#52weeks52stories “The Sweetest Days, Part 2”

chest and rose

I said I’d post the conclusion of The Sweetest Days this week. I lied. Not intentionally! I don’t like serial pieces because I have no OFF button, but between my great-aunt duties, Camp NaNo, and my finger hovering over the publish button on another piece, my brain is like a bowl of oatmeal… and I hate oatmeal.

However, I did update it! And, finishing it is at the top of my to-do list for the week. Well, maybe not at the top, probably closer to the middle. Okay, it’s ON the to-do list. How about that? 😀

Enjoy!

~~~

#52weeks52stories: Week 29

Word prompt: movie

Word count – 407

Reading time – 1 min, 41 sec.

~~~

“I talked with Josie Jacobs, dear, and I know the last year hasn’t been easy for you.”

Gayla Petry took Moira by the hand, leading her to the registration table.

“Josie’s inside and Melanie will be here soon.” She handed Moira her name badge and reunion goodie bag. “Spend a little time with old friends, dear. It will make you smile.”

Moira squeezed her former teacher’s hand and headed for the grand ballroom.

Crossing the threshold, she was caught in a time-warp.

Posters of Prince, Robert Palmer, and Whitney Houston graced the entryway.

The Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls blared from speakers, assaulting Moira’s forty-eight-year-old ears and vibrating the floor.

I used to think that song was cool, now I just want it turned down.

As she admired the rest of the pop culture display, classmates waved to Moira. Some she recognized, other she was sure were groupies and not from her graduating class.

Not much happened in Flanders, Indiana, but the class of 1988 had the distinction of having three members drafted into the NFL, another went to the major leagues, and still another made two appearances in Olympic games as a member of the US swim team. All these years later, women still flocked to the standouts.

Not a bad legacy for a bunch of goofy kids.

Moira paused in front of a montage of Teen Beat magazines. A smile formed on her lips as she remembered how crazy girls were for all those handsome young male faces. She moved on, frozen in time. A poster of Three men and a Baby—one of her favorites, shared space with Fatal Attraction—her first grownup movie.

Her smile faded when her gaze fell on the third movie poster—The Lost Boys. It was an awesome vampire movie to most, Moira included until the title name took on a new meaning for her.

*

“You can’t leave, Kev.”

“I have to, Sissie. I’m one of the Lost Boys now. I’ll miss you, but I’d rather not spend whatever time I have left under the same roof with parents who believe I’ve ruined their lives because I’m gay.”

*

Moira believed the day her brother found out he’d become a Lost Boy—gone from being HIV positive to having full-blown AIDS—was the saddest day of her life. She didn’t think her soul could fracture any deeper watching the person she loved most suffer and die.

She was wrong.

~~~

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#52weeks52stories “The Sweetest Days”

chest and rose

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#52weeks52stories: Week 28

Word prompt: reunion

Word count – 813;

Reading time – 2 min, 10 sec.

~~~

Moira exited I-94 and rolled to a stop at the traffic signal at the end of the off-ramp.

She drummed her fingers against the steering wheel, indecision tugging at her.

Turning left would take her back to the highway, her hotel, and home in two hours.

Turning right would lead her to the Marriott Hotel… and her thirtieth high school class reunion.

The last thing Moira Lambert wanted to do was attend her class reunion.

She turned right anyway.

High school hadn’t been unpleasant for the homecoming queen and class valedictorian, it just didn’t have the same meaning for her as it did her classmates.

Moira was proud of her accomplishments and honored to be so well-thought of, but everything changed near the end of her senior year and then the only thing that mattered was graduating and leaving Flanders, Indiana.

It’s not too late, Lambert. You could grab your things from the hotel and be home before midnight.

Before she could respond to her own heeding, Moira heard Alexander’s quips.

“Don’t focus on the pain, honey-bunny. God knows we’d never smile if we only remembered the bad times.”

Her pursed lips relaxed into a bittersweet smile. She continued on as though Alexander Lambert was right there guiding her.

She pulled up to valet park in front of the Marriott Hotel and stepped out of her Qx50 accepting her claim stub from the young Latino man who’d opened her door. She thanked him with a smile and headed for the entrance, pretending not to notice the look her valet exchanged with two other young men standing at the valet stand.

She wasn’t angry or offended. Moira knew far too women in her age group who thought nothing of bedding young men half their age and it didn’t matter if they were valets, wait staff or occupied an office across the hall. Moira Lambert didn’t judge. She just wasn’t in that group.

As she entered the hotel, large metallic green signs with yellow glitter text directed members of the Taft High School Class of 1988 to the Grand Ballroom on the lower level.

Moira smirked while walking past the sign.

Kat Volker still had an obsession with glitter.

Approaching the escalator bay, Moira’s steps slowed.

This was the first reunion she’d attended without Alex.

This was the first time she’d done anything other than work since losing her husband of twenty-five years. She knew he’d be disappointed in her.

Like Moira, Alexander Lambert was going through the motions of living when they met on the Purdue University campus.

Tragedy touched his senior year of high also when his mother lost her battle with breast cancer. His misery deepened when he had to move in with his father and stepmother.

Catina Lambert hated him for being a constant reminder Gil Lambert was ever involved with a woman other than her. Her lies and scheming kept the Lambert men at odds so much, Alexander applied for early enrollment to Purdue to get away from the Lambert home.

Melancholy washed over her as the escalator carried her down.

Moira knew she’d met a kindred soul and told Alexander about her parents’ reaction when her older brother, Kevin, came out to them after his college graduation.

Big Abraham Jennings had balked at his only son being a fairy, and Genova Jefferson Jennings knew the Flanders African Methodist Church would shun them all.

Moira stayed at her brother’s side, holding his hand, ashamed of her parents for the first time in her life.

But it wouldn’t be the last.

Moira could see the reception area outside the Grand Ballroom was filling up and took stock of her appearance in the mirrored wall as the escalator took her to the lower level of the Marriott Hotel.

She looked good.

The streaks of gray on the left side of her head gave her a mature look without being matronly. They ran through her soft, brown curls from her temple to her shoulder.

The knee-length, purple silk wrap-dress complimented her hour-glass figure and Moira didn’t even lament the illusive twelve pounds that considered her hips a permanent home.

She stepped off the escalator and approached the registration table to the left of the ballroom entrance, and her first smile of the evening was genuine.

“Moira Jennings!”

A tall, thin woman with snow white hair leaped up from the table and ran to greet Moira, pulling her into a tight hug.

“Oh. I’m sorry, I keep forgetting. It’s Moira Lambert.”

Moira pulled back wearing a big grin. “Mrs. Petry, you know I’ll always answer to whatever you call me.”

The retired history teacher beamed. “Still my best… and favorite student.”

Gayla Petry pulled her former student close for another tight hug.

“It is good to see you, my dear. I’m so glad you decided to come.”

Moira chuckled. “I am too, I think.”

~~~

Thanks for reading! Stop in next week for the conclusion to The Sweetest Days.

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#52weeks52stories “oyster crackers & lemonade”

oyster crackers and lemonade banner

~~~

#52weeks52stories – Week 27

Word prompt – cold medicine

Word count – 2777

~~~

“I said I’m not going, and that’s the end of it, old woman.”

Willie Crawford plunked down in his worn recliner and crossed his arms across his chest.

“Call me old woman one more time. I dare you.”

Wanda Crawford stood with arms akimbo glaring down at him.

He waved her off. “Oh, Wanda you know what I mean. We’ve been married forty-seven years. I’m old too.

“You got that right.”

He smirked at her and picked up the television remote.

“Don’t you dare turn that on.”

“Wanda—“

“I mean it. We’re old, not dead yet, Willie. What’s wrong with driving down to town for a nice lunch and a quick shopping trip?”

“I hate shopping.”

“But you love to eat.”

Willie dropped the remote onto the coffee table. “Why do we have to go anywhere? We have everything we need right here at home.”

“You know what I have, Willie? I have your laundry to do, your meals to cook, and the back of your head to stare at while you watch yet another movie marathon of westerns.”

“Oh, what a horrible life you have, Wanda. Shame on me.”

“Don’t be an ass, Willie. Not that you can help yourself.”

She stomped off into the kitchen and Willie knew he’d crossed a line. He followed her to make things right… without having to leave the house.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to get on your bad side, honest.”

Wanda didn’t respond. She stood at the kitchen counter, her back to him.

“Come on, baby, don’t ignore me. I just don’t see anything wrong with enjoying retirement doing the things I like.”

She turned her head toward him.

“Doing the things you like? That wasn’t the plan, remember? Twenty years ago, we said when the kids were all on their own, we’d sell this place, buy a small bungalow and garden a little. Maybe travel and see some of this country.” She looked away. “We both retired four years ago and we’re still here in the hot-as-blazes Nevada desert… thirty minutes from the nearest decent town and four hours away from our children. And for what? So you can sit in that chair I should have thrown out a decade ago and watch yet another retrospective on how the west was won.”

“It’s called, ‘The Old West: They Wore White Hats: The Good Guys.’”

Wanda picked up a pen and scribbled on her notepad. “Today. Tomorrow it will be, “The Old West: Bad Guys: Guns, Guns, Guns.” What’s next? “The Old West: When Men Were Men, Women Were Few, and the Cattle Were Nervous?”

“Now isn’t that a fine way for my wife to talk?”

Wanda clutched at her chest, feigning shock. “You do know that I’m your wife. At least I know your brain still works. Mostly.” She continued writing.

Willie let the jibe pass while trying to look over her shoulder. “What are you writing?”

“It’s called a shopping list.”

“Look, Wanda. I apologized, but I’m not going into town.”

She tore the sheet from the pad and grabbed her handbag from the kitchen table.

“No, you’re not. I’m going alone.”

“Aww, c’mon, honey. You know I don’t like you traveling these roads alone.”

“Then come with me.”

“That’s blackmail.”

Wanda strode past him to the door leading to the garage. “No, Willie. It’s not. See you later.”

He bristled. Why was she so stubborn? She was probably standing in the garage waiting for him to come running. Well, he wasn’t going to. She couldn’t trick…

Willie was startled from his thoughts when he heard the Suburban’s engine roar to life.

Dammit! She was leaving!

He raced through the side door just as Wanda put the SUV in reverse.

“Wanda Jean! Wanda Jean!”

She lowered the passenger door window. “What?”

“You always have to have things your way, don’t you?”

“Willie, the last time I got my way was 1994 when we painted the house blue instead of that puke pea-soup green you wanted. See you in a couple of hours.”

She eased the truck out of the garage and backed down the driveway.

Frustrated, Willie ran after her, approaching the truck on the driver side.

“Wanda Jean!”

She stopped again, this time lowering her window.

“Why do you keep yelling my name?”

“I want you to stop this.” He held out his hands. “Look, I’m not calling you old, but you’re too old to travel these old dusty roads alone.”

“Maybe I am, Willie. But I’m also too young to sit at home day after day waiting for death.”

He flinched.

“We’re fortunate, Willie. We have our health and our right minds—well, I have my mind—and the means to live comfortably.”

“And we’re comfortable here, right?”

“You are, Willie Crawford. But some days… most days, I feel like I die a little. Just like this town.”

“Oh, stop getting all dramatic, Wanda Jean.”

“Willie, why won’t you ever admit it? Thirty years ago, Hemming was something else. A real family community. But things change. All the kids grew up, moved away for college and better jobs. And they never came back, Willie.”

“All the kids left, but parents… grandparents—we’re still here.”

“Not the smart ones. They followed their kids or moved to retirement communities with more amenities than dusty pastures and rusted out tractors.”

“This would be paradise to some folks, Wanda.”

“We should have left after we retired.”

Willie didn’t want to have the moving argument again. He wanted his wife to park the truck so they could both go back inside.

“We’re salt of the earth people, Wanda. This is where we belong.”

“You say we when you mean you.” She glared at her husband. “It’s not always about you, Willie Crawford.”

Removing her foot from the brake, Wanda continued down the driveway. Willie walked alongside the truck until she backed into the road.

A part of Willie Crawford knew his wife was right, yet he still couldn’t reconcile with selling the home he spent his life working for and moving away. Willie didn’t handle change well.

Wanda put the vehicle in drive.

“Since you’re determined to go, stay out of Shuyster’s. Cal Beeman’s always flirting with you.”

Wanda scoffed. “He’s just a nice man. No one wants me. I’m an old woman, remember?”

The words stung Willie’s ears. He was such a fool sometimes.

“Yeah, but you’re my old woman.” He spirits rose when he saw the corners of her mouth twitch.

“And would you bring back some of those oyster crackers I like? And some of that bottled lemonade?”

“Nope.”

Willie’s mouth hung open as the smile that had been forming on Wanda’s lips turned into an evil sneer.

“But I will bring back some Spam.”

She floored the SUV and left him standing there in a cloud of dust and sand.

Damn woman!

Willie hated Spam. He’d had more than his fill during his military days and vowed never to eat it again.

However, he knew when Spam appeared at the dinner table Wanda Crawford was fed up.

Willie walked up the driveway, glancing down Kess Road, knowing the cloud of dust was his wife.

He went straight to the kitchen and made two turkey sandwiches. He added two bananas and a bottle of beer to his meal.

Willie knew he had to fill his stomach because he had no doubt Spam was on Wanda’s shopping list.

~~~

Jolted awake, Willie sat up straight, scrubbing his hand down his face.

“That you, Wanda?”

Getting no response, Willie stood and stretched, and headed for the kitchen to see how much Spam Wanda brought home. He’d just reached the doorway of the darkened kitchen when the front doorbell chimed.

Willie glanced into the kitchen once more before answering the door.

“That better not be Wanda playing guest again.”

He yanked open the door, but it wasn’t Wanda. Sheriff Chet Austin filled the doorway. Willie noticed Chet’s deputy, Harris Nelson standing next to the squad car in his driveway.

“Hey, Chet. What brings you to my door? I’ve been home all day and have broken no laws.”

The pained expression on the lawman’s face made Willie’s chuckle die in his throat.

“No, Willie. It’s Wanda—“

“Wanda? What did she do? You know what? She left here speeding—mad at me. Did you pull her over? Oh, God, please tell me she didn’t have an accident—“

The sheriff was abrupt. “Willie, there’s been a shooting. You need to come with us.”

Willie froze.

“Shooting? What does a shooting have to do with me? Where’s Wanda? I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going—“

“It’s Wanda, Willie.”

Willie Crawford slumped against the door-frame. The sheriff reached out to hold him up, but Willie steadied himself.

“C-Chet… where? Where, Chet? What happened and where’s my wife?”

“At the strip mall in town. Some meth-head smashed a case in Dollar General, shoved a shelf full of cold medicines in a bag and ran out the store. The assistant manager ran after him. He yells at the guy to stop and the fool pulls out a handgun and shoots behind him. A bullet struck the assistant manager in the head. He died instantly. From what witnesses said, Wanda was climbing up into her truck. A bullet hit her in the chest.”

Willie locked his elbows, bracing himself against the door. “Where’s my wife, Chet? Is… she… “

“No, Willie, Wanda’s still with us, but it isn’t good. You have to come with us now.”

~~~

Sheriff Austin pulled up next to Wanda’s Suburban in the strip mall parking lot.

“This isn’t a good idea, Willie. You should have waited at the hospital for the victim’s advocate. You shouldn’t be alone right now.”

Staring straight ahead, Willie’s voice was flat, void of emotion. “I’m not the victim, Chet. W-Wanda… was. I can’t leave her truck sitting here like this. She wouldn’t like it. She wouldn’t like it one bit. You said the crime scene investigation was done so I’m taking it home.”

The grieving man reached for the door handle.

“Then stay with me a while, Willie. At least until some of your kids get here. We can get a bite to eat and talk. Or not talk.”

Willie sagged deep in the seat. “I thank you for your kindness, Chet. I appreciate it. But you have a job to do and nothing will bring Wanda back.” His voice broke on the last word. Willie bit into his lower lip, steeling himself. “Pasadena’s less than five hours away. Junior’s always driving like he was on fire. Now, with his mama… well, I’m sure they’re past the halfway mark.”

He opened the door and stepped out before the sheriff could respond. When he reached back inside to grab the bag containing his wife’s personal belonging, Chet grabbed his arm.

“I’m so sorry, Willie. Wanda was a nice lady. Please know we’re taking that lil punk into Vegas tomorrow. He’ll be arraigned for double murder with special circumstances. He’ll never see the light of day again.”

“He’s some kid strung out on meth who tried to steal the stuff to make more. Harris told me the kid still doesn’t understand he killed two people today. If he sits in jail for two lifetimes, he’ll never know what he’s taken from me and that young man’s family.”

Willie grabbed the bag and shut the door, not looking back at his old classmate. He dug around in the bag until his hand felt the small Magic 8 ball keyring. He stared at the keyring then shook his head, refusing to allow memories to crowd his mind.

Pressing the door fob, Willie approached the driver-side door and froze.

Parking lot lights illuminated the area enough for Willie to see what remained of the sheriff department’s investigation.

Arrows and distance markers were etched into the pavement. Willie’s broken heart pounded in his chest when he realized the dark circles outlined in chalk was blood.

Wanda’s blood.

He gripped the door handle, yanked the door open wide and threw himself up into his wife’s truck. Slamming the door, Willie leaned his head against the steering wheel to calm his rapid breathing. But Wanda’s presence overwhelmed him.

The scent of her favorite white citrus body crème filled the vehicle. The purple seat covers and floor mats reminded him of her near-obsession with the color.

He touched the small cube hanging from the rearview mirror. It was filled with photos of the two of them from last year’s harvest festival.

Wanda hated harvest festival. She didn’t see the point since no one had harvested anything but dust in fifteen years.

But Willie loved the festival, and she went because of him.

She was always doing something for him.

Willie’s jaws tightened as he clenched his fists and punched the steering wheel over and over.

“Why did you have to go out, Wanda? Why couldn’t you stay with me?” Perspiration trickled down his temples. He raised his head and covered his face with his hands. “Oh, God, Wanda. Why couldn’t you stay with me?”

The lump in his throat made swallowing difficult. As bile churned in his stomach seeking an exit, sharp, stabbing pains filled his chest. Now drenched in sweat, Willie knew he was having a heart attack. He leaned back in the seat and waited for death to take him.

But it wasn’t a heart attack and death never came for Willie Crawford, and he was grateful. As his body worked to calm itself, Willie remembered his children racing from California to be with him. To say goodbye to their mother. He wouldn’t want them to have to deal with so much death.

He started the truck and went home.

~~~

After the garage door closed, Willie sat in the Suburban feeling every one of his seventy years.

He glanced at the side door, knowing he could not prolong this, and opened the truck door. Willie grabbed the bag holding Wanda’s things from the passenger seat and for the first time noticed Wanda’s hand-sewn canvas shopping bag on the floor.

He turned away, planning to leave it in the truck and couldn’t.

Reaching over, Willie grabbed the canvas bag, slid his arm the looped handles and allowed it to slide up in arm.

His gait was unsteady. His wife’s bags coupled with the emotional weight of grief and fatigue caused Willie to lumber all the way to the kitchen table.

Dropping everything on the kitchen table, Willie Crawford leaned on the table with both hands to steady himself and catch his breath.

He raised his head and listened. The stillness of his home made Willie uncomfortable and for the first time in thirty-two years, he hated the house. This was the last place he wanted to be.

Without Wanda.

The sharp stabbing pains returned to his chest and Willie fell into the chair next to him. He raked a hand through his thick gray hair, pulling it on the ends.

“Why was I so stubborn? I knew she wanted to move. Why was I so determined to stay?”

“It’s not always about you, Willie Crawford.”

The words rang in his ears even though Wanda said them hours before.

Guilt and shame bore down on Willie and he leaned on both elbows on the table. Wanda was unhappy… because of him. She left home upset… because of him.

His eyes brimmed with tears and Willie swiped them away with his hand. He didn’t deserve to cry. Had he been a good husband, he would have taken Wanda to lunch. It would have been a long lunch with his wife teasing him for having two desserts.

She would never have been in the strip mall parking lot.

Willie didn’t know how he’d go on… how he would live with himself. She was the love of his life. Had he told her that recently? Did Wanda know how much he loved her?

He looked at the bags on the table. They shouldn’t be here without Wanda. He shouldn’t be here without Wanda.

Willie reached out, his fingers stroking the canvas shopping bag.

Wanda hated plastic shopping bags and made canvas bags for quick, small trips to the store.

He pulled the bag to him as melancholy and humor struck him at the same time.

Spam. Wanda was true to her word.

He popped the snap and reached into the bag to remove the offensive mystery meat.

But it wasn’t Spam.

Guttural moans began deep in Willie’s chest and filled the kitchen. His hands shook as he removed the bag’s contents—a package of oyster crackers and two bottles of lemonade.

 

Images from Google
©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights, Reserved

 

#52weeks52stories “Dream a Little Dream”

Dream a Little Dream banner

#52weeks52stories: Week 26

Word Prompt: dream

Word count – 2007 words; Reading time – 7 mins

~~~

She was here.

His day went from good to great.

Everything else fell away from his viewpoint as he focused on her every movement.

After clearing the east entrance to the park, she loosened the harness on the huge malamute and looped the leash around her wrist.

Mark Evans had seen his mystery woman at the park enough to know the massive dog who could be mistaken for a small furry horse, was named Midas.

Though his size was intimidating, Mark had never seen the dog misbehave and was sure his mystery woman had no need for the leash.

Mark followed her with his eyes as she and Midas did a slow jog around the park’s perimeter.

She wore no knit cap or jacket today because of the warmer temps of late spring. Her dark brown curls pulled back into a messy ponytail, bounced as she ran.

She was beautiful.

His Dream-girl.

Only she wasn’t a girl.

Mark guessed her age was closer to forty than thirty, and her thick thighs could be proof her park laps with Midas were the most exercise she saw on a regular basis.

But it wasn’t a criticism.

He admired every shapely inch of her.

Mark had never spotted his Dream-girl with anyone else and he wondered if there was someone special in her life. Or a child.

Her unhurried park visits coincided with his own—in late morning—and were more than enough time for her to give her beloved pet some exercise while a spouse was at work or children in school.

Yet, somehow Mark didn’t think so. While the love and attention Dream-girl lavished on Midas was genuine and showed no signs of ennui in her life, Mark picked up on signs of loneliness. The restless way she rested her hands on her ample hips while waiting for Midas to retrieve his toy. Or the extended hugs she bestowed on him for behaving.

Or perhaps Mark was amplifying his own feelings onto her.

After the third lap, Dream-girl and Midas went to their favorite spot on the grassy knoll.

Dream-girl slipped a bright green tennis ball from her pocket and lobbed it across the park. It didn’t matter how far she threw it, Midas always returned it, moving with a speed that belied his large frame. After dropping the ball at her feet, Midas would sit and wait for his reward, mysteriously pulled from a different pocket.

Mark wanted to know her name, what she did for a living, and what she did when she left the park. He needed to know everything about her.

He also wanted to know if she’d ever noticed him.

His park visits began several months ago as the brisk breezes of autumn gave way to the freezing cold of winter.

Mark didn’t mind the cold. It cleared his head and allowed him time to think.

It also made him feel alive.

Like a man.

His future was at first dark and bleak. And while he still had no guarantees, Mark had hope, something that had been missing from his life for too long.

Dream-girl and Midas wrestled when the dog realized she had put the ball behind her back.

Mark could watch her for hours. She got so much joy from playing with her dog.

Not like Bonnie.

Shep would be lucky if she remembered to let him out into the backyard.

But when Bonnie left him, she’d insisted on taking Shep since she picked him out at the rescue shelter. Mark found out from a mutual friend Bonnie sold Shep to a dog breeder less than a week later.

Just something else to add to the list of things he’d lost.

Laughter drew his attention back to Dream-girl. Her laughter was deep. Throaty. Sexy. She could tell him everything would be okay and he’d believe her, soothed by her sultry tones. Minute tinglings of desire buzzed through Mark and he smiled.

Midas scampered to retrieve the ball again and kicked it with his paw, causing it to roll in Mark’s direction.

After a few hesitant steps, the dog stopped and sat. He could not approach strangers.

Dream-girl gave him a quick pat on the head as she jogged past him to grab the ball.

“Good boy, Midas!”

After grabbing the ball, she stood and gave Mark a warm smile that lit up her face.

“Hello.”

He returned her smile.

“Hello. You have a beautiful dog.”

Her smile broke into a wide grin.

“Thank you. I think so too, but I may be partial. I’ve had the big moose since I could lift him with one hand.”

They shared a laugh as she backed away. “Treats will only hold him so long. I’ve got to get Midas home for his lunch… before he eats a park bench.”

Dream-girl turned back to Midas and Mark was elated and sad at the same time.

She spoke to him! She took the time to speak to HIM!

And now she was walking away.

He took a deep breath trying to steady himself when she turned to him again.

“Where are my manners? I’m sorry. I’m June. I’ve noticed you here before.”

Mark couldn’t keep the grin from his face. “I’m Mark. Nice to meet you, June.”

“You too. Well, I’ll see you around. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

She threw the tennis ball toward the east entrance and Midas ran, grabbed it and met her before she’d covered half the distance.

Mark watched dog and owner leave the park, still mesmerized by the encounter.

He’d been right about her age. The soft wisps of gray hair forming at her temples and the adorable laugh lines in the corners of her eyes proved she was close to his own age. Her caramel-colored skin was flawless and his fingers itched to touch her face.

And that voice. So deep, rich, and smooth Mark was sure someone had dipped him in hot chocolate.

He wished he’d had more time to talk with her.

“Okay, Mr. Evans. I think you’ve had enough sun today.”

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Miriam, his day nurse, slipped her book into her bag as she walked over to his wheelchair. She returned his seat to its full upright position before releasing the chair breaks and heading for the west entrance.

“Such a beautiful today, isn’t it, Mr. Evans? Not too breezy, not too hot. A perfect day to get some fresh air… and make new friends.”

Mark was glad she was behind him and couldn’t see his face. The wily grandmother was invading his thoughts.

“I couldn’t agree more, Miriam. And why do you insist on calling me Mr. Evans?”

“Because it annoys you and I can’t have you getting too complacent, now can I?”

They both chuckled as Miriam pushed him across the street and continued on to his three-bedroom home a half block away.

June. As warm and inviting as the month she shared a name with.

Her dark brown eyes sparkled like the stars on a clear June night when she looked at Mark.

At his face.

In his eyes.

Not at the chair which served as his prison for most of his waking hours.

Not at the legs held together at the knees by a strap and hidden by jeans now two sizes too big.

June may not have seen Mark Evans, the man, but she saw him as a whole person… and there was no pity in her eyes.

Mark was lost in thought as Miriam pushed him up the driveway and stopped to open the garage door.

He wished June could see him as he was before the accident. Mark would never be mistaken for a male model but he had worn the lost forty-five pounds well.

The accident had also cost him in other ways.

For a short time, he’d lost his memory, but even as it returned, his independence and personal freedom did not.

Paralysis had also cost him his marriage though Mark lost no sleep on that loss. He knew his marriage to Bonnie was a mistake, still, he tried to make it work. But her multiple affairs with younger men and her endless excuses for not starting a family killed any interest Mark had left and just a few short weeks before the accident, he’d decided to end the year a single man.

Though devastating and life-changing, the job-related accident gifted him with the fastest… and cheapest divorce possible.

Saying she didn’t sign on to be a nursemaid and that she wasn’t emotionally strong enough to handle Mark’s injury, Bonnie packed, filed for divorce, and fled even before Mark had a full prognosis.

Had she not been so quick to leave, Bonnie would have found out Mark’s years of paying long-term disability insurance premiums resulted in very lucrative benefits for him. And accepting full responsibility for the faulty crane which dropped the steel beam on Mark, Sunburst Construction avoided a lawsuit… and bad press by paying him his full claim. All eight figures.

Now Bonnie was shacked up across town with some muscle-bound idiot eleven years her junior who supported her with a part-time job as a bartender and selling illegal steroids.

Good riddance.

Mark Evans didn’t care about the money though. Except for paying for his round-the-clock care, his bank account went untouched.

What he was glad Bonnie didn’t know was he wasn’t a true paraplegic.

Initial tests first showed the tissue around his spine much too inflamed for clear test readings.

Mark had no feeling or movement below the waist and only minimal movement of his arms. Doctors were convinced MRIs and CT scans would soon show a severed spine.

It never happened.

It baffled doctors how an eight-hundred-pound beam could fall on a man and he not only survive it but also have no broken bones.

Mark Evans was living proof it could happen.

He was also proof swelling in spinal tissue could subside but it didn’t mean sensation in his legs and the ability to walk would follow.

His doctors were cautious in their encouragement but assured Mark the day might come when he could walk again.

Mark’s frustration with his situation soon became depression, and it was Miriam who insisted on taking him out for daily walks, forcing him to concentrate on something other than himself.

And that’s when he saw her… his Dream-girl.

Temperatures were dropping below freezing, but Miriam still insisted on his daily outing. She didn’t stop to read her book on those frigid days but she would push Mark around the paved concourse twice.

The park would be abandoned except for Dream-girl and her dog.

He marveled at her steadfastness and dedication to her pet. He decided any woman so loyal and committed to a pet would also stand by her man.

She occupied his thoughts as he created scenarios on what her life was like.

She occupied his dreams as he dreamed about what life would be like with her.

Miriam said something about lunch and Mark agreed, not sure what he was agreeing to. She pushed him up the ramp to the back patio doors and set the breaks while she opened the doors.

Now his Dream-girl had a name.

June.

And she knew his name.

Mark would give anything to run and play in the park with June and Midas.

It could happen.

It was just four days ago Mark spilled his morning coffee in his lap… and he felt it. Not just the sensation of the weight of the heavy, damp fabric, but also the warmth of the coffee. This morning he’d wiggled the toes on one foot. He’d tell Miriam before Chuck arrived and she left for the day. Mark knew she’d give him hell for not telling her sooner, but she would also be thrilled for him.

It was happening. He would walk again one day. He knew it.

Mark also knew his infatuation with June may never get past greetings in the park and comments about Midas.

But he had hope.

And he had his dreams.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

#52weeks52stories “Soar”

Soar banner

#52weeks52stories: Week 25

Word prompt: ash

Word count  – 1200 words;   Reading Time – 3:30 mins

~~~~~

Feu soared through the sky, the chill of early morning giving him energy and spurring him on.

He flew higher, touching the edge of the atmosphere where the air was the thinnest before swooping down to the clouds.

Stretching his wings wide, Feu closed his eyes, gliding along the blustery troposphere, wishing his brothers were at his side.

Moto and Kasai would challenge each other to races until exhaustion took them. Huŏ, the youngest, would pepper him with endless questions about their heritage.

But these were troubled times for the Kuen Kingdom. There was little time for fun and enjoyment or taking mates and raising families as long as their existence was threatened.

Guilt filled Feu’s mind and enveloped his body. He turned back, ashamed at the time he took for himself.

It was a luxury he couldn’t afford.

The humans were restless again and whenever that happened, his kind suffered.

Feu didn’t understand the small minds of men. The Ajidaar owned the earth and sky long before man existed. But since their arrival, there had been nothing but chaos and turmoil, strife, and death.

Through the ages, men would approach Clan Kuen in the name of friendship, but the clan would soon learn they only sought the help of the Ajidaar to dispense with a nastier adversary.

Once the clan restored peace and order to the land, humans would turn on them, proclaiming them their new enemy, saying the Ajidaar were too powerful to exist.

Feu’s kind was difficult to kill but it could be done.

Clan Kuen lost many lives over the centuries, hunted because of the ridiculous lies of men.

It wasn’t enough to kill the Ajidaar, but those who ruled over the masses created mythic legends that Kuen livers gave men the strength of gods, and their hearts were aphrodisiacs inciting hours of endless sexual pleasure.

Anger and grief burned in Feu’s chest at the number of clan members found down through the ages, killed and gutted because of a lie.

It was an awful end to life for any being, but heartbreaking for the proud, peaceful Kuen, who by nature were nonviolent.

No other species on the planet had ever challenged the Kuen, allowing them to live in peace.

Humans arrived without fanfare and the Kuen took little notice. Men appeared to have the same concerns as all other life forces. Survival and nurturing their families was their main priority.

Three hundred years passed and the mindset of humans shifted. They became arrogant and self-righteous, obsessed with accumulating wealth and power.

It disgusted the Kuen the way men treated each other. War, slavery, oppression, and deceit were the weapons of the ruling classes. Kuen regretted the loss of human life but it was not their place to tell others how to live.

And they remained silent.

Feu grimaced remembering how safe his clan believed they were. However, they soon learned the greed of men was insatiable.

The humans took more and more land, cutting down trees and clearing hundreds of acres to build castles and erect ridiculous monuments to themselves.

Unwilling to take human lives, Kuen retreated from Talvara, their lush green valley of meadows, hollows, and sweet water streams to the caves and peaks of Mt. Labha.

But possessing the land was still not enough for men. They craved dominance over every living thing… and pursued the Kuen.

Feu’s grandfather, Pitav, had enough. He called a meeting of the surrounding clans and the K’eyi Filageni from the north and the Kizil Jalin from the south answered the call. The Kemp Jvolayo in the east was already too weak and diminished to fight.

The Ajidaar vowed the Kemp Jvolayo would reclaim their strength in numbers and dignity. They would sacrifice no more clan lives to spare those who sought to enslave or exterminate them.

The next attack of men was met with the full force of the united Ajidaar.

Humans were devastated and barricaded themselves behind high stone walls for centuries, leaving Ajidaar in peace.

Now history was repeating itself.

Arrogant men once again sought to defeat and dominate the Ajidaar, the wisdom of their elders and fear of failure faded with the passage of time.

Feu’s clan called for war, but he wasn’t ready to risk Ajidaar lives.

Startled from his thoughts, Feu’s keen hearing picked up Moto’s battle roar from miles away.

Thrusting forward, Feu cleared the mountain range and saw the reason for his brother’s call to fight.

Humans had Huŏ trapped at the opening of his lair.

Coils of Juzum Sabagi layered Huŏ’s huge body, and the humans continued to throw more, intent on not allowing Huŏ to take flight.

Juzum Sabagi was the sticky vine of the kooh fruit and once it adhered to something, the only way to remove it was with the oil of the kunvara plant.

Struggling against the vine only made it worse.

Feu saw the resigned look in his little brother’s eyes as he slumped over and waited for death.

Above the mouth of the cave, men labored to roll large boulders into place to rain down on Huŏ until his hearts stopped.

Like Pitav centuries before, Feu had enough.

At seven-hundred-years of age, Huŏ was still a young-ling learning his way and staking his place in Ajidaar life.

Feu would not allow that life to end today.

Dipping low, he released his own battle roar as Moto and Kasai arrived from the opposite direction.

They saw their brother’s lower wings extend and followed suit. The trio circled each other once as their eyes took on the golden glow of battle.

A slight head tilt from Feu and they each knew their target.

Moto went for the trail of humans rushing from the village to celebrate and feast on Huŏ’s organs.

Kasai headed for the motley group above the lair still pushing boulders of death into position.

The mouth of the cave belonged to Feu. Those who dared violate and sabotage his brother’s home to take his life would lose theirs this day.

The Ajidaar battle roars filled the air as the brothers of the Kuen summoned the smoldering fire from the pits of their bellies.

Flying low, they opened their mouths wide and unleashed a scalding rain of fire incinerating everything in their path, leaving only a trail of ash.

Later, as clan members arrived with kunvara oil to free Huŏ, Feu sat on the peak above the lair surveying the devastation.

Charred ashes floated away on midday breezes and Feu’s mind was uneasy.

He should feel victorious. No Ajidaar were harmed and his brother still lived.

But more men would come. They always did, and death soon followed.

A single tear rolled down Feu’s scaly face, sizzling against his still hot skin.

He wept for the future of the Ajidaar knowing they would never again live in peace.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

~~~~~

#52weeks52stories “Left Behind – Conclusion”

left behind photo

#52weeks52stories: Week 24

Word prompt: anchor

Word count  – 4629;  Reading Time  – 5 mins

Part 1

~~~~~

New tears threatened to spill from Teddy’s eyes and Barry chose his next words with care.

“You know that’s not possible, right? Your mom isn’t gone because of a wish.”

Teddy dragged his arm across his face wiping away the unshed tears.

“Some of the guys from the basketball team came by my house after practice the day before my mom… the day we argued.

They had all ignored me since I’d quit the team without telling them why. Couldn’t very well tell them I had to babysit my schizophrenic mother, could I? Coach got wind of them giving me the silent treatment and told them I was needed at home and that was all they needed to know. I was shocked to open my door and find them there with pizzas and sodas. We fell back into our old rhythm and it felt good to hang out with the guys again.

Then the singing started.

Mom only did that when she missed taking her meds. I rushed to her bedroom and she wasn’t there. I was on my way to check the other bedrooms when I saw the side door to the sun-porch was open. I bolted out the door and there she was… dancing around like she was at a party…naked.”

The past hit Barry like a punch in the gut. Teresa Cook had never shed her clothes—because she’d been banished to her bedroom before she could—but there had been more hysterical drunken episodes and bouts of hyper-mania than he cared to remember. He’d had Grams and Aunt Gwen to handle things. Teddy had been alone that day.

“I ripped off my shirt and raced toward her.” He flung an arm out to the side. “She thought we were playing some stupid game and ran. When I chased her down, she fought me and said I was ruining the party and I was too young to be so boring.  We fought until I got the t-shirt on her. She started to run again, but we were startled by Chris. He’d grabbed a throw from the sofa and bought it outside. He never looked at mom, just held out the throw to me, and said he and the guys were taking off and would check on me later.”

“I’d never been more grateful and embarrassed in my life. I couldn’t speak… I just nodded at him like an idiot.”

The history teacher watched his student short pace around the desks, words tumbling from him faster and faster.

“I turned to grab mom’s hand and get her inside and she smacked it away. That’s when we argued.”

Teddy stopped his pacing and leaned against the window ledge.

“She tore into me about how rude Chris was for not introducing himself and staying for the party… and I just lost it. I screamed there was no party and Chris was trying to help without causing anyone any more embarrassment.”

He chuckled, and Barry didn’t miss the fact it contained no joy.

“Mom told me I was being dramatic and there was no reason for me to be embarrassed. I reminded her of the time she ran into traffic and tried to drag some guy from his car claiming he’d stolen her father’s car… and my grandfather died before I was born. And there was the time she ran into the Toeller Building downtown, took the elevator up to the eleventh floor and turned it off. When maintenance finally got her out, she was hysterical and said the mean girls were after her for dating the captain of the football team.”

Teddy Carver slid down the wall to the floor just as new tears rolled down his cheeks.

“But I wasn’t done… nope. I reminded her how she was banned from all the adult day care programs for always running away, and how none of the home nursing agencies would even take our calls anymore.”

He buried his face in his hands, his body wracked with sobs.

Barry knew the boy’s pain and had worn the same guilt. He needed to get the teen out of the building and find his father.

“Teddy, nothing you’ve said or done is new or wrong. You’re human, and you’re a kid with adult responsibilities.”

Not hearing his teacher, Teddy continued, his voice now flat and void of emotion.

“Mom brushed past me, said she was going inside to speak to my dad about my attitude. She didn’t believe me when I told her he was at work. We’ve had that talk before. She knows he hates working nights, but a night-time shift manager makes almost twice as much as a day-time foreman. The company’s insurance sucks and deductibles for mom’s doctors and medicine are huge. He didn’t have a choice.”

“Sounds like the argument between you and your mom was calming down though.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But when I took her hand to lead her inside she pulled back again and said she wanted Mrs. Butler to take care of her not me.”

“Mrs. Butler?”

“She lives one street over from us. A retired nurse from one of the adult day care programs mom was in. She took care of mom during the day for months… almost a year. But our luck was balanced on a house of cards. Mom was banned from care programs, dad got a position at night, and Mrs. Butler’s husband was diagnosed with colon cancer… so I had to quit basketball to be with my mom.”

Barry sat on the floor next to his student. “Then what happened?”

“She started singing again… and dancing. She said I was trying to trick her like Mrs. Butler did when she’d hide pills in the pretty pink punch.”

Barry Cook appeared calm, but his mind was reeling at what all this seventeen-year-old kid went through.

“Mom claimed I was trying to make her feel bad because I was jealous of her life. I told her I couldn’t be jealous of her life because it was the only life I had.”

“What did she say to that?”

He leaned his head back against the wall. “She called me Theodore the bore.”

“Teddy, I cannot be -”

“I snapped. I grabbed her arm and dragged her inside all the way to her room. I made her take her pills, put her in bed and told her not to call my name or get up before dad got home. She got really snarky… said maybe she’d go to sleep and just not wake up. That would solve everyone’s problems if she wasn’t there to be such a burden. I turned to leave the room and she screamed, “Say it, Theodore, say it! You wish I was dead, don’t you?”

I didn’t answer. I had to get out of that room and away from her.” He shook his head. “But she wouldn’t let it go. She jumped out of bed and ran into the hall behind me, pushing me, punching me in the back and arms.” He mimicked his late mother’s voice, “C’mon, Theodore. Say it. This is your day of truth to share your feelings so, say it.”

“Had your mom ever acted that way before? Lost control? Hit you?”

Teddy pulled his long legs toward his chest, resting his arms on his knees. “She experienced mania but I can’t remember her ever being so angry and confrontational before.” He stared at his hands but continued, his words weighted with regret. “But I was different too.”

 

Deanna Carver jumped in front of her son, blocking his path. He was half a foot taller than his mother, but at five-feet-eleven, Deanna could be an imposing figure.

“Stop walking away, Theodore, I want an answer.”

His bottom lip trembled as he searched her face for the mother from his childhood. The woman who took him on field trips after school and made him eat green vegetables. Before everything changed.

“No, momma. I don’t wish you were anywhere but here with dad and me.”

His words didn’t ease the hardness in her face and the anger and defiance in her eyes confused him.

“But things would be better for you… and us if you’d just take your pills when you’re supposed to. We could all -”

She cut him off.

“Take my pills? You want me to take the pills? Fine.”

Deanna whirled around, storming back into her bedroom, with her son on her heels.

“Theodore wants me to take the pills so he can have a happy life.” She grabbed the bottle of Thioridazine from the nightstand.

“Momma, what are you doing? You just took your meds not ten minutes ago.” He reached for the bottle and she swatted his hand away.

“I may be a crazy mother, but not so crazy I don’t want my child to be happy.” Deanna bested the child-proof cap and emptied the bottle into her palm.

“Mom!”

He grabbed his mother’s wrist.

Pills fell to the floor, but Deanna clenched the majority in her fist. “This is what you wanted, Theodore.”

Teddy worked to pry her fist open. “Mom stop this or I’m calling dad and your doctor.”

“Go right ahead! Call them both. They want me to take the pills too.”

Teddy cried out in pain and yanked his hand back to see the reddened area where his mother pinched him. Turning his attention back to her, Teddy saw his mother raising the handful of pills to her mouth. He drew back and punched her hand while pushing her onto the bed with his other hand. Teddy fell to his knees. Biting his bottom lip to hold back the sobs, he crawled around the floor scooping up pills and returning them to the bottle.

Deanna sat up on the edge of her bed clutching her right hand to her chest. “You hit me.”

Refusing to look at her, Teddy continued to scramble around the floor in search of loose pills, his resolve weakening. “I did not hit you, Mom. I knocked your hand away to keep you from doing something craz – “He caught himself.

“Crazy? Go ahead and say it, Theodore. We’re being honest, remember?”

“Mom, just lie down, please? We both need to step back and calm down. Dad’s halfway through his shift and if you rest a while and sleep, when you wake up he’ll be home. Okay?”

“And then what? More pills? More goodnight, Deanna? He’ll give me that puppy dog look of his and try to feed me and talk to me… beg me to share my feelings. He’ll kiss my forehead and hug me tight, telling me everything will be okay.”

Teddy’s anger flared. He rose to his knees and pointed an accusing finger. “Stop it, momma! Be mad at me, yell at me, fight me, but do not mock dad!”

“Don’t mock your dad?” She laughed, her tone high-pitched and lyrical as the hysteria returned. “Big Brandon Carver won the girl and made her his wife, but all he got was a dud for life.” Her laughter went even higher, reaching keening levels.

Teddy jumped to his feet, rage causing him to sway. “How can you make fun of him like that? He loves you, momma. You’re everything to him.”

Her laughter stopped. She widened her eyes while tilting her head to the side. “Guess it sucks to be him.” Amused by her own remark, Deanna fell back onto the bed laughing like a school girl.

Standing to his full height, Teddy’s supply of resolve was gone… and so was his mother. He no longer cared about the psychotic woman on the bed who mocked his father and had to get away from her now. Clenching the bottle of recovered pills in a tight fist, Teddy backed toward the door. Her shrill laughter continued, assaulted him with each breath, dulling his reason until all he wanted was to make her hurt and defend his father.

Pausing his steps, Teddy addressed his mother, his deep voice filling the room to get her attention.

“When I said I didn’t want you anywhere but here with dad and me? That was a lie, mom. Every time you had one of your episodes and ran off, dad was frantic, desperate to find you and bring you home… to keep you safe. People would look at him, their eyes filled with pity, but he didn’t care, he just wanted his wife home with him. I did too when I was younger. But after you ran out into traffic and assaulted that poor man, I was done.”

Deanna sat up again on the edge of the bed, no longer laughing.

“I know you’re sick, momma… I get it. But after that day every time you had an episode, I wondered how you lived through it. Why you were still alive.” He backed up two more steps toward the door. “So, yeah, ma’. Sometimes… sometimes I do feel life would be easier if you weren’t here.”

After delivering his cruel words, Teddy turned to leave the room.

“Theodore?”

He froze in place but didn’t turn around.

“I’m sorry.”

“You always are, mom.”

 

He’d leaned his head back against the wall again. His eyes were closed, but tears streamed down Teddy Carver’s face.

Barry Cook remained silent, knowing the boy had to tell his story.

“I lost track of time… just sat in the family room crying. And they were selfish tears. They weren’t for mom or even dad, they were for me and why I couldn’t have a normal mom and a normal life. I thought about how I would tell dad about what happened when he got home, and then it was his voice, loud and clear in my head.

“If you think we’re tired and frustrated, son, just think about how much worse it is for your mother. She doesn’t want to be this way, but she can never escape it. There is no cure for a damaged mind. Those pills make her appear in control but what they actually do is make her manageable. Inside, the voices and hysteria… her pain and anguish are all still there. They never leave her.”

“I knew that. I knew all of that. But I let my anger and pride get the better of me. I was so ashamed and knew I had to apologize to my mom. I ran to her room, but she was asleep. I was going to sit next to the bed until she woke up when I heard the front door. My dad was home, and now I had to face him.

One look at his son’s face and Brandon Carver knew… Deanna had another episode.

“What happened?”

“She didn’t take her meds. I found her in the backyard… naked.” He rushed toward his father. “I’m sorry, dad. I should have watched her closer, made sure she took her medicine. But… some of the guys from the team were here and I was distracted. I’m so sorry.”

Brandon fell into his recliner, raking his hands over his close-cropped, dark curls.

“This isn’t your fault, Teddy. None of it is. I’ve put too much responsibility on you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“She’s my mom. Of course, I’m supposed to help with her.”

“Help, yes. Fix her a meal. Watch a movie with her, not stand guard to keep her from running away or hurting herself. Not devote all your non-school time to her because she’s banned from everywhere because of her behavior.”

His exhale was loud and harsh as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “We talked about this, Teddy. It’s time.”

“Dad, no -”

“We agreed, Teddy. One more bad episode and we’d find residential care for your mom.”

“We can’t lock her away, dad, we can’t.”

“If we don’t, son, the day’s going to come when the state will.”

“But – “

“I have to work an early shift tomorrow. Mrs. Butler will take care of your mom. I’ll arrange for a few days off and next week we’ll find a place… a nice place close-by where we can visit whenever we want.”

“Dad – “

“Go to bed, son, you have school tomorrow.”

 

“It was the longest walk of my life. I started down the hallway but turned to try and change his mind one more time. He’d picked up their wedding photo from the end-table and was just staring at it… his face covered in tears.”

Barry reached over, squeezing Teddy’s shoulder. “I can’t imagine what it took… or felt like for your father to make that decision.”

“I didn’t think about that at the time. I was back in good old self-pity land. I tossed and turned the rest of the night, then jumped up and left for school an hour later, not having the guts to face either of my parents.” He turned his head and Barry was gutted by the self-hate he saw in his student’s eyes. His memories of his own self-hate exacerbated the pain.

“By second period, I knew I was the worst son on the planet and couldn’t wait for the day to end. I had to get home to my family… while we were still a family.” Sobs choked his next words. “But I was too late.”

Barry schooled his features to mask his own emotions but nodded once for Teddy to continue.

“Mrs. Butler’s van wasn’t in our driveway when I got home, but I didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes she took mom to the market. I found out later her husband had to be hospitalized and Mrs. Butler never got to our house.”

“I went inside and found all the drapes still closed. The omelet dad made for mom every morning was still on the warmer. I knew something was wrong.”

“The family room was empty, and mom’s bed was unmade. She never left her bed unmade. I was going to call Mrs. Butler but decided going over to her house was better. I headed to my room to leave my backpack and change… and saw the door to the sun porch was open.” He shook his head. “I didn’t believe mom would leave the house open and unsecured, but I knew Mrs. Butler wouldn’t. I ran out the door praying I didn’t find my mom dancing around naked again. Our yard was empty. Mom was nowhere in sight.

I heard this… this creaking sound behind me. I turned toward the sound and there was my mother… hanging from a rope thrown over a beam. I screamed and ran to her, trying to hold her up… to get her down, but I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t do anything… so I let go. Her body sagged against the rope and I fell down in horror… as though I was killing her myself. I stared up at her. Her beautiful face… all bloated and purple. Her eyes. Her eyes were open. Seeing nothing but yet staring at me…”

Teddy Carver slumped over, his body heavy with guilt and wracked with sobs.

Barry grabbed the boy and held on, not knowing where Teddy’s tears ended and his began.

The teen pulled away, clutching at his chest. “She’s dead because of me. Because of what I said.”

“Teddy, stop it and listen to me. I’m not a doctor but I know a bit about suicide and not just because my mom killed herself.”

The youth wiped his nose on his sleeve and tried to focus on his teacher.

“Everybody has a theory about suicide. It’s selfish, it’s revenge, it’s a coward’s way out. Suicide may be all of those things or none of them. Even the experts can’t agree on them. But what I can tell you is most people who commit suicide thought about it before and more than once. And, most people have a plan and those plans do not center around anyone but themselves.” He leaned closer to Teddy, hoping he was hearing his words… and praying they were true. “You argued with your mom and said things you regret. But, Teddy, your mother did not kill herself to make you happy or solve your dad’s problems. No matter what either of you said or did, her pain… her torment was inside her and she brought an end to it the only way she could.”

Looking more like a seven-year-old than a young man about to turn eighteen, Teddy rested his head on Barry’s shoulder. “I want her back. I want my mom.”

“I know you do, son. I know you do.”

He stood and pulled Teddy up from the floor. “Where’s your dad?”

“Home. He hasn’t been able to go back to work since… the funeral. He’s shut down. He won’t talk to me… or listen.”

Barry took his student’s arm leading him to the door. “I’m taking you home. He’s going to listen today, but even if he won’t, it doesn’t mean we can’t find you some help. You cannot ruin your life over misplaced guilt. It can’t happen. I won’t allow it.”

Teddy’s brow knitted in confusion as Barry looked out into the hallway.

“Just a few stragglers left. Go across the hall to the men’s room and wash up. I’ll let my wife know I’m going to be late.”

Still confused, Teddy did as he was told, holding on to the hope his dad would, at last, listen to him today.

Barry Cook closed the classroom door and pulled out his cell phone as he walked to his desk. He typed out the short text to his wife, letting her know he talked to the student he’d told her about and would explain it all later.

After pressing Send, his cell dropped to his desk, followed by a stream of tears.

Barry knew Teddy Carver’s pain… all of it.

He didn’t know Teresa Cook or Deanna Carver’s pain. No one ever would.

But Barry Cook had a better understanding of suicide than most people. He didn’t approve of it. He hated it. But, he understood.

He knew firsthand the feelings of endless despair. Of being afraid you’ll never be happy again. He knew of the malicious voices inside teasing and taunting.

Barry was the boy no one wanted. Not worthy enough for his father to stay, not worthy enough for his mother to live.

Grams died right before Barry’s fourteenth birthday and he never felt more alone. Aunt Gwen and Uncle Dean took him in and even wanted to adopt him. But to Barry, it was out of obligation not love. Who could love him? Why would they want to? His own parents didn’t even stick around.

The next year saw Barry isolating himself, slipping farther into the darkness. He saw his uncle cleaning his gun one day and tried to seem uninterested while watching his every move. When Dean returned the gun to the case and left the room with it, Barry wanted to run after him to find out where he kept it. But he stayed in front of the television, pretending to watch… while coming up with a plan.

Months passed, and life grew worse for Barry. Gwen and Dean found counseling for him, but the therapist seemed more concerned with how often Barry masturbated and he grew annoyed with her and begged to stop seeing her.

Waking up each day became more unbearable and nothing his family tried helped. He just wanted them to stop trying to help. He wasn’t worth the effort.

The holidays were approaching, and Aunt Gwen rushed into the house one day with bags of wrapped gifts. She took out one large box wrapped in blue foil paper for his uncle and asked him to hide it in the hall closet next to the attic door. Barry obeyed, entering the closet, pushing hung garments aside to get to the farthest corner.

And he saw the gun case.

A calm washed over Barry as he stroked his hand over the polished walnut case.

Everything was going to be okay.

Two days later when his family, excited about caroling with their neighbors, dressed for the cold snowy evening, Barry begged off saying his throat was sore and he thought he was coming down with something. Promising not to be gone long, they left the fifteen-year-old with a mug of hot soup. He ran to the window and watched them enter their neighbor’s home across the street, then Barry headed for the closet. He grabbed the case and scooted up the attic stairs, grateful the end was within his reach.

Barry sat down in a corner and opened the case. The Browning called to him. Barry wasn’t afraid or anxious. He was relieved. His useless existence was over. No one had to pity the boy unworthy of love ever again.

He took a deep breath and raised the gun to his mouth. Closing his eyes, Barry squeezed the trigger.

And nothing happened.

He squeezed the trigger again only to get another empty click. His mania rose. He checked the chamber and magazine, not understanding why the gun didn’t fire. A shadow fell across him and he looked up to see Dean standing at the top of the stairs.

“I’d hope I was wrong, but I wasn’t taking any chances.”

His uncle held out his hand and Barry saw the Browning’s firing pin.

Defeated, Barry dropped the gun. His mournful wails filled the attic.

Dean grabbed the boy and held him tight, rocking, much the way Barry had held Teddy.

His uncle made promises to Barry that day that he kept. Promises Barry would be forever grateful for.

It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy, but Barry did get the help he needed. By the time he walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma, the young man was more in control of his emotions and didn’t believe in his own worthlessness.

At his college graduation, Barry Cook was a vibrant young man proud of his accomplishments and grateful for life. He was also grateful for the graying gentleman standing next to his aunt with tears in his eyes.

Dean took the journey to wellness with Barry, never leaving his side. Barry considered Dean more watchdog than parent until the day Gordon Cook showed up looking for a way to capitalize on Barry’s academic success.

“Your parental rights died with Teresa, not that you were ever any kind of father. Barry is my son and a terrific young man with a great future. He went through some bad times because of you and I will take you to hell myself before I allow you to hurt him again.”

Gordon Cook didn’t need to be told twice and disappeared. However, his absence didn’t affect Barry this time. Dean had been the anchor that kept him from drowning in darkness.

Barry stood, wiping his face. He grabbed his cell and laptop case and left his classroom in search of Teddy.

The kid had a father, a good man dealing with his own grief. But Barry knew he couldn’t give up. He’d find help for both of them. He didn’t want Teddy to ever sink to the depths he’d known, and unchecked, Barry knew that’s where he was headed.

There was still too much stigma attached to mental illness, but much ground had been gained and new therapies discovered in the thirty years since Barry first sought counseling. He’d work with Teddy and his dad until they found one that fit. Teddy deserved that much. He was on the cusp of adulthood and should embrace life fully, not waste away in the shadows, devoured by the guilt and regret of those left behind.

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

~~~~~

#52weeks52stories “Left Behind”

left behind photo

#52weeks52stories: Week 23

Word prompt: suicide

Word count: 1496, Reading Time  – 2 mins, 19 secs

~~~~~

The watched hands of a clock are not supposed to move.

But Teddy Carver had seen the hands move for every one of the last twenty-four minutes.

Five minutes remained before the three o’clock bell rang signaling the end of history class and the end of the school day.

Time to go home.

Nervous jitters caused his knee to bounce while his fist tightened around the pencil he was holding. It snapped, breaking into pieces Teddy laid on the desk without taking his gaze from the clock.

He knew his classmates were staring at him. Some, out of curiosity but most were because they pitied their young friend. Teddy appreciated their kindness and concern. The school sent a beautiful wreath to his mom’s service and the GoFundme donations helped to pay for the service and more… since there’s no payout for suicides.

But he could live without the pity.

The bell sounded and any thoughts of Teddy Carver and his troubles faded into the chaos of the mass exodus from the classroom.

When the last student was out the door, Teddy eased his six and a half foot frame from the cramped desk.

Slipping his textbook under his arm, Teddy approached the door with slow steps, in no hurry to ride the wave of students crowding the hallways.

Two steps away from his goal, Teddy’s path was blocked by Barry Cook, his history teacher.

“Teddy? A minute, please?”

The teen towered over his teacher but his slumped shoulders decreased his stature.

“Yes, sir?”

The older man slipped his hands into his front pockets, trying to hide his discomfort with what he was about to say.

“I was so sorry to hear about your mom. My wife’s been ill, and I didn’t find out until I returned to work yesterday.”

Teddy shuffled his feet in place, eyes downcast. “Thank you, Mr. Cook. And I hope your wife’s better.”

Barry Cook reached behind him and pulled the classroom door closed. He sat on the desk nearest to him and motioned for Teddy to do the same.

“You know, this school is one big rumor mill and teachers hear things—who’s dating, who’s pregnant, whose parents have split—and we have to decide what to ignore and what to act on.”

He stumbled, trying to find the right words.

“I know you had some… tough times before your mom died. But I also knew you were on the basketball team and had a good relationship with Coach Ramos. I know he takes an interest in his team and talks about more than just sports.”

Barry Cook appeared exasperated… and frustrated.

“But I didn’t see you in the third home game and Coach told me you had to quit to help out at home. I should have reached out to you then, Teddy. I should have been there for you.”

The boy’s brows knitted in confusion.

Barry scrubbed his hand over his jaw.

“I lost my mom when I was nine.”

Teddy stiffened, but remained silent.

“My dad walked out on us when I was five. I was too young to understand it all or how my life was going to change.

We had to move a short time later. We left our big yellow house and moved in with Grams. I cried for a week because we couldn’t take my swing-set. Grams didn’t have a backyard. But it wouldn’t be long before other things would shade my world.”

Teddy was mesmerized hearing his teacher’s story.

“One day, mom stopped going to work. She stopped coming by my school at lunchtime or to evening events… she stopped doing everything.

Grams took care of me. Mom’s sister, Gwen, moved back to town with her family. She had a son and daughter close to my age and they would pick me up for long weekends of family barbecues, trips to amusement parks and museums… all the fun stuff I couldn’t do with my mom.

Aunt Gwen took me home one Sunday and as soon as we got inside, she rushed me off to put my things away. She’d never done that before and I knew something was wrong. I left the room but stood in the hallway to listen to her and Grams.”

“Is she sleeping… or drunk?”

“No, this time’s she high.”

“Mom, what the -”

“Calm down, it’s legal. Something new her doctor says will help with the depression.”

“Pills? But with her drinking -”

“There isn’t a drop of anything in this house. I even got rid of the mouthwash, and I warned that friends of hers, Patty, to not sneak anything else in here or she’d no longer be welcomed or allowed in.”

“What’s going to happen with her, mom? Barry needs his mother.”

“I know, dear, and I agree with you. But depression isn’t something that can be cured with a quick fix. I’m just trying to be there for her… and keep her away from alcohol. And you’ll never know how much I appreciate you and Dean moving back to help with Barry. I could never give him what he needs and be there for his mom.”

“That’s what families do, momma. Speaking of which, has the scum-sucking dog been around?”

“Gwen! What if Barry heard you? You shouldn’t call his father names.”

“Well, has he?”

“Gordon moved out of state right after the divorce papers were signed. Teresa cried for days.”

“I hate him so much.”

“Just when she was getting back to her old self, we saw Kim, Gordon’s cousin at the cleaners. She told us his “new wife” was expecting. Your sister changed that day and hasn’t been the same since.”

“That piece of crap snaps up a new wife and starts a new family without a thought to the beautiful son he already has? Barry deserves better.”

Barry Cook closed his eyes as though he could still see his aunt and grandmother.

“That was eleven days after my eighth birthday and the first time I learned of my mom’s depression and drinking problem.” He shrugged. “I had no clue what depression was just that it kept my mom in bed. I got a crash course sooner than I wanted.”

“That was also the first time I knew my dad was never coming back.”

The pain Teddy Carver saw in his teacher’s eyes caused his chest to tighten even more.

“The pills worked for a while. There were days when mom was like her old self, laughing and telling bad jokes. But there were still bad days. She would sit in one spot and cry without making a sound… just big, fat tears streaming down her face and soaking her clothes. She’d cry so long she would fall asleep from exhaustion and wake up and start all over again. To this day, I still don’t understand the depth of mom’s pain, but it had a strong hold on her and never let go. Four days before my tenth birthday, my mother died of an overdose of pills and alcohol.”

Barry Cook fixed his gaze on Teddy. “And it wasn’t an accident. Mom had just picked up a refill of her pills earlier that day and told Grams she was going to rest a while. Grams found her unconscious right before I got home from school. She called 911… but there was nothing they could do. We found out later she’d taken the entire bottle of pills with a glass of whiskey.”

Teddy winced. Mr. Cook’s mom had wanted to die… just like his mom. He saw a shadow of something pass over his teacher’s face. More pain? Regret? Grief?

The teacher schooled his features, walked over to Teddy and reached up, squeezing his shoulder.

“Son, I won’t insult you by telling you I know how you feel or I’ve been in your shoes. I’m not going to say remember the good times or the pain will get easier…because none of it is true. But what I can tell you is those left behind often are consumed with guilt on top of their grief. Did they miss something? Did they do too much? Too little? But there was nothing you could have done to change this outside of never leaving your mother’s side. And even then, she still could have found a way. So don’t take on the guilt. None of this is your fault.”

Teddy opened his mouth to respond, but choked sobs escaped instead.

“Teddy? It’s gonna be okay, kid… I swear.”

The teen leaned over with his hands on his knees, gulping for air. After a harsh exhale, he raised his head to his teacher.

“You don’t understand. My mom’s gone and it’s my fault.”

Barry froze. His racing pulse made him light-headed and he leaned on the desk as he tried to understand what his student was confessing to.

“My mom is dead because of me.” He gulped for more air. “We argued and I told her I wished she was dead and now she is.”

~~~~~

The conclusion to Left Behind will be posted next week. Thanks for stopping by.

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

The Devil You Know, Part XII #52weeks52stories

The #52weeks52stories challenge is supposed to be flash fiction… and today I’m posting the TWELFTH installment of my story!

What am I doing with my life?

The Devil You Know is going on hiatus. No, not sticking it in a drawer. I’ll work on it during July CampNaNoWriMo—tighten up the beginning, clean up errors and discrepancies and bring it to a whizbang finish!  😀

Check back here for updates!

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 22

Word prompt: cake

Word Count: 1226, Reading time – 2 minutes, 1 sec

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |   Part VIII   |   IX   |   |  XI  |

(All links open new windows.)

Vincent Perreti never played a video game he didn’t want to master or saw a website he didn’t want to hack.

Had it not been for a savvy guidance counselor, the twenty-nine-year-old could have easily ended up on the other side of the law. But tough-love moved the street-wise tech-geek past juvie hall through college and onto the Marbury police force.

“I am amazed at the number of men named Mossford.”

Ending his phone call and turning back to his monitor, Myles Griffin chuckled. “It’s an old-world name from another era.”

“No, it’s a hillbilly name from the back woods.”

“Man, would you quit? What have you found on our guy?” Getting no response, Myles glanced over at his partner.

He knew by the mischievous glint in Perreti’s eyes and mega-watt grin the man had found a gold mine.

“Get this. Mossford Oswald Samuel Sievers was born to Benedict and Gracelyn Sievers 11 February 1921.”

Griffin frowned. “And?”

“Don’t you get it?”

“Get what?”

“Mossford… Oswald… Samuel… Sievers. M-O-S-S. Moss. Who does that? Was it intentional? Were his parents wordsmiths? I love it!”

The thirty-two-year-old Griffin leaned backed in his chair, laughing. “Only you zero in on that kind of stuff. But Marks is coming in here soon and will want to know more than the man’s name was an acronym.”

Perreti smirked. “You never let me have any fun. Fine. Like I said born February 1921; entered the Air Force June 1939; and married Lindy Ellen Piquat August 1939. He was stationed stateside in Dover while that base was being built.” Perreti frowned. “I can’t access his actual service record… yet but looks like he didn’t get deployed until two years later after Pearl Harbor.”

“Do not hack that system. I’m still filing reports from your last data breach. We make the appropriate requests.”

Perreti pounded away on the keyboard, trying to gain access. “Yes, boss.”

“Vince? Don’t start. I’m not your boss, I’m the Forensic data lead, okay?”

“But if you’d taken that job with Google, I’d have the position, right?”

“I didn’t want to work for Google, I like being a cop.”

“Yeah, but you’re breaking your mother’s heart.”

“No need to remind me what a disappointment to my parents I am by being a lowly civil servant.”

“Oh, please. You could have my mom… who’s happy I’m on the outside of the bars.”

Griffin laughed. “Good thing we’re both confident men.”

Perreti feigned tears. “Speak for yourself, I need counseling.”

Both laughed while shaking their heads. Perreti pointed at Griffin’s desk.

“What did you find out?”

“Mossford and his kids were busy… breaking laws. Grifting, cons, scams, they were at it for years. No arrest record for Lindy, though, and nothing on a Gary Sievers.”

Vince opened another browser. “No one is invisible. No one. Even folks who live off the grid left a footprint somewhere.”

The two detectives smirked and spoke at the same time. “Unless they were never on the grid.”

*

“Please eat just a little, mom. It’s been hours since you’ve had anything besides coffee.” Joanie Case held out the deli-style turkey sandwich to her mother.

As though on cue, hunger pains roared to life in Sally Bennett’s stomach.

Joanie smirked, and Sally took the sandwich. She munched without thought, her eyes unable to leave the large double-doors leading to the surgery suites.

Two hours into the procedure, Dr. Weathers came out with an update.

“We’re still cautious, Mrs. Bennett, but it’s looking good. We’ve removed all the bone fragments and there’s no evidence they added to the injury. There’s no intracerebal, or brain bleeding. Swelling has decreased since his MRI, which is a good thing. We’re about to begin the delicate portion of the procedure—draining the fluid.”

Sally clutched her chest. “That sounds serious.”

“I have to be honest with you. No matter how much care and time we take, an ischemic or brain stroke is a possibility.”

He stood and leaned over Sally, squeezing her shoulder.

“He’s strong and a true fighter. Ted and I feel very good about this. Someone will update you again soon.”

The doctor’s words replayed in Sally’s head. “He’s strong and a true fighter.”

She smiled to herself as she crumpled the sandwich wrapper.

“I guess someone was hungry.”

She smirked at her son. “I didn’t think I could keep anything down, but my body took what it needed. I feel better.” She reached over and gripped his hand. “About everything.”

Carolyn returned to the waiting room from the hallway.

“The Red Cross cleared an early release from duty for Cheryl. She’ll change planes a few times but will arrive in Philadelphia tomorrow evening.”

Darrin frowned. “So, I need to meet her at the airport?”

“No, big brother, got it covered. Dave is packing as we speak. He and the kids will meet Cheryl’s plan and head on here.”

“I told Merri not to come. If she hears Dave is here I’m in for it.”

“Same here with Rick,” Joanie added.

Carolyn chuffed. “All of us and seven kids? Now is not the time for a family reunion.”

“It’s the perfect time.”

They all turned to their mother.

“We’re past the point of this disrupting our lives. Better we should all be together so you all don’t have to worry about how your absence is affecting your families. At least for a few days.”

Sally leaned forward in her seat.

“Your father would never admit this, but he loves being surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Having everyone here when he wakes up will be better than any medicine.”

Joanie slipped her arm around her mom’s shoulder. “You believe he’s going to be okay, ma? One hundred percent like before?”

“I’ll take any percentage I can get, but yes, your father’s going to be fine.” Her gaze returned to the double doors. “He has to be.”

*

The five detectives had chairs pulled close to Gavin Marks’ desk as they all listened to Michael Benchley, the current sheriff of Drexler, Delaware on speaker-phone.

“Haven’t heard the Sievers name in quite a while. Thought they were all dead except for Melville.”

Marks perked up. “Where’s he?”

“Vaughn Correctional in Smyrna… for second-degree murder.”

“Can you give us details? Sounds like we’ll be making a road-trip to Smyrna.”

The sheriff chuckled. “I can pull our local files and tell you whatever you want to know. But I have a better idea. Since you’re planning a road trip anyway, come here first. You’ll find out more from my dad than any file will tell you. He was a deputy and the sheriff back in those days and knew Moss Sievers and his family. Dad’s in his nineties but still sharp as they come.”

Gavin wanted to leap from his seat.

“Holland get started on travel vouchers. Gans, find out if you or Hill can go along. Griffin and Perreti, work on getting clearance for us to see Melville Sievers.”

He turned back to the speaker-phone.

“Will you be around this weekend, Sheriff?”

“If I want to keep breathing, I will. My wife’s birthday is Sunday.”

“Well, remember to save us some cake.”

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

The Devil You Know, Part XI #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 21

Word prompt: uniform

Word Count: 1557, Reading time – 1 minute, 58 secs

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |   Part VIII   |   IX   |   |

(All links open new windows.)

Surrounded by cold sandwiches and lukewarm coffee, Marks, Holland, Ganson, and Hill studied their surprised find from the stolen Ford Explorer.

An old Army duffel bag and a beat-up suitcase were found in the backseat and their contents were now laid out on the conference table like puzzle pieces.

Ganson scratched his head. “This is a weird collection of stuff to carry around.”

The treasure trove included bank records, hotel receipts, airline ticket stubs, elementary school report cards, maps, floor plans, and more than two dozen driver’s licenses from several states. The licenses all bore photos of the same four men… all with different names.

The lone license with a woman’s photo was issued over twenty-five years ago by the state of Delaware… to Sarah Elaine Sievers of Drexler, Delaware.

“Look at all these names, ages, and addresses. How do we find out which one is correct… or if any of them are correct?” Ganson raked through the pile. “Benedict, Lilly, Spellman, Montrose, geeze. Do you know how big the search returns will be on all these names?”

Mentally honing his focus, Marks had a plan. “We’ll focus on one name at a time, and since we knew of Sievers first, we’ll stay with that one for now.”

“Lindy Piquat and Mossford Sievers were married August 4, 1939.” Holland waved a yellowed document in the air. “It was the day after her 18th birthday and six months after his.”

Hill whistled low and slow. “1939? They would have to be-”

“Grandparents.”

After logging the info on his notepad, Holland slipped the license into a glassine sheet protector.

“Somebody had mommy-issues.”

The three men turned to Ganson.

He held four faded black and white photographs. The same young girl was in all four photos, and though there were others standing with her, only her body was full of dozens of tiny pinpricks.

Marks couldn’t contain his excitement. “We’ll need Chaney in on this sooner than later for a psych profile.”

“I believe the girl in these photos is a young Sarah Sievers. Matches the Delaware license, only younger. Here she’s a kid with a guy in uniform.” He held it up. “Dad, maybe?”

“This one here has to be her and her mom… they look alike. This is a school photo—maybe high school—and this is probably her with her brothers,” he tilted his head toward the stack of state IDs, “and the guys on all the driver’s licenses.”

Marks clapped his hands together and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

Hill smirked. “Share so we can celebrate too. What’s up?”

Grinning, Gavin Marks picked up one photo. “What have we just learned, gentlemen?” He continued before they could respond. “Mossford Sievers married Lindy Piquat in 1939 when he was eighteen years old. The guy in this photo is military. And at his age… he served in World War II.”

The detectives applauded. “Very good, Marks. You get an ‘A’ today.”

He waved Hill off. “Too bad I didn’t get an ‘A’ in history when it counted.”

He turned to Holland. “Call Perreti and Griffin back in. They’re aces at forensic searches. If we’re lucky, they can find what we need, and I won’t have to reach out to Veteran’s Affairs tomorrow… that’s never fun. Let’s narrow our search for now to any Sievers in Drexler, Delaware. I’ll contact the LEOs in that area tomorrow morning. With all of these fake IDs, someone had to get caught doing something wrong at least once.”

Brian Holland added to his list. “I just had to be a detective. This sure doesn’t feel like a promotion… feels like more work.”

“That’s why we make the big bucks.”

They all shared a laugh as Holland left the room.

Ganson smirked. “Big bucks? Yeah, right. I’m so poor I can’t afford to pay attention.”

“Well, how does your captain feel about overtime?”

Leonard Ganson groaned.

Hill chuckled.

“Hates it with a passion. The brass downtown is always hollering about budget cuts. But I explained the link to your case and possibly the Senior Citizen Rapist, so we’re good for forty-eight hours. If we can’t prove a connection to our case by then, we have to take our toys and go home.”

Marks belly laughed. “Oh, man. I can just hear him saying that.”

He clapped his hands together again, looking over the unusual collection of items.

“Let’s see if we have anything else useful here.”

Before they could get back to their searching, Holland burst back into the room.

“Marks, man, I want to be you when I grow up!”

“Why? What happened?”

“You nailed it. Patrol found Franklin Bennett’s 2016 Chevy Traverse three blocks from where the Ford Explorer was stolen.”

The men all exchanged glances. Gavin paced around the table.

“So, the man we know as Gary Sievers fought with Franklin Bennett in his apartment, took his car, ditched it and stole another vehicle, and ended up at the Ramirez home to attack two women… one of which was Bennett’s wife.”

He scrubbed his hand down his face.

“What was Bennett doing there? How do they know each other…not to mention being almost identical in looks? What did they fight about? And why did Sievers go to the Ramirez home?”

Hill grimaced. “Can we go back to the celebrating part because this sucks.”

“The picture is still blurred, gentlemen. Let’s pull it into focus.”

*

Watching the nurse replenish her husband’s I.V. meds, Sally Bennett’s spirits lifted for the first time in days.

Lab cultures showed Franklin Bennett was in the early stages of a bacterial infection, but Dr. Stanley’s decision to include antibiotics from the beginning of his care was a good one.

Though not gone, the infection was weakening, allowing his blood pressure to rise.

“He’s doing very well, ma’am. Nice strong blood pressure, no fluctuations.”

Sally sat in the chair next to the bed holding her husband’s hand. She was afraid if she let go he’d slip away and be lost to her again. The thought frightened her more than anything else from the past three days.

Sally was grateful to be with Frankie and know he was at least alive, but a raw edginess bristled just beneath her skin which kept her fears and doubts in the front of her mind.

Remembering Dr. Stanley’s words to stay positive, Sally decided to stop stewing in her worries and grab some coffee from across the hall.

Rising from her seat, she gave Frankie’s hand a gentle squeeze as she turned to walk away, and froze.

The hand she was holding was now holding hers!

Her gaze went from their joined hands to his face and Sally’s heart plummeted.

He wasn’t awake.

Involuntary nerve spasms were explained to her earlier and now she understood why.

Another attempt at releasing Franklin’s hand again caused his grip to tighten.

This can’t be a nerve spasm.

Sally reached for the call button to alert the nurse but stopped when Frankie’s grip tightened even more.

Her brows knitted in confusion.

“Frankie? Can you hear me? Frankie? Can you give me any kind of response? Squeeze my hand again, baby. Wiggle a toe. Dammit, I’ll even accept a facial twitch.”

He didn’t respond but Sally knew he’d gripped her hand. She was sure of it.

Frankie’s hand became limp inside Sally’s. She raised it to her face, rubbing it against her cheek.

“It’s okay, baby. You’re going to beat this. Just hang on.”

She planted a light kiss on his hand and laid his arm to rest on the bed.

Sally left the room without looking back, silently cursing muscle spasms.

Crossing the hall, she saw Dr. Stanley approaching with two men casually dressed and close to her age.

“Mrs. Bennett, we were on our way to speak with you. This is Dr. Ted Beamish and Dr. Paul Weathers. They’re the doctors I told you were on call for your husband. He’s been stable for over an hour. It’s time.”

Sally shook each of their offered hands but held on to Paul Weathers’. “He’s been my life for thirty-two years…please…” Her voice broke on the last word.

Paul Weather’s wrapped her hand in both of his. “Ted and I have had many successes with traumatic brain injuries in private practice and the military. I promise you we’ll do everything we can.”

“Where are your children, Mrs. Bennett?”

It took her a few seconds to find her voice. “They all went to find quiet places to call home with an update. They should be back soon.”

Dr. Weathers released her hand. “Good. The procedure can take as little as two hours or as many as six. Just depends on what we find. We’re on our way to scrub up and someone from our team will be here soon to get Mr. Bennett prepped.”

She pressed her hand against her stomach. The churning had returned.

Dr. Stanley tried to lead her into the lounge. “You should sit-”

Sally pulled away.

“I’m sorry, it’s just nerves. I’ll sit with my husband until it’s time.”

Assuring her she would receive status updates during the surgery, the doctors left to prepare.

Sally Bennett took a deep breath, digging deep inside for a reserve of faith and went to kiss her husband for what she hoped wasn’t the last time.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

The Devil You Know, Part X #52weeks52stories

Intruder

#52weeks52stories: Week 20

Word prompt: mania

Word Count: 1570

~~~~~

Part I    |     Part II    |    Part III    |   Part IV   | Part V

Part VI   |   Part VII   |   Part VIII   |   IX   |

(All links open new windows.)

Adrenalin and exhaustion warred inside Sally Bennett. She was dead tired. Just a few hours ago she was a patient in this same hospital, making deals with her doctor to escape the confines of her hospital bed and go home.

To face life without her husband; to understand why he’d attacked her and Graciela Ramirez; to understand how he ended up dead on the floor of Graciela’s bedroom.

Now everything had changed.

Frankie wasn’t dead, nor was he her attacker.

But according to this doctor, she could still lose him.

Fighting the mania in her mind, Sally swallowed deeply, pushing the burning bile back into her empty stomach.

“Dr. Stanley, please. What does that mean? How serious are his injuries?” She clutched at her stomach. “How did he get injured?”

“Mrs. Bennett, I cannot say for certain how your husband sustained his injuries. I can tell you from the bruising on his hands and face he was involved in a physical altercation—a fight—and ended up on the floor. As he tried to stand, he was hit with a large, heavy object twice, fracturing his skull.”

Sally swayed and teetered on her feet.

Carolyn screamed out, “Mom!”

All the detectives raced to catch her, but Brian Holland reached her first.

She struggled to stand on her own but found she couldn’t and leaned against the brawny police officer. Tears streamed down her face as she turned to Gavin Marks.

“The man. The man in the morgue. Did he do this to Frankie?”

Wary of admitting how little information they had in the case… now cases, but knew she deserved the truth.

“We don’t know ma’am, but it is the leading theory due to his resemblance to your husband. He must have been trying to switch identities but until we can find out who he is, it’s just a theory.”

She turned back to the doctor. “Take me to him?”

“Of course, just understand his appearance is unsettling.”

He opened the door to the critical care suite behind him and Holland escorted the distraught woman into the room, closely followed by the Bennett children.

Sally froze in her steps at the foot of the bed, covering her face with one hand in horror.

With the head of the bed elevated, Franklin Bennett appeared to be napping, but the large pressure dressing covering half of his head and dipping to just above his right eyebrow told a different story.

Purple bruises near his left eye and on his chin stood out against his ghostly pale complexion.

Officer Holland tried to maneuver Sally around the bed to the only chair in the room, but she pulled free, navigating around humming and beeping medical equipment to get to her husband’s side.

She bit her lip to muffle her sobs as she slid her hand under the snapped sleeve of the hospital gown and pulled it free.

Her chest heaved in a combination of relief and agony seeing the crossed rifles tattoo on his upper arm.

Sally raised her hand, tentative at first, but then smoothed his right brow.

The sebaceous cyst was there.

This was her Frankie… and he didn’t even know she was in the room.

She looked across the bed at Dr. Stanley, her eyes full of sorrow.

“There’s nothing you can do?”

He responded, keeping his tone low and even.

“It is a life-threatening injury, and to be honest with you, Mrs. Bennett, I’m surprised he’s made it this far.”

He motioned to Frankie’s hands and face.

“The coloring of his bruises leads me to believe his injuries were sustained seventy-two to ninety-six hours ago.” He paused. “He… lost a lot of blood. But I believe the position of his body and the cooler seasonal temperatures played a part in keeping him alive. That and he has the heart of a lion.”

She looked down at the love of her life in awe. The heart which almost failed him two years ago was now the only thing keeping him alive.

She reached out to caress his cheek before realizing Dr. Stanley was still speaking.

“Excuse me, Dr.?”

“I said his blood pressure is the issue. It’s far too low for your husband to make it through surgery right-”

“What? Surgery? For what?”

He sighed, glancing over his shoulder at the three detectives standing in the doorway before continuing.

“As far as we can tell, Mr. Bennett’s brain activity is normal and that’s a miracle in and of itself. But bleeding in his brain has caused swelling and pressure. If we don’t get that pressure released soon… there will be brain damage and it will be permanent.”

Sally swayed on her feet and sagged against the bed. Brian Holland was ready this time, having moved the chair to the side of the bed.

Gently gripping Sally by the shoulders, he pulled her backward until he had her in the chair.

Darrin, Carolyn, and Joanie were huddled at the foot of the bed, each with a hand touching their father. The officer got Carolyn’s attention, gesturing for her to take his place with her mother before he stepped away, joining the detectives in the doorway.

Sally didn’t notice the activity around her. With her gaze focused on her husband’s face, she addressed Dr. Stanley again.

“Is he scheduled for surgery?”

“No. We’d lose him on the table.”

She slumped in the chair and suddenly realized Carolyn was at her side. She gripped her daughter’s hand, looking for strength.

“So, what’s going to happen to my husband? He’s just going to die?”

“That’s not going to happen if we can help it, Mrs. Bennett. He’s made it this far because he’s a fighter.” He pointed to the multiple I.V. poles attached to the bed. “We’re giving him fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, and that is his third unit of blood. We have three more on standby. Once we get his blood pressure up and stabilized for one hour, he goes into surgery. The two top brain surgeons in our area have examined him and are just waiting for our call.”

A spec of optimism began to bloom in Sally’s chest.

It wasn’t the end of them… yet.

“Dr., I’d like to donate blood for my dad.” Darrin didn’t bother wiping the tears from his face.

“Yes, all of us will,” Carolyn added after exchanging looks with her sister.

“Of course, I’ll get someone to take you down to the lab for typing and matching.”

He stepped back from the bed and pulled out his phone, but Sally stopped him before he could dial.

“Until then, Dr…. until then what happens?”

“We wait, Mrs. Bennett, and pray for the best.”

She stood. Returning to Frankie’s bedside, she slipped his limp right hand between both of hers and bowed her head. Carolyn moved closer bowing her head too.

Darrin and Joanie joined hands at the foot of the bed and followed suit.

Dr. Stanley brushed past the detectives in the doorway and they followed him into the hallway.

“Doctor, what are Mr. Bennett’s chances?”

He turned to Gavin Marks.

“Det., I really-”

“Just tell us what we’re working with…please.”

The doctor removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes before responding.

“I’m being cautiously optimistic when I say 25-30%, Detective”

“Damn.”

“But he has a lot going for him… no life support needed and he’s not in a coma.”

“What? He’s not?”

“No. Mr. Bennett has responded to testing in every way… except for waking up. I’m encouraged by his strong brain activity and strong heartbeat. But the clock is ticking and the window of opportunity to save him is down to 6-8 hours.”

“Thank you, doctor.”

Brian Holland stepped back down the hall, peering into Franklin Bennett’s room. His family still stood around him with their heads bowed.

Pete Hill scrubbed his hand through his salt and pepper buzz-cut.

Gavin Marks leaned against the wall, hands shoved deep into his pockets. Marks’ head was also bowed, but he was deep in thought.

Ganson finally said what they were all thinking.

“If he doesn’t make it, we may never find the answers we need to solve our cases.”

“It’s time for some good old-fashioned police work, gentlemen.”

The law enforcement officers all exchanged knowing smirks.

“Your trial by fire continues Holland. Tell Lothern to do another search on the name Gary Sievers but include a search for the last name alone too. Ask him to pay special attention to smaller towns and to put names on the info requests… make someone sit up and take notice.”

Holland pulled out his cell and stepped away.

“What are you thinking, Marks?”

“The answers are staring us in the face. I think once we confirm the identity of Sievers or whomever he is, everything will fall into place. We’ll solve our case, your case, and there’s a real chance we could learn the identity of the Senior Citizen Rapist.

Let your captain know we’re working together, Ganson, then we need to pay a visit to your crime scene.”

*

The detectives never got back to the apartment where Franklin Bennett was found that night.

An alert patrolman spotted a late-model Ford reported as stolen abandoned two blocks from the Ramirez home.

A routine retrieval and impound became evidence when an inspection of the vehicle’s contents turned up a name on the priority list.

Sievers.

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved