#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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©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

 

#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

 

#My52 “The Price of a Life”

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#My52: Week 2

Word prompt: wheelchair

Word count – 503

Reading time – 2 mins, 4 secs

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Part I

A thick layer of dust covered the piano his mother forced him to practice thirteen years ago.

Dex ran his hand over the keys.

I hated this piano. I hated practicing.

His shoulders slumped as he plunked a key.

The stiffness of the key and the angry tone of the chord spoke to the years of disuse.

Like him, the piano sat, waiting for concern and interest from anyone.

Dexter Morgan wandered into the kitchen and felt like he’d traveled back in time.

Everything was the same… the linoleum, countertops, cabinets… even the toaster. The only thing missing was the thirteen-inch television he watched cartoons on while shoveling down spoonfuls of Malt-o-Meal.

Dex pushed through the swinging café doors and took in the once bright and sunny dining room.

Heavy, dark green drapes hung on the far wall of glass, blocking out any hint of daylight. A worn, wooden rocking chair sat in the corner, covered in as much dust as the piano.

A hospital bed sat in the room’s center, stripped and unplugged.

He was ready to leave this room… to leave this house, but the bed called to him like a siren luring him closer.

He grazed his hand over the plastic mattress, and it felt as cold and empty as his heart.

His mother told him his father had died eleven years old—two years after she dragged him from this house. They were going away with Simon; the man Verna Morgan started an affair with after his father deployed again to the middle-east.

But she lied.

Verna lied about everything and made him endure a hellish childhood, all for money.

His father’s money. The price he’d put on his own life.

Dex remembered the last time he saw Proctor Morgan—sitting in his wheelchair in the front doorway.

Father and son exchanged one last glance, both their faces wet with tears, before Verna shoved the twelve-year-old into the back seat of Simon’s Ford Explorer.

“Dexter, please stop crying. This is for the best. Your father will be fine.”

“We’re leaving him all alone, mom–”

“He has nurses and caregivers to help–”

“I don’t want to leave him–”

“Enough! Your father will spend the rest of his life in that wheelchair and he can barely use his hands. Am I just supposed to sacrifice the rest of my life to feed him and wipe his ass?”

She’d leaned in close to her son, speaking low and slow.

“I deserve a life, Dexter. I deserve nice things and traveling to new places. I deserve a man who’s a man. Simon will give me that life. Now, I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

Dex winced and leaned on the bed, the memories still fresh and painful.

Simon’s good life had been a new address every six months. The wannabe-gangster ran cons, scams, and lost big playing poker.

Every time he lost, Simon took it out on Verna, and she would pass the bruises on to Dex.

To be continued

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©2019 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved

 

#My52 Writing Challenge 2019

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It’s a brand new year… are you ready for a new writing challenge?

In 2017, I participated in the 52-Week Writing Challenge (and was the randomly chosen winner) and in 2018, I did the #52weeks52stories Writing Challenge.

When I asked around about a writing challenge for 2019, none popped up, so I decided to go my own way, and you’re invited to join me!

If you’ve participated in any type of writing challenge, you’re already aware of what a useful writing tool they can be. If you’ve come to an impasse in your current WIP, stepping away for a moment to focus on something else can sort through the cobwebs, flick on the light, or move the forest so you can see the trees.

Parts of a current WIP can also be used in a writing challenge. The difficulty of character profiles, scenes, world building, and even book blurbs can disappear when task are tackled as flash fiction.

As the Queen of Many Wurdz and champion of the run-on sentence, I took part in challenges to focus on short stories.  I needed to focus on telling a complete story in as few words as possible. I’m partial to longer standalone books, but not everyone wants to read a 180K epic psychological family saga.

Okay, I lied. I don’t either.

So, after 70+ short stories, how am I doing? It’s an ongoing process. 🙂

What I enjoy most about writing challenges is the accountability. Someone is watching, keeping me honest, cheering me on during the good weeks, and talking me off the ledge during the bad ones. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but many times it helps to get out of your own head.

What are the rules for #My52? That’s the best part—there aren’t any.

  • Writing in any form counts. Haiku, Poetry, Drabble, Flash, short story… they’re all welcome.
  • Genres are also limitless. Suspense, Mystery, Romance, LGBT, Fantasy, Science Fiction, YA… it’s your choice.
  • The writing week is Monday through Friday with postings on Saturday and Sunday. (Posting earlier in the current week is acceptable too.)
  • Tweet a link to your post with the hashtag #My52 for retweets and likes

OR

  • Grab the banner at the top and link back to this page and I’ll feature your post during the challenge.

Don’t let the word challenge stress you. It’s not a contest and the challenge is only against yourself… to keep you writing-focused.

Life gets crazy and cluttered, so do not beat yourself up if you miss a week. Keep writing!

Word counts can be anywhere from a 17-syllable Haiku to a multi-week short story.

Have fun with it. Write outside your form or genre—I’m not a paranormal writer and I wrote paranormal stories last year and enjoyed doing it.

If you have questions, leave them in the comments or find me on Twitter – @MsFelicia, or Instagram – @fle_d.

Happy 2019… and happy writing!

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Camp NaNo Update Day #31

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It’s hard to imagine how early writers ever completed and published anything with the tools of their time.

Sharp styluses, quills, and rods of graphite wrapped in string were used to write on papyrus, clay, slate, wood, and parchment.

But then writing was also limited for the most part to scholars and academics, church leaders, and monarchies… as was reading.

Of course, writing has withstood the test of time and is no longer an instrument of a privileged few.

Today, everyone writes. It’s a necessity even on the most basic of levels.

We write to communicate, educate and inform. You don’t have to be a writer to write but if you are, regardless of if you were dragged, pushed, or went voluntarily, you’ve fallen down the writer’s life rabbit hole.

What’s down there?

The tips! The advice! The techniques! The best practices!

And, the tools of writing, because why we write hasn’t changed. But, the way we write? Most definitely, and it continues to evolve.

Just as reading is a personal experience, so is writing. We learn the basics in school then put our own spin on it… much to the chagrin of teachers. (My constant use of ellipses would get me into a world of trouble with my junior high school English teacher, Raymond Rosa.)

Some writers will not write one word of their manuscript until they have a full outline, complete with scenes.

Still, others grab a cup of coffee, sit down to their laptops and start writing a story.

There is no right or wrong way.

A writer needs to find what works best for them; what bests helps them achieve their goals in their writing journey.

Will you use WORD, Scrivener, Quoll, or yWriter?

Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Hemingway, or Autocrit? Paid or free versions?

Writing group or beta readers?

Self-published, hybrid, or traditional?

Fan groups? Free Content? Written resources? Mentor?

The list is endless and doesn’t even include websites/blogs, newsletters, or social media.

Most writers will work their way through these tools and aids until they stumble upon the winning combination.

And that’s the important part – what works for you. Not your writing partner; not the guy who just had a bestseller; not the lady who teaches creative writing or your favorite author.

Writers often create their own setbacks when they mimic the writing process of someone who’s had recent success and do not get the same results. They believe their work isn’t as good or they’ve done something wrong.

And nothing could be farther from the truth.

Just as no two people read the same book, no two people write the same book. Even if it’s same genre, same trope (or nonfiction), the writers are different so why expect the same results?

Yes, there are rules on the mechanics of writing, but, as I’ve posted before, you can get away with occasionally breaking some of them.

But how you do it is completely up to you.

My Favorites Tools

Scrivener (for Windows)

Hemingway (paid) used with free versions of Grammarly and ProWritingAid. (Still undecided on renewing PWA or going with something else.)

Jutoh (formatting)

Adobe Creative Suite (now Creative Cloud), Canva

The Writer’s Lexicon, Volume I and Volume II by Kathy Steinemann

Emotional Beats by Nicholas C. Rossis

Polish Your Prose by Harmony Kent

Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass

Writer Unboxed

The Creative Penn (Joanna Penn)

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Camp NaNoWriMo is history. If you participated, whether or not you reached your set goal, I hope you had fun with it and even gleaned useful strategies/practices… because NaNoWriMo begins in NINETY-TWO days! See you there! 😀

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Day 31 word count – 52,964

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©2018 Felicia Denise, All Rights Reserved