Sunday, September 24, 2006

Crossing Lines--Author's Note

This is my short story for my fiction 307 class. It's getting workshopped soon, and I'm not a fan of all the mean people in my fiction class, so if you all could read it and give me whatever kind of feedback you can think of, I would greatly appreciate it. I of course, love this story, but then again, I wrote it, so I'm biased.

~Anna

Crossing Lines

The lingering haze of smoke from the numerous lit cigarettes in the mouths and hands of most the bar patrons was starting to burn Christian’s eyes. Pressing his thumb and forefinger in the corners of his eyes, he squeezed the bridge of his nose, hoping the burning sensation would go away. Christian was all for just going back to Michael’s house to receive his weekly ass whipping at pool, but Michael insisted that they come to McLaughlin’s, so they could drink beer, hang out with normal people, and “speak as men speak,” a phrase Michael stole from their father.

In the four games they’d played, Christian had the privilege of having a total of four turns. “We need to find a new game.”

Michael cracked another solid colored ball into the hole. “No.” Picking up his cigarette out of it’s ashtray holder, he took a final drag before ashing it out. “So are you going to start talking about why you look like someone’s run over your dog, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?” Picking up his pool cue, he punched another ball into a corner pocket. “Because only one of us is allowed to have a crisis at a time, and at the moment, it’s my turn.”

Christian sighed. One of the pitfalls of working in their father’s Senate office together is that hiding anything from his older brother was impossible. The two, while they often fought, worked together on most projects, and when one of them was off, it made for a frustrating day at the office. “Ellie’s not talking to me.” Ellie was his best friend since kindergarten and his roommate for the past three years. They shared a townhouse over in Foggy Bottom, and did everything together.

“Really?” Michael asked.

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t think you two knew how to fight with each other.”

Christian dragged a hand over his face. The sarcastic tone wasn’t lost on him, but lately, Christian had been letting it slide. He and his wife, Katie, finalized their divorce today. It was a media spectacle because of who their father was, and their failed marriage just added to the list of the many infidelities that the Chambers men managed to commit. Some believed that it was a curse, and often times, magazines ran with that headline. A political family going back four generations, the Chambers men was almost more notorious for their philandering ways than their politics. Christian feared this curse.

Michael propped his pool cue against the wall after sinking the 8-ball. Grabbing his beer off the table, he leaned against the mahogany edge of the pool table. “What happened?” he asked.

Christian shook his head. “She…she just…there’s a line with us, and we never cross it. We just don’t. But last night, she just…I mean, it’s not an actual line…but now there’s no line, because she crossed the line, and we’re not talking.”

“Um, Christian?”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe you could rephrase that in understandable and intelligible English, so I know what the problem is,” Michael said.

Christian didn’t understand what he said either. Maybe it was a good thing then, when he said nothing at all last night, he thought. Words would have just made it worse. “She crossed the line.”

“I still don’t get it, but I’ll think about it while I go get another beer,” Michael said. “You want one?”

He shook his head no. He didn’t really like beer anyways. But Christian didn’t want to hear Michael make fun of him for not only ordering a Manhattan, but drinking one in a pub. Forcing one bottle of the bitter tasting liquid down his throat was enough for now. As Michael made his way through the bar, packed with fans who were watching the Orioles game that was broadcasted on every television the bar, Christian used the wall behind him, leaning against it and closing his eyes. Ellie’s words from last night kept echoing over and over again in his head. It’s about one moment—this moment—and if you can’t just let go and do what you’re reptilian brain is telling you to do then…Jesus, Christian, I don’t even want to know you!

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Jumping at the sound of her voice, Christian opened his eyes and clapped a hand over his chest. It was his older sister, Hannah, with a grin on her face. “Christ, Hannah! Wear a bell, will ya?”

She laughed. Dropping her black and pink tote on the ground, she pulled over an empty stool. Hannah was Michael’s twin, and had been playing the mom role ever since their own mother passed away when Christian was four. Hannah and Michael were thirteen. Their parents had divorced two years beforehand. “Is Michael here?”

He motioned towards the bar with his hand. “Getting another beer. I didn’t think you’d stop by tonight.”

“Why? Because Michael wants to kill me?”

Christian nodded. “He was pissed as hell after lunch.”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “He’ll get over it.” Leaning over, she picked up her tote and set it in her lap. Christian watched as she dug around through the treasure trove of a bag. She had two little boys at home, so the contents of her tote were endless. Her husband compared it to Mary Poppins’ bag, because she always seemed to have everything. Christian envied his sister and how she managed to have her career as a lawyer as well as having a successful relationship with her husband and caring for her family. She was the only one in their family that managed to have a normal life. Pulling out two photos, Hannah handed them to Christian.

Staring at the odd black and white pictures with its wavy lines and blurred focus, it took him a minute to realize that they were sonogram pictures. “Wow,” he said. Pointing towards the small speck in the center, he nudged Hannah. “Is that the baby?”

“Yep,” she said, patting the barely there bump on her stomach. “In a month or so, we can tell what the sex is. But you know how Scott is. He collects these things like trading cards to show the guys at work, so after my appointment with Michael, he came with me to my appointment and the doctor took some pictures for him. Of course, I did pass these around the room at the PTO meeting before I came over here and—”

“You!”

Christian and Hannah looked up as Michael approached them, a beer in his hand. “You really want to make a scene here?” Hannah asked, taking back her pictures from Christian.

“You screwed me with my pants on!” Michael yelled. “The whole point of hiring you was so that minimal damage would be done to my bank account! Now, I’m going to be paying alimony out the ass for the next five years!”

Christian watched as Hannah stared at Michael with disbelief. “First of all,” she said, “I told you that I didn’t want to represent you and I did the best I could. Second, you got off easy because she could have gotten everything thanks to that awful pre-nup you had drawn up, but lucky for you, Katie still has some compassion left in regards to you. Third, keep in mind how much you hate paying alimony the next time you get the urge to screw your secretary and fourth, look at these.”

Michael took the sonogram pictures that Hannah handed to him. Staring at them, he squinted his eyes, moving the pictures far from his face, then up close. “What am I looking for?”

“Waldo,” Hannah said. Christian bit his lips together to keep from laughing.

“I love how you think you’re funny,” Michael said. “Wiseass.” He flipped the photos back towards her. “Point to where I should be looking at.”

Hannah helped him out. Michael stared at the pictures for a moment, smiling a little before handing them back. “I’m sure that once I meet him or her in person, it’ll be as cute as its mother.” Taking a drink of his new beer, he set it on the table. “But I’m still pissed at you.”

“I’ll live,” Hannah said. “But I’m sacrificing the wellbeing of my child for one night to listen to you two wallow, so someone better start talking. And when I say someone, I mean you, Christian. I already know Michael’s problem.”

Christian slouched down a bit, still using the wall as a backrest. Pulling at his necktie, he loosened the knot that took him forever to tie that morning and sighed. Ellie usually tied his ties in the morning, but she wasn’t there when he woke up. “Ellie had a date last night, but he didn’t show up. So she came back to the house and she was upset, so I hugged her and told her that he didn’t deserve her anyways. I mean, who would stand up Ellie?”

Hannah gave his arm a squeeze. “That was nice of you to make her feel better.”

“Don’t mommy him,” Michael said. “You and Ellie are like a married couple, without the benefits, and it’s disgusting.”
“Why do you have to be so…well, you, in general?” Hannah asked as Christian picked at the label on his beer bottle, tearing off pieces of the metallic paper one shred at a time. “Christian, what happened after that?”

He shook his head, staring across the way at the neon Budweiser lamp that glowed against the wood paneled walls. “She…she just stared at me for a second, and then she leaned in and kissed—”

“She kissed you!” Michael exclaimed.

Hannah dropped her head in her hands as Christian stared at his brother. “I said she crossed the line, Michael. What in the hell did you think I meant?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “It’s why I went and got a beer. She kissed you?”

“Yes.”

“With her tongue?”

“Michael Andrew Chambers!” Hannah hissed. “How is that even relevant? She kissed him, and that’s all you need to know!”

Michael vehemently shook his head no. “Every kiss has a meaning behind it. Is it a hello kiss? A goodbye kiss? Is it a honey-I’ve-had-a-bad-day-at-work kiss, or is it an I-wanna-jump-your-bones kiss?”

Christian and Hannah both stared at Michael as if he’d grown a third head. Christian tried to come up with something to say, but he couldn’t. So instead, he dropped his head on the table, and began to repeat the motion over and over again. Hannah, however, was never at a loss for words. “You’re an idiot.”

Grinning, Michael took another drink. “Coming from you, I’m taking that as a compliment.”

Hitting his head on the table one last time, Christian kept it there, wishing that the ground would open up and swallow him whole. That’s the only thing that could make him feel better at this moment—disappearing forever.

“Christian, sweetie,” Hannah said. “As much as I feel for you right now, you’ve got to pick your head off of that table. God only knows what kind of germs are on it.” He reluctantly picked his head up, leaning back against the wall. “Thank you.”
He swallowed hard, trying to regain some kind of coherent thought. Staring at his brother, Christian watched as he walked to the pool table, picking up one of the striped balls and tossing it to himself. “Can I ask you a question?”

Michael caught the ball and held it in his hand. “Me? Sure. Ask away.”

“Do you regret marrying Katie?”

Scratching his chin, Michael shook his head no. “I loved her,” he said as he rolled the ball between his hands. “I mean, I still do. Probably always will. I regret the shit she had to go through while divorcing me, with the media and the magazines, but I’d marry her again if I had the choice.” He dropped the ball back on the table. “Of course, I can’t say that I wouldn’t cheat on her again, but that’s because I’m an asshole.”

Hannah shook her head and sighed. “Michael…”

“What?” he asked, laughing a little. “At least I’ll admit it, which is more than Dad ever did.”

“I’ll give you that,” Hannah said. “But I still love you.”

Michael laughed. “Good. Because Katie won the house today, and I need a place to stay.”

“I’m sure the boys would be happy to share their bunk beds with Uncle Michael.”

Christian laughed at his sister. He loved how she took pleasure in bating Michael to fight with her. Hannah lived in a seven bedroom manor in Alexandria, making sharing a room with her boys an absurd notion at best. But she still says it just to see what kind of reaction it’ll get out of Michael. Bickering might be their way of life in regards to each other, but Christian also knew the lengths that Michael would go to protect Hannah. He felt the same way about Ellie, only it wasn’t in an uber-protective brother kind of way. “I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt her.”

His words caught Hannah and Michael’s attention. “Ellie?” Michael asked.

“Yeah,” Christian replied.

“Who says you’d hurt her?” Hannah asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “History. Fidelity, as Michael pointed out, isn’t exactly something that men in this family are good at.”

Michael finished off his beer. “But you and Ellie are different,” he said. “You two have been attached at the hip for the past twenty years. No Chambers man has ever been connected with a woman in any kind of capacity for that amount of time. It could very well be a record.” He walked around the table and clapped his hands on Christian’s shoulders. “If she loves you, and you love her back, everything else will fall into place.”

“But you loved Katie,” Christian argued.

“Katie wasn’t meant for life in a fishbowl,” Michael said. “Ellie, on the other hand, understands it. She’s grown up with it, because you two do everything together. Ellie understands that it’s a permanent part of your life, and she’s ok with it.”

Hannah leaned down, pulling a bottle of water out of her bag. “I agree with Michael,” she said before taking a drink. “And you know how much I hate it when that happens.”

Rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, he yanked at his neck tie, pulling down the knot even further. It wasn’t ever a question of whether or not he loved Ellie, because he did. He just chose to not acknowledge it because he feared it would complicate their relationship. If he had to make a choice of keeping his feelings inside box or telling her everything, with the possible outcome of them not being friends anymore, he’d pick the box.

But now it was out there, and Ellie felt the same way. At least, he assumed she did, seeing how she initiated the kiss. He’d been kicking himself all day long for not saying anything back to her afterwards. She stared at him too, waiting for a response, and when he said nothing, Christian realized he accomplished the one thing he never wanted to do, and that was hurt her.

“I love her,” he said.

Michael laughed. “What was that? I didn’t hear you.”

“I love her,” Christian repeated. Hopping off the barstool, he felt a renewed sense of energy for a moment, before reality smacked him back down. “But she’s not talking to me. How am I going to tell her if she’s not talking to me?” He dragged both hands through his hair so hard that he could feel his forehead stretch backwards.

“Before you spontaneous combust,” Michael said. “How about you turn around and tell me who you see by the door.”

Turning around, he saw Ellie flashing her ID at the door. From the back of the bar, he watched as she tucked her ID in her back jean pocket while scanning the room, looking for him. At least, he assumed she was looking for him. Swimming in an old grey shirt with a faded maroon HARVARD print on the front that she stole from him a few years back, he watched as she haphazardly collected her long brown hair in one hand and quickly wrapped it up in a sloppy bun, securing it with a hair elastic from her wrist.

Waking away from his siblings, he maneuvered around the people still playing pool and jogged down the steps that separated the pool area from the rest of the bar. Pushing past the bar patrons, trying to nudge and bump people as little as possible, he walked up behind her. As he got ready to tap her shoulder, she turned around.

“How did you know I was behind you?” he asked.

Ellie tucked a loose strand of hair back behind her ear. “I always know.” Crossing her arms protectively over her chest, she stared down at the dirty hardwood floor, then up at the ceiling before looking at him again. “Christian…I’m sor—”

He held a hand up. “No. Don’t say it. I’m not sorry. I mean, I’m
sorry I didn’t saying last night, but that’s just because I’m an idiot.” He took a step closer. “I’m not good at relationships.”

Ellie cracked a wry smile. “I know.”

“And you scare me,” he confessed. “And you’re going to have to tell me when I’m being an idiot, or when I’m being stupid, because I don’t want to be like my father, or like Michael because…I love you.”

He waited for what felt like an eternity for a response. But the more she stared at him, her face completely blank, the more he started to panic. He went to say something, to retract his statement, but she beat him. “Good.”

“Good?” he asked. “I pour my heart out and all I get is ‘good’?”

“I was just going to tell you that I was sorry for calling your brain ‘reptilian’,” she said, smiling again. “But I love you too.” Yanking on his tie, she pulled him down and kissed him only this time, Christian kissed her back

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Author's Note--Confessions of a Subconscious

I found out today at about five thirty that I had a flash fiction piece due in my Fic2 class. I missed the memo, as I've been out of class with both strep and bronchitis (I know, I've got mad skills in the shitty immune system department). It's not supposed to be long, but it's supposed to be a complete story.

I hate flash fiction. I don't particularly like this piece, because I wanted to do so much more with it, and I might later on. But for now, this is what it is, what I'm turning in as a rough draft. Let me know what you think, please, because I love feedback.

~Anna

Confessions of a Subconscious

Slamming the swinging door of McLaughlin’s Pub open, Ellie flashed her ID at the bouncer but didn’t stop walking. Pushing past the drunken football fans with their pitchers of beer, she jumped over the wooden, knee height barrier that separated the bar from the pool table area with ease, not once tripping over her black heels. Snatching a pool cue out Vince's hands, she held the cue with two hands and shoved the chalk tipped end into Christian's chest as he tried to greet her.

“Hey Ellie, how was your—”

“You stupid son of a bitch!” Ellie yelled.

“Ellie!” Christian screeched. “What are you doing? This is a new shirt!”

She jabbed him harder with the cue, making him walk backwards until he ran into the wall. The blue dot marked on his shirt was turning into a blue smudge as she swiveled the tip back and forth, purposely making the dot bigger. “New shirt? What about my new camera—the new camera that costs a hell of a lot more than your new shirt! What about that?”

Christian held his hands up in the air in defeat. Ellie could tell she caught him off guard, but she didn’t care. “What are you talking about?”

“That crazy bitch of a girlfriend you have came into my studio—my studio—and knocked my camera off of its stand as I was doing a photo shoot which, by the way, included all twenty grandchildren of the Mayor, who hand picked me to do this, making it oh, I don’t know, kind of a big deal!” Ellie was shouting so loud that the entire bar was staring at her.

Christian didn’t look confused anymore. “Ellie, I’m sorry that happened, but I didn’t know Amelia was going to do that and—”
“You keep that lunatic at least fifty feet away from me, or else there will be an altercation. Do you understand me?”

Christian laughed, trying to lighten up the situation with little success. “Fifty feet? Isn’t that a little bit—”

Ellie pushed the cue harder. “Fifty feet, Christian! Fifty feet!”

“Ok! Ok! Fifty feet!” Christian yelped. Once Ellie dropped the pool cue on the ground with a thud, he looked down and tried to brush away the chalk residue. His attempt, however, only made it worse. “Ellie…”

She held up a hand. “Save it, Christian. I don’t care. Just keep her away from me. Vince?”

Vince turned his head towards her. “Yes?”

“I’m getting a beer. Do you want another beer?”

“Um, uh, yeah…sure,” Vince stammered.

Ellie gave Christian one last glare before walking away. She stared at him like she was looking straight through him, and she was. And with that one stare, the look on Christian’s face changed, and Ellie knew that Christian knew exactly what she was pissed about. Knowing Christian as she did, the two of them best friends since they were little, Ellie knew that he didn’t expect his girlfriend to tell her why she was so pissed as Amelia trashed her studio. But Amelia told her everything about the night before, as well as a threat to stay away from her boyfriend.

And while she appeared to be furious at Amelia because of her camera being smashed into several, irreparable pieces, Ellie was more enraged with Christian, appalled that he could confuse the two of them at the most inopportune moment. She almost couldn’t blame Amelia. Had Christian said to her what he said to Amelia, she would’ve wanted to smash something too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Author's Note--Mothers and Daughters

Hey guys!

I just created this blog the other day--I talk so much about my creative writing and my projects that I thought it would be a good idea to post my stories as I think of them or finish them so you all can read them. Please, feel free to comment, give me suggestions, or tell me what you liked, didn't like, what you don't think would have happened or whatever it is that crossed your mind while reading this. Also, while I do try and proofread, I do miss things from time to time so feel free to let me know in a comment if I made a goof.

It's separate from my blog, with my alias, because I'm protective of my writing when it comes to my family reading it. Bascially, in a nutshell, they read my stuff and then think I'm projecting my feelings about them into the stories when really, all it is is a story. They're lunatics. I don't know why I'm not in therapy.

Anyways, I hope you all enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

~Anna

PS: I hate the title of this story--I'm taking suggestions until I can think of one or see something else that might spark a brainstorm which may lead to a better title :)

Mothers and Daughters

Prying the plastic lid off of her 32oz Styrofoam cup, Allie shook a few pieces of ice from the cup into her mouth. Last week, her husband, Ben, told her that according to some study, ice that came out of soda fountain machines had high levels of bacteria on them because of a lack of employee hygiene. This, however, only derailed her ice chewing habit for a day. She was twenty eight years old and had been chewing on ice for as long as she could remember. If it hadn’t made her sick before, chances are, it wasn’t going to make her sick now. Besides, she had to chew on something since she had acrylic nails put on last week. With that being said, the ice won.

From the sunroom, Allie stared at the raindrops as they hit the pavement. She noticed how the rain stained the bricks on the outside of the house a deeper shade of red, the concrete patio a darker shade of grey. Dipping her fingers into the cup, she pulled out a few more ice cubes and popped them into her mouth. Allie could hear people milling around the house, all of them bearing casserole dishes and condolences while reminiscing about her father, Thomas. She listened to a few of them, but after about an hour or so, Allie felt the need to escape, and the sunroom was the only empty room in the house.

Allie was able to see her mother through the kitchen window as she looked out the sliding glass door. She could see how Rachel looked down at the black dress she was wearing, tugging and pulling at the fabric around her stomach. She recognized the gesture, as Rachel had done the same thing to her when she was in middle school during her chubby phase. She wasn’t sure why her mother cared about the dress. Anyone that looked at her mother wasn’t going to notice her clothes first. They would notice her face. Allie always felt like her mother resembled Grace Kelly. When she was little, Allie used to wish that someday she would be half as pretty as her mother.

“There you are.”

Allie turned her head at the sound of the voice behind her. It was her husband, Ben. “Hey,” she said. She assumed that their two daughters, four year old Olivia and seven month old Sophie would be with him, but they weren’t. “Where are the girls?”

“My parents have them,” Ben said. “What are you doing out here?”

Allie motioned towards the glass door with her cup. “Watching my mother.”

“Oh,” he said. “I asked her how she was doing earlier when I went in there to get Olivia’s cup, but she just glared at me so I left.”

Allie rolled her eyes and sighed. She was continuously amazed at how her mother was able to treat Ben with such disdain, no matter how nice Ben was to her. When she and Ben were growing up, she remembered how hard Ben would try to get Rachel to like him, but nothing ever worked. “I’m sorry,” she said, apologizing for her mother.

Ben laughed. “It’s not your fault.”

“Still…”

“Allie,” he said. Walking towards her, Allie watched him open his arms to her. As she stepped towards his embrace, she let herself relax for a moment in his arms. “I didn’t expect her to be nice to me. Especially not today.”

“Well, I figured that maybe today she’d cut you some slack,” she said.

Earlier, at the cemetery, Ben offered to help Rachel out of her chair and Allie watched in horror as her mother berated Ben right there in front of everyone. All he was trying to do was help and she scolded him like one of her students at school. Allie was mortified.

Pulling away from his embrace, Allie dug out a few more pieces of ice and tossed them into her mouth. “I don’t think she’s cried once.”

She offered Ben some ice, smiling a little as he cringed and shook his head no. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your mother cry.”

He had a point. Now that Allie thought about it, she didn’t think that she had ever seen her mother cry either. She’d seen Rachel on the verge of tears before—like the time she looked like she thought that Allie had been robbed of the fair queen pageant title ten years back—but Allie had never seen actual tears fall from her mother’s eyes. She figured that her mother would have sobbed during the funeral at least. Allie knew that she’d be an absolute wreck if anything ever happened to Ben.

“Maybe you should go talk to her.”

Allie looked at Ben. “Are you nuts?” she asked. “Every time I’ve tried to talk to her, she looks at me like she looks at you.”

“If anyone’s going to be able to get anything through to her, it’s going to be you,” Ben said. “And you know it.”

“She’ll talk when she wants to,” Allie said. “And if that’s never, well, that’s fine with me.”

“Are you mad about the cemetery?” he asked.

“A little,” Allie said.

“She’s grieving,” Ben said.

“We’re all grieving,” Allie said. “Yet we’re all acting like civilized people. Don’t make excuses for her.”

Ben held his hands up in the air. “I was just suggesting…”

“Well, don’t,” Allie said, cutting him off. Searching in her cup for more ice, her hand found nothing but moisture along the inside walls. “Damn it,” she said.

“You’re only going to find ice in the kitchen,” Ben said. “I’m going to go back to Mom and Dad’s house and check on the girls.” Giving her a quick kiss, he squeezed her shoulders with his hands. “Just give it a try,” he said. “And if it doesn’t work, then at least you can say that you made an attempt.”

As Ben left, Allie stood in the middle of the sunroom, staring into her empty cup. She really didn’t want to talk to her mother, but she wanted more ice. Looking into the house, she could see that there were still a good number of people milling around with their punch cups and plates in hand. It’d been about two hours since the funeral. She figured they would have all gone by now. Assuming that a few raindrops on her would be well worth the sacrifice, as it got her out of talking to everyone in the house, Allie quickly opened and closed the sliding glass door and ran across the patio. Sliding the door open to the kitchen, Allie jumped inside and shut the door behind her.

“Alexandria, what on earth are you doing?” Rachel asked.

Allie looked over at her mother. “I didn’t want to walk through the house. This way was quicker.”

“You’re going to catch pneumonia doing things like that.”

“It was ten steps in the rain, Mom,” Allie said. “I’m not going to catch pneumonia.” Feeling her mother’s stare as she walked through the kitchen, Allie made her way to the new stainless steel refrigerator that her parents had installed few months back and clicked the ice dispenser over to crush. Filling up the cup up with ice, she pulled a few pieces out when she was done and tossed them into her mouth.

“Honestly, Alexandria,” Rachel said. “After all the money your father and I put into your mouth…”

Facing her mother, Allie continued to blatantly chew the ice in front of her. “I’ve got a good dental plan, Mom. You don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

“It ruins your teeth, Allie. Don’t you care?”

Allie grabbed a few more pieces and put them into her mouth. “I care about you being nice to my husband more than I care about what you think I’m doing to my teeth. By the way—you owe Ben an apology.”

“Excuse me?” Rachel asked.

“You screamed at him for no reason at the cemetery in front of everyone,” Allie said. “All he was trying to do was help.”

Rachel rolled her eyes at Allie’s accusation. “He was being patronizing.”

“You had your hip replaced three weeks ago!” she said. “It’s rained all week, everyone’s seen you limp around since you refuse to use the cane the doctor gave you, and he was just trying to help you, Mom.”

“Whatever.”

Allie could feel her nostrils flare slightly as her frustration grew. I don’t know why I even bother, she thought. Bringing the cup to her mouth, she shook a few more pieces into her mouth and sighed.

“Stop that,” Rachel said.

“Stop what?”

“That face,” Rachel said. “You look just like your father. I hated it when he made that face.”

“Well, if you’d just let someone help you…”

“I don’t need help, Alexandria!” Rachel said, cutting Allie off. “I want everyone to leave, I want you to stop chewing on the goddamn ice, and I want everyone to stop thinking that I need help because I don’t! I didn’t need help before I met your father and I certainly don’t need help now!”

Allie was silent, noticing how red her mother’s face grew from her rant. As Rachel poured herself another glass of wine, Allie continued to say nothing while watching her mother empty the glass as quickly as she poured it. She wondered how much Merlot her mother had gone through this week. Allie already found three empty bottles in the trashcan under the sink on Wednesday after they returned from the visitation.

“Would you please stop looking at me like that?” Rachel asked.

“I’m not looking at you like anything,” Allie said.

“Yes you are,” she said. “How you inherited your father’s looks is beyond me.”

Allie felt her teeth clench slightly. She hated it when her mother made jabs like that with the sole intent of reminding her that Thomas wasn’t her real father. He met her mother when Allie was just a baby, and adopted her as his own when she was two. Growing up, Allie loved it when people would tell her how much she looked like her father. It was the brown hair and the dimples that gave most people that impression. Allie remembered seeing her mother scowl once while they were on vacation in Florida at some tourists who watched as Rachel snapped a picture of Thomas and Allie, who was twelve at the time.

“They look so much alike,” the couple said.

“She’s her stepfather,” Rachel quickly said, correcting the two as soon as she snapped the picture.

Allie never forgot that day and she would always remember it when Rachel made snide comments like that. “You know, Dad and I did a lot of things together. Regardless of what you think, I was bound to pick up on a few facial expressions here and there.”

She watched her mother stare at her as she continued to chew her ice. “Seriously Alexandria,” Rachel said. “Will you stop chewing the goddamn ice?”

“No."

“It’s not good for your teeth!”

Allie slammed her cup down on the counter. “Neither is drinking a bottle of wine a day but I don’t nag you about it, do I?” She didn’t want to shout at her mother. Allie had no intentions of raising her voice but she couldn’t help herself now. “You never hear me complain about anything—the way you treat Ben, the comments you make about Dad not being my real dad, my bad habits—but it’s stopping today. Dad’s gone, Mom. He’s gone. There is no one left to play referee between us anymore and if we can’t figure out how to talk to each other then I don’t see us talking much after today.”

Rachel set her wine glass on the kitchen island she was still leaning on. Crossing her arms against her chest, Allie watched her mother stare at her. “I don’t understand why this is so important to you,” she said.

“I don’t understand how this isn’t important to you!” Allie said. “You’re my mother, and I can’t stand to be in the same room with you for more than ten minutes! Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you want us to get along?”

Rachel sighed. “That’s the thing about mothers and daughters, Alexandria. We don’t have to get along. I’m your mother. Not your girlfriend.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Allie said. “I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked me to do—I did pageants, I was a ballerina, I played the piano—and it’s like nothing that I’ve ever done was ever good enough for you!”

“Alexandria,” Rachel said. “All you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day.”

“Yeah, right,” Allie said.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Alexandria,” Rachel said. “Do you want me to say I’m sorry to Ben? Fine. Go get him. I’ll apologize to him right here. I’ll even let you be a witness.”
Allie let out a sarcastic laugh. “You can’t apologize if you don’t mean it, Mom. It totally defeats the purpose!”

“Well, then I don’t know what else to do,” Rachel said.

Snatching her cup from the counter, Allie tilted her head back and poured several pieces of ice into her mouth. Half of it was done just in spite of her mother’s insistence that she not do it, half of it was done out of sheer frustration. “I just want to be able to tolerate being in the same room with you,” she finally said. “I want us to get along. I want to be able to have you come visit us in Boston so you can see your granddaughters. I want you to be civil to my husband. All he’s ever wanted was for you to like him. It used to be a goal of his, but now I think he’s just nice to you because that’s the kind of person that he is. Dad liked him. Dad always liked him. What in the hell could Ben have possibly done to make you hate—”

“Alexandria!” Rachel said. “Stop!”

“What?” Allie asked. “You have answers to my questions?”

Rachel didn’t speak for a moment. Allie watched her, waiting for her to chime in at any moment, but nothing was said. Finally, after a few minutes, Allie watched as her mother regained her composure, stood up straight, and looked her dead in the eye. “You think you know a lot about me, but the truth is, you don’t.”

“All I know is that you married a man that would have moved Heaven and Earth to make you happy,” Allie said. “And half the time, you acted like you could’ve cared less. He loved us, Mom. Do you know how many times he told me about how the two of you met, and that he knew loved you the moment he saw you?” It was her favorite story growing up. Every night, when Thomas would come into her room and tuck her in, she would often ask to hear that story because to her, it sounded like a fairytale. “He adored you.”

“It’s not about being adored, Allie,” Rachel said with a sigh. “You have what I always wanted. Ben is to you what Michael was to me.”

“Oh no,” Allie said quickly. “Don’t even use Ben’s name in the same sentence as the man who left you barefoot and pregnant in a trailer. Don’t do it.”

“It’s hard to get over your first love Allie,” Rachel continued to say. “No matter how hard you try…”

“Stop it!” Allie said. “How can you think about that man on today of all days? You just buried your husband and you’re thinking about Michael?”

Rachel sighed. “You’ve been with one person your entire life, Alexandria. You have no idea what it’s like to lose a first love.”

“Even if Michael didn’t love you back?” Allie asked. She was still confused as to how her mother could possibly rationalize this. It didn’t make any sense. Her father loved her mother. Allie remembered how he used to stare at her whenever she was in the room, like she was the only one there. He always did it, no matter where they were. She wanted that when she got older. It’s what she had with Ben. “I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t,” Rachel said.

“I mean, it sounds like you’re saying that because I got my happily ever after the first time around with Ben, it justifies the way you treat Ben, the way you and I talk to each other…”

“Not to mention that you and your father always had little club of yours.”

Allie stared at her mother in shock. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Rachel said. “You two always had your club, and I was always the odd man out.”

“You made yourself the odd man out!” Allie said. “You complained about everything, you don’t have a sense of humor, and even when Dad and I invited you to do stuff with us, you would say no every time! If anyone excluded anyone, you did it to yourself!”

“You know what,” Rachel said, her voice turning hard again. “I don’t have to deal with this today.”

Allie glared at her mother. “You saying that implies that you’ve dealt with it before.”

“This conversation is done.”

“No, Mom,” Allie said. “It’s only the beginning.”

Allie watched Rachel, as she began to pace back and forth in the kitchen. She knew her mother only paced when she was frustrated, even though she looked like she was in pain because of the weather. Each step Rachel took, Allie noticed a slight limp. “You know,” Rachel said, facing Allie. “I don’t have to justify anything I do to you. I’m the mother. You’re the daughter. If you don’t like how that works, then that’s something that you’re just going to have to deal with.”

Pursing her lips together, Allie blinked her eyes rapidly. She wouldn’t cry in front of her mother. She refused. “Maybe…maybe you were right,” she said softly.

“Excuse me?” Rachel asked.

“Maybe this conversation is done.”

Refusing to let her mother get the final word, Allie grabbed her cup and left the kitchen. Pushing through the white swinging door, she ignored the people that tried to talk to her as she passed. All she wanted to do was to get out of this house. Opening the door, Allie slammed it shut behind her. It wasn’t raining anymore, she noticed, but the skies were still grey. Jogging down the steps, she tossed out the rest of the ice into the yard and walked down the sidewalk. Around the corner and three houses down, Allie saw Ben, sitting on the front porch swing of his parents’ house. As she stopped short of the front steps, she stared at Ben as her eyes welled up with tears.

“Allie?” he asked. Standing up from the swing, he walked down the front porch steps and wrapped her up in a hug. “Allie, what’s wrong?”

She couldn’t say anything. All Allie could do was cry. The more she thought about the conversation with her mother, the harder she cried. Maybe someday she would understand her mother, understand why she would say what she said, why she would do what she did, but for now, all Allie could do was cry.

So she did.

Remembrance of Things Past--Author's Note

Hey guys!

I just created this blog the other day--I talk so much about my creative writing and my projects that I thought it would be a good idea to post my stories as I think of them or finish them so you all can read them. Please, feel free to comment, give me suggestions, or tell me what you liked, didn't like, what you don't think would have happened or whatever it is that crossed your mind while reading this. Also, while I do try and proofread, I do miss things from time to time so feel free to let me know in a comment if I made a goof.

It's separate from my blog, with my alias, because I'm protective of my writing when it comes to my family reading it. Bascially, in a nutshell, they read my stuff and then think I'm projecting my feelings about them into the stories when really, all it is is a story. They're lunatics. I don't know why I'm not in therapy.

Anyways, I hope you all enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

~Anna

The Remembrance of Things Past--Part One

Nothing seemed real until Ryan received the invitation in the mail. The crisp, cream colored envelope, the black embossed words in their elegant calligraphy—reading through the invitation, Ryan could feel his insides tie up into a knot. He thought his mother was kidding when she said that Chelsea and Michael were going to get married. He was sure that she was just pulling his leg, seeing ifs he could irritate him in record time during their weekly telephone chats.

“I’m not kidding,” his mother said. “They’re getting married in the spring.”

“Chelsea Thomas and Michael Martin,” Ryan said. “You’re such a liar.”

His mother sighed. “Fine. Don’t believe me. But you’ll probably be getting an invitation in the mail in a few days.”

Sure enough, his mother was right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Chelsea was supposed to marry him, Michael was supposed to marry Ryan’s wife, Nikki, and Chelsea and Michael were supposed to forever get under each other’s skin until one or the other had to leave the room while Nikki made off hand comments with the sole purpose of hurting Chelsea’s feelings. That’s how they worked. It’d been like that since the four met up in kindergarten.

“What’s that?” Nikki asked.

He didn’t even hear her come in the door. With their five year old son, David, right behind her, Ryan handed over the invitation to Nikki. Getting down to David’s level, he took David’s backpack set it in the corner. “How was school?”

“It was awesome!” he cried. “We drawed pictures and played at recess!”

“Really!” Ryan exclaimed. “Well, what did you draw?”

“A volcano!” David shouted.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Nikki yelled. “If you’re even thinking that we’re going to go to this, well, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Ryan inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “David,” he said first. “Why don’t you go play with your trains for awhile while Mommy and I talk.”

“Talk, or fight?” David asked.

“Talk,” Ryan said.

“Is Mommy gonna win if you fight?”

Ryan sighed. “Probably.” David laughed, running off to the back of their apartment to play with his favorite toys. Following Nikki into the kitchen, he could see the back of her ears turning red. They only did that when she was really mad. He watched her pace around for a minute as he sat down at the table. Her heavy sighs of frustration weren’t lost on him as he started to speak. “Look—”

“No, you look,” Nikki said. “We got married in a courthouse, Ryan. A goddamn court house!”

“We could’ve gotten married in a church.”

“No, we couldn’t! Don’t you remember how pissed our parents were?”

That was a stupid question. Of course he remembered how mad they were. Furious and enraged would be better words to describe the situation. He remembered the way his mother cried when he told her, how she looked at him in disbelief. And his father—his father didn’t even know what to say. Nikki and Chelsea were famous in their small town, and only because they were twins. Fraternal, with their differences varying as much as their personalities, everyone knew them as the Thomas Twins. Chelsea was the good twin. She was valedictorian of her class, a star athlete, and was polite to everyone. Nikki was “the headache,” as Ryan had heard her father refer to so many times before. Guys wanted to date her and the girls lived to hate her, while secretly wishing to be her. The tall, blond hair, blue eyed stereotype wasn’t lost on Nikki while Chelsea blended into crowds. She wasn’t as tall, wasn’t as gregarious, and wasn’t a fan of making people miserable because it was, if you asked Nikki, easy to do.

Nikki dated Michael because he was the guy to date, next to Ryan. Ryan knew that Nikki used to have a crush on him that developed in middle school, but Ryan didn’t pursue it. He’d always been drawn to Chelsea. It was hard to ignore the jealousy that Nikki displayed towards Chelsea, and for Ryan to watch Chelsea sit back and listen to the continuous line of insults that Nikki spit at her on a daily basis. And with Michael constantly picking at her, with the line between joking and being mean an invisible one at best, Ryan was left to believe that Chelsea had to be a saint because she never retaliated or got angry. If she did get upset, she would go off by herself. Ryan only saw her cry once or twice.

“And I can’t even believe that you would consider going!” Nikki yelled, her voice snapping Ryan back to reality. “I thought we’d finally moved past this whole Chelsea thing!”

“They’re our friends!” Ryan exclaimed. “Chelsea’s your sister for crying out loud!”

“That’s a weak excuse.”

“Family isn’t a weak excuse, Nikki. She’s your sister.”

“Well, it’s better than yours. You think that if you show up, she’ll cancel the whole damn thing, but she won’t. Just because I don’t talk to my family doesn’t mean I don’t talk to my friends,” Nikki said. “Michael and Chelsea are the talk of the town. Everyone thinks they’re the perfect couple.”

Ryan sighed. “I don’t want to stop the wedding, Nikki. I’m married to you. I love you.”

Nikki rolled her eyes. He watched her walk to the refrigerator, keeping his mouth shut as she poked around in the fridge and then up in the freezer before closing both doors. She looked at him, pursing her lips together. “Why can’t you just be happy with us? I mean, I know it got started off in a bad way, but we’ve made it this far.”

“I never said I wasn’t happy, Nikki.”

“You don’t have to say it.”

Ryan dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. Fighting with Nikki drained more energy from him than work and night class combined. He used to try to avoid arguing with her all together, but it only seemed to make everything worse so he gave up all together. Ryan came to the realization a while back that he was going to lose either way.

He stood up from the table and approached her. When she looked away, Ryan wrapped his arms around her, even though Nikki made no attempt to do the same. “I’m happy,” he whispered in her ear.

She looked at him, staring straight into his eyes. “Then tell me you don’t wish that things were different.”

Ryan went to answer, but he couldn’t make the words come out of his mouth.

Nikki forced herself out of his embrace and walked back to the freezer. Jerking the door open, she pulled out two freezer packs of meat. “Do you want pork chops or chicken for dinner?” she asked, changing the subject completely.

“Does it matter?”

“If it did, I wouldn’t be asking.”

He sighed. “Chicken’s fine.”

Remembrance of Things Past--Part II

Three weeks after the invitation was sent out, Michael got a phone call. It was Saturday, and he was sitting on the couch, watching a Thomas the Tank Engine marathon on PBS with David. The monotone voice of the conductor narrator on the show was enough to put Michael to sleep, but the continuous jabs in the side from David every time Thomas made an appearance kept him awake.

When he heard the phone ring, he was thankful for the distraction. But it lasted all of two seconds as he glanced at the caller ID.

“Hello?”

“Ryan? That you?” Michael asked on the other end.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

The required small talk between the two only lasted a few minutes. It’d been five years since he’d seen Michael. Ryan wasn’t really sure what to say at all. He listened to Michael talk about his job, about house hunting with Chelsea, and about how great everything seemed to be going for him. He tried to join into the conversation, but his brain wouldn’t let his mouth speak.

“Ryan?”

“Yeah?”

“You still there?” Michael asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh. For a minute there, I thought we had a bad connection.”

Bad connection was one way to put it. With an awkward silence looming between the two phones, Ryan decided to mention the wedding. “I got the invitation in the mail,” he said.

“About the wedding.”

“Great!” Michael said. “I was wondering about that.”

“Yeah. It came in the mail a few weeks ago.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” Michael said. “I know it’s late, and I promise that you don’t have to do any of the honorary duties, aside from holding the ring at the wedding, but will you be my best man?”

A five-ton weight just dropped on his stomach. His mouth felt like cotton. “Michael…”

“I know it’s asking a lot,” Michael said. “I do. But I need a Best Man, and that’s you. You’re my best friend.”

“We haven’t seen each other in five years.”

“Which isn’t my fault.”

“Oh, so it’s mine?”

“Ryan, I left you umpteen messages. It’s not my fault you don’t know how to return any of them.”

Michael did leave him messages. There were a lot at first, during the first few years while Michael was at college. But Ryan was busy with a job at the factory, taking care of a baby, and attending a few night classes in between. Ryan picked up the phone several times, wanting to call him back, but he never had anything to say. “Michael, I don’t know.”

“It wouldn’t be right, getting married without you there.”

“I haven’t seen Chelsea since—”

“Graduation. I know. But she wants you at the wedding. You and Nikki both. You’re family.”

“I don’t know,” Ryan said again.

“Look,” Michael said. “I know it’s complicated. I was here too. But if you’re not going to come to the wedding for me, then at least do it for Chelsea. She’s never asked anything of you, before of after, and you at least owe her that much.”



Ryan didn’t go to the wedding.

He tried. He really did. He tried to pack a suitcase, tried to prepare for the week of festivities that were going to lead up to the big day but when it came down to it, Ryan couldn’t make himself drive the day long car trip home. He did, however, manage to drive to the post office, where he put their wedding gift—a blender from Crate & Barrel—in a box and had it mailed to their house with a note, apologizing about not being able to come.

A few days later, Ryan’s telephone rang again. He didn’t get so much of a “hello” out before he heard her voice.

“You’re such a coward.”

“Chelsea, please,” Ryan said.

“No. You don’t get to talk. I just wanted to let you know that you’re a coward.”

He tried to say something, tried to come up with a better explanation, but Chelsea already hung up the phone. Not that Ryan deserved the chance to explain. After all, he backed out on a wedding and sent a blender in his place. But Nikki refused to go, and going alone wasn’t going to work either.

“Nikki,” Ryan said at dinner later.

She looked at him. “Yes?”

“Maybe we should go,” he said. “I mean…”

“No.”

“But she’s your—”

“I don’t care what she is,” Nikki said. “No one supported us. I’m just returning the favor.” Rubbing his temples, he sat in silence, watching as Nikki scooped a glop of mashed potatoes onto David’s plate. “We apologized until we were blue in the face, and got nothing.”

“Apologized for what?” David asked.

“Nothing,” Ryan and Nikki said in unison.

Remembrance of Things Past--Part III

Five years later, Ryan found himself sitting outside of Michael and Chelsea’s house. It was a bitter winter that year. The snow may have melted because of the sunlight, but the wind felt like it was piercing your skin as when people walked through its blustery path. His mom called him a few days ago, asking for his assistance in getting his dad settled back into the house. He was recovering from a heart attack. Nikki was going to come with him, but David caught the chicken pox a few weeks back and Nikki took time off of work to stay at home with him. The three were planning on going on a fishing trip during David’s spring break, and if Nikki wanted to go, she needed to stay and work.

It took five minutes of sitting in the car for the heat to seep out through the poorly sealed car, which prompted Ryan to get out and walk towards the house. Jamming his hands deep into the leather coat pockets, his pace picked up with each gust of wind. Jogging up the steps of the pale yellow, Victorian style house with its wraparound porch, he took his hand out momentarily to ring the doorbell. As Ryan heard the chimes faintly singing, he knew there was no turning back now.

Seconds later, Chelsea opened the door. The two stared at each other in disbelief. Ryan assumed that Chelsea’s wide-eyed expression was because she was actually seeing him, in the flesh, standing on her porch. But for him, it was how different she looked. She wasn’t the stick-skinny girl anymore with her hair in a ponytail. She had makeup on her face, the ends of her long brown hair curled, and bangs that were long and swept to the side. Ryan remembered back in high school, how excited Chelsea was the day she realized that her bangs were long enough to go back into her ponytail with the rest of her hair. She even swore that day that she would never have bangs again.

“Ryan?” Chelsea asked. “Is that you?”

He laughed. “It’s me.” If his voice didn’t convey his apprehension, he was sure his stiff shoulders would do the trick. “I was, um, in the neighborhood…”

“Come in,” she said, moving away from the door. As he stepped inside, he looked around at the inside of her house. When she shut the door behind him, it startled him, but only for a moment.

“Mom said you and Michael bought the Hudson house once on the phone,” Ryan said to her, trying to make small talk. “I always wondered what it looked like on the inside.”

“Michael and I had the entire house gutted and remodeled five years after we bought it.”

“Oh.”

Before Ryan could say anything else, a whirlwind of a little girl appeared from around the corner, racing down the hall and sliding every few steps on the hard wood floors in her socks. Her brown curls tied in two pigtails bounced with every laugh, which soon turned to squeals as she looked behind her, seeing that her dad was still chasing her. As she latched onto Chelsea’s leg, Ryan looked at her face and smiled. She had Chelsea’s eyes and Michael’s smile.

“Mommy save me!” she said through her laughter.

Ruffling the two ponytails, Ryan watched Chelsea look to Michael before he turned to acknowledge. Watching them, he felt like he was intruding on a private conversation that didn’t require words. He and Chelsea used to communicate like that, once upon a time. A face he used to be able to read like a book was now foreign. Looking to Michael, he gave his old best friend a curt head nod.

“Ryan?” Michael asked.

“Hi,” Ryan said. “I uh…I was in the neighborhood.” He needed to come up with a better reason as to why he was here.

“Is Nikki with you?” Michael asked.

Ryan shook his head no. “She had to work. David had the chicken pox a few weeks back and she took off time then to take care of him. She was going to come down, but she just couldn’t get the time off.”

“Must have been going around,” Chelsea said, a small grin appearing on her face.

“What, the chicken pox?” Ryan asked.

“Shut up,” Michael said, looking at Chelsea. “Don’t even—”

“You were such a baby.”

“Seriously, Chelsea, are you ever going to let me live it down?”

“Um…no, I don’t think so.”

Ryan stared at the two, a blank look on his face. Watching the playful banter in front of him, he could feel twinges of jealously forming a pit in his stomach. “Um, what happened?”

Chelsea laughed. “Gracie got the chicken pox a few weeks ago too, and she gave them to Michael.”

“You never had the chicken pox?” Ryan asked.

“No,” Michael said. “I never got sick as a kid. Then I had kids, and my immune system went to shit.”

“Ummmmm!” Gracie said. “You said a bad word!”

Ryan watched, pursing his lips together to keep his laughter in as Michael dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Seconds later, he pulled out a quarter and handed it to Gracie.
“There,” he said. “Go put it in your jar.”

Gracie smiled. “Thank you.”

As Gracie scampered off, Chelsea switched the baby on her hip from one side to the other. “I had to tape oven mitts to his hands to keep him from scratching,” she said to Ryan. “He was worse than Gracie.”

Ryan laughed at the thought of Michael, roaming about with oven mitts permanently attached to his hands. “Well…at least you got better,” he said.

“Yeah,” Michael laughed. “I got better.”

The three of them stood in the entry way, staring at each other as an awkward silence had fallen over them. Ryan didn’t know what else to say to them, and by the looks on their faces, he felt safe in assuming that neither Chelsea nor Michael knew what to say to him, either.

“So what brings you back here?” Michael asked.

Ryan shrugged his shoulders. “Mom brought Dad home from the hospital yesterday and Mom asked if I could help out for a few days while Dad gets settled back home.” His father was recovering from a heart attack. Because his father was as stubborn as they came, his mother called Ryan for backup.

“How’s he doing?” Chelsea asked.

“Oh…he’ll be right,” Ryan said. He could see the concern in her eyes, which loosened the knot in his stomach. After all, it meant something if she cared, didn’t it?

Chelsea smiled. “Good. That’s good to hear.”

“How about we move this into the living room?” Michael asked. “Maybe sit down and visit or something.”

“Of course!” Chelsea said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking!”

Ryan nervously laughed. “It’s ok, Chels. I didn’t even think I was going to make it this far inside the house.” He was trying to make a joke, but by the looks on their faces, Ryan could see that the joke fell flat. Shrugging out of his coat, he looked for a place to put it before Michael took it from his hands. “Thanks,” he said.

“No problem,” Michael replied.

Chelsea led Ryan into the living room. As she took a seat on the chocolate brown sofa, Ryan sat down in the matching wing tipped chair at the end of the coffee table. The two of them were silent until Michael joined them, sitting right next to Chelsea on the couch. Ryan watched as he took the baby from Chelsea.

“You want to hold her?” Michael asked.

Ryan smiled, but held his hands up. “That’s ok. It’s been awhile since I’ve held a baby.”

“You can’t break her,” Chelsea said.

“Maybe later,” Ryan said. “What’s her name?”

“Emma,” Michael said, using a voice that Ryan had never heard come out of Michael’s mouth. It was borderline baby talk, but from his seat, Ryan could tell that Emma enjoyed the voice and the attention as she broke out into a huge smile while holding onto Michael’s fingers. “Her name is Emma Claire, and her sister is Chelsea Grace, but we call her Gracie.”

“How old is David now?” Chelsea asked. “Nine?”

“Ten,” Ryan said. “Turned ten in January.”

“She sent Mom and Dad pictures a few years back,” Chelsea said. “But last time I checked with Dad, he said that Nikki and Mom weren’t speaking still.”

Ryan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what’s going on with those two. All I know is that when my mother-in-law calls, I leave the room.”

Chelsea sighed. “How is my sister these days?”

“She’s good,” Ryan said. It was a half truth though. Nikki was only in a good mood when there wasn’t any mention of her family back home. “Nikki’s been working as a fashion merchandiser at Saks Fifth Avenue for awhile now, and she enjoys it a lot.”

“What about you?” Michael asked.

Ryan laughed. “Teaching eight grade math.”

“Really?” Chelsea asked.

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “It’s weird though…I actually enjoy it.”

Michael laughed. “That is weird. You hated math.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes things change,” Ryan said.

“Well,” Chelsea said. “I’m going to go upstairs and get Gracie ready for her nap.” As she stood up from the couch, Ryan tried to look her in the eye, but Chelsea had turned away from him.

“Do you want me to take Emma?” she asked Michael.

“Sure,” he said. Kissing Emma on the cheek, he handed her back to Chelsea. Both Ryan and Michael watched as Chelsea walked out of the room with Emma. When Michael turned his attention back to Ryan, he shrugged his shoulders at him. “She’s not mad at you anymore.”

Ryan laughed. “I don’t know about that. She won’t even look at me.”

“She’s not mad,” Michael said. “Chelsea was furious about the wedding, but if she was still mad at you, she never would have let you in the house.”


“And you?” Ryan asked. “Are you mad at me?”

“I thought you might have come, but I didn’t expect it, to be honest,” Michael said. “I mean, look around at us, ten years later. Did you expect it to end up like this?”

Ryan shook his head no. He expected a lot of things to happen in his life. It just happened with the wrong person. “I thought Hell would have to freeze before you and Chelsea were able to be within five feet of each other.”

Michael laughed. “We ran into each other at some frat party sophomore year. She wanted to leave and her date was too busy bonging a beer in the kitchen to care. As I was walking into the house, she was walking out and nearly knocked me over.” Standing up from the couch, Michael motioned to Ryan with a hand. “You want a beer?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. He was going to need something in his system if they were going to take these trips down memory lane. Following him into the kitchen, he sat down on one of the bar stools around the island. Taking the cold beer bottle from Michael, he gave him and nod.
“Thanks.”

“No problem,” Michael said. Popping the cap off, Michael sat down on the stool opposite Ryan and took a drink. “Anyways,” he said. “She nearly knocks me over, and by the time she finishes apologizing, she realizes it’s me that she’s run into and says, ‘Oh, it’s you,’ and tries to walk away. She was going to walk almost ten blocks back to her house, alone, in the dark. When she told me how far away she lived, I didn’t feel good about her walking that far by herself, so I walked with her. She tried to fight me about it, but she gave up after four blocks or so.”

Ryan laughed a little. The knot in his stomach was turning into a heavy pit of rocks, despite his best efforts to wish it away. So he continued to smile, putting on a show to keep his envy at bay. “She always was stubborn,” he said.

“Still is,” Michael said. Taking a drink, he set the bottle back down on the counter, smiling as he started to speak again. “I was surprised she let me into her house that night,” he said. “But she offered, so I went in, and we spent the rest of the night sitting on her couch, talking.”

“Talking?”

“Yeah, talking.” Ryan couldn’t ignore the look on Michael’s face as he talked about that night. The way he looked away for a moment with a small smirk on his face made Ryan feel uncomfortable, because he remembered the look all too well, and the feeling that came with it.

“We talked about everything,” he heard Michael say.

“Everything?”

Michael nodded. “Everything. I apologized for being a jackass all those years, and she talked about how you and Nikki, and I think it helped her a lot, actually. I mean, talking about everything. She even said that she felt better afterwards.” He took another drink. “Of course, it took a whole year of me doing everything but getting on my knees and begging her to date me, but it was all worth it in the end, you know?”

“Yeah.” Michael had to force the word from his throat.

“So you two don’t fight anymore?” Ryan asked.

“Oh, we still fight,” Chelsea said, walking in on their conversation. With a smile on her face, she walked right up to Michael, resting her head on his chest as he wrapped an arm around her waist. “But it’s for sport now, isn’t it?”

“Most of the time,” Michael said. As he bent his head down to kiss her, Ryan quickly looked away, taking a drink of his beer to act use as his distraction. Stop it, he told himself. They’re married, I’m married, and it’s what married people do. As he rubbed his temples with his fingers, he let the conversation between the two bounce around his brain like an erratic pinball machine. “The girls asleep?” he asked.

Chelsea nodded. “Gracie tried telling me that she was getting too big for naps, but she fell asleep in the middle of her argument.” Ryan opened his eyes long enough to see Chelsea give Michael a quick kiss before he shut them again. “What were you two talking about?”

“How you begged me to date you,” Michael teased.

She smacked him in the chest and laughed. “I did not beg you!”

“You begged.”

“No, Romeo, you begged. You begged and pleaded and whined like a schoolgirl.”

“I didn’t whine!”

“Fine. You didn’t whine.” Chelsea looked over at Ryan as he opened his eyes again. “He cajoled me into dating him.”

Michael rolled his eyes. “Who uses the word ‘cajoled’?”

“I do.”

“Anyways,” Michael said with a smile on his face. “New subject.”

Ryan smiled weakly as Chelsea laughed. “Yes,” she agreed. “New subject. Did you know that they added the Assistant Principal title to his Athletic Director title this year?”

“Really?” Ryan asked.

Michael shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just a few extra responsibilities. They didn’t want to take the time and effort to hire someone into the position, and I was doing most of the work anyways. It’s kind of weird, though, taking Simpkin’s place. Especially after all the detentions of mine he signed his name to back in the day.”

Ryan nodded. “Whatever happened to you being a doctor?”

Michael laughed. “I decided that I wanted to have a life. What about you now? I know your mom said you did some night school for awhile.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “I got my degree a few years back.”

“That’s right!” Chelsea exclaimed. “You teach math now, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do.”

She smiled. “I thought I remembered your mom saying something about that.” Chelsea reached over the island and grabbed Michael’s beer bottle. She stole a drink and handed it back, laughing at Michael’s faux look of irritation. Ryan remembered when Chelsea used to steal drinks of his beer back when they would spend their Friday nights with their friends, drinking in the middle of Clawson’s cornfield. “Is Nikki still doing the fashion merchandising?” she asked.

Still hung up on the beer sharing, it took Ryan a few seconds to respond. “Huh? Oh yeah, Nikki. Yeah, she works at Saks Fifth Avenue. I think she likes it.”

The small talk was turning awkward, and the tension was growing thick. The things that had been left unsaid between Ryan and Chelsea were causing the tension—things that were damning if said, damning if kept quiet.

“You know,” Michael said, interrupting the silence. “I have some paperwork to do, some referees to call for the basketball games next week.” Ryan took a drink of his beer, using the bottle as a distraction while Michael hugged Chelsea and gave her a kiss. “Talk to him,” he heard Michael whisper to Chelsea.

As Michael disappeared up the stairs, Ryan could feel Chelsea’s brown eyes staring at him. Looking down the beer bottle to keep himself from catching her gaze, he hoped that she would be the first one to speak. It’s how it always worked before. Mustering up the courage to look at her, she responded with a single eyebrow raise. With one expression, he knew that he’d be the one taking first.

“I never wanted things to get weird…between us, I mean.”

He watched her face, waiting to get a reaction, but got nothing. “It’s not weird,” she finally said. “It’s awkward.”

“You know what I mean, Chelsea.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess.”

“You guess?” he asked in disbelief. “That’s the response you’re giving me?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, it wasn’t my fault.”

Ryan cringed at her words. Even if her words weren’t meant to sting, they did. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. We…you and I…I mean, it was supposed to be us.”

Chelsea shook her head back and forth as she held her arms tightly against her chest. “Fate had other plans, Ryan.”

“Fate had nothing to do with it.”

“Fine,” Chelsea scoffed. “Stupidity made you sleep with my sister while we were together. But none of it matters, Ryan, because Fate worked out for me in the end.”

Ryan stared at her. He didn’t know what else to do. “It was an accident.”

“An accident?” Chelsea laughed. Ryan grit his teeth as she laughed a little. “What did you do? Trip or something?”

He sighed. “Chelsea, please.”

“No,” she said. “You can’t accidentally sleep with someone. It doesn’t work like that.”

This wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. Not there was an actual plan that Ryan had while coming into this, but he did know that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Everything was spinning out of control, and Ryan didn’t know how to stop it. “You know, we were all drunk that night, including you and—”

“And nothing! You let her drag you away, Ryan. And you knew she was pissed at me, too. She wanted prom queen more than anything, especially after Michael won prom king, and you knew she was mad about me winning! I didn’t even want the damn thing! And I even told you, I told you later that evening that I thought she’d do something to get back at me, and she did!”

“But I don’t even remember sleeping with her!”

“You don’t have to! You had living proof nine months later!”

“We could’ve worked something—”

“No.” It was the second time she’d cut him in less than two minutes. “Don’t even suggest that my sister and I could’ve shared you. Don’t even do it.”

Ryan dragged a hand down his face. “I would’ve figured something out.”

“No, you wouldn’t have.” Chelsea walked around the island and stood next to him. Leaning her elbows on the light brown tiles, she looked straight ahead as Ryan stared at her. “You’re noble, Ryan. You’ve always been Mr. Do the Right Thing even if the situation was caused by a severe lapse in judgment. And that’s why I loved you to begin with.”

Her words hung in the air for a moment, suspended by the sincerity in her voice. She had a point though. Had Ryan not been as noble as Chelsea claimed him to be, he never would have married Nikki to begin with. And while their relationship had more rocky moments than most in the past ten years, the two did love each other. It might not have been as intimate or as loving as either hoped, but there was a fondness that grew between them over the course of a decade. Had their relationship been more than what it was, they might have had more children. More children weren’t out of the realm of possibility yet, but they would be soon. It took a long time for Ryan and Nikki to become comfortable in their financial situation, where they could provide not only for David, but for themselves as well. Having another child would have made it harder than it already was for them.

“But why Michael?” Ryan finally asked. “I mean, you could’ve married any guy you wanted, Chelsea.”

She threw her hands up in the air. “Why not Michael?” she asked back. “Michael loves me. It came out of nowhere—it’s not like I planned it as some kind of revenge to get you back.”

“But it’s Michael!” Ryan cried. “Don’t you remember—”

“If I held every stupid thing against everyone, you would not be in my kitchen.” Chelsea began to pace back and forth. For the first time, Ryan found something that both Chelsea and Nikki did that was exactly the same. With a hand on her hip and another other her mouth, it was as if her hand was keeping the words inside until her brain put them together for her to say. “You know,” she said, turning her eyes towards him. “I thought I was crazy at first, falling for Michael. And I tried so hard to ignore it, but I couldn’t. Michael grew up, Ryan, and so did I. We have an adult relationship. We communicate with each other about everything, God knows we fight, but never have I ever second guessed him. Ever.”

Her words knocked the wind out of him. “So what you’re saying is that our relationship was worthless.”

“No, what I’m saying is that we were teenagers who thought that we were invincible to the world.” She stared at him, and Ryan knew she wouldn’t continue until he looked at her. So he did. “We walked through life with the notion that we could stay eighteen forever. But reality hit us in the face.”

“Well,” Ryan said, standing up from his seat. He couldn’t take sitting down anymore. Her words tore at his insides, and hiding it was impossible. “I’m glad to see that we meant something together.”

Chelsea slammed her hand on the table. “Don’t you dare try and guilt me, Ryan Saunders! Don’t you dare!” She walked back over to him, standing toe to toe, jabbing her finger into his chest. “Don’t act like you were the only one devastated. You broke my heart. Do you know how many nights I spent crying because of you? Do you think it was easy to get over you? I’d spent every day since I was five with you!”

“And you think it was easy, knowing I hurt you like that?”

“It doesn’t matter!”

“Yes it does!”

“No it doesn’t!” Chelsea yelled. “You broke my heart, and Michael fixed it! And I knew you’d be pissed about it. I’m not delusional. But you know what—we had to live our lives and make do with the circumstances. And you cannot…I will not let you make me feel guilty about being happy!”

Ryan rolled his head around in a dramatic fashion. “But it’s Michael,” he said with a sigh. “Of all the people…”

“Of all the people!” Chelsea shouted, throwing his words back in his face. “Of all the people in the world that you could have cheated on me with, you cheated on me with Nikki! Of all the people you could have gotten drunk and have a one-night stand with, you chose her! The one person in this world that I truly hate.”

Ryan dragged a hand through his disheveled hair. “You don’t hate her, Chelsea. She’s your sister.”

“Yeah, well,” Chelsea sighed. “She might be my sister, and I love her, but it doesn’t mean I have to like her.”

Ryan squeezed his eyes shut. He needed to find a way, he had to find a way, to take control of this conversation. “I don’t want to fight with you,” he said in a softer voice.

Chelsea took two steps back and crossed her arms to her chest. “Then let it go.”

He stared at her, his eyes pleading with hers. “I’ve been trying for ten years…”

“I’m happy,” Chelsea said with a small smile. “I’m married to someone that adores me. I have a family that I couldn’t live without. Without Michael, I wouldn’t have my children, and my children are my life, Ryan. I have the life I wanted, the life I imagined.”

He forced the lump in his throught back down by swallowing as hard as he could. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he looked away. She wanted him to let it go. She wanted him to let everything wash away. But he’d been trying for ten years, and a big part of him couldn’t let it go. “I…um…I need to get going,” he forced his voice to say. “I…uh…didn’t plan on staying this long.”

“Well, wait,” Chelsea said. “Let me go get Michael…”

Ryan held a hand up to stop her. “Don’t,” he said. “I just…I can’t…just tell him I said bye, ok?”

“You say goodbye to him,” Chelsea told him. “Despite everything, he’s still your best friend.”
He gave her a wry smile, but shook his head no. “Goodbye, Chelsea.”

She tried to protest, but Ryan didn’t react. He walked stoically through the kitchen and down the hallway with his eyes fixated on the dark oak door with it’s blurred oval glass. With everything that Chelsea had said, bouncing around in his brain, he grabbed his coat and threw it on in one swift motion before walking out the door.

The wind was still cold and bitter, but he didn’t know if he was running towards the car because of the piercing feeling of the air as it hit his skin or if he was running from his past. It didn’t take him long to unlock his car. Climbing in, he quickly slammed his door shut, jamming the key into the ignition. Once the car was started, a cold blast of air hit his face. He turned the power knob back to low until the air warmed up enough to put back on high again.
While waiting for the air to warm up, he sat with his teeth chattering he felt a buzzing in his pocket. Pulling out his cell phone, he looked at the caller ID. It was Nikki.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey, yourself,” Nikki replied. “I hadn’t heard from you today, so I thought I’d call.”

Ryan shivered. “Sorry. I was just busy and—”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Nikki said. “David’s at a birthday party, so I’m just sitting here by myself. It’s weird, not having you here.”

He laughed. “Weird?”

“Well, yeah,” Nikki said. “I miss you.”

Ryan held his hand up to the vent as he pinned the phone to his ear with his shoulder. It was
getting warmer. “You miss me?” he asked. “Is that possible?”

“Ryan,” Nikki said with a laugh. “I always miss you when you’re gone.”

“Really?”

He heard her laugh again. “I’m by myself in this house. Of course I miss you.”

“You’ve never said you’ve missed me before.”

“I haven’t?” he heard Nikki ask.

He shook his head no, even though Ryan knew she couldn’t see him. “No.”

“Oh.”

“You should tell me that more.”

“Why?” Nikki asked.

The car was warm enough now so that he could pull his other hand from his pocket without feeling like his fingers would fall off. “Because…it’s just nice to hear.”

“Ok,” Nikki said. “When are you coming home?”

“In a few days,” he said.

“You see Chelsea?”

“Yeah…”

“And…”

“We talked.” Pinning the phone in his ear, Ryan reached out and put his car into drive with his foot pressed firmly on the break. “But the roads are slick right now, and I don’t want to drive and talk, so can I call you later?’

“Sure,” Nikki said. “Be careful.”

“I will,” he promised. “And Nikki?”

“Yes?”

“I love you.”

He waited for her to say something. Instead, he heard a dialtone.