Mama Love–Inspired by Holly Becker

Congratulations to Kristi West for, once again, clinching the victory! Her idea for Milton’s Quest secured her 3rd win for this challenge! Fear not, she only submitted 3 ideas…the rest of you have a chance still!

Today’s story idea comes from Holly Becker. Holly had the idea for Marry Christmas two weeks ago. Here’s her newest idea…

Character: Sarah
Trait- intuitive
Setting- Park
Problem- notices 3 year old son does not appear to be developing the same as his peers (speech patterns and social interactions)

Sarah hauled her backpack, cooler and diaper bag all slung over her shoulder as she pushed a stroller. She waved briefly to her girlfriends who were already sitting on benches near the playground.

“Aren’t you so excited for  your first play-date, Wesley?” she asked her little boy.

He merely grunted from beneath the layers of coat and blanket and sweaters.

By the time she arrived at the bench, she was winded.

“Man, these strollers just aren’t made for pushing across the grass,” she said, taking a sip from her water bottle. “That kicked my butt. Maybe I need to start running or something.”

“Well, you don’t really have to push Wesley anymore,” Samantha said, sitting with her legs crossed. “He is three.”

“I know. It’s just so much easier with the stroller.”

Sarah pulled Wesley out of his stroller. He didn’t smile. Didn’t look into her eyes. Wasn’t excited. In fact, Wesley didn’t seem to even realize that he was anywhere out of the ordinary.

“You want to play, buddy?” Sarah asked. She looked up at her friends. “This is his first time at a playground.”

“Oh, how fun!” Leslie’s voice was almost to the point of condescension. “I can’t believe you’ve gone this long without bringing him out to one of these play-dates.”

“I know. It just never worked out. You know, it was hard when I was working. I feel like I missed out on so much.”

“Yeah, working mothers don’t get the time with their kids that they really need,” Leslie said. “I mean, really, the time the kids need. It’s a shame.”

“Well,” Sarah said, looking at Leslie out of the corner of her eye. “I’m home with him now.”

She walked Wesley over to the sandbox. He sat down and picked up a handful of sand, letting it run, slowly, through his fingers. Sarah noticed a little girl in the sandbox. She was about the same size as Wesley. She was using a shovel to fill a bucket with sand. She picked out the sticks and rocks and put them into a different bucket.

“Wes, Buddy, you wanna shovel sand into your bucket?” she asked.

Wesley shook his head, not looking at her.

“Okay.” She pulled his chin with her finger so that he would turn his face and look at her. “I’m going to be sitting at that bench over there. If you need me, let me know.”

“Mama,” he said and smiled. Not right at her. But he did smile.

“That’s a good boy.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead.

“So, how’s Wesley doing with potty training?” Samantha asked. “Is he making any progress?”

“Well, he’s regressing a bit. You know, with me being home more. I guess it’s just thrown him off a bit.”

“Oh, look, Sophia’s talking to Wesley,” Leslie said, pointing to the little girl in the sandbox. “She’s such a little social butterfly. I guess she gets it from me.”

Sarah watched the little girl. She chattered on and on about ponies and how she rode one at the zoo. Wesley simply continued letting the sand go through his fingers. He didn’t even acknowledge her.

“He doesn’t talk much, does he?” Leslie asked.

“He does enough. He’s just kind of shy,” Sarah said. “Boys just aren’t as verbal as girls, I guess.”

“I don’t know,” said Samantha. “Andrew is just two and is talking up a storm all the time. I can’t get the kid to shut up. I swear he’s about to drive me crazy.”

Why would she ever want him to shut up, Sarah wondered. I just with Wesley would start getting more words out.

“Well, I’m just so glad that he’s here to play with your kids.” Sarah sat on the bench.

“It is nice. That way we can compare notes.” Leslie pulled her hair back in a pony tail.

The three women were quiet for a moment. Sarah felt anxious. She feared that Samantha and Leslie were judging her. That they were scrutinizing her every mothering move. That they were keeping track of Wesley’s inadequacies.

She looked at her son. He no longer played with the sand. He was just sitting, rocking slightly, unblinking. His face held no expression. Sophia, Leslie’s perfect and smart and beautiful little girl, continued talking to him. Suddenly, the little girl stood and ran to the ladder of a slide. She climbed the steps.

Wesley can’t do that, Sarah thought. None of it. He can’t do one single thing that she’s doing. No conversations. No eye contact. No coordination. Something is wrong. Something isn’t right with my little boy.

“I have to take Wesley to the bathroom,” Sarah said, standing quickly. She got dizzy, almost to the point of passing out. She regained her head and picked up her little boy. “You guys watch my stuff?”

“Oh course,” Leslie said, pointing to a small building behind them. “The bathroom’s that way.”

Sarah carried Wesley to the bathroom. He struggled, pushing her away, grunting and whining.

“I know, Buddy. I’ll put you down in just a second,” she said.

She pushed the heavy, green and brown door open. She put Wesley on the counter, letting his feet dangle off the edge. She ran the water over her hands, patting the cool onto her face.

I knew something wasn’t right, she thought. But I didn’t want to let it get to me. He’s not growing right. In his head. Is it autism? Oh, God, don’t let it be autism. Did I mess him up with a vaccine? Please, don’t let it be anything I did. I couldn’t live with that.

Sarah wiped her hands on her pants. She looked at Wesley. He was moving his fingers together, eyes fixed on their motion. He hummed so quietly. Not a tune she understood. Very little about him was understandable.

He’s always been slow. I just didn’t know how much. Lord, why me? Haven’t we had enough? I can’t do this, too. And with crappy friends like Leslie and Stephanie. They aren’t going to help me.

Sarah breathed deeply. Pulled the neck of her t-shirt up to wipe her eyes. Gathered Wesley and put him on the floor.

“You wanna try and walk a little?” she asked.

He grunted. She assumed he meant “yes”.

They walked back into the sunshine. A butterfly wisped  past them. Sarah knew that Wesley wouldn’t have noticed.

As they walked to the benches, she heard her friends talking.

“She just baby’s him,” Stephanie said. “She needs to expect more from him.”

“What if he’s ‘special’?” Leslie said. “It would figure she wouldn’t know before. She didn’t stay home with him. She probably doesn’t even know him, really.”

“Should we say something to her?”

“She wouldn’t listen anyway. You know, when he was born, I told her she should try using cloth diapers. She didn’t listen. Then, I told her how dangerous formula is. She didn’t listen. She still gave him bottles all the time.” Leslie sighed. “Maybe that’s what’s wrong with him.”

“Well, at least we know we’re doing it right.”

“We’re leaving,” Sarah said.

“Oh, Sarah,” Stephanie said, standing and turning around. “Is everything okay? Did Wesley wet his pants?”

“No, he didn’t,” Sarah said. “In fact, he’s not really doing the potty training thing yet. He’s wearing a diaper. And it is disposable, Leslie.”

“Well, I was just trying to give you a little advice,” Leslie said.

“You know, I never wanted to come on one of these play-dates. I just kept making excuses not to come. Because you are both impossible.” Sarah walked Wesley over to the stroller and packed the bags into the seat. “And I always knew that you were looking down on me. I won’t let you do that to my son, too.”

“Listen, Sarah,” Leslie said, still sitting. “We didn’t know how to tell you this. But, it’s only right. Something is wrong with Wesley. He isn’t developing like he should.”

“You’re wrong,” Sarah said, pulling her car keys from the backpack. “Because my son is developing just right. He’s just different from your kids, is all. He’s going to be just fine. And I won’t let you say those kinds of things in front of him again.”

“We didn’t want to make you mad,” Stephanie said.

“I’m not mad. I just realized something.” Sarah looked at the other women. “My son is amazing.”

She and Wesley walked, hand in hand. She pushed the stroller with her other hand. On the way to the car, Wesley stopped and wouldn’t budge.

“Come on, honey. You want to go home for some lunch?”

He still wouldn’t move.

“What are you doing, Wesley?” she asked.

The little boy stooped and picked a yellow dandelion out of the grass.

“Mama, love,” he said, thrusting the flower to her. “Mama, love.”

She knelt down to him and kissed his face.

“You’re a fantastic boy,” she said.

Vote! Week 3

Hello, All!

Due to the holiday weekend and all the insanity that will come…we’ll be holding the vote early. Therefore, you will have the opportunity to vote for two stories, Silence and Milton’s Quest from RIGHT NOW until Saturday, December 24 at 9:00 pm (sorry, folks, gotta concentrate on catching Santa this year…this WILL be my year to see him!). You can vote by commenting below.

And Merry, Merry Christmas!


Milton’s Quest–Inspired by Kristi West

And now for another great story idea from Kristi West. Kristi has had the winning story idea 2 weeks in a row…can she go for a threepeat? Well, if you haven’t yet, check out the other 2 stories that were inspired by her ideas. Scourge and Cake. Here’s her newest story idea (she had some help from her hubby Drew)…

Milton is a small brown mouse.

Setting: In a castle where his home happens to be.

Conflict: He needs to get past the cat to the dungeons where a cheese hoarding rat has his girlfriend held hostage.

Get ready, folks. This one might just be a tear jerker (ha ha)

Give ear! Give ear to my tale of dastardly felines and ignoble rodents! Pay heed, dear friends, to the romance of one mouse and his darling love, his life, his lady.

Who is this mouse of much renown and fortune? Who could it be, this hero of epic lore? Who has the honor and courage to face even the fiercest of foe?

Well, actually, it is I. Milton. The very runt of my litter.

Yes, I am a hero. You had no idea, did you? Most people don’t. They see the thick lenses in my glasses and the pocket protector and think, “yeah, that mouse can’t do anything”.  It is true, I’m not knight material. But, you know, love can make just about anyone climb to the top of impossibility. It can make the weakling possess the strength of determination. And love can take a dolt and transform him into a man with the wisdom of the owl.

(editor’s note: glasses and pocket protector for a medieval era mouse? Hmm…not exactly historically accurate.)

I raise my glass to you, Love! For, if not inspired by your power, I would have been doomed to remain alone, in the castle, eating moldy cheese and stale bread crusts.

(editor’s note: Milton goes on and on like this for a few thousand words…edited for your enjoyment. This mouse is really long winded.)

So, where was I?

Ah, yes. I, Milton would like to share with you to tale of my legendary voyage and epic battle against the evil tyrant cat and the greedy rat.

It all began one day, long ago…last week (come on, a mouse doesn’t live very long).

The home of my childhood is but a hole in the wall of a castle. Lowly serf mice that we were, we survived on the meager scraps from the table of the humans. We would scurry about their large, fetid feet. You know, people are so fussy about rodents being filthy plague spreaders. At least we have half a mind to lick ourselves clean several times a day. I mean, humans, come on. Ye’ll stink.

(editor’s note: it should be noted that Milton is from the south of his imaginary land…”ye’ll” is typical in that vernacular for “you all”. Also common in that region: moonshine and banjos)

Scavenging for food off the floor was our livelihood and our service to the lord of the manor.

“With all these mice about,” he’d said. “I was able to rid the castle of all brooms. These silly, little creatures collect everything that touches the floor.”

For generations, we have served that lord.

(editor’s note: it should be understood that, considering the length of pregnancy for a common mouse (18-20 days), a generation of mice would switch over every few months or so…therefore, Milton’s family was only in service to that lord for about 1 year)

Last week, whilst ridding the banquet floor of, what came before my beady little eyes? Be still my heart as it flutters with love even after all these seven days. But I met eyes with the beauty for which I’ve been searching all of my life.

(editor’s note: So sorry to interrupt again…but you need to know that mice only live for about 2 years. But, undomesticated mice live only 3 months…so, really, our Milton hadn’t been searching for THAT long)

I saw her from across the room. She walked briskly across the floor, carrying far too much food for her strength. When she saw me, she stopped and gasped just slightly. She could hardly bare to look away from me as she carried the food. I knew in that very moment that I was dangerously deeply drowning in love.

(editor’s note: It is actually impossible to drown in love. Love is not a liquid. It is also not a solid, for that matter. Although it might be a gas. Science has yet to weigh in on that issue)

If only, dear friend, you could have beheld her with your own eyes. You would see her beauty. Her downy cheek. The deep brown of her eyes. The brilliant curve of her body…

(editor’s note: In order to prevent any gagging on the part of the reader, the following 1,000 words describing Milton’s “love’s” appearance has been removed. Suffice it to say, she was his type.)

Needless to say, I fell for her quickly. But was mute whenever I found occasion to speak with her. I would merely gaze at her. Often, without her knowing. If she scurried through the castle, I would follow just to be near her. Many nights I would sneak into her room to watch her sleep and wonder if she dreamed of me as I constantly dreamed of her.

(editor’s note: We do not condone stalking. It’s creepy and not romantic in the least. We regret that Milton found it acceptable and necessary to do so.)

Listening to her talk to her friends, I gathered that her name was Brunhilda. Ah. Brunhilda. No sweeter name ever did grace such a beauty. Such poetry in that name. Such a light and dancing lilt. Minstrels could not do the name Brunhilda justice even with the most flowery of song.

My very own Brunhilda.

And after only having her in my life for a few days, she was gone. Seemingly vanished. Like a vapor in the wind. A phantom in the night. As an ephemeral mist that dissipates before one can but hold it…

(editor’s note: Milton goes on to list 27 terrible metaphors. Just terrible. Sickening, really.)

Rumor had it that my very own, lovely Brunhilda was trapped in the dungeon. Alas! Alack! Forsooth? What injustice! How could such a lovely creature be mistreated so? What could she have possibly done to deserve such abuse?

I knew in that very moment that there was but one thing that I must do. I knew that I must rescue her.

My quest would not have been advised if I hadn’t collected plenty of gear for my long journey. A sword, extra food, some kind of potion that rendered all who drank it some kind of altered state. I packed them all in my satchel and was on my way.

(editor’s note: His gear consisted of a toothpick for a sword and the potion was a small sip of wine. Also, his long journey was only a few hundred feet. I will, however, give Milton the benefit of the doubt. Poor little guy had some short legs.)

My first obstacle was at the entrance to the dungeon. It was there, a ferocious feline named Ed resided. He was the stuff of legends, eating as many as 4 mice in one gulp. None had ever vanquished him. I feared that I would just be one of his many meals. However, my life was but little payment that my Brunhilda could be rescued. And, so, I confronted my fear.

“Avast, yon feline!” I yelled, jumping in front of Ed. “I do not fear you, sir. Nor do I respect you.”

“Do you know what avast means, little mouse?” Ed asked. “It is an instruction to cease. To hold fast.”

“And what of it?”

“Did you happen to see what I was doing when you approached? I was, in fact, doing absolutely nothing. Therefore, your command of ‘avast’ was unnecessary.”

“You will not prevent me from entering the dungeon!”

“Of course not. Why would I prevent you? You, my dear friend, are delusional.”

“But what of your carnivorous desires?”

“Oh, that? You, no doubt, have heard of my mouse eating exploits.”

“That I have,” I said, thrusting my sword in the air.

“Lies. All of them.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Because, dear sir, if I ate a mouse I would be dreadfully ill. I am, after all, lactose intolerant.”

(editor’s note: I feel silly even mentioning this, but, I must. In medieval days they didn’t know what a lactose intolerance was. That condition wouldn’t be commonly known for another 500+ years. But, then again, there is no such thing as a talking mouse.)

 And so the cat let me by. He did, however, request a sip of my potion. He told me that it would help him relax. It was a small price to pay in order to find my dear Brunhilda.

The dungeons were a dank, terrifying place. I’d known many a mouse who chanced a journey into the dungeons to find extra morsels on which to snack. And those mice were never seen again. It’s been said that they found mazes and mazes of cheese and were lost within them.

I traveled deeper and deeper into the dungeons. I heard a voice echoing against the brick walls.

“Must find more…” the voice said. Over and over. Again and again. It was a haunting voice. Mournful.

Soon, I arrived at the maze of cheese. It was stacked from floor to ceiling, from wall to wall.

(editor’s note: Milton certainly is a wordy little mouse. He goes on describing the maze, how he got lost for a matter of minutes…which to him seemed like years. Finally he encounters the builder of the cheese maze. A rat named Montgomery.)

“You have quite a bit of cheese here, Montgomery,” I said, lowering my sword. I perceived no threat in this rat.

“You think so?” He looked around. “I still feel like the place is empty. I need more. More. MORE!”

“Have you ever thought about cleaning things up a bit?” I sniffed, breathing in the odor. Like feet mingling with food.

“Don’t you dare touch my cheese!” Montgomery’s voice became shrill. “I will rid this earth of you should you even think twice about manhandling my cheese!”

(editor’s note: Should it be ‘mouse-handling’?)

“Help!” A small voice echoed slightly off the cheese maze. “Help me, someone, please!”

“Who is that?” I asked.

“The last one who meddled with my cheese.” Montgomery sneered. “Some little kitchen wench. Came down here to clean things up a bit. Well, I taught her. She was so afraid of me when I backed her into that corner. And now she is powerless, behind a wall of cheese! Bwahahahaha!”

(editor’s note: Bwahahaha is over used on many things from Facebook comments to YouTube videos. This must be regulated.)

“Was it…could it possibly be…Brunhilda?” My heart beat with fear and my stomach clenched with anger. “You wouldn’t dare terrorize my own love.”

“Your love? Oh, that’s rich. A female like her would never give a first glance at you. You are nothing more than an undersized brown mouse. And a nerdy one at that.”

“I have but one question for you, Montgomery.”

“And what is that?”

“Do you ever eat the cheese?”

“My lovely cheese? Of course not. I could never. It would be like eating my very best friend.”

“Then, prepare to meet a very hungry friend of mine. Ed! This one’s dairy free!”

Ed, the famished feline, came running. He swerved a little and giggled a few times, slurring his words and professing his love to me. No matter, he came and in one gulp ate the lactose empty Montgomery.

“Thank you, dear friend,” I said.

“My pleasure,” he burped. “Ah, he was delicious.”

“Help me!” I heard the sing song voice of my Brunhilda.

“Is that a duck being squeezed?” Ed asked. “Or is a bunny being attacked?”

“No, silly cat. That is the voice of my lady love.”

“You are the strangest mouse I’ve ever met.”

“Help! I’m stuck in the cheese!” she yelled.

I followed the song of her voice. I found the wall of cheese that held her captive.

“I am coming my dear!” I had but one choice. All that was to be done was to make a feast out of that wall.

After hours and hours of chewing, I finally broke through. I saw her face. She smiled at me. Oh, the miracle of it all.

Then, after all this time, she finally put her lovely hand on me. She scooped me up and brought me close to her pink face.

“You are the cutest little mouse I ever seen,” she said. “I will keep you forever and always.”

Be still, small heart. Be still.

(editor’s note: Hold on…she scooped him up. Brought him to her pink face…is Brunhilda human?)

“I shall keep you in a small box in my room. And you will be called Speck forever and always.”

Brunhilda set me on her broad shoulder and walked over and around the cheese maze.

And here I am, in the very rapture of true love, living in a small box right beside my very own love.

Happily ever after.

(editor’s note: I’m not sure what just happened there. But I feel it necessary that I take just a moment to apologize to all of you who read this.)

Silence–Inspired by Annette Deaton

The winning story from last week is….drum roll…Cake, Inspired by Kristi West! Kristi also won the first week with her story idea for Scourge.

Congratulations to Kristi for two victories in a row! And, stay tuned this week for 3 more stories to vote on! And, I promise…there will be some laughs this week. I. Promise. Because nobody wants all downer stories the week of Christmas!

 

Today’s story idea comes from the lovely Annette Deaton. She also inspired The Farewell  (oh, that one…broke my heart to write). Here’s Annette’s second story idea…

Character: Lilly (age 7) is innocent

Setting: Psychologist’s Office

Conflict: 3 months after an accident, she still hasn’t talked. While playing with her toy horse at the psychologist’s office, she describes the accident from which she was miraculously saved.

Lilly played with her small, plastic horse. She moved it, as if in a gallop, across the gray carpet. Before the accident, she would have narrated the scene. The horse jumping over a hedge. The horse eating oats. The horse meeting friends.

But after the accident she played silently.

She hadn’t spoken for 3 months.

Her last sound was a scream right before she died.

Marian, Lilly’s mother, sat on the couch, gripping a pillow to her stomach with one arm, biting the fingernails of the other hand.

“Why won’t she talk?” Marian asked. “It’s been so long. And nothing is wrong with her. The doctor did one of them brain checker things.”

“A scan?” The psychologist asked. She wrote a few notes on a yellow legal pad.

“Yup. One of them. And he said there weren’t nothing wrong with her brain.” Marian looked at the psychologist. “So, she’s just being stubborn?”

“Your daughter experienced some sort of trauma. This is very common.”

“But, you know, I kinda feel like we’re wasting our money coming here. I mean, it’s been 3 months and you ain’t been able to get her to talk.”

“My objective is to find the root cause of her silence. Then we will be able to coax her to speak again.”

“What if she don’t never talk again?”

“Then you learn a different type of life.”

The two women looked at the young girl. She ran her index finger across the back of the toy horse.

“My boyfriend said it’s okay if she don’t talk no more.” Marian tore a piece of nail from her finger. “He said I should just leave her be.”

“How do you feel about your boyfriend saying that?”

“I don’t know.” Marian looked from one end of the room to the other, her eyes moving quickly. “It makes me wonder.”

The psychologist observed Marian’s behavior. She waited, giving space for Marian to keep talking. Almost allowing for Marian to forget that she was talking to a doctor.

“He was home alone with her that day. The day of the accident.” Marian sniffed. “I wonder a little if he didn’t do something to her. If he didn’t hurt her somehow.”

Lilly looked up at her mother.

“I mean,” Marian continued. “She did have a big gash on her head. And a couple bruises on her body.”

“Has your boyfriend been violent before?”

“Sure. You know. He smacks me around sometimes. But I never seen him lay a finger on Lilly before. Seemed to me he didn’t never pay her no mind before.”

“Marian, if you think he did something to your child, then why are you still living with him?”

Marian just shrugged. Shook her head. Kept her eyes still, looking into a corner.

“He told me she fell off the shed,” Marian said. “She was getting her frisbee  and fell off.”

“Do you believe him?”

“I ain’t never believed a word that come outta that man’s mouth.”

“Are you afraid to leave him?”

“Of course I am.”

“Where could you go to be safe?”

“I don’t got nowhere else.”

“What if we could get you some help?”

“I ain’t looking for no help.”

“Of course not. But what’s the harm in accepting help when it’s offered?” She looked at Lilly. “If you refuse to get away from him, I’ll have to have Lilly removed from the home.”

“You threatening me?”

“Do you feel threatened?”

“I guess not.”

Lilly stood, walked toward Marian and hugged her arm. She pressed her cheek into her mother’s shoulder.

“Mama,” she whispered. So softly that Marian wasn’t sure she’d heard anything. “Mama.”

Marian turned her head slowly. She kissed her daughter’s rust colored hair. “Did you say something, Baby?”

“He pushed me, Mama.”

“Who pushed you, Lilly? Where’d he push you?”

“Maxwell.”

“Lilly,” the psychologist said, coming near to Lilly and squatting next to her. “Who is Maxwell?”

“My boyfriend’s son,” Marian said. “He’s older. But he ain’t right in the head.”

“When you say he isn’t ‘right’, what do you mean?”

“He been like that since he was a boy. Couldn’t think like regular people.”

“He’s disabled?”

“Sure.”

“Mama,” Lilly said. “He wanted me to play on the shed with him. I’m sorry. I know I ain’t supposed to play up there.”

“What were you  playing on the shed?” the psychologist asked.

“He wanted to play dare. Where you get the other person to do something.” Lilly squeezed her mother tighter. “He wanted me to eat a bug. And I wouldn’t do it.”

“What happened next?”

“He got so mad. He was hitting me and pushed me off the shed.” Lilly let go of Marian. “He didn’t mean to hurt me, Mama.”

“Lilly,” the psychologist said. “Do you remember what happened then?”

“When I fell on the ground, it didn’t hurt. Then my heart felt funny. Like it was being lazy. And I felt like I was holding my breath. Like when I’m swimming.” Lilly pet her horse again. “I heard Maxwell screaming. Then somebody was yelling at him. It was a man yelling…”

“Was it your Mama’s boyfriend?”

“Yes. He told Maxwell I was dead.” Lilly cocked her head. “Was I really dead?”

“That’s what the doctor said,” Marian said. “You weren’t breathing.”

“How’d I hear him?”

“I don’t know, Baby.”

“But he told Maxwell he better not tell no one. He’d get in big trouble.”

“Was Maxwell upset?” the psychologist asked.

“I could hear him crying. He didn’t want to get put away.”

“Where would he be put?”

“In jail. Hid daddy told him he’d go to jail if he told anybody.”

“Do you remember anything else?”

“After a while it felt like my heart was moving again. And then I stopped holding my breath.”

“That was in the ambulance,” Marian said. “The doctors didn’t know how you started breathing again.”

“Can you tell us why you didn’t want to talk after the accident?” the psychologist asked.

“I don’t want Maxwell to get in trouble.” Lilly climbed onto her mother’s lap. “His daddy was so mad.”

“We gotta go sleep at Granny’s house tonight, Lilly,” Marian said. “I’ll keep you safe there.”

Lilly put her arms around Marian’s neck. “Make sure we get a safe place for Maxwell, too.”

Marian carried her little girl out of the office. She knew that she was going to start a new life.

Cake–Inspired by Kristi West

Today’s story idea comes from Kristi West…the woman behind the inspiration for Scourge (the winner of last week). Here’s her idea…

Frank: 40ish year old father of 3

Setting: His kitchen

Conflict: With his wife out of town, Frank must make his 10 year old daughter’s princess birthday cake. He’s never baked anything in his life.

Frank read the back of the cake box.

It really can’t be that hard, he thought. Why am I so worried about this cake?

He dumped the powdered mix into a bowl. Cracked a couple of eggs. Fished shards of the shell from the powder. Added oil and mixed.

I’m 44 years old. Climbed the corporate ladder. Stayed married to the same woman for 21 years; even through the worst times. Raised 3 daughters. I can make this cake. I can. Come on, Frank. Do this.

All the whirring of the mixer caught the attention of his daughter. Mindie. She scurried into the kitchen.

“Daddy! What are you doing?” she asked. “Are you making my birthday cake?”

“I am,” he answered.

“With pink and purple frosting?”

“What? But I thought you wanted chocolate.”

“That was yesterday, Daddy.”

“Well, I don’t know how to make pink and purple frosting.”

“You just add food coloring to it.” She smiled up at him. “You can do it, Daddy. I know you can!”

I can’t say ‘no’ to that, he thought. She’s had such a rough year.

“I’ll do my best.”

“I know you will, Daddy. But can you do one tiny little thing for me?”

“What’s that, honey?”

“Can you make it into a princess cake?”

“Of course.” He looked at her. “Wait. What do you mean?”

“You know. Make it so that one of my dolls can fit in the middle.”

“Like just put your doll into the cake?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that seems easy enough.”

“You wanna see a picture of it?”

“That might be a good idea.”

Mindie pulled a magazine picture out of her pocket, unfolded it and smoothed it on the counter. “Like this.”

Oh no. No way I can make that. With all the frosting and sprinkles and billowing skirts. I can’t do it.

“That’s pretty, Mindie.”

“So, can you do it?”

“I don’t know, Sweetie.”

“Mama could make it. You know. Before she got the way she is.”

“I know. But Mama’s in New Jersey.”

“Why can’t she come home? Just for tomorrow?”

“Honey, she’s sick…”

“But tomorrow’s my tenth birthday. That’s a really big deal.”

“You’re right. It is.” He picked up the picture. “Yeah. I can do this.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” She hugged him. But it was less of an excited hug. More of a needful hug.

How do I tell her that her Mama can’t come home because she’ll spend the whole time shoving needles into her veins? 

Frank baked the cake. Just in flat cake pans.

I’ll figure out the sculpting as soon as this thing is cool.

He placed the pans on the counter.

What am thinking? I can’t make this cake.

He sat at the table. Stared out the window.

I have to ask Angie for help.

He found his cell phone and sent a text message.

“I need help,” he typed.

“I’m busy,” Angie typed back.

“I’ll give you $20.”

“Ok.”

Angie walked slowly down the steps. Somehow she made her way through the hall and into the kitchen without taking her eyes off her phone.

“Angie, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Frank said.

“Why’d you text me? I was just upstairs.”

“Because I don’t want Mindie to know this isn’t working.”

“You gotta pay me. Promise?”

“Yes.” Frank dug a bill from his pocket. “Here.”

“Thanks,” she said, taking the money.

“So. What do I need to do? This cake has to look like a princess by Mindie’s party tomorrow.”

“You want me to tell you what to do?”

“Yes. Please.”

“Call Holly.”

“I’m not calling Holly.” He reached for his money. “Seriously, that isn’t $20 advice.”

“Holly makes wedding cakes, Dad. Call her.”

“She hates me.”

“But she loves Mindie. She’d do it for Mindie.”

I can’t call my own daughter. How pathetic is that. When did I let myself become afraid of her?

“The last time I saw her she told me to never call her.”

Angie looked up at him.

When did Angie get so pretty? Wasn’t she just turning 10? I can’t believe that was seven years ago.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she said.

“Like what?”

“Like you wish I was little again.” She looked down at her phone. “Holly’ll be here in half an hour.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, Dad. Really. And she’s bringing all her baking stuff.” She turned away. “You’re welcome.”

“You rock, Ang!”

“Yup. That’s apparent.”

She’s so unhappy. I wish I could take everything back. Why can’t I be the one to hold all the hurt? Why do these girls have to suffer?

Holly came exactly 30 minutes after the text. To the minute. She set up her cake baking tools. Mixed together the flour and sugar and eggs. Poured them into a special cake pan. Slid them into the oven.

All without speaking a single word.

Frank sent Angie a text message.

“She’s not talking.”

“Neither are you,” Angie typed back.

For being such a sullen person, Angie’s almost wise.

“Hey, Holly,” he said, watching his 20 year old daughter packing her blender. “Thanks so much.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” she said, not looking at him. “Mindie deserves to have at least one happy day this year.”

“I know. It’s been a bad year for all of us.”

“Where is Mindie, anyway?”

“In bed.”

“You didn’t want to keep her up to see me?”

Ouch. Such a bitter tone.

“She had a long day at school. Her teacher told me she’s been having trouble with the other kids in the class.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just, you know, the kids make fun of her.”

“For what?” She crossed her arms across her chest. “She’s a cute girl. She’s nice to everybody. What do they make fun of her for?”

Because of your Mom.”

“Why? Because you had her shipped off?”

“That’s not fair, Holly.” Frank hopped up to sit on the counter. “You know that’s not how it happened.”

“Addiction is a disease, Dad. You can’t just send away someone who has a disease.”

“People with cancer don’t eat cat food. People with cancer don’t beat up their little girls. People with cancer don’t sell their bodies for a rock of cocaine.”

“But at least when she was here I could make sure she was okay,” Holly said, tears in her eyes. “At least then I could take care of her.”

“You shouldn’t have had to do that, Holly.”

The timer buzzed.

“That’s the cake.” Holly went to the oven and took out the pans. “This looks pretty good.”

“Do you have stuff to make frosting?” Frank slid off the counter. “Mindie wants pink and purple.”

“Yeah. I can do that. Do we have a doll to put in the middle?”

“Yes. I got her one for a present. We can use that.”

Frank went to his bedroom. The doll was at the top of his closet. He reached, feeling for the box.

I never had to hide stuff from Holly and Angie. Man, Mindie loves searching for the presents.

He couldn’t feel it.

I swear I put it up here.

He checked behind some of his wife’s old clothes. Bulky sweaters and old jeans. Far too big for her after she started using heroin. His arm knocked them off, onto the floor.

There’s the doll.

He grabbed the oblong box. Behind it was something else. He grabbed it, thinking it was a stash of drugs.

I’m so sick of finding this crap.

It was a small, square box. There was a letter on top. In an envelope. On it, in his wife’s handwriting, was written “Mindie”.

When he got back to the kitchen, Frank handed the doll to Holly. He didn’t say anything about the box.

“I can’t frost this tonight,” Holly said. “You mind if I sleep in my old room and finish this in the morning?”

“Yeah. That would be great.”

The next morning, Mindie wore a new dress that her grandparents sent for her birthday. Angie and Holly made french toast and bacon for breakfast. Holly finished the cake. It was perfectly lovely.

Frank sat on the edge of his bed. Holding the box with Mindie’s name on it.

I should give this to her. But what’s in it? What if it’s something hurtful? It must have been up there this whole time. 

He shook the box. Something rattled inside.

Where would she get money for a present? I didn’t let her have anything. Too afraid she’d buy drugs.

“Daddy,” Mindie called from outside his door. “Daddy, come eat with us. Holly even warmed up the syrup. She made coffee for you, too.”

“I’ll be right out, honey.” He stood up. “Oh. Happy Birthday!”

“Thanks! Come one, Daddy.”

Frank slipped the box into his pocket. It was too big and fit awkwardly. He went to the kitchen.

“What’s in your pocket?” Angie asked.

“I found it in my closet.” He pulled it out. “It’s for Mindie. I think it’s from your Mom. But I’m kind of nervous about it.”

“For me?” Mindie asked. “Can I please have it?”

Frank looked at his older daughters. They nodded their heads. He handed the box to Mindie.

She opened the letter first. She read it out loud.

“Dear Mindie. Your Daddy is letting me go somewhere for a little while. I need to get help to get better. It’s going to take a really long time. Does that make you sad? Because it makes me sad. Mostly because I’m going to miss your 10th birthday. So, I wanted to give you a present anyway. I got this from my mom when I turned 10. It’s very special. So, you need to take really good care of it. Remember that I love you, even though sometimes I don’t act like it.”

Mindie opened the box. Inside was a charm bracelet. The chain was tarnished. A few of the charms were broken or missing. Frank’s heart sunk.

I shouldn’t have given her that. She’s going to be so disappointed.

“Daddy,” Mindie said, looking at the bracelet, holding it away from her face.

“Yes, Sweetie?”

“Can I call Mama?”

“We can try.”

“I want to tell her thank you.”

“That’s very sweet of you.”

He handed Mindie his phone.

While his youngest daughter talked to her mother, he broke down just a little.

I don’t want this to be their lives.

He felt two sets of thin arms circle around him. Angie and Holly.

“Dad, we’re going to be better because of this someday,” Angie said.

The three of them held on to each other tightly. They listened to Mindie talk to their mom. His wife.

On the counter was the most beautiful pink and purple princess cake.

On the hem of the doll’s frosting dress was a blue, swirling word.

“Hope”.

FYI

Hi, Everybody!

I have been working on the story for Friday morning ALL EVENING…and it’s not coming together the way it should.

So…please be patient. It will be up this afternoon. 

My deepest apologies.

Here’s a picture of me when I looked like a boy. I hope this makes up for the wait!

 

Chat–Inspired by Michelle Reinhold

Today’s story is inspired by Michelle Reinhold. Michelle is a long time and very close friend of mine. She is also a member of Kava Writer’s Collective (the best writer’s group in the world). But you need to know this about Michelle, she is a patient person. She went through my novel “Paint Chips” with a red pen, editing all 87,000 words (which, due to her excellent editing, became 76,000-ish). My novel is what it is because of her kind editing. 

Here’s Michelle’s story idea…

Katie: A teen who is lonely and isolated from friends and her faith

Setting: An Internet cafe Katie frequents after school

Conflict: Involved in an internet relationship with a college boy. She calls it just a long distance friendship, but it is really “friends with benefits” and their online chatter has become quite sexual in nature.

Katie clutched her netbook to her chest as she walked into the coffee shop. Walking to the counter, she fished a couple dollars from the pocket of her jeans.

“You want the usual?” the girl behind the counter asked. “Hot cocoa?”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Katie said.

“You come in here every day, don’t you?”

“Well, just after school.”

“What do you do on that laptop of yours? You’re always typing like crazy on it.”

“Just chatting with my friend.”

“A guy?” The girl behind the counter smiled. “Is it your boyfriend?”

“Well, not really. I don’t know. I think he’s just a good friend.” Katie paused and waited for the girl to swirl the whipped cream on her drink. “He’s in college.”

“Nice. An older man.”

“It’s not like that. He’s just a friend.”

“Sorry. Geez.” She rung up the price of the cocoa and took Katie’s money.

Katie found a table in the back corner of the coffee shop. She sat in the chair that would put her back against the wall. Opening the laptop, she checked the time on the bottom right of the screen.

3:25.

One minute before their scheduled “meet up” time.

“Hey,” she typed. “How r u?”

“Hi. I’m good.” His words appeared within seconds under the name Bill. “You?”

“Ok. At the coffee place.”

“Hot cocoa?”

“Yup.” She took a sip. “Yum!”

“Wish I could have a sip.”

“You should come visit sometime.”

“Can’t for a long time. Too much going on at school.”

“College must be alot of work.”

“A lot. They’re two words.”

“Right. Sorry.” Katie flushed, embarrassed.

“So, what’re you wearing?”

Katie looked at her outfit. A baggy, gray t-shirt, faded jeans, her hair in a ponytail.

“I wore a short skirt to school. Almost got in trouble.”

“I bet all the boys were checking you out.”

“Yeah. I get that a lot.” Kate bit the inside of her cheek. A habit she had whenever she lied. “I’m used to it.”

“You’re gonna get me all jealous.”

“Well, their just kids. Not a man like you.”

“They’re…as in ‘they are just kids’.”

Kate sipped her cocoa. The cursor on the screen blinked. She didn’t know what to say. He was always correcting her. It drove her crazy.

“FYI, Katie, that’s 2 strikes. One more error and it’s 3 strikes, you’re out.”

“Sorry. I’ll do better.” She tried to think. Quickly. How to keep him online. “So, do you want to be bad today?”

“Not today.”

“Why not?”

“Because your mom caught us. Remember?”

“I told her we were done.”

“What about your friends? I thought you said they didn’t like me.”

“I don’t talk to them anymore.” It was true. Katie had cut them all off. He was more important to her. “If they don’t like you, they don’t like me.”

“And the church stuff? You don’t think it’s wrong to talk like that to me when you’re going to church?”

“I don’t really go anymore. When I do, I help in the nursery. I can’t stand the pastor.”

“Why not?”

“All I want is to be with  you.” She wanted to cry. But fought it. “I’m lonely without you.”

“I know. Me too.”

“Then why can’t we ever get together. I could use my mom’s car.”

“No. You can’t do that.”

“Why not? She wouldn’t care. She’s too busy with her new boyfriend. She’d love to have me out of the house for a weekend.”

“I wish we could make it work. I’d love to hold you.”

“I now.”

“It’s ‘know’. Strike 3.”

“Wait. Don’t go. I’ll do anything.”

“What would we do if we were alone on an island?”

“I thought you didn’t want to be like that today.”

“I changed my mind. Tell me.” There was a brief pause. “Would you be a tease?”

“At first. But only because I’d feel very shy.”

“I promise, I won’t look. Why don’t you take a dip in the ocean.”

“But I don’t have a swim suit.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be a gentleman.”

Katie typed furiously. Building this fantasy with a man she never met. But, to her, this was all very real. It wasn’t until she tipped her hot cocoa off the table that she snapped out of her imaginings.

Chocolate and milk covered her pants. It was cold. The girl behind the counter rushed over with towels.

“I’ll get it,” Katie said. “It’s okay.”

“But you got it all over you,” the girl said.

“I said it was fine.”

“Alright.” The girl turned to walk away. “You’re kind of rude. I just wanted to help you.”

“Sorry,” Katie said. “I was just a little embarrassed.”

“It’s alright.” The girl turned back around. “How’s it going with your friend?”

Katie looked at the screen. He was asking where she was. What she was doing. Why she hadn’t responded. He threatened to disconnect. Gave her one more chance.

“Okay, I guess.”

“You were getting all flushed a few minutes ago. Everything okay?”

Kate turned her eyes up toward the other girl. “Yeah.”

“Just make sure that guy’s a good one. You don’t need to be involved with a jerk, you know.”

“I know.” She put her hands back on the keyboard. “Listen, I gotta get back to him. He’s about to log off.”

“I get it.” The girl went back to the counter.

“Sorry,” Kate typed. “Spilled hot cocoa all over myself.”

“Got you going, huh?” His words.

“I guess so.”

“How about you post a picture of yourself. You know what I like.”

“I can’t. My mom checks the cache on the computer. And she took the data off my phone.”

“I hate your mom.”

Katie felt a tug of loyalty. Who was this guy saying bad things about her mom. But she didn’t want him to log off. Not yet.

“I know,” she wrote.

“Listen, I gotta go. Class starts soon. Chat later.”

“Ok. I love you.”

“Okay. Later.”

The screen showed that he logged off.

Katie gathered her things. Smiled at the girl behind the counter and walked out of the coffee shop.

One hundred miles away, Bill shut down his computer. He sat at his desk. He heard noises from upstairs. They were home.

He smoothed back his hair. Made sure he was pulled back together after his fantasy trip with Katie. He walked up the steps.

Opening the door, he saw his wife and kids. He smiled. Forgetting all about Katie and the island.

Marry Christmas–Inspired by Holly Becker

The votes are in! Last week’s winner was Scourge inspired by Kristi West! Congratulations, Kristi! You’re moving on to the finals!

Today’s story idea comes from the Fabulous Holly Becker. During the last challenge, she came up with the ideas for The Hostage and Playing Debussy (which wasn’t only a finalist in the first challenge, but has gone on to become a MUCH longer story and an entry into another short story contest). Here’s Holly’s idea…

1. Drew- indecisive

2. Family Christmas Dinner

3. Has planned to propose, but now isn’t so sure.

Marry Nonsense

“I can’t believe it’s snowing,” Lydia said from the passenger seat.

How can she not believe it’s snowing? Drew thought. It’s December for goodness sake. It’s actually supposed to snow in December.

He looked at her. She was gorgeous. The perfectly cute button nose, rosy cheeks, straight teeth, the subtle curl to her hair. Just beautiful.

But not a lot going on in that head of hers.

Just a pretty girl.

Who was kind of mean. And demanding. And controlling.

And so, so skinny. She was a cheerleader. And not one on the bottom of the pyramid…if you know what I mean.

But she was a little too obsessed with her figure. She studied her butt in every mirror. And that could get a bit annoying.

“I know,” Drew said. “Snow is perfect for Christmas.”

“Perfect? Really, Drew. My hair is going to get all staticky.” She looked at him sideways. “And you know why they call it staticky, right? Because it’s icky.”

“Your hair is always beautiful.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Lydia pulled out her smartphone and opened her Facebook.

“I’m kind of nervous to meet your parents,” Drew said. “Do you think they’ll like me?”

“Oh my word!” Lydia’s shriek nearly made Drew veer off the road. “I can’t believe it!”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Stacie Newler just got engaged.”

“That’s great!”

“No it isn’t. It’s just not fair! I mean, she and her boyfriend have only been dating 8 months. We’ve been dating way longer than that!”

“It’s only been 9 months.”

“9 months in Hollywood is like…it’s like…forever!”

Drew cleared his throat. “Well, Sugar Plum, we don’t live in Hollywood.”

Lydia screamed again.

“What is it this time?” he asked.

“You totally drove right by my parents’ house!”

By the time Drew and Lydia walked up to the house, she was a complete mess. She pouted and slumped.

Drew felt the box in his coat pocket, just to make sure it was still there. It was a small, velvet box. Inside was a silver ring with a large, sparkly diamond on it.

I just need to get a minute alone with her dad to ask his blessing, he thought. I hope he’s not a shot-gun guy.

“Mom, Dad. I’m home,” Lydia yelled. She dropped her bag on the floor. “Come meet my boyfriend.”

“We’re in the living room,” a woman’s voice resonated through the house.

“Come on,” Lydia said, pulling Drew by the hand. “You have to meet my parents. They are so amazing!”

Suddenly, a man was embracing both of them.

“Oh, my baby! I’m so glad you’re here,” the man said.

Who is this guy? Drew wondered. And why is he crying?

“Daddy,” Lydia said, nuzzling her face into her father’s chest, drawing Drew even closer. “This is my boyfriend. His name’s Drew. Isn’t he handsome?”

“Oh, the boyfriend.” Lydia’s dad broke the hug and put his fists out. “You’d better be nice to her or I’ll have to give you a knuckle sandwich. Just kidding. I’m a pacifist.”

“Okay.” Drew shook the man’s hand. “I’m actually a Marine.”

“Well, my name is Edwin. And I think what you do is…uh…great-ish.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Drew looked at Lydia. She wasn’t paying attention. “Listen, Edwin, if I could talk with you for a moment. Later. Not right now.”

“Sure. You’d better be asking to marry her. She just loves you so much. She calls me all the time talking about you.” Edwin gave Drew a tiny, passive shove on the shoulder. He hugged Drew again. “So, does this mean I can call you ‘son’?”

“Well, sure. I guess. I don’t know. Isn’t it a little soon for that?”

“I’m just joshin’ ya’, Drew. Or am I?” He laughed again. “It’s hard to read me, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. I’m really not sure.”

“It’s all the pot I smoked in the 70’s.”

“Great. That’s fantastic.”

What the heck am I getting myself into? Drew thought. Remain calm. Remain calm. 

“Doris! Come meet Drew,” Edwin yelled. “My wife is really excited about meeting you.”

“I’m in the middle of something, Edwin,” the woman who Drew assumed was Doris yelled. “Just get him something to eat, will ya!”

“Alright, darling,” Edwin called back. “So, Drew. You a meat eater? We’re vegans here.”

“Well, I’ll eat meat. But I can do without.”

“Right. You’ll be amazed how I can make a piece of tofu taste like bacon. It’s like magic. You’ll never want to eat another’s flesh again.”

“Lydia, you coming?” Drew asked.

“Huh?” She looked up from her phone. “Well, don’t you want to talk to Daddy? You know, get to know him. Ask him questions?”

“The girl knows what she wants.” Edwin looked at Drew. “I can just tell. You two are soul mates.”

Edwin grabbed Drew’s head and planted a kiss on his forehead.

“Love you, Son,” he said.

Edwin started crying.

That night, Drew let his head push heavily into the pillow. The couch wasn’t too uncomfortable. But it was just lumpy enough to keep him awake.

He held the engagement ring between his finger and thumb. Two month’s salary spent on such a small token. Giving this ring to Lydia would change everything.

Marry Lydia…have a hot wife. Never be lonely. Have beautiful children. A father in law that loves me.

Marry Lydia…have an insecure wife who is abnormally obsessed with her looks. Never have a moment to myself. Get calls and texts all day from her, begging me to stroke her ego. Do I want to let her bare my children? Have a father in law that creeps me out.

Don’t marry Lydia…find someone else. Someone healthy. Someone I can trust. Be much more picky about who I pick.

Don’t marry Lydia…face the possibility that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life. Die alone. 

Drew battled back and forth with pros and cons and cons and pros. There didn’t seem to be a perfect option.

Edwin walked down the steps. In just his tighty-whities.  And black socks pulled all the way up to his knees.

Drew closed his fist around the ring and sat up quickly.

“Don’t mind me, Drew. Just needed a midnight snack.” Edwin walked into the kitchen, scratching his behind. “This would be a good time for that talk.”

Drew stood up and followed Edwin.

“Yes. Um, sir, I was hoping to talk to you about your daughter.”

“I know.” Edwin opened a take out carton. “Lo Mein?”

“No thanks.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.” Drew sat at the kitchen table. “Um, I was thinking about asking if I could marry your daughter.”

“Thinking about it? So you aren’t sure?” Edwin shoved food into his mouth. “It’s a big decision, isn’t it?”

“It really is.”

“When I asked Lydia’s mom to marry me…well…let’s see…” Edwin looked into a corner of the kitchen. “What was I saying?”

“You were going to tell me about when you asked Doris to marry you.”

“Oh, I was?”

“Yeah.”

Edwin laughed. Lo Mein fell from his mouth. “You know, Son, I really don’t remember my proposal. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember our wedding. That’s what drugs do to you, Son. Just say no.”

“Thanks, Edwin, I’ll keep that in mind.” Drew straightened in his seat. “The thing is…”

“The thing is that I might be a washed up hippie with a lot of flashbacks. But I do know this, if you don’t know if you should marry someone, well, then you shouldn’t even ask in the first place.”

“But what if it’s just cold feet?”

“If there’s a doubt, you should wait. You’ll save a lot of feelings that way.” Edwin smiled. “Don’t be the first guy I have to smack in 35 years. Alright. I’d hate to break my non-violence streak.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Because if you get engaged to my little girl and then break her heart, I’ll slap you right across the face.” Edwin set his jaw and puffed out his chest. “Although a slap probably isn’t too much of a treat to a guy like you.”

“Not really.”

“You just have to know that I can’t stand to see my baby heartbroken. It changes me inside to see her sad. And I’ll do anything to protect her.” He rubbed his stubbly face. “You’ll understand when you become a father.”

“I’m sure I will, sir.”

“Well, I’m going to bed now.” Edwin put the carton back in the refrigerator. “Seriously, Drew, an engagement at Christmas is never a good idea. If you watched more television, you’d know that.”

Drew sat in the kitchen, looking at the ring.

“Good morning, Drew,” Doris said. Her face was inches from his. “What are you doing on the kitchen floor?”

“Oh. I must have fallen asleep in here,” Drew said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s Christmas.” She stood and leaned over the stove, lighting her cigarette on the burner. “Edwin said you had a good talk last night.”

“Sure, yeah.” Drew sat up, put the ring on his pinky finger.

“So, you got a nice present for Lydia?”

“Well, I’m kind of afraid that I forgot to pack it.”

“Why don’t you give her that big rock you got on your little finger there?”

“Oh, that? Well, that’s something else.”

“Don’t sweat it, Drew. Edwin told me everything.” She smiled. “Did he tell you about the day he proposed to me?”

“No ma’am. He couldn’t remember.”

“Oh, bologna. He remembers alright.” She took a drag on the cigarette. “He was so terrified. Couldn’t barely get the words out. He was sweating and shaking. It was very charming.”

“Why was he so nervous?”

“Because he knew that I wasn’t sure about him. I had lots of doubts. Let me tell you, that man loved looking at himself in the mirror. And was he ever needy? Always wanting to know when I’d be home or what I was doing. I thought he was going to make me crazy. All his crying. Oh goodness.”

“But you said ‘yes’? Even though you weren’t sure?”

“Let me tell you something. There’s something about seeing someone in a different way. When I saw how scared he was, it made me know that he really loved me. That he truly wanted to be with me for the rest of his life. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been sweating through his poncho.”

“He wore a poncho?”

“It was the 70’s, Drew. Don’t try to understand. Just keep up.” She put out her cigarette in the sink. “Anyway, I said ‘no’ that day.”

“Wait, I thought this was a proposal story.”

“Oh, and it is. I said ‘no, not now’.” She washed her hands. “He was the right guy. It just wasn’t the right time. We both had a lot of growing up to do.”

Lydia walked into the kitchen. Her hair was a frizzy mess, pulled back into a floppy bun. She wore baggy, stained pajamas and fluffy slippers. She had no make up on. A crease ran across her cheek from the pillow. Her eyes were puffy and had crusty bits of sleep in the corners.

She has never looked more beautiful, Drew thought.

“Mommy, can you make some coffee, please?” Lydia asked.

“Sure thing, honey,” Doris answered.

“Merry Christmas, Drew.” When Lydia looked at him, Drew got a knot in his stomach.

He held the ring, pushing the diamond into the palm of his hand.

Not today, he said to himself. But another day. After we both do a little growing up.

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