The Almost Love Edition
Welcome to our November 2022 edition.
As the year runs down, we thought of relationships and the sometimes vague and uncertain ways people feel about one another. So here’s a range. We have a few new types, one a one-act play and one song lyrics. We hope you enjoy them. As with all writers, if you do enjoy a piece, we encourage you to make a comment about them. They can be contacted on Twitter at their handles. So can A Muse Bouche Review.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Guard Your Heart (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Do No Harm (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Out (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Jacob (Nicole Wells) Fiction
A Tenth Anniversary (Joseph P. Garland) A One Act Play
Lover in Disguise (David M. Simon) Song Lyrics
November Team Showcase
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
HAVE YOU EVER LOVED SOMEONE? Really loved someone with your whole body and soul?
And they didn’t know it?
That’s how it is with Aedyn and me.
I don’t think Aedyn even notices all the times I anticipate his wants or needs. When I hand him a cup of hot caff, or a sword, or a flamethrower before he even knows he wants it.
Ade and I, most of the time, we team up for bug hunts. The bugs have gotten really bad ass in the time since The Fall. The Fall of humankind. Because of global warming. We’re competing for survival with bugs. Cockroaches big as your hand. Bees ditto, although the science guys say this is a good thing. The bees, I mean. They fertilize the crops and give us honey. Anyone allergic to bee stings died off long ago.
And I wouldn’t exactly call it global warming. I’d call it global hell. We’re lucky to get a frosting of snow around Christmas, when in the old days there’d be nine feet of the stuff. And it’d last for months. Months! Can you imagine?
We get autumn rains instead, and the earth becomes a quagmire.
In late summer, Ade and I went scouting for a team that had been out bug hunting and hadn’t returned. We hunt bugs to get rid of the bigger, more dangerous ones. If they’re edible, we bring them back to the compound, as we have a lot of hungry mouths to feed.
While looking for signs of that team, we almost bought it from a giant bug that got Ade down. It took the both of us to kill it, and we figured it was probably the cause of the disappearance of our two hunters.
We couldn’t find those two, nor any trace of them. That was the source of our current woe, because one of them, Gracelyn, had been Aedyn’s girl.
I’d watched them meet, console each other over lost loved ones, and fall in love, such as it is these days. No, that’s not true, much as I wish it was. They had a bond as strong as any I’ve ever seen. They never teamed up together on missions, because they were both bossy souls and would never take orders from each other in an emergency. That’s a good way to get yourself killed. So Aedyn always went out with me, and Gracelyn always went out with Donal. Though twice her size, Donal was easygoing and followed Gracelyn’s lead.
It’s been a month since Gracelyn was lost, and though he’s still right here in the compound with us, Aedyn’s been lost too.
We gave him time off to mourn, but savvy people are thin on the ground here. We need him. He goes out on missions, or helps with the harvesting, or gives his classes on survival. But his heart’s not in it.
It kills me to see him suffering and be unable to do anything about it.
If I could, I would trade places with Gracelyn, wherever she is.
As it is, all I can do is wait. Keep him out of trouble. Try not to get us both killed when he’s reckless.
We have a crowd just come in from the Burn, and not enough to feed them, so we’ll soon have to take some to the boats to go upriver to another settlement. It doesn’t help that the rains have set in and the way to the river is a swamp.
It helps even less that I’ve been having dreams lately about Gracelyn. That she and Donal are alive. Injured. Waiting for someone to get off their lazy ass and find them. I dreamed they were being chased but made it to the caves, about an hour’s walk from here. What they’ve been eating I can’t hazard a guess. Bugs, I’m sure, but there’d be plenty of water. Their survival is unlikely but possible.
I agonised over some way to get Aedyn out to the caves, at grave peril to ourselves, on the flimsy evidence of a dream.
As it was, I didn’t have to.
A few days ago, Aedyn came to me all nervous and disturbed. And thin. He hasn’t been eating right. He told me he’d been dreaming about Gracelyn. Never mind poor Donal. That Gracelyn and Donal were holed up in the caves and waiting for help.
He’d been chewing on this for a week. The same time I started getting the dreams.
Me and Aedyn, we’ve had strong hunches at the same time before. That’s why I thought we had something special between us. But we’ve never had a mutual dream, and certainly none that came night after night and left us sweating and turning and waking up strangling in the sheets.
I didn’t put up any fight at his ask to go with him. We’re a team. Aedyn and Kerry. My life in his hands, his in mine. I said it would do no harm to check it out, though it involved stealing the compound’s truck. If we found our lost ones, which was doubtful, we’d need to convey them home.
If we didn’t find them, no harm done, provided we could get the truck back before anyone knew it was missing. There was no point trying to convince the elders of the compound we should take the truck. They’d want to set up a committee to study it, and there were new people pouring in daily causing chaos, and they had to be sorted out first. Bottom line, we’d be lucky to get permission by New Year’s.
And if we lost or damaged the truck we might as well keep going as it was a vital lifeline for the compound and the elders would either ban us or kill us for it.
On the first moonlit night, we pushed the truck past the gate and started the engine as far out as we dared. Our only saving grace was that the route to the caves was mostly Canadian shield. In our grandfathers’ time it had been a paved road, but most of the paving had crumbled away in the rains and snows of a hundred years. Still the truck was sturdy and got us three quarters of the way there before we had to park and continue on foot.
The hazards after that were snakes, bears, moose, and, of course, bugs. Bugs as big as moose. Bears as big as moose. Moose bigger than any of the rest and evil tempered as well. In the wilds, it was survival of the biggest and most wicked.
We weren’t too worried about snakes, because the night was coolish, and anyways most of them were known to hunt during the day. Bears and bugs ditto, because it was autumn, and the bears would be gorging on grass and berries from dawn to dusk to prepare for their short winter’s rest, and probably, hopefully, asleep at night. And the bugs were definitely most active during the day. Except for the mosquitoes, and they were waning.
But the moose. It was moose that worried us. This was their rutting season. If we survived this rescue operation, we’d be out hunting them soon. It was at this point I almost regretted coming out with Aedyn. Our foray would probably amount to nothing, and if we found Gracelyn, that was practically the end of Aedyn and me. But I loved him, and I needed him to be happy.
So we kept going. When we left the truck, we slathered ourselves with skunk juice, to discourage any wildlife from investigating us. We stank. We stank so bad we could hardly breathe. And when we got back in the truck, we’d stink it up so bad it would be a year before the smell was finished. But it would be worth it if we could find Gracelyn and Donal. And if we didn’t, we’d return the truck as quiet as possible, wash our stench off in the stream as best we could, and deny all knowledge of our little jaunt.
We tiptoed the rest of the way to the caves but didn’t quite make it unscathed. I got bit by a snake. A snake of all things, when they were supposed to be all curled up and quiet in their dens. I screamed. And then for fear of waking a moose, whispered to Aedyn that the damn thing was clamped to my leg and climbing, preparing to squeeze the life out of me. We had no light but the moon but Aedyn had had the wit to bring along a flamethrower. We weren’t going to use it against the snake, just to see where it was and how big. And if we encountered a moose.
The bad news was, the snake was as big around as me and I’m a big brawny lad. It slapped a coil around my chest and I couldn’t breathe. Aedyn was beating on its head as hard as he could and blackness was crowding the edges of my vision. I thought I was a gonner.
Then Aedyn cut its head off. That was one for him and one for me, so we were even in the saving life department.
That kind of snake isn’t poisonous, though you can get a nasty infection from its bite. We’d brought along a med kit, so we slathered the wound with ointment, and bandaged me up. Aedyn ran ahead. I hobbled.
Turns out we were very close to the right cave. And it had been that big snake keeping Gracelyn and Donal trapped. They’d been surviving on cave bugs and slime, and the little rainwater that trickled down the cave walls.
Donal’s arm was broken but he’d splinted it and Gracelyn had broken ribs and a sprained ankle. They’d managed to keep a fire going to keep the snake away, but had lost their weapons and phone. We’d have to search for that phone another day. It was another artifact from the old days that we’d been able to resurrect, and was worth more than a human life.
We put a new splint on Donal, carried Gracelyn in the stretcher because she was having trouble breathing, got them both to the truck, then returned for the carcass of the snake. No way we could leave that much meat to rot.
We got back to the compound without further incident, and were forgiven for stealing—I like to think of it more as borrowing—the truck. We got off easy with a year’s suspension against driving it.
Aedyn and Gracelyn are back together and more in love than ever.
Donal is feeling better and making goo goo eyes at me. Maybe someday Donal, but not yet.
Be careful what you wish for, or what you dream.
Guard your heart.
I’m still in love.
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
This story is set in the world of my novels, approximately ten years after the current chronologically last book, Empire’s Heir, and in the same timeframe as the planned final book of the series, Empire’s Passing. The narrator, Colm, is a prince of Ésparias, one of the lands of my world, and a skilled young physician. A Ti’ach is a college.
IN THE TENT WHERE I WORKED all day and long into this night, I wash, stripped to the waist. Blood both fresh and old discolours my tunic. My servant will soak and scrub it tomorrow, spread it in the sun to bleach and dry, but the stains will remain.
The last man might live, if luck or his gods are compassionate. If I cleaned the wound well enough, if not too much of the blood on me is his, if he is strong enough. Surgeons can only do so much. Gnaius taught me that, before he suggested to the Emperor that I accompany the army east. Battlefields, he told me, are where medicine advances.
Fatigue drags at me. I’ve been awake for almost three days, after the carnage of the last battle. A few minutes sleep, here and there, when my eyes would not stay open a moment longer. But never more than a few hundred heartbeats before I was needed again. Army physicians learn to cope.
I dry my chest and arms. The cold water has refreshed me, briefly. Perhaps the ability to work on little sleep is in my blood: my father never needed much. Or it seemed that way, when I was a boy. More than a decade has passed since I’ve seen him, since the greatest physician of the east offered me an apprenticeship.
I push away thoughts of the home I left at fourteen, its cool damp a contrast to the dry heat of this land. I must write notes, before I sleep. A discipline Gnaius insisted on, and I keep. I open the tent flap, bend to enter. A small lamp burns. Beside it, on the table, is food: unleavened bread, olives, dates. A flask of wine. On top of my notebook lie several letters. A messenger must have reached us, some time in the past days.
I reach for my notes, glancing at the letters as I push them aside. A sudden hollowness in my chest, as if my heart had stopped for a moment. I cannot breathe. I stand still, looking at my name, written in my mother’s hand. For all these years her notes have been inside my father’s long letters, his discussions of philosophy and politics, answers to questions I had asked, advice gently offered.
I sit: I am too tired to stand, too shaken. My reaction surprises me: physicians must be detached. Usually I am. I don’t open the letter. I will, in a little while. I reach instead for the wine flask, pour a cup.
The tent flap is pushed open. “Colm?”
“I’m here.” The commander of the Emperor’s personal guard is conscientious. He will want to know how his men fared, the ones whose wounds I treated. He steps inside.
“By Rögnir,” he says, “You look exhausted.”
“Three died on the table,” I say. “Six more later. They had their weapons.” I know what is needed, for his men to pass to their god in peace.
He grimaces, but he has led the Emperor’s guard for ten years. Death is part of his life, as it is for me. “Wine?” I ask. “We will drink to—”
I cannot finish the sentence. A sob clogs my throat.
“Colm?” His voice is sharp.
I shake my head, and swallow hard against the grief. “My father is dead.”
He swears, and drops to a crouch beside me.
“I am sorry,” he says. “A great man. A loss to the world.” He lays a hand on my shoulder. “I must go. But I will return. Half an hour. A promise.”
In the silent tent I open the letter, to read my mother’s words. Quietly and painlessly, she writes. On the terrace of the villa, in the afternoon sun, falling asleep and not waking. He will – has been, by now, I realize—be buried at the Ti’ach, the place he loved above all others. Beside my baby sister, dead a decade past. Our home once; the only one I knew, before I left my family.
I must sleep, but I know I will not. Tomorrow there will be more wounded, more blood, more death. I look at the food, force myself to chew a date.
The tent flap opens again. Two men duck in. I look up, and stand, or begin to.
“No,” the Emperor says. “Sit, Colm.”
His companion has brought more cups. He pours the wine, offers one cup to the Emperor.
He shakes his head. “I am not the Emperor here. None of us are princes tonight. Only three men, gathered to grieve a friend and a father. The first cup is his son’s.”
I take the wine. The Emperor raises his cup. “To the memory of a great man. A father to be proud of. Friends are rare for emperors, but I counted him as one.” Bjørn nods his agreement.
“As did I.”
They talk of my father then, stories of his subtlety of mind, his reasoned argument. His devotion to those he loved. I blink back tears again, remembering kisses on my hair, the voice never raised in anger. He had expected much of me, as he had of all his students.
“You did not disappoint,” Bjørn says, when I speak of this. “Be sure of that.”
There are not many hours until dawn. The battle will start when the last star still hangs in the sky, and both men will be on the field. Alekos, Emperor of Casil. Bjørn, Prince of Varsland, leader of the Emperor’s personal guard. If they lose tomorrow, it is an ending. The power of the world will shift and an empire of a thousand years will begin to crumble. We all know this. They should be sleeping, or, if awake, bent over maps and plans. Instead, they are here to lighten grief with memory and presence.
I put my cup down. I know what to say. “Perhaps,” I say, “we have honoured my father sufficiently? We have work to do, all too soon.”
“You will be all right?” the Emperor asks.
I nod, schooling my face. I am a physician, but I am a prince too. My father’s lessons remain with me. “His last letter—he told me not to expect another. It was just seeing my mother’s hand, knowing what the letter must say. A shock.”
“Then—” The Emperor glances at his commander. “The morning is not far off. I promise a proper memoriam, Colm, when this war is won.”
They leave me. A gust of wind buffets the tent. The lamp flickers, its light dimming for a moment. The night is only cool, but I shiver. I wish I could call my friends back.
But friendship has many faces. My work is to save lives.
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
**Trigger warning. This short story addresses domestic abuse.
RYAN MATHESON TAPPED, TAPPED his foot against the floor. A dreadfully hot sweat dripped down his back. Three text messages, one after the other, flashed on his cell phone’s screen. He ran his hand over his mouth in a not-so-casual gesture to keep his hand busy and his mouth from talking.
“Don’t answer them.” Kyle Matheson sat across from Ryan. Younger than Ryan by two years, Kyle had their father’s cleft chin, their mother’s no-nonsense attitude, and the look of a man ready to go on a rampage.
Ryan stared at his phone, at the white band of unread messages across its screen. He had thirty—sixty seconds at most to respond before a deluge of angrier and more bitter texts flooded in.
“Think of your kids.” Kyle’s voice was strong and insistent. Like he hadn’t witnessed the utter implosion of Ryan’s life.
“I am thinking of my kids. They need a mother.”
“That wretch of a woman isn’t a mother. She’s an enemy who’s weaponising your kids against you.”
Ryan tightened his grip around his coffee mug.
The coffee shop’s fluorescent lights were too bright, the smell of brewing coffee too acidic, and the décor too brown-tile-and-beige-walls. Bland, 1970s bland, like he was stuck in some horrible, dingy cop show he couldn’t get out of.
He glanced at the corner booth. Beneath a flickering light, his two sons drew on placemats. The server brought them new hot chocolates with extra whipped cream and some more placemats to draw on.
Both innocent. Vincent and Bradley. Eight and six. Still young enough to start a new life without being flogged by scars for the rest of their lives but old enough to remember events before everything changed for them.
“Ryan? Did you hear me?” Kyle asked.
Ryan heard the confused questions from his sons. He heard their cries for their mother. He heard the family court’s judge’s custody order—full custody to the mother.
Ryan’s vision tunnelled, to his sons, to the missed birthdays, to the missed Christmases, to his visitation weekends when his almost-ex refused him access, to the endless back and forth with lawyers who earned more per hour than he did per day.
His world crashed, his heart stopped, and bottled emotions rendered the back of his throat raw. He was a grown man. He could endure. He could endure twelve more years. Twelve more years of random check-ins, ever-changing schedules, bottomless pits of debt, and isolation. He had a cell phone at hand, always. He had, and could continue to make, excuses with his colleagues to check his cell phone like an addict. His grandmother was ageing, after all. He could work harder, get promoted, and take a second job. Anything to keep on top of the bills, the mountains of debt she piled onto their line of credit, their mortgage, his credit cards, and direct withdrawals from their checking account. He could chat with his mother on the phone, five or ten minutes here and there over lunch. He could squeeze in visits with Dad when she took the kids to visit her mother for the day. Thirty minutes at a truck stop midway between Ryan’s and Dad’s, a quick check-in to say that all was well, just really busy with the family and work. He could pick up postcards from the gas station, write quick notes to Kyle or his friends and jot down three sentences to show that he was still alive, kicking, standing, and not at all on the verge of a breakdown.
Breakdowns were for men who weren’t happy, didn’t have terrific marriages, didn’t have two fantastic children, a great career, or a newly-built middle-class home in a prosperous neighbourhood.
None of that was Ryan.
It couldn’t be.
He’d grown up in a loving family. He’d received a good post-secondary education from a reputable school, graduated, and got work right away in the field. He’d been promoted, well-liked by his colleagues, and his career progressed well.
He’d dated different kinds of women. Some shy, some outgoing. Some had preferred lounging on the couch, and some had gone out every night. He’d found one with a happy middle, cuddling on the couch with weekend visits.
To her friends.
Increasingly to her friends, family, and events for her hobbies and professional network.
Always her interests, rarely his.
“Did you hear me?” Kyle asked.
“I heard you.”
“Yeah?” Kyle swiped a video on his phone and raised the phone so Ryan could see it.
Ryan pressed his eyes closed, part shame, part horror, part loss of his manhood to protect his sons.
Kyle pushed play, and the video played. Ryan was playing soccer in the backyard with Vince on a rare Sunday afternoon off. Ryan’s parents, Kyle, Kyle’s wife and their children were there. Vince ran for the ball, tricked, and crashed into a table with freshments. A pitcher of iced-tea, homemade muffins, and chips spilled over.
Ryan’s wife glided across the yard, her steps light, her face fast, and she was on Vince in an instant. She grabbed his arm and twisted it, until he stood. Her words were low, harsh, incomprehensible on through the video, but in one world-ending instant, Vince changed from boy having fun with his family, to boy struggling to keep his lower lip from quivering. She’d crushed within three seconds, and he sat alone, at the far end of the table for the rest of the dinner.
“That’s a mother admonishing a child,” Ryan said.
“Really?” Kyle swiped to another video.
Bradley walked on stage to receive his certificate for graduating kindergarten. He wore a dress shirt and clean slacks and shoes. He walked on stage towards the principal, accepted the certificate and looked out onto the crowd. Ryan stood and waved at Bradley, then yelled ‘congratulations’. Bradley waved back, walked to the other end of the stage, then took his seat on a bench next to his classmate.
The ceremony continued, then all the students rose, bowed and left the stage to rejoin their families. The audience applauded, then dispersed.
In the parking lot, next to the family SUV. Ryan’s wife towered over Bradley, her words were low but clear through the video. She had admonished Bradley for wetting his pants on stage, called him stupid and irresponsible, and incapable of being a good son.
Ryan slid his gaze away from the screen. He had no sense of fatherhood, because what father would let his son be destroyed like that. He had no sense of manhood because real men stand up for their children.
He was nothing, no one, a shell of a person who once had pride. He had no more excuses. None could be conjured, crafted, or contrived.
He blew out a breath, but not the pain that weighed him down.
Ryan took a long drag of his coffee, the caffeine doing nothing to calm his nerves. His nerves were Olympic gymnasts, doing backflips and summersaults, trying to steady themselves on parallel bars but losing their balance and breaking both collar bones.
“There’s no thinking. You need out. Tonight.”
“Do I want to put them through it?” Ryan’s voice shook with a fear reserved for a six-year-old watching a horror movie. “The courts, the lawyers, the child psychologists. They might need to change schools. Bradley’s in hockey now. If I move, he might have to move teams.”
“Listen to me.” Kyle’s voice was insistent but sympathetic, like a police officer talking a man down from a ledge. “She’s poison. The longer you stay with her, the more you’ll drown.”
It wasn’t that bad. Checking in with her every twenty minutes. He could swing that. He’d been doing it for years. He didn’t need friends. He’d managed without seeing them for almost as long. He didn’t need a hobby because he had work. He didn’t need to do sports or vacations, or more sleep.
Everything was fine. He was an adult. He held a position of responsibility, he was well-respected by his colleagues, he was intelligent, and even managed to smile and laugh—sometimes. Not often, but sometimes.
He could do much more to ensure his sons had a stable life. There were medications. Alcohol. Sleep deprivation. Third jobs. Anything to make sure his boys had a stable upbringing.
Ryan downed the rest of his extra-large coffee. The caffeine surge struck his nerves like a mallet striking a gong—loud and hard. He shook his head.
Kyle placed his empty mug on the table. “Don’t you back out. You gotta think of those boys and your sanity.”
A call came in on Ryan’s cell phone. Shelley’s name flashed on the screen.
Ryan had loved her name on her lips when he had met her. It was melodic, serene, a name he would never tire of speaking.
Then it became a curse. A venomous word poisoning his thoughts and mind and rotting his relationships.
“She’s destroyed you,” Kyle said.
So what if he’d lost thirty pounds in the last year? So what if he’d caught every flu, cold, and bug in the last five? So what if he’d lost so much sleep that he’d been cautioned twice at work? The next time, he’d be fired, and Shelley’s lavish lifestyle and the security of his sons would be jeopardized.
Ryan shook his head. “It’s not that bad. I can work harder.”
“You’re working ninety-hour weeks.”
“All the more to spend the few minutes I have with my sons.”
“She’s the only reason you’re working those hours. With your seniority and profession, a regular forty-hour-a-week job would pay the bills.”
“She wants them to have experiences.”
Kyle frowned. “Pulling the boys out of school in March for a month-long vacation without you isn’t good for them or you or your finances.”
“She wants them to experience the world.” He watched his sons exchanging crayons, pointing at different spots of each other’s work.
They were beautiful, well raised, well mannered, well loved.
Ryan swallowed hard but could not swallow past the brick in his throat. He’d ruin their world if he went through with his decision.
Ryan’s cell phone rang. The fourth time in six minutes.
Kyle placed his hand over Ryan’s hand. “Don’t.”
“Shelley wants to know where her sons are.”
“She wants to control you. You’ve been gone less than twenty minutes.”
“She’s worried about her sons.”
“Twenty minutes. Her sons–your sons–are with their father and uncle. They were fed, safe and well-supervised. And she’s called four times in twenty minutes?”
Ryan angled his gaze to the 1970s-dull-brown floor tiles. The abyss of the archaic floor tiles was preferable to the oblivion of his future. He shielded his eyes with his hand. “I don’t know if I can put them through it.”
“Can you survive if you don’t?”
Ryan swallowed hard, swallowing choking down the now-defunct words of his wedding vows, the promises he made when both his sons were born, the night-time whispers he gave each son when he fed them, promising he’d always be there for them.
“Ry, you can’t survive her.”
Ryan ran his hand over his head. He could survive for his sons, enough to come out with…
Nothing. Enough to see his sons off to post-secondary education. That would be his reward, and then he’d collapse. Dead. If he’d be lucky, he’d leave a husk to bury.
He shadowed his eyes with his hand and gulped a heavy breath. “I can’t do it anymore.”
“I can’t take her anymore.”
“What she’s doing is abuse.”
Ryan hauled in a deep breath, surprised at how loud, deep, and raspy it was. His cheeks flared with embarrassment, and all he wanted to do was jackhammer a hole under the table, dig a tunnel to his car, and take his sons somewhere far away where Shelley couldn’t file a parental custody case against him.
He sobbed. Once. Too loud, too deep, too raw.
“You, Bradley, and Vincent can stay with Heather and me for a while. You know Brad and Vince like playing with Ashley and Patricia. If you don’t want that, you can stay with Mom and Dad or at the cottage. Or we can all chip in and help you find a decent place to live.”
Ryan pressed his palms into his eyes. His world blurred, turned black, then winked out entirely. He exhaled long and heavy, uncertain if he’d ever breathe again.
His phone rang.
He didn’t look at it. There was no need. Twenty-six minutes without a check-in to Shelley, and she’d be furious.
She’d be jalapeno pepper laced with tequila furious.
Ryan stared at his sons.
His beautiful, innocent, deserving-better-role-models sons.
“I’ll do it.” The words creaked out of his mouth like they hadn’t been oiled in a hundred years.
“You mean it this time?”
He had two weeks of clothing for him, Brad, and Vince. He had toothbrushes, toothpaste, pajamas, cherished stuffed animals, essential night lights, favourite toys, precious collectable cards, socks, and board games. He had a month’s worth of savings stashed in a secret account and alerted HR of a new bank account to divert his pay. He had all documentation—birth certificates, passports, school records, medical records, and important family photos. First breaths, first steps, first birthday cakes, first tooth loss, first day at school.
Ryan nodded, uncertain if he could trust his vocal cords.
Kyle gave him a deadpan look, a cold one that wanted to trust but couldn’t quite. “Are you sure?”
Ryan glanced at his sons, used the moment to fortify himself, and then slid his gaze back to his brother. “I’m sure. I want a divorce attorney.”
“About time. You’ll stay at my place tonight until you find somewhere suitable to live.”
I TEXT MY PARENTS so they know I’ve landed safely. But I don’t head home for my winter break just yet. I’ve got to see about a girl. I know they’d understand.
I’d been worried sick ever since her personal story blew up over the internet. She shouldn’t have to face that violation alone. She should never feel alone. I curse my school and the delay it caused me in coming to her.
I take an Uber over to her house. I notice her car is not in the driveway, but I’m too full of energy to not knock on the door now. I shoulder my backpack and go down the familiar walk with its disciplined cuboid boxwoods, reassured that some things never change. They are interspersed with bright yellow mums, fall plants clinging to the glory of autumn and blind to the coming winter. I cringe at my thoughts, hoping there are no parallels, and turn away from the out of season plants.
The colonial facade has always seemed to mock my heritage, as if to emphasize that the prize within is beyond my grasp. But I’m nothing if not faithful to Enya and me.
The white door I’ve faced so many times before is decorated with a Christmas wreath. I press the doorbell, hoping she’ll answer, willing the door’s opening will it to reveal her face.
The door swings in and her mom is taken aback at the sight of me.
“Oh, Jacob! You’re here!” She’s surprised, of course. Then she asks automatically, “How’s school? How are your parents?”
“Where’s Enya?” I try not to growl. I’m not known for being suave.
“Oh, you just missed her!”
Of course I did. Just my luck, Cloverleaf, I think to myself.
I’m already debating if I should just head home, drop my bag off and borrow a car—no—or track her down immediately—yes—when her mom says, “I gave her all of your letters.”
“I don’t know why she didn’t want them to arrive at the apartment. Maybe the mail is unreliable there. When Rich and I lived in an apartment in Virginia before Enya was born, we had this one mail carrier that would never take our outgoing mail and we’d always get other people’s mail and vice versa. It’s a way to get to know your neighbors, I guess. Apartment living. One of the hallmarks of being young, huh?”
I’m surprised, shocked. I hope my other presumptions aren’t tested.
“Damn, I don’t have her address on me.” I pull out my phone. “What was it again?”
“Oh, sure…” She spouts off an address that’s about twenty minutes from here. I’ve already put the request in for an Uber.
“But maybe now isn’t the best time…” She looks uneasy, like someone keeping a secret. I try not to let my unease grow.
“Now is always the best time.” This time I do growl.
Twenty-five later and I’m in front of another door. A girl with a shock of red and white hair answers the plain dented metal door. I’m surprised once again.
“Hello?” She says like she’s annoyed.
“Hi, I’m Jacob. I’m looking for Enya. Her mom said she’d be here?”
“Oh, you’re Jacob,” she states flatly.
I can’t hide my smile. “She talks about me?”
“Not really.” My smile falls.
“I think she’s only mentioned you once.”
“I was rooting for Joshua,” she continues.
“Nevermind. It’s not important.” Her eyes are scanning me, evaluating me.
“It sounds important to me!” I practically shout.
“No, it’s actually not. You’re…you’re the one she loves.”
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)
SCENE: HE and SHE, both in their early 50s, sit on folding chairs in a park. He to the left (from behind). She to the right. To their left is an ice bucket from which the neck of an opened wine bottle appears.
The two are dressed as if for a wedding. SHE is wearing a floral dress in a cream background and flowing green stems and various colored flowers. Stylish low heels strapped to her ankles. Her hair is well-sculpted and is cut above her shoulders. It is amber. She wears simple jewelry, including a simple wedding band.
HE is in a well-tailored tan suit. His shirt is white, with French cuffs held together by onyx links, and he wears a red tie. His socks match his suit and he wears brown loafers.
The park they are in is a cemetery in Queens, New York. It is an old, Catholic cemetery with large mausoleums scattered about and statuary. They sit in front of a large angel. The name “SOLARI” is at the angel’s base.
Each has a glass of white wine in their hand.
They lift their glasses.
HE & SHE
They clink their glasses. They take long drinks of the wine. She cradles her glass in her lap. He looks at his in front of his face.
Now will you tell me?
Tell you what?
You said you’d tell me when he was dead for ten years. Which is today.
She looks at him. Confused.
You said you’d tell me today why you didn’t give up on him when you found out about us.
She turns to look at the angel.
I did, didn’t I? As I recall, I said something like, “In ten years I’ll let you know why I didn’t cut off his balls and yours when I found out about the pair of you.”
You’ve always had a way with words.
He takes a sip of his wine and she follows suit.
To be clear, I probably would have if I’d caught you in our bed.
We never did it there.
So that made it alright?
I didn’t say that. It just makes it…less wrong.
Well, that’s all water under the bridge anyway.
It’s just that we reached a point where there was no going back and we both knew he had to tell you.
Which still doesn’t tell you why I didn’t…you know. I had every right to.
You did. So why didn’t you?
She looks at him and then turns back to the angel. She takes another drink.
I was stunned, of course, first of all. We had a ten-year-old son and he and I had what I thought was a good or at least good enough sex life then he sits me down while Davey’s at some game for the day and tells me he wants a divorce. So, I was stunned.
And then when he said it was with you, who I thought of as a friend, as my friend as well as his, and almost an uncle to Davey, I was more likely to shoot myself than shoot him. Or you.
He reaches for her hand, which she pulls away.
In all these years I didn’t tell you. We’ve been together so often, and I never got around to telling you.
Maybe that’s why you put the ten-year clock on it.
She smiles and moves her hand to his.
Maybe. Maybe I needed you and me to…evolve and let the passage of time soften the edges of the pain of the betrayal. Not just his. Yours too.
And are there still “edges”?
She takes a sip of her wine, holding the glass in her right hand, her left still in his right.
They’ll always be “edges” and we both have to live with them.
And can you live with them?
I have for ten years, haven’t I?
Maybe it’s because he was the first man I really loved. I still love him.
I can say almost the same for me, you know.
I do know. Maybe that’s why.
You know when it happened, I kept searching for signs. Things I might have missed that he…that his affections went in a different direction.
Do you think he always knew?
What, and was afraid to let anyone know? Afraid to be himself?
Why did he marry me?
Couldn’t it be as simple as he loved you?
Well, I love you and I don’t want to marry you.
Hold on. You love me?
She squeezes his hand.
You were the second man I fell in love with.
Wait. When did you fall in love with me?
It wasn’t like there was a…a sign. Just looking back at this decade since he passed, you must know how important you are to me.
But that was mostly because of Davey. He needed a father figure. I mean, he was only fourteen when Ricki died.
I needed a husband figure.
But you were always going out on dates.
She raises her left hand from his and moves the fingers in front of him.
Then why am I still wearing this? For a gay guy, you sure can be dense.
I was always afraid to ask.
She puts her left hand in her lap and uses the fingers of her right, still holding the stem of the glass, to rotate the band slightly.
Maybe it’s because other than Davey, it’s all I have left of him and now that Davey’s gone, it’s a comfort.
Davey’s not “gone.” He lives like twenty minutes away.
You know what I mean.
Have I ever told you how much I appreciate you being here for him?
You don’t have to.
But I should.
I love him.
I know that.
And, of course, you had the man-to-man talks with him I never could have.
You should have heard what his friends told him, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. It’s a guy thing.
I don’t want to know. What do you think of his new girlfriend?
I like her. I think she’s good for him. I hope she lasts longer than the last one.
Cindy was a bit of a pill but, I swear, I said nothing against her.
Neither did I. But I agree about the “pill” part. I think Suzie could be the one.
I’ve only met her once, when I had them both over for dinner.
Yeah, he told me about that. He said it was like an audition and that Sue half expected you to go “thumbs down” on her before dessert.
Are you glad he’s not like his dad in that regard?
You mean gay?
To be honest I am. But you know I don’t care as long as he’s happy being who he is. I just wish Ricky was as confident when he was Davey’s age.
No, I’m glad because I’d really like a daughter. Even just a daughter-in-law.
Jury’s still out on that. Just let Davey find someone he loves and I’m sure you and I will both love her.
But I’m glad you’re around so he can talk to you about his love life more than he does with me.
Jesus. You’re his mom. Has he ever spoken to you about his sex life?
I said “love life.” But I take your point. Again, that’s one reason I’m glad he has you.
What about you? And what other reasons do you have?
I surrender. I’m glad I have you too. Satisfied?
Seriously, though. You’re always telling me about your dates and yet…Why haven’t you found someone?
You know how I’ve tried. How often have I called you after Mr. Right was out the door before I really knew he’d…come in?
Well, as I recall, it wasn’t his coming that was the issue.
So, I faked it just to get him out.
And now you’re bitching that they left too soon?
Okay, so I’m a collection of contradictions. What can I tell you?
I think what you are telling me is that you still haven’t gotten over him.
Have you? It’s been ten years and how many relationships lasting more than a month have you had?
Okay. So I’m a collection of contradictions too. Shoot me.
He gets up and takes the bottle from the ice bucket and refills both their glasses. He puts the bottle back and remains standing. He turns to the angel.
How can one lovely person so fuck up the lives of two other lovely people? For. Ten. Years.
She gets up. Puts her arm around his waist.
Look. The car’ll be here in ten minutes.
They each drink from their glasses.
Should we get married?
She chokes. She runs the back of her left hand across her mouth.
Come on. You can’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.
Can you tell me you haven’t?
We are so pitiful.
Which makes us perfect for each other.
Yeah, but I think we both enjoy sex too much and…well…
Damn him. It’s never been anywhere close to what it was with him. And he wasn’t even trying.
You mean he wasn’t even trying fucking?
Don’t kid yourself. He loved you and he was intimate with you so never doubt he wasn’t trying to please the both of you every time you were together.
Did he tell you that?
I wasn’t in the habit of talking to my husband about his sex life with his ex-wife. But you knew him as well as I did. Maybe better. Can you say I’m wrong?
Just as you say you’ve loved, really loved, two men in your life, you must know that he only really loved two people in his.
And now they’re both standing at his grave.
Now they’re both standing at this grave.
They each drink more of the wine.
What about you?
What about me what?
Don’t make me ask.
He reaches for her hand.
For me, there was someone in college I fell for and the feelings weren’t reciprocated. But other than him, yeah, just the two. Ricki. And you.
Hence the “almost”?
Hence the “almost.”
The car’s coming. We have to get our stuff together.
What did you bring?
It’s the tenth year so…
She reaches for her bag, which is dangling on the back of the chair, and opens it. She removes a cuff link.
He wore this at our wedding. I’ll always have the other, but I guess it’s time I separated the pair.
She steps to the angel and places a single cuff link, a pearl surrounded by gold, on the angel’s pedestal. She returns and stands beside him. He reaches into his jacket pocket and removes a watch.
I thought of placing this here a few times but wanted to save it for the tenth. I got it…I got it for him on our honeymoon.
He steps to the angel and puts it next to the cuff link.
You realize they’ll probably be gone before we’re through the gates.
They’re here now. We’re here now. That’s all that matters.
They bow their heads for a moment then lift their glasses.
To Ricky. With all my love.
Yes, with all our love.
They each drink and step to the angel, putting their empty glasses on the ground in front of it.
Each folds a chair and she lifts hers. He lifts his and picks up the ice bucket and stand. The two head towards the car that’s come to pick them up.
David M. Simon (@writesdraws)
So here we are again like so many times before,
you crying in your beer, me trying to ignore
how the bar lights sparkle in your eyes even through the tears.
How many times I’ve heard this same old story through the years.
So I hold your hand and tell you things will work out for the best,
and I wonder just like always how I got into this mess.
Baby I’ve got heartstrings that I’ve never even played.
I try to see you differently but my feelings just won’t fade.
Come on hold me close and feel our heat begin to rise.
I can’t be just your friend, let me be your lover in disguise,
I need to be your lover, your lover in disguise.
So here we are again like so many times before,
spending all night sharing our hopes and dreams and more.
I wish that I could reach out, cup your face between my hands,
tell you I won’t hurt you, say I want to be your man.
I won’t take your heart for granted, and I won’t tell you lies,
so look at me and try to see this lover in disguise.
Baby I’ve got heartstrings that I’ve never even played.
I try to see you differently but these feelings just won’t fade.
Come on hold me close and you’ll begin to realize.
I’m not just your friend, I’m your lover in disguise,
please let me be your lover, your lover in disguise.
So here we are again like so many times before,
but now my heart is open wide and I’m standing at your door.
Take me in yours arms and try the two of us on for size,
and spend a little time with your lover in disguise.
Come on, spend a little time with your lover in disguise.
New This Month:
David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.
The second book in Renée Gendron‘s Outdoorsmen series, The Officer’s Gamble, is now available on Amazon.
Renée’s other books:
- Jaded Hearts: Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series
- The Officer’s Gamble, Book II of the Outdoorsman Series is available for pre-orders on Amazon.
- Seven Points of Contact
- Heartened by Crime
- Heads and Tales. A supernatural/mythological anthology (contributor)
- Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology (editor)
- In The Red Room: A Crime Anthology With Heart (editor)
- Shopkeeper & Spoon: Tales of Important Spoons (editor)
Nicole Wells‘s story, Jacob, is from her UpSpark; A Love Story, available at Amazon. The Worst Story Ever Written is also available on Amazon (including for free on Kindle Unlimited). You can sample Chapter 1 here. Her other stories of various and mixed genres are at NicoleWellsWrites.com
Joseph P. Garland has published his third novel set in the early Gilded Age in New York City. A Maid’s Life is available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover formats. I Am Alex Locus and other novels and stories, contemporary and set in the Gilded Age, are described at Joseph’s Dermody House site.
Marian L Thorpe has six books in her on-going historical fantasy/alt history series Empire’s Legacy available, with the seventh, Empress & Soldier, available mid-December. They can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her preferred site for purchasing her e-books is the indie on-line bookstore Scarlet Ferret, or, her books are at Books2Read.
Louise Sorenson is the co-author of Duel Visions with Misha Burnett.