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romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 14

Every Sunday, my sisters and I descended on our childhood home to cook dinner for our parents. It became a tradition after my older sister, Lisa, moved to the other side of town for college. Maggie and I had missed her so much, and she came home every weekend to do laundry anyway, that we just decided it should be a thing. That was almost ten years ago.

This particular Sunday was about three weeks after the bridal shop ‘incident’. Once they all knew I was safe, they hadn’t pushed for more information. The last two weekends had slipped by in pleasant conversation and homemade pie without a scene.

But my mother had reached her limit.

My sisters and I were dancing around the kitchen, working together like a clunky, rusty machine, but still getting the job done. Dad was in the living room watching one of the news channels, giving them back his commentary. My mom was sitting on a stool at the kitchen island, trying to stay out of our way for fear of being trampled.

We were singing along to the radio as we worked, laughing at each other and lost in the music. Then Judy switched off the sound and slapped her hands on the marble counter.

“Okay, that’s about enough!”

Maggie nibbled at the celery she’d been chopping.

“We weren’t THAT bad, were we? I mean, Alexis was a little flat, but otherwise – “

“That’s not what I was referring to, and you know it.”

Tugging at her sleeve, Lisa steered Maggie to the far side of the kitchen. It seemed I was the only one not quite grasping the situation and I continued to root around in the fridge.

“Alexis Marie! I have been patient. I have tried to be understanding. But, by god, I deserve an explanation!”

There was complete silence following her outburst. I even heard my dad lower the volume on the television. That was kind of his thing; listening without obviously listening. Maggie and Lisa were huddled in the corner, well out of reach of our enraged mother – and me.

“Well?”

Well, indeed. Once again, I was faced with the task of trying to explain something I wasn’t sure I understood, myself.

“I am sorry for sneaking out on you like that. I don’t have an excuse. It was rude and selfish – ”

“And childish.” Mom gave me a glare that dared me to contradict her.

“And childish. I should have apologized a long time ago.”

That seemed to soften Judy’s resolve a bit. She raised her eyebrows, crossed her arms, and nodded.

“Thank you. We sat out there for a good hour before anyone realized you weren’t there. Poor Janice thought you had been kidnapped, or something.”

Shoving my hands in my pockets, I leaned back against the refrigerator. All I could do was stare at the floor and hope the words to make things better would materialize before me. Thankfully, my mom couldn’t stand the silence and the tension.

“Oh, sweetie. What on earth made you run away? Was it all just overwhelming?”

I shrugged. “A little. It’s just…I was looking at myself in that mirror and it was all so real all of a sudden. I guess I panicked.”

“Don’t you want to marry Jamie anymore?”

“Oh god Lisa, yes! I do want to marry him! Just not…yet.”

Maggie took the stool next to Mom and slung an arm over her shoulders.

“Can you believe this shit, Judy?”

We all snorted – all except Judy.

“Margaret! Watch your mouth! And since when don’t you call me Mom?”

“Since I am a grown, independent woman.”

“…who raids mom’s kitchen rather than go shopping for herself.” Lisa dodged her sister’s playful swat and wrapped me in a hug.

“I heard you were with Chris a couple weeks ago.”

Everyone perked up at Lisa’s statement, mouths round in shock.

I rolled my eyes.

“Oh my god, you guys! I wasn’t ‘with’ him in the Biblical sense! Is that what you think of me? We went to dinner. That is ALL.”

My dad, showing he was following along with the conversation just fine, thank you very much, piped up without turning around.

“How is old Chris, anyway? I always liked that kid.”

Turning on her stool, my mom was the one to reply.

“Jim, I’ve told you all this before. He’s divorced and lives with his little boy in the guest house on his parents’ farm. You’ve seen them.”

He waved his hand, lazily in the air. “Oh sure, sure. I remember that now.”

After a short silence, Dad hoisted himself from his armchair and wandered into the kitchen.

“Lex, what were you doing going out with Chris? Are things okay with you and Jamie?”

Well now. That WAS a question, wasn’t it?

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 13

Doug and I only dated for a few weeks, all told. He had wooed me, bringing me flowers, giving me compliments. After being rejected by Chris, it was a nice change to feel wanted and adored.

Our relationship turned physical pretty quickly. Looking back, that was my error; I had assumed that because he was younger than I was, he was more innocent, too. But I learned Doug was very skilled in the art of manipulation.

Chris and I had never had sex. We loved each other, but we just never got to that point – it never seemed necessary. Sure, there was a lot of making out (top of my list of favorite things, remember?) and a fair amount of heavy petting, but we were both still virgins when we broke up.

Knowing what I know now, Doug’s behavior was classic sociopath. He zeroed in on me, sensing my vulnerability and my need to see the good in others. He turned every situation to his advantage, making other people think that when he got in trouble, it wasn’t his fault. I caught him in a couple of lies but he gaslighted me into believing I was paranoid or overreacting.

I liked kissing Doug. I liked the way he made me feel, the things he whispered in my ear. He wanted to have sex, be the first for each other, but I wasn’t quite ready. He was disappointed but ultimately understanding each time I put on the brakes. But that didn’t stop him from trying to push things just a little farther every time we were together.

We had gotten a hotel room to ring in New Year’s Eve with our friends – well, the parent of one of our friends got the room. None of us was old enough. There was plenty of alcohol, the really horrible stuff that got you drunk quickly and made you sick the next day. The whole night, Doug and I hadn’t been actually fighting, but he had been distant and quiet. When I pressed him about it, he shrugged it off. He finally told me that he was so crazy about me and couldn’t stop thinking about touching me, and that I was making him miserable by saying no. Didn’t I love him?

Damn, he was good.

I had been drinking plenty of orange Mad Dog and was feeling pretty amorous. As the night wore on and I thought about it more and more, that addled, drunk teen brain was convinced that Doug really loved me, that I really wanted to have sex – and to have sex with him – and that I was finally  READY.

So, when I whispered coyly into his ear that I wanted him, he unceremoniously pulled me into the bathroom and we proceeded to fuck quickly and uncomfortably on the hotel bathroom counter, with everyone in the other room knowing exactly what was going on behind that door.

Not my proudest moment.

After that night, he became even more and more distant. There was always something else he had to do rather than take me out, or he couldn’t stay on the phone with me for more than a few minutes. There were no more flowers, no more sweet nothings in my ear. In their place arose hurtful criticisms disguised as backhanded compliments. He resorted to name-calling – nothing really hurtful, but instead of calling me sweetie or babe he started calling me dork and loser. All under the cloak of quirky terms of endearment.

I got off work early one weekend and decided to surprise him with dinner. Well, he had a surprise for me, too.

A coworker named Dawn, naked in his bed.

I screamed and yelled and cried and he blamed me for showing up unannounced, for not being more willing and available. He had needs that I wasn’t fulfilling.

What a jackass.

That had been a hard lesson for me to learn. After Doug, I didn’t date for almost a year. When I did, the summer before college, there was very little physical contact. One boy – so sweet and shy and kind – only got hugs on my front porch after our dates. For three months.

The last I had heard of Doug was that he had joined the Navy, following in his old man’s footsteps. I had convinced myself that I’d never have to see him again and had taken great comfort in that thought.

And yet, here he was. Leaning in too close, telling me sexist and dirty jokes. He never realized that I had been giving him the death glare for a solid five minutes.

He stumbled forward, pushing himself up against me and breathing heavily.

“Come on, Alexis, let’s get out of here. Relive some old times? Give me a chance to remind you what it’s like to be with a REAL man.”

Kelly materialized out of nowhere, throwing her arm around me and squeezing herself between me and Doug.

“Lex! Where’s the freaking wine? I’m dying over here!”

She paid the bartender, handed me the two glasses, and steered me toward our table with a high-pitched, “Byeeee!” thrown over her shoulder at a drunk and confused Doug.

His ball sack had been saved by Kelly that night, and he never even knew it.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 12

This couldn’t be happening.

Doug had crawled out from under his slimy rock somewhere. I thought I had scraped him off many years ago and had clung to the idea that I’d never have to see his smug face again.

After Chris and I had broken up, I was feeling pretty bad about myself. I turned to my work friends more often – Doug being one of them – and he fit in with everyone pretty well. We had worked together for nearly a year, but it wasn’t until my breakup that we became good friends. We hung out with our work crowd and talked on the phone almost every night. He was a lot of fun and very attentive and, after my devastating heartbreak, was a willing shoulder for me to cry on.

Then things started to change. It was subtle at first; suggesting we go see a movie or that I should come over to hang out. I would always offer to call the rest of our friends to join us, at which point he’d suddenly remember something else he had to do.

One night he confessed that he was in love with me. I laughed it off – he was younger than me, and kind of goofy, even if he was cute and charming. He tried multiple times to convince me we’d make a great couple; we were already close friends, we got along so well, we had fun together – why shouldn’t we take it to the next level? I turned him down over and over. I explained that I valued him as a friend and didn’t want to ruin that. That’s not what he wanted to hear, so he started to withdraw. He wouldn’t take my calls or was monosyllabic when he did.

Soon, he laid down an ultimatum. He wanted to be a couple. If I couldn’t do that, he couldn’t be friends with me. It was too painful for him. At that point, I had been leaning on him a lot for distraction from the sadness of my breakup with Chris, and I didn’t want to lose him. I hemmed and hawed for the weekend and finally agreed to go out on a date.

I cringe every time I think about it. What an idiot I was.

“Alexis, babe, you look pretty good! You’ve definitely aged well…” He sneered at me. “Are you surprised to see me?”

Trying to pass off a grimace as a smile, I hoped the lighting was dim enough he couldn’t tell.

“Doug, if I had a list of the people I least expected to see here tonight, you would be at the top of that list.”

He puffed out his chest and smirked. “Damn straight, I would!”

He would take that as a compliment.

“What have you been up to while I’ve been gone? Hanging around, missing me?” He leaned back and let his eyes wander all over me. I immediately wanted to vomit. “I don’t see a wedding ring…”

“Nope. But I see you have one. Congratulations.”

Like he had just remembered that he was married, he frowned at his hand.

“Oh yeah, that. No big deal. I hung out with Jill for a few months and then she got knocked up when I was home on leave. There was no way I was going to let her raise my kid without me. Marrying her seemed the best way to keep control of the situation and make sure she wasn’t out whoring around.”

My jaw dropped. There was absolutely nothing I could think of to say to that.

The bartender set two shots down in front of Doug and he slid one over to me.

“Come on, let’s celebrate!”

“Celebrate what, exactly?”

He leaned in close so I could smell his cheap cologne and the waves of alcohol on his breath.

“Us running into each other like this, baby. It’s great to see you, but I’d love to see even more of you, if you catch my drift.” He pulled away and winked.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“Thanks Doug, but my shot days are well behind me. Please, help yourself.”

With that, he shrugged and downed them both, shaking his arms with a loud, “Whoo!”

“You’re married, huh? And with a baby. Is your wife here?”

He smirked and shook his head slowly.

“Nope. I am free as a bird tonight. When I go out, I don’t want the old ball and chain hanging on me. Jill takes care of the kid and I send her money while I’m out on deployment. When I’m home, she does whatever I want, whenever I want it. Other than that, she doesn’t get into my business.”

I didn’t think it was possible, but Doug had become an even bigger misogynist douche.

Have You Met…Alexis

Sooo…It’s been rather a long time since I’ve introduced a character. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything but chapters of my serial, The Path of Least Dysfunction. I wish I could tell you that’s because I’ve been deep in the throes of editing. Instead, I’ve been distracting myself with the aforementioned serial…as well as starting two others.

Have I mentioned I’m the queen of procrastination?

Writing Dysfunction is so much fun! I’ve been getting great feedback on this story so I thought I’d introduce you to the star!

Have you met…Alexis?

Alexis is twenty-five, the middle of three sisters, and newly engaged. She adores her fiance, Jamie, but is suddenly overcome with cold feet – not because she doesn’t want to marry Jamie, but because she’s afraid it won’t last.

You see, Alexis is a bit of a control freak. She likes to know exactly what she’s getting into, what to expect every step of the way. Lists are calming for her and she loves to research places and people and experiences before she dives in. The more she knows about any situation ahead of time, the better.

As the wedding planning gets into full swing, the idea of “forever” starts to terrify her. It’s a lot of pressure. She adores Jamie and the idea that their marriage could end at some point, that she could face life without him, weighs heavily on her. Alexis like to borrow trouble and tends to imagine every possible scenario – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before long, she begins to fixate on the possibility that Jamie could fall out of love with her down the road, and that sends her into a tailspin. Her solution? To contact her previous significant boyfriends to find out what went wrong, why those relationships ended, and how to avoid doing anything that could come between her and the love of her life.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that by doing that, she may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Writing Alexis has been so much fun! She’s just neurotic enough to make her life interesting without crippling her. The relationships she revisits are a road map of her emotional development and will, hopefully, lead her back to Jamie and her happily-ever-after. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going to happen…Alexis is on her own path and I just follow along!

Feel free to comment below with any thoughts about Alexis, about her story, or anything else you want to know about my writing and writing process! Thanks for coming on this journey with me and I look forward to hearing from you!

The Path of Least Dysfunction chapters are released each Wednesday on this website, or can be followed on my Channillo.com page.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 11

“Wow. You kinda suck.”

I glared at Kelly. But her blunt candor was one of the things I appreciated the most about her.

We were sitting at one of our favorite pubs, unwinding after a hectic week. When I had finished filling her in on the last time Jamie had spoken to me, her jaw dropped open and she told me what I already knew.

I groaned, putting my face in my hands.

“I shouldn’t have called him. I know that now. But I missed him! I wanted to see him so badly. I mean, my feelings for him haven’t changed. But I’m just not ready. I need to see this through.”

Kelly swallowed the last of her wine and shook her head at me.

“Do you, though? What exactly do you think you’ll gain from this little journey?”

Heaving a sigh that carried all the heaviness in my heart, I grabbed our empty glasses and headed toward the bar.

“I’m gonna need at least a couple more of these to try to explain that.

I was lost in my own head while I waited for the fresh glasses of wine – my Moscato, Kelly’s Merlot. It hadn’t escaped my attention that my behavior had been pretty callous. I didn’t think about anything past my own selfish wants and, because of that, I had again hurt the one person I loved most in the world.

After he left, Jamie didn’t take my calls. I tried several times, leaving at least three messages. Finally, I got a text.

I just can’t right now, Lex. I need a minute.

I had cried when I read that.

I’m so sorry.

That exchange had been six days ago. I hadn’t tried to reach him again, and there was radio silence on his end, too.

Maybe I should just drop all of this. I loved Jamie, he loved me – what else did I need to know? I should just plan this wedding and settle into marital bliss with the better half of me.

But I knew I couldn’t do that. Not yet.

I wasn’t just being obstinate when I said I needed to see this through, that it was important to me. There were things in my life I had to face, things I wanted to iron out or tie up or resolve. If I was going to be the wife he deserved and start a life with Jamie that would be forever, I couldn’t walk away.

“Well, well…look what the cat dragged in.”

Shit.

Without looking up, I knew the face I’d see. I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to will him away simply because he was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

And because I didn’t have the energy to be civil rather than tell him to fuck off in the middle of a crowded club.

Dark hair and brown eyes leaned across the bar, forcing himself into my line of vision. I pretended that I hadn’t heard him and that I was shocked to find him staring me in the face.

“Doug! What in the world are you doing here?”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 10

I woke up feeling more comfortable and content than I had in months. Nestled against Jamie’s shoulder, I knew it was where I wanted to be.

He opened his eyes and smiled. I loved that smile: The way the corners of his mouth lifted just a little, sleepy eyes taking in all my bedhead glory.

“Hey.” He kissed my forehead. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please!”

I followed him to the kitchen a few minutes later. He was in just his boxers, two steaming mugs already out on the counter while he scrambled some eggs. It was doubtful I’d ever get tired of that sight.

Jamie had been at my door within an hour of getting my call. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed him until he was there in front of me.

He had given me a tentative smile, his hands jammed into his pockets and his shoulders tense and hunched.

“I’m glad you called, Lex. I missed you.”

I had no control over the tears that pooled in my eyes – or apparently over my body. I launched myself at him, knocking him back against the door in my need to be near him. We had peeled our clothes off right there in the entryway, making our way to the bedroom an hour later to do it all over again.

“What’s on the agenda for today?”

He shrugged. “Whatever you want. Want to go see the new exhibit at the Art Center? We haven’t been there for months. Or we could scout out some venues. We should know where we’re having the wedding before we decide on the theme or your dress or anything. It might be a tight schedule, but we could still shoot for the original date – ”

I stared at him, my mug frozen halfway to my mouth.

“What?” He looked genuinely confused. My stomach dropped.

“Jamie, I’m not ready yet.”

Setting the spatula on the counter and switching off the burner, he turned his full attention to me. I hated the tightness around his eyes. Actually, I hated myself for putting it there.

“What do you mean? I thought that’s why you called me last night. You talked to your old boyfriend, didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but only one.”

He crossed his arms and leaned back against the cupboard.

“You need to talk to every guy you’ve ever dated before you can marry me?”

Rolling my eyes – so I didn’t have to meet his – I muttered, “Not every guy…”

“Alexis, I understand cold feet or wedding jitters, but this feels like something more than that.”

I cast around for a way to make him understand, but all the words I tried out sounded shitty.

“Lex, it – it feels like you’re looking for a better offer.”

“How could you even think that?”

Throwing his hands in the air, he turned back to the stove.

“What else am I supposed to think? After two years together, I ask you to marry me and suddenly now you need closure.” He was slamming plates and utensils onto the countertop as he served up breakfast. “Your timing is bullshit.”

I had to agree with him.

“Jamie, I’m not looking to start something with these other guys. I love YOU. I want to marry YOU. It’s just…I don’t know how to explain it. This is important to me, to put my past to rest so I can build a future with you. A…forever. And to KNOW it’s forever.”

Leaning over the counter he took both my hands in his. He stared at our hands, rubbing his thumbs over my knuckles. I could see the muscles in his jaw clenching as he tried to work out what to say.

When he looked up, the sadness in his eyes was a knife in my chest.

“That’s all I want too, Alexis. A future with you.” He sighed, his shoulders rising and falling. Releasing my hands, he set a plate in front of me, scraping his into the garbage, and walked out of the kitchen. “I guess I’ll have to wait.”

He reappeared half-dressed, carrying the rest of his clothes. Without looking at me, he blew through the room. The door slammed behind him, but I caught his parting words.

“What choice do I have?”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 9

The drive home must have been navigated by muscle memory, because I was far too preoccupied with nostalgia. Memories of Chris flooded my brain, playing like a ‘Greatest Hits’ movie.

I remembered our first kiss, in the laundry room of Kelly’s basement. It wasn’t the first for either of us, but it was ours. Kissing Chris definitely ranked near the top of my list of best things ever.

The first time he told me he loved me, he whispered it softly in my ear. It was a tender and romantic scene – the kind of thing every teen girl dreams about. That is, it was until I blurted out, ‘WHAT?’ because I hadn’t quite caught what he said. He repeated it then – and many times after – but I had already ruined the moment.

At least it was memorable, right?

When I got home, I found my shoebox of high school memorabilia, going for the deep-dive. Some people threw away everything they associated with an ex.

Not me.

I kept nearly everything Chris had given me. Postcards from when his family went on summer vacation; pictures of the two of us from dances or just goofing around; letters he had written me when we were in college. Reading through everything, I was comforted by how kind he had been, how he had made me feel so important. I didn’t want to forget him. I didn’t want to forget the time we spent together. Why would I? Chris was the first boy I ever loved, and part of me would always love him.

Lying on my couch later, staring at the ceiling, I came to a conclusion: While I loved Chris, it wasn’t romantic. My love for him was built of an appreciation for everything we had shared. He was right that our relationship wasn’t supposed to last. That’s not how first loves work.

But god, was I lucky he had been mine.

I picked up my phone to distract myself with some social media stupidity. As the phone came to life, the lock screen picture flashed open and I forgot all about the absurdity of the internet.

Jamie.

His face filled the screen and my heart melted. It had been more than a week since I’d seen him. With one finger, I traced the line of his jaw, the sweep of his bangs over his forehead, the dimples that framed his mouth. He was laughing and reaching for the phone in the shot, trying to stop me from taking his picture.

That was the day he proposed to me.

We had taken a long weekend trip to Scottsdale, trying to escape the frigid Midwestern winter, if only for a few days. Jamie planned a day trip for some hiking and sight-seeing. But before we started the climb, we had been warned by the locals to watch out for snakes. Mainly rattlesnakes.

Jamie had become so paranoid about being murdered by a poisonous reptile that when a rabbit rushed across our path he jumped two feet in the air and screamed like a little girl. I couldn’t stop laughing and had to take a picture of him immediately so I could remind him of that moment long after we had left Arizona.

Laughing almost as hard as I was, he lunged for the phone just as I snapped the photo. I spun out of his reach and he pretended to stumble to the ground. But when I turned, he was on one knee, holding up the most beautiful diamond ring I had ever seen, asking me to share his life.

I couldn’t dial his number fast enough.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 8

“Why did we break up?”

Oops. I had intended to be far more subtle about bringing that up. But I was having so much fun with Chris I had started to forget why I was there.

Blurting it out in such a ham-handed manner was definitely worth it to get a spit-take and a hearty laugh from him, though.

“What?! Where did that come from?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Don’t you ever think about it? Don’t you ever wonder what went wrong?”

He didn’t answer right away but shifted slightly in his chair. He drummed his fingers on the table – a move I recognized as his standard stalling tactic.

“Nothing ‘went wrong’ Lexi. Things end.”

“We were in love though, right?”

A beat. “Yes.”

“So why didn’t it last?”

Chris leaned his elbows on the table and stared at me.

“Because we were 17…? I don’t know. It wasn’t supposed to last forever. It’s called a ‘first love’ for a reason.”

I blinked. “But how did you know it wasn’t going to last? How is a person expected to know the difference between a fleeting love and…and forever love? Is it even really ‘love’ if it doesn’t last?”

He looked like I had slapped him. Damn.

“You…don’t think it was real love?”

Please, Earth, open up and swallow me. Now.

“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

“Are you having some kind of existential crisis?” He sat straight up, his eyes wide. “You aren’t dying, are you?”

Our eyes locked and then we both burst out laughing. That, apparently, was the cue for the waiter to bring us our checks. Chris tried to grab both of them, but I slapped my hand down on his.

“Don’t you DARE!”

“Come on, Lexi. What kind of gentleman would I be if I didn’t pay for dinner?”

I tried to peel his fingers up off the paper.

“The kind of gentleman who is here at MY invitation. This was my idea. I should be the one to pay.”

He shook his head and refused to budge.

“Don’t be a caveman, Chris! I am perfectly capable of covering both checks.”

He glared at me and I glared right back. If he wanted a staring contest, he’d get one, and he would lose.

“God, you have always been stubborn.” He slid his hand out from under mine. “Fine. But you’re not paying for me!”

I grinned and threw my fists into the air.

“Victory!”

He walked me out to my car, showing me pictures of his son on his phone. I didn’t have baby fever – nothing even close to resembling it – but that kid was damn adorable. Curly blond hair, green eyes, chubby cheeks and the biggest smile. The spitting image of his dad.

“He’s almost 5 and he’s my best buddy. I miss him when he’s with his mom, but Angie’s really great with him.”

I handed him his phone.

“Now, I could tell you why that relationship didn’t work out.” He shuffled his feet and smirked at me. “But us?”

Shaking his head slowly, he tucked one of my stray curls behind my ear.

“Chris…”

He took a deep breath. “My mom already told me you’re engaged, Lexi. I didn’t come here with any kind of expectation beyond spending time with someone who was an integral part of my life – of who I am.”

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Chris, but he seemed to know exactly what I needed anyway. He opened his arms and I leaned into him, pressing my cheek into his shoulder while he rubbed soothing circles on my back.

“There’s no way to know when love is forever.” He kissed the top of my head. “You don’t read the last chapter of a book first, do you? If you know how it’s going to end…well, what’s the fun in that?”

I sighed and clung to him for a few seconds longer.

Short Story: Watching

My editorial calendar says today’s blog post is supposed to be a book review. Well, I am fully unprepared to do that today. Instead, I will be sharing my latest creepy short story with you!

My family will agree that inside my mind is a mysterious and sometimes frightening place. I consider myself to be friendly and pleasant with a big imagination and an alarming amount of anxiety. These factors, coupled with the amount of Criminal Minds in my mental repertoire, are the generous sponsors of this little gem. Enjoy!

 

Watching

He took a drag off his cigarette, his eyes lighting up from more than the glow of the embers. She sure was beautiful. Flipping her long blonde hair over her shoulder, raising her eyebrows in a flirtatious challenge. His heart skipped a couple beats.

When she smiled, he could feel the warmth of it, even from this distance. Her eyes sparkled in amusement at something she heard around her, and she threw her head back to laugh. So free. So full of life.

She was so animated as she talked. Shrugging her shoulders one minute, pouting the next, her arms waving to punctuate whatever point she was trying to make. It seemed as though a light surrounded her, drawing him in, and he was powerless against it.

He licked his lips, imagining how her mouth would taste. That necessitated a shift in his stance, since his body reacted strongly and immediately to that idea. It was okay, though, she wouldn’t notice how excited she made him. She couldn’t even see him.

But she would.

Crushing out the spent cigarette, he quickly picked it up and pocketed it. He certainly didn’t want to leave his trash around – especially when it would have traces of his DNA on it. Once he introduced himself to the object of his affection, he knew the very spot he was standing would be scrutinized thoroughly. He sure as hell wasn’t going to make things easy.

This was his favorite time of year, the early winter. It wasn’t too cold yet, but cold enough that doors and windows were closed. It got dark pretty early, too. No one ever noticed him walking on the path behind the row of houses. He could find a solitary spot to set up for the night before the residents were even home from work. And they were never the wiser.

His lip curled as he lit another smoke. These people. They fancied themselves so far removed from any danger just because they lived in a nice suburban neighborhood. With their big houses, expensive cars, fancy security systems, they felt so safe. Even though it was pitch black outside, it was barely dinner time, so there was no reason to set the alarm quite yet – that would happen just before they all went to bed. At least it seemed that’s the way they went about their lives every night.

They’d arrive home just after dusk, flipping on their lights, rifling through their mail. Always leaving their curtains and blinds open. Dummies. It was almost like a delicatessen or a bakery, allowing him to make his selection based on what he could see, displaying their wares just for him. It was the ultimate in window shopping.

He chuckled at his own joke.

Husbands kissing wives, kids begging for this toy or that new gadget, dinners being made or delivered. He could see it all. He watched it all. The sliding glass doors shining brightly, like a movie screen just for him, letting him peek into the lives he would interrupt very soon.

Yes, the blonde. She was definitely the winner. He could see her smiling up at a man – Husband? Boyfriend? Lover? Didn’t matter. They were all the same to him. Merely an obstacle to be overcome, an appetizer before the main course. Damn. There went his libido again, trying to jump the gun. He adjusted himself and took a few deep calming breaths, to remind himself he had to wait – it would be so much sweeter if he could just wait.

While he had a general plan he followed every time, he cocked his head to the side and tried to determine the best order to do things with this family. Kids first – always the kids first, there was no need for them to suffer in terror for long. It was usually his plan to take them out immediately so they didn’t have to face the fear that would be visited upon their parents. But would the blonde or her husband be the most satisfying?

The man was tall and thin, didn’t look like a fighter – more of an accountant. In a suit and tie, probably didn’t even own a hunting knife, much less a gun or any kind of survival skills. It should be easy enough to subdue him so he could enjoy the show. That was always how he liked to work. Maybe this guy could even be a participant this time. That was something he hadn’t tried yet. He wasn’t opposed to taking the man, too, it just hadn’t really occurred to him before. And then, after…then he could focus on the blonde.

His eyes closed as a thrill ran through him. The thrill of the chase. The ecstasy of seeing the confusion and fear as she ran. That was almost the best part. The moment she realized exactly what was happening – what was going to happen – and that she was powerless against it. He could tell this one would be a screamer. Delicious. She would beg and plead, try to bargain, try to figure out what she had done to deserve this. There would be tears, many, many tears, and he would lap them up like mother’s milk.

The anguish of the significant other who felt he had failed to protect his family…that was almost as satisfying. They always yelled, made threats they had no way to carry out, offered him money. He sneered. It almost always came down to money. That’s not why he got into this recreational activity. He never took anything with him – just the sights, sounds, smells of the encounter. That’s all he needed.

Creeping closer to the edge of the tree line, he leaned against a trunk where he could see the scene a little better. The man hovered around the pretty blonde, pecking her on the cheek every now and then. Oh yes, he would feel guilt. And shame. The last thoughts in the husband’s head would be of despair and self-loathing.

Voices on the trail behind him caught his attention. He froze and cupped his cigarette in the palm of his hand to hide the glow. It was a pair of middle-aged biddies, power walking and chatting up a storm, arms pumping nearly as fast as their jaws. Neither one even glanced in his direction, although he heard one complain, “Ugh – can you smell that? Someone must be out on their back porch sneaking a smoke. I hate having to walk through that! Anyway, Louise was just devastated, and the stylist refused to fix the color…”

The sound of their droning faded into the night. Did they have even an inkling of how close they passed to death just then? No one ever saw him among the trees. Was there nothing left in people, in the modern Homo Sapien, that triggered that sense of danger? No wonder it had gotten easier and easier for him to satiate the need for violence that he’d been carrying inside him most of his life. These meat sacks all around him had gotten soft and weak. He was the apex predator now. And these rich neighborhoods were full of easy picking.

It wasn’t just the complacency that gave him nearly free reign. People were more isolated now than ever before. Most of these folks barely knew their neighbors’ names, much less paid any attention to what was going on in their homes. He lived in a society of ‘none of my business’ where everyone was afraid to stick their noses where they weren’t invited. The busy body with the binoculars on that one show about the witch might have saved a few lives, had she been the norm now. Glancing from house to house on display in front of him, he shook his head and sneered. Even if there was screaming or yelling or even a gunshot, not one of these lazy pieces of garbage would do more than peer out the window, pressing their faces against the glass and shading their eyes to see in the dark a little better. But it would be too late.

Okay, one more cigarette and then the kids would be in the basement while the parents were curled up in the den above them. Each would have their own idiot box commanding their attention – the adults watching scary movies or reality tv and the kids engrossing themselves in the latest bloody video game, their headphones firmly in place to block out any distractions.

He’d been watching them for close to a week. A WEEK. During the day, he would show up at his job, clean and handsome and charming. Making eye contact and small talk with everyone who stopped into his store. Some he even got to know by name, they spoke to him so frequently. Pushing the dark drive down inside himself for so long had taught him how to appear ‘normal’. He was a pro at showing his teeth and asking if there was anything else he could do for them. A wink here and there almost always produced a pretty blush in the housewives who smiled so invitingly at him. Through mimicry he had perfected the most disarming tone of voice that put people at ease almost immediately. When families came up missing or when bloodied and violated bodies were discovered, no one ever thought of him as ‘suspicious’.

Picking up the latest spent filter and tucking it away, he shifted his weight from one foot to another. The kids were getting settled, he could see them through the walk-out basement sliders. Checking all the other windows, he grinned when blondie and her beau settled themselves down to stream some mind-numbing television and ignore their offspring. God, this was going to be easy.

Whoever planned out this neighborhood obviously didn’t have any kind of darkness inside them. A person who had at least a little bad inside would have thought like a monster for at least a minute and tried to figure out how to thwart one. But no…there were no fences, no barriers at all – unless you counted the line of trees that had been left standing after the cement for the path had been poured. But really, anyone with half a criminal mind would have seen it for the perfect camouflage it was. There was barely fifty feet of yard separating the trail from the back of the house. Pulling on his second pair of latex gloves, he threw a silent “thank you” to the powers that be. None of this would have been possible without all of you milk toast suburban developers.

He hated wearing the gloves but it was a necessary precaution in these endeavors. It was so easy to leave fingerprints – there was no way, in the throes of ecstasy, to remember every single surface you had touched to wipe it down after. He had started wearing two pairs of gloves after a particularly lively encounter that had ripped a hole in the fingertip of his solitary pair. No sir, that was not a risk he would take again, no matter how much the gloves interfered with the full sensation of feeling a life leave a body.

Walking through the back yard, he was able to take his time. No one here had dogs, no one here looked out their windows – hell, a lot of them were covered now. But not this one’s. The angle from outside the house let him see into both the den on the first floor and the basement game room at the same time. The anticipation was glorious, knowing what was coming and knowing that they…didn’t.

Oh, his heart was racing and he was no longer able to control his arousal. Pulling the gun out of the back of his waistband with one hand and rubbing the front of his jeans with the other, his tongue darted out to lick his lips. This was it. God, it had been so long. A quick slide of the basement door, two head shots through the silencer, then it was up the stairs for the main course. A solid shot to the shoulder – maybe one to the knee – would put mister man down pretty good, and then the panic would begin. Her eyes would fly open wide, not sure what she just saw, and she would freeze in uncertainty. It was getting harder and harder to keep his hand away from his crotch now, but no – not yet. The knife was burning a hole in his pocket and it was the wet work that this was all about. If he could just hold onto that arousal without giving in for another thirty minutes – sixty, tops – it would be so worth it.

As he expected, the walk-out door was unlocked. He slid it open just far enough for him to slip inside, shutting and locking it behind him. When he turned and lifted the gun, the older kid saw him in the screen’s reflection and his mouth made a horrified “O” before his brains marred the image and his brother had time to react. Two quick shots, older brother first, no suffering. No kid deserved that.

His eyes were lit up with excitement, his breathing fast and shallow – oh thank god, it was finally time! – and he crept up the stairs. Silently, slowly, there was no need to rush. No one had heard a thing. His teeth were bared in a wide, delirious grin as he reached the main floor. He could see the flickering of the television from the room in the hall.

It was time, at last, to meet the neighbors…

 

some days are strange, writing, author strugles

Some Days Are Just Strange

We all have those days.

You wake up feeling “off.” No real reason why, just not really into it that day. It could be a lingering bad dream, or a negative comment online – or worse, ZERO comments online! Maybe you slept wrong, you couldn’t sleep, the atmosphere is charged with an impending snow storm, the planets are out of whack.

It happens to the best of us. Since this is the real world, and we’re all are adults here, you can’t just pull the covers over your head and wait it out. Shoot, when you get to be my age, lying in bed all day just makes things worse. The creaks and hitches become cracks and full-on joint failures.

I was tempted today. Instead, I decided to shake things up a little.

I’ve been working on a fantasy story for my NaNoWriMo project. I have reached the 50,000-word goal and can now focus on making sure all my plot points are included and that my characters are behaving as they should. The problem with that is my brain is a bit frazzled today. So I poked it.

While some of you may be picturing Shel Silverstein’s drawing for the poem “Warning” from Where the Sidewalk Ends(It’s just me? Go look it up. You won’t be sorry) that’s not quite what happened. A few years ago, one of the kids got my husband a book of writing prompts called 642 Things To Write About. I decided to dust that off and see if anything jumped out at me.

On the very first page of this book I read, “A houseplant is dying. Tell it why it needs to live.” Now I have a new 1700-word short story out in the world and I feel better.

Here’s a little snippet*:

That was about the end of my pep talk and I was freaking out a little. There had been no change and I didn’t know enough about plants to be really effective. I lifted up one of the long, thin stems of the half-flowers and looked it over.

“Oh! And this little flower thingy that you have here? What would the bees do without this? You provide them the building materials they need to make their homes and their honey. Did you know all the bees are dying? If you weren’t here, you’d be hurting them, too! You have to do your part. Think about that. Plus – you are right in front of this glass, where all the other inside flowers can see you. If YOU give up, the one big strong plant that actually lives IN the sun and the fresh air, what will the rest of them think?”

I was really starting to connect with this plant and suddenly realized I didn’t know his name. Closing my eyes, I reached out with an open mind and waited for him to tell me. He wasn’t very forthcoming at first, and I’ll admit I started to doze off in the silence. I mean, the sun was warm, it was still early, and let’s be honest, he wasn’t too entertaining. In an attempt to revive myself, I took another big swig of water, sharing a little with the plant, too, before resuming my meditative state.

Finally, a name made itself known to me: Bernard.

Some days are just strange.

How do you “poke your brain”? Do you have any tricks to get your creativity flowing again – or even just to do the things you need to do for the day? Comment below or feel free to shoot me an email!

*You can find the rest of the story on my Channillo Channel

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