Tag Archives: survivors

A Single Christmas Tale

A stand-alone story, first published in The Maverick, Show Low AZ.

Glaring sunlight intruded on Alec’s dreams. He rolled over, willing himself to go back to sleep. Then the phone jarred him up and out of bed. He dragged the quilt behind him as he dashed to answer it.

“Santa got me skis!” The young voice was bursting. “Did you get my present?”

“Yes, I’m opening it now,” lied Alec. The present had been opened as soon as it arrived.

“Do you like it?”

Alec smiled, looking at the misshapen blob of clay. “It’s wonderful. Did you make it yourself?”

“Yes! It’s a pen holder. We made them at school.”

An older voice in the background said, “My turn, Honey,” then “Merry Christmas.”

“Yeah, you too.” The tears in his throat annoyed him.

“Thanks for the check.”

“Figured Santa could use it,” Alec replied gruffly.

“That’s for sure . . .”

That was all they had to say; there was more than one kind of distance between them.

Alec tried to shrug off the holiday blues by making himself a real breakfast – eggs, sausage, and pancakes with real maple syrup. When they were a family, she always made coffeecake on Christmas morning.

He dawdled over his food, staring out the window, watching the jays, and then he took his time cleaning up. Dishes washed, dried, put away. Counters and stove-top wiped clean. He even swept the floor.

Still morning, he thought. No one else will call. Maybe there’s enough snow for a ski up on the mountain – only got out once last year.

Alec pulled his cross-country skis and poles out of the garage, then rummaged through closets until he found his boots and special wool socks. He decided to wear his heavy coat. He’d probably be too hot, but he didn’t push himself the way he used to.

It was past noon as he headed out of town.

The railroad tracks were too open; the wind had blown them bare. He kept driving, looking for the wooded trail he’d hiked last summer. Finally he found it – at least the map painted on the large wooden board looked familiar.

It was sheltered, and enough higher to have gotten more snow.

There were no other vehicles at the trailhead, but the path had been skied on sometime in the last couple days – since the last snow. He put on his skis and started awkwardly. After a few minutes, the rhythm came back to him and he started moving right along. At first the trail led up steeply. He unzipped his coat and was still sweating, but it felt good.

I’ll be fine as long as I keep moving, he thought.

He was glad when the trail looped around and headed downhill. But it was steep, and the light was getting tricky as the sun sank into the trees. He’d forgotten dusk would come earlier on this side of the mountain. He had to slow down.

His shirt clung to him like an icy glove. The trail was getting harder to follow. Going around a curve slowly, he nearly fell when his right ski grabbed a rock. He paused.

I could break a leg and freeze to death out here, he thought. But what difference would it make? No one would miss me; no one would really care.

Suddenly the hair on his body bristled, pushing the wet shirt away from his skin. He looked around in the dusk, but couldn’t see anything. Yet every nerve was tingling. He didn’t dare risk falling by going too fast, so he skied with his poles swinging broadly.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing…” He bellowed out Christmas carols to frighten off whatever was out there in the dark.

Suddenly, he saw bright light ahead. As he got closer he saw a truck sitting at the trailhead, its headlights on his car. Happily, Alec glided into the parking area and released his skis. He heard the truck door open.

“Hey there.”

The voice sounded friendly, but panic gripped Alec when he looked up to see a large man standing with his back to his truck, holding a long-barreled gun pointed in his direction.

“Man, I’m glad to see you,” said the stranger. “Pulled over ‘cause I was nodding off, then I seen them big cat tracks all around your car and figured you were a goner. I’ll just stand by here ‘til you’re ready to go.”

Alec stowed his gear, got into his car, and started it up. He rolled the window down as the man got into his own truck.

“Thanks,” he called, grateful to be alive.

“No problem. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.”

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

www.imdb.com/name/nm8459664/

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Novel Bites: Missy’s Tahoe Christmas

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not. This story is from Michael Dolan McCarthy, his little sister Missy talking to us after a conversation with Michael in which he reminded her of Christmas in Tahoe. Please comment. Thanks.

FullFront

I remember the last Christmas we were all together. I didn’t used to, cuz I was only in kindergarten back then, not second grade like I am now. But Michael helped me. He’s my big brother and he takes care of me.

Once I remembered my puppy mittens, that Christmas came back all shiny and warm – except for the snow. I got wet and cold when we went sledding, but then Daddy put me in the front seat with the heater going full blast and I warmed right up. When we made a snowman, it didn’t matter that I got wet cuz I could go inside and warm up every time.

We stayed in this place that was even nicer than our house – we lived in a house back then, not that creepy old apartment where we left Mama last night.

That was a bad place. I don’t like to think about it.

That Christmas, when we went to the mountains all of us together, I did have to share a bedroom with Jimmy, but there were twin beds. We even had our own TV to watch the Grinch and the old movies Mama liked for the holidays. Michael slept on the couch in the living room cuz he was old enough to stay up later than us, as late as Mama and Daddy.

We got there Christmas Eve and Daddy went out and got a little tree and put it on a table in a corner of the living room. Mama popped popcorn and we made popcorn strings and paper snowflakes for that tree. It came with some lights and little decorations, but Mama said it wasn’t a Christmas tree until we put some of our love into it.

There was a fireplace in the living room, too, one where you turned it on with a switch like a light. We brought our stockings from home, all excited to have a real fireplace for them, but there wasn’t any way to hang them above it. Jimmy wanted to put nails in the wall, but Daddy said we couldn’t do that. So we put our stockings on chairs next to the fireplace, and sure enough, Santa found us and filled the stockings and put presents under that little tree, and three sleds were against the wall next to it with bows on them.

I’d been worried about how Santa would find us if we weren’t at home, but Daddy said he wanted snow for Christmas. When he was a little boy, he lived where it snowed every winter, lots and lots. Mama, too, but in a different place. She told me a little about it while I helped her put glitter names on the stockings and bows to make them pretty. She hardly ever talked about when she was growing up, so I listened to every bit, except I don’t remember all of it because I was only five. But it was a farm near a big lake and she played outside all the time and drove tractor when she was younger than Michael!

Now I’m seven and Michael’s driving Mama’s old Explorer across the country to take us to her parents on that farm, even though we never met them before. He tried to call them again today, but I don’t think he got to talk to them yet. We slept in the car last night and now we’re driving up into really big mountains, way bigger than that Christmas we went sledding, and it’s starting to snow, but Michael says we have four wheel drive and that means we’ll be okay.

Sometimes people are surprised he’s my brother, cuz his skin’s kind of brown all the time, but that’s cuz he had a different father first. Michael called our Daddy Swede. Daddy said that was okay, that Michael started calling him that before he married Mama and it didn’t matter what Michael called him, he was still Daddy to all of us.

Anyway, Daddy was so much fun. He pulled me back up the sledding hill every time, so I wouldn’t get tired before the boys. And he rode behind me, holding me close against him, so I wouldn’t get scared when we hit a bump or tipped over. He laughed every time.

But this Christmas we’ll be with our grandparents in that big farmhouse where Mama grew up, with snow to make snowmen with and oh, Mama showed me how to make snow angels, too.

I can make one for her and one for Daddy, angels for angels. They’ll like that.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

www.imdb.com/name/nm8459664/

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Novel Bites: Maria’s Secret

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not – this one is not. Maria’s husband is Joe in Running Away and Peg’s Story (soon to be released). Please comment. Thanks.
Durare RunningAway 300dpi2Tall

“Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue” – Buddy Holly’s song haunts my husband.

Every time it plays, Joe’s gaze turns inward and saddens. I know he’s thinking of Peg, a girl he knew briefly as I planned flowers and music for our wedding.

It’s not what you think. It’s not that kind of connection between them. He was her white knight one sunny day when she most needed one. He rescued her, listened to her, soothed her with stories, and got her safely home – at least with no more damage.

Today, he would have talked her into going to the hospital, stood by her as she talked to police and pressed charges against the boys who so callously used her body. My Joe understands that body and mind and spirit cannot be separated, that what injures one injures all parts of the being. So when he hears that song and remembers, he blames himself for not knowing more than he did at the time, for not being more than he knew how to be.

Joe confessed to me, after his last visit to his brother in Canada, that he’d driven back to the place he dropped her off,  and asked a stranger raking leaves in a yard if a girl named Peg lived in that neighborhood.

The stranger pointed to a house. “She used to live there.”

She ran away and they were told she was swept away by the flood that ruined my wedding plans. Her loss was of course the more tragic event, but the wedding, moved from a riverside venue to a small chapel at the last minute, with a fraction of the guests able to attend, that is what marks the time for me. That she died here haunts my husband – he wonders if she came looking for him, hoping he could help her again, or perhaps still searching for deliverance from her trauma?

And this is why I have a secret from my partner in life. Not from any foolish jealousy. He treasures me – there’s no insecurity between us. No, I hold secret from him that which would only deepen his unreasonable sense that he failed this stranger somehow. It is a secret I share with his aunt. You see, the girl did come looking for my beloved.

She was thin and pale and impressed his aunt as old for her age. It had to have been her, though despite the circumstances in which they met, my husband admitted she was quite pretty with a figure that may have drawn unwanted attention. Auntie says the girl came only the one time, looking quite desperate, and quick to believe when told the Joe she sought was out of the country on his honeymoon. We agree he doesn’t need his guilt reinforced by that knowledge.

Since Auntie shared her story, I share my husband’s unreasonable guilt.

On our wedding day, the storm had passed and the waters had begun to recede, leaving their destruction behind. When we saw the state of the garden by the river, my mother suggested waiting a year for the venue to heal, but I didn’t want to abandon our honeymoon trip to Europe. When I shocked her by suggesting my virginity would not last another year and any wedding that late might be with a rounded belly in the gown, she helped me find the small chapel where my beloved and I exchanged our vows on the date we’d planned.

So you see, the girl was not swept away by the flood waters. She came looking for my Joe while we were on our honeymoon.

But believing she is dead must be easier for her family than always wondering what became of her. I know it would only haunt my husband more to know she may still be out there, still trying to put body, mind, and soul back together.

I know she haunts me.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8459664/

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Novel Bites: Jimmy’s Plan

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not – this is from Michael Dolan McCarthy. The book is told from Michael’s perspective, whereas this story explains his little brother’s perspective in the opening chapters. Please comment. Thanks.

FullFront

Fast as the wind. That’s me. At nine, I’m the youngest player on our team, but I’m the best. The ball dances between my feet as I race to the goal.

Andy’s a good goalie, staying in the middle, ready to dive to either side, shifting his weight from foot to foot. The space between them calls to me. In a league game, I wouldn’t take the chance, but this is practice. I go in close, lock eyes with him, then slam the ball right between his feet. It bumps his ankle and veers into the net at an angle.

“Aw, man!” Andy retrieves it. “Did you have to make me look stupid?”

“Bet you’ll never take your eyes off the ball in a real game.” I grin as Coach’s whistle pierces the air.

Andy rolls his head back to look at the sky, then grins back at me. We fist bump and run to the sideline. Coach will tell us what we did right and wrong in this scrimmage, then have us do one more before we call it quits for the day.

I’m not surprised to see Michael here. My big brother comes early to watch practice a lot, which makes me feel less like a baby, having a teenager walk me home all the time. But he’s talking to Coach, which is weird.

“Nice play, Jimmy,” says Coach. “Grab your stuff, you’ve got to go.”

I glare at Michael. He follows me over to the duffel bag I use for school. It’s the only thing big enough for my soccer stuff and whatever I need during the day. The regulation ball Mama bought is always with me, ready for pick-up games at recess and lunch.

“Why can’t I stay?” I grumble as I change into my street shoes. Some of the kids wear their soccer shoes home, but I save mine for the field. “We’ve got a big game tomorrow.”

“You’ll have to miss it. I told your coach. Mama’s got a job interview out of town and she’s taking us with her.”

“It’s Ridgeview!” Michael knows Ridgeview is our toughest opponent. “They need me! Why’s Mama got to take us along?”

“She can’t leave us home alone.” Michael stares at the shoes I haven’t tied. “Hurry up. We need to get going.”

Michael is the one who’s held things together since Dad died. He’d rather be on the high school soccer team than babysitting me and our little sister Missy all the time, but he hardly ever complains.

I do, though. “Mama’s supposed to cut my hair tonight. Is she still going to do that?”

Mama buzzed me right before school started. It’s Novem­ber now and my bangs keep getting in my face. It’s kind of nice to hide behind them in class, but on the field it’s a pain. I’ve been trying to get her to cut my hair for two weeks.

Michael looks like he might cry. “Don’t be mad at Mama. It’s not her fault.”

“What do you mean? What’s wrong?”

But Michael doesn’t answer. He takes off for home so fast I have to trot to keep up. He does that when he wants me to shut up and quit bugging him about something. But this time, maybe I don’t want the answer. If one more awful thing’s happened to our family, well, that just wouldn’t be fair.

Still, I need to know. When we get to the apartment, I watch Michael unlock the door and finally ask, “What’s going on?” My voice sounds like a little girl’s, all weak and trembly.

He chokes on the words. “Mama’s gone, Jimmy. Too many pain pills.”

“No! Where is she?”

Michael nods up towards her room, his hand on my shoulder. I shake it off and run upstairs, hoping he’s wrong, that she’s just sleeping heavy. She can be hard to wake up when she takes those pills. But tears start pouring down my face even before I get to the foot of her bed and see her lying there all stiff like a big plastic doll. Mama’s not there anymore. No touch needed to know she’s gone.

When Dad died, we knew it was coming because of the cancer, but this? My eyes drift to the empty pill bottle by her hand and rage pours through me, worse than the day our cat Betsy died and Mama tossed her in the trash and she was gone before we even knew she’d been hurt. I smashed up our room that day and Michael told me how that’s rage and it’s what got his father killed and Dad wouldn’t be happy with me for letting it take over like that.

Now Mama’s deserted us, left us on our own. I’m shaking, holding back from smashing things, and crying sad, all at once. “Why, Michael? Why’d she do this?”

Michael puts his arm around me and turns to walk us away from the bed and out of that room. “You know how worried she was, how she’s felt she wasn’t taking good care of us, like she couldn’t do anything right. . .”

“But now she can’t take care of us at all.” My rage slides into fear, a cold lump in my belly. The tears stop and my eyes open wide as I turn to Michael. “What are we gonna do?”

We’ve lived in this ghetto apartment long enough to understand Social Services is the threat now. They’ll come and take us and we’ll be split up and maybe never see each other again. But Michael’s already thought it through. As he explains everything, I’m not surprised the girl across the street is going to help us – they’re always on the phone. Missy found Mama, and she’s over at Shenia’s house now.

But when he tells me where we’re headed, well . . . Dad didn’t have any family and Mama never talked about any, so I figured she didn’t either. But Michael has an envelope with Mama’s handwriting on it, addressed to her parents at an address in Pennsylvania, all the way across the country.

I’ve got a million questions, but mostly, “Why don’t we know them?”

Michael sighs. “They broke off with Mama when she married my father.”

I stare at my big brother. When I’ve been outside all summer, my skin’s nearly as dark as his, and we both have light blonde hair. But mine’s straight as can be and wispy, while his is thick and kinky. I know what he’s saying, but it makes no sense. “That’s stupid,” is all I can offer him.

“Yeah, well, she was writing to ask for help. Maybe they’ll take you and Missy. I’m almost sixteen, I can get along on my own if you two are safe together with family. I’ll stay close enough to keep tabs on you.”

Michael’s the best big brother anyone could have. I don’t want to live with anyone who would reject him.  When we get there, I’ll set them straight that it’s all of us or none. But if it’s going to be none, I have to start being more helpful, so Michael knows it’ll work, that he won’t have to take care of me all the time, and I’ll help with Missy.

I have to show him.

We’re taking one bag apiece, what we can carry. We might never see the rest again. Michael dumps my school stuff onto the bed and starts packing his own backpack. The first thing I do is shove my soccer ball back into my duffel.

“You can’t take that,” he says. “You have to get all your clothes in there.”

I start shoving underwear in around the ball. I want to be grown up, but tears are pouring down my face again. I snuffle and blink and keep shoving clothes into the bag.

Michael stops packing his. “Jimmy, you have to listen to me now.” He sounds tired, old.

“Mama gave it to me.” I suck in air to try and stop the crying, but end up sobbing.

“Can you deflate it?”

I shake my head. “Coach airs it up for me.”

Michael pulls me into a hug and holds me while I shake and sob. When I’ve mostly cried myself out, I heave a big sigh and look up. Michael lets me loose and wipes his own face. I’ve soaked the front of his shirt. I snort up snot so I can breathe better, then go back to stuffing stuff in around the ball.

“I can make it all fit. I don’t need many clothes.”

Michael gives me a quick side hug and lets me be. When we’re both done packing our bags, I remember I want to be helpful so he’ll keep us with him instead of making us stay with some white grandparents who never bothered to know us.

I can help make sure we get away. “Will the police come after us?”

“Maybe. But in a city this big, maybe they’ll be too busy.” Michael doesn’t sound like he believes that, and I sure don’t. Nothing’s gone easy for our family since Dad got sick.

I have a good idea, though. “We should get all our pictures out of the house, to slow them down.”

Michael hadn’t thought of that. Mama never let me be in charge of Missy because I’m too hyper, but I’m smart, and I can totally focus when it’s important. That’s why I’m so good at soccer. I’ll watch out for Missy and I’ll keep finding ways to help Michael take care of us.

We’re going to be together, one way or another.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm8459664/

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Novel Bites: CJ from Running Away

Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. This is a scene from Running Away, told from a different perspective.Durare RunningAway 300dpi2Tall

CJ

“You didn’t come home last night.”

Uncle Joe’s  not angry and he’s not specifically asking where I spent the night. After all, I’m eighteen. But it’s clear he’d like to know. He figured out I smoke weed long ago – the smell clings to you – but I don’t do that much and never before work, and he doesn’t bug me about it. So I don’t mind answering him now.

“I drove a friend to the grocery store and by the time we got done, you would already have been in bed. I didn’t want to wake you up with a text.”

“Don’t worry about that. I turn off the sound at night, but we’d have seen it in the morning. Your aunt was worried. Send her one now.”

I nod and pull out my phone to do it right away.

My dad died when I was ten and when my mother married six years later, Uncle Joe and Aunt Maria said they’d be happy to have me come live with them to finish high school. They knew I’d never liked the guy. And I’d already been spending my summers with them anyway, helping in the restaurant. It reminded me of when Dad was alive. I was so mad when Mom sold his place. It was supposed to be mine when I grew up.

Now I realize maybe she felt like she’d always been in competition with Dad’s restaurant. She certainly hadn’t ever loved it the way he did, even though she was right there by his side working with him. Selling it was the right thing for Mom. She was happier working for someone else instead of struggling to make a profit every month.

Aunt Maria texts me back right away, so I know she was waiting to hear from me. Next time I’ll make sure to let them know ahead of time.

Maybe I should plan on staying at Charlie’s again tonight. I already used my extra work clothes today, but I could run home on my dinner break to get more.

It’s not safe for Maggie at that house. And it was nice waking up next to her. But we might end up having sex if I come back tonight, and she’s not ready for that. I don’t want to be that guy. She’s messed up enough by what her step-father did to her. Not to mention she’s jail bait, though she doesn’t seem that much younger than me.

She’ll probably be okay. Charlie’s got Crystal, he won’t hit on Maggie.

Besides, I’m really pissed with Charlie about last night. Uncle Joe would give me the boot for that, even if I was just the driver and didn’t shoplift anything myself.

No, I don’t need to go back to that house.

***

It’s been busy all day, easy not to think about Maggie or worry about her being alone in Charlie’s house. She’s just a kid, fifteen today, all alone because her mother married the wrong guy. At least my step-father wasn’t like that.

Then I see her standing outside, looking at the stained glass hangings I did for Uncle Joe.

Before she can leave, I step outside. “Maggie, how’d you find me?”

“I was just looking for someplace to eat.”

But she looks stressed out and she has that huge backpack with all her stuff.  I nod at it. “You find another place to stay?” I hope Charlie didn’t try anything.

She looks past me, over to the side, avoiding my eyes. “I’m going to check out some other parts of the country.”

Shit, he must have done something. If she stays, maybe she’ll talk to me. I’ll kill him. At least beat the crap out of him. But I’ve got to sound cool so I don’t scare her off. “So I might not see you again. Come on in. I’ll buy you dinner.”

She smiles, so I lead her inside. It’s packed, but there’s a table in the corner open. She’ll be more comfortable there. I help her take the pack off and set it against the wall.

“This is Aji’s section. He’ll be right with you. Order anything on the menu.”

I know this will be okay with Uncle Joe. He helps out people all the time. He has me in charge of the coffeehouse side of the place, while he manages the restaurant. It’s the same kitchen and same menu of Greek food, but the ambiance on my side’s less formal.

Once I assure her that I’m paying for her dinner, Maggie relaxes some. I make her promise to talk to me before she leaves, then get back to work. But I keep an eye on her. She wolfs down the lemon-flavored soup that’s one of our specialties, but when Aji takes her a lemonade and gyro, she just looks at it. I stop by the table to ask if everything’s okay.

“Great. I probably won’t be able to finish it all.”

“Good.” I was going to sit down and see if she’d talk more, but there’s a customer up front waiting to pay. As I start to leave, she calls me back.

“This is weird, but I’ve gotta ask, is your uncle’s name Joe?”

I told her all about the restaurant and living with my aunt and uncle last night. But I want to know how she guessed his name.

“I think my mom met him a long time ago. When she was my age.”

So that’s why she came to Harrisburg – her mother must have been here. We get runaways, but winters are cold and rainy. It’s not a great place to be on the street.

And Joe’s always helped people. So I say I’ll go get him. She backs off, saying he probably wouldn’t remember her mom, but I figure he might, and besides, the longer Maggie’s here, the longer she’s safe. Maybe Uncle Joe will have a way to help her.

When I’ve cashed out the customer on my side, I go over to the restaurant and ask Uncle Joe to talk with me a moment in the office, a tiny room off the kitchen where we do the bookkeeping.  He goes with me right away.

“Is it about last night?” he asks.

“Kind of. There’s a girl. She’s run away because her step-father raped her, but she probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that. I stayed with her last night. It’s not a good place for an innocent kid. I’ve been trying to figure out how to help her all day, then she showed up and I bought her dinner. She says she’s going to move on, but anyplace she finds . . . ”

“How can I help?”

“She thinks you may have helped her mother, way back. Maybe . . . I don’t know.”

He says he’ll come over to meet Maggie as soon as he’s taken care of a few people ready to pay and leave. I take her a piece of baklava with a single birthday candle on top. Her smile warms me to the core.

“Thanks,” she says, “and thanks for not singing.”

I tell her Uncle Joe wants to meet her and ask what she did for her birthday. Her face tenses a moment, then she claims she just spent the day reading her mother’s journal, the one that told her about Joe and Harrisburg.

There’s something else though. I know something bad has happened.

Then Aji brings her a refill on her lemonade and she passes him her dirty dishes. She drops a fork on the floor and bends down to get it. As she sits up, she turns so she’s facing me and hands the fork to Aji without looking at him. Her eyes are glazed in terror.

Once he’s gone, she squeaks out, “How well do you know Aji?”

Aji’s worked for us for about six months and has always seemed like a good guy. He’s the one who introduced me to Charlie. But her question has me ready to pound him for hurting her, if that’s what he did. But it’s not. Not exactly.

“He robbed Charlie today.” I can barely hear her as she explains how two of them came in with guns, wearing ski masks, and stole Charlie’s stash of drugs and weapons.

She recognized Aji’s shoes. When Joe told him our wait staff all wear black shoes, Aji painted his Nikes black and swapped to skinny dress laces for them. Charlie recognized them, too, and he’s looking for Aji. What’s worse is Matt is with him. I met that guy once and he scared the shit out of me, and we were just sharing a joint. Matt was there to sell her ID. When she left the house, they were going to hunt the robbers down. If they know Aji works here. . .

Suddenly Uncle Joe’s at the table, pulling over a chair and asking Maggie about her mother, how she knew him.

“You just gave her a motorcycle ride one afternoon.”

My mind’s spinning, trying to think how to avoid having a shootout here while they chat back and forth. He remembers her mother, though. It was the year of Agnes, the storm everything’s still measured by here. He was on his way to see my dad up in Canada. Grandpa never really forgave my dad for dodging the draft.

Joe says Maggie has her mother’s eyes. Her mother must have been important somehow, because he and Maria looked for her when they were coming to visit us. So he didn’t know her here, didn’t know Maggie’s mom ever came to Harrisburg.

Joe gets up to leave and shakes Maggie’s hand. “Good luck, and give your mother our best. Tell her to stop in if she’s ever in town. Maria will be sorry she missed you, but she’s in Greece a few more days, visiting family. Nice meeting you, Maggie.”

Once he’s gone, she asks me what I’m going to do about Aji.

“I’ll tell him Charlie’s after him. If you’re right, Aji will leave right away and we won’t see him again.” I hope that’ll work. I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to say when Charlie shows up.

I wrap up her baklava and walk her out.

She’s right to be leaving town. Charlie’d probably be chill with her having been there when he was robbed, but Matt is one scary dude. I try to talk Maggie into calling her mom. If her mom ran away, too, she’d probably understand. But the creep of a step-father has Maggie convinced her mother will blame her for everything and hate her.

I give her a quick hug, hoping she’ll be okay.

Aji takes off like I figured he would and when Charlie shows up with Matt, I pretend I’m ticked at the guy for leaving us short-handed with no notice.

I finish with, “He didn’t even wait for his last check.”

The look Matt sends Charlie chills my blood. I shouldn’t have said that.

I hope Aji doesn’t come back for his money now.

I hope Maggie’s ride already has her clear of this town.

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Impressions: Alone With Jimmy

The house is so small that the sound of brush against teeth carries down the hallway to the bed where I’ve been lying on my back, pondering the designs in the wood ceiling for hours, trying not to think ahead to what I am going to do.

The usual muffled murmurs come as my aunt and uncle settle in for the night.

Before long, Uncle Fred is snoring loud enough to cover my departure even if I slam the door on my way out. But I won’t; it’s too important that I leave without notice.

The covers hid my shorts when Aunt Sue peeked in like she always does. She never fusses at me for sleeping in a tee-shirt instead of the lacy nightgowns my mother buys. Aunt Sue believes in comfort.

My shoes are out on the porch, caked in mud from helping in the garden. Aunt Sue can’t bend over so easily anymore; she’s glad I’m here. I made sure to get all the weeds pulled today. This morning she said I could stay with them for my senior year, that I didn’t have to go home.

I wait for her heavy breathing to start—not quite loud enough to call it snoring, but definitely a sound she’d never make awake. The two of them have no idea that they play this counterpoint each night, apart yet together, like Charlie’s favorite music.

He was such a weird kid.

My baby brother started playing keyboard before he even started school, and when Dad played his old music, it was always the complex stuff that got Charlie excited—like some of Dad’s Moody Blues—really old stuff. And the kid would memorize a song and sing it until it drove me crazy. This summer it was I Know You’re Out There Somewhere. I can still hear him.

My heart squeezes out a tear.

At last Aunt Sue joins in the nighttime chorale.

I slip out of my bed and quietly pad down the hallway to the front door. This afternoon, when no one was looking, I put some salad oil on the hinges. It won’t last long, but I only need it to work this once. The door opens without a squeak.

My shoes aren’t where I left them! Aunt Sue must have decided to clean them up. They’re probably by the washtub in the laundry room.

I’m not going go back, though. Not now. I might lose my nerve.

So I pick my way across the gravel drive, gingerly placing one foot at a time, until I reach the lawn. My pace quickens, and then I stub my toe on a tree root, invisible on this dark night. I slow down and my thoughts catch up to me.

The moon was full two weeks ago, the last time I slipped out.

That night, Charlie snuck down the driveway after me. My eight-year-old brother was my parents’ weapon to keep me out of trouble with boys. He loved tagging along and they encouraged it. In fact, when they first let me start dating a couple years ago, they insisted he be included. My first date took us roller blading and spent more time with Charlie than he did with me. Word got out and I didn’t date much. If the nerd in our building hadn’t asked me, I would have missed my Junior Prom. I finished the year totally depressed.

But I left that in the city. Every summer I can remember, even before Charlie was born, has been spent with Aunt Sue and Uncle Fred at their cabin in the Adirondacks. Our parents have always said it’s so we don’t have to endure the city heat while they work, but I suspect the cost of childcare was a factor. Sue and Fred are actually Dad’s aunt and uncle, so they’re retired and have always seemed to enjoy having us for two months. Their cabin is on the edge of town, not far from the state beach. Everyone knows us—including all the guards at the beach.

I’d had a crush on Jimmy for two years—all the girls did. This was his last summer to lifeguard. He was going into his senior year of college and had an internship lined up to teach classes at an art gallery in Manhattan this fall. It took half the summer, but I finally got up the courage to congratulate him. Then I told him how much I like the work displayed at that gallery—in detail. Like Charlie and his music, art has always been my obsession.

After that, whenever Jimmy had a break, we’d sit on the beach talking art and how he wanted to teach it in elementary schools, to help little kids’ talent bloom.

One afternoon, when Charlie had gone fishing with Uncle Fred, I stayed and talked with Jimmy as he closed up the beach. I followed him into the lifeguard shack, talking about how much I love Monet’s garden paintings more than his cathedrals. He hung up the equipment and was saying how he wanted to go to Monet’s home in Giverny when he turned around and it was if he saw me, really saw me, for the first time. Our eyes met for a long moment, then he reached out and slowly pulled me into a kiss.

Fortunately, Charlie loved fishing more than swimming. Whenever he wasn’t at the beach with me, I lived through the day in aching anticipation. When Jimmy had a break, we’d still talk art, but with unspoken communication flowing between us as well. Once the beach closed, we used the privacy of the guard shack.

It wasn’t just hormones and we weren’t just a summer fling. We talked long term, and agreed four years wouldn’t be much of a difference by the time I finished college. Of course we couldn’t expect my parents and Aunt Sue and Uncle Fred to understand how serious we were, especially since I’d hardly dated. They wouldn’t see how much we had in common. They’d never believe Jimmy always stopped when he got too excited. He said that he could wait until I turned eighteen, even though my birthday’s not until May, and that he wanted it to be special, not because we got carried away necking in a shack. So we kept our relationship a secret.

Jimmy wanted to take me out on a real date, though. So he started being friendlier with Charlie and asked him if he’d like to go play mini golf, so it was as if I was the third wheel. When he picked us up, Jimmy acted like he thought of us both as kids, and he paid as much attention to Charlie as me, until afterwards when he took us to the lake and showed Charlie where to hunt for bullfrogs.

That worked until Charlie got bored and came looking for us and caught us kissing.

“Jennie and Jimmy under a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g! Wait ‘til I tell Aunt Sue!”

“You can’t!” I screeched. I grabbed his shoulders to shake him, but Jimmy stopped me.

He gently replaced my hands with his and squatted down to talk to Charlie face to face. “Can you keep a secret?”

Charlie nodded madly.

“I really like you sister.” He paused until Charlie nodded solemnly. “In fact, I love her and when she’d done with college, I want to marry her.”

“Cool!”

“But I’m four years older than she is, and while that won’t be much when we’re both in our twenties, right now your parents wouldn’t like my kissing her at all. They might make me stay away from her if they knew. I wouldn’t even be able to take you to do stuff.”

“I won’t tell anyone.” Charlie looked so serious, I knew he meant it.

Tonight, at the end of the lawn, I pick my way to the smooth hard dirt of the road. Bare feet won’t be a problem now. It’s three miles to the lake. Even in the dark, I can walk there in less than an hour.

We’d just wanted some time alone with more privacy than we could get at the lifeguard shack with stragglers still on the beach, or with Charlie tagging alone. So that night two weeks ago, Jimmy was waiting down around the curve, where the pickup’s engine wouldn’t be heard from the house. I thought everyone was asleep before I slipped out, but I was wrong.

Charlie must have kept to the shadow side of the road, out of the moonlight, because I never saw or heard him following me until he saw the truck and ran to catch up.

“Hey, where’re we going?” Charlie demanded.

“Go home,” said Jimmy. “Please, Charlie?”

“Why?” Charlie sounded suspicious.

I sighed. My first chance to be really alone with Jimmy, under the stars on a romantic moonlit night, and Charlie was ruining it. “Better let him come.”

“Fine,” said Jimmy. “Get in the back.”

“Cool!” said Charlie.

“Sit up against the cab,” I demanded.

I might as well have been talking to myself, because as soon as Jimmy got going, Charlie was standing up behind us with his head in the wind above the cab.

“Is there anything he can hang onto back there?” I worried.

“No, but he’s in the center. I’ll drive slow.”

Jimmy pulled me close to him and a kiss landed on my cheek. I knew he could drive fine with one hand; he’d given me rides home from the beach. And it wasn’t his holding me that made it happen. Really, it wasn’t.

We were going slow. Not much faster than in a parking lot. But it’s automatic to swerve and brake when something jumps out in front of you. Even the sheriff said that, trying to make Jimmy feel better. But that was later.

Jimmy glanced back to check on Charlie. The deer jumped in front of us. I screamed. Jimmy yanked the wheel and braked hard. We missed the deer but landed nose down in the ditch. At first, we laughed, glad we’d missed the deer.

Then I turned to check on Charlie, and he wasn’t there.

“He’s probably just hiding to scare us,” I said. “He probably slipped out of the truck while we were laughing.”

Jimmy pulled out a big flashlight and started looking out away from the truck while I checked under and around it.

“Come on, Charlie. It’s not funny anymore,” I yelled.

The brat still didn’t answer.

“Call 911,” Jimmy called to me. He was just trying to scare Charlie out of hiding. His flashlight was still sweeping across bushes, searching.

“Charlie, you’re going to be in big trouble if I call 911 and you’re just joking around!” I hollered.

There was still no answer. Jimmy’s flashlight stopped.

“Call,” he choked. “For real.”

Instead, I walked over to Jimmy, thinking Charlie was hurt a little or something. But his head was against a big rock and his neck was bent all wrong and I touched him and the dark stuff all over him was warm and sticky and it was blood and I started screaming. Jimmy took my phone and he had to move away, back to the truck, so they could hear him . . .

At the funeral our parents couldn’t look at me. Somehow it was decided I should stay in the mountains the rest of the summer. I wasn’t asked.

My feet slap the hard-packed dirt of the road as I start to run in the black night.

The sheriff refused to arrest Jimmy for negligent homicide because he hadn’t been speeding, hadn’t been driving recklessly, and out in the country it was common for kids to ride like that regardless of the law. As far as the sheriff was concerned, it was a tragic accident, no more, no less. So my parents wanted Jimmy arrested for being with me. We told the sheriff we’d never gone that far, so he was giving it a few days, hoping my parents would cool off. But it wasn’t going to work.

My mother found out about the internship teaching children and she knew one of the directors at the gallery, so Jimmy lost that, and they were talking about having him arrested for endangering a child. If that happened, there would be a record and he’d never teach.

Everyone’s saying he ran off, but he didn’t. I know. I was with him.

We were supposed to do it together.

We went to Lover’s Leap, the big boulder away from the beach, where it wouldn’t be some little kid that found us. Sometimes teens go there to party and jump off the rock—they say the water’s fifty feet deep. Jimmy brought cement blocks—one for me, two for him. We tied rope to them and then around our waists.

“Just exhale and it will all be over quickly,” Jimmy said.

We were supposed to jump together. But we couldn’t hold hands because we were holding the cement blocks. We were supposed to be together forever. I thought I was going to leap with him, but there was a little piece of me still hoping it would get better once I got back to my city school, where no one would know it was my fault my little brother isn’t a pest anymore.

We said “I love you” together, then Jimmy disappeared.

I frantically untied the rope at my waist, jumped in and tried to save him. Too deep. Too dark. I couldn’t find him. That was yesterday.

I sat there, staring into the water, crying, for hours. When I finally slipped into the house it was past dinner. I mumbled that I wasn’t hungry and went straight to bed. This morning my mother called Aunt Sue. Later Sue found me pulling weeds in her garden, and she asked if I’d like to stay and do my senior year here. I just shrugged.

My parents will never forgive me. They don’t want anything to do with me anymore. They want me to stay here, where everyone knows I killed my little brother.

I’m going to the lake. My cement block is still there. I’m going to be alone with Jimmy under the stars after all.

The whole time weeding today, my mind was writing and re-writing a final text for my mother, so I know exactly what I’m going to say. I’ll send it at the last possible moment, when it will be too late to stop me. But they’ll know where we are. People will know Jimmy didn’t run off.

At the boulder I tie myself to the cement block before reaching for my cell phone. It vibrates as I pull it out of my pocket—a text, from Dad.

“Are you okay? Miss you. Would you mind cutting summer short, come home next weekend? Your mother’s beside herself with guilt for getting Charlie to tag along and for attacking your young man. She’s trying to make that right. We hope you know how to contact him; Sue said he’s disappeared. Love you, Dad.”

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com  
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Impressions is a series of character studies and defining moments- short sketches to whet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about one of these characters, leave a comment.

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Quick note of support

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/who-will-remember-a-short-film-survival#/

Barbara Erysian, the screenwriter for the above project is the grandchild of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. As a teenager, her grandmother survived, taking care of her little brother, with the help of Armenians, Turks, Greeks… It’s the story of survival from a child’s point of view, a worthy project to support human rights.

She’s a bit stiff, asking for money in front of a camera, but she’s an excellent writer  and, if you scroll on down below her video, she’s got some real pros working with her.

The current project is a short film that she hopes will generate support for a feature comparable to Schindler’s List. Even more important than raising funds for this short film, gathering numbers of supporters will demonstrate there is an audience, so even a few dollars can help.

$25 will get you into the credits.

Note: I had trouble getting the site to take my donation while using Edge, but it worked fine with Firefox.

BEpic

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Sheri McGuinn

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