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Table of Contents
“So this is it?” She asked. The heat breathed up from the wet asphalt in grey wisps. The storm had begun with a few drops, a summer shower coming to decorate the dead of night. It played out like a film scene, quiet, then thunderous with it’s exploit of plot. I could have sworn it was taunting me. She hadn’t moved a muscle since her delicate voice filled the cab. I didn’t know how to respond, no combination of words would take the pain away. I couldn’t even recall how long we had been sitting here. I focused on the amber streetlights that hit the top of her cheekbones, casting shadows in her glazed pupils.
It was almost foreign to think that she didn’t look beautiful, but she did. She always had, even with her sleep matted hair, and two vengeful trails of mascara mapping tears down her face. I let go of the breath I had been holding in the depths of my lungs, hoping that when it travelled past my lips some soothing words would form with it.
“I suppose.” It was the best I could come up with. As her head dropped into two shaking hands, I wondered if staying quiet would have been the better option. I wanted to reach out, purely on instinct, and wrap my arms around her shivering body. There was more in the way than a center console that would make that action difficult. My train of thought was interrupted when the ignition keys shook against a violent vibration of thunder. It was really pouring now, the windshields were nothing but flattened waterfalls that distorted the outside world. My chest throbbed with the recognition of how at home I felt with the mutation of reality. Would I ever feel normal again?
“I just…” My fallen angel had spoke, in broken syllables and haggard breaths. She embodied every inch of the role in her pristine white pajama set, bunched up and wrinkled from hours of self-soothing. It was in that moment, I wanted to hate myself. My eyes rolled into the back of my head, and I prayed to whatever higher power that was listening; to wash me away with the leaves that disappeared down the street drains. I knew her gut-wrenching sobs and quiet whimpers would be the highlighting soundtrack of my nightmares for years to come. They’d fit right in next to the staccato sound of worn laces tied tight against sandy boots, and the unmistakable roar of the front lines.
“I need to do this.” I didn’t think she heard me at first, until her shaking body went completely still. I thought she was trying to melt into the worn leather the way her body conformed to the seat. At this point, I wouldn’t have blamed her. This piece of caged metal on four wheels was all that I was taking with me of my past life. Somehow, it was one of the only things that wasn’t painful to hold on to.
I saw it then, a corner caught in a flash of lightning, temporarily casting fragments of light onto the dashboard. I wondered for a fleeting moment, if it was still gritty and worn from being tucked in my boot. Had my name finally rubbed off or did she sleep with a permanent indention of it pressed over her heart? The shadows from the rainfall speckled her face in dark and light areas, her eyes seemed far away and vacant, her bottom lip barely hinted a tremble.
Without a word, her small hand wrapped around the door handle, she didn’t even turn to look at me, but I made no move to stop her either. The door popped open like gunfire, loud and straight through my heart. The sound of the storm became overpowering, continuous crashes of lightning lit up her frame like a strobe light. She moved from the car. My world became a scene in a movie, a fictitious life; even the rainfall slowed in it’s decent as I met her clouded eyes.
“I know.” It was only two frail words. I memorized the way her pink lips formed them, the slight pucker with the force of her final goodbye. I imagined the words were a kiss, that some part of her, deep down, understood why I needed to find myself again after loosing so much of it under that desert sun.
Mother Nature cut the scene. The car door slammed with enough force to startle me backwards. I felt nothing, I watched her soaked body begin to disappear into the yard. I didn’t want to look, I couldn’t tell the difference between the fall of the rain and my own wet vision. I squeezed my eyes shut, blinking away the invading tears, only to find nothing but a fuzzy halo of streetlight where she once stood.
One long inhuman sob escaped my partially parted lips. I let go; knowing somewhere was the road to recovery, and this was a start. My quivering hand gripped the keys tightly and turned, the engine roared to life. The high beams cut through the worst of the storm, revealing a very long and barren road ahead of me. I pressed the gas, glancing back into the review mirror, trying not to let the pull of the undertow take me back.
A Curtain of White
Mother doesn’t normally ask me to do such things. She lays sick in bed, her coughing resonates through out the house, a low chested hack. I grab for my woolen hat, the edges are frayed as I pull it over my eyebrows. It was dauntingly cold outside, but it wouldn’t take me long, five minutes at most. The doorknob feels like ice against my palm, but I push the door open, the wind hits my face, harsh and stinging. If the roads are vacant, I can’t tell, snow piles heavy on my shoulders, I won’t turn back now.
The journey is short; I stumble in the large ice covered cracks in the road. I fall, and I think my knee is bleeding under my two layers of long johns. I carry on; I can feel the warmth from windows ahead of me. This doorknob is cozy and welcoming, I push it open with a heavy shove.
The first thing I touch in the store in warm, it squishes under my fingertips and I can feel the pudding like viscosity dig itself under my nails.
“Can I help you?” The man asks, in a wavering voice. I turn towards it.
“I can manage.”
He brushes past me.
“Please let me know if I can assist you.”
His voice fades as he walks further from me. I clear my throat.
“Wait, I’m picking up a package for my mother, she’s sick, you see, and-.”
His movement stops.
“You’re mother? My, My…you’re…” His cologne is musky it smells of wet earth. “I’m sorry.” He continues, “I’m used to dealing business with your mother, she speaks of you often, I-.”
“I don’t get out much.”
I can feel the sweat beading against my brow, wetting the rim of my woolen cap, perhaps it was too warm in here. The storeowner grabs my elbow, leading me to the counter.
“I’ll get what you need right away, wait here. I’ll be back shortly.”
He pressed the paper bag into my hand, and I give him the crumbled bills I pull from my pocket. Mother’s clammy hand had pressed them into mine before I left. It’s quite the contrast to the wrinkled, warm skin of the owner’s as he shakes my hand in goodbye.
The cold seems worse than before, as the wind whips against my face. It stings and burns, making my already chapped lips bleed. I can feel the stares of the courageous town’s people who brave this weather, their snow boots shuffle past me, avoiding confrontation. I keep my head down, seven more sidewalk spaces and I would be home.
Mother’s voice greets me. She’s sitting in the foyer, her classic music plays loudly.
She wraps her arms around me, and wraps her warm hands around my face. “Braving this storm, going out in your condition.”
She presses a kiss to my forehead.
“I wish you could see how beautiful the snow looks right now.”
In the Month of May
If there was ever anything James McKorgan had learned in his life, it was to always count the money. Crisp hundred-dollar bills laid out before him on a small table. He placed the last hundred on the stack, turning towards the figure stretched out on one of the double beds, his brow furrowed from concentration. Julia Callato didn’t wait for him to speak.
“You think it’s enough?” She asked. James caught the tremble in her upper lip, the way her tongue clicked against her teeth. He wondered at what point had her nerves of steel disappeared.
“It ought to get us to Reno.” He paused, to contemplate his own admission. “We can figure the rest out from there.” James walked over to peer at the new air conditioning unit. “I mean, we may have to cut back on luxuries, but we can make it.” His answer seemed to sit a bit better with her the second time. She sighed, running a long fingered hand through her hair. James took that moment to study her face. Her blood shot blue eyes were framed with dark circles, her skin had taken on a slightly ashen sheen, but he wondered if that could just be the crummy hotel lighting.
Is she that worried?
Julia lit up a cigarette; her hands shook in attempt to spark the flame. He watched her face visibly relax as the nicotine coursed through her system, smoke curling in her lungs. He wasn’t lost in the irony of the scene in front of him. How such a deadly thing could blossom solace within a person. He was tempted to light up himself.
“Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe we shouldn’t have ran.” She took another drag of her cigarette, keeping her stare locked with James. He pursed his lips; the sound of Billie Holliday took over the room, filling the empty pauses.
“What should we have done then, Julia?” He asked, breaking the standoff and walking over to the wet bar.
[Not too many choices.
He wanted to laugh at his inner dialogue. It seemed to be the theme of his life lately. A crystal vase layered in dust caught his eye; with a harsh tug the stopper came loose. A deep inhale revealed the golden liquid to be aged bourbon. James watched the ice clink into the tumbler; he topped it off with a hearty dose. “Please, tell me how you think this should have gone-” He whipped his free hand around in demonstration, “In the grand scheme of things?”
Julia pursed her pink lips into a thin line. She was used to James’ frequent outburst. The fact that sweat was starting to bead around his hairline gave away he was more stressed than usual. She tapped her cigarette into the makeshift ashtray on the table, watching him through the fading curtain of smoke.
“We could have bled them.” She threw a graceful leg over the edge of the bed, the iron frame squeaked under the shift of weight. James scoffed at her statement.
“B-bleed them?” His grey eyes went wild. “Blackmail? Are you insane, Julia?” The sweat ran down his temple, he wiped it away before it could threaten his vision. He knew his outburst was unjustifiable, even with all the trouble they were in. Julia was a privileged girl; her father ran half of the city. A snap of her fingers, an upturn of her chin, and the whole world was hers. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration; red marks were already forming under the pads of his fingers. “This is the mob, not a goddamn pack of gumshoes.” He let out a breath that weighed heavy with the situation. “Maybe we are in too deep.”
“We could go south,” She said, placing her hands on his slumped shoulders, a new determination shown on her face. “Drive through Oklahoma, hit Texas then Arizona.” She mapped out a trail of light kisses along his jawline. “Drive up through California. They’ll never guess we’re going to take the long route.” The last syllables were a mere whisper against the lobe of his ear. It was moments like these he wanted to kiss her. She was his rock, and for all intensive purposes the only one who knew how to settle him down. There wasn’t a single other living person James could image beside him in this sticky situation.
“You’re right. That’s a keen idea, doll.” He felt the heat radiating off her bare skin, for a moment he wondered if that new fangled air conditioner worked. Even the walls seemed to have a glistening sheen of sweat over them. “We could pack up now. Get out of here before the dawn.” He brushed his lips over her shoulder, they came away salty and wet. For the first time all day James felt the tension in his face ease. They could run to the coast, get away from the choice they made and live off the benefits. “You’re not nervous are you?” He asked, brushing his thumb over her full bottom lip. Her brown locks tumbled across her face as she shook her head.
“We can do this.” She said, nestling her head in the crook of his shoulder. It was easily three in the morning now, only the faint glow of late moonlight gave any real indication of the time. “Let’s get started, shall we?” Her lips pulled into a tight smile she hoped he would return.
He didn’t protest.
A loud clang of noise came from out in the hall, Julia jumped out of her seat, nearly tripping over their packed suitcases. “James.” She scanned the room with a thumping heart. Her nails creased half-moons into the palms of her hands. “What was that?”
That was the last time he saw dawn in her eyes.
Biography for Megan Muse
Megan Muse is a current student undergoing the Creative Writing for Entertainment Business curriculum for her BFA at Full Sail University. Megan has been a published poet and writer since her early teens, working closely with multiple school clubs and pursuing her talents into college life.
Megan spent four years prior to college with the United States Navy, completing two overseas deployments. She now resides in Long Beach, California where she continues to be inspired in her writing by her life’s adventures.
Summer's Story is an emotionally driven tale of three compelling characters, who take on life's greatest challenges. Within the midst of hardship, true colors of each of the protagonist shine to enrich an imagery packed tale.