Short story: “She”

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It was a crisp fall day where the warm sun caressed the golden leaves but the strong air still sent shivers through her, goosebumps slowly making their way to the surface of her flesh.

I’m leaving, she said.

The wind caught a strand of hair, dragging across her face. She pushed it away and faced him. He held her captive with his hard, dark eyes. How could she do this to him?

I’m leaving, she said again.

A gently urgent breeze whipped the hem of her skirt around her knees. She wrapped her sweater more tightly around her. He stood there so unrelenting and silent; a standoff in the driveway. He made no move towards her and she stood frozen with her hand on the car door handle.

I’m leaving, she said a third time, after a pause.

The wind wrapped around her completely, insistently, and she shivered. She watched his chest rise and fall with each somber breath.

I’m leaving. A whisper.

A final resigned breeze caught her filmy blue scarf and sent it fluttering down like a flag of surrender. Slowly, slowly, he bent down to pick it up and extended it towards her.

She placed her hand in his and followed him back into the house.

Short story: “James”

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James

Violins play softly as I sit drumming my fingers on the red checked tablecloth with flickering candles as the only light in the whole room. This is a horrible spot to meet James for dinner. The candlelight, soft music, Italian food…it all spells out disaster. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the last straw, the point of no return. It officially labels me as a romantic.

I’m independent, not romantic. It’s my thing. My older sister is the pretty one and I am the tough one, the daughter my Dad doesn’t need to worry about even though I don’t have a husband to take care of me. I’m a smart and strong and independent woman and then I have to go and meet James. Wonderful James, who gives me butterflies and makes me do stupid things like smile to myself at work while I dreamily braid my hair and send text messages with kissy faces and x’s and o’s. I even pretended the other day that I couldn’t open the jar of pickles so he would have to come and help me but it turned out the lid wasn’t even screwed on and so he saw right through what I was doing and laughed and kissed my forehead and called me adorable. How mortifying. No, I’ve never felt this way before.

Jeez, I’ve even gone to church with him the last three Sundays. I’ve never been a very religious person. The truth is, airports see more sincere kisses than wedding chapels. The walls of hospitals hear more prayers than the walls of churches. And then I meet James, and he turns everything I think upside down and I contemplate things like religion and heaven and angels and all other kinds of stuff. I start to enjoy going to his church services, and I like the God he tells me about and I start to wonder if maybe my view of God is messed up, not James’s. His God is different than mine. James talks about forgiveness and redemption and second chances and my God sits up on a dark thundercloud in heaven, angry and disapproving and ready to strike down the pathetic mortals for not living up to His expectations. Especially me.

I sip from my wine glass. It’s a wonder James still stays with me; not only stays, but wants to stay. I have a broken soul; I know that. I don’t pretend otherwise. It makes every one else run screaming but James wants to hear about it; he wants to talk with me about what gives me awful nightmares in the middle of the night and why I hate rainstorms. And so I tell, and he listens and just when I start to think that this story, this secret, this skeleton in my closet will be the end of us, will be too much for him to hear, he just holds me and sometimes I think his eyes are full of tears when he says he wants to protect me from ever being hurt again. And I start to believe that he can. And the scariest part is…I want him to. I don’t hide anything from him anymore. I expose it all, and then I wait for him to run, just like other guys did—not that there’d been a lot of them. But there’s something different about James. He doesn’t run. And I don’t want him to.

I wish I didn’t feel this way. We’re all immortal until that first kiss and second glass of wine. I met him when we were in line getting coffee. It was a Tuesday and he said something ridiculous and cheesy like he didn’t know angels flew so low and I got flustered and dropped my coffee all over his shoes and while we were cleaning up the mess he asked for my number and I gave it to him and ran away. So I thought that was the end of it and then that night my phone rang and I answered and then four hours later I was laughing more than I’d ever thought possible and we had made plans for a date the very next day. Eight months later I’m disgustingly head over heels in love, one of those annoying girls who constantly talk about how amazing her boyfriend is and sings “Crazy in Love” in the shower and looks at wedding dresses online. My family keeps asking when we’re getting married. They love him almost as much as I do and I’m just shocked because I’ve finally done something my older sister approves of.

I check the time as the waiter stops by for the fourth time to see if I need anything. It’s not like James to be late. I had actually been the one to plan this date, and he had been so excited. I don’t plan dates. I don’t get excited about them. I say things like, “I don’t care; wherever you want to eat,” and now look at me. I make myself sick. I’d bought a new red dress that was much more sensual than anything I’d ever owned before. Red! It made me feel like a fire engine but I bought it anyway because it was kind of sassy and James loves red and I curled my hair and I was wearing the pearls he’d bought me. I’d even put perfume behind my earlobes. Ugh. I know he’ll love it, though. And yeah, maybe the heart shaped pizza is a bit much, but I’ll just say I hope he doesn’t think I’m too cheesy and then he’ll throw his head back and laugh that wonderful laugh of his, the one that thrills me right down to my toes and then he’ll lean across the table and kiss me. He kisses better than anyone I’ve ever kissed, and my older sister says that I can’t say that because he’s the only man I’ve ever kissed but that’s not true because Billy Driscoll kissed me behind the librarian’s cart in 7th grade and one time this really drunk guy kissed me in a bar and I let him because I was tired of having only Billy on my list. Billy, who cut my lip with his braces and then tattled to Ms. Cambridge that I’d gotten blood all over Pride and Prejudice and I had to face her wrath. The drunk guy had reeked of whiskey and stopped slobbering on me long enough to throw up on the floor and then resume his ardor without even rinsing his mouth and so those were both such awful experiences that they better count for something. Third time’s definitely the charm. James is the best because I can feel the love and sincerity coming right through his lips and I don’t worry about if I’m a good kisser or not because all I can think is, dang, this guy really likes me a lot and so I just kiss him back and he doesn’t complain, so there, Tessa. I used to hate couples kissing in public before, but I don’t protest anymore.

My phone rings, James’s picture popping up on my screen. “Hello?”

“Hey, beautiful.” His warm voice makes my heart beat faster and I start to believe that I am what he always calls me.

“Hi.” I giggle, something I never do except around him. “Where are you?”

“Stuck at work.” He lets out a frustrated breath. “I feel awful, but we might have to postpone tonight. I just can’t get away.”

My heart stops beating. I force my lips to move. “Sure. That’s no problem.”

“You know I wouldn’t miss tonight if there were any other way. My boss—“

“Yeah. No, I know.”

“Tomorrow for sure; I promise. I can’t wait. I gotta go but I’ll call you later, okay, baby?”

“Sure.”

“I love you.”

“Love you.” I hang up the phone and sit staring at the dark screen for a moment.

“Signora?” The waiter comes over. “Is your date coming?”

I sigh as I try to stand in the crazy high stilettos I had bought for that night. “No. He’s not.” That’s what happens when you follow your heart.

I leave James a voicemail that night, breaking up with him.

“Because of His Love for Her:” a One Act Play

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In my junior year of college, we studied how to write one act plays in my creative writing class. I originally wasn’t too thrilled with the genre, but the idea for this one came to me and I ended up scribbling it down (while I was in another class half listening to the lecture….oops.) After some polishing, it’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve written.

Because of His Love For Her

(Setting: café. Friends eating lunch.)

Rachel: You’re such a cynic. It’s disgusting.

Jacob: I’m not a cynic; I’m a realist. There’s a difference.

Rachel: Predicting that every single one of my relationships will fail isn’t realistic, Jacob. It’s pessimistic.

Jacob: (affronted) You wound me! Did I say anything about charming Harold when you asked me not to? I never once foretold any ill tidings about that relationship. I kept my mouth shut.

Rachel: Harold left me for my best friend!

Jacob: (laughing as he takes a drink) You make this too easy for me.

Rachel: Say what you want about Nathaniel. He’s the one; I know it.

Jacob: You’ve been going out for three weeks! I have leftovers in my fridge I’ve had a longer relationship with!

(Waiter arrives with food. Jacob waits as Rachel bows her head and prays silently)

Rachel: Nathaniel is different. He’s sweet and funny, and he treats me well!

Jacob: Well, that’s true. I mean, I wasn’t the one who had to come jump your car this morning. (loudly slurps straw, looking innocent.)

Rachel: (hesitates) He…he’s an auditor. He doesn’t know a lot about cars.

Jacob: Really?

Rachel: Why do you say it like that?

Jacob: No, nothing. I was just thinking about that mechanic you dated in college. That was handy, considering the beat up old trap you insist on driving around.

Rachel: Jesse? Yeah, he was nice. Thanks for ending that, by the way.

Jacob: What?!

Rachel: Don’t play innocent. You introduced him to every attractive, available woman you knew! You were there after he gave me the whole, “It’s just not working out, Rachel,” speech before dating Kelly three days later.

Jacob: Ah, yes. I do remember that. You got tears and snot all over my hoodie that night. (shudders)

Rachel: You’re a jerk.

Jacob: That is entirely your opinion. So, what does Nathanial think about the book you’ve been working on?

Rachel: (picking at salad) He’s not a—a big reader.

Jacob: No?

Rachel: (slightly longer pause) No.

Jacob: Huh.

Rachel: What?

Jacob: I was just thinking about that one guy you dated who loved reading. What was his name?

Rachel: David.

Jacob: David! He was a nice guy.

Rachel: (irritated) Are you kidding?

Jacob: What?

Rachel: You intimidated him every chance you got: challenging him, tearing him down, humiliating him–

Jacob: You do have to admit that sweater he bought for you for your birthday was atrocious. And several sizes too big, I add. I was merely defending your honor by pronouncing it the most hideous thing I’d ever seen and suggesting that perhaps any man who buys a sweater for his girlfriend of almost two years is afraid of commitment. Is it my fault that he was offended by that?

Rachel: YES!

Jacob: Debatable.

(Rachel rolls her eyes. Brief silence)

Jacob: So what does this wonderful Nathaniel do instead of reading?

Rachel: (faintly) He…camps.

Jacob: Camps! Does he hunt?

Rachel: I don’t—

Jacob: He probably does. All hunters camp, you know. He probably enjoys killing innocent animals for fun. Then he’ll keep your fridge stuffed with all that meat and make you wear the furs.

Rachel: STOP. You don’t know that. You don’t know him. Just because you hate marriage doesn’t mean all relationships are doomed to fail.

(Silence. Jacob removes the onions from Rachel’s plate and puts them on his own. She drums her fingers on the table, irritated. Suddenly drops fork, which makes a loud clattering noise.)

Rachel: Nathanial is charming, and sweet, and he has big plans for his life. He’s ambitious, and-and polite—(with a sudden burst of inspiration) His name means gift from God!

Jacob: (with mock seriousness) The heavens have foretold it.

Rachel: I’m serious. He’s fantastic.

Jacob: (checking watch) Well, apparently punctuality isn’t on the list of wonderful attributes for our dear Nathaniel.

Rachel: He’ll be here. And I was doing fine waiting for him by myself.

Jacob: Of course you were.

Rachel: I didn’t need you to come sit with me so I wasn’t eating all alone.

Jacob: Of course you didn’t!

Rachel: I am a strong, independent woman, perfectly capable of surviving on my own.

Jacob: (patronizing) Of course you are.

(Silence. Jacob lifts up the top bun of his burger; Rachel removes the pickles and places them on her plate.)

Rachel: Do you want to know the best thing about Nathaniel?

Jacob: His rugged good looks?

Rachel: (irritated) No.

Jacob: You mean he’s NOT good looking?

Rachel: No! I mean, yes! But that’s not what I’m talking about. Nathanial….(important pause) actually believes in marriage. (sits back, pleased)

Jacob: Hm. Does he want kids?

Rachel: (triumphantly) Yes! He does! Lots of kids!

Jacob: Awwww, how sweet. Is he gonna help take care of them?

Rachel: Well, no…he travels a lot for his job–

Jacob: Huh. So, YOU’LL stop teaching?

Rachel: We…haven’t really talked about that.

Jacob: Oh, my mistake. I thought since you’ve been discussing marriage you’d have talked about kids. (brief pause) And religion.

(Rachel is silent)

Jacob: (overly shocked) SURELY you’ve talked about RELIGION?

Rachel: I mean….sort of…(firmly) I definitely think he’s Lutheran.

Jacob: Lutheran.

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or maybe Baptist.

Jacob: Baptist?

Rachel: Yes. (pause) Or…or maybe Catholic.

Jacob: Catholic!

Rachel: Yes.

Jacob: Ah.

(Silence)

Jacob: Perhaps he’s Jewish!

Rachel: (frowns thoughtfully, considering) No, I don’t think so….

Jacob: Or maybe he’s Mormon. Maybe he already has a couple of wives!

Rachel: He does not!

Jacob: (chuckles and takes a bite of his burger) You don’t even know his religious beliefs.

Rachel: I do, too.

Jacob: Prove it.

Rachel: Prove it? What, are we 7 years old again?

Jacob: Well, you’ve told me you’re probably gonna marry this guy, so you must know all there is to know about him. So, prove it! What religion does our dear gift from God follow?

Rachel: I…I think he’s actually…more…non-religious (sneaks look at Jacob, who is nonchalantly chewing.)

Rachel: So. (another pause. She awkwardly toys with her silverware. A sudden burst of laughter from Jacob startles her.)

Rachel: What? What?! What’s so funny?

Jacob: This guy is your polar opposite, and you think he’s the perfect one. You’re going to end up chained for the rest of your life to an illiterate chauvinist who makes you quit your job to take care of all the kids you keep popping out, and skips church on Sunday to murder Bambi’s mother!

Rachel: Stop it! (Jacob continues to laugh, slapping table) Rachel: You know what?

Jacob: (still laughing) What?

Rachel: You…you are…just…

(Jacob’s laughter flusters her)

Rachel: A mean cynic!

Jacob: Realist, my darling. Realist.

(In a huff, Rachel turns to her Coke. Jacob continues to laugh softly.)

Rachel: Shut up.

Jacob: Oh, I just can’t.

(They eat in silence for a moment; Jacob’s amused, Rachel’s indignant.)

Rachel: Why do you have to be so mean to me all the time?

Jacob: It’s good for you. It’ll put hair on your chest.

Rachel: I don’t want hair on my chest. I want to have a conversation with you for once without you shooting down all of my choices in men and making me feel like an idiot.

Jacob: Is it my fault that every guy you pick out has mortal flaws? You missed a pickle.

Rachel: They weren’t all bad.

Jacob: Nah. I especially liked the guy who liked to argue that he really was abducted by aliens. Take this pickle.

Rachel: One date! I went on one date with that man—he does not count!

Jacob: I’m giving you my opinion. Pickle!

Rachel: I don’t want your stupid opinion.

(Exasperated, Jacob gingerly picks the pickle off his burger and holds it between two fingers out to Rachel, stops when he sees she is sitting dejected.)

Rachel: I just…what’s wrong with me that all of my relationships have failed miserably?

Jacob: They’re jerks.

Rachel: Not all of them. Jesse was a nice guy. David was a nice guy. Harold— (pause) Okay, Harold was a jerk. But everyone else was great. They were great! And it ended badly. And now they’re all married or engaged. It shows that the problem wasn’t because of them. That leaves one person. Me. So, I ask you. What’s wrong with me?

 (Long silence as they stare at each other.)

Jacob: Maybe it’s your man hands.

Rachel: (shocked) My what?!

Jacob: Nah, that’s probably not it. Maybe it’s your cooking. Or your whining. You do whine a lot.

Rachel: (hurt) That’s a mean thing to say!

(Jacob raises eyebrow, grinning.)

Rachel: I hate you.

Jacob: Sometimes, yeah, you do. And sometimes I deserve it. But you have to admit—I’m always right. You could even call me Mr. Right.

(Silence.)

Rachel: (glumly) Nathanial’s gonna be out of town for my cousin’s wedding.

Jacob: Oh. When is it?

Rachel: Next Saturday. Do you have a game?

Jacob: Nope. We lost last week and the tournament ended. I can go with you so you don’t have to deal with Grandma Ruth’s proclamations of, ‘Oh, my poor, poor Rachel, doomed to single-hood forever!’

Rachel: Thanks, Jacob. (smiles.)

Jacob: Any time. (brief pause) Now will you please take this pickle before I throw it at you?

(Rachel removes the pickle from his burger and eats it. They sit in companionable silence, eating their meals. Nathanial enters, sits in chair next to Rachel.)

Nathaniel: Sorry I’m late—

Rachel: You’re ALWAYS late.

Nathaniel: (taken aback) What?

Rachel: And I don’t want to quit my job!

Nathaniel: But I never—

Rachel: And I AM A VEGETARIAN! (throws napkin down and exits)

(Nathanial looks bewildered at a very pleased Jacob, who quickly schools his features to look sympathetic.)

Jacob: Tough break, Sport. (shrugs innocently) Women! (pats shoulder and leaves him sitting alone at the table, dials a number on his phone.) Jacob: Hey man, listen. I’m not gonna be able to play in the tournament next weekend….