#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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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#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

 

A Strong Heart #52weeks52stories


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#52weeks52stories – Week #4
prompt: “I’m trying to erase you from my mind…you’re my religion and my belief…“

My body is heavy, weighted to the bed by a cocktail of painkillers, monitors, metal, and casts.

And lying here, even now, I wonder where you are.

Trapped tears pool and sting my eyes, unable to flow past the eyelids swollen shut. A broken wrist and dislocated shoulder keep me from wiping the tears away.

Tears I shouldn’t be crying for you. Tears you do not deserve.

I loved you. For seven years, you were my religion and my belief. Since the day we met rollerblading on the pier, I knew I’d found my soulmate.

To me, you were the smartest man in the world. It didn’t matter to me you failed the state bar exam and I passed. I didn’t blame you for taking your frustrations out on me. I was insensitive for wanting to celebrate my own success. I should have been more considerate of your feelings.

When you failed the exam two more times, I shouldn’t have chastised you for not trying hard enough. You carried the burden of repeated failures. I deserved the slaps for thinking only of myself.

Our night out with friends to celebrate your new position was one of our best times together… until we got home.

I was confused when you threw me into the wall and accused me of throwing myself at your friend, Marty.

You punched me in my side and said I embarrassed you by dancing like a slut, even though I only danced with you.

The next morning, fed up, I packed with one hand, determined to get away from you. Your tears and promises to change broke my heart and I stayed.

Only things didn’t change. I was still your punching bag when things didn’t go your way. When you missed out on a promotion, lost a case or even had car trouble, it was my fault for not being supportive enough; for being too consumed with my own career.

And still, I stayed, making excuses for black eyes and bruises no one believed. That’s when I knew I was as broken inside as you… and I had to save myself.

But I was foolish to believe you’d allow me to walk away.

Your silence made me believe you accepted my decision.

But I was wrong. Again.

I opened my door to you for old times’ sake, trying to be a friend. I didn’t see the first punch coming… or the second, but you swung your fists until I fell to the floor. Trading fists for feet, you kicked with wild abandon, not aiming or caring where your blows landed.

No longer feeling your kicks and punches, I knew I was in shock… and probably dying. But as I slipped into the darkness, I’m sure I heard you say, “You’ll always belong to me. You can never leave.”

I awake to the rhythmic beeps and low hums of medical devices standing watch over my body. My senses are dull, and my thoughts muddied with memories I don’t recognize. I am aware of pain only after I attempt to breathe deeply. The sharp stings ripple deep inside my chest and though still disoriented, I try to keep my breathing shallow.

My injuries are extensive and will take weeks to heal. As the doctor discussed the severity of my injuries and the violence it took to inflict them, I heard something akin to pride in his voice when he said, “Young lady, I’ve seen men succumb to less than what was done to you. Those broken ribs were a problem… we were afraid they would puncture a lung. But that didn’t happen. Your heartbeat was always strong. You were determined to live. You’re a survivor.”

A survivor.

You broke my heart and battered my body. But you couldn’t break my spirit.

 

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The DA contacted me again.

He said you took the deal.

Your sentencing is in a couple of weeks and I’ll be allowed the opportunity to make a victim’s impact statement.

But I won’t.

Because I’m not your victim. I am your end.

I’ll attend your sentencing and smile as you’re taken from the courtroom in shackles.

And then I’ll walk away… with no fear, and not haunted by the way you brutalized me.

It’s said people pass through one’s life as a blessing or a lesson. I’ll remember this lesson… but not the man.

I’m already trying to erase you from my mind.

 

 

©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved