed the door with more force than intended.

Inside, she leaned against the closed door, eyes and ears on alert. Something odd hung in the air. A sixth sense held her back, wary. There couldn’t be anyone else in the apartment. She’d made enough noise to wake up the dead, hadn’t she?

The kitchen on her right, she tiptoed inside. No one and nothing. Why is it, she wondered, when you think an intruder might be in your house you don’t run for help? Instead, you choke on your heart, crossing fingers no one’s there. She grabbed the meat cleaver off the counter and almost called out, ‘Is someone here?’ Stupid question. Would an intruder answer, ‘Yes, me, the intruder.’ Living- and dining-rooms clear. Nothing worth stealing anyway.

Short of collapsing from tension, Sandy crept down the hallway. Had she shut the bedroom door before going out? She turned the knob with exquisite care, and pushed in the door, not allowing it to slam. The hair on the back of her neck prickled. One door left: the bathroom. She listened. Not a sound. A strong aroma of orange blossom bubble bath enveloped her.

Beyond terror now, Sandy wrenched the door open. A body took a dive beneath the bubbles, red-painted toenails trailed in the air. She’d recognize them anywhere.

“Clarisse. What are you doing here?” Hand thrust in the water, she shoved the head down, panting and collapsed on the floor. “How’d you get in?”

The body popped up, short hair clinging to scalp and face, gasping for air. A pale hand swept across her eyes and over her forehead, teeth gleaming like piano keys. “What a way to greet your little sister. Don’t you check your texts? We’re celebrating your promotion.”

“How’d you get in?”

“You gave me a key, silly.” Clarisse arched ink-black brows and rolled her eyes. “I buzzed and buzzed until a cute guy with a beard and mustache let me in.”

Sandy dropped the cleaver and covered her face. “You almost gave me a stroke.”

“Drama queen. Out—and then it’s your turn. We have a double date tonight.”

“Who? Not…”

Clarisse wiggled wet eyebrows.

The End

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles


42 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 44 – Prompt: Worm

To join  and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a linkback to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive the awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage.

***********************************************************************

happy-new-year-1105854_960_720

Initiation

The clock said ten past noon, but it was five o’clock somewhere, right? Tara twirled the generous celery stalk in her Bloody Caesar in careless coils, head in a fog. A splodge of drink splashed onto the island countertop. She ran a finger over the wet splosh and plunged it into her mouth. Waste not; want not. She didn’t laugh.

The highball glass clasped against her chest, she circled to the window over the kitchen sink. Hefty storm clouds gathered thick and low, gray as grimy mop water. Freezing rain blistered the glass and refused to abandon the pane. Like me. Frozen, grasping. She swirled the celery again and took a bite. Lifting the glass to eye level, she said aloud, “Happy New Year Baby,” and took a swig of Clamato and vodka, the reckless splash of hot sauce a slow burn down her throat. Her eyes bulged. A hack attack overtook her. She reached for more Clamato, then vodka, but put it down again. Today I celebrate January 1st. Alone. No need to get plastered and maudlin.

Tara shook her head. Waves of chocolate-colored hair grazed her shoulders and danced around her somber, pixie face. Something click-clicked in the silent house. She held her breath, froze listening—not the storm—what then? The creak of the front door and a jangle of keys—and brazen footsteps. Fixed to the ceramic floor like a post, she shot out a hand to ward off the intruder. “You!” The word exploded out her throat, leaving her weak and baffled. She set the glass on the island and slumped her petite frame over the surface to brace herself.

He halted mid-stride, his back stiffened. “Hi-dee-ho and all that.” The smile slipped a degree and lifted again. “Seems I’m in time for cocktails and lunch?” He looked about. “Maybe?”

“You have a nerve. Get out. Get out.” Tara glowered, staring him down with every ounce of strength in her hundred and five pound body. ”You copied the keys?”

“Settle down. I came to wish you all the best for the upcoming year.”

“Answer the question.” Her color bloomed from flushed to flame-red. Fists clutched into knots, she banged the island’s laminate top. “You copied the keys? How dare you?”

He had the grace to blush to the roots of his blond crewcut. Coat unbuttoned, he bounced from heels to toes, an innocent smile plastered across the face she once found attractive. “Let’s not fight. Fix me one of those, will you?”

Tara gasped, disbelief on her face. “Where did you think I’d be when you planned to rifle through my house? The divorce is final. You don’t live here anymore.”

Plunging hands deep into his pants pockets, Harry lifted colorless brows as if in surprise. “Where else would you be in this weather?”

“Liar. You thought my mother’s.”

“You used to be a sweet, loving woman. My, you’ve changed… Drinking alone in the middle of the day… Won’t share a drink with your husband…”

“Ex. Ex-husband.” To control her internal tsunami, Tara wrapped jelly-like arms around her middle and leaned against the sink cupboard. “You’re a liar and now a thief. How I allowed you to worm your way into my life, I’ll never understand. Once was more than enough. You’re nothing but a worm with a capital W, a sneak, a schemer. How had I been so blind?”

He altered his gaze from side to side and back again, everywhere except her face. “All’s I want is my wine-making kit. The one my brother gave me.”

Her voice harsh, Tara croaked out a hoarse laugh. “You had plenty of time to claim it all. Everything’s gone.”

“What do you mean, gone? Gone where?”

“Gone. Gone. Hand me the keys. Now.” She lurched forward, open-palmed, teeth gritted till they ached.

He blinked in quick succession and rocked on the balls of his feet. “Who’s the thief, Tara? Gone where?” His voice shook, squeaked like a child’s.

“Keys first.” She drew in a ragged breath, and waited, shoulders taut. A headache hammered at her temples.

He blanched, a lost expression on his face for the first time in the year since divorce proceedings began. Tara’s heart softened. No. His scheming…

“But my brother ordered it for me special.”

“Harry, you better sit.” She guided him to the kitchen table and chairs where they’d enjoyed many a meal during their seven-year marriage. “I’ll get you water.” He remained immobile, a stature carved from stone. “Here. Drink up.” He blinked at the glass, but didn’t lift a hand.

“I never believed you’d go through with it.” He plucked at the crease in his pants, muttering as if to himself.

Tara dropped into a chair facing him knee to knee. “I feel terrible. I do. The thing is you had nine long months to collect the rest of your things. How many times had I reminded you? Two months ago, I cleared out the basement and garage and hauled everything to Salvation Army.”

“Two months?”

“Yup. A week after I asked you the last time and mere days before the decree absolute.” I don’t want to feel bad for you. Leave. Go already.

“How’s about a shot of vodka instead?” His chin pointed to the water.

She scrutinized his face, gauging her next move. “Okay, one shot, and you leave. I’ll not join you in a drink.”

He considered for a nanosecond and searched her face as if he’d never seen her before. “When did you get so tough? I remember the ‘fraidy cat who jumped at her own shadow.” He sprang from the chair. “One for the road and I’m out of here.” She snatched the bottle and poured.

He gulped it in one swallow, stared at the empty glass, and slammed it on the counter.

“Hi-dee-ho.” He grabbed his coat.

“Harry, didn’t you forget something?”

“What?”

“My keys? I won’t ask for my razor back.”

* * *

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles.


39 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 33 – Prompt: Lurk

To join  and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a linkback to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive this awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage:

*************************************************************

IMG_2361

Previously:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Choices

Part 5

 

“What’s going on?” Carol hovered at the top of the stairs.

Steve slipped both hands into his pant pockets. “Seems the neighbor can’t open her door.” His wife tore down the stairs and peered over his shoulder.

“Victoria. What’s wrong?” She grabbed the doorknob.

“Let me.” Her husband’s hand covered hers. He shouldered his way past.

“Can you fix it?” She grabbed his sleeve.

“Don’t know the problem yet.”

Straightening her shoulders, Victoria spun round, lips like a hyphen. Will this night never end? She punched numbers into her phone. “I’m calling a locksmith. Thanks anyway.”

“A locksmith at this time of night? Maybe Steve can help.” Carol stepped outside. Steve was already turning up the adjoining driveway.

“Hello. For some reason, my key doesn’t work.” She raised a forefinger, then changed it to an open palm. “Yes, it’s a deadbolt.” She turned from her waist as if to shield her conversation from the man standing two feet from her. “I see. I did hear a loud clunk on my way out earlier.” She nodded and gave her address. “Thanks.”

Since the rain had dissipated, the night air seemed warm, the of scent fall’s leaves pungent, a reminder winter hung in the background. Carol lingered behind the privet. “Come over for coffee till they get here.”

“Thank you. It’ll be only fifteen or twenty minutes. The locksmith lives close by.” She studied her shoes a moment till Steve turned to leave.

His wife safe in the house making preparations, Steve paused at the bottom of the driveway. Victoria stumbled, reached out a hand to prevent a full body collision. “What’s your problem? Why do you hate me?”

His jaw set in a hard line, he stared her down, eyes cold and steadfast. “You don’t remember me.”

Her head shot up. “Remember you? I know nothing about you. I’m new in town, remember?”

“You best think on it.” He gave an ugly laugh. “Let’s go or the wife will think we’re up to no good.” He snorted and jogged up his drive leaving Victoria on the sidewalk, mouth dropped wide enough to catch fireflies.

“Honey, I’m ho-ome.” He yanked the door open wide. “You coming?”

“What are you two up to out there?” Carol gazed down from the kitchen landing

“Don’t lurk, Carol. It doesn’t become you. We were discussing the problem with her door.”

Victoria rushed in and squeezed past Steve. “Sorry, dear neighbor. My brain’s sawdust. I’m dying for a coffee. The baby’s doing well. Still sleeping?”

Carol nodded. “So far, so good. Sit.” She pointed to the set table.

“Thank you. Nice. Can you believe it’s after 10:00 already? I hope the locksmith is as good as his word.”

Steve hung back, shoving hands into pockets and removing them again. He slumped into the chair next to his wife, across from Victoria, who buried her nose in her mug sipping the hot liquid.

“How long have you lovebirds been married?”

Carol beamed and reached out to caress her husband’s forearm. “One and a half years.”

Victoria blinked to cover her surprise. “I see.”

“My first husband and I divorced. Enough said. What about you?”

“Divorced. Do you mind a nosey question about Sylvie?”

“You mean why doesn’t she talk? She’s always been a quiet child—like her father—she talked around age three, then less when Sarah started talking. By the time Ryan arrived, she’d stopped completely.”

Wide-eyed, Victoria searched the girls’ mother’s  face across the table. She clamped her mouth shut, but couldn’t break eye contact.

“We had her checked. Physically she’s fine and has no hearing problems. The doctor wants to send her to a therapist, but feels she’ll talk when she’s ready.”

Honk. Honk.

“Must be the locksmith. Thanks. Talk later. Bye.” She sprang out of the chair, grabbed her belongings and flew out the door, slamming the wood and storm doors harder than necessary. An A to Z Locksmith Please van glowed white next to her house. A short male with thinning hair nodded in her direction. “Take your time.”

Breathless she explained about the clunk when she’d slammed her door earlier.

“Tube door?”

“Yes.”

 

“Could be the key cylinder fell inside the door.”

* * *

The next morning, mousey brown hair gathered in a ponytail, Victoria lugged groceries through her now fixed side door. Steve slipped outside as she ran out for another load. “You almost gave me heart seizure.” Jaw clenched she ignored him and proceeded with her task.

Leaning against the house, he glanced over his shoulder. “We need to talk.”

“Nope.”

“Let me ask you one thing. Is your father’s name Stephen Hackett?”

She flinched, tightening her grip on the groceries. “He died five years ago. What’s it to you?” She lowered the bag back into the trunk. “What do you want?”

“Didn’t your mama never tell ya to look the person you’re talking to in the eye?  Look at me when I’m talking. Think. Better go inside.”

Victoria gaped like a baby bird working its beak, waiting to be fed.

* * *

Little did Victoria know what lay in store when Carol invited her to dinner a week later. The food was delicious, the company pleasant, yet an electric tension crackled in the air.

Over Spanish coffee, Steve cleared his throat and dropped the bomb. “We played as children a handful of times. You were twelve and I nine. Do you remember me?”

Victoria strained to read his face. “No-o.”

“My mom delivered Avon and saved old samples for you?”

“Vaguely.” She squirmed in her seat, hands clutched in her lap.

“We were poor and I hated you who had everything. I couldn’t believe when you moved here. Small world.”

Carol stroked his arm.

Victoria frowned. “Why…?”

“Stephen Hackett was my father. Ditched us like yesterday’s leftovers when I came along. Didn’t give us one crummy dime in support. Went back to his real family. You got it all, and me—nothing—not even him.

The End

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.


45 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 32 – Prompt: Mars

To join  and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a linkback to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive this awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage:

************************************************************

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Choices

Part 4

Sporting a practiced smile, Victoria smoothed Sylvie’s brow. “Sleep.” She straightened like an automaton and headed for the door. Hand on the jamb, she glanced over her shoulder. Good. The girl’s breathing sounded steady and even.

Heart strumming like a Spanish guitar, she sprinted down the hall to the kitchen. A car door slammed. She seized her purse and coat off the chair, but froze when a key slid into the lock and Steve bounded in, but halted with a jerk at the top of the steps, a foot suspended in mid-air. Cocky as a barnyard rooster, he plastered on a smirk.

“To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?” He wiggled bristly black brows pantomiming the likes of Groucho Marx of vaudeville and slapstick fame.

Clearing her throat, Victoria proceeded to throw on her coat. “Maybe you should first ask where your wife is. She’s at the hospital with the baby.”

“What’s wrong with my son?”

“All I know is he has a high fever and won’t stop crying.” She bit her lip. With the little contact she’d had him, she’d never looked at his face. She did now, startled by his puzzled voice. He had that suave dark look about him Latin men exuded, but on him it came off as arrogant. A curl hung down his forehead adding to the Sal Mineo look she’d seen in old movie magazines her mother still hoarded.

“Your wife took a cab to Emerge. I’ll stay with the girls if you want to find her.”

“I wouldn’t mind spending more time with the girls either.” He crossed burly arms across a broad chest, leaned against the door frame, and snorted.

“Keep your tone down.” Fists clenched till her nails cut into her palms, Victoria listened for activity from the bedrooms. “It’s the least I can do as repayment for the other day.”

“Cozy. Already we’re exchanging favors. What’s next? Christmas cards?”

Mouth flapping like a fish out of water, words failed her. Victoria slapped her purse and tried again.” What is wrong with you? Where have you been living? Mars?”

Steve rocked back on his heels squinting down his nose at her. “Little Miss Perfect has all the answers.”

“Wha…?”

“I got a wife needs me.” Nostrils flared, he blew a noisy breath. Color rose in his cheeks as he spun away and down the stairs in a huff.

Victoria fanned trembling fingers against her breastbone. What’s his problem? This has to stop.

Lost in thought, muffled voices dragged her back to the present. Whipping off her coat, she tip-toed towards the sound. Talking, then laughter. Sylvie wasn’t in her bed. Victoria gasped, a fist to her mouth. By the light of the half-opened bathroom door, she made out two forms in Sarah’s bed, her older sister’s head on her shoulder while she mumbled in her sleep. Mesmerized by the sleeping twosome, she remembered three sisters cramped in a bed during her own youth, out of necessity not choice.

She dared peek into the bathroom mirror and shrank back. She might as well be naked: face pale as a ghost without her usual makeup and lips bloodless and grey as a corpse. Instead of crying with humiliation, she hastened to laugh inwardly. This is last minute after all, an emergency.

Back in the kitchen, she paced, looked around for a book, a magazine. Anything. The wall clock above the art-cluttered fridge showed 9:15 p.m. She flicked on the light in the living-room. A stack of movie magazine littered the coffee table. She laughed out loud. Carol and her mother were cut from the same cloth. She grabbed the heap and settled into a kitchen chair. First, tea called to her.

Victoria checked the kettle, plucked a mug from the drain board, and rummaged in her purse for the Ziploc bag of teabags she carried. The kettle shrieked. She poured the water and jumped sky-high at a disruptive jangle. Water spilled all over the counter. Oh great! It buzzed again; the ringing insistent. She threw a tea towel on the flood and followed the noise.

“Hello?” She stretched and twirled the black cord around her fingers. “How’s the baby?” Victoria let go and watched the rubber covered wiring spring back to its original curly shape. “Wonderful news—yes, he left here about ten minutes ago.” The clock on the fridge wall read 9:33 p.m. “See you soon.”

Victoria cleaned up the wet mess on the counter. The tea cooled past her liking, she drank it anyway, rinsed the mug and returned it to its last place. The magazines returned to the coffee table, she dropped into a kitchen chair to wait already checking her cell for missed calls or messages. Nothing. A yawn reminded her how long the day had been.

A distant, but building drone, fragmented the silence. Soon the noise drowned out the steady tick tock of the clock. A car door slammed, and then another. A murmur of voices outside and then inside the kitchen. The baby asleep, Carol smiled wide, eyes shining. Dressed and prepared to flee, Victoria squeezed her arm as she headed to the door.

“Wait. Don’t go yet. Back in a sec.”

Steve gave her a darting gaze and disappeared down the hall.  Victoria shifted her weight and admired the floor.

“Would you like tea and a sweet?”

“Maybe another time. You must be tired. Goodnight.”

Nerves dancing a rumba, Victoria hastened down the drive. She blew out a breath unaware she’d been holding it. She slipped her key into the lock.

Nothing turned. Nothing touched. Nothing moved.

She stomped on the rubber door mat and flapped her hands.

“Problems?” The nasal voice dripped with sarcasm over the low privet fence, separating their properties.

To be continued

 

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.


58 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 31- Prompt: Scar

To join  and / or meet the wizard behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a linkback to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive this awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage:

************************************************************

Part 1

Part 2

Choices – Part 3

Victoria shut off the hallway light at the top of the stairs, and hesitated. She tiptoed to the bedroom window, the way illuminated by the streetlight across the road. Nerves tighter than a cat’s, she giggled and slapped a hand over her mouth. She crept to the window, but couldn’t see a living being through lazy rivulets of dark rain. No matter how she smooshed her face against the glass, it wasn’t possible to see straight down.

She drew the curtains and felt around for the bedside light switch. Except for the tick-tock of her wind-up clock, no other sounds came within hearing range. Heartbeat slowed to match the clock, she collapsed on the bed. Victoria stared at the ceiling oblivious of its existence.

A small displacement on the mattress beside her shoulder interrupted her reverie. Time had stood still for only a couple minutes. It was 7:37 p.m. “Marmaduke. See anything out there?” The tom settled on all fours as if ready to pounce, blinked and wiggled his ears. His head moved back and forth not unlike someone searching for the right words to announce bad news. “Guess I’m the only ‘fraidy cat here.” The cat stretched a hind leg and groomed himself.

“I might as well get into bed and catch up on my reading. Be right back.” Victoria rolled off the bed with the cat at her heels.

While brushing her teeth, the day’s latter events crossed her mind. She’d called a taxi to deliver her key to the auto club. By day’s end, two young studs, driving in tandem, delivered the car to the office after closing. Gold Membership had its merits. At last she smiled into the mirror, toothpaste trailing down her chin. Marmaduke turned tail and sashayed away, tail high in the air.

An insistent pounding on the side door erased the smile. Now what? She grabbed a towel, stumbled down the stairs, and stopped. The cat already waited below the stairs by the side door. She peered around the corner though a yellow cotton curtain covered the door’s upper window.

“Please help me.” A voice muffled and sobbing pleaded.

Victoria sprang into action, seized the cat,  and wrenched open the door. “What’s wrong? Come in. Come in. I thought you were at the school. I didn’t hear your car return.”

The wind carried the baby’s bawling from next door. “We didn’t go. Steve’s not home. My baby’s sick and a cab’s coming… to the hospital. Can you please watch my girls? They’re already in bed…”

“Sure, sure. Here’s the cab. I’ll hurry.” Victoria charged upstairs for her cell and purse. She yanked her coat out of the hall closet. Tenting it over her head against the fine mist, she slammed the door. What was the clunk when the door banged shut?

She noted the driver had parked too close to the house. The neighbor’s side door wide open, she raced inside and up the stairs. The layout different here, she stepped into the kitchen. Mother and howling baby careened towards her. “Careful. You don’t want to trip.”

“ThankyouI’mCarol. You’re a life-savor. Can’t reach my mother either.” The women held on to each other, one cradling her baby, the other supporting his mother. The cab driver didn’t exit the car to help the struggling women. Or open the back door. “Get in on the driver’s side.” Victoria rushed back to the house. The taxi reversed down the drive.

I’m in a stranger’s house whose husband gives me the creeps. What if he comes back before she does? The thought stuck like a scar.

She’d kicked off her wet shoes at the door. Barefoot in the center of the kitchen, she surveyed her surroundings. The furnishing was neat, but in need of serious updating. The kitchen cabinets begged sanding and repainting or complete replacement. Chipped paint and cracked doors frowned in embarrassment. Countertops showed wear past their due date and the floor tiles were of the old asbestos type. The sense of someone watching jolted her heartbeat. No-one else in the house but the girls, right?

A glance over her shoulder triggered an involuntary gasp. “Sylvie. I thought you were asleep.” Except for worried hands clutching and unclutching each other, the girl stood rooted to the spot, eyes glazed and unblinking.

“You remember me, right? You and Sarah came to visit the day I moved in?”

Her nod, though slight, proved she understood.

“You wonder why the baby stopped crying and why I’m in your house?”

Another slight nod. Eyes blinked shut for an instant and flicked open. The hands slowed their twisting. “Your momma took a taxi to the hospital with your brother. He’s sick. Want me to tuck you in?”

The girl gaped about as if looking for something. Or someone.

“Your daddy isn’t home either. That’s why I’m here.”

The girl tilted her head, brow furled in thought. Victoria held her breath and waited. I don’t know a thing about kids. Hope I don’t spook her.

Sylvie loosened her hands, smoothed her long pink princess nightie, with tiny steps approached her and grabbed her hand. With a shy smile to break many hearts to come, she tugged till Victoria followed. In the bedroom’s doorway, a long forgotten question popped into her head. “Do you need the bathroom before bed?

The girl shook her head.

“No school Saturday but a girl needs her beauty sleep.” Victoria smiled and pulled back the covers. The girl slipped in, eyes wide and searching. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here till someone comes home. Sleep tight. Maybe you and sister Sarah will visit again soon.”

Sylvie smiled. Sarah twitched and sighed in her sleep in the other bed.

The long-suffering roar of a mutilated tailpipe shredded the quiet night.

To be continued

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.


62 Comments

#BlogBattle Week 30 – Prompt: Reach

To meet the mind behind this challenge click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Rules:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story, put a linkback to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/orinclude a link to this page in your own blog post(it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

Each winner will receive this awesome #BlogBattle Winner Badge to display with their winning story on their webpage:

********************************************************************

I’ve decided to expand last week’s story titled Choices. Read Part 1 here.

 

“Sit tight.” He thundered past to turn around. The shake and rattle faded with distance, but not for long.

Oncoming headlights of a single car pierced the shroud of hammering rain against her windshield. The wipers quit upright in mid-sweep as if stunned. Steve’s car howled closer behind her and stopped alongside. Victoria bit her lip, but scurried out of her car into the waiting and open door beside her. The stink of stale cigarettes, wet rags, and rancid grease punched her in the face before she shut the door. Phew.

“Good thing you came around the corner close to the sidewalk. I’d hate to push your car in this rain. ” Where to? His eyes roamed her huddled frame without apology.

“The Bradley Assurance Building downtown. Please.”

“Didn’t your mother never tell ya to look the person you’re talking to in the eye? What a scared little mouse you are.” He hooted and bobbed.

The grating voice in her ear over the earsplitting broken-Mack-truck noise gave her a headache. Purse to chest, she withdrew a hand to press against the drumbeat in her head. She sucked in a deep breath through her mouth, snapped on the seatbelt, and drew herself up straighter in the bucket.

“Let’s not talk.”

“Get over yourself, will ya?” He whipped a smoke out of his breast pocket.

“You’re not going to smoke that!”

He smirked and narrowed his eyes. “My car. My rules. Seems to me I’m already doing you a favor—What’s that saying about beggars and such?” He tapped the cigarette tip on the steering wheel and stuck it into the corner of his mouth.

Victoria sank deeper into the seat. Someone’s horn sounded over the cacophony in her head. She peered out the window. The traffic around them had swelled. Rain still swamped the windshield. Whish-whoosh, the wipers labored. Swoosh-whish. The wail of an ambulance drew closer. Steve eased to the curb with the rest of the traffic. He didn’t light the smoke.

“If ya hafta know, I quit for the third time a week ago. Sucking on these babies calms me down, ya know.” He turned to her with a lecherous grin. “You look like a drowned cat…”

She flinched and sidled closer to the passenger door, forehead to the cool window. The ambulance passed and commuters snaked forward again.

“Touchy-touchy. I’m telling ya like it is so you can fix yourself when you get to work.”

“Where are you going? This is the wrong way.” Victoria hated the shrill sound of her voice.

Eyes ready to burst out of her head, she jerked forward, hands raised toward the dash. The seatbelt restrained her.

Steve withdrew the soggy cigarette and shook with silent laughter. “I knew it. You’re a scared little mouse, aren’t ya? I’m going around the block to drop you in front of the building, not across the street.”

“Oh.”

“About your car? Want me to take care of it?”

“No-no. I’ll call the auto club. You’ve been more than helpful. Your wife must be worried what’s keeping you. Can’t thank you enough.” The front door of her building came into view. Soggy pedestrians with dripping umbrellas high-stepped around each other in squelching shoes.

Steve flicked on his signal and edged to a sloshing stop and flung his hand on the back of her bucket seat. He jiggled black caterpillar brows at her. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

“What are you—sixteen? It’s a figure of speech. Doesn’t mean what you’re thinking.” She wrenched open the door and stumbled into a river of streaming water searching for any opening along the curb.

“Careful now.” He snickered.

Without a backward glance, she slammed the door and sloshed her way up the stairs joining bedraggled employees rushing through the revolving doors. She charged forward, collapsing her umbrella and squeezed into an already crowded elevator. I hope my presentation goes better than my ride with Steve.

* * *

Dry and warm after a long disheartening day, Victoria curled up on the sofa, a tall Spanish coffee on the side table, a book, and Marmaduke in her lap. The now cold rain riddled the windows as if tired from plunging all day. She stroked the cat’s silky head. He leaned in against her palm and purred in a stupor. Now and again he shivered in delight. “Aren’t you my sweet, sweet boy?” One eye opened to examine her, a look of scorn on his face. He gave a heavy sigh and closed it.

“What’s with you, cat? Little Sarah next door said you look like a cow. You didn’t make faces at her.” The Tom shifted and coiled into a compact rope, paw pressed over his eyes. “A cow, she said. Good point, I think.” She poked the fur ball in a shoulder, but he ignored her.

“What a horrible day it’s been. Don’t let me start about our dreadful neighbor. I wanted to reach over and wipe the smirk off his face. Permanently.”

“Shh. What’s that?” Her knees bounced skyward; the cat bolted to his favorite window. Victoria’s heart hammered in her ears. Tiny hair she didn’t know she had, prickled on the back of her neck. Chest tight, her knees turned to water when her feet hit the floor. Rain fell with a lazy trickle now. Someone or something was poking around outside. Thank goodness she’d closed the drapes. No. The silly cat left an open space when he jumped on the window sill. She grabbed her cell, and paraphernalia, and switched off the lights on her way upstairs.

Nobody’s home next door. They’re at the parent-teacher meeting at the school. What on earth did they have to do with anything?

It wasn’t them she meant. It was Steve. She didn’t trust him.

 

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.


60 Comments

#BlogBattle – Week 25

Check out the originator of this challenge at

#BlogBattle

The rules are easy:

  1. 1000 words max
  2. fictional tale (or true if you really want)
  3. PG (no more than PG-13) Content – let’s keep this family friendly!
  4. Your story must contain the word(s) from the theme and/or be centered around the theme in a way that shows it is clearly related
  5. Go for the entertainment value!
  6. State the Genre of your story at the top of your post.
  7. Post your story on Tuesday, by 11:59 PM PST
  8. Use the hashtag #BlogBattle when tweeting your story,put a link back to your #BlogBattle Short Story in the comments section of this page, and/or include a link to this page in your own blog post (it creates a “ping-back” which will alert me and our friends to your #BlogBattle post)
  9. Have fun!

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This week’s prompt:  Legumes

Genre: General Fiction

Tonight’s Canning

What a life!

“You all can finish up. I’m going to start supper.” With one swipe of a sleeved forearm, Annie wiped perspiration from her brow and shut off the tractor.

She had done it all during her younger days, and thrived on the heat, an aching back and sore muscles. Nowadays, ten hours at a stretch were too long—heck, even eight hours were too much. The extra padding she carried now might have something to do with her discomfort, but then shouldn’t the fact she was now shorter and closer to the ground make up for it?

Weary to the bone, she trudged towards the house. Wide-brimmed hat cast off, she swatted the air to disperse the thicker dust off her face. “You’ve been a stinker today,” she said to the sun. In answer it sagged like an orange-yellow egg yolk down a white-washed, gleaming wall. “This old sack of bones needs a bath and a tall glass of lemonade.” An old border collie raised her head from the floor of the wrap-around veranda, barked once and lowered her muzzle again, eyes hazy but attentive.

“Been a trying day in the shade has it dog?” Annie laughed at her wit, a coarse sandpaper sound, and slapped a knee with her straw hat. Hauling on the wood railing, she hoisted her squat frame up the steps, stopping to pet the old dog. Pepper took this as an invitation. “Come in then. The water in your bowl will be cooler inside.”

With a sigh, she scanned the basket-cluttered counter of legumes: soybeans, butter beans, regular bush beans, all awaiting canning before she laid head to pillow. Pepper swayed on arthritic hips, shuffling towards the tempting water bowl, but slurped with energy and gusto. The old stone farmhouse was cool inside, and shielded its inhabitants from the relentless sun, but not when the oven was on. “Go to it, old girl. I’m going to cool myself.”

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Annie returned clean and refreshed. Sleeves pushed up, she made no unnecessary movements. She had deposited three whopping chickens in the oven on slow heat after lunch. Their doneness fragrant in the air, she smiled and relaxed. Potatoes and carrots peeled, she husked fresh field corn and readied a deep pot. Soon elbow deep in beans and pulses while supper cooked, she hummed a tuneless ditty. The dog snored and passed wind beneath the wooden table. Steam swirled over the stove from the enamel water bath canner. Annie wiped her drenched brow and overheated face with a fresh towel. Dishes and cutlery in a plastic crate, she then set the table outside beneath the maple where the temperature had dropped as the sun dipped lower. Where is everybody? I’m starving.

As if in answer, ten workers—three of them teenage girls—plus her husband and two sons straggled across the yard. Though they had running water in the house, all heads and necks dripped water from the handy water pump around the corner to the house. “What’s to eat, woman?” Her silver-haired husband grinned and exchanged a one-two boxing maneuver with his adult son. The younger of the boys punched his father’s arm and raced to the table where he didn’t sit, but hovered.

The men whistled and hooted and picked their spots, but younger son and the girls followed Annie into the kitchen for the food.

“You all enjoy. I need to finish tonight’s canning. Lots more needs doing tomorrow.”

“Annie. At least take time to eat.” Her husband caught her arm as she swept past. “You need a break. For me?”

“In a minute, okay? The jars need to come out of the bath. I have more two short batches tonight.” She patted his shoulder and proceeded towards the veranda swinging her hips like a much younger woman. Whoops and howls followed in her wake.

Pepper had slipped outside unnoticed. No longer capable of taking the stairs, she poked her snout between the porch’s railings whining for attention from the diners. “Don’t worry, precious. I haven’t forgotten you.” Annie leaned over with effort to pat the black head. “Hold on, girl.” The door slapped behind her. The relaxed comradery around the outside dinner table continued. Someone had plugged in the lanterns against the diminishing light.  “You want pies, come and get them when you’re ready.”

The dog fed and sprawled on the porch outside, Annie focused on her work. She continued to remove the processed jars. The next batch was ready for blanching and freezing this time. Perspiration dripped into her eyes. The tongs for lifting required more concentration now. Her required reach seemed higher and felt heavier with each jar she removed. She swiped a hand across her forehead. Three more jars to go. Her arms leaden and wrists straining, Annie struggled, determined to finish.

A spine-chilling scream quashed the joviality outside. The tinkle of shattered glass. A loose chair sent crashing. The scream other-worldly, never-ending. A heavy thud…

Father and sons tore up the stairs.

The dog howled as if scalded.

The End

What are pulses?

http://www.pulsecanada.com/food-health/what-is-a-pulse

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© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.