Archive for June, 2013

Fateful Encounter

by: Rebecca Taylor

         “A beer please,” said Marvin Winthorp heading into an odd-looking tavern.

            “What do you think this is!” demanded Kate Jessup.

            “Just get me a beer; it’s been a long day.”

            “Fine, root beer, or spruce beer.”

            “Don’t play games with me, I want alcoholic beer, and I want it now. What kind of barroom is this?”

            “This isn’t a bar, Mister, if you head downstairs, you’ll see that it is a ballroom.”

            “Doesn’t look like much of anything, if you ask me.”

            “I didn’t. It’s a poor neighbourhood and we have a limited budget.”

            “Balls are meant to be played with outside on a court, not in some ramshackle basement.”

            “Ballroom dancing, not soccer, or basketball,” answered Kate rolling her eyes.

            “You’re wasting your time on a place like this if you’re going to dance.”

            “It gets kids off the streets; they learn to dance, instead of getting themselves into trouble. We’re saving lives and building futures.”

            “There’s got to be something wrong with these kids if they want to dance.”

            Why don’t you just leave, you obviously came here by accident. What we do here is none of your business. “What’s your interest in us anyway?”

            “Why the store counter if this place is for dancing?”

            “We sell non alcoholic beverages and snacks for income. It does quite well after our shows.”

            “Watching people dance must be duller than watching a game of golf.”

            “It’s actually quite popular. Have you never heard of the reality show ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”

            Who do you think I am some chick flick guy? I watch hockey not some people flitting around in tutus. “No, I haven’t. I live a bachelor pad life. I only get the sports channel.”

            “Dancing isn’t just for women. Even macho sports men try it.”

            “I won’t be one of them.”

            “Suit yourself. If you had children wouldn’t you rather they joined an after school dance program instead of painting graffiti on the sides of buildings.”

            You’re beautiful. I wonder what you’re doing in this place. “Why this neighbourhood?”

            “There was a need. My parents gave me up for adoption when I was three because they didn’t have enough money to look after me. They were afraid I would grow up and get into trouble because there is nothing to do in this neighbourhood. I got together some friends and we started this place.” Why am I telling you this, I don’t know you, why these personal facts about my life. Maybe I want to convince you that there is a reason for this place.

            “It has to cost more to run this place than the drink counter makes.”

            “It does. I’m a book editor. When I’m not here, I’m editing manuscripts. We run on some of my income and donations. Some day I want to be able to offer more to these kids; tutors to help with homework, councillors giving workshops and more activities are on the list but we can’t afford it right now.”

            Marvin ordered a root beer and pretzels, sat down, ate them, and left. For the next week, he couldn’t sleep. He was plagued by the beauty of the woman he had seen at the ballroom. Her reddish blond curls and green eyes haunted him. I have to see her again. I know what colour her eyes are, forty-five minutes one day on my way home from work, I end up in the wrong place, and I can’t stop thinking about this woman.

            Marvin kept his thoughts to himself for the next two weeks but finally he could not ignore the memory of the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind. He returned to the ballroom one day after work, sat down at the counter, ordered root beer and pretzels, and watched Kate at work.

            “Couldn’t keep you away?” asked Kate

            “Best root beer in town.”

            “It’s from a can, and you could buy it at the grocery store if that was the attraction. There’s something else, now what is it?”

            “Why don’t I take you to supper Saturday night and we can talk about it.”

            “Not interested. You walked in here one day thinking it was a bar and called my place a ramshackle basement. Now you return, insult my intelligence by calling my canned root beer the best in town, and expect me to go out with you. You have some nerve.”

            “Kate, come on, would you listen to me for a minute.”

            “Don’t Kate me, I wear a nametag for the kids’ sake, but it has my last name on it too. It is Miss Jessup to you. Second time we meet and you think you can win me over, do I look like some impressionable girl to you, you walk in here in your suit and think I’m going to swoon all over you.”

            “I didn’t think that, Miss Jessup, there’s something about you that draws a man to you, but for the life of me if I know what it is.”

            “This is a poor neighbourhood and you coming in here all dressed up asking me out is a mockery.”

            “I’m not rich myself Miss Jessup, I had to attend a meeting with my boss today regarding a business opportunity, and wanted to dress properly for the occasion, but I’m a carpenter and most happy wearing jeans and a work shirt. Don’t out a man for his appearance,” replied Marvin tossing his money on the counter and leaving.

            For the next week, Marvin went to the ballroom everyday after work; he wore his jeans and a work shirt. He always ordered the same thing pretzels and root beer. He smiled while he ate sitting at the counter. Kate always busied herself with some task to avoid having to carry on a conversation with him.

            “Look, Miss Jessup,” he said, “I’m a carpenter, let me help you spruce this place up a bit for you, make it look more presentable.”

            “I can’t afford you.”

            “I didn’t tell you how much I charge.”

            “Doesn’t matter, I cannot afford another cent, to pay someone, like I said before we’re running on donations and my salary, and neither seem to be going as far as they once did with all the new kids that keep coming here.”

            “I want to help, I don’t know why but somehow I like the atmosphere of this place.”

            “You don’t know anything about this place, you’ve never seen what we actually do, you just sit there at the same counter ordering the same thing everyday. I don’t understand you.”

            “I don’t know, somehow I feel like I belong here. I walked in here by accident and I like it, you can’t throw me out because this is a public place, you might as well put me to work. I’m volunteering.”

            “I don’t know, something about you tells me there could be strings attached.”

            “No strings, I would however like to take you out for supper, you can tell me more about this place.”

            “Oh, no, I won’t be your payment.”

            “One thing has nothing to do with the other; I want to volunteer whether or not you go out with me. Since when is it a crime for a guy to ask a girl out?”

            “When it is constituted as stalking.”
            “I’m not stalking you, Kate, this is a public place. I don’t wait outside the door and follow you home or call you continually at night.”

            “Just forget it, okay, if you want to volunteer, find somewhere else to do it. Even if I wanted you around the place, I can’t afford to buy the building materials.”

            “What if I said they were on me?”

            “I’d say who are you trying to fool. There must be some cause you care more about somewhere; you think my place is a joke.”

            “No, Kate, I don’t, I’m sorry for the way I acted that first day. I was tired and frustrated and said things I didn’t mean.”

            “First off, stop Kating me, I told you it is Miss Jessup, secondly, how do I know that you won’t make all kinds of promises, start a job and never finish, that would make this place look worse, maybe even like a ramshackle basement, like you first implied.”

            “You said that this place is about chances, why can’t you give me a chance. Tell me something you want done here and I will provide whatever materials necessary and do the work for free, surely you aren’t getting offers like that everyday.”

            “No, I’m not, if you really mean what you’re saying, be here Saturday morning, you can build the lockers that we need for all the kids stuff. It’s always a nightmare everything thrown in a pile and then some kid can’t find their mittens or a shoe after they’re finished dancing. I’ve wanted lockers for a long time but could never afford them.” If you’re willing to give them to me, I may have to sacrifice some pride.

            “I’ll see you Saturday morning, how does seven sound? Now, we’re getting somewhere, thought Marvin, beautiful lady, you will not be sorry, and I think you’ll go out with me yet.

            “Seven sounds fine.”

            For the next month, after work and on weekends Marvin built lockers and did other repairs around the Montclair Street Ballroom. He did not ask Kate out again, he could see her watching him, smiling as what she wanted for the place she cared about so much started to come alive but he knew that to ask her out again could drive a wedge between them. They no longer spoke to each other in clipped tones but were actually starting to talk to each other like friends. Some days Marvin watched as the children and teenagers danced, he started to notice the ones who were not interested in what the ballroom offered and felt like they were forced to be there. He also saw the ones who were so happy to be learning and experiencing dance.

            “Why dance,” asked Marvin one day, “why that and not some other activity?”

            “Discipline,” replied Kate, “dance teaches you to work toward the goal.”

            “So do other sports.”

            “I had friends who knew how to dance and who were willing to help me with this project. I had dance lessons as a girl. It was something we could give these kids. If we had skills as basketball players maybe they would be learning that.”

            “There are some who love what you do here, I can see that, but there are some who seem put out to be here.”

            “I know, and someday I want to be able to offer more activities to them and also help with homework, but we have a limited volunteer group. Many who would be willing to volunteer are busy working when the kids are here. We have a smaller group that comes on Saturday and Sunday, as some of the parents are home, maybe we could start offering different weekend activities but we would need someone to coordinate them, and the space to do it in. You can’t have tables in the middle of a dance floor.”

            “Do you own the lot out back?”

            “No, but it is vacant, it belongs to the town. We could use it though until someone buys it, which isn’t likely, industry certainly isn’t booming around here.

            “You could install a basketball net. Some of the teens who are not interested inside may like it out there. Less kids inside mean you need less room for dancing, you could set up part of the room with tables, maybe around the outside wall. They could work on homework or play board games.”

            “You know that could work. It would give the kids diversity and I think they need it. Some of them love to dance, some of them like it but not everyday and some of them feel like their parents are forcing them to be here.”

            “Are they forcing them to be here?”

            “Probably, but not to be mean, but because they know that if they let their kids wander, they could end up in the bad part of town, get in with the wrong crowd and  then who knows what their futures would be.”

            “I’ve noticed that you don’t get too many male volunteers.”

            “No, we don’t, it’s unfortunate, a lot of the boys could use someone to talk with about stuff that they may not want to talk about with their parents, and they sure aren’t going to talk about it with me.”

            “No, I wouldn’t imagine. You know I could talk to them, if they wanted. You know shoot some hoops, and talk guy stuff.”

            “If you wanted, that would be good.” This man is quite something, I still am not sure why he comes here practically every day, and sometimes I wonder how long he’s going to stay. “If you started doing that it would have to be a commitment to these kids, you can’t just be here for them one day, and then decide to take off, that would hurt them more than if they didn’t have you.”

            “Who do you think I am, I’m not some cut and run guy, you know. I thought you were willing to give me a chance. I thought that’s what the lockers and stuff was all about.”

            “It is, but I’ve seen it happen before, and you hear about it enough, men walking out.”

            “Yes, you do, but women do it too, so don’t get all high and mighty with me. If you’d actually consider going out with me, then maybe you would get to know who I really am.”

            “I’m sorry, Mr. Winthorp, but the last thing we need is a relationship that could jeopardize what you are going to have with those kids, if you do decide to start interacting with them.”

            “Miss Jessup, you need to learn that life is about taking chances. You can’t always play it safe.”

            “Sometimes safe is the best option and for now, for me and those kids that’s the alternative. If you want to see me, you’ll have to do it on my terms. The concessions counter is always there, if you want to talk to me.”

            “If that’s the way you want it, we’ve known each other for a few months now, do you think we could at least be on a first name basis?”

            “If you understand that it’s friends only first name basis.”

            “I understand, let me start by saying that I’m sorry I gave you flak the first time I came here. I was an idiot.”

            “You’ve made up for it and I’m sorry for some of the things I’ve said, some of it was stereotypical stuff and it wasn’t fair.”

Marvin started talking to the kids about sports and life. He spent most of his free time with the kids both inside and out, sometimes just talking, sometimes helping them with their homework or playing basketball or checkers. He even built sets for one of the dance recitals and he watched and congratulated the kids on their hard work. Male role models were hard to find and Kate had to admit to herself that Marvin Winthorp wasn’t just going to be a casual caller at the ballroom, and she couldn’t see him just up and leaving, she knew that the place she loved so much meant a great deal to him too. Eventually after a year, Kate accepted a date with Marvin to go to dinner and a dance afterwards. Marvin even liked dancing much to both his and Kate’s surprise. After they had been dating for eighteen months, Kate and Marvin married and they started a family of their own that would grow up to love the ballroom as much as they did. Between the two of them, they are going to make a difference in numerous kids’ lives. Marvin believes he entered the ballroom by accident but Kate knows it was a fateful encounter.



The Visionary


It’s a normal day. It’s a normal day. It’s a normal day, Josh chanted to himself as he strode from the parking lot into the enormous 3M building.

“Hey newbie!” One of his co-workers called out as Josh got closer to the door. Josh nearly jumped out of his skin. His co-worker had been calling Josh “newbie” all three months that Josh had been employed.

“What’s up, senior?” Josh said, silently telling himself, everything will go back to normal.

“Just another day,” his co-worker replied as they went their separate ways. “Talk to you later, newbie!”

Josh continued to file through the building to his office, nearly running. A few people said, “Hi Josh!” and he replied with a weak-sounding, “morning.” He got a few funny looks because he usually said hi to everyone, always the chipper I-love-my-job type of person. Josh didn’t notice.

It was all a dream, it won’t happen! Josh thought to himself as he turned the final corner to his office. As part of the Research and Development team at 3M, his office was in the far back of the building.

Grady was there, sitting in his usual high-tech swivel chair.

Josh gulped, “Morning, Grady.” Josh didn’t know the employees last name. They never talked about Grady, only ever talked about projects and Josh. I should have known he was a freak show! Josh thought, willing the bad feeling in his gut to go away.

“Hold on a minute! I’m working!” Grady said gruffly with a hand held up, as if to ward off Josh’s words.

Josh sat down at his desk and shuffled his post-it notes around and moved his pens from the little penholder to next to the post-its and back again. Grady has his hand in at least 16 of the new innovations here and he wouldn’t just leave! He is their main visionary, Josh thought.

“Just a few more things to finish up!” Grady said, turning away from the computer with a smile before adding, “How are you doing on this fine, eventful, curious day?”

“Good,” Josh croaked. Grady grinned even more. Josh looked down at his desk. “Are these files for me?”

“Yes, they are projects you’ve had a hand in and know the material for. One’s I don’t need to finish such as the small computer chips and revitalized food safety devices. I’m going to show you a few things on these new thermal clothes and the Band-Aid possibilities today!” Grady said and then started talking and pointing at the computer to aid his explanation.

Josh just listened and processed. He barely had to ask any questions about the innovations because they made sense to him. It all clicked in his brain and he was constantly thinking of improvements and envisioning other ways to do things.

Grady finished explaining and then hopped out of his chair, “Lunch time! Have a good lunch!”

Josh watched him go dazedly. There had been no time to ask questions. With no one else there to distract him, Josh’s mind took him back to the day before…

“You are going to be the next visionary!” Grady told Josh while they were waiting for a new program to load on their computers.

“I hope to create many new inventions, but I don’t know that I’ll be ‘the next one,’” Josh replied humbly.

“You misunderstand me. You are the next one and I am training you to take my place,” Grady informed him in a cheerful voice.

“But you still have many years ahead of you!”

“Oh, but I have so many years behind me,” Grady said. A harried and weary expression crossed his face as he looked away for a moment.

Grady then snapped his head back, “You see, I am immortal. Well, I am until the selection process is complete! I have worked at 250 companies in all over the world and have been the leading hand behind so many innovations. I was the one who created Band-Aids in the first place. I have to switch names, every so often, so no one knows that I basically made their life as easy as it is.”

Josh was dumbfounded because Grady had never shared that much information about his past before, even if it was a bunch of lies.

“But, once I’m gone for good, you will find the file soon after. It explains how to change identities and it lists what to look for in your next selection. Although that won’t be for a very long time,” Grady said his last line almost maliciously.

“I don’t want to be immortal! I live every day like it could be my last, it’s what makes me happy!”

“Not anymore. Now you are happy when you get to envision new novelties. Being the selection for the next visionary is an honor,” Grady said imperiously and there was nothing Josh could say because Josh knew that tone. Grady used it when he was done with a conversation.

Josh snapped back into present time when Timothy stopped by, “I heard you are the new R and T top guy! Can’t believe Grady would just quit at a lunch break! Want to get lunch somewhere nice and celebrate? It’s on me!”

Josh stared at Timothy.

“Wait, did you know that yet? I’m sorry if I let the news split! I can ask Allie and Amber if they want to come, to make it up to you!” Timothy said, offering to invite the only hot girls that worked in their department at 3M.

“No, I knew it was coming. Yeah, lets go get lunch,” Josh replied. Grady will come back, Josh decided. It’s all a big misunderstanding. He went to lunch and when he came back, Grady wasn’t there. Grady didn’t answer his phone, either.

When Josh went looking for Grady’s stuff, there was nothing.

Until he got to the bottom drawer. Oh no, Josh thought, getting panicked.

There’s nothing in it. There’s nothing in it. There’s nothing in it, Josh repeated to himself. The folder was untitled and so Josh opened it.

Inside it said, “Visionary.” Josh flipped through the sections. Beginning. Innovations. Previous visionaries. Changing identities. Partial immortality. Selections.

Josh started to chant to himself again, I’m a normal person. I’m a normal person. I’m a normal person.

It’s in the Blood

Summer 1952

“I noticed you weren’t at the barn dance last night.” Douglas prompted.

Robin hurried down her front steps, her heavy suitcase forcing her to walk lopsidedly. He followed.

“You going next week?” A flop of unruly dirty blonde hair hung in front one of his eyes. “I… I miss seeing you there, that’s all.”

“I don’t think I can make next week ether.” Robin’s words sounded cold even to her ears. She dared not look at the wounded look on his face. She sighed. How long was he going to follow her? She had never kept a secret from him before. They’d been friends since Douglas moved to Oak Grove, South Carolina, which was ten years ago. At only sixteen, that was definitely the longest friendship Robin had ever had. Still, she couldn’t tell him why she was leaving Oak Grove. The less he knew right now, the better.

They neared the end of her dirt driveway, where it met with the gravel of the ever straight road. In one direction lay the town of Orangeville, and the other lead towards answers – also known as Columbia, South Carolina.

“You’re carrying your suitcase.”

It wasn’t phrased as a question, but Robin knew it was. “If my parents ask, you never saw me, okay?” Her dad was at work until late evening. Mom would be home from her quilting bee in a couple hours, but Robin had told her she’d be at a friend’s until her curfew – dinner time. Robin had almost six hours before anyone else knew she was gone. That was all she needed to get to Columbia, visit Rusty’s Diner, and find a nice hotel. With one hand, she fingered the dollar bills in the pocket of her cardigan. Hopefully it’d be enough. With enough luck, she planned on eventually renting an apartment – something permanent. She glanced at Douglas, who was still walking beside her. She had braced herself earlier for this goodbye. It didn’t make the lying easier. “I’m just going for a walk.” With my suitcase. You mean you don’t do that?

“Going anywhere specific? I can give a ride in my truck.”

“Thanks, but I’m enjoying the sun. I’m looking to improve my tan.” And I need to be alone, she thought.

Douglas understood she was omitting the truth, but he didn’t press her for the details. He stayed at her side. “You’ll be back in time to fish, right? It’s Friday, you know.” He paused, musing. “I hope we catch more than last week.”

Robin closed her eyes for an exasperating moment. The only way she would get him to leave her alone was to lie again. “I’ve got far better things to do, Douglas,” she snapped, “ I’ve never enjoyed fishing. I didn’t think I needed to spell it all out for you.”

His steps hesitated, and then stopped. “Well, fine.” Robin could hear his angry voice fading behind her. “For the record, I have things to do too. Like right now, I’m going to go drink sweet tea with my mother.”

Robin never stopped walking. While she hadn’t planned on ripping Douglas’s heart to shreds, it was the only way. She couldn’t risk telling him the truth. Her one aim was to visit her brother. The brother that she shared blood with, the one who used to take her on joy rides in his convertible. The brother she didn’t know was still alive until this morning. Robin had always been told that he’d joined the army eight years ago, and then was killed in action shortly after. Yet he was very much alive. He lived nine miles away, in the loft above a restaurant called Rusty’s. The details were poured out over a breakfast of Crispy Flakes cereal.

Mom’s hand flew to her mouth. “Dean, you need to read this.” She handed the daily paper across the table.

Dad’s eyes traveled back and forth across the page. “I never thought…” He struggled to form a sentence. “It’s been so long since… He’s actually…”

Robin frowned in confusion, watching the exchange. She peered over the edge of the paper, catching a few headlines. “Stray kitten walked into gas station, scaring customers.” Her father was allergic; why would he be so intrigued by a cat? Robin shook her head. She followed his gaze to another headline: “Local boy is new owner of Rusty’s in downtown Columbia.”

“What’s so exciting about that?” Robin swallowed the last bite of delicious bran flakes. Both parents appeared shell-shocked by the article. “What is it?”

Dad jumped up enthusiastically, and slapped the article face down on the table. “Looks like I’m late for work.” He downed the rest of his coffee, gave his wife a kiss on the head, and escaped out the front door.

“It’s just an article,” Mom answered, a wavering smile on her face. “You know how much I enjoy the paper. Sometimes I become too involved in the news.”

“I’ve never seen you so involved before. What was dad talking about?”

“It’s nothing.”

Robin sat, feeling betrayed. Waiting for answers. After several moments of prodding and waiting, someone finally spoke.

“There are some things you don’t know.”

Her brother and childhood hero had been dishonorably discharged from the army a few months after he was deployed to Germany. His parents didn’t want to advertise the delinquent son, and so they told all that he had died in the line of duty. It’s not like he had wanted to return home, anyways. He was perfectly happy living a lifestyle of whiskey and bar fights to care about his sister or his parents. Or at least that’s what Mom had told Robin. She’d also been told not to contact Troy. He was nothing but trouble. It was best for her. Robin had sweetly smiled. As soon as Mom had left for her quilting club that morning, she picked up and left. With her hard earned babysitting money in her pocket, and all the clothes she could stuff into the leather suitcase, she strode towards the truth. She had to know why Troy had never returned. Once she that was all sorted out, she would find an apartment and live beside her brother. Anger rose inside her heart as she thought of how she’d been betrayed by the lies. She’d thought Troy – the one other person that she shared DNA and blood with – was dead. Buried in the veteran cemetery. Now it didn’t matter what he might have done before; it only mattered that she could be with him.

Those thoughts fuelled her energy for the next nine miles. Her feet ached. The humid air forced her brunette wisps to stick to her moist skin. She had plenty of time to think of what she’d say when she saw him. “You’re alive. I’ve missed you. Where’ve you been? It doesn’t matter. I’m going to stay around here for a while. Think I can stay with you?” Nothing seemed worthy of the first words she’d say to him.

Several hours later, she passed the welcome sign for Columbia. A lump formed in her throat. She stopped in a gas station and asked for directions to the restaurant. She stepped out a moment later, an address scrawled on receipt paper.

After lugging around the suitcase for three more blocks, she stood before her destination. Rusty’s Diner and Bar. The building had a log-cabin look, and the parking lot was in a need of a good litter pick-up. Spotting the front door with a broken spring, she walked forward. She almost thought she was going to be sick from the nervous flutters in the stomach, but she pushed the door open despite it all. The air was dimly lit. A wrinkle faced man sat in a table in the corner, cigar smoke rose in wisps around him. He was the only customer. He didn’t even bother to look up at her. Instead he stared into the beer mug in front of him.

Robin squinted towards the front counter. One lone employee stood, slowly wiping off counters with a ragged cloth. Even from the distance, somehow she knew. Her shoes made definite clicks against the wood floor. He glanced up, did a double take, and frowned. He went back to scrubbing at the counter. He definitely had the brunette hair and two light freckles on one cheek, a trademark of the Hughes family. Robin rested her suitcase on the ground, massaging her tired hand for a moment. Her eyes never left his face. Would he recognize her? What to say?

“We don’t serve minors anymore.” His flat voice caught her off guard.


“You’re speaking to him. What can I get for you, young lady? Soda? A burger?”

She managed a hesitant smile. “I’m Robin. Robin Hughes. Your sister.”

Silence over stayed its welcome. “It can’t be.”

Her grin widened. “I finally found you. All this time, I didn’t think you were alive. Now Mom and Dad told me that say you’d wanted to leave, and wanted to stay away. I didn’t believe that.” He was shaking his head. Robin’s hopes were confirmed. He wasn’t really a bad man and he had wanted to come back. He was about to tell her his reasons.

“No,” he said. “this can’t be happening.” He started backing away from the counter. Robin sat rigidly still in confusion. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he groaned, his voice rising in resentment. “I was supposed to disappear. Or at least disappear from Oak Grove.” He laughed, as if it was truly funny. “Does it still have only one gas station and no movie theatre? I needed to get away. Build a life for myself.”

All the things had Robin had been told about her brother that morning rang in her ears. She had to hear him refute it. “So you became an alcoholic?”

“It – It wasn’t like that,” he sputtered. Mom and Dad just didn’t approve of anything I did. I was the failed kid. But you – ” He glanced anxiously at his customer in the corner and lowered his voice. He leaned closer to Robin as if he would tell her a secret. “You can’t come around here. Ever. It’s not like I’d ever come back with you, if that’s what you think. Thank you for reminding me of my painful past.” He spat out painful like a bug had flew in his mouth. “I don’t want to think about what’s behind me – like my strict father and the dead town. That clear? Now scat.” As he twisted on his heel and disappeared into the back, another man appeared from the back of the restaurant.

“What’s the commotion about?” The burly man asked Troy. He received no answer and turned to Robin. “You alright, miss?”

She couldn’t answer. How had everything turned out so differently?

“Can I call someone for you – maybe a cab?”

She found herself shaking her head. Reality was setting in. She didn’t have enough money for a cab, and certainly not for an apartment.

“There’s a phone in the parking lot if you change your mind.”

Robin picked up the leather suitcase and winced. Her hands sported red welts from the handle digging into her skin on the journey there. She trudged out the restaurant door, replaying every second in her head. “You can’t come around here. Now scat.” His hazel eyes had been completely frozen. There was not a gram of feeling in them at all. How was it was possible that she shared DNA with someone like that?

She knew there was only one thing to do. She may not have money for a cab, but she had enough change for the pay phone. She dialed the only number she’d fully memorized. Standing at the phone booth in the parking lot of Rusty’s Diner and Bar, she’d never felt so alone. The other end of the line rang once. She willed someone pick up. He had to pick up. They’d been there for each other all those other times. He defended her horrible haircut in fifth grade. Second ring. He warded off Terrifying Tony, the bully in sixth grade. He even took a black eye for her. Third ring. During her first breakup, he’d let her cry and rant while her parents had only said “there are other fish in the sea.” Last year, when he’d gotten bronchitis, Robin had brought over chicken noodle soup every morning. Most recently, they had helped each other through grueling chemistry class. Fourth ring.


She took a deep breath and tried to maintain her composure. Someday, she would be able process what had just happened in that bar. Today wasn’t it. One thing she didn’t need to process. Blood had never held as much value as she’d thought. “Douglas, it’s me. I’m sorry I lied before. I’d love to catch sunfish tonight.”


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