Tag Archives: YA

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.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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

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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.

Thanks.

 

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Impressions: Mortal

I’m a salesman—spend half my life driving from one pitch to the next. It gives me time to think. That night I was driving through the redwoods, well past midnight.

When I was a kid, I read a spooky tale about a girl named Lavender who haunted a back road. They said she was dressed up for a party. It was a good story and I probably read it a few times, as I did when I was a kid and had all the time in the world, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw her. Not Lavender, the girl walking barefoot along the narrow road lined with giant trees, wearing what I took to be a prom dress, a flimsy bit of pink gauzy stuff and lace.

I was well past the last tourist trap when I saw her.

She wasn’t carrying shoes, as you might expect with the fragile, uncomfortable sort of thing girls wear to a prom. She was walking along the road at midnight with feet accustomed to the gravel of the shoulder, not picking her way like someone with tender soles. There had to be a destination in her mind, so sure was her stride. While she reminded me of Lavender, I didn’t doubt that this girl was of solid flesh.

She turned and waved her arms. My headlights flashed briefly on her terrified face, then it was gone in the night. I didn’t stop.

Offering a young girl a ride on a dark stretch of road in the middle of the night could have had disastrous results, were she of a mind and talent to claim misuse convincingly. I drove past the girl and on a good mile before my conscience got the better of me. There were so many ways she could come to no good end, walking alone that way along the road in the dark under the giant trees. And she had looked frightened.

She was probably a nice girl, a good girl who would not make up lies. I should help her. So I watched for a wide spot in the road and turned around. By then several minutes had passed. There was a good chance she’d have arrived at her destination and I’d find no one walking along the road.

It wouldn’t mean she’d been a figment of my imagination.

There was no sign of her. I went back well past the spot I’d seen her, to the little store with the carved bear, and I turned around once again and drove slowly, to make sure I didn’t miss her. By then I was worried. She had looked terrified. I admitted this to myself as I searched in vain. There were no houses on that stretch of road, no driveway to a home where a young girl in a prom dress would have gone, no side roads, nothing until the spot where I’d turned around the first time.

Well, I suppose you’re thinking she was a ghost, like Lavender, and I was thinking maybe I’d imagined her, too. But she was real. A man riding his bicycle along that bit of road the very next day spotted a splash of pink in a hollow beside the road. They say it was her head hitting a rock that did her in, but the force of impact indicates a speeding car clipped her, throwing her from the road.

Of course I know better. Mine was the only car on the road that night.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. As Halloween approaches, I’m including a few less admirable characters. If you’d like reading more about this villain or his victim, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

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

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Impressions: Charlie’s Demise

“I can’t believe Charlie’s dead,” she wailed.

Joe put the phone down next to the refrigerator. The sobs continued over the speaker as he rummaged for a beer. If he’d known what to say, she wouldn’t have heard over all that snuffling anyway. There was an especially loud slurp of mucous and Ann started talking again.

“I mean, I yelled at him and slammed the door on my way out. I went to work and bitched to Susan about always having to clean up after him…”

As she dissolved into another burst of waterworks, Joe pulled his last Fatty Ale from behind the milk, where he’d hidden it from his roommate. Shoot. She wasn’t making any noise. He had to say something, but what? He’d never lost anyone close to him.

“Yeah,” he grunted.

It was enough.

“Then I came home and there he was, stiff and cold.”

If Ann went after a ball the way she did conversation, she’d be unbeatable. She kept on talking, not crying anymore, but still making those liquid noises between sentences.

“He was always there for me, you know?”

He nodded as he waited for his email to load, then realized audio was required.

“He was awesome,” Joe managed to say.

It was the kind of comment he figured people would make at a funeral, even if they hadn’t liked the deceased. He certainly hadn’t liked Charlie. Joe had been taking it slow, starting by establishing a solid friendship with Ann. Then, the day he was finally ready to ask her out on a real date, he dropped by her apartment and there was Charlie.

“You know, I fell in love with him at first sight,” Ann was saying.

No kidding. Charlie moved in and became the center of her life. He went everywhere with her, except work. Sometimes Joe could get her to have lunch with him if she didn’t have enough time to go home, but all she talked about was Charlie. Most of it had been negative.

“You could get rid of him,” Joe had suggested. “It’s not like you’re married.”

She’d chewed him out for that comment. She insisted she loved Charlie and lectured Joe, saying he had no understanding of commitment.

“It was awful,” she was saying now, sad but no longer soggy. “Coming home and finding him with that cord wrapped around his neck like that… and the last thing I did was yell at him.”

“You think he committed suicide because you yelled at him?” Joe choked out.

“Quit!” she snapped. “Don’t be mean.”

He took the phone off speaker, then took a deep breath and held it to stifle the laughter threatening to explode. He put the phone up by his ear, but away from his mouth.

“They said he probably died right after I left the apartment this morning,” she was saying.

“Who said?” he managed to ask by releasing a tiny bit of the air that threatened to pop his chest like an over-full balloon.

“The EMTs,” she replied defensively. “They were very understanding and kind.”

Hysterical laughter burst forth, shaking his entire body as his diaphragm contracted uncontrollably. She started crying again, but he couldn’t stop laughing. Tears poured down his face.

When he finally caught his breath, he asked in disbelief, “You called 911?”

For once she was silent.

“You did! You really did!”

He didn’t even try to stop the laughter anymore.

“And were they cool with being called for a doggie suicide?”

The call ended.

She might never speak to him again.

Oh well, imagine what she’d be like with kids.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Joe, Ann, or Charlie, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

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

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Impressions: Benny’s Last Dollar

Benny swallowed the end of his drink and looked at his last chip, a dollar.

It was all set up to favor the house. Benny knew that. He’d known it from the first time he went to a casino, but still, he couldn’t stop until his pocket was empty. There was a slot machine near the exit just waiting for this chip.

Even the time he hit the big jackpot, big enough to buy a new truck, maybe even one of those new little houses on the edge of town that his girl always talked about, he’d kept on playing until his stake was completely gone. That’s what he called it—his stake. That made him feel like one of the pros, the serious poker players in the big money games held privately in the back room. But Benny never took more than one day’s pay. However much he was earning, that was his limit.

Of course, he’d made that rule when he had a good full time job. This week, he’d only worked two days, helping an old lady fix a bunch of stuff on her house so she could sell it. He and George had really dragged their heels to make the job last. She was only paying them minimum. They used to make four, five times that with overtime.

Not anymore.

One day’s pay had gone for new socks, thrift store shoes and shirts, and groceries they never had at the food bank. He’d come to the casino with the rest, and he’d managed to make it last a good while – building it up, then losing some, building it up again. Until he ended up with nothing but this dollar chip. Since then he’d been watching other people play while he finished his drink.

Back in the day, he could say the free drinks paid for anything he lost. But he didn’t drink much anymore. He wasn’t AA or born-again; he hadn’t even tried to quit. It had come on him gradually, until one night last July he’d headed home and realized he’d nursed one whiskey the whole evening. Even when the company folded and his girl dumped him, all in one week, he didn’t crawl into a bottle like some of his buddies.

Benny scanned the casino, all the people absorbed by machines or tensed over tables. The drink girl came up and offered him a refill.

“No,” he said. He paused and stared at her as if she were an alien life form. “No, I’m done. Thank you.”

She moved on to the next customer.

Benny cashed in his chip and tucked his dollar into his pocket.

He straightened his shoulders, smiled a half smile to himself, and gave the pocket with his dollar in it a pat. Satisfied, he took one last look around before leaving.

He wouldn’t be back.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Benny, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

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

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Impressions: The Novice Traveler

Carolyn lumbered through the airport, a backpack slung over her left shoulder, her right arm stretched by the weight of her carry-on.

Big Brother’s voice reminded her, “Unattended bags will be confiscated.”

She stopped to catch her breath, put the suitcase on the floor close to her feet, and moved the backpack to her right shoulder. The pack had been the agent’s idea, so she could make sure everything made the plane change with her. It held more and had better pockets than a traditional purse, but she felt silly carrying it.

She picked up the suitcase and trudged onward. It had taken her forever to get to the departure gate and then they announced a change. Why did it have to be at the opposite end of the airport?

The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled her as she instinctively inhaled deeply. That would have to do. The bakery line was long, her new gate was still a good hike away, and the flight would be boarding soon.

She looked longingly at all the people effortlessly pulling bags on wheels. Why hadn’t the agent suggested that? If her father’s old bag hadn’t been the right size for carry-on she would have shopped for one. Maybe they all had wheels now.

Finally she got to the new right gate.

Carolyn lifted her eyes skyward. “Please don’t let them change it again.”

“You got that right,” said a Gothic person of indeterminate sex.

Carolyn started. She hadn’t meant to talk out loud.

Big Brother repeated his warnings. The Gothic person sniffed, drawing Carolyn’s attention to a nose ring. There was one through the left eyebrow, too. Why would someone do that? It had to hurt.

“You going to Maui, too?” the Goth person asked.

Carolyn paused, but saw no way to keep her destination a secret. She nodded and turned away. There were only two seats left open. The Goth person plopped down next to her.

“I love the islands… you been before?” it said.

Carolyn shook her head and pulled out the novel she’d brought for the plane. She opened it and put her head down, but that didn’t work.

“Kauai’s the best, but Maui’s nice if you stay away from the tourist traps.”

Carolyn stared at the first page.

“I’m Becca.” The girl shoved her ring-laden hand over Carolyn’s book.

Carolyn raised her head and made cautious contact with her fingertips.

The girl’s black lips couldn’t hide her dimples or the openness of her smile. It was just all the black leather and spiky hair and dramatic, ghoulish make-up that made her seem threatening. Well, that and the piercings. Carolyn returned the smile tentatively.

“You’ve been to Hawaii before?” she asked.

“Oh yeah. I love it there. Costa Rica’s nice, too, but Hawaii’s my favorite.”

“Really?” Carolyn thought of all the vacations she’d spent caring for her parents and working on their house – her house now. “You travel a lot?”

“Yup. I’ll stay until my money runs out, then go crash with my folks, get a job, and save up for the next trip. They cut me a deal on rent, to get me to come home sometimes, but eventually I’m going to work my way around the world.”

“How long did it take you to save up for this trip?”

“Three months. Maui’s really cheap if you know how to do it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“About fifty dollars a day. And the plane ticket.” The girl pulled a small electronic device from her pack and stuck pieces of black foam into her ears.

“Fifty dollars a day?” Carolyn sighed. Her hotel alone was three times that.

The girl didn’t hear. She was nodding to a dissonant sound audible despite the ear buds. So Carolyn didn’t talk about the Jeep the agent had insisted she add to the reservation, so she wouldn’t get stuck off-trail or on a beach. Carolyn was too timid to ever leave the road, and too timid to argue with the man. At least he hadn’t made reservations at restaurants for her, though he’d given her a list of places that served delicious fresh sea food – probably all expensive.

Carolyn touched Becca tentatively on the forearm. “Where do you eat?”

The girl emptied the ear closest to Carolyn, but still nodded to the music as she answered. “Mostly from grocery stores, then fix it in the kitchen or barbeque out back at the hostel. Groceries are expensive, but it’s cheaper than eating out.”

“They let you use the kitchen?”

“It’s a hostel. Like a hotel, but with community bathrooms and kitchen.”

“You share the bathroom with strangers?”

“And I’ll be sharing a room with three other people. You can get a private room, but it costs more. I’ve only done that when my gram came along.”

“Your grandmother?”

“Yep. She travels the same way. Hey, let me give you her email.”

As the girl handed Carolyn the slip of paper, a disembodied voice called for the first passengers to board. Carolyn stood up. The agent had said a first class ticket was essential for such a long flight. She knew Becca would be flying tourist.

“Are you sure your grandmother won’t mind you giving this to a stranger?”

“That’s the beauty of being a traveler,” Becca smiled. “There’s no such thing as a stranger.”

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Carolyn’s journey – or Becca’s – leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signaturewww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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The Incident – Chapter 13

When I get back to the campfire, Mom’s just poured water on the coals and ash. Hot ash flying into dry needles can start a forest fires so last one up always douses it.

I stare at the steam rising, a rock in my stomach and the paper in my hand as Mom turns and sees me.

“I thought you’d turned in already,” she says. “We could have had a nice chat by the fire.”

She’s not demanding to know where I’ve been by myself so late; she’s trusting me.

My chest heaves as I suck in a big breath, then the tears start flowing and my body’s shaking and Mom’s there putting her arms around me, rubbing gently along my spine the way she always does when we’re hurt.

She kisses the top of my head and says “We love you.”

I hand her the note. She gives me the flashlight so she can read and still keep an arm around me. She holds me tighter the farther she gets. At the end, she’s crying and pulls me into a full hug and kisses my forehead and looks me in the eyes.

“We love you. Nothing will every change that. Next time you’ll make different choices. That’s all any of us can do, is try to do better next time.”

It’s going to be okay. I’m still going to go to boarding school, because it’s a better school and it’s in the mountains not far from where we used to live. I’ll be more careful making new friends there and I’ll go to Mary’s for long weekends, back with all my old friends.

I’m going to be okay.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

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THE INCIDENT – CHAPTER 12

It was a Friday afternoon, last class of the day, last full week of school. There was a substitute. She was new and would probably never come back to the court school, but she was really trying to be nice and trying to help everyone understand the work. It was math class, and she was actually a decent teacher. I could tell, since I understood the stuff already.

The problem was the class roster. There were only two or three of the minority gang in that class; the rest were the majority gang. On that day, only one of the minority kids showed up for school. When he saw that classroom, he should have left. He should have made some excuse to go up to the office and hang out there for the period. But he didn’t. I’d helped him with the math a couple times. He really wanted to learn. So he came into class and sat in his assigned seat near the teacher’s desk, quiet and ready to go to work.

It started while the sub was standing at the board pointing to examples of the day’s lesson, explaining what we were supposed to do. She probably didn’t hear the first slurs thrown at the kid. She may even have missed the spit wads that started flying at him. But she saw the pencil. She didn’t see who threw it, and I don’t think she realized yet that there had been a target, but she chewed out the entire class because throwing pencils is dangerous.

That got it started. They started making fun of her for calling a pencil dangerous, started telling her things they’d done that were really dangerous, things that really could cause damage. And while she was distracted by those people, others started throwing more things at the kid—papers, pencils, pens, small books, then the text book.

She saw the text book fly and tried to stop it, but people started throwing little stuff at her and making fun of her because she started to cry. Then they were out of their seats, squirting glue at the kid and at the teacher.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t blending into the furniture. I was being watched. I was going to be on a side, one way or the other.

I picked up my glue and squirted it on the kid and shot some that fell short of the sub. All I saw was her shoes; I couldn’t bring myself to face her. But I looked at the kid. He wasn’t crying. He was stoic. He gazed into my eyes with a look that said he was betrayed, but understood the betrayal. That’s the look that wakes me up at night.

I spent the weekend waiting for the police to come to the door and take me back to juvenile hall, anticipating the way my parents would look at me, knowing I’d be stuck at court school again the next year, that I’d probably graduate from there, which would pretty well wipe out any chance I had at a good college.

The police never came.

Monday I went to school expecting the principal to lecture us. That didn’t come, either. By the end of the day, when the math teacher didn’t say anything about a note from the sub, we realized she probably had been too embarrassed to say anything.

So you wonder why it was such a big deal?

The kid wasn’t in school that day. Or the next. Then we heard how he’d had a big argument with his father and then disappeared. Wherever he went, it was far away. I hope it’s somewhere he can go to school and learn, without having glue shot at him.

That was bad enough to have me worried about him, but the nightmares didn’t start until I overheard ladies in the office the last day of school, my last day there. They were talking about the young substitute, how sad it was she’d killed herself. I had to know. I looked up the obituaries online as soon as I got home. Of course they didn’t say it was suicide, but she was “called home” the night she subbed for us.

She would have made a good teacher.­

I’m sorry, forever.

So that’s why I’m sitting on the edge of this cliff by myself, hoping a mountain lion will come take me. But they might find this note. So I need to go back to camp and burn it.

Camping this week’s been nice, almost normal. My new boarding school’s in the mountains, a few hours away from where we used to live. If I find a way to have a fatal accident there, maybe my family will remember this week with me, instead of the rest.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

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THE INCIDENT – CHAPTER 11

I had to go back to court at the end of the school year. The teachers at the court school all gave me good letters and the judge asked if I’d learned my lesson and I told him “Yes, sir.” He let me off probation and said I could go back to regular school, but warned me that if he saw me in his courtroom again, I wouldn’t get off so easy.

Easy. He doesn’t know what happened at court school. No one does. I want to talk about it, but I can’t. Anyone I told would hate me as much as I hate myself.

I have two weeks at home before going to my new boarding school. It was decided I should attend their summer session to catch up on some of what I missed this year.

It’s worse being home all day every day than it was being at school, except for that one day, the one I can’t talk about. The one that makes me feel like I’m every bit as awful as my parents think. If they knew, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.

I wanted to go visit Mary before I head off to school, but my parents are keeping a short leash on me. I don’t go anywhere here without my mother. I don’t want Mary to come visit me, because then I’d have to explain why my parents are acting like they are, or Rose would blurt out something about how bad I am. Someday I’ll go back to Colorado for a visit and be able to pretend all this stuff didn’t happen.

It’s not that I wanted to fit in with the majority gang. I just didn’t want to be noticed. And I was. I was stared at because I wasn’t doing anything when everyone else was. I tried to fade into the background, but it didn’t work. I had to challenge what I knew was wrong, or participate.

I wasn’t brave enough to challenge them all.

That’s not the whole truth. If it were, maybe I could have said something, at least after. Part of me was tired of being alone all the time. Part of me wanted to be one with the group. It’s good that I’m being sent away to school. I’ll be far from the group and they won’t expect me to be part of them. I’ll probably never see them again. Except in my nightmares.

I leave for school next week. I asked to go camping this weekend. I’ll stay up late and burn this in the campfire after everyone’s asleep, so they won’t ask questions.

So I have to say it now. What happened. I know I’ll live with it forever, but maybe this burning thing will help. I don’t know. I know I can’t tell anyone about it.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

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THE INCIDENT – CHAPTER 10

In the hall, we all had to wear one-piece jumpsuits. Most of us wore orange. Blue meant you had extra responsibilities and privileges. The first time I saw a red jumpsuit, I thought it was for Christmas. That was dumb. People wore red jumpsuits for a week after they’d done something so crazy that they had to be put in solitary to calm down.

I’d ruined the holiday for my whole family, getting locked up. Rose was worried that if they put up a stocking for me, Santa would skip our house. My parents put it up and found some coal to put in it, like the old stories about bad little children. They told me my lawyer’s fees were my Christmas present. At least Rose sent me a picture she’d drawn.

I didn’t want her to see me in the hall.

Aside from my being depressed, juvenile hall wasn’t all that bad. We had classes all but a few days around Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was like being back in grade school, but I didn’t say so because a lot of people were struggling with the work. Most of them were very angry people and I knew we’d be in classes together at court school when we got out.

There were gangs, but they had to put up with each other.

The really good thing about the hall was that the adults had almost total control, since we were there 24/7. Sometimes stuff happened behind their backs, and the wrong person would end up in trouble, but from what I heard people saying, the gangs ruled at court school. That made me wish they’d put me in the hall for six months with no court school. But at least I’d be living at home when I transferred.

They kept me in the hall exactly a month, even though that meant starting a week into the semester at court school. I guess the teachers were used to that, though, because most of them had handouts explaining all their rules and procedures. The classes were a little harder than they’d been in the hall, but a lot of my classmates could barely read. When I had to read aloud, I was careful not to let it seem too easy. Still, people started looking to me for help, at least the ones who cared about doing the work.

There were two rival gangs on the campus, with one of them definitely having the majority of the student body. From what I could see, they had a lot more in common with each other than different, but they chose to focus on the differences.

What they had in common: They didn’t have much positive going on with their parents or at school, and they didn’t see much positive in the future. Most of them had never considered as possible things I took for granted, like graduating from high school, getting a good job someday, having a nice home. They saw the people in their gangs as the ones to whom they owed loyalty, and everyone else was “them.”

I found most of them more likeable than Angelica or Natalie.

When I explained how all that went down, there were offers to “take care of them” for me. Fortunately, I’d never mentioned their names, so I didn’t have to worry about anyone doing me a favor I didn’t want.

I tried to keep clear of both groups, but they heard I was good at schoolwork. It got so I automatically printed out two extra copies of my work, so I could deliver a copy to each gang. At last being a nerd had a benefit. I gave help freely to all and wasn’t expected to pick sides.

All I asked was that they not let teachers know who was helping. Some of the teachers were too burned out to care that averages suddenly went up. Only one cornered me to ask about it. I shrugged as if I didn’t know anything and said I was keeping to myself, just trying not to get hurt before the semester ended and I could get out of there. I didn’t say anyone had threatened me, but I think that’s how the guy took it, because he didn’t hassle me about it anymore.

Meanwhile, I was living at home, looking at that mural of our backyard back in Colorado every day, wishing we’d never moved. The coal in my stocking, which I hadn’t been there to see, pretty much summed up how my parents were feeling about me. They didn’t trust me at all anymore. Mom drove me to school and picked me up after. Some of the kids got picked up by older gang members in cars with music on to make everything around them vibrate. Mom would give me this sad, disappointed look every time. She wouldn’t bring Rose with her.

They called the school and talked to my teachers when I told them I didn’t have any homework. That’s what it took to make them believe that the few assignments that were given were easy to finish before the end of class. They decided to try and get me into a private school for the next year, but my “legal issues” were an automatic no thank you at all the ones nearby. So they started looking at boarding schools. That would eat up the pay raise my dad had gotten and then some, but at least they wouldn’t have to see their disappointing child all the time. I’d probably have to repeat this year in any decent school, but I’d have a shot at a good college again if I was eighteen before I graduated and could get my records sealed.

Yeah, I picked up that bit of advice from my probation officer. I had to report to one of those every week, but he came to the school, so it was no hassle for my parents. He always said the same thing, that I was doing good so far, just stay out of trouble.

I never said much of anything.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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

The Incident is contemporary YA (Young Adult). Following time-honored tradition, I’m publishing it here in installments. To be alerted when the next segment goes online, “follow” this blog. The entire story will be published here. You are welcome to share this link with others, but please respect copyright by contacting me for permission if you want to publish the story elsewhere. Thank you.

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