Short Story Friday

A Journalist Crosses the Line

a short story by Johi Jenkins

I am literally crossing the line, the journalist reflected with a final shred of doubt as she let go of the last of her inhibitions and jumped the fence into her target’s private property.
Emma was not one to cross lines, especially not ones that were clearly drawn and mandated by the law, but today her inquisitive side won over her rational, rule-abiding side, and she found herself scaling the concrete fence that shielded A-list celebrity heartthrob, Finn Holland, from would-be intruders such as herself. By crossing his property line she went from regular old intrusive paparazzi to full-on trespasser. And in celebrity journalism that was saying something. Her line of work blurred the ethics line big time, but property trespassing was definitely, indisputably, on the wrong side of the blur. This blatant disregard for his privacy would classify as downright obscene.
She had a compelling justification for her felony, though. His life might be in danger.
Last night, Finn posted some weird shit on his social media page: a poem, a message to his dead brother, and a black and white picture of himself as a teenager, smiling. The poem—about letting go—was received positively by his ten million followers, who all cheered for him in letting go of his cheating ex-girlfriend. The message to his brother was sweet, a reminder of his sensitive side; a guy who’s not afraid to show his love for his dearly departed ones. And the smiling teenager picture was adorable; there was nothing else to say there. His soft brown hair was a little bit longer than he wore it now, combed to the side in the fashion of the first half of the decade. The guy was hot then and he was hot now. His three posts got instant likes and reactions in the thousands, as usual.
Emma, however, was triggered by all of it.
A month ago, at the start of the summer, his fandom (the “Finnfatuated”) had all been shocked and thrilled when his girlfriend and fellow actor Megan Sheriff had been caught cozied up with veteran actor William Ardell. Finn’s page had been flooded with support.
How dare she? What a slut!
You don’t need that weasel, Finn! You’re better off.
Megan’s only doing Will for the money!
He’s producing her next movie!
Wow, she’s fucking her way to the top.
In response, Finn had posted a plea on his page to respect his privacy during this difficult time. It was ignored, of course, as everyone wanted to hear how he was handling the break up. Then he had shut himself in his large house, and celebrity journalists and paparazzi had flooded the gates despite his request, but after a few weeks their interest had abated. Now only some were still camped outside his gates, those who were placed there by top celebrity gossip magazines that could afford round-the-clock surveillance in the quest for that one elusive picture of Finn Holland crying his eyes out. Or destroying some property in a fit of rage. Or just ordering Thai food. Whatever he chose to do, whoever reported it first would get the money. His misery was their paycheck.
After a long month of not even stepping outside (how did he even eat? Was he like, living off of canned food and frozen dinners? The poor guy couldn’t even leave his house to go to the supermarket) Finn had finally posted again on his page last night, and his fans had gone wild over the poem, the loving tribute to his brother and the picture of him. They were relieved to hear from their obsession and excited that he seemed to be moving on.
But this fan—Emmanuelle Garza, celebrity reporter for top gossip magazine CSE (Celebrity Style Entertainment), was not convinced. She was not relieved. In fact, she was alarmed.
Was she the only one who saw it? The poem about letting go felt more about letting go of life, of everything in general, not just of a cheating ex. The loving tribute to his brother, to her, hinted of the possibility of reuniting with him. This brother, Phil, had died years ago (prior to Finn’s ascent in Hollywood and therefore something not widely known), and Finn had hardly ever mentioned him before. Why now? And the picture—it was a picture of a smiling Finn, sure, but it was a Finn from the past. A happy time when his brother was alive. Before the fame hit him like a speeding truck. Before his heart had been broken.
Finn had to be depressed. He sounded like it. He hadn’t left his house in a month. He was alone in there. And he shouldn’t be.
Emma was on the way to him now.
She shook her head to clear the dangerous images of finding Finn dead inside and hurried to cross the yard under cover of darkness. The lights were off in his house and it looked like there was no movement within. But she knew he was in there, thanks to fresh intel from a coworker who was getting paid right now to sit outside Finn’s house and watch his every move. Thanks to her job, she knew so many details about Finn. She knew what his house looked like inside; at least, the floor layout and major rooms. It was a dramatic one-story house surrounded by lush gardens and a concrete fence cast to look like stone. She also knew where best to jump said fence, as she had so easily done just now. And by having observed him for a long time, she knew that the kitchen sliding doors would be unlocked because Finn just didn’t care to ever lock them. She advanced to those doors now and silently prayed as she attempted to slide open one of the panes.
The door opened.
Emma was sure there must be a surveillance system currently recording her from some angle, there had to be, but she was also pretty sure that Finn Holland wasn’t currently sitting in front of the live feed and therefore would not see her. Or so she hoped.
The kitchen was not lit but there was enough light coming in from outside that she could see her way around. She stepped inside and crossed over to the hallway that would take her to the master bedroom. Her heart was racing but she kept on going. Everything was quiet except for the loud thump thump of her heart. What had she been thinking? That she could just waltz in there and that he’d be okay with it? She just wanted to check on him assuming that he was passed out or depressed, but she hadn’t really stopped to consider that he might just be perfectly fine and would throw her ass in jail for trespassing. The thought turned her blood to ice. She was next to his bedroom door now; another step and she could look inside. But she was still safe. She could still turn back. Maybe, if she was lucky, he wouldn’t even see the camera feed, if he never even guessed that someone had been inside his house.
She moved her left foot one step back. She started turning around—
And then she heard movement within.
She froze.
Light footsteps, then the sound of a cabinet or shelf opening. Low light flooded the frame of the door ahead of her, as though it was coming a room inside the bedroom. From a bathroom, maybe? The footsteps were faint, and she hoped the person, Finn or not, was indeed inside the bathroom because now she was pretty sure anyone would be able to hear her heart and stitched breathing.
Leave, she told herself. Go back go back go back!
But she didn’t. And then she heard an indiscernible mumble. A soft pop. Water running. And the sound of … pills??
Without another thought, her feet pushed her forward and she entered the bedroom. Her eyes zeroed in on his form. He was inside the bathroom leaning over the sink with one hand in a fist on the counter top, and the other clutching an open orange pill bottle.
“Finn!” she called.
“Fuck!” he jumped, straightened up and looked up at her. “Who the fuck are you?” His eyes went briefly down to his hand holding the bottle, then back at her. “What are you doing in my house??”
“I’m-I’m … I’m Emma. I’m just … I just want to know if you’re okay.” Her face rose in flames as the mini speech she had practiced earlier today didn’t come out. Whatever came out of her mouth was doing so without her conscious input. “I-I just … I just wanted to see if you were okay,” she repeated softly.
Again he looked down at his hands, and slowly opened the left hand which he had in a fist, and put down the bottle he held in the other.
“I’m not okay.” He turned over his left hand and a bunch of little pills fell on the polished granite of his bathroom countertop, scattering around.
“I’m sorry,” she said, from the entrance to his bedroom where her feet had taken her and then frozen her in place.
He looked up at her, from the twenty feet or so that separated them. It’s like he was seeing her for the first time. “How did you get in?”
“I jumped the fence by the palm trees. I came in through the back door by the kitchen.”
“But why?”
“I wanted to … check on you.” She was aware that she was repeating herself, but she couldn’t do anything about it. It was like someone else was saying the words that were coming out of her mouth. “Those things you posted last night. Was that you? You … sounded like you could use a friend.”
He snorted angrily. “And you’re that friend? I don’t know you at all. I’m … I should be calling the cops.” He straightened up and looked around as if looking for his phone.
“Wait!” Emma cried, holding up her hands in front of her, as if that could keep him from calling the cops. “I’m sorry I came in here like this. I’m sorry people just assume they know you, just because we know about you. I know I’m not supposed to be here. I know you don’t know me. But I was worried about you after you posted that, and I thought maybe something had happened to you.” Her arms dropped limply by her sides.
He was silent for a moment, then he advanced on her. She was still frozen to the spot and couldn’t move an inch as he approached. He lifted an arm and she cowered before his tall frame … but he only reached behind her to turn on the bedroom lights.
Now clearly lit, she could see the room was a mess. There were piles of clothes thrown about, empty glasses everywhere, and a … was that a bong upturned next to the bed? But of more immediate concern was the loosely-clothed man in front of her. It was truly him, Finn Holland, dressed in a sweaty t-shirt and boxer briefs. Her heart hurt for him, seeing him like this. She made herself look up at his face. He hadn’t shaved in weeks, she noticed, and possibly not bathed in a long while too, considering the smell coming off him. His light brown eyes were tired, and his dark hair was longer than the last time she had seen it, falling a little over his eyes. Eyes that were staring at her just as she was staring at him.
Searching.
“I was about to kill myself,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure I would’ve really done it, though, when you distracted me. I guess I’ll know soon enough.” He grabbed her upper arm as if to drag her through the house and kick her out, and get on with his sinister business. But he didn’t attempt to move her. He just looked at her. “Why are you crying?”
“What the fuck, Finn,” she whispered, not realizing her eyes were full of unshed tears until he pointed it out. Hearing her suspicions confirmed—he had really considered suicide!—had twisted her insides with pain. She looked away and blinked, and a tear fell down her cheek. She hastily brushed it away. “Please don’t do it. Why would you even say that? Please don’t. Don’t!” She looked up again into his eyes, pleading. “You can’t. Not like this. You have … so much to live for. You have ten million followers. Ten million people who love you, who would give anything to be here, where I am, telling you the same thing. Don’t do it … please.” She blinked and another tear fell out.
He let go of her arm and took a step back, then sat on his bed. “Those people don’t give a shit about me. I don’t belong to them. My choices are mine. I’m not your zoo animal that you put in a cage and observe for your entertainment. I have feelings. I have …” he trailed off. He took a deep breath. “I have nothing. I’m in this cage and I have nothing.”
“That’s not true. You have everything. You’re so talented, and so … compassionate. You truly inspire people. I have a little brother who loves you. A couple of years ago I took him to Comic Con because he wanted your autograph. We waited in line for hours, but he didn’t care for the wait because he really wanted to see you. He was in a wheelchair and was so weak from chemo, but I took him anyway, because you were his favorite superhero …”
Finn had starred in several movies as a teenager, but he had really catapulted to stardom with his role as Balthier, the intergalactic superhero. All three Balthier movies had been box office hits. Four years ago, the Balthier cast had appeared in Comic Con promoting the second movie; Emma had taken her brother Jackson, who had been ten years old back then, and very sick, just to grant his wish of meeting Balthier in real life. She had paid a lot of money just to get Jackson a VIP thing which really only meant a picture with Finn Holland and an autograph. As they waited in line, she saw Finn smile for each photo op ahead of them. She had snorted each time thinking those smiles were super fake and that his job probably sucked. But when it was finally their turn, his fake smile at her only lasted a split second before his eyes settled on Jackson. And Finn’s face transformed—his smile became so genuine and sweet. He showed concern and honest interest in the little bald boy in the wheelchair. And he did something for Jackson that he didn’t do for anyone else. He talked to the boy. He asked Jackson whether he was okay, whether he could walk, that sort of thing. And even though Jackson didn’t mention the cancer, Finn hugged him and whispered in his ear, “You’re way stronger than I could ever hope to be.” As he bent down to hug her brother, Emma saw sincere affection in his eyes. She had loved Finn Holland ever since.
“Jackson,” Finn whispered now, as Emma inhaled in shock that he remembered not just her brother, but also his name. “His name was Jackson.”
“Yes. He … he’s okay now,” she added quickly, because she could see in his eyes that Finn was remembering her brother’s frail form and had assumed the worst.
Finn’s eyes lit up at the positive update. “Really?”
Still shocked, she sat down on the bed without thinking, a few feet away from him. “Yeah. He got a bone marrow transplant and he’s in remission now. He almost didn’t make it, though, and I’ll never know if it was you, but he was so different after meeting you. That’s why I know you’re a good guy. Because of how you chose to make him feel so special when you could’ve easily chosen to treat him like anyone else.”
“Wow,” Finn said, visibly relaxing and running a hand through his unkempt hair. “He made it. I’m so glad for him.” He looked sideways at her, the corner of his lips turning up in a ghost of a smile. “I’ve been regretting ever being in that stupid film. But now I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.”
Emma thought she knew why he would say he regretted it. Balthier’s love interest was the human Cherise, played by rising actress Megan Sheriff. The two actors met on set and started dating. They were what everyone ever talked about, and for years they couldn’t go on a date without people following them and speculating whether they’d get married soon.
Until she got caught with her lips locked around William Ardell’s, the super famous actor, heartthrob for two decades, now producer and power player in Hollywood.
“Was it … that bad?” Emma whispered now.
He looked up briefly at her, then down at a spot in his dirty shirt. He was still smiling a bit, but the smile was sad. “I loved her. I thought she loved me, too.”
“I’m sorry.” She thought about putting an arm on his shoulder, comforting him, but she didn’t. “Just know, a bunch of us love you, and you don’t love us back. And we’re okay with that. You can’t control who loves you.”
His smile widened and he rolled his eyes. “Forget Megan, I’m over her. The thing that hurt, what really got to me, was how the media made such a circus out of it. Like I’m not a real person. And when I sat down to think about it, I realized that in the greater scheme of things, it really didn’t matter if I lived or died. But to me, I wouldn’t have to endure them, if I was dead.”
Emma cringed at the word dead. “The greater scheme of things is what doesn’t actually matter here. Our individual lives do. Our happiness matters to us, and that’s why we stay alive. To find happiness. If your current situation doesn’t make you happy, switch it and find something else that does.”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh, but he didn’t reply right away, so she continued.
“I know you probably think I’m just a creep snooping around your business, and you’d be right, but I just wanted to show you some perspective. That to me, you’re a great guy, and you deserve to do what makes you happy. You don’t deserve to be living like this.”
He followed her gaze around the room and then snorted, a half amused, half embarrassed sound.
“I’m a mess, aren’t I? Maybe I should clean up, and shave, so they don’t pity me when they find my dead body.” He looked at her face, and suddenly burst out laughing. “I’m joking! Dude, you should see the look on your face.”
Emma balked. “Dude. Don’t joke about that,” she all but yelled at him, this guy who could terminate her career and put her in jail with a quick phone call. “I mean … please don’t joke about that.”
He ignored her chastising tone. “So, you said you loved me?” His voice was still playful.
“Um, what?”
“You said, ‘a bunch of us love you.’ Did you mean like, love love me?” There was definitely mirth in is voice and a glimmer in his eye that wasn’t there before. “I’m thinking, I don’t want Megan to be the last person I fucked before I die.”
Emma stood up in a flash and looked down at him, a reproachful look on her face. “Please stop saying that!”
Finn stood up as well, now very close to her, clearly enjoying making her angry. “Saying what?”
“The thing … about dying.”
“I’m going to die eventually. You want me to live for a while, right? Should I not have sex with anyone ever again?”
Emma looked down at his bare legs. They were nice legs. “No, I meant … the part where you said …”
He took a step forward and put his arms around her, but held her six inches away from him. She froze. She had not anticipated this.
His voice turned husky. “Help me forget.”
What the F—Finn, she thought.
Okay, time to reassess.
Was he asking her to have sex with him? Yes, it was very possible that that was what he meant. Was he serious? Maybe, maybe not. Hard to tell. If he was serious, the real question was, what was she going to do about it? Finn Freaking Holland, her obsession of the past four years, a huge celebrity hot star, asking her (offering?) to have possibly empty sex. Okay, definitely empty sex. She had zero chance of actually meaning something to him, other than a person who conveniently showed up in his house with a vagina and other fun body parts.
What if she said yes? So what if she felt like he was asking to use her? It’s not like he was lying, charming her trying to get in her pants. He was being upfront about it. He wanted to fuck someone else to help him get over his ex. If she agreed, she could potentially be helping him. And, she could forever say that she’d had sex with Finn Holland! But should she promote the stigma that celebrities can have anyone they ever want, without any regard to the other person’s feelings? Or was it okay if both people knew they were sort of using each other?
The thoughts took too long to form into any semblance of resistance, and her body had already moved closer to him. He was so tall. Her lips reached his shoulder, and she bent forward to press them against his shirt.
Ew.
She would’ve stripped right then and there, but for the formidable scent that was rolling off him. Yes, she wanted to fuck him and be fucked by him, no matter the inevitably painful outcome that she knew, deep down, would follow; but she also knew she would doubly regret it if it was like this. Sad, quick and dirty.
She lifted her head and smiled. “Guy, buy a girl some dinner first.”
She felt his chuckle resonate through his chest. He let her go and took a step back. His flirtatious smile was a sight to behold. “Maybe I will. But first …” he lifted his arm and brought his nose to his armpit, then made a face. “I need a shower.”
Emma didn’t respond other than smiling encouragingly. She didn’t want to say Yeah boy, you stink, but she also didn’t want to say something completely fake like, No, I love your smell, you smell like roses.
He turned to go back to his bathroom and stopped mid-step, turning to look at her just as she was looking around the room trying to figure out what to do. “What … do I do with you?” he asked. “I mean … what are you going to do, just … wait here?”
“I was wondering the same thing. Do you, uh, want me to go?” The words came out strained. Yes, she was a total stranger in his house and he should feel awkward leaving her alone in his bedroom. She would’ve agreed with him if he told her to wait outside and locked his door. But she also didn’t want to leave him alone.
“Keep me company?” he offered. “You can just … sit there and talk to me. If you want.” He pointed behind him through the door of the bathroom. She looked and saw that there was a lounging chair next to a window. “That’s where I smoke when I need to blow off some steam,” he explained.
“You smoke cigarettes?” she asked, horrified, then immediately regretted the judgment in her voice.
“Who said cigarettes?”
“Oh.”
“Um, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” he said a bit sheepishly, and she thought he sounded adorable although she couldn’t tell if he was telling her she didn’t have to smoke or go sit there while he took a shower.
“I’d love to talk more with you,” she replied.
“Awesome.” He smiled, and took off his shirt.
Holy shit! She looked away, blushing. Of course, she’d seen him shirtless plenty of times on the screen, but there was something awfully intimate about seeing his bare chest, seeing him standing in just his underwear, not five feet from where she stood. In real life.
“Are you being prudish?” he asked, and because she refused to look up, she couldn’t see the smile he offered her, but she could tell it was there from his teasing tone.
“No,” she almost stuttered. “I’m just giving you some privacy.”
“I’m beginning to feel that with you, I’m not sure I want privacy. But thanks. I don’t get much of that around here.”
With a soft thud, she saw the boxer briefs follow the shirt to the floor as her blush deepened. Oh, boy. She could’ve looked. She so wanted to look. But her eyes remained glued to the floor. Then a second later his feet turned around and headed into the bathroom, and he disappeared inside the shower.
“Alright, Miss Emma, I’m in. Come on back,” he called, as he turned on the jets in the shower.
Her insides turned to jelly at his mention of her name. Had she told him her name? Yes, she had, only once, and she hadn’t been sure he was even listening to her. But then, he remembered Jackson’s name from years ago. Maybe he was one of those people who are good with names.
She crossed the door into his bathroom and was halfway into admiring how amazing it was—charcoal granite, white marble, chrome finishes, glass—like, not frosted but fully see-through glass!—and had to avert her eyes because his ass was right there for her to see, in the shower. She practically ran to the lounging chair and sat on it deliberately looking the other way.
“Are you usually this trusting with everyone you meet?” she asked, of his being naked in front of a total stranger.
“No, just with the ones that break into my house and save my life.”
Saved his life? Is that what she had done? He had said he wasn’t sure if he’d really do it. But he had considered it, at least. She looked to the countertop where the empty bottle of pills sat like a depressing reminder. She wanted to get up and grab all the little pills scattered around and throw them down the drain, except she had read somewhere you shouldn’t discard medicine down the drain because the wastewater treatment plants didn’t filter out drugs, and they would end up in the waterways.
“How did you know?” His voice was soft, muffled by the sound of running water.
“I didn’t really know …”
“Oh come on. You broke into my house just to say hey you, cheer up?
“Okay, no. Yes, I strongly suspected.” She took a deep breath. “It was your posts. Your poem was so sad. It sounded like you meant to let go of everything. The bit about the sun setting was what got to me, what made me think, oh wait, this sounds more than just sad. I felt you were trying to hint … something. But I wouldn’t have thought of breaking into your house on that alone. Your message to your brother … then the picture …”
She couldn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t say out loud that he sounded suicidal for fear it might trigger those same thoughts again. She waited for him to reply, but he didn’t say anything. For a while there was only the sound of the water running, and then that stopped, and he still didn’t say anything. She dared a sneak glance to him, and saw he was lathering with some soap.
Finally he spoke. “Emma?”
“Yeah?”
“Will you tell me about yourself?”
“Oh, I’m … so boring.”
“Please?”
She smiled to herself. “Okay but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And so she gave him some unexciting facts about herself: about her normal childhood and her normal life. She had been born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, very middle class, and had only the one little brother. She listed her favorite TV shows and books; the things that might tell him her likes and dislikes. Every now and then she paused and asked him if she should stop now, but he seemed engrossed in the details of her average existence and asked her to go on. She told him she was a year younger than him (twenty-three), and had graduated college only the year before. Her parents were dentists and she could tell they were a little disappointed that she didn’t follow in their footsteps. She had gotten into journalism in high school, and gone that route in college, getting a bachelors degree in journalism at USC (University of Southern California). She wanted to report the news but quickly got disenchanted with her career, as she was only able to find a job at celebrity magazine CSE. And though she shouldn’t complain because she had an okay job and lived in a good neighborhood, she was twenty-three and living with a roommate, and still had to occasionally sell pictures of celebrities to make ends meet.
At this point Finn laughed in sudden disbelief. She turned to see him stepping out of the shower, his lower half wrapped in a towel. He had shaved in shower, and looked like the Finn from Hollywood—hot rich guy, unreachable. His whole demeanor had changed. He didn’t look happy. “So wait. Are you telling me you’re a freaking paparazzi?
“Journalist,” she corrected under her breath, completely embarrassed. She looked down, feeling trapped. Of course he would assume she was there just for the story. She felt her picture ought to be under the entry for hypocrite in the online encyclopedia. The one thing he had avoided for a whole month, and he was currently half naked in front of one of them. Except she wasn’t really one of them—but how to convey that to him so that he believed her? “The pictures are just as a side gig to help with my living expenses,” she tried to explain. “I live only thirty minutes from here, and I come to Hollywood a lot for work, so I bought a camera and I’ve gotten some photos.”
“Why are you really here?” He was defensive, way more detached than he had been twenty minutes before.
She stood up from the lounge chair and made herself look at him, despite her sudden urge to run, to get away. But she had to tell him. “I promise you—I swear—I’m not here for a story. I’m here for the reason I told you; I’m here for you. I’m not here for work. I write stupid articles about fad diets and dating for CSE, and I don’t even diet or date. I hate my job. The pictures I’ve sold have all been girl celebrities walking around town doing normal person stuff like getting coffee or getting their hair done.”
He was silent for a moment. Then he walked toward her as he asked quietly, “Did you ever take pictures of me?”
She looked away, embarrassed. “Yes.” Her voice almost broke, along with her heart. She was the bad guy here, and she felt so ashamed. And so, so afraid. Afraid of losing him, whatever little thing this was that they’d shared tonight. “I’ve been … into you”—she didn’t want to say the correct word, obsessed, because it sounded so negative, so she settled with into you—“since I met you in person at Comic Con four years ago. You barely even glanced at me, but I loved how you surprised me being this whole different person than I had presumed you to be. I just thought you were cool, so I read up on you, became your fan.” She smiled sadly. “I guess being your fan I just assumed I could take pictures of you, but now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have. No one should. I’ll delete all of them. In front of you, if you’d like. I wouldn’t even mind; I don’t actually like any of them.” She was rambling, she knew, but she was so mortified and sad and angry at herself and her whole profession. “I don’t think of myself as a creep. I’m here because I just like you. I kinda love you. Oh, wow, shit, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. I’m going to—I should just—”
“It’s okay.” His voice was low and calm, and right next to her.
“Huh?” She turned to look at him, and his face was absolutely nothing like she had expected.
He raised his hands and placed them gently at her cheeks. “It’s okay,” he repeated. Then he bent down and kissed her.
Oh.
Ohh … Finn.
Her brain came up with reasons why he’d kiss her, ugly ones, and tried to point out all the reasons why this was wrong. But nothing stuck; her thoughts scrambled and she responded on pure instinct. She wanted this for herself as much as she wanted him to be happy. She brought her hands to the back of his neck and pulled him closer to her; pressed herself against his naked chest. His kisses were so soft and deep and very passionate. Almost desperate. But there was also a genuine sweetness to them, to the way he held her. As if she meant something to him. Something good.
He stopped kissing her for a second, and whispered against her lips. “You scared me.”
“I scared you?” she repeated him, confused.
“For a second there, I thought you were here for … well, for business. I’m sorry if I was weird a minute ago.” He stepped back a few inches, but dropped his arms to her waist, keeping her near.
“I’d understand if you were angry,” she said.
He shook his head and brought his forehead down to hers. “I wasn’t angry. I was just scared. Emma, I don’t know what stroke of luck it was that you came into my life at my lowest point. It can’t just be a coincidence that you came in right as I was trying to end it. Maybe I did die, and I’m just living some weird afterlife fantasy.”
Ughh please don’t say that.” She stepped out of his arms. She didn’t mean to push him away, but every time he talked about dying, her gut churned. “The part about dying, I mean. The other part … well, I did stand outside your bedroom door for a minute, considering turning back.”
“What made you come in?”
“I was about to turn back when the bathroom light turned on. And I heard … the bottle popping open.”
He looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath. “Jesus. I meant to do it yesterday, but I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I waited. Then I spent the entire day today feeling like there was no way out … I told you, like it didn’t matter anyway whether I lived or died. So … I made the decision, got out of bed and grabbed the pills. And then you were just there. Isn’t that strange to you? You could’ve jumped my fence half an hour after you did, and you would’ve found me dead. But it didn’t happen that way. You were meant to save me. You’re my hero. And I feel like … I don’t know. Like I don’t ever want to let you go.”
Did he really just say that? She blushed deeply, and stepped back into his arms, placing a cheek on his shoulder. He held her tightly. “Whatever it was, fate or coincidence, or even God, I’m so glad it didn’t go the other way,” she said.
“Me too.”
She could’ve stayed like this forever. But his bare skin shifted her thoughts elsewhere. “Please get dressed,” she said playfully. “I’m kind of freaking out here, with you this naked.”
He laughed and took a step back. “Prude,” he joked, turning to go into his closet (which was huge, of course, and had two doors, one of them directly inside the bathroom).
She walked back to his bedroom, trying to admire its size and furniture past the mess, when she heard his voice from inside the closet. “You don’t have to delete the pictures.”
“I can. I should. I really don’t like any of them.”
“What, I look like an asshole, or …?”
She chuckled. “No. It’s just … I don’t have a single picture of you alone.”
On three occasions she had seen Finn out and about, but he had always been with his ex. Emma had taken several pictures but didn’t like any of them. Megan was always so perfectly casual but so ditzy. And Finn never smiled while they were out together.
“Oh,” he said, understanding. “Yeah, you can burn them.” He stepped out of the closet in a fresh t-shirt and jeans. “Ready to go outside?”
“Outside?? I thought you meant dinner like popcorn or something.”
“I think I need the fresh air. I need to get over this fear of showing myself to others. I don’t think I was meant for Hollywood. I kinda suck at this fame thing.” Then he paused, looking at her, as if considering her. “But what about you? If we go outside together … you’ll get dragged into my drama.” He sighed, a trace of annoyance in his eyes. “I suspect Megan will come back. Balthier is done so luckily we don’t have to work together anymore, but she’s power hungry and she knows this gossip thing only fuels her publicity, good or bad. I’m going to tell her to go to hell, but the stupid press—no offense—”
“—none taken—”
“—will do whatever they can to make us look like we’re back together, no matter what I say or do. So I should warn you. I don’t give a fig about her, and I don’t care to even pretend to be back with her for publicity, but they’re likely going to make it seem that way. And if they see you with me, they might portray you in a negative light. You know how it is. They don’t even care about the legal consequences of defamation.”
Emma thought about it. She certainly didn’t like drama and she wasn’t ready to have people scrutinizing her life. But worst of all, she feared that she’d fall in love with him absurdly fast, and then have her heart broken if it turned out badly.
But she wanted him. She closed her eyes and for a second dared to contemplate a life with him. And she wanted it. Even if it was just a chance at being with him. She was willing to pay the price.
She walked up to him, and grabbed his hands in hers. “I don’t mind. Besides … it’s just dinner, right?”
He looked down into her eyes. “Right. Just dinner.” His voice was melodious.
“But it doesn’t have to be just dinner,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I’d like to … get to know you more.”
“That would make me … so happy,” he said, bending down to kiss her once more.
This time they didn’t stop for a long time.
The bed was like, right there. Emma figured, why make out standing up when they could do so more comfortably sitting on his bed? So at some point they transferred their make-out session to the bed and were now lying side-by-side, staring in each other’s eyes, dinner forgotten.
“I was thinking,” she started.
“Yeah?”
“What if we go outside and we get hit by a car?”
“What?”
“Yeah and then we die and Megan would’ve been the last person you fucked.”
He burst out laughing. He lifted his torso and propped himself on an elbow, and stared down at her, eyes twinkling. “Yeah, that would be awful, right?”
She was smiling coyly. “Yeah, awful. So, we could do something about that, if you wanted.”
“If I wanted!” he repeated, laughing again. “Trust me, I … wanted … since I put a hand on your arm.” He traced his fingers on her upper arm where he’d first touched her, in what seemed like hours ago. “Or maybe it was right after I turned on the bedroom light and saw your face clearly.”
“No way.”
“Yes way. I even asked you, but you weren’t interested. Sorry I asked, by the way. I shouldn’t have assumed you’d be okay with that.”
“Oh, but I was. It’s just that … you just smelled … so bad.”
He inhaled sharply in mock offense, then rolled on top of her, grinning. “Oh no you didn’t. You … crossed the line!”

***

 

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Short Story Friday

Parkway Picnic

by 

Anne Marie Andrus

 

“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I shouted at the six lanes of southbound traffic that slowed to a miserable crawl and then ground to a complete stop.

     Never should have agreed to go in on this ridiculous shore house with my friends. Never.

I unbuckled an antique lap belt and hoisted myself through the old car’s sunroof. Red brake lights snaked ahead for miles.

     Way back in January,No thank you,” had been on the tip of my tongue. But everyone insisted I get out more—find a man—up my game. I’ve met every doctor, lawyer, accountant and stockbroker in this state. Boo, not interested.

Across the median’s concrete barrier, the northbound lanes were eerily empty.

     That’s a lousy sign. Looks a bit like my love-life.

I slumped down in my seat just as sirens blared and strobes lit up the rear-view mirror. Police cars wove down the gravelly shoulder followed by firetrucks, wreckers and a lone ambulance.

     If one ambulance is all they need, maybe it’s just a fender bender?

I fished for a tablet in my backpack and scrolled to the traffic app. Bright red lines in both directions were punctuated by a slew of orange circles with lines through the middle. I banged my forehead on the steering wheel until a muffled bark and wet nose brought me back to reality.

“Oh, puppy. It’s you and me against world, right?” I rubbed fluffy ears. “And I’m sure you have to pee.”

Buried under folding chairs, a mini barbecue grill and my bundle of beach towels, I found a leash.

The car sputtered and stalled.

     Damn jalopy. At least it won’t overheat.

I reached out and checked the pavement with my hand. “Too hot for you, little Bonnie.” I hoisted the tawny furball into my arms and knocked the car door shut with my hip. Two lanes away, the grassy median beckoned. I squeezed past a conversion van covered in bible-verse bumper stickers. Inside tightly rolled up windows, the driver blasted show tunes and conducted an invisible orchestra to his own private musical. A silver-haired woman in the car next to him pointed and laughed. I giggled and waved to her with one of Bonnie’s paws.

While I looked around, the puppy sniffed the grass, investigating the scent of every soul that had stopped here before.

     What is that rumble? Can’t be thunder. Maybe a dragon?

I swallowed hard as if I were on a plane, trying to relieve eardrum pressure. A few seconds of silence fell over the crowded highway before the crystal-clear sky exploded into chaos.

     Helicopters!

One—two—three! Medevac choppers roared overhead, low enough for me to read the numbers on their bellies. I spun to check for another as the leash snapped against my wrist. Searing heat shot through my ankle just before my shoulder crashed against the edge of the pavement.

Screams and slamming doors echoed in my skull as I scrambled, desperately searching for the leash. Invisible hands came from all directions, sitting me up and brushing me off.

“Bonnie!” I pushed everyone away. “I lost my dog!”

“Don’t worry dear.” A lady in hospital scrubs handed me an ice pack for my ankle, took my pulse and looked deep in both eyes. “A young man ran after the pup.” Apparently satisfied I would live, she peered past me. “And . . . he’s got her.”

“Small miracle I didn’t hit my head.” I accepted a gauze pad from over my shoulder and held it against my skinned elbow. I turned to see the four-pronged base of a cane and followed the trail of oxygen tubing to a tan, smiling face.

“I have a first aid kit, dear.” The silver-haired woman patted my good shoulder. “For just this situation.”

“How klutzy am I? A blind person could see that—” I gestured toward the rough curb.

“Here you go, miss.” A silken baritone voice swept over me as calloused palms placed a wiggly puppy in my lap. “What a perfect angel. Half terrier, half collie?”

“She’s a rescue so, probably a little of everything. Thank you so much for—” I kissed Bonnie’s fuzzy head and looked up at the good Samaritan who retrieved her.

     Whoa.

“Thank you…” I read the letters on his navy-blue work shirt. Beveled Edge Blacksmith Shop. Is that even a thing? My gaze wandered over his sculpted biceps, past his perfectly trimmed goatee and up to dancing emerald eyes. “Ummm, you’re totally covered in dog hair.”

“You’re very welcome.” The man started to brush off his chest and tossed his arms up. “Mud, dog hair, horse hair…all day. Everyday. I may be hopeless.”

“You can’t be from around here.”

“Of course, I am. Born and raised.” The man offered his hand and helped me to my feet. “I’m Justin.”

“I’m Grace.” I looked at my bruised knees and handful of bloody gauze. “Just a name, not a description.”

“Come on, Miss Grace. I have water and snacks in the cooler. Enough for everyone.” He waved all the bystanders toward his shiny pick-up truck, stopping to make sure the silver-haired woman’s cane was firmly planted on flat pavement. “Ma’am, what’s better than a Friday night Parkway Picnic?”

Butterflies swirled in my stomach and tiny sparks danced in my throat. I hoisted Bonnie in my arms and whispered in her ear. “Okay, so I maybe I haven’t met every man in New Jersey.”

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Short Story Friday

New Orleans Tripping

by

Christian Terry

 

A snore awoke George as he rolled over on the cold concrete ground in an New Orleans alley. The sweet after taste of raspberry pie that he had many hours ago lingered in his dried mouth. His head throbbed. The chirping birds and the rising sun signaling the new day didn’t make it any better. “Ugh,” He groaned as he turned on his side. “What did she slip me?” He asked to the man that awoke him perched on the wall in front of him.

Instead of getting an answer the man gave him a shrug and drank out of a wrinkly brown paper bag before falling asleep. George peeled himself off of the ground to his feet then made himself leave the alleyway. Once he left he had found himself in the middle of a busy street corner where a multitude of people marched down the streets and sidewalks. While gathering his bearings a gang of musicians rushed behind him.

Each of them carrying instruments from saxophones to snare drums. This concerned George as he cleared his throat. “Can I help y’all?” He asked. The band immediately began to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” causing a scene in the center of the very busy street. George was aghast at the scene. People never did things like this in Atlanta, only in New Orleans.

He looked at his watch, it was just seven thirty in the morning. Way too early for this, he thought. George took off into the middle of the street dodging several cars as he weaved through the traffic. He made it across the street and continued to run until he could not hear any music behind him. George ducked around the corner of a building to catch his breath. At this moment he saw the flashing lights of a neon sign that read twenty four hour fortune teller. This was familiar, he thought as he brushed through the wooden door.

A very pale woman that sat behind a purple clothed round table jumped to her feet. ” Oh no, no,no, you need to leave right now!” She yelled as George looked on in confusion. In the distance a microwave timer chimed.

“Excuse me ma’am, I think I was in here last night and you put something in my drink. You said it was a magic elixir. After I drank it I awoke on a side street with a bum. I think you owe me an apology.” He said.

The woman’s eyes almost bulged out of her head. “An apology?” She screeched. “You owe me one!”

“How so?”

“Sir you barged in here yelling, ‘Who Dat?’, went into my kitchen and ate almost all of my raspberry pie by hand without cutting it. Asked me for a healing elixir. When I said I didn’t know what you were talking about you took the bottle of vinegar that sat on my counter and drank from it. Then you broke the bottle on my floor and began to dance with the band you had following behind you.” The fortune teller said almost in a single breath.

“Impossible.” George said to himself.

The woman handed him her smartphone where there was video of George clear as day doing what she had depicted in high definition video. Guilt had struck him. It was all coming back to him. George had hired a band to follow him around the French Quarter. It just cost a total of a hundred bucks to have an mini parade at the courthouse. Two hundred for the police escort which he didn’t think he needed. At the time it was the best hundred bucks he could spend. He must’ve been really wasted that he couldn’t recognize his own actions on the video. “Did…did I choose to leave?” He asked.

“No, I showed you my baseball bat and threatened to call the cops, you took off like an Olympic sprinter.” The pale lady said.

A doorbell rang and the marching band appeared, surrounded the two, and began to play. George flashed the store’s matriarch an awkward smile.


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Short Story Friday

A COUPLE ON A CRUISE

 

a short story by Elizabeth Lemons

 

The tropical scent of plumeria clobbered my nostrils and I breathed it in headily while slowly rubbing some reef-safe Kokua sun care into my old man’s shoulders. He was starting to turn really red. Vincent was a looker, even in his distinguished years, he was a killer with a knee-weakening smile and a penchant for rum. All women noticed him, even now, as he lay in the sun, his eyes hidden beneath dark sunglasses while lounging aboard this sea-bound vessel. No man should look this fine (at forty years shy of one hundred). Only I seemed to realize lately that his walk had slowed somewhat and he hesitated a bit longer before speaking these days. His mentality remains smart as a tack and quick as a fox, though I can feel the quieter years of his life beginning to alter his aura. Even now, I still sometimes can’t believe that at night he always chooses to go home with me. Yes, he really is THAT fine.

I first met him at Bay Varascio, his family’s ancestral manse located on a secluded Australian beach overlooking turquoise clear blue waters. After a rather brief phone interview, I was hired sight unseen to come and live-in as his personal chef. Vincent Varascio lived alone. He hated preparing meals for himself and could easily afford to pay someone to keep him and his diet on track. His entire family had died in a plane crash one winter’s night long ago after celebrating Christmas together at the villa.. The entire family had flown after Christmas Day in the family jet to New York, where their festive joy would continue as they together planned to share a holiday Broadway show. Regretfully, Vincent had needed to finish a business deal at home, and then his plan was that he would follow them to the Big Apple in his own private plane. He had been a pilot since he was 16. His family’s jet never made it to New York.

Since that time, Vincent had assumed a very subdued lifestyle. He had never married, never lived the life of a playboy, never been a flamboyant spender, though he had the ways and means for both. He was quiet, reserved, and seemed to spend the majority of his lonely, countless hours reading in his library. Vincent was brutally handsome. Oh, I already mentioned that?

I grew up by the sea in a world very far away from Australia. I hail from a tiny beach town in Alabama called Gulf Shores. My dad died when I was young, and my mother still spends her days rocking on a swing on her covered porch that overlooks the Gulf. She very recently has shown some interest in a gentleman who is a rather famous mystery writer. I love watching them together, and enjoyed their company immensely for with them, there was always laughter. With nothing by my mother’s happiness in mind, I recently decided to venture out from the dockside restaurant where I nightly applied my talents. Though I loved my small town life, I needed something new. A change of view.

My only true requirements in life were to have a great place and ingredients so I could cook, a secret plot of ground of my own to garden a bit, and quiet mornings where I could contemplate a little and perhaps write by the sea. My cheating lying former fiance’ had rearranged my heart’s prerogatives, stolen a treasure trove of non-retrievable trust, and all of my girlhood hopes, so this (literally) out-of-the-blue offer was a total dream job for me, for the Master of the Villa ate very little. This transcribed as a lot of time to do whatever the heck I wanted to do in the hours that were my own. He did, however, occasionally host parties, nothing too extravagant. Just tasteful coastal elegance, and usually even then the parties were for his sea-faring mates and rare business associates. Vincent always felt he owed people he befriended the pleasure of enjoying his inherited luxurious surroundings as much as he himself enjoyed and partook of its history. Mornings he would stop into the well-appointed cosy kitchen for a quick cup of dark roast brew and small bite of whatever tantalizing pastry or baked good I had freshly concocted, rarely was he around for lunch, but evenings always found us both together as I served him a dinner that was usually fresh from the sea in the romantic courtyard, which always smelled of the yellow and white frangipani flowers that encompassed the hand-hon long rock table that grandly overlooked the sea. He would sit, barely eat, sip on a cocktail, and with his graceful long fingers, beckon me to join him. He didn’t flirt, but his magnetic blue eyes held much water, Soon he and I had created a little private dinner game which promptly progressed into late afternoon contests of our taking turns to mix drinks we had never tried and make tantalizing, funny beach snacks to share. He even made friends with the huge grill and so that became his cooking “specialty”. Night after night, we together watched the sun set in vivid pinks and oranges and streaks of lavender color as it spilled over our still-as-glass bay while the sun headed off to bed. He was 35 then, and I was 25, or was it 26? Didn’t matter, for over a few years, we had become saturated by the tides, aged by the scorching sun, and forever living life on our own solitary terms. Together.

Every breath we took became filled with our life’s together dream to preserve and rescue all things marine. Even this day, our big cruise on this super luxury yacht (which had belonged to his father years ago) was embarked upon so that we could meet up with some friends willing to spend most of summer’s upcoming weeks beside us, working to clean specific areas of floating plastic and tossed refuse that are detrimentally affecting the coral reefs along Australia’s coast. My husband’s old family money enables us to sponsor a team of others dedicated to doing all they can to try to save marine ecosystems that are being annihilated by careless humans. I look at him, he looks silently at me, and we cannot speak. The harm that has been wrought upon the earth is beyond horrific and terrifying to both marine life and humans. So we don’t talk about it much. We are more the kind of people who are doers. Sure, Vincent writes checks to aid many charities and non-profits, and good comes from that, but today’s cruise is for the purpose of gathering some friends and all of us can organize, and we can clean and we can make some small difference. Vincent and I can and want to physically get out there to help.

Enthusiastic younger folks admire Vincent, especially the teen-age girls. They can’t help it! He is rugged, and he is gentle and is quite famous for rescuing dolphins, turtles and once, even a whale who found itself entangled in an abandoned fisherman’s net. That grateful humpback whale now lives at the Australia Zoo because he was too injured to ever be released again into the wild. Known as Louis, this whale will always need help and supervision, but, he lived. Vincent is a well-studied marine biologist. While we are at sea, I relinquish most of my cooking duties in order to help by recording data, sending texts and using my previous kitchen skills in organizing as we attempt to hold clean-up missions, promote smarter ways to take care of our earth and waters at rallies held on beaches, schools, and even town meetings. Whatever it takes. And we do it together. We sail, and we meet up with friends at nearby 2 different ports. Then we make our last stop to pick up our friend, Jason.

SHIPS AHOY! OH, BOY!

Captain’s Log: June 7 Mid-mission, tonight, we are surrounded on board with our usual 8 or so environmental mates and (despite my cautious warning to my husband), have unwittingly just allowed a few unknown seamen aboard our boat, based on recommendation from one our own crew members. This will prove to be detrimental.

Jason was one of our family. The son of one of Vincent’s best mates, Jason literally had been helping us on every clean-up or rescue mission for the past 8 years. Working sometimes as a bartender, sometimes as a musician, Jason’s youthful, partying ways were always of the parrot-headed, “let’s-share-a-beer” friendly sort, enabling him to being able to make himself at home with anyone he ever crosses paths with. Today, his recent bar buddies consisted of a rather scraggly-looking tri-team of treasure hunters who had just this week had some bad luck when their own boat sank to the depths of the Indian Ocean. Their story was that someone had meant to toss a cigarette butt overboard, maybe. Or maybe it blew back on board bringing flame ignition. Maybe. None of the 3 young men seemed sure of how their boat burst into flames. At least, this non-specific bantering is all they can think of at the moment, and before one could sing “By the Sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea”, their treasure ship went up in smoke and these 20-something “Lost Boys” were floating around in the salty water like crackers crumbled over hot soup.

“They just need a lift, aaaaaaaand, they are willing to clean, sort through plastic debris, bag it, haul it, whatever you want them to do, they will do it, for their passage to Rottnest Island. They are just a bit low on funds, cause, (he laughs) we had a REALLY great time back at the Pelican. These guys are short on buying a ticket for the ferry back home cause they lost a bet to me and had to buy the bar a final round.” “ Aw, come on, it’s just a 30-45 minute ride to Rottnest, not even out of our way.”

When I heard this, I shivered a bit, and looked immediately at Vincent, who fell for it all, hook, line and sinker. He was always so happy when people would offer on their own to step in to help him fight the polluted, and devastated waters. He could only see smiles and strong capable arms. My ears focused on the words “Rottnest”. My womanly intuition kicked into high gear, and I could feel T-R-O-U-B-L-E. I wondered if these guys ever even had a boat, much less one that went up in flames,

“Alright, Jason, I trust you, man”, I heard Vincent say as he waved the newbies aboard. Their luggage consisted of beer cans, one held in each of their hands. “No problem, we’ll just buzz by your island, drop you guys off. I thank you for your help.”

“No worries, mate”, the “leader” passenger, known secretly in my mind as “Toothless”, of the nefarious tri-pack of dudes nodded in agreement, and so, they all climbed up the stairwell. And, with nothing more than that being said, three complete strangers entered our safe water haven. The mean one, and his two pets. Clearly, the two clueless men followed the bolder one into less-than-above-board heists and tricks. There was no light in their eyes. I truly hate to say this, but when he was young, my husband would never have allowed anyone he didn’t know to climb aboard, especially black hearts such as these. It seemed that with age comes a lack of judgment and I was sad to see this. Vincent had always had a great handle on sniffing out insincere people who excelled at taking advantage. Nonetheless, we continued to sail towards night as the setting sun shimmied downward into the now darkening waters. Our naturalist friends, our only TRUE traveling companions, were occupied with taking showers before dinner or attempting to Skype home, or focusing on tomorrow’s clean-water strategy plans at a long table by the stern’s rail. Dinner would transpire in about an hour here on the bow and everyone would gather back together then. Thoughtfully, Vincent had hired a ship chef to keep us fed while we all worked, allowing me some time to relax and enjoy being with him as we sailed.

Like most couples on a cruise, we sipped on some Sangria while enjoying some mango salsa. It had just the right “zang” from added slivered jalapenos. The Lost Boys sat at another close-by round table and they immediately made themselves at home, each of them drinking cold beers while they rumbled on about starvation and how hungry they were as they shoved chips and salsa into their faces and dripped messily onto their table. Raucous laughter and a loud burp ensued, they were downright uncouth, when suddenly, they lowered their voices and began to talking rather quietly amongst themselves, and I couldn’t help but try to get a reading on them from Vincent, who seemed more concerned with some documents he had lain across our table. I kept looking for his eyes to meet mine, (‘look at me, Vincent’, I silently commanded) but, alas, he just kept searching for something that seemed to be tragically missing as he flipped back and forth between pages.

“Shall I go fetch your reading glasses, darling?” I offered. Vincent hated to wear them in public, but the sexy old man was blind as a bat!

“Umm, no, that’s alright. I am just trying to understand why this contract doesn’t seem to clarify the parameters of how this detrimentally hazardous ancient floating palace is to be re-purposed, I want it removed from out of the water, and I need to be sure each condition I have specified is completed before I finalize this sale of the Mother O —-WHOMP!

One of the Lost Boys had silently stood, then walked over behind Vincent, and used a weighty copper lantern he had picked up off another table to knock out my dear Vincent before I even realized he was beside us. Vincent slumped over the table, a tiny trickle of blood began to run down his face. I screamed as I simultaneously jumped out of my seat at the same time, looking for any thing I could use as a weapon. Vincent was face down in his paper work as I snatched a small but heavy, carved mermaid figurehead off the wall and tried to swing it towards the assailant. With my first swing, I missed and the bastard just stood there and laughed at me as the weight of the mermaid caused me to fall onto the hard wooden deck. As I scrambled to get back up, he grabbed for the papers beneath Vincent’s face. “Rich sod with no brain,” he laughed heartily again with his deviant but dumb mates as skimmed over the printed papers. “Says here, “Deed of Sale…hmmm, and it’s for this monstrosity of a boat. Ain’t THAT convenient!” Maniacal laughter pursued as the nasty, nosy man picked at his rotten teeth and he flipped to the back page. “Aw mates, get this..this dumb shit trusting bugger done gone and signed off on it. We’re rich! “, he said as he confidently turned towards his sitting-in-a-befuddled-daze crew to boast some more about what he actually believed was his newly acquired ship. By this time, two of our own shipmates had managed to run across the far side of the boat deck towards our table, in full-blown protection mode. Jason was running with a speed I had never witnessed before.

The second swing of the mermaid had me sitting once again in the floor, but this time I used my whole body to whip that hunk of wood around and I walloped that vile man right in his pillaging-ass kneecap. It snapped with a loud bone CRUNCH! As soon as “Toothless” wailed in excruciating pain, Jason arrived, looking a bit like Aqua man, brandishing his weighty muscles as his sexy long dark hair swung in the breeze. He was holding both a pistol and a knife. And, he knew how to use them. But, he didn’t. Instead, he called the Australian Maritime Border Command (they were on their way). More members of our own original crew had come running at the sound of my scream and had now tied all three of these horrible men to the lower bar foot rails until help could haul them away. Curse words cascaded and were as abundant as the worry for the ship’s captain. The sea air was solemn.

I rushed to rouse Vincent, poor sweet trusting now frail man, who was attempting to get his bearings and sit back up in the chair. He was not succeeding. “I’m sorry, honey”, he stammered. “I should have known better. I am just an old man, I made a mistake. I should have never jeopardized this voyage or your safety, my darling. It was to be our final cruise aboard the “Mother Ocean” for I had decided to get rid of this opulent water tub for a smaller more Eco-friendly boat that would enable us to work and dock more easily. Now it seems, my hesitation in selling what is obviously an unnecessary outdated luxury has, indeed, become our final cruise together.” One single tear crept down my left cheek as I held Vincent’s dear face, and gently wiped away the blood from his temple.

I held him close, and must have been rocking him back and forth, even as the evil Lost Boys were being taken away. I wailed. I kept sobbing and crying “No! Come back. Come back, Vincent! You are NOT an old man! You are NOT an old man”, I kept saying it, over, and over and over, even as Jason peeled me away from my beloved’s limp body.

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE

Later, I lay on my back, encompassed cozily beneath soft cotton sheets, with my head deeply pressed into a lush pillow. My eyes opened as I heard Vincent’s sweet voice, “ Ashe, Ashe!…Wake up, now, Ashera!” (pronounced Ugh sheer ugh). “Darling, we have arrived at our first port and Megan and Toshi await!” He took my hand, pulled me close to his chest and kissed my hair and neck. “What a dream you must have had, come back to me, Ashe!,” he softly said to me as I made my way back to now. He kissed away my tears. I blinked, then opened my eyes once more.

Oh, God, there he was again. What a gorgeous man! My blue eyes sparkled from my sleepy tears where I had been holding so tightly to my older, fallen love, but now, I found I held nothing but complete adoration for the sea god who sat beside me on the bed. But, what? How could this be? I shook my head back and forth. Vincent looked to be 35 years old. He was young again, just a few years older than when we first met! No grey, no wrinkles, no decades of times past shared together. This was just my husband. And we were just a happy couple, on a cruise.

Captain’s Log: After this day, there will be no more Bacardi 151 for me
while shipboard lounging out in the hot, hot sun…
while cruising with my baby…

THE END

Short Story Friday

A Lunch Date Gone Wrong

By:

Victoria Clapton

2019

 

The bright orange glow from tonight’s full moon glowed over the mostly empty benches on Jackson Square. It was a cool, autumn evening in the French Quarter. Most of the tourists and artisans headed home over an hour ago and were now missing the magical ambience that situated on the old cobblestones.

“Are you ready, Sybella Rose?” I shivered as Demien’s hand came to rest in the small of my back, reassuring me that this idea of a date, a date with a vampire, wasn’t crazy.

I held up a heavy picnic basket my friend Aloysius had filled and smiled. “Sure.”

Like me, Demien loved to go down to the river at night, to watch the waters of the Mississippi roll by in rippling shimmers, so I didn’t even ask him where we were heading for our lunch date at 2:00 a.m. Over the levee, towards the moonwalk, we had a spot.

He made no sound as he moved, guiding through shadows. Only his long dark hair, ruffled lightly in the breeze. The sweet, citrusy scent of bergamot assaulted my senses with every step he took, and I fought the irrational urge to reach out for him, to pull him into a kiss that he may not even want.

Recently, I’ve made a career at throwing myself at the almost five hundred year old vampire walking gracefully beside me. I physically could not stop myself. I needed to touch him, to consume him, to be consumed by him.

As he showed no signs of insatiable attraction, I can only assume he is not afflicted by the malady, a curse known as The Binding, as I was. This, too, his ability to ignore the urges pressed upon us, drove me even more insane.

Someone listened to Trombone Shorty in one of the cars that pass by on Decatur Street. This town, my beloved New Orleans, embraced its culture like no other place.

“Where are your thoughts?”

I hadn’t realized that Demien had paused at the crosswalk, waiting for the signal to cross over Decatur, and now scrutinized my temporary silence.

“I was just thinking about New Orleans and its artists. Such a special place.”

The walk light flickered, and we crossed the street. I did not even bother with why a vampire cares about crosswalk procedures at two in the morning. Demien was filled with so many conundrums, keeping up with them was impossible.

“That’s why we locals fight so hard to keep outsiders from ruining it.”

I panicked for a moment, right in the middle of the road, when it occurred to me I no longer held the heavy picnic basket. Demien urged me along, shaking the picnic basket he must have grabbed from me at some point as he guided me towards our lunch destination.

Nerves assaulted me. No matter how long this went on, I continued to find myself baffled at the way Demien’s presence both calmed me and shot my nerves to frazzled. I could never predict what he would do next. His actions caught me off guard.

So, I stood there on a grassy patch near the moonwalk and the river, watching him spread out a checkered picnic blanket for me to sit upon while we dined…well, while I dined.

His movements held my attention as he carefully unloaded the basket–a bowl of fruit salad, a po’ boy dressed, a few bottles of Abita Amber. The snacks kept coming, more food than I could eat.

My mouth draped open as Demien opened each item of food, arranging it beautifully before me, and then held his hand out to help me sit in the Victorian skirt I had chosen to wear tonight.

This man, this vampire, was ruthless. Terrifying. I had seen him kill. I’d felt his violent rage against me, and I could not reconcile the horror with his heart.

“How was your day?” He motioned for me to begin eating as he stretched out his impossibly long legs and leaned back on his hands.

“You’re beautiful.” I murmured, then cursed. I hated this curse. I took a breath, then I answered his original question like a normal person. “JoJo taught me how to draw a few veves today, but I had to promise not to catch anything else in the shoppe on fire.”

“Again?” There was a smile in his tone. I could not control the magick inside of me, everyone knew it. Asking me to not let my emotions take over, to not magickly ignite the voodoo shoppe or anything else into roaring flames was almost a joke.

“Look, Mr. Vampy-Pants, this is your fault.” I was teasing, but his dead body lost whatever semblance of pretend mortality he acted out as it froze into complete stillness and his gaze settled onto the water.

He had slipped back into the dark place where he resided, and I had to do something before my stupid comment ruined our lunch date.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, you know. Believe it or not, even though you are a huge pain in my ass…I enjoy your company.”

“You’re not eating.”

“Jerk!” I whispered under my breath but picked up the po’ boy and took a huge bite.

He scoffed but relaxes somewhat, and I focused on my food to keep from crawling into his lap and begging him to take me right there in public.

The moment between us was peaceful, enjoyable even, until a whirring sound and a warning yell pulled me from my happy place.

“Watch out!”

Demien scooped me up in a blur, and the eruption of thuds and thwacks in the place where we’d just been sitting took me by surprise.

“What the bloody hell?” I declared, though I’m less concerned with what interrupted our moment than the loss of Demien’s arms when he released me.

I took in the tenseness in Demien’s shoulders, the way he ever-so-slightly crouched, and looked beyond him to see that some punk had been out on the Moonwalk in the middle of the night in roller skates and had lost control, careening through the grass straight on top of our picnic.

Demien’s anger froze the kid into place. Having let his guard down with me, he’d slipped straight into predator mode at the first hint of me being in danger.

I stepped around my solid hunk of vampire and offered a hand to the kid who’d plummeted upon our lunch. “Here, let me help you up. Are you hurt?”

He stuttered and stammered, “N…no. I’m fine. I’m so-sorry.”

“Okay,” I said calmly. “You should go.”

Like any rational person, I thought that if anyone should get bitten here, it damned well better be me, but I kept my thoughts to myself and aided the kid to his feet.

“Sorry, again. I didn’t mean to…” The kid’s preservation instinct kicked in and he took off into the night.

I took a deep breath and began picking up the remnants of our lunch date gone wrong, and then pulled on the bond between us. “Demien, come to me.”

I didn’t know if he’d succumb to my request. He was just as likely to disappear into the night. I packed everything away except the blanket, which I flipped over.

“Demien, come and sit.”

He didn’t look at me. Deep down, I knew he couldn’t. He was fighting the demon inside of him, the predator that had wanted to kill, that still wanted to kill. But he once more found a place on the blanket.

Relief rushed through me…then insanity. Without any hesitation, I maneuvered my body until I was sitting between his two legs with my back up against his chest. My bare neck waiting, beckoning just below his mouth.

“Sybella,” he growled in warning.

His fangs brushed against my skin.

“What? Didn’t we come here for lunch?”

 

 

 

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The Weaver–Cover Reveal!

THE WEAVER

by

Heather Kindt

 

Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more.

 

 

Coming Fall 2019!

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The Parliament House

Beau and the Clockwork Girl

 
Title: Beau and the Clockwork Girl
Author: Kami Bryant
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy Romance
 

 

Blurb:
In this steampunk, fantasy, romance, Beau’s lost love has been enchanted to forget her memories and to suppress her emotions. Beau meets a dragonfly fairy, Juniper to assist him in the quest to save his love and break her enchantment. Beau has to teach his princess to feel, for she replaced her heart with clockwork and now she has become evil and cruel. Beau has loved his princess Em, since they were children but Em has forgotten what it is to feel because, if you decide to give up your emotions so that you are not in pain, you will also lose your ability to love.
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Kami lives in the Pacific Northwest with her son and her two cats. She has been writing stories since she was six, when she wrote a story about a white cat who wanted to be a black cat for Halloween.
Beau and the Clockwork Girl is her first published novel and she intends to write more gender bending, genre mixing, fairy tale re-imaginings.
She thanks everyone for their support as she continues her journey as a self-published author.
 
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Emberlyn’s thighs gripped her sturdy mount as the black horse galloped through the forest. Her painfully tight plaited dark brown hair pinned in an intricate knot held back at the nape of her neck with a brass comb. She laughed as she and the large horse flew down the path, the wind hitting her in the face. It was the smell of freedom. Out here no one could tell her how a proper princess should act. There were no rules out here and she loved it.
“Faster Onyx,” she urged. Princess Emberlyn wore black leather pants much like the ones her mother wore. She also wore a black leather corset that was a twin to her mother’s and a bright, blood-red blouse. Her heavy black leather boots, adorned with buckles, gripped the sides of her horse as she urged him to a faster pace. She risked a quick glance behind her shoulder and saw the pale horse named Buttermint and the mare’s rider quickly gaining on them. Onyx tossed his black  mane and seemed to chuckle a horsey nicker as he continued racing down the forest path.
The mare Buttermint and her rider quickly overtook the racing Onyx and pulled abreast of Emberlyn. The princess squealed as the rider reached over with his long arm and pulled her out of her saddle with his left, while holding Buttermint’s reins tightly in his right hand. He plopped the princess in the saddle in front of him, pushing her firmly against the pommel. Emberlyn squirmed in Buttermint’s saddle and slid her bottom farther down and settled against the boy’s strong, broad chest. The youth reached over and grabbed Onyx’s reins. The black stallion shook his mane and whinnied his chuckle. Buttermint answered with a softer neigh.
“Whoa,” said Beau as he slowed down the two horses. Emberlyn was trapped in his muscled arms and his broad chest which was her favorite place to be. She felt safe and loved. She loved the feel of the vibrations of his deep voice rumbling against her back and her nipples hardened with her excitement. Emberlyn squirmed away from Beau’s right arm that trapped her against his body as he struggled with Onyx with his left. Emberlyn gripped the pommel of Buttermint’s saddle and lifted her body up, sliding her right leg underneath her bottom and then slid her right leg across the back of the horse until both of her legs were leaning against Buttermint’s left flank. Gripping the pommel tightly with her right hand, Emberlyn shouted “Watch out!” Beau dropped Onyx’s reins and leaned back into a laying position, his head resting on Buttermint’s rump. Emberlyn lifted her body up with her right hand, balancing on her tail bone and kicked her left leg up and over Beau’s reclining form, and then sat up in the saddle facing Beau. The boy with the dirty blond hair sat up and tightly grasped Emberlyn’s waist keeping his balance on the horse with his strong thighs.
“What are you doing?” he chuckled in his deep voice.
Emberlyn’s brown eyes gazed into the boy’s bright blue ones and she leaned into his strong torso, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling herself closer against his chest, her warm lips meeting his in a deep passionate kiss as her breasts pushed up against her corset. She pulled back and smiled shyly as Beau smiled back at her.
“That was extremely dangerous,” Beau admonished. “What would I tell the queen if you fell?”
“You would never let me fall,” replied Emberlyn.
Beau shook his messy, long, loose dirty blond hair. “Of course, I wouldn’t, but what if…”
“I was taught that move by the best horse rider in all of Mirovia. Maybe the best rider in all the land,” interjected Princess Emberlyn. “Want to see what else I can do while on top of this horse?
“No. Enough of your trick riding,” scolded Beau. “How can you even do all that while wearing a corset?” he asked running his hands down the tight binding and boning of the princess’s garment.
“You would be amazed about the amount of things I can do while wearing a corset,” she replied with a grin.
“What can you do out of your corset?” purred Beau.
Em arched her brow and slapped Beau’s arm playfully.