Category Archives: Fiction

Unsealed Lips

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He was lying down on his bed with one arm behind his head.  He had one knee up with his weight on his left foot, while his right leg extended out to the end of the queen size mattress.  I was kneeling beside him with a pillow on my lap as I watched his fingers trace the pattern on his sheets.  His index finger followed the interlocking circles that crossed over countless lines.  Watching him seemed much more interesting than paying attention to the blue glow from the TV.  From time to time, I played with the pull strings of my hoodie and my toes curled in my black socks.  He didn’t do much except smirk and shift his glance from the lines on his sheets to my face then back to the sheets.

The anticipation was growing within me.  I couldn’t tell if these glances would stop moving and just stay on me or if his fingers would move away from the stagnant pattern toward my hands.  I wasn’t sure if he would voice what we both knew or if he would just act like nothing was going on.  I waited, letting him talk for an hour or so about his jerk of a professor and how we should go snowboarding for a weekend until the moment of silence between our words destroyed what little patience and reservations I had left.  I could no longer hold it in and I had to say what I felt.

“You know I really hate Becca for everything that she’s done,” before I even realized I was speaking, the words were out and there was no way I could pull them back into my sea of thoughts.

He looked at me and his fingers stopped moving.  This time his glance stayed on me and I was the one who was shifting focus between my pull strings and his eyes.

“Where did that come from?  Like, what do you mean?” he asked with his eyes still stuck on me.

This time there was a moment of hesitation on my part.  I was trying to gather my thoughts.  I was trying to not compromise myself or at least not sound crazy, but, again, my emotions took over and I lost control of what my lips were saying.

“Well, I mean she cheated on you and you didn’t deserve that.  You were nothing but a good boyfriend to her and while you’re handing her roses, she’s hooking up with some random guy who she probably doesn’t even talk to anymore.  It just pisses me off that she did that to you when she knew you loved her.  The least she could’ve done was break up with you before any of that happened.”

My last few words trailed off into a mumble as I started to think that I said way too much.   I was trying to figure out if I could just shut up or if it was time for me to go home, but I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be right for me to just drop this bomb on him and then walk away, so I stayed with my feet still curled underneath me on the bed.  I was proud of myself for containing my words for the next thirty seconds, but what he said next just set off another series of thoughts that I simply could not bottle up.

He simply responded by saying “It’s whatever.  I mean I don’t really care about her anymore.”  He was now looking back down at the lines on his sheets, but his fingers weren’t moving.

“I know you don’t care about her anymore.  I’m not saying you’re still in love with the girl, but you can’t tell me that what she did didn’t hurt you.  Seriously?  You cannot tell me that you have ever been able to trust and love a girl like you did with her before she did what she did.  Even if you don’t have feelings for her anymore, what you went through with her still affects how you act now.”

“I guess, but I don’t really think about it, so I don’t really know.”

“You don’t really think about it?  Or you just don’t talk about it?”

My eyes were now looking straight at him and I don’t think I could’ve turned away even if I wanted to.  He hesitated to speak.  The struggle going on between his thoughts and feelings was all over his face.  His fingers couldn’t even correctly trace the lines on his sheets anymore and he seemed to be trying to pay attention to the muted commercials.  His silence gave me the courage to keep on talking.

“I’m not trying to upset you or bring up things from the past, but I know you’re not happy.   Whether you want to admit it or not, I know you want to find somebody who you feel you can actually commit to, but you’re scared.  She scared the hell out of you, so much that you won’t let any girl near you again.  Whenever you think you might have found the right girl, Becca just pops into your head and you start to wonder if this new girl is just gonna do the same thing to you.  And, honestly, I don’t even think you give the girls you meet a serious chance.  I think you just look at a girl and automatically assume that they’re going to cheat on you or play with you or whatever, so you just play with them until you get bored.  And I hate that she did that to you.  I hate that what she did still affects you like that because you deserve to be with someone who loves you and who wants to love you.  Someone who makes you happy and wants to see you happy.  Becca screwed you over and she screwed over the rest of us girls that have to pay for what she did to you.”

I felt that last sentence roll off of my tongue and I wanted to pull it back so bad, but it was too late.  He was already propped up on the bed focused on me.

“I agree that Becca made me lose a lot of trust in girls.  I don’t think I’ve been able to blindly believe in a person like I did before I met her.  And I think it’s true what you said that I don’t take my relationships with girls seriously, but I think it’s more because I don’t think they take me seriously.  I don’t think the girls I’ve dated after Becca have proven to me that they deserve my respect, which is why I don’t care about them.  I could care less about how they feel if I don’t call them or if I don’t take them out on dates because, if they’re not putting in any real effort to be my girlfriend, I shouldn’t go out of my way to be a good boyfriend to them.  You know what I’m saying?”

I nodded my head in agreement.  At this point, all I could do was listen to what he had to say.  I had never heard him express himself so much about his relationships and I wasn’t about to jeopardize that.  I had to let him keep talking.

“And, you know, I don’t think it’s true what you said about me pushing away all the girls I care about and you of all people should know that because you know that you’re the girl I respect the most and the only girl I care about.  You’re the only person who I will always text back, no matter what.  The only person who I will stay up for, even if we’re just watching TV or talking on the phone or doing whatever.  You’re the only girl who has been able to make me feel nothing for Becca and that whole situation.  I swear to you, if you hit me up in the middle of the night saying I need you for whatever reason I would be wherever you were in a heartbeat.  You wouldn’t even have to ask me twice.

“And if I never said any of this before it’s because I don’t want to lose you.  I don’t want to tell you that I’m head over heels for you and then you not feel the same way and then have our whole friendship get awkward, but I feel like you were straight up with me just now and you showed me that you care about me enough to say something about it, so the least I can do is be honest with you, too.  So right now, I’m telling you that I want to be with you… and I don’t mean like how I was with those other girls.  I want you to be my girlfriend and I want to take care of you and I want to make you happy because you make me happy and I just want to love you.”

As he spoke, I couldn’t help but smile and I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks and my heart pounding faster.  I was definitely grateful for the poor lighting in his room right now.  My stomach tickled with a mix of astonishment and excitement, while his arms were flying all over the place with every word that he was trying to get me to understand.

At the end of it all, he let out a silent sigh as if he was literally relieved to have said everything he had been feeling for so long.  With the sigh he looked down into nothing, but then looked up at me almost immediately like a child waiting for his punishment.  For once, I was at a loss for words.  There were no thoughts running out of my mouth and no emotions jumping through my voice, but I had to respond to him.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging.  If I did, he might get the impression that I didn’t feel the same way and just when I thought my emotions left me on my own, they took the reins and answered for me.

My hands moved closer to his and they found their way up his arms and around his neck.  My legs scooted toward him until there was nowhere else for me to go.  His arms wrapped around me, welcoming me onto his lap.  Our eyes stayed locked and a smile flashed across his face just before my lips finally gave my silent response.  Apparently, he liked my answer.

I Can’t Run Anymore

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The raindrops are pounding on every part of my body like bullets and my clothes are soaking wet, sticking to every limb like a second layer of skin.  I can’t tell if this is because of the torrential rain coming down on me or because of the unusually large amount of sweat that my body is releasing with every step I take.  All of the sounds around me are being drowned out by the gushing wind blowing past me.  The blistering wind and the heavy rain in no way make my eyes burn less, making me struggle that much more.  My muscles feel like they are going to tear right through my skin if I go any further.  It seems like everything is against me, but somehow my legs keep pounding against the track, causing a harsh ripple through every nerve.

It’s lacrosse season and if I don’t make the team you can consider me dead.  Last year, I was the goalie.  Of course, there were others, but I was the only one that mattered.  We were undefeated the whole first half of the season and our competitors could never score on us.  I wonder why that was?  Everyone wanted to be me and I felt sorry for those who weren’t me.  That team needed me, even when I thought I didn’t need that team at all.

We went on to our county finals and, in the final minute of the game, the score was tied, zero to zero.  The ball was in their possession and, if they scored, the game was over and so would be our season.  Some lanky kid with shaggy blonde hair started running straight toward me, cradling the ball with an intensity I knew all too well.  Next thing I knew, I made a bold move that I regret every day since that last spring game.  I ended up utterly destroying my ankle in ways I had no idea was possible as the white ball sped past me into the net. My reward for once having been the best goalie at my school was an entire summer of friendship with a cast.

Now, here I am, after three months of not working out, struggling to get through conditioning that a year ago I could’ve done in my sleep.  As I run, I’m trying to give myself motivation.  “Come on, Brady!  You did this three years in a row without even breaking a sweat.  You even helped coach put this set together.”  I repeat this over and over again, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do.  Instead, all I can think about is how coach hung his head low under his cap as the opposing team celebrated their win.  As soon as that thought’s gone, I remember how Jeff and Rich are the ones to thank for informing the entire school about how I lost the game.  But, then again, I’m mostly not thinking at all.  The pain shooting up through my body is the main thing clouding my mind.

Every step feels like a thousand needles are being stabbed into every square inch of my legs.  I could swear that my bones are currently piercing through the balls of my feet and rubbing against the black tar.  My back aches as if I slept on a bed of seashells and my padding isn’t helping, making my body sorer by the second.  I think I could be on fire and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and my current situation.

But I know that if I don’t perform now, I will never get another chance to.  My life as an athlete will be over.  My life will be over because that’s all I am, an athlete.  Yes, I am an athlete.  I say it over and over again in my head until my mind finally begins to function again.  I am an athlete and I get it now.  A real athlete knows struggle.  That’s how they persevere and succeed.  That’s how they stay hungry for every win and every title.  I am an athlete and this is my struggle and now it’s time for me to move past it, until this defeat becomes my past.

A quarter of a mile lies ahead of me and it definitely looks more like a whole mile, but I had to remind myself that it wouldn’t be the end of me.  Rather than saying I can’t run anymore, I tell myself that I have no choice.  I have no choice, but to finish what I started.  I have no choice but to live through my struggle.  I have no choice, but to be who I am, an athlete.

Our Summer of 1903- Part 2

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“Mia dear, wake up,” whispered a sweet sounding voice over top of me.

I opened my eyes and the sunset on the horizon was no longer visible.  I could not see any beach houses and Tony no longer embraced me in his arms.  Instead, I awoke to Janice leaning over me.  Her large baby blue eyes peered down at me, while her pin straight black hair sharply framed her face.  Her vibrant red lips held back, waiting to see if another gentle alarm would be needed.  Since my first day in Paris, Janice had stuck by my side and had helped me with nearly every aspect of my life to the point where she became my assistant.  It was thanks to her that I was on time to anything and prepared for everything.

I laid on the chase for a moment more, processing, within seconds, all that was around me.  To my left against the wall was a large mirror surrounded by lights that was the source of any brightness in sight.  A vanity table and bench sat just in front of it, anticipating my arrival with an array of make-up for me to choose from.  In the far corner of the room stood a wardrobe that was not even fully shut due to the overflow of embroidered corset-like tops and perfectly shaped tutus.  Hanging on the back of the door, directly ahead, was a schedule of the show, including everything from wardrobe changes and intermission to every stage direction.

My eyes blinked in confusion and a bit of grogginess, so Janice’s lips took the cue to a second warning, “Darling, if you don’t wake up soon you won’t be ready in time for your performance.”

I, then, came to the realization that everything I felt a few moments ago was just a memory from the past that came to life in only my dreams.  In reality, I was backstage in my dressing room and I had a show in fifteen minutes that I hadn’t even begun to get dressed for.

I left Long Island for Europe just after my summer with Tony to study ballet and pursue a career as a true ballerina.  I never spoke to Tony after our short time together, though I recently began seeing his photos in publications all over Europe.  I saw everything from his modern photos to pictures that I recognized of the beach that saw our love flourish.  I always noticed them and I always saved them, keeping them tucked away to avoid too much nostalgia.

Although throughout the few years that had passed I had entertained a few prospects, they never felt as rich and pure as my love with Tony.  I was sure it would be a while till I got that feeling back, but now I could only be happy for Tony.  He was doing what he loved as was I.  Upon graduating from the academy, I began to get offers on roles in the latest ballet productions.  My most recent job was as the lead in “Giselle,” a revival Paris had been waiting for.

As I got up, I looked to my side and noticed a bouquet of white irises, my favorite flowers, sitting on the vanity.  Ever since I had begun performing in real productions, I received one bouquet each night of a show.  There was never a note, leaving no hint as to who they were from.  Although I couldn’t be sure, those flowers always brought me back to that summer with Tony.  I could smell the garden on the side of my parents’ beach house and I could feel Tony delicately placing a freshly picked white iris into my hand.  Since that day, the white iris was my preferred flower without a doubt.

As usual, I admired the flowers, softly touching the edge of each petal and taking in the subtle scent that filled the air.  They were perfect as always, though this time the bouquet was not the same as its past brothers.  This time the bouquet carried a note.  I quickly opened the small, gold envelope and it read “I told you so” and nothing else.  An array of fantasies and ideas rapidly took over my thoughts and I was left in utter confusion.  What did this mean?  Were they from Tony?  Had he been my secret admirer this whole time?  How could they be from Tony?  Did he even still remember me?

But, suddenly, a tender reminder from Janice swiftly interrupted my solitary interrogation, “Ten minutes, my dear.”

I was then forced to forget my deepest wishes and I came back to reality.  I changed into my costume, stretched as much as I could, and before I knew it I was center stage dancing out my excitement.  The music soon ended and the curtains were closing before my eyes.  That’s how it always happened.  My performance came and left, faster than a snapshot.  At least, that’s how I always felt it happened.  The wardrobe changes, the applause, the rush all became a blur during and after each performance.

Once my mind began to think clearly again, I was back in my dressing room, recollecting my energy, when I heard Janice’s voice again.

“My dear, don’t bother changing.  You’re needed on stage again.”

“Why?” I asked with confusion masking my face.

“Oh, I haven’t the slightest idea, but, by the looks of it, it’s only more good news for you,” she quickly responded with a sneaky smile over her lips.

As I walked back on stage, I could see the audience giving me a standing ovation through the blinding spotlights of the theatre.  I smiled and waved out of common courtesy.  On the stage, there was a man, Harold Grulier to be exact, the owner of the extraordinary venue.  From what I could see, the burly, blonde man was holding a plaque and some roses.  There was also a photographer just to his right with his face hidden behind every flash.

I stood next to Mr. Grulier with a combination of excitement, anticipation, and even hesitation.  I had no idea what this was all about, but I only wanted to get back to my newest bouquet of white irises and the mysterious golden note.  Harold began to speak in his deep, soothing voice.  I continued to smile and from time to time looked around out of pure boredom.

“It is with great pleasure that I stand before you all and speak to you of Mia Cartagena, the talented young dancer who has entertained us all.  Not long ago, she was unknown to perhaps all who stand before me, but in a matter…” he began.

As I zoned out from Mr. Grulier’s speech, it was then that I saw him.  I looked straight into his glistening green eyes and it was unmistakably him.  The photographer standing on stage was my Tony, whom I had lost track of so long ago.  My eyes traveled across his face and skin, examining his similarities and differences.  He looked the same, yet very different.  I could look into his eyes and still see my teenaged companion, but I could take one glance and tell that he was a man.  His jaw was much more defined, his stare much stronger, and his frame had grown with muscle, but I could still see his pure smirk and bashful blink through his definite transformations.

Tony moved toward me without saying a word.  For a brief moment, I thought he was going to take a picture, but instead he slipped an envelope into my hands that hung at my sides.  Confused, I accepted it, but did not dare to open it on stage.  I barely even looked down to see the white paper closing.  Tony stepped back and I was hurt that, after so much time, all I got was a silent envelope.  So many fantasies and dreams had been shattered by a reality that didn’t even resemble the closeness that the summer of 1903 was filled with.  Shortly after, Mr. Grulier gave me my plaque and I said my thanks.  I rushed back to my dressing room as I noticed Tony taking the opposite wing exit.  I had no interest in being in the spotlight any longer.

In my dressing room, I closed my door and clutched the envelope close to my chest.  I observed the envelope and it simply said my name, Mia.  Inside there was a note that said:  “I told you that you would make it as a prima ballerina.  I promised that I would never forget you just as I promised myself to never forget that summer.  I hope you liked the flowers.  I remembered they were your favorites.”  There was also something else in the envelope.  I took it out and there I was.  It was a picture of me dancing on the beach.  He had taken it the very same day I had just dreamt about.

By this point, my eyes were misty and my chest was pounding.  I felt like my heart had somehow doubled in weight as I leaned my head down into my body.  I could see the picture and the note.  I could feel the paper, but there was still doubt in my mind.  I’m not sure what exactly I was feeling, but I know I was overwhelmed.  Perhaps, I was just so happy to know that I was not the only one who lingered on such distant memories.  Perhaps, I bawled out of anger, wondering what took him so long.  The only fact I was sure of is that I soon heard a hesitant, but firm, knock on my door.

I opened it to find Tony standing right in front of me.  His eyes, a few inches above mine, were on the verge of tears, his hands trembled, and his lips longed for the strength to say something.  We were both in awe.  Within a few moments, we both reacted and took part in a long-awaited embrace, which followed with a kiss that I wish could’ve lasted an eternity.

I looked into his eyes and all I could utter was, “I loved the flowers.”

He stared back with a grin on his face and responded, “I’m glad you did.”

Our Summer of 1903- Part 1

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“Smile for the camera, Mia,” he said, standing above me and laughing the whole way.

“Oh, alright, but only because you’re excited about your new camera,” I responded, sweeping my long brown hair to one side for the so-called candid picture. “You know, when you become a famous photographer you better not forget that I was your first model.”

“I don’t know how I could, my lady,” he said extending one hand out to me and helping me up from the sandy shore.  Once I was up, he continued, “Besides, I think it will be hard to forget the world’s next prima ballerina.”

“Oh don’t be so silly.  I don’t appreciate you toying with my dreams, you know.”  My eyes lingered into his green stare and I couldn’t help but smile as I bashfully looked down.  With an unforced giggle and an excited skip ahead of him, I asked, “But since we’re talking about it, can you look at this routine I’ve been working on and tell me what you think?”

I began my dance to the music of the ocean and I could feel his eyes looking at me in admiration.  The sun’s heat surrounded me, while the sand on the shore brushed on and off my feet.  The wind and my movements moved harmoniously and, from the corner of my eye, I could see Tony snapping away with his new Kodak camera.  I had always loved dance, but it wasn’t until I danced for Tony that I found a real purpose for it.  He was an audience worth truly performing for.

Suddenly we heard, “Mia!  Tony!  Come eat dinner” coming from the distance.  It was my mother indirectly attempting to put our beach date to an end before the sun went down.  Obeying the far-away sounds, Tony and I grabbed our blanket and shoes and began our walk toward the luxurious beach house ahead.

It was the summer of 1903 and our families were on vacation in the Hamptons, where they owned a couple of beach houses.  My family’s home was purely wooden with a complete deck and a silhouette that reached three stories high.  Gardens surrounded the sides of our home that were overflowing with white irises, orange lilies, and yellow rose bushes.  In front of my all white home, sat my father’s all black Mercedes.  It was shiny as ever, simply waiting to be shown off.

Tony’s home was not much different from mine.  The biggest difference was that his family garden included blue sailors and his home was painted a pale yellow as opposed to our white.  Our summer homes were next door to each other, just a few yards apart, which can be credited for my inevitable first encounter with Tony.

I was on my way back from the rocks about a mile down the shore from my parents’ property and I was just shy of my fourteenth birthday.  My skin was just starting to bronze as it was only early June and the sun hadn’t yet had a proper chance to transform my shade.  The ocean breeze freed my long hair, letting it blow up and down, side to side.  In one hand, I held my shoes that I refused to get dirty from the sticky grains of sand and, with my other hand, I held up the hem of my dress.

My mind was wandering, ever-changing like the ocean water, when I noticed a pale dark-haired boy knee-deep in the rising tide.  He looked like he was no more than sixteen years old (he was actually fifteen, at the time) and was too entranced by his lens to notice the real world.  He was taking pictures of the waves, the birds, the sunset, and anything else he saw.  With one turn through his lens, he saw me looking back.  He raised his head and smiled, for the first time, showing me his bright green eyes and his white grin.  It took nothing more than this simple gaze and a bashful hello to let us know that the summer was ours.

Our families quickly became friends, as well, and we were soon having dinner at each others houses every night.  One night, my mother cooked for my family and our guests, while, the next night, his mother prepared the evening meal for the two homes.  With the friendship between our parents, puppy love for us became all the more difficult to avoid and we saw no reason to fight it.

Throughout the day, Tony would snap away, never missing a potentially good image that we shared, while I was incapable of skipping around, twirling through the wind, or swinging my arms up and down as the excitement of being with Tony overwhelmed me to the point of needing to release it through dance.  We took advantage of the early mornings to walk along the desolate beach, afternoons were spent sitting on the rocks that were barely visible from our homes, and sunsets were exclusively reserved for our most intimate conversations.

During one of these sunset talks, I experienced my first kiss with Tony.  His green eyes met my dark eyes that looked back.  One arm wrapped around my body keeping me close, while the other gently brought my face closer to his until we became one.  The cold, moist sand that we were sitting on didn’t even matter after I felt how warm and soft his touch was.

He was my best friend, my advisor, my critic, my support.  He told me the truth about everything and I did the same for him.  Everything he said or did included me.  Every plan I made and emotion I felt was because of Tony.  We understood each other to the point where words were no longer necessary; however, we were young and it was puppy love.  It was my first any kind of love and it was such an innocently pure relationship that was impossible to replace.  That summer Tony was my everything as I was his.

His Mom

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Clothes from last week’s school days are randomly spread across the floor.  Jeans, t-shirts, and socks are all wrinkled and piled over the beige carpet which covers the house’s original hardwood flooring.  The pockets of carpet that can be seen are stained with soda and pizza sauce, creating an abstract pattern that can pass for an artsy do it yourself project.  But, don’t get too close because the odor of pure filth will creep up on you when you least expect it.

Walking in the room carefully is the only way to do it, if you don’t want to step on the still moist jersey from yesterday’s basketball practice.  I would also recommend wearing shoes because the many crumbs and wrappers are not very soothing underneath you’re feet.

The furniture is simple with straight designs and a solid white color scheme.  The tops are cluttered with never turned in math assignments, unopened textbooks, and scratched up CDs.  A boxy television and a few different game systems take up whatever space is left over.  There is dust over everything, giving the room a heavy, congested feeling.  If you can live with the stench of the dirty laundry and sheets, then the dust will be the one to stop you from breathing properly.

The walls are a bit more organized, if you can call walls completely covered in magazine covers and posters organized.  Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, and Red Hot Chili Peppers are just a few of the bands that have been recognized as one of the greats on the wall.  Everything from Rolling Stone’s monthly issue to exclusive concert merchandise have been put together to create a one of a kind type of wallpaper.  There are even a few drawings that contributed to the effort.  On top of all this, 97.9 Rock FM is what is always playing, even if he isn’t home.  He finds it soothing to walk into a room when music is playing, but, for most, it only adds to the emotional, visual, and physical clutter of the bedroom.

It is clear that the room is a disheveled mess, past the point of no return.  There is no aesthetic value and the word maintenance has been shunned away from within these four walls.  The young man would appear to not have a care in the world.  Nothing he possesses is worth preserving.  There is nothing here that cannot be replaced, but, actually, this isn’t necessarily true.

In the left corner of his room, there is an all-white four drawer dresser.  In the bottom drawer, toward the back right there is a silver box about the size of a PlayStation.  The box itself is clean with little wear on the corners and a hint of sheen when you turn it toward the light.  Thus far, this is the only thing in this room that is not falling apart.  Open the box and you’ll find tissue paper with not one wrinkle or tear on it.  It is just as white as the dresser it’s hidden in.  Unwrap the tissue paper and you’ll see an album that reads “My Mom.”

The album is beautifully crafted with a black and white Parisian theme.  Swarovski crystals outline the words and finish off the design.  Inside, the album is full of pictures and little captions that read “June 12, 1995- Bronx Zoo” or “Kevin’s 5th Birthday with Mommy.”  There are all sorts of different pictures from different times and places.  There are family portraits, pictures from Christmas, and even birthday cards, one has a colorful teddy bear dressed up as a Yankee that says “Happy Birthday my Little Slugger!  You just hit a home run on your 4th Birthday!”

On the very last page, there is a yellow post-it note written on with a black permanent marker.  The handwriting is a bit hard to read, as it’s a rushed cursive, but he knows what it says: “Kevin, I’ll be in class until 8:30 tonight.  Dinner is in the fridge.  Love, Mom.”

This was the last thing Kevin’s mom left him before she had a fatal car accident nearly five years ago.  He was twelve at the time.  After the funeral and legal arrangements were taken care of, he moved in with his father and step-mother some eight hours away.  He got a new room, started going to a new school, and Kevin even replaced his old friends with new ones.  He left life in Pennsylvania behind him and began a new one in Virginia.

Kevin never told anyone about his mother.  He felt like he didn’t have to.  They didn’t know her.  They didn’t miss her.  She didn’t raise them by herself for twelve years.  She wasn’t their mother.  She was his mother and only his mother.  That was something that could never be taken from him, the fact that she was his mother.  Though she was taken from him, physically, he always kept her around in at least this album.  As long as the pages were never torn and the crystals never fell off, she would always be with him and only him.  Nobody else needed to see her.  Nobody else needed to know her.  She was only his mom.

The Darkest Time of Night

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Alecko this work of yours is the work of a genius.  You are a brilliant mind blessed by the gods, or perhaps destined to join them.  Alecko there is no way that your genius can fail you now, for it is you who is the genius.”

I woke up with my bed and body both drenched in sweat.  My heart was pounding so hard I could almost see it thrusting out of my chest.  This must have been the hundredth time I had this dream, or should I say nightmare, but I was breathing just as hard as the first time and the weight on my shoulders only seemed to get heavier and heavier with every day that passed.

Outside my window, I could see nothing, the darkest time of night, which only meant that the sun would soon begin to rise.  I decided there was no use in trying to go back to sleep, so I laid there in my bed for a moment, rubbing my bright blue eyes until they didn’t sting so much.  I laid there trying to gather the strength and courage necessary to face another day.

Soon enough, I could see the bright beam of light entering my window from the creeping sun that was crawling over the distant hills.  I then knew that I could no longer prolong my cowardice, so I slowly and with much difficulty pulled up my body into a seated position.  With a deep sigh, I stood up and began my day.

It was midday and everything had been tended to except for one thing.  I realized that I could no longer postpone my dreaded sentence.  With my hand moving from side to side of the back of my neck, I walked down the hall past the small kitchen and my dark room into my wretched studio.  For most of my life, it had been my blessing.  Currently, it was my curse.

It was where I once was able to fully express my emotions, creativity, and soul into works of art that everyone I encountered could appreciate.  It was where I once created masterpieces that now decorated the halls of royal homes and fine cathedrals.  But, now it was a cell where I was a prisoner of my own self, of my own accomplishments.  Now, it was a reminder to myself that I was a failure.

My studio was always half-lit with a single lantern resting near the canvas in question.  Against the walls, leaned several unfinished pieces that I knew would not suffice for the reputation I had to live up to, all of them a symbol of my burnt out talent.  Beneath my feet, the weathered wooden floors were spotted with old paint and dirty sheets, my attempt to keep the studio clean.

Each time I began a painting, I had such high hopes for myself and for my work.  I thought to myself this painting will continue my legacy, ensuring that I, Alecko, will go down as one of the world’s finest men, but, much like many things in my life, I would get half way through it and end at a standstill.  After a few days and weeks of frustration, I released my anger on the canvas and moved on to a new great one in the making, but I was always met with the same disappointing outcome.

I had now been working on a much larger piece.  It was about the width of my arm span and I knew there was great potential for something unforgettable.  I stood in front of the canvas where I scribbled on vague shapes and various colors.  I tried to feel inspired, but I only heard the voices from my nightmare.  Voices that were actually from my past.  Voices from the people who praised my talents so long ago and now claimed me as forgotten.

With my brush in one hand and paint in another, I waited.  I waited for something to take over my body and create something beautiful, something brilliant, something that was the work of a genius.  At times, I rested my grey bearded chin on my paintbrush, as if that would help.  But nothing took over my body that day.  I simply stood there waiting.

I thought to myself how can I do this?  How can I prove to my public that I still have talent?  How can I show the world my true capabilities?  That I am a true creative mind with much more to offer than a few good works?  But what if I fail?  What if the gods curse me as a fallen daimon?  Oh, the horror!  How nobody knows my suffering!  Nobody realizes the truth as I stand here in my unholy studio alone, slowly drowning in my defeat.

I couldn’t take the harsh cruelties of the truth anymore so I retreated to my bed where I cried myself into a deep sleep, secretly hoping for an easy solution to this desperation.  Perhaps, I was secretly hoping for a simple and fast escape.  Perhaps, I was secretly hoping for that night to be my last, for the gods to rid me of my torture… but that was not my last night.

That night I only dreamed, but not of the voices of my past that tormented my present and future, but of my genius.  I saw a light and it soon broke into my soul, speaking to me.

A soft, velvet-like voice that said to me, “Alecko, I am here with you.  Do not fear what is to come, for you are not alone and you never have been.  Do not worry yourself with divine titles and responsibilities, for that is too much for you to bear.  For others to say that you are a genius or a daimon, is purely selfish and ignorant.  They do not know the toll it can take on a human being, yet they do not care and they only wish to feel the pleasure of having seen one.  Do not let mankind’s biggest mistake torment you, for you, much like other great creative minds of your present and past, know the truth.  I am here with you, so do not fear what is to come.”

I awoke the following morning just as the sun was beginning to crawl over the distant hills.  I was not drenched in sweat nor was my heart pounding out of my chest.  I did not feel lethargic or defeated.  I simply felt at peace.  I felt like I knew my capabilities and that of my genius, which were immense.

Knowing that I was not in this alone, I went to my studio and began to paint as another being took control of my body and mind.  I finished my greatest work to date within a few days, proving that the darkest time of night is always just before the sun begins to rise.

The Attic- Part 2

Standard

Did you miss Part 1?

. . . . . .

School is a blur.  I arrive, take notes, and attend all of my classes, but before I know it the bell is ringing louder than ever in my ears.  My holiday weekend has begun.

I walk into my house to find the living room spotless and I receive a strong welcome from the lemon Pledge scent.  My mother is sitting on the corner of the couch.  I look at her and she doesn’t even notice my presence.  She just stares out the window.

Forcing my left foot forward and then my right foot, I approach my mother.  I extend my hand towards hers.  Within inches of me reaching her, my mother turns toward me making my heart race.

“Home already?  I didn’t even hear you come in,” she says ever so softly.

As she makes her way to the kitchen, I find myself following her only to see my uneaten breakfast still on the table.

“How does meatloaf sound for dinner?” she asks.

“Sure.  I think I’m going to go take a nap.  I’m not feeling too well,” I say.

“Alright, dear.  I’ll be right here if you need anything.”

I walk up the stairs still carrying my backpack and I pass my mother’s room.  Everything looks the same, but I know something is different.  I know that the dragonfly necklace I cherish so much is somewhere in that room.  It has to be.  I hear my mother hasn’t quite started cooking yet, so I continue to my room.

Time passes.  My homework is done, my room is clean, and I have made several attempts to rest my eyes, but the necklace keeps on popping up in my mind.  A few seconds later I find myself in my mother’s room in search of that necklace.

The bed sheets haven’t been moved an inch and neither have the picture frames on the top of the dresser.  There is nothing but unused space underneath the bed.  I check the vanity and all I find are some make up sets and jewelry my mother never wears.  The dresser is full of clothes and no sign of what I’m looking for.  Her desk drawers are mostly empty with a few sheets of paper and a couple of pens taking up some space.  My mother’s nightstand is only home to a few magazines and some lotion.  The only place left to look is the closet.

The closet door is closed shut.  I stop my investigating for a moment to gauge what my mother is doing.  I can hear rushing water from the faucet and I think she is humming to herself as she is rinsing some vegetables.  She shouldn’t be leaving the kitchen anytime soon.  With at least fifteen minutes of guaranteed time by myself, I make my way toward the door.  My left hand makes it to the nob and I feel my arm pulling the door back.  Thankfully, there is still no squeak.

In the closet, the clothes, boxes, and shoes are all the same.  The bookcase is still there and ugly, but something is different.  The bookcase is now so far away from the wall that I can comfortably fit my arm behind it.  I begin to pull the bookcase further away from the wall.  The carpeted floor helps reduce the noise and I’m careful to not let any books fall.  I am now shocked and confused about what lies behind the bookcase.  There’s a doorway.

It’s not very large.  It’s about three feet tall and two feet wide at the most with a plain curved piece of metal for a handle.  I crouch down by the door.  Only my index and middle fingers can fit around the handle.  The grimy texture of the dusty, dirty metal makes my face scrunch, but I pull it toward me anyways.  This time there is a squeak, but it’s not loud enough to be heard over the running water downstairs.  I don’t want to take any chances though, so I hurry through the door, trying to not think about the filth I’m walking into.

I’m now on the other side of the door.  I stand up slowly until my head hits a hanging chain.  I pull on it and a naked light bulb is now overhead illuminating my way.  I’m now staring down a narrow flight of wooden stairs directly in front of me.  To my sides, are beams of wood outlining the structure of my house and bare insolation.  It’s cold and damp.  I can smell a thick bitterness that makes me cough and I can only imagine the mold that is growing around me, but I continue walking up the steps, cringing at every creak no matter how small.

At the top of the stairs there is a small room, an attic.  The wooden floors are stained with dark round patches.  There are several small spots that look lighter in color, but the bigger circles look distorted and almost black.  The dark dried stains remind me of the spots my friend Jenny left on the floor at school.

Last year, some boy called her an ugly cow during gym class when she went running to the girl’s locker room.  I went after her to make sure she was ok.  When I walked into the locker room, I could hear her crying.  We were the only two people in there.  I turned the corner and I saw her sitting on the bench cutting her arm with a pair of scissors.  Blood was dripping down her arm onto the bench and the floor, leaving spots of dark red all around her.

Just the possibility of the dried spots on the wooden floors being blood makes me not want to touch them and verify my thoughts, so I continue looking around.  A little past the stains, there is a twin sized mattress on the floor.  There are no sheets and no pillows, but there are razors, a whole pile of them.  Some are rusty, others are dirty, and the rest look brand new.  This is only more evidence for my dark suspicions.

To my left is a long mirror leaning against the wall.  It would have been a nice mirror if the top half of it hadn’t been shattered.  What is left of it is nice.  It is reflecting the dim light coming from a small window on the opposite wall.  The light bulb’s light fades with each step I take away from it.  The broken glass around the mirror is giving me an eerie feeling, so I focus my attention on what’s underneath my feet.

Through the dark shadows, I only see fabrics.  I get closer and I can now make out different items of clothing.  Button up shirts, sweaters, and a few dress pants cover half of the floor.  From what I can see, each one is torn with holes and loose strands.  Each one is stained and it reeks like the boys locker room in a public high school.

I turn for the steps.  I’ve had enough of this sick place.  There is no way that this place can be a part of my home.  My home is clean and filled with light.  My home is fresh and filled with love.  My mother would never allow such a thing to be so close to her family.

Suddenly, an image flashes to my mind.  I now see my mother.  She is standing in front of me, but she looks nothing like the woman I know.  Her skin is covered in filth, some patches are even bruised.  Her arms and face are bloody, but the wounds aren’t fresh.  Her hair is frizzy and all over the place.  I can’t even contemplate trying to put that mane into a bun.  Her teeth are dark near her gums and a few of them are gone.  Her eyes are empty.  There is no sign of life.

That isn’t my mother, but, in fact, I realize that was my mother.  Just after she told me to get rid of the dragonfly necklace five years ago, Mom went running up to her room.  I didn’t see her for hours, so I went looking for her upstairs.  I found my mother just as I see her now.  She was disheveled and hysterical with her life quickly fading away.

I blink again and she’s gone, but my eyes remain just as wide as before and my hands continue to sweat.  My heart is bursting out of my chest and for a moment I am frozen.  I can’t feel my legs and my arms are motionless.  My mouth is dry and I can’t close it.

I rush down the narrow stairs and squeeze myself through the hidden doorway, but just as I finish pushing the bookcase back to its original place, I am frozen once again.

“Sophia?  What are you doing in here?  Why are you touching Mommy’s bookcase?” asks my mom.

I slowly turn around and I can feel my vision blurring.  My hands are even moister than before and my skin is ice cold.  I look at my mother and she is not the woman I saw in the attic.  She is clean, her skin is smooth, and her mouth is full of white teeth.  However, her eyes reveal a hint of the woman from the attic.  Her eyes are filled with tears and an expression of angst and desperation.  I think I even caught a glimpse of anger.

“SOPHIA!  I am speaking to you.”

“I’m sorry.  I… I just.”

I have nothing.  What can I say to explain myself?

“I deserve some privacy and I don’t think it is appropriate for you to be looking through my things.  You have no place in the attic.”

She takes a moment to inhale deeply, looking away from me.

“You know, you could have at least been more thorough with sneaking around and you could’ve closed the closet door,” she says to me.

“Wait, you just said— so those things up there are yours, right?”

“Quite frankly, it is none of your business what is up there.  The attic does not concern you.  My room does not concern you.  First, you wear that damn necklace and now I find you sneaking out of the attic.”

She is now crying and I don’t know what to do.

“I’m sorry.  Mom, I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know?  I told you to get rid of that necklace years ago!  And you didn’t listen to me, so don’t tell me you didn’t know.”

I want to say something, but nothing comes out.

“So you have nothing to say?  That necklace was mine and I didn’t want it around me, ok?  You should have listened to me.”

“I just thought that Dad would want-“

At the mention of my father, her tears are now heavier, but her face is softening.  Neither of us says anything as she tries to control her emotions.

“Just… I would appreciate it if you didn’t go through my things.  Ever since Daddy went away, I really need my alone time.”

My mother wipes her tears away and tries to sincerely smile.  She holds my face in her hands and I look at the scars on her wrists.  The scars match the wounds I remember.  Her eyes flicker to the scars and back at me.  Our eyes are now locked and she slowly drops her hands.  Rather than speaking, she pulls down the sleeves of her white sweater covering the marks on her skin as her smile fades.

I want to reach for her, but instead I open my mouth.

“I didn’t want you to feel bad.  I just miss him and that was the last thing we did together.  We went and got you that necklace together before he went to the hospital.”

My eyes begin to flood with tears and my throat is now in agony from the lump within it.

She stares at me and backs away to sit on her bed.  For another moment, her eyes remain on me until her eyes well up again and she digs her face into her palms.  After a moment, my mother reaches into her pocket and hands me the dragonfly necklace.

The End.