“My fingers are crossed that the musician you’re dating will show up with a drummer or something,” Caroline teased, moving on to the bacon-wrapped scallops.
“I don’t even know if he’s coming. They play on Thursday nights, so he might just hang around there for the ball drop,” Sadie said, resisting the urge to grab her phone from whatever surface on which she’d dropped it to check her texts.
“So no drummer for me?” Caroline said.
“Dad would steer you away from the musicians,” Sadie said.
“Your dad would adore me even more if I dated a musician. He was so proud when he heard about the divorce,” Caroline said.
Sadie shrugged. “He’s unpredictable, which is one of the reasons we get along so much better now that they’re far, far away. I need to check on something in the oven.”
“Don’t forget your wine,” Caroline said, handing her the heavy, stemless glass. “No one wants me fixing their heart after a glass of wine.”
“You could do it in your sleep,” Sadie said, but she grabbed the glass and let the wine warm her stomach.
“I can see the headline now: Renowned cardiac surgeon nurses own heart with wine and naps.”
An excerpt from “The Jar,” published in The Write Club Open Studio as part of a free short story collection
We did it anyway, lighting cigarettes from one flame and inhaling the immortality of the young with each clouded breath. We shook them from matching boxes, and when we decided to change brands we did it together. At night, when the dorm locked the outside doors, we stuck a lighter in the jamb so we wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of walking to the front of the building after extinguishing our butts.
Cigarettes weren’t the only things we shared. Index cards and highlighters and pages of notes scribbled in the basement study area ensured grades encased in steel. Even French, a language I struggled to understand let alone speak, bent to the pressure of conjugated verbs on flashcards and monotonous vocabulary quizzes. On Friday nights we smuggled beer or vodka into our dorm room, giggling over the confidence boosted by booze long before we realized we could find it within ourselves.
Our corner room offered perfect access to the side stoop, and our cigarette breaks became more frequent. The dependence wasn’t physical; what we craved were the revelatory moments we exhaled. Our friendship grew over those cigarettes — and my inability to say no to anything that might ruffle the smooth lines of our relationship.
On that back stoop I learned gossip became gospel when repeated with authority.
An excerpt from “On the Back Stoop,” published in My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends
My stomach turned slightly, and even all the Botox in St. Tammany Parish wouldn’t have kept my eyebrows from hitting my hairline. Realizing how her words had sounded, my mother blushed furiously.
“Oh! That is not what I meant, Lainey. I just meant we’ve made it through some rough patches.”
Blushing suited her, especially against her pale gray silk. If I didn’t say something quickly I was going to have to bury my face in her shoulder. She could never know I wanted nothing more than to slide my gorgeous, glittering diamond back on my finger. But I knew he’d never stop cheating, just like I’d known it when I found a sparkly tube of lip gloss in an awful coral shade wedged between his twin bed and the wall in his cramped law school apartment. Our friends smoothed it over back then, my brothers making excuses for him and my girlfriends reassuring me I was much cuter, funnier and more wonderful than she could possibly be.
Gently perching next to me on the bed, Mama’s gentle hand carefully smoothed my hair and rested against my cheek. I saw the worry in her eyes, softer and warmer than her voice ever was, and my resolve wavered a little more. I’d inherited more than her pale hair and inability to turn any color but lobster red in the sun; my words burned hotter than my anger, and forgiveness lingered at the surface of my fury over Cody’s latest betrayal.
“I’ve always loved that photo,” Mama said, fingers sliding over the charmingly tarnished silver frame on the nightstand. Cody, my Grammy and I were posed in front of a Cyprus tree outside of the high school, my royal blue graduation gown somehow managing to look much cooler in the photograph than I remember it feeling that day. You could see the humidity in the hair beginning to curl around my temples, but my eyes fell to my grandmother’s right hand. Hanging carefully at her side, her fingers were wrapped in a pair of her delicate gloves. Around my seventeenth birthday she’d taken to wearing them all the time, swollen joints hidden beneath kid leather, linen or sateen, every color of the rainbow placed carefully in the top drawer of her bureau.
An excerpt from “In His Hands,” published in Metaphysical Gravity.
For the first time, equilibrium remained off-kilter as they sank into the pyramid of pillows, and she fumbled for cigarettes in the nightstand. She’d been living in the hotel long enough that an overly generous tip would excuse the shadows of a single cigarette. Sulfur swirled between them as she wordlessly handed him the slim stick, eyes roving to the thin band of skin on his left hand, slightly paler than the rest of his golden hands.
He inhaled deeply, watching her gaze and pulling her close.
“A few days poolside should take care of that. Crazy how much lighter I feel without that little piece of metal on my hand.” His relief was palpable, his words a promise.
Lola felt the weight removed from his hand press into her chest, and she held out her hand for the cigarette. She hadn’t asked for promises.
His words continued, noise filling her ears, “I think she might have been relieved. Love is always something that meant more to me than it ever did to her.”
She tried not to cringe in regret as he caressed her palm before passing over the cigarette. He was betting on someone he’d never understand, and she resisted the urge to smooth his hair back like a child’s. Inhaling, she stained the white filter with red lipstick and lies, the glowing orange obscuring tears that threatened to fall.
“Baby. This isn’t love.”
“Maybe you just don’t know what love is,” he suggested, and her tears stopped as she heard the tone of his voice shift into hope. She didn’t have time to quiet another man’s belief that what he needed was almost within his grasp.
“Maybe.” She stood, letting streaks of neon paint her naked body, his helpless gaze shifting any lost power back to her soft hands. A cardboard cup of coffee delivered a cooled shot of reality to what she’d promised herself she’d finish tonight. Somewhere in the desert, her father was making the same promises to a tumbler of scotch he thought was on the house, his bleary eyes trying to catch an edge of something that would show him how to finally collect the chips he’d been losing for decades.
An excerpt from “Positive Count,” published in Precipice, Volume 2.
Dawn was still hours away when unfamiliar footsteps entered the wooden hallway. I knew this house’s echoes like the lines in my own palms, and I waited until the stone kitchen floors muffled the unmistakable clack of stilettos before turning around.
The figure was alabaster and ivory, faded to gray in the moonlit kitchen, heightening the similarity to a long-dead aunt forever captured in a black and white photo on the mantle.
The cousin. No one had expected her to return, even with her father now in possession of the storied family home nestled comfortably in the sleepiest of towns outside of Savannah.
“I hope you’re packed.”
My uncle’s voice, feminine and dressed in the clipped tones of someone raised far from magnolia trees and family secrets.
“You’re trespassing,” I let my voice drip with a drawl far heavier than I normally spoke, setting us firmly on opposite sides of a twisted family tree.
“This house belongs to my father, and he’s invited me to stay as long as I’d like.”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. I’m Cecelia Cantrelle.” I worked at articulation, layering politeness and contempt on top of the patina of drunkenness I couldn’t mask. “And this is my house for another few hours.”
“Lydia McCaffey, as I’m sure you know.”
“I’d say it’s a pleasure, but I’m not certain that would be accurate,” I said.
“My father warned me you would try to interfere.”
“And your mama?” I poked lazily at what I knew would be a wound. I’d seen my aunt’s deathbed in the heightened Technicolor of my mama’s pain.
“My mother had no use for her family.”
I registered the rancor and shifted my strategy.
“My mother, her sister, spoke of her fondly. And don’t you mean your family? You must realize the Cantrelles take our feminine lineage seriously.”
An excerpt from “Flutters,” published in Echoes in Darkness.
Staying in Ann Arbor for the summer was a novelty for him and a necessity for me. Our pasts and futures were hazy flashes we didn’t visit, choosing instead to live in a balloon of today that we populated with debates on music and the sustainability of nuclear power. We’d visited various friends all summer, floating in the Great Lakes and taking turns driving his father’s spare SUV back and forth so we could delve into Organic Chem after a weekend of poorly mixed Bloody Marys and cheap tequila shooters. This weekend was a sprawling beach house somewhere between Ann Arbor and Chicago, the combination of college kids and old high school friends confusing us all.
I’d shed my light sweater as we walked to this picnic table. The cotton trailed from my fingers the way I trailed just a step behind Luke, unsure if we were really walking to the same place. My wrists ached from leaning back on the splinted picnic bench, but shifting my weight would tilt the balance of our conversation. A cigarette smoldered between my fingers, though I hadn’t smoked in months. After settling into my dorm room, I’d ground out my past like bits of ash; the shadow of what remained faded a little each day. I ignored the way the slim cylinder felt natural between my fingers; some habits, once broken, should stay broken.
“Do you ever think about going back?” his voice floated the few inches to my ear.
“To the moon?” I asked, trying to focus on the heavy silver orb and not the sticky heat connecting us, our arms touching from elbow to wrist. Blinking hadn’t done anything to clear the blurriness of the stars. I reveled in it, floating somewhere between who I had been a year ago, who I was, and who I could be with him.
Luke rocked forward from our semi-reclined position, and I followed. I needed to stay in his orbit. My lips hungrily sought the cigarette, wanting to inhale a part of him. I couldn’t breathe from the spiked lemonade and the pungent smoke and when his eyes found mine I was reminded he was as close to sober as I was to drunk.
“Do you ever think about going back to Oklahoma?”
Sweat trickled down my spine. The word sounded sacrilegious on his tongue; if he’d said it in the few months we’d been together I couldn’t remember.
An excerpt from “Splinters,” published in Nothing Goes Away.