Janine’s Gift

Janine Richardson was an ordinary woman. She was so ordinary in fact that she was certain this was how people described her if they ever stopped to give her a second thought. Janine wore her mousy brown hair in a short bob, in the same style she had worn for as long as she could remember. She was painfully thin, some would even say ‘skinny’, which she grew to learn was not exactly a compliment. Her face was narrow, her coloring pale. If Janine spent more than fifteen minutes in the open sunlight, she would suffer a horrendous sunburn, then peel, but never, ever tan. Her hazel eyes were unremarkable, hidden behind large, round, tortoise shell glasses. Her mouth was neither pouty, nor full and when she smiled, although her teeth were perfectly straight, they appeared too small due to an excess of gum tissue. It was a defect she had always wanted to have corrected, but had never gotten around to doing. As a result of her childish grin, Janine rarely smiled. When she did smile, her mouth formed a controlled, thin-lipped line that curved up ever so slightly at the corners.

Janine was never popular in high school save a few close friends, a trend which continued into her adult life. Primarily the issue was her apparent invisibility. Her personal style of dress was comfortable, in part due to a lack of fashion sense and her predilection for discount clothing stores. Naturally shy, she was not a stellar conversationalist, or story teller at social events. When Janine passed by, men did not turn their heads to look at her and rarely held doors for her. Other women did not seek her out for friendship, and were not generally envious of her with one small exception: Janine was blessed with an extremely high metabolism. She could eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, without ever gaining a single ounce. This unique quality led to her adoration and appreciation of foods from around the globe.     

Janine met her husband, Carl McGraff, during their senior year of high school. Carl was one of only two boys who had ever expressed even a vague interest in Janine. She and Carl dated for several months. Janine was unreservedly smitten with Carl and he was passively indifferent to her. During the summer after high school, Janine discovered that she was pregnant. They decided to keep the baby and were married in a small, private ceremony. Carl put off college and went to work for a local Real Estate Agency. On the eve of their marriage, he confessed that he had planned to break up with Janine on the very night that she had told him about the baby. Consequently, her walk down the aisle felt to her more like a death march.

When their daughter, Hope, was born Janine’s life was renewed; she found her purpose in motherhood and was fine with being a housewife. Shortly after Hope’s birth, Carl took up residence in the spare bedroom and there were no further additions to their small family. Still, Carl was enamored of baby Hope. Unlike Janine, Hope was extraordinary. She was blessed with the best mix of Carl and Janine’s gene pool: Carl’s blond hair and ice blue eyes, and Janine’s slight build. Before she even learned her first words, Hope began making lyrical sounds and repeating them. By the time she was four years old she began singing and as she grew, she lit up a room with her mere presence. Hope both resembled and sang like an angel.

Carl and Janine were good parents and the business of their marriage was a success. They owned a small, comfortable cape-cod style home in Portsmouth, Rhode Island with a tidy fenced-in yard. In their savings and retirement accounts, they had an appropriate amount of money. Their garage housed two well-maintained, late model vehicles, one sedan, one SUV. Respected in their small community, they helped neighbors in need, and went to church every Sunday.  

Over the years, Carl had become a Real Estate Broker and by the time Hope was in middle school he owned his own agency. He worked every weekend, partly out of necessity, and partly by choice. He and Janine had few ‘couple friends’, as the other couples in town sensed something was amiss in Carl and Janine’s relationship and distanced themselves, as if a bad marriage might be contagious. The women in town gossiped about or pitied Janine. Did Janine know? They wondered. She must! They assumed. 

Carl had his Monday night bowling league and his Thursday night pool league. He had his friends from high school who had elected to never leave their home town but instead worked as plumbers, electricians, and fire fighters. He knew all of the other small business owners, and the local politicians. Carl was a town institution and an affable guy.

Janine joined the PTA and kept busy by volunteering, first at Hope’s elementary school, then at her middle school, and finally at her high school. She took Hope to her soccer practices, her dance classes, her piano, and voice lessons. She baked for the school bake sales, assisted with the school fund raisers, and chaperoned the field trips. She was a member of the neighborhood book club and on occasion she went out for lunch or dinner with a few of the other mothers where they talked about family and how their children were doing in school.

For fun Janine obsessively watched the food network. Utterly enthralled, she practiced her cooking skills along with the shows. Mealtime was an adventure in the McGraff household. Even Carl raved about her cooking! Often, Janine brought her creative cuisine to Carl’s office for his staff to enjoy. She had always thought working for Carl would make perfect sense, keeping the books, or answering the phones, but he insisted that it would ruin their relationship. Oddly she never felt as at ease at the agency as she thought she should. The female Realtors rarely made direct eye contact with her and always seemed to be in a hurry, on their way to some extremely important showing.

Gourmet Cheese Plate

When Hope began High School, Janine accepted a part-time office position working for a general practioner in their small town. Dr. Sullivan was wonderful to work with and Janine thrived in her position and eventually became the Office Manager. Dr. Sullivan was an old school practitioner; he liked paper files and still made house calls for some of his elderly patients. When he retired and sold the practice four years later, the new young doctor opted to hire his own staff rendering Janine unemployed.

When the time came, Hope was accepted to multiple Universities but was offered a partial scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. The school was an excellent fit for Hope and was close enough for her to come home whenever she wished, which Janine assumed would be often. Carl insisted they could not afford the tuition unless Janine found a new position. With her limited computer skills, the only job Janine could find was as a receptionist for the law firm Stuart, Craig and Glenn, PLC in Providence. Although Janine was not thrilled about commuting to the city, for Hope she was willing to make any sacrifice. The lawyers of the firm, Bob Stuart, Steve Craig and Alan Glenn were all very professional and driven. Janine thought it unusual that all three men had two first names and it brought back a bad memory. Her freshman year in high school, a boy in her class with two first names, Jason Logan, incessantly teased her and coined the knick name, “Skinny Jinny” which had followed her through all four years.

On her first day at the firm, Janine was both nervous and excited. Attorney Glenn accidentally referred to her as Jean. Janine tried to correct him at the time, but he interrupted her and ever since has identified her as Jean. Janine’s one and only friend in the firm, Amy Brown, the Human Resources Assistant, often told Janine she should set him straight. Janine just never saw the point, except that there were times when Attorney Glenn became annoyed that Janine did not answer when he asked for things. It made for an awkward situation. 

While the other office girls, the paralegals and administrative assistants went to lunch together every day from 12-1pm, Janine was never asked to join. She had to cover the phones at all times. The firm believed having a “live” receptionist set them apart from the other firms, and gave them a personal touch. Janine’s lunch break was from 11:00am-12:00pm when call volume was the lowest, yet she was still expected to answer if the phone rang.

On a daily basis Amy joined Janine at the front desk in the event that Janine was chewing when a call came in and she needed Amy to answer on her behalf. Janine had never had a friend quite like Amy. Amy lived for gossip and always had the latest scoop on their co-workers. Janine silently believed that when Amy shared these stories it was horribly unethical, but lunch was the highlight of her otherwise dull day. Janine brought her culinary delights to share as a way to thank Amy for her midday companionship. Over Taiwanese noodles, or sweet and spicy tofu, or lobster tacos with tangy lime sauce, Amy dished the dirt.

Seasonal Vegetables with Hummus and Bruchetta

Apparently Attorney Glenn was sleeping with one of the paralegals. His wife was suing him for divorce and it was very ugly. Attorney Stuart was suffering with some type of horrendous cancer and had been seeking treatment for some time. There was serious concern over the future welfare of the firm if anything happened to him because he brought in all of the largest clients. For Janine, the firm’s daily soap opera was infinitely more exciting than her lackluster life, rendered even more so now that Hope was away at school and rarely found time to come home.

Janine missed Hope terribly! She and Carl went to see every musical theatre production at the Conservatory, even if Hope only had a small role to play. It was one of the few things they did together as a couple. By her senior year at the Conservatory, there were only starring roles for Hope, and Janine realized that their little town of Portsmouth would never be big enough to hold her shining star. She began to panic at the thought of Hope never returning home. Their quaint little house already felt enormous as result of Janine’s loneliness.

One day on a whim Janine asked Amy how she thought that Mrs. Glenn had discovered the affair. Amy said it was probably in the usual way, by reading her husband’s text messages, or reviewing the credit card statements. She added that any woman would have to be blind not to see what was happening, but then some women were that way, or they simply chose to look the other way. Then, Amy began raving about the butter chicken Janine had brought for lunch and insisted Janine had a gift, and she should open a restaurant. Janine rolled her eyes and thought: sure a thirty-nine year receptionist opens a restaurant. I bet that happens every day! Amy went on to come up with names for Janine’s imaginary restaurant: Janine’s Creative Cuisine, or Just Janine’s.   

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Cafe Au Lait Ice Cream

Even though it was silly, Janine allowed herself to fantasize about restaurant ownership. Some days she did not even hear the phone at the reception desk until the fifth or sixth ring startled her back to reality. During slow periods at work, she conducted online searches for commercial real estate for lease and cooking classes. Having a secret wish, made her feel powerful, alive.

After bowling one evening while Carl showered in hall bathroom, Janine heard his cell phone pinging and chiming with messages. She put down the book that she was reading, climbed out of bed and walked into the guest room where Carl’s phone rested on the nightstand. Carl never left his phone lying around. He constantly kept it with him because as he said, in his line of work he could not afford to miss an important client call or message. Janine, who had always respected Carl’s privacy in the past, uncharacteristically flipped through his text messages.

She scrolled through texts from his friends and some work related messages. Then she paused when she saw several messages from Ashley Peterson an agent who worked in Carl’s office. In stunned silence, Janine read the messages and stared in disbelief at photos of the blond-haired, green-eyed, curvy agent. Past encounters with Ashley flashed through Janine’s mind. Ashley had always been pleasant but dismissive at the same time about the food Janine brought or about Janine’s attire: “Well doesn’t that look delicious! If you eat carbs, I mean!” And, “oh, what and interesting blouse!” Janine felt her stomach sicken and her face redden when she read one of Ashley’s recent texts: Miss you already! Have fun going home to your frumpy little wife! In the photos, Ashley was posing in a provocative way, in an extremely revealing outfit.

Janine felt something snap inside of her like an elastic band that had been wound too tight for far too long.

When she no longer heard the water running in the shower, Janine carefully put Carl’s phone back in the exact same location where she had found it. She tiptoed to her room, switched off the lamp, and quickly and quietly dressed in her pajamas before she slipped under the floral quilt of her bed. Once she heard Carl close his bedroom door, she wept silently until her pillowcase was damp with tears and permitted the darkness to hug and envelope her until she slept.

The following week Janine asked Amy if she knew who Mrs. Glenn had hired as her divorce lawyer. Amy answered without inquiry. Amy was her best friend, but Janine knew she was little more than a sounding board for Amy. As Amy prattled on, Janine rarely got in a single word. So while she had planned to tell Amy so many things, like that she had made an appointment for laser gums contouring, somehow she never had the chance. Instead she took a sick day one Friday, underwent the painful procedure, recovered over the weekend, practiced smiling for the next week, and waited for anyone to notice. It took Amy three days and Carl a solid week. The power of invisibility, Janine thought, was that no one even noticed when you were gone.

Her new contact lenses initiated a more expedient response from both Amy and Carl, but Attorney Glenn had asked her if she had changed her hairstyle. No, Janine thought, but it’s long overdue! Being able to see without feeling like she was looking out a thick window had literally opened her eyes to a world of possibilities and her brand new smile gave her just a hint of confidence. 

Johnson and Wales University was conveniently located nearby the law firm, so Janine enrolled in evening cooking classes. After class, when she went home to her empty house, she was too tired to dwell on the fact or too busy with homework. Janine excelled in her classes. One added benefit was that everyone wore chef’s clothing, so there were no wardrobe concerns. She felt like she fit in for the first time in her life.  

Hope’s college graduation marked the last McGraff family celebration. Following the ceremony, they dined in downtown Boston bistro with some of Hope’s friends and their families. It was a spectacular day! Hope could not get over Janine’s transformation and kept saying so. The next day, brimming with pride, Janine and Carl helped Hope pack for her move to New York City where she planned to pursue her dream of performing in musical theatre. They all said tearful goodbyes and Carl and Janine promised to come see every production without fail.

Fourth of July weekend while Carl was attending a real estate convention in Las Vegas, Janine packed her belongings, and assisted by a team of movers, moved into a one bedroom apartment in Providence, close to both work and school. She had never lived in a city before and was excited about the very idea of it and enthusiastic about dining in the wide array of restaurants downtown. She planned to celebrate her 40th Birthday in August with some of her friends from school and with Amy, of course, at a new up and coming restaurant called Out of the Blue.

When Carl returned home, he would find the divorce papers on his nightstand with a pen and a stamped, return address envelope. After all, it was common courtesy, Janine thought, to let Carl know her new address.  

Bar Fly Away

Women’s Fiction/Romance

By Eileen Slovak

Photo from: http://www.zagat.com

Nadia was no bar fly, but her roommate Tina fit the profile.

Friday nights at Joe’s Tiki bar in Miami, Tina would routinely perch on the edge of a bar stool, pitching forward, revealing her substantial cleavage, while flipping her false blonde locks at some unsuspecting fool. The dim torchlight masked the pockmarked skin and smoke-stained smile that would cause men to recoil in daylight. Nevertheless, some always sought her sort of promiscuity.

In front of the bathroom mirror in the apartment she shared with Tina, Nadia absently brushed her resplendent black hair. “I’m just not up for the bar scene tonight, T. I think I’ll stay in.”

“For cripes sake Nod, you’ll never get a boyfriend hiding in the apartment.”

I wouldn’t call your one-night playthings boyfriends, Nadia thought.“I’m tired, she said, “and I’m just not…like you, T.”

Nadia dreaded the sounds of Tina’s nightly entertainment reverberating through the thin walls.  As a mid-year transfer to The University of Miami, limited housing options had led to her current residence, but as the new school year approached, she had already begun apartment hunting.

“I know,” said Tina, with her hands on her hips, “I get it. You’re not outgoing.  But I can show you how to get noticed.”

What if I don’t want that kind of attention? Nadia thought looking her roommate up and down. Tina’s reptile-print, tube dress, reminded Nadia of a nature program where an anaconda swallowed a Cayman whole.

“Come on, Nod,” Tina pleaded. “You know I hate going out alone.”

“Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt,” Nadia said applying pale pink lip-gloss to her full lips. Brushing mascara on her generous lashes, she accented her chocolate-brown eyes. She dusted her cheeks with blush, although her flawless, olive skin required nothing.  After adjusting the straps of her stunning black sun dress, she slipped on low sandals.

“I’m ready,” Nadia said.

“Show some skin!” Tina bellowed. “Look at me!”

Nadia resisted saying what she was thinking and instead picked up her purse and followed Tina out the door. As they walked two blocks to the Bar, Tina gulped down a liquored concoction from a large, plastic cup while Nadia looked up at the starlit sky, wishing on each burning light.

“Look out boys,” Tina snorted, “here comes trouble with a capital T!”

Steamy nights meant full club capacity with customers spilling into the streets. Jimmy Buffet’s vocals filled the acrid air. Navigating through a blur of Hawaiian shirts and scanty dresses, Nadia reached the bar, but Tina had slipped away, having found her evening’s mark, she was jigging and singing, “Wasted away again in Margaritaville.”

Moments later with a pink, frozen drink in hand, Nadia slipped to the upper deck, away from the crowd to survey it from a distance. She rested her cup on the deck rail thinking, there must be a better way.

A couple staggering toward the stairs bumped the rail sending Nadia’s drink toppling over. She reached up too late to retrieve it. A waterfall of pink slush landed squarely on a young man below.

“I’m so sorry!” Nadia called down, her long hair waving in the breeze.

Dumbfounded, the man looked up. The right shoulder of his white shirt soggy with the pink mixture, he flashed Nadia a brilliant smile.

“Where I come from,” he said, “its good luck when a beautiful woman spills her drink on you.  So, if you don’t let me buy you another, I’ll be ruined.  What do you say?”

“Is that really true?” she asked walking down the stairs toward him.

“No,” he said, looking into her eyes. He took her hand on the last stair. “I’m Santo,” he said. His eyes remained fixed on hers. He wore his dark hair on the long side and the now wet shirt showed off his fit physique.

“I’m Nadia,” she said.

“Well Nadia, I wish it was true. But one look into your eyes tells me I could never tell you a lie.”

“Then, I say yes,” she smiled and that was how Nadia met her future husband.

-The End

The No Sleepover (YA Fiction)

 

“Let’s raid the fridge,” Maggie said, bounding toward the kitchen in the dark; bare feet slapping on pine floorboards. Through tired rooms, lit via streetlight, Scarlet shadowed her best friend. Passing open windows, sheer curtains nipped her slim legs, specter-like.

“Isn’t it mango day?” Scarlet asked, offering a gentle reminder of the Beverly Hills diet code.

“If I even look at another mango, I’ll toss my cookies. Hmmm, are there any cookies?”

“My mom only buys cheap no name brand; check in Humpty Dumpty.”

Maggie lifted the cookie jar lid and gave it a sniff with a wrinkled nose, “smells stale, definitely not worth the calories.”

“We could make some Toll House,” Scarlet offered, uncertain if enabling was the right course.

“Yeah! Wait…do you think we’ll wake your parents up?”

Snores, muted by the carpeted stairwell, emanated from the upstairs bedroom.

“Doubt it. Just to be safe, we’ll mix by hand and time them on our swatches.”

“Right. Let’s synchronize our swatches. Or…we could just make the dough and eat it all.”

Maggie switched on the orb that dangled over the kitchen table, a strange moon from an odd planet. Yellow and orange light flooded the room.

“True.” Scarlet began pulling ingredients from the cabinets, the chocolate chip cookie recipe etched on her brain.

“Where did your mom get that light, anyway?”

“Yard sale, I’m sure.”

Under artificial light, the windows went black, reflecting the image of the two girls in their long t-shirts. Scarlet worked like a chemist, measuring flour, sugar and baking soda into a bowl.  Maggie pulled butter and eggs from the mustard-yellow refrigerator. Balancing the items in her hands, she pushed the door closed with one elbow and dropped an egg, splat, on the worn linoleum floor.

“Whoops!”

“I got it.” Flour-handed, Scarlet snatched paper towels from a roll, and sopped up the gooey egg and shell. She fetched a fresh egg from the bin while Maggie rolled the wrapped stick of butter between warm palms, softening it, before plopping it into a bowl. She popped chocolate chips into her mouth from an open bag while Scarlet blended in the last few ingredients.

Once the dough was complete, Maggie poured two tall glasses of cold milk. Scarlet carried the gooey concoction, spoons in hand, to the sun porch and laid the bowl on the table between two opposing couches. Carrying the milk, Maggie found her friend, bathed in gray-blue TV light, standing in the middle of the sun room practicing her warrior pose on the brown shag carpet.

Taking a slurp of milk, Maggie placed the glasses on the table next to the cookie dough. She plunked down on her sleeping bag, occupying the full length of the couch, and twirled a long blonde curl around her finger. “I hate being a big girl.”

“You’re not a big girl, you’re tall.”

“No, you’re tall.  I’m an Amazon.” Maggie scooped up dough with a spoon and stuffed it into her mouth.

“Okay then, an Amazon warrior princess,” Scarlet said, flexing her arms.

Maggie laughed. “Where’s Catherine?”

“She’s at her friend Stacey’s, her second home.” Scarlet, balanced on one leg and reached for a spoonful of dough. Losing her balance, she toppled to the floor.

“I wish I had a sister,” Maggie sighed.

“You can have mine.” Scarlet laughed, dropping into a squat and hopping frog-like over to the TV. She manually switched the channel. “Besides, you don’t need a sister, you have me. Oh look, Tales From The Darkside is on.”

“Will this give me nightmares?” Maggie asked.

“I don’t know…do you plan to sleep?” Scarlet asked.

“Not if you make me watch this,” Maggie said.

“So why worry?  Besides, I have a better idea. Do you remember me telling you about my new neighbor, Curtis Bones?” Scarlet rolled flat on her back, knees up, hands clasped behind her head, spoon in mouth, doing stomach crunches.

“Your gorgeous running buddy? The one who thinks you’re nineteen? How could I forget? Why?” Maggie asked, reaching over the couch to scoop a small mound of dough with her spoon.

“He’s having a party tonight. He asked me to come by.”

“What? Scarlet, he totally likes you.”

“Nah, I’m pretty sure he has a girlfriend.”

“Wait a minute…a college party? Are you serious? Let’s go.” Maggie said sitting up.

“I don’t know. My parents would kill me if they found out. Maybe we shouldn’t.”

“How will they know? We’ll be back before they wake up.”

“I guess we could go for a little while. You want to?”

“Are you nuts? Of course!”

“This will keep.” Scarlet said taking the dough to the kitchen and depositing it in the refrigerator.

When she returned, Maggie was already up, wiggling into her Guess jeans. “How’s my hair? Is it crazy?”

“No, it looks great. Okay, but listen, we stay together and we stick to our story.”

“Sure, yeah, whatever,” Maggie said. “Wait, what’s our story?” She asked peering into a compact mirror, carefully lining her ice-blue eyes. “I hate my hair. I look like I’ve been struck by lightning.”

“You have amazing hair. I’d kill for your curls. Our story is…you’re my college friend, visiting from New York, where we both go to school.”

“What if they ask which one, or what our majors are?”

“I don’t know…change the subject,” Scarlet said, pulling on jean shorts and a black tee. “No, how about I’m studying to be a writer, and you are…”

“Ready!” Maggie gripped the back door handle. “Come on, let’s go! I can’t believe it! My first college party!”

“Shhh! Keep it down, do you want to get caught?” Scarlet stood in front of Maggie, hands on her hips. “Okay, tell me I don’t look sixteen.”

“Okay, let’s see…lose the pony-tail,” Maggie said tugging it free and tossing the hair-tie toward the couch. Scarlet’s auburn hair fell around her narrow shoulders. “Better, but I hate you; you already have a tan.”

“Let’s go!” Scarlet squealed.

Caped in darkness, they ran over the wide expanse of fresh-cut grass, under maple tree giants, toward the sleeping street. Crickets sounded an unheeded alarm. A pair of approaching headlights caused the pair to dive behind a hedge, giggling and snorting until their stomachs ached.

“Ouch! I have a huge cramp,” Maggie said, doubling over. “I ate too much cookie dough.”

“Here do this.” Scarlet pressed her fingers into Maggie’s side. They edged along slowly, clinging to the tree line while Maggie recovered. Fireflies burned then faded. Scarlet snatched one before it vanished into the pitch. She cupped it in her hands, allowing it to tickle her. She opened her hands to release the bug, but it had escaped through the cracks of her fingers.

“I’m okay,” Maggie, breathed.

Above their heads Orion’s Belt shimmered against a blue-black summer sky. Music floated towards them through the air: a mystical, vibratory, rhythmic map. Scarlet jogged in the direction of the sound, shouting, “It’s this way!”

“Wait for me,” Maggie called, emerging from behind through the trees. The house appeared before them: a beacon of light, a melody of voices, song and laughter.

Maggie hissed, “Maybe we should go back.”

“Why?” Scarlet asked incredulously.

“I don’t know.”

“Come on.” Scarlet took Maggie’s arm and propelled her toward the back of the house where co-eds hung about in various poses throughout the yard, cigarettes and plastic cups in hand. A group of boys stood in a circle under the porch light, hopping and kicking a nearly invisible tiny beanbag.

“Well all right! New babes,” a long-haired boy said, as the girls approached. He missed the ‘hacky sack’ and let it drop. Another member of the circle complained.

“Dude, what are you doing?”

“Dude, chill,” longhair said.

“Is Curt home?” Scarlet asked.

“I hope so,” longhair said, picking up the beanbag, “it’s his bash”.

Feeling foolish, Scarlet blushed to match her name.

“Hey, relax, I’m only kidding. I’m Chris. Bone’s is in the kitchen pouring shots. Keg’s out here.  Hang on…I’ll get you some beers.”

Still holding her arm, Scarlet felt her friend shivering. “Are you cold?” she asked a silent Maggie.

“Look, we’ll just say a quick hi to Curt and then we’ll leave.”

“You can’t go yet, you just got here,” Chris said, handing Scarlet two cups of tawny liquid. He looked like a ‘skate rat’ Scarlet had seen once before in the beach parking lot.

“Thanks.” Scarlet ignored the comment, handed one of the cups to Maggie, and said, “Liquid courage.”

They ducked inside, maneuvering through an intoxicated crowd. In poorly lit rooms, odd smoky odors rose to meet them, patchouli oil, incense and something else. Heads looked up and then away as the girls passed. Thundering music vibrated up through Scarlet’s sneakers, making her legs wobbly. Maggie, close on her heels, gave Scarlet a flat. A boy sitting on the arm of a chair looked up at them and smiled while Scarlet fixed her shoe.

“Do you know where the kitchen is?” she asked.

He cupped a hand to his ear. “WHAT?”

“THE KITCHEN!” she shouted.

He nodded, took a drag of a cigarette and hooked his thumb backward, indicating the hallway behind him. Fluorescent light from the kitchen spilled out into the hallway. They followed it. Perched on the counter sat a darkly tanned Curt in ripped, faded jeans, Hawaiian shirt open to the waist. He hopped down when he saw Scarlet.

“Scarlet, I’m so glad you came.” He pulled her into a hug, a warm mix of friend, mentor and forbidden. He stood back, dark penetrating eyes fixed on Maggie. “And who is this goddess you’ve been hiding from me?”

“This is my friend, Maggie…from school.”

“Like Maggie May…in the song.” Curt sang a few bars before kissing her cheek. “So, Maggie May, how long are you in town?”

“Awhile,” Maggie managed.

“Excellent! We have parties almost every weekend. Come on, you need to meet my friends.”

The girls mingled like tourists and sipped their beers slowly, unaccustomed to the skunk odor and bitter flavor. When no one else saw, the girls exchanged wide-eyed glances and silent screams. They watched a round of beer pong and tried their skill at pool. Finally, when the crowd reached a pinnacle of drunkenness, Scarlet looked down at her swatch.

“It’s two a.m.,” she said to Maggie, alarmed. “We have to go!”

“Let’s find Curt so we can say goodbye,” Maggie said, pushing through the crowd, asking new friends for the host’s whereabouts.

“Curt’s comatose,” Chris said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

Maggie followed him to the bedroom, while Scarlet wove frantically to keep up.

“Maggie, wait!” she shouted. Another girl staggered, spilling her beer on Scarlet’s shirt.

“Sorry,” the girl said, using the wall for support. Beyond her, standing in a doorway, Maggie peered into the bedroom: a secret garden of clothes piles, stereo equipment and surfaces littered with empty beer cans and pizza boxes. Fully clothed, Curt lay strewn across the unmade bed.

“Maggie, let’s go,” Scarlet said sternly, pulling Maggie back from the threshold.

“I’m ready,” Maggie said. “Scarlet…he sang to me,” she whispered.

“I know, but let’s get going…before we get in trouble,” Scarlet said.

As if they had never fled, the girls slipped quietly back into Scarlet’s house. They talked the sun up and then fell asleep just before dawn.

 

Waking early, Scarlet’s mother Mary came down stairs and closed the sun room windows. While covering Maggie and Scarlet with blankets, she noted the smoky smell of her daughter’s hair. She moved to the pile of clothing on the floor, lifting up the individual pieces, reeking of stale beer.

She looked at her daughter, clutching her pillow like a once-loved stuffed animal. Then, Mary picked up the two half-filled milk glasses and moved to the kitchen to tidy the remnants of the girls’ evening escapades.

Once the room was satisfactorily clean, Mary made a pot of coffee. She sat at the kitchen table, cup in hand, bracing for the next round in the mother-daughter battle, where with each new day she was losing precious ground.

-The End

 

For more short stories, see my Short Story Page!

For more Scarlet O’Brien tales see:

Seeing Scarlet

Passages of Youth and Progressions

By Eileen Slovak

Free on:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/332370

https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/341537

Novel Link:

 

 

The Pick-Up Line

By Eileen Slovak

Word Count:  895

Sprinting through the neighborhood, Caryn completed her daily four-miles in record time before sending a quick text to her sister, Kim:  Will B ready 2-power shop in 15. 

      Back in her apartment, she showered coffee in hand, then, dressed hastily as her cell phone chirped signaling Kim was waiting.  Moments later, Caryn climbed into the minivan.  Kim handed her sister a homemade scone.

“Thanks, I didn’t have time to eat.”

“That’s why you’re so thin and I’m well, me,” Kim moaned.

Caryn shot her sister a look, “You’ve had two children and you’re too hard on yourself.  So, what’s the emergency today?”

“Jeff forgot to tell me about his boss’s dinner party tomorrow night.  It’s been months since we’ve been out for anything other than fast food and aside from jeans and t-shirts, everything in my closet is two sizes too small.”

“Hmmm,” Caryn said nibbling on her breakfast.  “Okay, how about Anne Taylor or Nordstroms?”

“I was thinking more like Marshall’s or TJ’s.”

“Fine, but no clearance racks.”

“Not even a little one?” Kim asked sheepishly.

“Caryn, clearance means no one wanted it enough to pay full price.”

“Maybe it means no one saw its’ great potential.”

Caryn shook her head no, adding:

“So…you need me to babysit, then?”

“I hate to ask again, but if you don’t have plans…”

“Do I ever?”

“Speaking of plans…how about dinner at our house tonight?”

“Why?”

“Jeff and I would like you to come over, that’s all.”

Caryn raised an eyebrow, “Kim, you know how I feel about being fixed up.”

“Jeff’s friend Carl might stop by for drinks and we think he’s perfect for you.”

“Kim!”

“Just give him a chance.”

Caryn sighed, asking:  “So, what’s his story?”

“He’s single, new in the area, employed and in his mid-thirties.”

“I’ll think about it over shopping.”

In the fitting room’s three-way mirror, Caryn modeled a cute pair of jeans and a sweater, secretly hoping, despite herself, that Carl might be the one.  Kim peered out of her stall, complaining.

“If department store owners had any sense, they’d install low lighting and fun house mirrors to make women look twenty pounds thinner.  Help, I think I’m stuck!”

“What did you do?” Caryn asked helping free her sister from a dress that would not budge over her hips or her shoulders.

“Maybe try wiggling out of it,” Caryn suggested.

“Let’s go look at shoes, at least my feet always stay the same size,” Kim laughed.  “Is that what you’re wearing tonight?”

“I guess.  You win, I’ll meet him.”

After dinner, Caryn helped Kim put the children to bed.  When the doorbell rang, Caryn felt a twinge of nervous anticipation.  On her way downstairs, she observed the man standing with Jeff:  handsome, tall, fit…so far, so good.  Then he began talking.

“Well, hello there.  Carl Waters, pleasure to meet you Caryn.  Wow, I see fire behind those gorgeous green eyes of yours.”

“Oh…well, it’s nice to meet you too,” Caryn said shaking hands.

“Let’s have a drink,” Jeff suggested, leading the group into the living room.

While Kim poured wine, Carl’s eyes wandered all over Caryn.

“Fine vintage, Kim.  I don’t know if Jeff told you, but I’m a bit of a wine connoisseur. Let me tell you a quick story about a little tour I took around Napa…”

An hour later, Carl was still expounding with expertise on every subject from baseball to hunting to mountain biking, while periodically throwing comments Caryn’s way:

“Caryn, I hear you’re a runner?  Well, let me tell you, you’ve been running through my mind all night.”

At nine o’clock, Caryn discretely sent a text.  Ten minutes later, she reached for her coat.

“Kim, Jeff, thank you for a wonderful dinner.  Carl, it was nice to meet you.  Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

“What?”  Kim asked incredulously.

“Kim, I’ll call you later.”

“Where are you off to so early?  I was planning to take you home,” Carl, droned.

“Oh, no Carl, I wouldn’t dream of it, besides, I have a cab waiting.  Goodnight all!”  She called over her shoulder, making her escape.  Breathing in the relief of the fresh outdoor air, she read the name on the door of the cab and laughed aloud:  The Pick Up Line, Cab Company.

“Where’re you headed?” the driver asked.

“Far, far away,” she said hopping in the backseat.

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, never mind.  The Willows Apartments please, on…”

“It’s okay, I know it well.  I live on the second floor.”

Caryn looked at the driver in the rear mirror and said:

“I’m embarrassed to admit, I work so much I hardly know any of my neighbors.”

“Same here, I teach at Washington High during the day and drive the cab a few nights a week, you know, paying off those student loans.  I’m Jay Stevens.”

“Caryn Ross.  I run past Washington High every morning.”

“So, you’re the runner.  I see you every day on my way to work.  I run too, but usually after school.”

They chatted away until the cab pulled up in front of the building.  Caryn was quiet and then said:  “Jay, if you’re free next Saturday, maybe we could run together.”

Jay turned to face her, jotted his telephone number down on the receipt and said:

“That would be great.  I’m glad I picked you up.”

“So am I,” Caryn smiled.

-The End