#My52 “Night Light, Conclusion”

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#My52: Week 12

Word prompt: socks

Word count – 1685

Reading time – 4 mins,  19 secs

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Part IV

Jo walked to the stove, donned two large oven mitts and removed a deep casserole dish from the oven. Turning, she presented her surprise.

“Shepherd’s pie!”

“Dad’s favorite!”

The boys fist-bumped each other and raced off to clean up for dinner.

Jack went to the bathroom in the hallway while Kent took the small half-bath on the back porch.

While washing up, Kent raised his head and looked into the mirror.

A young version of Wes Tanner stared back at him.

Though he was often reminded of his resemblance to his father, Kent never saw it.

Until now.

Light brown hair, velvet brown eyes, pug nose.

He smiled.

There was the crooked grin.

The one dimple on the left side.

He shook his head remembering the last time he saw his father.

“Hey buddy, you finish your English homework last night?”

Kent gave his dad the thumb’s up sign, his mouth full of eggs and toast.

“And are you ready for the quiz today?”

He swallowed and grinned. “I will leave no participles dangling.”

“I look forward to being moved to tears by the glowing red A at the top of your paper.”

“Well…”

Jo entered from the back porch carrying laundry. “If you want to be moved to tears, next time you can wash his socks.”

Wes Tanner laughed aloud at his snarky wife as Kent buried his face in his hands.

“It’s okay, buddy. We’re manly men, not dainty flowers. Our socks are supposed to smell.”

Father and son high-fived.

Jack rushed into the kitchen wearing his backpack and carrying Kent’s.

“Let’s bounce, K-man. Old man Gantz is supposed to wait ten minutes but if he can’t see us from the road, you know he won’t even slow the school bus down.”

Jo frowned. “Is that old man still speeding? Why is he even still driving? Isn’t he like a hundred and forty years old?”

Jack chuckled. “Nah, he doesn’t speed. He just floors it over dips to shake up the kids in the back.”

Wes and Kent snickered.

Kent gulped his orange juice then headed for the door behind his brother.

“Don’t forget, kiddo. I’ll be at the field at 4:45 sharp.”

Kent whirled around, grinning. “You have band snack duty today?”

“Yes, I do. Juice boxes and graham crackers are already loaded in the truck.”

His face fell and he looked to his mom. “He’s kidding, right? Mom, please tell me he’s kidding.”

Jo Tanner turned away and buried her face in the towel she was folding to muffle her giggles.

Kent turned back to his father. “C’mon, dad. We’re not kinder-…”

“Bottled water, turkey jerky, Zone bars, and trail mix.”

His grin returned. “Turkey jerky and Zone bars? I’ll be the most popular kid in band.”

Wes folded his arms across his broad chest. “Wouldn’t that make me the most popular band dad, or cool… sweet, or whatever you guys call awesome?”

Kent walked over at fist-bumped with his father. “You’re all those things already, dad and more.”

Wes beamed at the compliment but before he could respond, they were both distracted by Jack calling from the driveway.

“K-man, let’s do this!”

Hiking his backpack up onto his back, Kent bolted for the door, stopping to kiss Jo’s cheek on the way.

“Bye, mom. Cya’ after band practice, dad… with turkey jerky!”

He could hear his parents laughter as he ran down the driveway to catch up with Jack when Wes called after him. “Make me proud on that English quiz!”

Kent Tanner averted his eyes from the bathroom mirror.

His dad never knew about the B+ Kent received on his English quiz and he never arrived at the football field with band snacks. By 4:45 that afternoon, Kent and Jack sat huddled together on their grandmother’s back porch, numb after learning their father was gone.

Staring again into his own eyes, Kent’s lips twitched as Wes Tanner wisdom invaded his thoughts.

“Kiddo, bad days are a part of life, but any day you live through is a good day and goes in the win column.”

He smiled despite the pain and irony of his father’s words. He wasn’t putting anything in the win column yet.

Kent returned to the kitchen and feasted on the shepherd’s pie. More stories about Wes were told. Some brought laughter, others brought tears.

Jo wasn’t surprised when during dessert, Kent told her about his nightmares.

“I’m so sorry you didn’t feel you could come to me sooner.”

“It’s okay, mom. You were so… sad. I used to have two or three a night. Now, it’s just a couple of times a week.”

“Don’t let me off so easy, sweetie. We’re all sad. It’s no excuse, but I do promise to do better.”

“Okay, momma.”

“Ooooo! “Momma,” Jack quipped.

“Leave him alone, Jackson Alan.”

“Ha! Full name! You’re in trouble!”

Kent arched away from the elbow jab Jack aimed his way.

“Kent, do you want to talk about the nightmares?”

He froze, hanging his head.

“I’m sure it’s not uncommon to have bad dreams about losing a parent, honey.”

Neither Jo nor Jack could hear his mumbled response.

“What did you say?”

He raised his head, hesitant and embarrassed. “They’re not about dad.”

Jack grabbed his wrist. “But K-man, you said-“

Kent cut him off.

“I said they started after dad died. You said you understood me having nightmares about him because of the way we lost him.” He ducked his head again. “I just didn’t correct you.”

“Baby, what are the nightmares about?”

Kent didn’t respond.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell us.”

He spoke without raising his head.

“I wake up for school just like always. I know dad’s gone… but I can’t find you and Jackie. I go from room to room, searching and calling your names. It’s gets weirder because it’s our house, but there are so many more rooms. And I can’t open doors to leave. The more rooms I pass through, the darker and warmer it gets until I’m drenched in sweat in the darkness.” Kent looked at his mom. “I wake up screaming… and sometimes crying because I can’t find you or my way out.”

Jack set his fork down, staring at his dessert.

Jo reached over and clasped Kent’s hand.

“You said you don’t have the nightmares as often, but you do still have them, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’m glad you told me, Kent, but I can’t explain them. What if I call Dr. Riley tomorrow and get a referral for counseling? Talking to someone who has knowledge about these things might help.”

Kent remained silent until Jack touched his arm.

“I’ll go too, K-man.”

Turning to his brother, Kent saw the love and concern siblings of a certain age dance around, but at that moment Wesley Kent Tanner knew nothing would ever come between him and his brother.

“Okay, mom, do it. I’ve got nothing to lose at this point,” he glanced back at Jack, “and everything to gain.”

JoAnna Tanner leaped from her seat, rushing to the other side of the table to hug the two boys. “I love you both madly, and we’re going to be okay.”

After exchanging man-hugs with Kent, Jack decided things were getting too mushy for him, and excused himself to take his evening run.

Kent helped Jo clean the kitchen while she quizzed him on biology terms and international capital cities.

Jack returned and after a shower, the family settled in for another Wes Tanner-favorite, the movie Spaceballs.

Jo shooed them off to bed when the movie ended, and Jack had said, “May the Schwartz be with you” one time too many.

The brothers made their way down the hall to their rooms, engaged in a duel with invisible light sabers.

Jack dropped his arms to his side and Kent moved in for the kill with a run-through.

“Hey. What gives? You gave me that one.”

Jack rested his hands on his hips Forrest Gump-style.

“K-man, I just thought of something.”

“You want me to alert the media?”

Kent laughed at his own snark, but Jack silenced him by holding up his hand.

“We know mom is out of Aunt Pearl’s good graces, but dude… what if she cuts us out of her will too?”

Frowning, Kent was about to lash out, but Jack waggled his eyebrows then moonwalked through his bedroom door.

Kent guffawed at Jack’s antics and stumbled through his own bedroom door, grateful again for his older brother.

So used to a sense of anxiousness when he entered his room every night, Kent Tanner took notice of its absence.

Pete Michaels was right.

An open conversation with his family had alleviated much of his fears. Talking with a family therapist… and time could only help take him the rest of the way.

Stripping out of his clothes, Kent pulled on a pair of flannel lounge pants and went to his dresser.

Opening the drawer, he pulled the threadbare Crowded House band t-shirt out and slipped it on.

He’d taken it from the laundry room two days after Wes Tanner died.

Every morning, Kent would open the drawer and stare at the shirt, missing his dad.

But now it was no longer a remnant of what he lost, but a reminder of who he was.

He switched off his light and crawled into bed.

His gaze went to the glow-in-the-dark night light next to his bed. Its luminance appeared brighter than usual, almost harsh. Kent considered it for a moment and decided not to drop the light into a drawer.

He wasn’t ready for that.

He hoped the nightmares didn’t come, but if they did, he would deal with them… and tell someone.

He wasn’t alone and never had been, he understood that much. Until the rest was sorted out, the night light would be his comfort instead of his protector.

Kent snuggled deep into his bed and sleep came with ease to his exhausted mind.

His last thoughts were to thank Pete for his kind words… and that he would try out for the basketball team.

Part 1    |  Part II   |  Part III  |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Night Light, Part III”

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#My52: Week 11

Word prompt: house

Word count – 719

Reading time – 2 mins,  11 secs

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Part III

Kent whistled. “You said that? To Aunt Pearl? What did she say?”

“Well, she wasn’t happy with me, but she said she hoped to hear from me soon and hung up.”

Jack pointed his finger across the table. “You are so out of the will now, no question.”

Jo ducked her head. “Yes, sucks to be me right about now.”

“Why didn’t we know she and dad were so close?”

“They weren’t that close.”

“But, you just said-”

Jo held up her hand.

“Aunt Pearl’s boys were like their father—loud, brash bullies… they still are. Your dad said he was grateful he didn’t share the same last name because they were always in trouble all the way through school. Aunt Pearl did what she could to keep them in line, but Uncle Ed let them get away with everything, then used his influence to protect them from being held accountable.”

“When he died, they went buck wild and ignored Aunt Pearl. Your Grandma Nettie felt sorry for her and sent your dad to run errands for her and take care of chores around the house. Pearl latched on to him for dear life. Tommy and Dale saw how she doted on your father and straightened up by their early twenties. Your dad said that was when she figured out the power of her wealth and began to use it to get her way.”

“But no matter how much your dad meant to her, I couldn’t allow her to barnstorm in here and take over our lives.”

“And as long as I’m being honest, it felt good to stand up to her. I’ve spent too much time being angry at your dad for leaving me and myself for being a wimp about it.”

“But dad didn’t leave you, mom. Not in the walk-away kind of leaving.”

“I know, baby. My mind gets that, but my heart doesn’t.”

She reached out, touching their hands. “Last revelation of honesty… I feel like a fraud for telling your aunt I’m here to help you when I haven’t been.”

Both boys opened their mouths to protest again, but a stern look from Jo stopped them.

“Look, this isn’t about absolution, deflecting blame, or even forgiveness. It’s about accountability and responsibility—two things I’ve skated on.

We lost an important part of our family, but we’re still a family. I’m your mother and Wesley Cameron Tanner would haunt me to the end of my days if I acted like anything less.”

Kent smiled at the mental pic of a ghostly Wes Tanner in a Crowded House band t-shirt and camouflage lounge pants, his favorite around-the-house attire.

“I’m a blessed woman to have shared my life with your dad, but I’m just as blessed to have you two as my sons.”

“So, going forward, new rules! One, it is okay to be sad and it is okay to cry… but it is not okay to hide it. No more hiding in my room for me, no more skulking in corners for you. Two, it is okay to talk about your father… share things, good and bad. He wasn’t a saint, and neither are we. Jack, I know you were ready to run away from home when he took your bike away for a week last year.”

Jack’s cheek’s flushed a deep crimson as he hid his face. “Oh man, the grass wasn’t even that high. I didn’t think waiting another day or two would hurt.”

“Yeah, but dad thought otherwise.”

Jack jabbed his elbow into Kent’s side, but he continued to laugh anyway.

“And rule number three,” Jo said in a raised voice to get their attention. “it is perfectly okay to ignore rules one and two.”

The Tanner brothers exchanged confused glances.

“Your mom’s not loopy or trying to be facetious. It just goes back to what I said earlier. No one can tell you how to mourn. What’s important is that you do… in your own way, and I’ll always be here for you.”

Kent stared at the genuine love and affection on his mother’s face and anxiety he’d been holding onto for too long seeped from his body.

Jo rose from the table. “Now you two go wash up for dinner and I’m going to share a happy memory of your dad.”

 

To be continued…

Part 1    |  Part II   |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Night Light, Part II”

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#My52: Week 10

Word prompt: copper

Word count – 1384

Reading time – 5 mins,  07 secs

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Part II

Jo Tanner kept a neat home, but the drain on emotions and sanity over the last two months dealt a harsh blow to the tidy organization of the Tanner home.

When the brothers left for school early that morning, the corner breakfast nook was covered in mail, newspapers, and piles of half-folded laundry… as it had been for weeks.

Now the table and benches were clear and clean, no longer a catch-all for a stressed household.

Copper cookware hung neatly above the chef’s island and its sunflower yellow countertop sparkled.

A slamming door caused Kent to look across the kitchen to see his mother enter from the back porch carrying a basket of clean laundry.

“Hey, you’re home. Good.”

Jo sat the laundry basket near the door and went to her youngest son, pulling him into a warm hug.

Kent pulled back, searching her face.

She was different.

Though sadness was still a resident in his mother’s brown eyes, they were not red and swollen from endless tears. Her features didn’t sag in defeat, and she appeared to be calm and in control.

Kent had so many questions but gave in to the lump forming in his throat and returned her hug.

The side-door opened, and mother and son turned to see Jack enter with the same wide-eyed expression Kent had worn.

Jo raised her hand, beckoning for her firstborn to join them.

Without a word, Jack dropped his backpack and raced into the group hug.

With an arm around each of her sons, Jo gave them both a tight squeeze before pulling back and looking up into their faces.

“I’m sure I have more tears to shed, but not now.” She took a deep breath, steeling herself. “Your dad and I had so many plans for the future—things we wanted to do with you boys and things for the two of us after you guys were on your own.”

“He was bigger than life to me and I’ve loved him since the day we met at a peace rally in front of the public library. I saw us growing old together, spoiling your kids and fussing about dentures.”

Jack and Kent smiled while their hearts broke for the memories their mother would never have.

“I know there’re no guarantees in life, but I never imagined losing the love of my life to a massive heart attack at only forty-two years of age. Dang man had never even had a cold in twenty years, then he just up and dies…”

The brothers tightened their grip on their mother, holding her up.

“It broke me, and I allowed it. I was doing things by rote, ignoring everything that took thought,” she looked at each of them, “ignoring my boys.”

Jack and Kent protested.

“Mom, we understood-”

“It wasn’t like that-”

She shushed them both.

“That’s exactly what it’s like… how it’s been.”

“After the funeral when everyone was outback and your great-aunt Pearl gave you both a dressing down because you weren’t sad and crying enough to meet her definition of grief, I said nothing.”

“Mom, it was the worst day of our lives, give yourself a break.”

“Exactly, baby, it was the worst day of our lives, but I could only think of myself.”

“Mom-”

“No. I didn’t protect my children. I know Aunt Pearl meant well in her own too-nosy-for-her-own-good way, but I should have said something.”

Kent interrupted her.

“But no one else did either, mom.”

“Hmmpf. That’s because she has money, and no one wants to get cut from her will.”

The truth of the comment made them all chuckle.

“But Pearl never knows—or doesn’t care—when to stop. She’s called every few days. Sometimes I answer, sometimes I don’t.”

“What’s she calling for?”

Jo scoffed. “As she put it, ‘it’s her familial duty to make sure we’re okay,’ but it’s always about money with her. Offers to pay for a housekeeper or handyman, hire help for the crop rotation, even send us on a getaway trip for healing.”

Jack threw his head back and yelled, “Vegas!”

Jo laughed too, smacking his arm. “No, Mr. still-a-minor. I thanked her but said no thank you.”

Kent smirked. “I hear the sound of scissors… cutting you out of her will, mom.”

The Tanner family belly laughed together for the first time in months and Jo led her boys over to the breakfast nook. After they were seated, Jo became serious.

“It had been over two weeks since Aunt Pearl’s last call. I’d hoped she’d found someone else to harass.”

Jo shook her head.

“I wasn’t that lucky. She called this morning right after you guys left for school.”

Jack frowned. “Dang, mom. We left at six-fifteen. You said it was rude to call anyone before eight in the morning.”

“That’s for normal people who don’t believe the world revolves around them, honey. Aunt Pearl doesn’t fall into that category.”

“What did she want, mom? You look like she upset you.”

“Oh, yeah… big-time. She started right in the second I answered the phone.”

 

“Morning, Aunt Pearl.”

“Hello, JoAnna. How are the boys?”

“The boys are fine. They’ve already left for school.”

“No, I mean how are the boys, really? It’s only been two months since Wes died. Have they mourned properly?”

“Aunt Pearl, what is the proper way to mourn? Everyone deals with grief in different ways.”

“Oh, don’t get all defensive, dear. Everyone knows those boys were as crazy about Wes as he was them. Their life paradigm is forever changed. And no matter how big they are in size; Jackie and Kent are still children. I’d expect them to shed buckets of tears.”

“Auntie, again, there is no right or wrong way to mourn for anyone… children or adults. My boys were in shock just as I was. And yes, it is life-changing, but the boys had a father they loved and looked up to. I doubt losing him will alter their personalities. Wes’ death was so… so sudden. It still doesn’t feel real, but it is, and we’ll deal with it.”

“I know, dear, I know. That’s why I’ve cleared my calendar all the way to fall.”

“Huh? What? Auntie, what does that mean?”

“I’m coming to stay with you for a few months. While the boys wrap up the school year, I’ll line up a housekeeper for you and get some field help scheduled all the way through harvest. Then when the boys are on summer break, I’ll-”

“No.”

“… get them scheduled for some-”

“I said no.”

“… counseling and maybe even a trip to the Grand-”

“Aunt Pearl, are you listening to me? I said no!”

“There’s no need to raise your voice and get so dramatic, JoAnna. I’m just trying to help my family the best way I know how.”

“I’m sorry for yelling, Auntie, and I appreciate your generosity, but my answer is still no.”

“Why are you being so stubborn about this? Wes was my favorite nephew… closer to me than my own boys. Jackie and Kent are all I have left of him.” Her voice faltered. “It-it hurts to look at Kent sometimes. He’s the spitting image of his father. Please, let me help them through this.”

“Aunt Pearl listen to me. I know you miss Wes too, but you can’t work through your grief by forcing yourself on the boys-”

“JoAnna! I’m not forcing-”

“Let me finish. You can’t channel your grief through them. You cannot make them feel what you are feeling. They have to work through this on their own in their own way and if they need help, it comes from me.”

“JoAnna-”

“The boys have band camp and sports camp this summer. But I promise to sit down with them and go over their schedules. If they want to visit you together or separately, I will make that happen. But, it will be their decision to make.”

 

Jack and Kent stared at their mother with their mouths hanging open.

Kent whistled. “You said that? To Aunt Pearl? What did she say?”

“Well, she wasn’t happy with me, but she said she hoped to hear from me soon and hung up.”

Jack pointed his finger across the table. “You are so out of the will now, no question.”

 

To be continued…

Part 1    |

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “Night Light, Part I”

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#My52: Week 9

Word prompt: backpack

Word count – 880

Reading time – 2 mins,  12 secs

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Part I

“Karen told me Madeline is mad at you.”

“Hope she gets over it.”

Jack Tanner doubled over with laughter.

“Dude don’t even try it. You got it bad for her,” he chided his younger brother, Kent.

“Correction, I had it bad for her. I didn’t see it at first, but Maddie is just too shallow.”

“C’mon. Yesterday, if she told you to jump into Harper Creek, you would have.”

Fifteen-year-old Kent smirked. “Yesterday, she hadn’t shown her true face. Now I know she’s fake and an opportunist.”

“Ooohh, an opportunist? Really? What happened?”

Shifting his backpack from one shoulder to the other, Kent’s steps slowed.

“She was always cool, fun to talk to. We shared funny stories about our older siblings,” he tilted his head toward Jack, “and she asked da-… about how things were at home.”

Jack raised a brow. “So?”

“Whenever the upperclassmen came around, she changed, especially if Pete Michaels showed up. She tried to act older, call me a kid… crap like that.”

“She crushin’ on Pete?”

“I guess so.”

“That bother you?”

“Yeah, at first. But I got over it. I realized she’s wearing different faces for different people.”

“Okaaaay, what am I missing?”

Kent stopped in his tracks, his eyes focused on his feet.

“K-Man, what happened?”

Sadness and anger flashed across his face as he raised his gaze to Jack. His grip tightened on his backpack.

“I never thought she could be cruel.”

Jack’s jaw tightened. “What happened? Tell me now.”

Kent walked over and leaned against an old wooden fence at the edge of the dirt road.

“It wasn’t a big deal at first. While we were talking about band camp this summer, Pete walks up and teases me about my height, saying I must have grown three inches since school started. He switched gears and said I should drop the trombone and band and try out for the basketball team.”

Jack let out a long, slow whistle. “That’s major, dude. Pete acts like he invented the game, but the team is headed for a bad situation and Coach Turner is getting nervous. Half of his starters are graduating. He still glares at me for choosing to wrestle instead of playing basketball.”

“I know and took it as a compliment coming from Pete.”

“But?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Kent blew out a harsh breath before responding.

“Maddie pipes in with ‘He can’t play with the big boys yet because he still sleeps with a night light’.”

Jack’s eyes widened. “No effin’ way! She did not say that! She said that? Out loud? How did she know?”

He hung his head. “I told her, right after dad-… when the nightmares started.”

Jack Tanner paced in front of his brother, fuming. “So? So? You told her. Didn’t give her the right to repeat it. What a cow.”

“It’s okay, Jackie.”

“No, K-Man, it isn’t. She took something personal and made a joke out of it so people would laugh at you. What a cow. Just wait until I tell Karen about her little sister.”

“I’m over it, man. I walked away. But Pete followed me.”

“Huh? Why? To continue the joke? Dude, I will kick his ass, I swear it.”

“Jackie, no, it wasn’t like that.”

Kent dropped his backpack to the ground and sat on it.

“When I got to my locker, I turned around, and he was standing there, looking kind of lost. He said he knew it wasn’t the same situation but when his dad left him and his mom he had nightmares for months.”

His brother was incredulous. “Pete said that? Pete Michaels? Tall guy, dark hair with a Dudley Do-Right chin? That Pete?”

Kent grinned. “Yes, Squidward, that Pete.” He ducked his head. “He also said it takes time, but it does get easier.”

Jack shoved his hands into his pockets. “Wow. Guess he’s not such a douche after all. I may have to do something nice like cheer him on at a game or tattoo his name on my bicep.”

“Oh, don’t go all adoring fan-boy on my account.”

Jack extended his arm, pulling Kent up. “What are big brothers for? C’mon, let get home.”

They walked together in silence until they neared the end of their quarter-mile trek from the rural school bus stop.

The Tanner farmhouse came into view as the brothers rounded the bend.

They stopped and stood under the walnut tree at the edge of the soybean field and exchanged anxious looks.

Jack thumped the side of his hip with a tight fist.

Kent bit the inside of his lip.

“I wish things could go back to the way they were.”

“I know, Jackie. Me too. I miss dad.”

“We all do, but especially her.”

“And we can’t make it better.”

Jack gripped his shoulder. “How can we make it better when we hurt too?”

Kent jerked out of his brother’s grip, heading for the farmhouse. “C’mon. We stand here every day wishing things were different, but our life still sucks.” He didn’t stop until he reached the kitchen door next to the driveway.

Throwing the screen door open, Kent stormed inside and stopped, startled by the sight surrounding him.

To be continued…

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#My52 “The Price of a Life, conclusion”

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#My52: Week 8

Word prompt: photograph

Word count – 2632

Reading time – 6 mins,  35 secs

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Part VII

Against his better judgment, Dex opened the door in the far corner of the dining room and walked down the back hallway.

Montages from his life in this house flashed through his mind.

A game of hide-and-seek with his dad.

Racing through the halls with Bobby Tanner and Walt Lansing during a sleepover.

Looking for the eggs his dad hid on Easter morning.

Dexter sighed. All good memories that should have made him smile, but so long ago, they were fuzzy and out of focus.

Who was taller, Bobby or Walt? Did his dad ever find him in the garage’s corner behind the tool bench?

He couldn’t remember. Too much bad had come after the good.

A few weeks away from his nineteenth birthday, it wasn’t lost on Dex that one-third of his life dominated his existence.

Dex stopped at the last room on the right… his room.

He opened the door and entered like he was treading on hallowed ground.

The room was his sanctuary, but it had also been his prison, banished there when Verna wanted to relax, or when ‘Uncle’ Simon came for a visit.

He pushed the ugly thoughts from his mind, tired of his tormentors occupying his thoughts.

Someone had covered everything in the juvenile bedroom in white sheets, but it all appeared to be in place.

Dex knew if he uncovered the tubular nightstand next to the bed, he’d find his initials—DJM—carved on the side. A rare act of defiance after being chastised by Verna in front of his friends.

The baseball mitt grandpa Gerald gave him for Christmas the year before he died was in the bottom drawer of the dresser, and the pointed silhouette on top was the trophy he won in the sack race at the base’s family day cookout.

But Dex was confused.

More than half the furniture he remembered was missing from the house, but his room appeared to be untouched.

Why? Had someone taken advantage of Proctor’s condition and removed whatever they wanted without his knowledge or consent?

Fresh anger blossomed in his chest and Dex stormed around the room thinking of his dad alone and at the mercy of everyone.

He yanked open the closet door and found not everything in his room was untouched.

Dex kicked through the clutter of old toys on the floor of the otherwise empty closet.

He wasn’t upset the clothes were gone—they were clothes bought for a child—it was the loss their absence represented, and how little say he’d had about his life… in his life.

I have to get out of here.

He took a step backward but stopped when he saw the shadow of something hanging in the closet’s dark corner.

Reaching in, Dex grabbed the garment… and fell against the door-frame when he realized what he was holding.

Awash in emotions, his chest tightened in sadness as the tiny smile on his face grew into a grin.

He raised an arm to wipe away the tears forming, then gazed at his find.

The child-size camo fatigues were a big part of Dexter’s happiest memory.

Proctor gave the fatigues to his son to wear for the base’s Bring Your Child to Work Day.

He remembered the pride in his dad’s eyes as his staff called Dex his mini-me and he still felt the awe at all the wonderful things said about Proctor.

“He’s everything I hope to be.”

“He’s the biggest hardass on the planet, but he’s also the best officer on the planet.”

“He won’t ask anyone to do anything he isn’t willing to do. We respect that.”

“He could teach those girly-men in Washington more than a thing or two about how to be an officer.”

The day was revelatory for Dexter. Proctor wasn’t just dad or even a decorated soldier. He was a well-respected leader and mentor his unit wanted to emulate.

The grin returned to his face… along with stark clarity.

It wasn’t that things were missing from his childhood home, but more so the things which were still there.

His things.

No one had stolen from or taken advantage of Proctor Morgan.

The missing furniture items were removed by his request.

Dex mentally chided himself for not seeing it sooner.

The ugly Naugahyde living room furniture Verna demanded because some Hollywood A-lister hawked it on late-night television. The contrasting end tables with cherubs as the stands. And the horrid high-backed Victorian dining room furniture his mother believed reeked of class.

The long-suffering Proctor acquiesced to keep his wife happy but hated it all.

His wife’s offenses after she left were no doubt more than enough motivation for Proctor to clean house… literally.

But he didn’t erase his son.

Still clutching the fatigues, Dex grabbed the file folder he dropped and headed for the door. He didn’t have a clue what to do with his inherited home yet, but leaving the fatigues behind wasn’t an option.

Dexter’s mind was a jumble of thoughts and memories. He had to meet with the executor of Proctor’s estate again in two days and needed to come up with a plan before heading back to Vegas.

With his free hand, Dex patted his pockets, looking for his cell phone as he re-entered the dining room.

Crossing the room, he noticed a small table on the opposite side of the hospital bed he didn’t see when he’d first arrived.

Curiosity led him to the table, and despite the dust, Dex recognized his father’s medals arranged on the front edge of the table.

Surrounding the medals were photographs of Dexter—from the hospital the day he was born; from his first day of kindergarten, and in his jersey for Pop Warner football.

But it was the largest photo in a gold frame sitting behind all the others Dex picked up.

Proctor’s arm was around Dex’s shoulder as father and son stood in matching fatigues under a large banner that read Bring Your Child to Work Day.

His breath caught in his chest and a choking sound escaped his lips as Dex laughed and cried at the same time.

He leaned against the bed and slid to the floor, tears streaming down his face.

He’d cried so many tears of self-pity and loneliness. For what he’d lost and what he didn’t have. For his meager existence overshadowed by the violence he couldn’t escape.

But now, Dex’s tears were for the love of a father for his son.

Verna stole him away and kept them separated, but she couldn’t separate their hearts or break their bond.

Proctor Morgan’s physical condition didn’t allow him to go find his son or fight to bring him home, so he kept him close the only way he could—in his heart and surrounded by his photos.

Jumping to his feet, Dex rushed to the kitchen to find something to hold his new-found treasures.

Darting from cabinet to cabinet, clarity smacked the young man in the head again and he knew he’d never sell the house.

Despite failing health, Proctor did what he could to provide for his son.

Dexter lost faith and almost himself, but his father left enough legal bread crumbs for him to find his way home one day.

He found an old Hostess bread tin in the pantry suitable for a carryall and hurried back and gathered up the photographs.

There was so much to do, his mind raced at the possibilities.

His freshman year was going well at UNLV and he’d already picked classes for the fall… but he wanted to come home. He needed to come home.

Bennington had a community college and the University of Colorado was only two hours away.

This could work. It had to.

He’d call Jerome Gaffney as soon as he got back to his hotel room.

The guidance counselor had become a good friend and father-figure and Dex knew the man would give him sound advice.

Turning in a quick circle, Dex took in the room one more time then headed for the front door.

He didn’t know the first thing about furnishing a home past milk crates for bookshelves, but he’d learn soon enough.

Pressing the remote, he popped the trunk on his rental, secured the bread tin and file folder then closed it, hurrying to the driver’s door.

Hearing a car door close, Dex turned to the street. One look at the new arrival and Dex froze for a heartbeat before whirling around to leave.

His hand was on the door handle but instead of opening the door, Dex hung his head and blew out a harsh breath.

He didn’t know if it was destiny or fate or simple luck, but thanks to his father, Dex had a promising future.

It was time to let go of the past.

He walked down the driveway with his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Stopping at the curb, Dex raised his head but not his voice on the quiet street.

“Did you ever love me?”

Verna Morgan opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.

He huffed. “Guess I got my answer.” He turned to leave.

“It’s not how you think-”

“How do you know what I think, ma? Did you ever ask?”

He fought to stay in control of his emotions.

“You didn’t ask when you dragged me away from here. You didn’t ask when you used me to file for dad’s benefits, and you damn sure didn’t ask me when that investigator came looking for me a few weeks ago.”

“You’re too young to understand-”

“Stop it.” She jumped at the harshness of his voice, but Dex didn’t care. “No more lies. No more excuses.”

He searched her haggard face.

Despite the determined set of her jaw, Verna’s fatigue was obvious.

The blows delivered by Simon’s fists, coupled with an itinerant lifestyle and too much alcohol caused her to look two decades older than her forty-six years.

“Before we even left here, I used to cry myself to sleep hating myself. I knew I had to be a bad son for you to always be so unhappy with me. I wanted to be perfect for you, but I realized too late I wasn’t your problem.”

“Simon started coming around and I figured you were mad at dad for being away so much. Then he came back disabled, and I thought you hated him for it.”

Taking his hands from his pockets, Dex took a step closer to his mother.

“But you know what, ma, dad wasn’t your problem either. It’s you, always scheming to get your way, chasing a life you wanted. There wasn’t anything you wouldn’t do… separate father and son, forge documents, lie… no price was too high for you to pay, even if it was someone else’s life.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good life, Dexter.”

“No, ma, there isn’t. But we had a good life.”

“No, you had a good life, Dexter. A military brat with a father doing a job he loved. I was just the live-in maid. I deserved more. Your father promised me.”

“Was that before or after you took up with Simon?”

“That’s not fair. Your dad was always gone, training at other bases… deployed.”

“Shit happens, ma, but dad was in the service when you married him.”

“It got lonely. The other wives snubbed me, and then you came along and…”

“I wasn’t enough.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth and stop trying to make me the bad guy.”

Throwing his head back, Dex laughed. “Damn, ma. You fight to the bitter end, huh? ‘Don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. I deserved this. I deserved that.’”

He took a step back, still laughing.

“We’re done here. I have things to do.”

He turned and headed up the driveway.

“I don’t know where Simon is. I-I think he’s left me.”

He paused in his tracks; the laughter returning. Turning, he faced Verna with a feigned surprise expression.

“What? Without giving you the good life he promised? I’m shocked.”

“Don’t be cruel, Dexter James.”

“I learned from the best.”

“Dexter.” Wringing her hands, Verna stepped away from the rundown Explorer for the first time. “Someone in a black Mercedes picked him up two days ago, and he hasn’t come home… and I don’t think he’s going to.”

Dex blew out a long, low whistle. “A Mercedes. Sounds like he upgraded.”

He saw the flash of anger in her eyes before she looked away.

“Did I say something wrong, ma?”

“I love him, Dexter.”

“You love him? Yet, he left two days ago, you don’t know if he’s dead or alive and the only thing you could think to do was come here? You love him about as much as you love me.”

Verna couldn’t contain her anger this time and stormed up the driveway.

“I made a choice, Dexter James! Drive all over Vegas looking for Simon or come here and help you. Stop trying to make me sound like a monster.”

Emotional fatigue bore down on Dexter Morgan. He was tired of the back-and-forth. His mother would never apologize because she didn’t believe she’d done anything wrong.

“You came here, ma because your scheme to dupe that investigator who came looking for me didn’t work. He didn’t know us, but the attorney who hired him knew dad… and how he felt about you.”

“I never tried to dupe-”

“You did. I saw the forged power of attorney.”

“I knew you needed help, Dexter. You know nothing about wills or probate.”

“So, you’re saying to help me you had to take from me?”

“I’m your mother, Dexter James, I wasn’t trying to take anything from you.”

“If dad hadn’t confided in his attorney, you’d have these instead of me.” He held up the house keys. “And Simon wouldn’t be missing, he’d be here getting comfortable in his new home…. a home he didn’t work for or deserve.”

Dex backed toward his rental. “I’m done, ma. With this and with you.”

Reaching the car, Dex opened the door but looked back at his mother. “The irony of this ma is you never got that life you were searching for. You put us all through hell for nothing. You tried to steal my inheritance that, had you been a normal wife and mother, would be yours right now.”

He took one last look at the woman who gave him life before getting in the car and starting the engine. Dex watched Verna stepped to the side as he reversed down the drive. She called out as he passed her. He stopped.

“What about me? What am I supposed to do now?”

“That’s not my problem, ma.”

“So, you’ll just drive away and leave me with nothing and nowhere to go? You hate me that much?”

He shook his head. “I don’t hate you, ma. I don’t feel anything for you.”

Dexter almost felt guilty at the truth of his words until he saw the rage and contempt in Verna’s face.

“Dexter James, you owe me. I am your mother!”

“Goodbye, ma.”

Without another word, he backed into the street, then drove off, relieved.

Stopping at the stop sign a half block away, Dex looked into his rear-view mirror and saw his mother get in the Explorer.

And then he saw a second head.

Simon. Hidden in the back seat the whole time.

Verna’s emotional plea, her lies about Simon’s desertion… had all been just another scheme. A plot. A con.

Dex did not understand what his mother had hoped to accomplish by confronting him, but she’d failed and proven there was no redemption for her.

And he was okay with that.

He turned the corner and headed for the hotel… and the future his father intended for him to have.

 

 

Part I     Part II     Part III   Part IV   Part V  Part VI

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part VI”

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#My52: Week 7

Word prompt: maintenance

Word count – 1361

Reading time – 3 mins,  35 secs

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Part VI

Bitterness and anger warred inside Dexter Morgan.

His mother stole his childhood and forever changed his life chasing the affluent lifestyle she believed she deserved.

Jerome Gaffney’s inquiry into Dexter’s eligibility for a scholarship through his father’s veteran benefits was the catalyst for Verna Morgan’s undoing.

He received the funds he needed for college, but the Department of Veteran’s Affairs also launched an investigation into the benefits Verna claimed before Proctor divorced her.

Authorities were certain she forged allotment documents before she left her husband. Though it was rare, it wasn’t unusual for military families to maintain two residences.

Proctor’s diminished physical condition could account for any disparities in his signature on the documents, and even with abandonment as his reason for divorce, the VA still had no concrete proof Verna forged his signature.

Since Dex was Proctor’s son, he was entitled to Social Security disability benefits for dependent children. That he never knew about the monthly checks and Verna dressed him in thrift store gleanings while buying new suits for Simon only proved her a bad mother. Reprehensible, but not illegal.

Dexter’s strained home life grew more contentious after Verna’s machinations came to light.

Counting the days until graduation, a part-time job with the school’s maintenance crew filled enough hours for Dexter to only return to the dusty apartment for a few hours sleep each night.

When graduation day arrived, an unrepentant Verna did not attend.

And Dexter didn’t want her there.

With all he’d been through, Dexter Morgan was proud of his accomplishments, but his heart mourned his father not seeing him accept his diploma and scholarships.

By the time he returned home, his sadness had turned to rage.

“Well, lookie here. We have an honest-to-God high school graduate in our midst.”

Headed to his room, Dex froze in his tracks, fed up with Simon’s smart mouth.

“Yeah, I am, and I appreciate you being there to support me.”

Verna interrupted before Simon could respond.

“Don’t start, Dexter. It’s still a hundred and fifteen degrees outside. There was no reason for us to get heatstroke trying to get to an overcrowded gymnasium and sit for three hours.”

“Damn, how did you do that, Simon? I didn’t even see your lips move.”

“Dexter James! How dare-”

“How dare me what, ma? Call you both on your crap?”

“You listen to-”

“I’m done listening to you, ma. Seeing your only child graduate from high school… with honors wasn’t a good enough reason to brave Las Vegas heat, but I was a good enough reason to steal money from dad and the government.”

“I am not a thief!”

“Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing-”

“I stole nothing! They found no grounds to file charges against me.”

“Only because dad’s dead… now.”

“We’ve already been over this, Dexter. I was entitled to that money.”

“Because of me!”

His tone startled the shameless couple.

“And we haven’t been over it. I was in the room the last time you talked to the VA people. But you,” he pointed an accusing finger at her, “refused to say another word about it when we got home.”

“There was no point. We needed to put the ugly accusations behind us and move on.”

“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you, ma. No one said you were innocent.”

“How can you speak to me this way? I’m your mother-”

“It’s always about you. Dad getting deployed to Afghanistan, his coming home wounded, and you walking out on him… all about you. All to interrupt your life.”

Verna pleaded with her boyfriend for help. “Simon, baby, make him stop. Don’t let him talk to me like that.”

But the older man had not forgotten how the teenager pulled him off Verna and threw him across the room. He withered under Dexter’s dark glare and focused on his beer.

“He only hits people who don’t hit back, ma.”

“What have I done for you to disrespect me like this?”

“How many times can I say it? You used me to take money that didn’t belong to you.”

“I was entitled to that money.”

“No, you weren’t.” He pounded his chest with each word. “I was entitled to those benefits, ma. You were only able to get as far as you did because you used me.”

“I did it for you!”

“You did it for yourself.”

“Dexter-”

“You fed me Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, dressed me in thrift store hand-me-downs, and made me sleep on the floor until you found an old bed at a garage sale… for ten dollars.”

“It’s not like I was getting big bucks, Dexter James. You have no idea what it costs to raise a child.”

“Does it cost as much as that fancy bed Simon had to have for his bad back? Or his high-tech gold watch? What about the gold cuff links, ma? Does raising a child cost as much as those?”

“You need to leave.”

“And there it is. Kick me out so you don’t have to face your own lies. Only this time you and Mr. Big here won’t come looking for me. I’m eighteen and the checks have stopped. I hold no value for you anymore. I’m a liability… and a reminder of your meanness.”

“My lies? My meanness? What about your father, Dexter? He promised me we’d travel the world. We were supposed to buy a new home, new cars and join the country club. He promised me.” She paced next to the rickety dinette. “But instead he comes home barely able to feed himself, and I’m supposed to be the dutiful wife and caregiver. No. No. I deserved better.”

When Dexter didn’t respond, Verna turned to her son.

Even Simon looked up from his beer.

Dex stood frozen in place, his eyes on his mother.

And his lips twitched at the corners.

Unable to hold it in, he bent at the waist… and roared with laughter. He wrapped his arms around himself as guffaws rumbled up from deep inside his belly.

“Dexter James! What is wrong with you? What are you laughing at?”

The teen buried his face in his hands and righted himself. Scrubbing his hands down his face, he tried to catch his breath. Looking around the shabby apartment, Dex returned his mischievous gaze to Verna.

“Welcome to better, ma.”

Hit by another wave of laughter, Dexter stumbled backward into the wall.

“I’m glad you find this funny, young man.”

Pushing away from the wall, Dexter Morgan stood to his full height, the laughter gone.

“You took me away from my home, my friends. You took me away from my dad… after he lost the use of his legs serving his country.” A single tear slid down his cheek. “All because you could. All because you knew there was something better waiting for you.”

He took two steps toward his mother.

“But you ended up in this rundown hole-in-the-wall with a man who beats you like it’s a hobby… while you took care of him with money I was eligible for because of my dad… the man you walked away from.”

He took two more steps.

“You don’t think that’s funny, ma? Because I think it’s fucking hilarious.”

Verna opened her mouth to speak, but Dexter talked over her.

“I’m leaving, ma, but not tonight. Mr. Gaffney is making arrangements for me to move into the dorms early and work on-campus until classes start. So, you’re stuck with me sleeping here until that happens. You owe me that much.”

Dexter turned and headed to his room, stopping in the doorway.

“Don’t worry, ma, it’ll only be for a couple of weeks and then you’ll be rid of me. But what’s even better is I’ll be rid of you.”

 

Dexter Morgan leaned his forehead against the cool window and closed his eyes. His jaws trembled as though the memories left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Six days later, Jerome Gaffney had picked up Dex and his modest duffle bag of belongings. As they drove away, he closed the chapter of his life that included his mother.

But Verna Morgan wasn’t done with him yet.

Next week, the conclusion of The Price of a Life

Part I     Part II     Part III   Part IV   Part V

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part V”

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#My52: Week 6

Word prompt: swing set

Word count – 632

Reading time – 2 mins, 4 secs

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Part V

Dexter Morgan touched the heavy, dust-laden drapes.

Who hung these? Did dad ask them to? Was he trying to hide or block out the world he was no longer part of?

He pulled the drapes open, flooding the room with light.

Like the front yard, the backyard was well-kept, but the empty pool resembled a large bathtub and his swing set was gone.

The swing set had not been a simple toy but more so a covenant between father and son.

During a quick phone call home sixty days before Proctor returned stateside, he’d promised Dex a new swing set.

True to his word, after all the pomp and ceremony of his unit’s return to the base and the fallen were laid to rest, but before the upcoming celebrations with parties, cookouts, and tributes, Proctor made good on his promise.

Waking his son early on a Tuesday, Proctor and Dex enjoyed breakfast together at IHOP. The swing set was never far from his thoughts, but Dex was happy to be with his dad and thrilled when he learned he wasn’t going to school that day.

After breakfast, Proctor drove the two short blocks to Meijer’s Toy World.

Dexter’s heart was in his throat, but his excitement faded when his dad didn’t pull into a parking space.

His disappointment soon mixed with confusion when Proctor pulled up to a door behind the store. A large sign over the door read WILL CALL.

A young man sitting in a windowed office looked in their direction and came outside.

“Pick up today, sir?”

“Yes, for my boy.” Dex watched his dad hand the attendant a slip of paper.

“Whoa. I’m gonna need help with this. Open your truck gate while I grab a couple of coworkers.”

Without a word to his son, Proctor stepped from the truck to open the gate.

Dexter’s young mind tried to process what was happening. He was about to take off his seatbelt and join his father at the back of the truck when a large metal door opened next to where the attendant has been sitting.

The young man and three of his coworkers carried cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes to the truck.

Dex flipped the seatbelt loose and got on his knees staring out the cab’s back window.

“Sure you don’t need assembly for this, sir?”

“Thanks, but we got this.”

Nothing made sense to Dex until two of the men lifted a large box into the truck bed. One of the men jumped into the truck and pushed the large box all the way to the window Dex was staring out of.

That’s when he saw it.

A large, colorful label showed the box contained the main beams and swings for the Gymboree Playland Swing Set.

The noise of his clapping and cheering sounded like a classroom of eight-year-olds instead of just one. The men stopped loading the truck to enjoy the child’s happiness as Proctor walked around the truck to open Dexter’s door.

He leaped from his seat locking his arms around Proctor’s neck.

“You remembered. I thought you forgot, but you didn’t.”

Proctor squeezed his son tight then pulled back to see his face.

“It’s all I could think about. It helped get me back home to you.”

With their eyes brimming with tears, Proctor and Dex leaned their foreheads together, not noticing the four attendants clearing their throats and looking away, moved by the love of a father for his son.

That was the best day of my life. She stole so much from me, but she can’t touch my memories.

Dexter’s jaw hardened. Mr. Gaffney’s simple inquiry into his dad’s VA benefits to find help with Dex’s tuition opened a floodgate of lies and coverups and showed Verna Morgan’s true treachery.

To be continued

Part I     Part II     Part III   Part IV

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part IV”

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#My52: Week 5

Word prompt: knees

Word count – 496

Reading time – 2 mins, 4 secs

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Part IV

Dexter Morgan pleaded with his counselor for several minutes to not call for the school nurse or dial 911.

Jerome Gaffney relented, but only after insisting Dex explain how having to apply for financial aid almost made him pass out.

Dex was reluctant and anxious but knew he had no choice. He had to divulge at least part of his shameful home-life. “We live with my mother’s boyfriend and I don’t know what he does for a living… legally. Simon, my mom’s boyfriend, gambles, I think. I know he’s always looking for high stakes poker games… and always loses.”

He averted his eyes at the scowl on Gaffney’s face and continued.

“She left… we left my dad when I was twelve and I haven’t seen him since.”

The counselor scrubbed a hand down his face. “I’m sorry, son. I wasn’t aware of that. However, he’s still eligible to file for your financial aid. What does he do?”

Dex tilted his head to one side, working up the resolve to speak the words for the first time.

“He died three years ago.”

“Oh, Dexter! I am so sorry, kiddo. I must sound like a heartless troll asking these questions. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.”

“Not your fault, Mr. Gaffney. You didn’t know. And thank you.”

“May I ask what he died from?”

Dex waved his hand through the air. “Your guess is as good as mine. Ma’s not big on details.”

He leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees. “But it had to be because of his injuries. He was in a wheelchair and the doctors said-”

Gaffney cut him off. “Injuries? Wheelchair? Was he in an accident?”

The boy tried to school his features, but his pain was obvious. “He was wounded in combat. Afghanistan. There was a firefight, lots of wounded. My dad was trying to get a buddy to the medics and took a bullet. It did a lot of damage… and left him partially paralyzed.”

He took deep, measured breaths to fight off the anxiety which always threatened to consume him when he thought of the father he was forced to abandon.

His counselor hadn’t responded and was flipping through file folders on his desk.

“Mr. Gaffney? Is something wrong?”

“You just told me your dad was a veteran, Dexter, and I don’t recall seeing that in your file.”

Dex frowned.

“Ah! Here it is. Mother, Verna Henley-Morgan, 2227 Shamrock Court, Las Vegas. Father, Proctor Morgan, whereabouts unknown.”

Dex sat up straight. “That’s not true. We left my dad at our old house in Bennington, Colorado.”

The counselor blew out a rough breath. “Did your parents divorce?”

“I-I… don’t know. Ma mentioned nothing about it. Is that important?”

“Some parents don’t discuss family finances with their kids, but either way, you’re entitled to benefits.”

“Benefits? What does that mean? For college?”

Gaffney chuckled as he pulled out new forms. “At the very least, Dexter, at the very least.”

To be continued

Part I     Part II     Part III

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#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part III”

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#My52: Week 4

Word prompt: tacos

Word count – 1062

Reading time – 1 mins, 34 secs

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Part III

Focused on his studies, Dex pushed thoughts of his early morning from his mind. School was the only thing he had going for him and he didn’t know how, but he was determined to have a better life.

Verna Morgan’s words didn’t return to his mind until he passed the counseling center next to the library at the end of the school day.

His mind raced as he weighed his options.

I have nowhere to stay… not even a friend to bunk with for a day or two until I figure things out.

He peered through the large office window and spotted his school advisor.

Jerome Gaffney was an okay counselor, even if he was stuck in the eighties in appearance and language, and Dexter knew he would try to help. But he was a minor and that help would involve foster care or worse, juvenile hall.

Deciding to check area shelters on his own before approaching Mr. Gaffney, Dex left the building and headed across the school parking lot toward downtown.

“Dexter?”

Startled, Dex looked around the parking lot. He froze when he saw Simon standing next to the rundown Explorer. His mother sat in the passenger seat, channeling Audrey Hepburn, but the scarf and sunglasses couldn’t mask the damage caused by  Simon.

“Dexter?”

“Why are you here, ma?”

“I’m sorry, baby-”

“We’re sorry,” Simon piped in.

She continued. “I don’t want you to leave. I can’t bear the thought of my baby sleeping on the streets-”

“I can’t do this anymore, ma. The screaming, the fighting. You can’t expect me to just sit there while he beats you.” He tilted his head toward Simon while still focused on his mother. “It’s wrong and I can’t live like that anymore. It’s better this way.”

Verna removed her sunglasses and Dex’s stomach roiled.

Despite the distance between them, he couldn’t miss the array of colors in her face.

The dark bruising around her left eye feathered to purple on her temple. Her patrician nose held a greenish bump on the bridge, proof it was broken. The ruby red lipstick did little to hide the blood blister in the corner of her mouth or the split next to it.

“Your… face.”

She averted her eyes, replacing the sunglasses.

“It will get better. We will do better, baby. I promise.”

“We promise.”

Dex was unmoved by Simon’s half-hearted promise, but his mother’s concern did appear genuine.

He turned his gaze to Simon for the first time while taking hesitant steps to the vehicle.

The con man’s raised eyebrows satisfied Dex his unspoken threat was received.

He climbed into the Explorer’s back seat and hadn’t closed the door before Verna turned around, bouncing and excited.

“It’s all-you-can-eat tacos day at Nina’s Taqueria. Let’s go clean them out!”

“Love the sound of that, baby. We gotta take care of our boy.”

Our boy.

Dex looked out the window to hide his eye-roll.

For five years, Simon called him by name or your son when speaking to Verna. Nothing else.

Something wasn’t right.

 

“Congratulations, Dexter! You’re one of the first students to receive an acceptance letter from UNLV.”

The teenager accepted Jerome Gaffney’s handshake with a smile, holding back a belly laugh. The man had an amazing resemblance to one of the Bee Gees.

“The registrar is impressed with your grades and knows you’ll be an asset to the psychiatry program.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate all your help with the application.”

Dexter gripped the arms of the chair trying to conceal his excitement. In a few short months, he’d be a student on the Las Vegas campus of the University of Nevada.

And away from his mother and Simon… for good.

The violence at home hadn’t stopped. They waited until Dexter was gone to fight, but Verna… and the apartment always showed the telltale signs of Simon unleashing his anger.

“Dexter?”

“I’m sorry, sir. What?”

“Where’d you go, kiddo? You were a million miles away.”

“Sorry. Just excited, I guess.”

“Well, you have every right to be. A good percentage of our senior classes continue their education after high school, but few make the grades for UNLV.” His smiled waned. “I know it hasn’t been easy for you, son. I was an introvert as a teenager too and I know what you’re up against. It’s one of the reasons I ended up here. To help all students because I’ll never forget what it was like to be invisible.”

His counselor was a good man, but Dex couldn’t help but wonder how many students dealing with issues not connected with school or students suffering from depression and anxiety the kind man had helped.

“You will receive a ton of mail from the school before your graduation, but before we get to that, let’s go over your financial aid packet.”

Dex frowned. “My what?”

“Financial aid… to pay for your tuition.”

“I don’t understand. My acceptance letter said they awarded me scholarships from the school.”

“Yes, you were.” He looked over a computer printout. “And with your grade point average, you’re on target to receive one or two more from the school board.”

Jerome Gaffney laid the paper aside and folded his hands on his desk.

“But son, it’s not enough for a psychiatry major. That includes medical school.”

Dexter’s buzz of excitement slowed to a dull ache throbbing near his temples.

“What do I need to do?”

The counselor pushed a large envelope across the desk.

“That’s the application for federal financial aid. I’ll highlight the most important parts, then you can give it to your parents. They have plenty of time to complete it before the school’s first College Night.”

“My parents? Can’t I fill it out?”

“Household income, tax returns, monthly obligations… sorry, kiddo. That’s gotta come from mom and dad.”

Gaffney continued to talk, but Dex didn’t hear him.

The throbbing in his head grew to a loud roar, and the bile rose from his stomach.

His mother hadn’t worked in his whole life. They lived with her hustler boyfriend. There was no household income, just occasional wins at the card table he was sure Simon couldn’t put on any tax return.

The lump in his throat made swallowing difficult.

He’d never get financial aid. Never get into UNLV. Never get away from Verna and Simon.

Dex inhaled through his nose and gripped the chair arms when his vision blurred, then faded.

Just like his future.

 

To be continued

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 “The Price of a Life, Part II”

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#My52: Week 3

Word prompt: wheelchair

Word count – 867

Reading time – 2 mins, 12 secs

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Part II

Consumed with hopelessness, Dex withdrew into his mind, immersing himself in schoolwork and dreams of being reunited with his father.

Months stretched into years and Dexter Morgan turned seventeen in a dusty, two-bedroom flat miles off the Las Vegas strip.

There was no cake or celebration.

Dex woke to the latest argument between his mother and Simon.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, he covered his ears with his hands.

I hate my life.

Resigned to his lot, he went to his closet, sorting through his meager wardrobe for jeans that wouldn’t show his ankles and a shirt that wasn’t threadbare.

Dex was walking down the hallway to the shower when he heard the slap.

His hands clenched into tight fists, gripping his jeans.

Why does she put up with it? Why are we still here? This isn’t a family.

Verna Morgan’s groans broke through his thoughts.

He continued on to the bathroom, his steps slow and labored.

He’d interfered before… tried to stop the yelling and the punches by putting himself between his mother and her boyfriend… and always came out the loser.

I’ll get dressed and leave. He will kill her one day and I refuse to witness it.

His hand was on the bathroom doorknob when he heard a harsh exhale from his mother.

And another… and another.

Dex fell against the door, hit by a wave of nausea and dizziness.

His eyes burned with unshed tears as Simon continued to deliver the body punches to the woman he said he loved.

Opening his mouth for a deep breath, Dex clamped his lips closed, fighting off the bile threatening to erupt from his belly.

He dropped his jeans and raced into the ramshackle living room.

Simon held Verna against the wall with one hand as he drew back his fist for yet another blow.

Dex crossed the room in two steps, grabbing the man’s fist.

“No more.”

Without releasing Verna, Simon turned his head. His eyes bore the darkness of evil and spittle flew from his lips when he spoke.

“Have you lost your damn mind? Let go, boy… now!”

Dexter’s face was the picture of calm as he tightened his hold on the older man’s fist and threw him across the room.

Simon crashed into the wall, overturning the corner lamp while a bruised and bloody Verna slid to the floor.

Propelled by rage, the teenager approached his mother’s lover.

Dexter had never raised his hands in anger to anyone. He’d taken the abuse and bullying at home and at every school he’d ever attended.

But as Dex loomed over the prone man, Simon raised his head and Dex saw fear… of him.

Today, his seventeenth birthday, Dexter Morgan realized he was no longer that frightened twelve-year-old boy snatched away from his father. Life had given him nothing in the last five years, but that didn’t stop nature from giving him seven more inches in height and sixty pounds.

With little effort, he lifted Simon from the floor, energized by the growing horror in the older man’s eyes.

“Every time you beat her, I hit you.” He delivered a brutal gut punch to his mother’s abuser, then dropped him in a heap and ran to Verna as her moans grew louder.

“Don’t move, ma. You need help. I’m calling 911.”

She struggled to respond.

“No, don’t. I’m fine.”

“You’re not, ma. Hang on while-”

“No.”

Her voice was light and raspy but determined.

“I’ll be fine. Just help me up.”

Dex lifted her and laid her on the ratty, stain-covered sofa.

“Ma, you’re a mess. You need a doctor.”

“I said no. You shouldn’t have interfered, Dexter. Simon was just blowing off steam. I pushed him too far.”

Dexter’s jaws tightened, his rage threatening to boil over. Once again, she was blaming herself for Simon’s sins.

“You won’t be happy until he beats the life right out of you, will you?”

“Dexter James! Do not speak that way to your mother.”

“Oh, you get mad at me for speaking the truth but it’s okay if that piece of shit knocks you around-”

“You don’t understand.”

“You’re right, ma, I don’t, and I never will. But as long as I’m here, he doesn’t get to beat on you.”

“Then… maybe you shouldn’t be here.”

Her words cut him to the quick, choking his response.

“W-What do you m-mean, ma? I s-shouldn’t be here?”

“I don’t need you butting into my business and throwing Simon around. You didn’t hurt him, did you?”

Dex’s blood ran cold. The last vestiges of the frightened twelve-year-old boy skittered to the dark corners of his mind and huddled next to his stolen childhood.

“He can still walk so not near as bad as I wanted to, ma. But I’m out. I’ll leave you two to your little unhappily ever after.”

He stormed from the room, grabbing his jeans from the hallway floor. Forgetting about his shower, Dex threw on his clothes and dumped an extra pair of jeans into his backpack with his books.

Dex walked away from the musty apartment ignoring Verna’s weak pleas for him to come back.

She made her choice, and it wasn’t him.

 

To be continued

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved