May 6, 2017

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An Overseas Adventure 

They had been planning this trip for years and now it was finally happening. Corina couldn’t stand still as they waited in the long line to board the plane. The information sign read: Munich International Airport. Once again, she ducked her head around the person in front of her to check the length of the line. A childish groan escaped her lips, and her boyfriend chuckled at her, grabbing her by the back if her sweater and pulling her back to her spot in line. 

She glared up at him. “Isaiah!” 

“Corina!” he responded, his tone matching hers as best as a young man can imitate a young woman. “You need to have patience. We’ve waited this long, you can wait a little bit longer. We’re pretty much there anyway. We just have to board and sit through the flight, but we’re pretty much there.” 

In her over dramatic way, Corina flung herself on Isaiah, her hands clutching his arms, nails digging in. “But I don’t wanna wait!”

“Sorry, baby, but I haven’t invented that telelporter you asked for yet. Too busy taking care of my girl,” he said and planted a quick kiss on the top of her head. “Now you’d better get moving, or you might have some angry folks on your hands.” Hands planted on her shoulders, he about faced her towards the front of the line. 

“Crap!” she said, grabbing her bag and racing down towards the gate. The line had diminished during their conversation. Amused, I Sarah followed her. 
A few days into their European adventure, while still in Germany, I Isaiah cooked up a plan. “Corina,” he said to her one day, “you’ve planned all our days, all our outings. Why don’t you let me take one? Let me plan it.”

Corina hesitated, causing Isaiah to laugh. She rushed towards him and took his hand in hers, pleading. “It’s not that I don’t think you can…”

“It’s that you don’t think I can,” he laughed. “Corina, I know you better than pretty much anyome. I know you want this trip to be perfect, and if you trust me on this, I promise I can make this day as just as good as the ones you plan. Dare I say better?” 

Corina shoved him, laughing herself. “No way. There’s no way on earth thatyou, Isaiah Michael Stratford, could outplan me, Corina Siobhan Behrends. I am the master of planning, and if you know me as well as you say youdo, you’d know that.” 

“Fine. I’ll admit that’s true. No one could outplan you, but please let me do just one day? I promise I won’t ask to plan another on our trip.”

“How about if I let you do your one day, you never ask to plan another day for anything?” she trased. 

Isaiah grabbed her hand and shook it. “Deal.” 
The next day, Isaiah refused to tell Corina where their day would take them, much to Corina’s dismay. “It’s a surprise.” But his protests and his refusals only served to heighten her stress levels. 

By the time they had reached their final destination for the day, her nerves were shot. One look at her and Isaiah almost turned them both right back around and took them back to their home away from home, but he held his ground, knowing that what he had in store for them would help to lighten her mood. 

They stood at the foot of a hill and Corina groaned. Her bag weighed her down and every inch of her being wanted nothing more than to sit down and never get back up. Isaiah took her by the hand and pulled her a few steps up the path. “Isaiah, please no. I’m exhausted.” 

Isaiah looked her once over. Indeed, she looked exhausted. Her hair had fallen from the pretty little ponytail she had pulled it into that morning. Her eyes drooped. Her limbs drooped. Even her clothing drooped, damp with sweat from their day’s workout. Without a word, he scooped her into his arms and carried her up the path. 

Corina didn’t have time to react to one thing before the next had unfolded. Up the hill, sat an abandoned castle, crumbling but not dangerous. It looked quaint against the almost setting sun, its color faded in the warm light bathing it. Many buildings back home stood tall and more imposing than this structure, giving off a homey vibe. 

“It’s habitable too,” he said, snapping Corina back to the reality from her traipsing among the fantastical. 

“It is?”

Isaiah set her down, stretching as soon as her feet hit the ground. “Yup. It’s ours for the night. I rented it for us.” 

Corina couldn’t move. Or speak. Or do anything at all, or so it felt to her. “Is this why you wanted to plan today? To make sure we got up here?” 

Isaiah shrugged. “Part of it.” Bending down, he rummaged in his bag for the keys to the place. He plopped them into the palm of her hand. “Would you like to do the honors, Miss Behrends?” He bowed, a funny looking thing, more awkward than the regal he had intended. 

Giggling, Corina took the keys and approached the door. 

The inside awed her more than the outside had. Hundreds of glowing candles lit each room as she entered, their warmth and their scent mingling with the cold and the stench of the castle. The furniture, though far from being period appropriate, still had a vintage air to it, looking far from at home in the twenty-first century. A thin layer of dust covered most of the walls and shelving, but she had expected much worse so it came as a pleasant surprise. 

“Isaiah, baby, it’s… stunning.”

He took her by the hand and led her into a small room with a small table, set for two, in the center. A lace tablecloth lay over it and fancy place settings sat upon it. A chandelier blazed above them, furthering Corina’s interior fairytale. Isaiah pried her bag from her hands, an easy task with her mind wandering elsewhere in the room. With a gentle, “Sit, I’ll be right back,” he took their bags up to the rooms. 

When he returned, Corina had lost herself in hysterics. “Isaiah, you paid for catering too?” The table now bore gifts of glorious foods and beverages. “The little man who brought it in is just the cutest. He doesn’t speak a word of English other than ‘beautiful’ so every time I said anything to him, he would just nod his head and repeat that over and over. ‘Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful.’ He made it sound much more expressive than any English speaker I’ve ever heard.” 

Isaiah chuckled. “Perhaps I’ll have to confront the guy. If all he can say to my girl is beautiful, we might have a problem on our hands.” The briefest of pauses before… “But you look beautiful, Corina.”
The young couple savored their meal, their friend the cook entering every so often to check on them. It was true, the only English he knew was ‘beautiful’ but never had such a simple word held as much meaning as when it rolled off his lips. A charming fellow indeed. 

By the time the two sat back in their chairs, idly sipping at their glasses of wine, neither wished to move. They could have fallen asleep in their chairs and woken up content the next morning, but Isaiah had different ideas. 

Taking Corina by the hand, he led her up a shirt flight of stairs onto a balcony overlooking the surrounding area in the twlight. The moon hung in the sky and the only word Corina could use to describe it was ‘beautiful.’ She heard it in the little chef’s voice, each syllable accented and unique and meaningful. The stars spattered across the sky paled in comparison to the beauty of the moon. 

Corina said nothing, her exhaustion and awe forcing all words to flee from her lips. 

Isaiah’s eyes lingered on Corina. It didn’t matter that her hair fell in her face and she smelled of sweat from a long day. It didn’t matter that her eyes lacked their usual luster due to exhaustion. She still shone bright against the world as the most beautiful woman Isaiah had ever known. 

“Corina, do you see how far reaching the stars are? How you can see so many of them but you don’t know how far they reach? How they seem endless?” She responded with a mindless mutter. “If you or anyone were to ask me how much I love you, I’d point at the sky and tell them I will love you for as long as the stars go on.” 

By now, Corina had forgotten the luminaries in the sky and focussed on the one before her. Her eyes searched his, feeling every wave of love and affection thrown her way. She took his hand in hers. Something hard and cold brushed against her skin and she looked down. 

Isaiah held a simple ring, a single stone, small but shining like it belonged in the night sky. He didn’t have to say anymore. Corina knew. She didn’t have to speak, her actions telling all. 

“I guess I’ll be helping to plan another day after all.”

***

Prompt: Uhhhhhh… I dunno. Guess marriage has been on my mind lately  (imagine that! thinking about marriage a lot while taking a class titled Marriage and Family, say what?) and I’m always looking at how beautiful Europe is. So I guess I just combined the two?

May 1, 2017

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Turn Back Time

Running into the bathroom, she slammed her stall door shut, the lock soon following suit. “Jessie, come out,” her best friend pleaded. ”I’ll take you to the coffee shop down the street. The one you like so much , with the cupcakes and pastries and the comfy chairs? I’ll buy.”

“Go away.” She sat on the toilet, head in hands, her focus anywhere but on her friend’s voice. Not even the prospect of a free cupcake could tempt her and Jessie’s love for cupcakes knew no bounds. Her appetite had fled when the tears flowed in. No one in their right mind, or so Jessie believed, could have an appetite at a time like this. Even the idea of found seemed wrong.

Her friend’s incessant knocking revealed her differing opinion. ”Jessie, moping won’t do you any good. You’ll feel better after a cupcake.”

”I’ll feel better after you leave, Kate,” Jessie retorted. Giving Kate no time to react, Jessie popped up from her makeshift chair and glanced around the stall. She spun the toilet paper roll twice. She slammed the lid on the waste bin, the tinny sound echoing with each slam. One… two… Three. When that didn’t satisfy the violent urges rising, she flushed the toilet and kicked its base with an agonized grunt. 

The lights shut off. The world began to spin. The ground seemed to slip from under her feet. Jessie stopped breathing, the air squeezed out of her lungs.

When Jessie woke up, head still spinning, she pushed herself onto her elbows, the tile of the bathroom floor chilled against her bare skin. No knocks sounded on the pale green door of the stall. Jessie glanced back at it. Green? Wasn’t it blue? Running her fingers over the tile, Jessie noticed that this, too, had changed.

”Where am…” Her voice dropped. Her eyes widened. ”High school.”

As quickly as possible, she ran out of the stall to the mirrors. The hair, the clothes, the makeup revealed to her the exact date. The day that changed her life forever.

“Crap. Owen’s going to ask me out.”

Stunned, Jessie left the bathroom. Everything seemed so familiar, like she had walked these halls only yesterday, when in reality she hadn’t in almost ten years. The walls still stood in all their awful green glory. The lockers still looked like they had travelled from forty years ago, the paint scratched and peeling. The floor still led its students like some degraded yellow brick road, its alternating yellow and white tile even matching in color. 

”Jessie!” her high school bestie, Violet, called to her, waving her over to table. Their table in their corner. The table they sat at every day for lunch. The table they had all engraved their names in the wood of the underbelly. The table that knew all their joys, woes, and secrets. 

Jessie hadn’t seen Violet in years. An unexpected longing overwhelmed her and she rushed her friend, knocking her out of her chair to the ground. Only slightly miffed, Violet shoved her off. Standing, she laughed, “Oh my god, Jess, it’s not like we haven’t seen each other in years. We literally had class together only an hour ago.”

Accepting Violet’s assistance, Jessie joined her at the table. She would have to remember that not everyone had come from the futur–or present, to Jessie– and thus wouldn’t have the same knowledge she did. She decided to play it off. ”I know, it’s just…” She glanced around. No one listened, all too focussed on their own friends and their own lunches. She lowered her voice. ”I think Owen’s gonna ask me out.”

Violet screeched. ”Oh my god, what?”

Shushing her, Jessie nodded. “I don’t know why, but I just get this feeling, you know?” 

”Owen, as in our Owen? As in Owen Zimmer? As in Owen your best friend Owen?” 

”As in the Owen I’ve known since I was like two? Yeah, that Owen.” 

Violet leaned into Jessie further. ”Are you sure?” Stifling an urge to shout out her absolute positivity on the matter, Jessie nodded. ”What are you going to say?” 

Somehow, the question caught Jessie off guard. The first time (the real time?) this happened, Jessie laughed in Owen’s face and rejected him. She lost him that day. He pushed her away. Refused to talk to her. He made their friends choose between them. Most chose him. Jessie’s rejection made her the loneliest girl at school. 

It affected her for the rest of her life. Rejecting her best friend at sixteen resulted in major self-esteem issues when her friends abandoned her. It resulted in heartbreak and heartache when every boyfriend she’d had since then couldn’t understand an handle her insecurity. It resulted in therapy and the bills to match, but little else to show for it. 

It resulted in her boyfriend-recently-become-ex panicing and breaking up with her when she tried to have a reasonable conversation about their future together. 

Maybe that’s what this was all about. Maybe she had received the opportunity to change her past and thus change her future! Jessie shrugged. “I think I might actually say yes.”

Violet shrieked again. “Oh my god, are you serious? You two would be like the cutest couple in the school! Everyone has wanted you two to get together since pretty much ever. I’ve even told creeps who were interested in you that you had a boyfriend and pointed Owen out and the creep just responded with an, ‘Oh, I should have known.’ Jess, this has got to be the most exciting news!” Violet pulled Jessie into a violent hug. 

“Vi, he hasn’t technically asked me yet.” 

Violet’s grip loosened but not enough to allow for Jessie’s escape. “I know but I still don’t care.” Holding Jessie out at arm’s length, Violet trapped her with her eyes. “Promise me that if he doesn’t ask you, that you will be the strong independent woman that you are and ask him.” 

“Fine. Alright. I promise. But–” catching sight of a nervous Owen approaching– “I don’t think I’ll have to.”

Owen stopped at their table and cleared his throat to catch the girls’ attention. When Violet noticed, she popped up from her chair with a bubbly excuse and rushed around the corner to leave the two theoretical lovebirds alone. Owen took her vacated seat beside Jessie. 

Jessie’s heart fluttered but she couldn’t tell why. Was she remembering how she felt the first time–scared, apprehensive, worried that something had gone wrong and Owen needed an ear to listen? Or was she feeling all the emotions of a girl in love? Everything seemed to blur together and she couldn’t quite separate the different emotions. 

“Hey, Owen, everything okay?” she asked. The same words she had used the last time. Half subconsciously, she reached out a hand and placed it on his knee. His shaking rattled through her bones but her touch had a calming effect on him. His violent shaking lessened to a mere quiver. 

Owen nodded. “Yeah. I- I’m not sure exactly how to do this. We’ve been friends for so long, I’m not sure if I’m reading things correctly now. Especially with everyone speculating about us constantly. I just…” He paused to take a deep breath, but Jessie couldn’t leave him hanging. 

“Do you want to go out with me sometime?”

Owen stared at her, a look of confusion and relief. “How did–”

“I know?” she asked, a laugh painting her tone. “Like you said, everyone’s already been speculating that we were a thing for a long time. According to Vi it’s been since like middle school. I figure we should at least give us a shot, right? And if we don’t work out, we can both agree to still befriends, right?”

“Right.” Owen shook his head. “Still can’t believe that you asked me first.” 

“Don’t get too ahead of yourself, O,” Jessie laughed. “We have to even set a date.”
A week later, Jessie waltzed into her house after her date with Owen, her heart dancing in time to the beat of her steps. She hadn’t expected things to go so well with Owen, but after the initial awkwardness passed, both lightened up and became the people that they knew each other to be. It felt familiar, despite being the first date. 

The first of many to come. Jessie and Owen continued their little romance. Their junior year passed and their senior year and before they knew it they had graduated. Even through all of college, at separate colleges, all the way across the country from each other, they continued their romantic ventures. True, they had their rough times, but since when did a strong relationship not? The rough patches only made them stronger. 

When they reunited after their college graduation, Jessie could have sworn she had read the exact scene in a novel somewhere. Anticipation and separation can do that to a person. 

By the time Jessie and Owen had reached their twenty-sixth birthdays, Jessie had put her old future behind her. This one pleased her more than any other could have. She still met Kate, but she didn’t lose Owen or Violet. She didn’t have to experience the heartache that she had before. Her life held for her many an adventure and many a joy. She couldn’t ask for anything better, frankly. 

She would always wonder, however, how it had happened that her random combination of frustrated responses in that bathroom stall could change her life like that: spinning the toilet paper twice, slamming the trash bin lid three times, flushing the toilet, and kicking its base. It carried some sort of magic. Who would have guessed that such a mundane response could trigger such a life-changing adventure? 

It turned back time and Jessie would have it no other way. 

***

Prompt: Turn back time in someone’s sorry to relieve a regret that they have. 

(Sorry for the absence! When emotional drama hits, you sometimes have to break from things you love dearly.) 

March 29, 2017

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Just a Smile & a Hello

It didn’t take much for Jeremy Thomason to win her over.

Olivia Murray thought of herself so: quiet, unlikable, unwanted, unworthy, invisible. She was convinced that everyone else saw her the same exact way. Most people she met or came across met her with an almost cold civility, as if their meeting meant nothing to them, was nothing more than a necessary meeting in the course of their day filled with much more important things. Even worse were the people who walked right on by her, who didn’t acknowledge her presence, didn’t send up a greeting, didn’t ask after her well-being. They were the ones who made her think that she was invisible.

Jeremy Thomason was different. Every time he passed her, he greeted her warmly, caringly asking her how she was. Every time he greeted her, he offered her a bright smile in addition, a smile which pierced through the shell she had created to shield herself from the uncaring masses. He saw right through her and rather than seeing the persona she had created to fulfill what everyone saw, he seemed to see the real her. The her who loved to laugh. The her who thrived on people. The her who loved deeply and wanted to share in that love.

All it took for him to win her over, to gain her attentions and her affections, was a simple smile and a hello, because no one else ever paid her much attention.

When Olivia Murray fell for someone, she fell hard, and Jeremy Thomason was no different in that aspect. He was, however, different in many others. Olivia found herself feeling and thinking things about this particular young man that she couldn’t recall ever having felt or thought about anyone else. His presence made her smile. He always brightened her day, lifting her spirits to soar above the clouds. His smile warmed her very being and his laughter, an oddly lilting sound, made her want to share in his joy. His voice with its particular patterns and formations of words, phrases, sentences, drew her in. Something she couldn’t quite name attracted her to him, and yet that something was everything as well. He made her breath catch in her chest, her stomach do somersaults, her heart start a-dancing and her mind a-racing.

Had she been in a romance novel, she would have declared, “Jeremy Thomason is the love of my life! I will have no other! It must be him! It must be!”

Olivia Murray was, however, not in a romance novel. In fact, she was not even the kind of girl who normally got the guy. She was an ordinary girl, larger in appearance but not in personality than most. She cut her hair short and wore it that way for months, and most people agreed that it suited her. From time to time, she would dress up and wear makeup, but most of her days she spent fairly casual, no makeup and no fancy things, a simple hooded jacket slung around her waist or her arms or her shoulders. Often, she lost herself in fantasies and daydreams, in which she danced off to some foreign country or walked among the stars. She did not live her life grounded in reality, but sought the truth in whatever she did.

And that was what drew Jeremy Thomason to her. Her simplicity and her “selfness.” From her attitude, her posture, the way she held herself around others, he knew she didn’t always feel at ease being herself, but she still was anyway. She learned to live with it, because she could be no one else and no one else could be her. An admirable quality, really.

One day, while Jeremy Thomason walked through the university campus on his way to class, he passed by Olivia, her peppy personality shining through, an unusual sight to see. “Hey, Olivia,” he greeted her, each word filled with an earnest sweetness. “How are you today?”

“I’m doing pretty good,” she replied. A hint of hesitation shadowed her face. It was there for just a second before it disappeared. “No. That’s BS. I’m not pretty good. I’m great! How are you?” she finished off, hoping her cheeks weren’t as flaming as they felt to her.

“I’m good, thanks,” he said. His eyes never once left her face, noting every expression and micro-expression that crossed her features. For a moment, they stood in silence, each observing–or rather, experiencing–the other in his entirety. Olivia took in Jeremy, his scent, his sound, his very essence, and Jeremy took in Olivia, her stance, her status, her very being.

Olivia moved to leave, heading down the hallway to her next class, but Jeremy stopped her, his hand resting lightly on her shoulder. He felt her freeze under his touch, a comfortable rigidity, not fearful. “What’s your weekend like?” he asked. “We should go for coffee or something. I’d love to get to know you better.”

Olivia didn’t turn to face him, the smile on her face too large and too childish to share with him in their newfound connection. “Completely empty.”

“Do- do you even drink coffee?” Jeremy asked with a chuckle.

“Not at all,” she laughed. “But I’d drink it with you.”

“How does Saturday morning sound? Say, ten o’clock? I can meet you at your place and we’ll choose somewhere together.”

“Perfect.”

The two split, Jeremy heading to the left and Olivia to the right. Neither looked back, too enraptured with their last encounter. That was really all it took.

Just a smile and a hello.

***

Prompt: Write about a girl and her crush.

March 20, 2017

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The Last Park Bench Lover

In those days, the sky loomed dark at all hours of the day and night. Gloomy clouds hung over everything, and chemicals made the air unbreathable. The sun hardly shone through, a feeble, faint light just barely able to pierce through the layers of the atmosphere to the half-dead earth. Most plants outside of the greenhouses had died long ago, so even the landscape matched the darkness and the grayness of the earth. No one traveled outside anymore, avoiding it unless absolutely necessary, which had become less and less over the years as everything became connected.

It was not a world full of lovers and romantics. People had lost hope when the last green thing upon the earth had died. In a world as gray and glum as this one, what had people to hope for? Poets and artists had nothing to weave their artistry around. Writers had lost all inspiration, for the world of dystopia had come to exist in their own reality. Fairy tales and novels went out of style, and so did most film. All creative types learned to hide their creativity, for none had use for it anymore. The world belonged to the logical ones, the scientists and the mathematicians, the doctors and the nurses, those who had a concrete and obvious purpose.

And yet in some, that spark of romance and creativity refused to die. A few souls among the living harbored this sense of hope within them, living their lives with the desperate hope that some day the world might turn green again and the air become breathable and the world would become what it had been all those years ago. When people would walk through the park just because they could. When people didn’t have to hide underground or in their houses and could breathe the air that surrounded them. When the world presented itself in shades of green and blue and red, a rainbow in its own right. Their fellows knew them as eccentrics, attributing their hopefulness to a sort of mental instability. Some watched them with envy, those who had once carried that hope within but who the world had forced to give in. A few watched them with disgust, those who the world had so indoctrinated to believe that anything other than what was should be. And those who held this hope within their hearts could easily recognize the likeminded, those who also held this hope.

They were the creators and the dreamers. The romantics and the ambitious. The optimists and the believers. They were the ones who loved with all their hearts and would willingly give their lives for those they loved. They were the ones who danced because they could and who sang whether or not they sang well. They were the ones who bright a certain light and joy to the world, despite its cantankerous tendencies.

Dana Joylette was precisely this and her mother always cautioned her to beware of the world. Her mother had once fit the same description, but the world had beat it out of her, beating her to a mere shred of what she had been in her younger years. “Dana, my dearest,” she would whisper in her daughter’s ear every night before bed, “love with all your heart. Don’t let anyone stop you. Dream your dreams. Believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Stand up for  what you believe, my darling, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Dana had held onto those words her entire life. She loved like no one else could love. She dreamed dreams that no one else could. She always believed that a better way existed, that the darkness didn’t have to consume the world, that everyone deserved a second chance. She helped those who fell down and built them up again. Her actions set her so far apart from everyone else, that her peers gave her the nickname “Quirk.”

Markus Williams, on the other hand, fit the mold of the world. He believed what everyone told him to. He only wanted to live in the now, not in the past, not in the future. He refused to believe that the light could ever return, and hardly believed that it had existed in the first place. He worked hard at his modest, sensible job, and it made him happy. His parents had lived the exact same way, doing precisely what the world demanded and believing precisely what the world told them to be true. In all ways, Markus Williams was the perfect example of average.

Until he met Dana.

At the end of a seemingly endless day, Markus closed up shop at the little convenience store he ran, locking the doors tightly behind him as he exited into the tunnels. He slipped the key into the pocket of his bag, slinging it across his shoulders and shoving his hands into his pants pockets. A song from the radio, a rather boring tune, slow and calming, settled at the back of his mind and he started to whistle as he walked. Content, Markus lost himself in thought, his eyes settled on the ground at his feet as he walked.

He almost missed her.

Running back towards her place of work after having mistakenly left her keys, Dana raced down the tunnels. She zoomed around a corner here, zipped around a corner there, and by the time she hit the tunnel down which Markus walked, she almost tumbled right into him, missing him by a fraction of an inch. Her eyes widened as she noticed him, just barely catching herself as she fell to the ground on the other side of him. As she pulled herself to her feet, she stifled a snorting giggle at the sight of Markus. He had stopped in his tracks, his hands still dug deeply into his pockets. His bag had fallen and his things had emptied out. His jaw hung open slightly, mirroring his widened eyes in their startled terror. A sway ran down his body as he attempted to move but his surprised had temporarily paralyzed him.

Dana hurried over to him. She picked up his things, noticing among them a sketchbook, before she reached out to steady the tottering young man, her arms tucked under his and around his slender back. She looked up into his eyes, shards of ice mingling with flecks of olive. A smile stretching across her face, she reached up and flattened his hair, wild from the close encounter. “I’m Dana,” she said. “Are you okay?”

Markus nodded, pushing himself out of Dana’s arms. He wanted to react more aggressively, but people didn’t react with violence and aggression anymore. With a weak attempt to clear his throat, he straightened himself up, fixing his clothes and his bag before shoving his hands back in his pockets. “I’m doing well, thanks.” He let his eyes linger on Dana for just a second too long, taking in the beautiful glow of her skin and the warmth in her eyes. Coughing, he pulled himself away from her, turning himself back towards his home. “Have a good evening.”

“That’s it?”

Slowly stopping, Markus stood in silence. What was he supposed to say? As a young man, he shouldn’t have allowed Dana that interaction and he shouldn’t have allowed himself that look at her. His heart pounded in his chest in a way that he didn’t recognize and, frankly, it scared him. When it came time for him to wed, which wouldn’t come for another couple years, with him only having turned twenty this year, the people would select a wife for him based on the compatibility tests that had become a compulsory tradition for those turning twenty-two. No one partook in romantic entanglements anymore; everything was based on utility.

“That’s it?” Dana repeated, rounding Markus to stand in front of him, her arms crossed and a sly grin on her face. “What’s your name?”

He hesitated. “Markus.”

“Well, Markus, I can see that you’re not acquainted with who I am,” she replied, a laugh in her voice. “People call me Quirk.”

He allowed himself another look at her. “I can see why.” His own voice sounded strange to him, a tremor coloring it, an unfamiliar nervousness as he drank in her appearance. Her disheveled hair tumbled to her shoulders onto her strangely colorful shirt. Her eyes danced in a way he had never seen before. Every move she made seemed lyrical, as if she danced to a song only she could hear. She definitely was not like other girls her age, who stood still and complied with the customs of the world, which included limited interaction with the young men such as himself.

“Do you want to see something, Markus?” Dana asked him as he made to continue back towards his home. “Because I don’t think you’re really quite like everyone else.”

Markus shook his head vigorously, his vision blurring as he did so. “No, no, no,” he protested too eagerly. “I’m just like everyone else.” He did everything they did, the way they did. Nothing set him apart, which was exactly how he wanted it.

Dana took his hand, her skin soft against his. When Markus tried to slip his out, she tightened her grip. When Markus tried to protest—“This isn’t appropriate”—she dragged him down one of the tunnels. Slowly, she felt his disapproving grasp soften, his fingers uncertainly fitting perfectly with hers. A grin quirked across her face and, slowly but surely, a matching one spread across Markus’.

After a few short minutes of ducking down the tunnels, Dana stopped below a hatch. Scrambling up the wall, she managed to grab a short rope ladder tucked in a crevice nearby. Quickly, she climbed it and opened the hatch. She turned back to Markus. “Coming?” she asked, her head sticking out of the hatch, a hand outstretched to the young man. Markus looked from her hand to the hatch, stretching his neck to get a closer look at what lay outside it, but Dana blocked his view. He bit his lower lip and shrugged. “Don’t make me pull you up.” Dana’s laugh sang through the air.

“I’m not sure we’re supposed to be here,” Markus protested, gesturing to the sign that blatantly read Do Not Enter. Just like everyone else, Markus always followed the rules. He didn’t even know what would happen if he broke them, but he didn’t want to know. He had heard the stories of what punishment befell those who deigned to break the law and it certainly didn’t sound pleasant in the least.

Dana laughed, climbing back down the rope ladder and grabbing Markus’ hand again. His heart skipped a beat. “No one comes down this tunnel anymore, Markus. It fell out of use a long time ago. It was one of the first tunnels built, so it isn’t even as steady as the newer ones. It was abandoned because too much traffic made the possibility of it caving in too great of a risk, so new ones were built that could withstand the traffic that this particular tunnel normally held. It was a major highway in its day. But it’s safe. No one will notice. I go up here all the time and no one has caught me yet.”

“Yet being the key word here.”

“Come on, Markus, I know you can’t really be exactly like them. You can’t really be happy. I saw your sketchbook. Do the rest of the world have sketchbooks, Markus?” Markus paled, his face quickly draining of all color.

“No one knows about that, Quirk,” he said frantically, opening his bag and making sure he tucked it away in its proper, hidden pouch. “Not even my parents. They think I’m just like everyone else.”

“Markus,” Dana replied, “you think you’re just like everyone else too.”

“Because I am, Quirk, I am!” he insisted. “I don’t believe in whatever whack things that you do. I don’t believe that the world can ever become what it was. It’s been this way for so long, that I’m not even sure that what we’re told it was even happened. It’s possible that the dreamers like you made it all up. I’m perfectly happy working my convenience store job and going home to my parents. I don’t need to see the sky—blue or gray or purple or whatever color it was or is supposed to be. I don’t need the grass. I don’t need to hope that those things could exist. I don’t draw any of that stuff. I just draw the stuff around me. The shelves with food at the store. The shadows in my bedroom. I’m nothing like you, Quirk!”

“But can’t you see, Markus? Your denial means you’re exactly like me, but you’ve squashed it. The world has quashed your spirit and you’ve let it! I can prove to you that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is. I can prove to you that it wasn’t always this way, and that proof is through this hatch, so if you’re at all curious, which I know you are, Markus, you will come with me.”

Markus stared at Dana’s hand, noticing every crease and crevice running across her palm. His eyes flicked to her face, encouraging and more enthusiastic than anyone he had ever known. With a deep breath and a courage he didn’t know he had, Markus took her hand.

When he crawled out of the hatch, Markus couldn’t believe his eyes. The world he saw around him matched the description of the world he had received—gray skies, gray earth, rundown buildings—but something didn’t feel quite the same as what he normally saw out of his windows. It didn’t smell like death and decay, but a hint of something… something floral? floated through the air, the air that was noticeably breathable. A touch of color painted everything. The sky didn’t look nearly as gray as it should have, a hint of blue shining through. The grass didn’t seem quite so dead, a few blades of green peaking their heads through amidst the mass of brown.

“It’s coming back,” Dana whispered, her head resting on Markus’ shoulder, tears at the corners of her eyes. “The earth is reviving itself. We may have killed it, but it’s resurrecting, Markus.” She bent down and picked the tiniest daisy, placing it in Markus’ palm. “It’s very much alive, Markus. See? There is hope after all. This daisy is hope. The blue in the sky is hope. The green grass is hope. This right here, Markus, is hope!”

“Hope,” Markus whispered, the word strange on his lips but sweet.

Dana took his hand, dragging him over to a lone, decrepit metal park bench. Together, they sat, neither one speaking, reveling in the newness of the world around them. Slowly, their hands crept together. The hope in the world had revealed something to Markus: romance hadn’t died either and it was very much alive in this moment, a certain electricity between the two young people. Markus looked back over at Dana and whispered,

“Hope.”

***

Prompt: See title.

March 16, 2017

Standard

The Car Crash Couple

Sirens blaring. Lights flashing. Two cars bent out of shape. People gathered around. Ambulances and fire trucks nearby. It wasn’t exactly how he pictured meeting the girl of his dreams, but there she stood, simple and yet the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. And he had hit her car because a text had distracted him. Note to self: remember to thank Simon later for his accidental matchmaking, he thought as he watched her talking to the paramedics.

As soon as the man left her, he approached, guiltily and yet hopefully. He didn’t know what for. When she turned to face him, her brown eyes heavy with something he could only assume was relief, he apologized. Profusely. He explained his situation, begging her forgiveness and promising he would never do it again. She just smiled and nodded before leaning in, “Can I tell you a secret? I was on my phone, too.” They shared a chuckle. She added, “I’m Stephanie by the way. You are?”

“Cameron.”

“Nice to meet you, Cameron.”

Her smile stopped his heart. He could hardly catch his breath in time to say, “Would you mind if we exchanged phone numbers? After all, we do seem to be kindred spirits.” He lowered his voice. “Both on our phones on the road and all.”

Stephanie chuckled as she rattled off her digits, finishing, “Just text me with your name and when you’d like to meet.” Before Cameron could respond, she left him alone, his jaw hanging lower than he knew it could.

That night, when he finally returned home, he texted his best friend, Simon.

Cameron: Dude. Best night of my life. Got into a car crash.
Simon: WHAT?! How is that the best night of your life?
Cameron: Met a girl.
Simon: You’re kidding me.
Cameron: Nah, dude.
Simon: You’re actually serious about this?
Cameron: Yeah, she asked me out.
Simon: WHAT?!
Cameron: Bold, I know, but I like it.
Simon: Dude, you can’t actually go through with this.
Cameron: Why?
Simon: You met her because you were in a car crash.
Simon: If that’s not a bad omen, nothing is, man.
Cameron: C’mon! It can’t be that bad!

It was that bad. When he met Stephanie the next day at a coffee shop, she came in holding the hand of a little girl, probably between one and five. Cameron couldn’t tell, but he immediately tensed upon seeing her, hoping that maybe Stephanie had found the little girl wandering outside and was helping her find her parents. Or maybe the little girl was Stephanie’s neighbor’s and she was simply babysitting her.

Cameron had no such luck.

Stephanie sat down next to him, pulling the girl onto her lap. “Cameron, meet my daughter, Elsie,” she introduced the bobbing blonde baby. “Elsie, can you tell nice man Cameron how old you are?” The little girl held up three fingers. At least Cameron had been right with his wide range. “Elsie just got out of preschool. I work from home, so I’m able to pick her up in the middle of the day like this. And meet you.” Stephanie gave him an odd look. “Say, why are you so free?”

Cameron jerked back to the present, his mind having wandered off down the rabbit trail following the fact that Stephanie had a kid. “Oh, um, I have weird hours. Typically I work evenings.” He shrugged. He refused to look at the little girl. Maybe if he ignored her, she would disappear from existence. He knew that wasn’t how it worked, but he could hope. “Do you want a coffee or something?”

Despite the little girl, Cameron had a wonderful date with Stephanie. On their next date, Stephanie left Elsie at home, so Cameron was more easily able to forget her existence. At least until he went home with Stephanie and they found Elsie asleep on Stephanie’s bed with the sitter dozing next to her. Stephanie smiled, picking the little girl up. “Can you wake the sitter?” she asked, her voice low. “I’m going to put Elsie in bed and then I’ll pay her.”

The relationship between Cameron and Stephanie grew fast. Eventually, Cameron found himself able to stand Elsie, who absolutely adored him. Stephanie told him that the little girl would ask after him when he hadn’t come around for a few days. “You’re her favorite,” Stephanie told him. “I’ve dated other men and she hated them.” Ironic. Of course the little one would love him, despite all his awkward hugs and answers to her questions, despite his avoidance of her. Little children had the strangest of senses sometimes.

One day, Cameron had just gotten off work when he received a text from Stephanie.

Stephanie: We need to talk. Now.
Cameron: What is it?
Stephanie: In person, Cam. Please.
Cameron: Be there in ten. Stay cool.

Cameron arrived at Stephanie’s house in less than ten. Her cryptic text—“We need to talk”—had him worried. What about? Had something happened between them that he hadn’t realized would become a problem? Had he done something? Had something happened to Elsie? His mind raced with a million questions, becoming increasingly frantic and fantastical the longer he thought about what it could be that Stephanie needed to talk to him about. By the time he knocked on her front door, his mind had jumped off the deep end into the crazy and the weird, coming up with the most ridiculous reasons that Stephanie would need to discuss and Cameron vaguely believed them.

Stephanie ushered Cameron into her bedroom. “Sit down, please.” It wasn’t a suggestion, rather a command. Questioningly, Cameron sat on the edge of her bed, looking up at her quizzically. “I know you don’t really like kids,” she began. That couldn’t be good. “So you don’t have to stay with me if you don’t want to.” She paused, an agonizing pause. Cameron wished she would just get on with it. He needed to know what she wanted, like yesterday. After what seemed like an eon to Cameron, Stephanie finished, “Cameron, I’m pregnant.”

A wave of relief washed over him. That was all? He started to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. A bellyaching sound. Tears rolled down his cheeks. As soon as he wiped them away, more replaced the old. Stephanie stared at him, confused and more than a little lost. “Cameron?” Just more laughter. “Cameron, say something.”

“That’s it?” he wheezed.

Stephanie blinked. “I… I thought you… I’m confused. Don’t you hate kids? It took you forever to warm up to Elsie. The first time you met her you wouldn’t even look at her. You’re still pretty awful with her, but she loves you anyway.”

“Steph, I thought you were going to announce that you’d, like, adopted an entire orphanage or something. I can handle one more kid.”

“You can?”

“You don’t have to sound so surprised, Steph. Jeez. I’m offended.”

“You don’t sound terribly offended.”

“Still working through it, Steph. The whole ‘you’re-going-to-be-a-dad’ announcement wasn’t exactly something I expected to be getting… like, ever.” Cameron hastily added, upon seeing Stephanie’s expression, “But it’s cool! And honestly, I’m happier than I thought I’d be. I never thought I’d actually say that I wanted a kid, but now that we’re having one, yeah, I guess I kinda do. I’ll pack my stuff this weekend.”

“Wait… pack your stuff?”

Cameron stared at her. “Yeah. Shouldn’t I be living with you if we’re having a kid?”

“Oh. Right.” Stephanie’s voice sounded relieved.

“You thought I meant I was leaving?” His voice sounded incredulous.

“No…”

“Unconvincing, Steph. Even after I said about a million times that I’m cool with it, you still thought I was going to leave?”

“No!”

“That’s what it sounded like to me, Steph.”

“Cam, that’s not it.”

Cameron stood, headed for the door. “You sure?” His words hung heavy in the room, filling it with a weight neither expected.

Stephanie joined him, laying a hand on his arm, looking deep into his eyes. “I just didn’t expect this to happen. But I guess we never were exactly conventional, were we?”

“Conventional is the exact opposite of what we are.”

“The Car Crash Couple.” Her words felt comfortable, familiar, affectionate.

“Yeah. That’s what we are.”

As Cameron leaned in for a kiss, Stephanie started laughing. “Just imagine the headlines: Car Crash Couple Welcome Kid. We’d be a joke.”

“We would be? We are.”

“Aw, Cam, you’re my joke.”

Cameron chuckled, shaking his head. What a cliche. But he loved it anyway.

***

Prompt: Situation, a chance meeting due to a car accident. Complication, one of the characters isn’t comfortable around children (which the other character has). Detail, a pregnancy makes the relationship much more serious.