Gloria traced the rough texture of the bricks, the abrasive particles of sand and grit catching the tender skin of her fingertips. A concavity caught her attention, and she paused, cocking her head in curiosity. She scratched at the small hole, widening it, and flakes of mortar tumbled to the ground at her feet, littering her shoelaces with their crystalline dandruff.
She reached the bottom quickly enough, and lost interest when nothing of note appeared. She continued on her way, meandering back and forth across the sidewalk, never stepping on a crack for fear of breaking her mother’s back.
Cedric leaned against the street sign catty-corner to Gloria’s wandering dance, and he watched her with bright eyes. Such a girl would likely have some interesting stories to tell, he thought. His mind made up, he crossed the street, Gloria in his crosshairs.
Gloria froze, her sneaker toe millimeters from a large insect blundering its way across her path. She squatted and squinted at the poor thing–a beetle, she judged. She reached out a hand to touch it, and like that, it spread its wings and disappeared into the bright blue sky without a trace. Gloria smiled broadly, unperturbed that her plans had been so swiftly shattered by such an insignificant creature.
She stood back up and prepared to continue on her way, but a man blocked her.
Cedric knew that with his fighter’s build, he could bed intimidating, but he had spent years perfecting his kindly and disarming smile. He used that smile on Gloria, to an unexpected effect.
“And that’s how your mother and I met, kids.”
Serene gathered her courage and pulled the knot a little bit tighter on the top of her polka-dotted bikini. She nodded decisively at her reflection and left the bathroom, slapping the light switch on her way out.
She paused dramatically at the top of the staircase, pointing her left foot and bending her knee.
“How do I look?” She called downstairs, startling her husband.
“What?” He rounded the corner and let out a wolf whistle. “You look…so good in that.” He smiled broadly. “I can’t wait for our vacation now,” he said, winking, as he climbed the stairs to wrap his arms around her.
“It’s Maddy,” she winked back at the handsome man asking her name. “And if you’re going to buy me a drink, come on and do it already.”
His smile broadened, and he stepped up to the bar at her side, signaling the bartender with a raised hand, his fingers half-curled in a beckoning gesture. It was only a moment before the bartender slid down to take their order.
Maddy met his eyes with the confidence of the veteran barfly. “Crown and Sprite, easy on the Sprite,” she announced, firmly.
Her unwitting victim raised an eyebrow at her tone, but quickly shrugged it off. Surely she was far too young to be as much of an alcoholic as his mother. He ordered more quietly after she turned her face to stare him down. “Make it two.” He pulled a twenty from his right hip pocket and laid it on the bar, watching the bartender shuffle glasses and bottles with an experienced hand.
He realized that he hadn’t introduced himself to Maddy. “Don Davis. I know it’s the most cliche ever, but do you come here often?” he asked wit ha smile, not quite as broad as he had begun with.
He thought he saw a sly glint come to her eyes, but dismissed that idea when she took a half step closer to him.
“I’ve been here a couple times, but I’ve only just moved back here from St Louis. How about you?” She winked again, and all of his second thoughts washed away with that slow, sultry wink and the arrival of their matched drinks.
Don took a sip of his, trying to collect his thoughts while she lazily stirred her ice around with the tiny straw. “You mean do I come here often? Actually, no. This is the first time.” Was it just his imagination or did her smile just become the tiniest bit more authentic? It had to be his imagination.
He grasped for a topic of conversation, any topic. Please, anything. His panicked internal monologue was rising in pitch as the seconds ticked by. Somehow, Maddy was still smiling at him, her cheek resting on her fist as her elbow sat on the edge of the bar.
“I majored in biology at State,” he offered, immediately kicking himself. That tidbit was definitely not going to win him any points with her. But surprisingly enough, it seemed to work.
“Really?” For the first time, honest interest sparked behind her eyes, and she sat up a little straighter. “I minored in zoology when I was in St Louis.” Her excitement waned a bit, and her voice dropped. “Before I had to drop out.”
Don was legitimately curious about the reasons she ‘had to’ drop out, but judging by her emotional cues, it wasn’t the best story she had in her repertoire, so he made the good decision to let it drop and talk more about happier things. “So we have more in common than not coming here often.” He grinned, and was pleased to see some of the distant sadness leave her face.
The bartender slid by as if he were on a track, eyebrows raised in the universal question. Don shook his head, and the bartender continued on his way.
“We both like Crown and Sprite,” she added.
He laughed. “You’re absolutely right. A whole laundry list of things we have in common.”
“Add one more,” she smiled. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure we’d both like to end up in bed with the other before the night is over.” She finished off her drink and turned her body to face his, brushing her hip against his crotch in the process.
His surprise was clearly evident, so she prompted him, standing on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear. “Drink up and let’s go.”
He obeyed, swiftly lifting his glass and emptying it down his throat before replacing the glass on the bar and letting her lead him through the exit door beneath the softly glowing Blue Moon clock.
They rode in silence, the only sound the steady hum of the tires on pavement, punctuated regularly by the seams in the road. Minutes ticked by without the headlights of another car growing in the windshield.
Eventually, she had enough. “Steve, where are we going? I’m hungry.” She turned toward him, a pleading look on her face.
“It’s a surprise, Sue. You’ll see when we get there.” He kept his eyes on the road, dismissing her complaint without even addressing it.
She threw herself back in the seat, crossing her arms and drawing a foot up. Dinner should have been hours ago.
“I don’t even like surprises,” she grumbled.
Steve rolled his eyes. As he’d predicted, she was snoring in less than fifteen minutes. She didn’t move a muscle when he slowed the car and pulled into a driveway.
The house loomed blackly above him as he got out, carefully closing the door so as not to wake his passenger. One last glance to make sure that she was still snoozing, and he trotted around the side of the house and hopped in his buddy’s truck, leaving poor Sue to wake hours later, cold and alone in the echoing dawn.
Her enthusiasm flags; his dancing is not what he had led her to believe. They pull apart, staring into each others’ eyes. She looks away first. He drops her hand, unsure of how to proceed.
A cricket chirps from the corner. The light of a passing car flashes across her face, and he holds his breath, taken aback by her beauty anew.
She returns to his embrace. Dancing isn’t everything.
Hudson looked over his shoulder once more, searching the horizon with sad eyes filled with longing; she was late for their lunch date. He checked his watch–too late. She had two minutes to show, or they wouldn’t have time for more than a quick smooch before he had to get back to work. Might as well prepare for the worst, he thought, and began to gather the picnic lunch that had been warming on a moss covered stone nearby.
Two minutes was up, and she was still nowhere in sight. Hudson sighed, and began folding the blanket they’d lunched on more times than he remembered. The breeze plastered an abandoned candy wrapper against the side of his loafer, and he bent to pick it up.
When he straightened, she was there, standing in front of him, wild of eye and mussed of hair.
“Shirley, are you okay? What happened?”He reached out to steady her, but she flinched away.
“It was them, it was them. They’re coming back for me. Too soon, so soon,” she was mumbling, not making any sense.
Hudson reached for her again, and this time he slipped an arm around her, past her wildly streaming hair. He pulled her against him, gently but firmly, smoothing her hair with his other hand and whispering soft soothing sounds into her ear.
He looked down to see that she was only wearing one shoe, the other left who-knows-where. “Shirley, let me see your foot. It’s bleeding.”
She didn’t hear him, didn’t understand the words he was saying. She still stared off into the distance. He slung her over a shoulder and stopped the flow of blood with the blanket. A cursory glance at the picnic basket was enough or him to let it go, and he carried her toward the street, fully intending to hail the next cab he saw, and the hell with work.
Shirley calmed even more when he picked her up, her murmurs becoming whispers of their former selves, until a stranger caught her eye. She panicked, struggling her way right out of Hudson’s arms and onto the grass.
He stopped in his tracks, unsure of how to handle this. People were starting to stare. The last thing he needed was some do-gooder calling 911 and claiming that he was trying to kidnap his own girlfriend. She’d jerked her foot out of his grasp, so now he was left holding a bloody blanket while a girl scrambled away from him.
Bit of a challenge to explain that to a police officer.
He flashed his pearly whites to the gathering crowd and made up something about needing her medication, all the while kicking himself for it. He scooped Shirley back up and she settled once more into his chest.
She was speaking more clearly, but still, he struggled to make out the words.
“This isn’t just a story, Hudson, not a story, not a story. It’s all real.”
TBP OLWG #6
18 minutes writing and editing.
I’m not emotionally attached to this bit at all. In fact, I don’t think I would have minded too terribly much if I accidentally deleted the whole thing. But I can’t bring myself to do it on purpose.
I pick 29.