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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Escape from Dodge - 10/30

Drawing out her lock picks, Haiden crouched beside the last door in the hallway. She kept her body still, careful not to lean against the entrance as she counted down from ten. Her eye lashes brushed against splinters as she squinted in the thin tunnel of speckled light streaming through the key hole.

Guess I don't need these, she realized. Eight, she added.

She slipped the pouch back into the pocket of her long leather jacket hanging over a sweat stained shirt and trousers. Holding her breath, she peered through the jagged opening below the unlocked iron latch.

A sole, rickety chair occupied the center of the dusty room, bathed in hazy summer sunlight. On the wicker seat, a limp body sat, head bowed, held upright by a coil of frayed rope. The braid squeezed the muddied shirt and muscle underneath, ending in a bulbous knot around wrists bound at the small of his back.

Haiden winced.

Six. I'm coming Jesse, she thought.

Someone walked beyond the limited view provided by the keyhole. Their footsteps smacked against the dirt floor in rhythmic thuds along with the stale scent of a cheap cigar.

Doc, she thought with a snarl.

Another set of boots tapped an impatient toe and jangled spurs, creating an inharmonious tune.

And Roy, she noted.

Haiden's eyes narrowed. She followed the rays of light to the right. The pair of windows with opaque blinds, she knew, faced the side alley and a packed barrel of gun powder.

Three, she tallied as the count in her head wound down.

She shuffled back from the door, squatting in the hallway's dead end as far from the alley as she could manage. Raising her frayed bandana over her smudged nose, she curled her arm across her face and took in a deep breath.


The building shuddered as a deafening boom smothered the air. Glass shattered and wood snapped like burning twigs. The roof crinkled.

Before the cloud of dust had cleared or her ears had stopped ringing, Haiden sprang to her feet. Grabbing the latch, she shoved her shoulder into the door.

Chunks of lumber and shards of glass covered the floor. The onion skin window shades lay in a heap, useless against the smoking hole in wall. A blur of dirt and splinters hid the alley but the screams of frightened horses and surprised shouts from the nearby stores sliced through the stifling air. Beneath a slab of timber a pair of spurs clanked as Roy’s feet sagged. Spotting Doc’s hand and the rest of him hidden beneath more debris Haiden headed straight for the overturned chair.

Drawing out a boot knife, she slashed through the cords reddening Jesse's wrists then the rope around his body.

Jesse sagged onto the packed floor with a groan.

"Come on," growled Haiden.

Tugging down her bandana, she stepped over his limp body. Her hand froze before she smacked Jesse's cheeks. Dried blood covered his mouth and the front of his shirt, as if his nose had become a scarlet waterfall. His right eye had swollen shut and a wide cut split his lip. Haiden grabbed his shoulder and shook.

"Wake up!"

Jesse's one good eye peeled open.

"Hey...sis." One dimple sprouted in his stubble then melted away in a moan.

"Did you tell them?"

He frowned and his chin fell onto his chest. Her heart drooped until Jesse sucked in a deep breath and lifted his open eye back to her. The deep brown flickered with fiery embers.

"You think I'd look like this if I had?"

She pressed her lips onto his forehead and he grunted. With a smile, she seized one of his arms.

"Get up."

Jesse leaned on his other hand, heaving himself off the ground with her help. Glass crunched under her boots as she pulled.

A sudden chill fell on her back and Haiden froze. The world seemed to slow, each moment passing like an afternoon beneath a scorching sun.

They couldn't have come so fast, she thought. The saloon was on the other end of town, she recalled, and their hands had all been around cards, chips and call girls’ thighs, thoughts blurry with foggy beer and dry whiskey.

"They’re back," murmured Jesse, oblivious of her reasoning.

Glancing toward the hole in the wall she found a single silhouette amidst the haze. The click of a safety turned her blood to ice. Light glinted off a barrel as the muzzle swung toward her. While she stared, she absently noted scraping, like nails against glass or a skittering mouse, from somewhere else in the room.

Pushing Jesse back to the earth, Haiden tried shielding his wider mass with her body and flapping coat. Clenching her eyes closed, she braced herself for the shot.

The revolver barked. Haiden winced. A pained voice howled.

Opening one eye, she looked toward the cry.

Doc's left hand clutched his right shoulder, fingers doing little to stem the gush of blood from the wound. Splinters cluttered his beard and the rest of the debris pinning his legs to the ground. In the dirt at his limp right hand lay a gleaming pistol.

“Bastard,” he slurred.

"It can’t be," whispered Jesse, propping himself up on his elbow and staring at the jagged wall.

Haiden wheeled, knife pointed toward the shooter draped in shadow and the coils of his smoking gun. The brim of his hat along with the hem of his coat and the drooping reigns in his other hand stirred in a faint gust. The square medallion dangling from his neck glinted as he squared his lean frame to her.

"Clyde?" Haiden found her voice hoarse.

Stepping through the hole, light revealed the fading bruise on Clyde’s nose, eyes like bullets and the scar across his left cheek.

He held out the reigns. "They were going to run."

A tug on her arm pulled Haiden out of her stupor. Turning, with eyes as wide as wagon wheels, she found Jesse's hand on her elbow and helped him up to his feet.

"Watch your step," said Clyde as they staggered toward the opening.

"You're one to talk," Jesse said with a snort.

Clyde's thin mouth cocked with a half grin. Haiden stumbled under Jesse's weight but Clyde caught her brother’s other arm before they both tumbled back to the ground.

"I got him," said Clyde. He offered the reigns as the horses on the other end pawed and whinnied.

Stowing her knife, Haiden grabbed the leather straps. They were warm against her fingers. She stared down at them for a moment then glanced at Clyde as he shifted his shoulder under Jesse's arm.

Opening her mouth, she discovered all of her words lost somewhere in her throat.

A clatter and groan turned her head. Leaning on his wounded side, Doc snarled.

"You won't get away, you bastards."

"We'll see about that," Haiden spat back. She exchanged a steadier gaze with Clyde and they stepped through the battered hole.

A small crater encircled the shattered staves of the gun powder barrel she had ignited at the base of the wall.

"Nice trick," said Clyde, his gaze flicking between the makeshift explosive and her face.

Shrugging, Haiden patted Boxer's chestnut nose. The horse tilted ears and let out a wicker.

"This isn't finished yet," she whispered into the ragged mane.

Mounting into her saddle, she helped Clyde heave Jesse onto the second horse. Jesse wavered like a long stalk of wheat but managed to stay upright. Once Clyde sat on Walker's wide back, Haiden turned Boxer's nose toward the open plains around the growing frontier town.

"Let's go," growled Jesse through clenched teeth.

With a slap of heels, their trot rose into a gallop and they left the battered room in their dust.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Commitment - 10/29

"Just a little further."

Laughing as Jake lead her forward, Abby's stomach flipped flopped. A surprise, he had said before bundling her into the car with childish glee and making her promise to keep her eyes shut. Her thoughts bounced between a hotel suite full of candles, a restaurant drowning in roses and the various shades possible for small velvet boxes.

"Watch your step."

She lifted her foot high and felt what she guessed was more concrete or asphalt under her sneaker.

"Where are we going?"

"Almost there," he said, giving her hand a squeeze.

She shook her head and swallowed down a flock of butterflies.

The tinny ring of a set of bells made her frown.

"Welcome," greeted a woman with a bubbly voice. The woman quieted with a titter and rustle of paper.

Jake, Abby speculated, must have put a finger to his lips.

She sniffed as the late afternoon air had taken on a strong tinge of pine disinfectant at war against a port-a-potty. Meows and yaps echoed nearby. Abby's sneakers squeaked against tile. They stopped after a few more strides.

"OK!" said Jake.

Abby opened her eyes.

Before her stood a glass window exposing a towering assembly of crates. Muzzles and round faces peaked out between thin bars. Canine and feline eyes peered from each container.

Abby felt her heart thud, the butterflies melting into puddles.

The door beside the window swung open, revealing a rumpled sitting room complete with frayed rug and battered couch. A beaming woman guided a little version of herself passed them.

"He's perfect, mom." The little girl's arms were wrapped around a small fur ball, mewing softly under constant petting.

"You'll take good care of him right?"

"Of course," the little girl promised as they moved down the hall toward the entry way.

Following them, Abby found the source of the initial bubbly greeting. A plump woman with a mane of ragged blond locks haphazardly gathered, waved them toward her, one hand holding a bound set of pages.

"Here's his medical information and license," she said with a tone now heavy with responsibility.

Abby pivoted back to the window. The animal chatter softened only when the swinging door settled closed once again.

"What is this?" asked Abby.

"The Animal Shelter." Jake's smile broadened as he pressed his nose near the glass. Glancing at her, his boyish excitement dropped into a concerned frown. "You said you wanted to get a cat."

The little line above his nose made her cringe. She fiddled with the zipper on her jacket.

"Yeah. But I didn't mean now."

"Why not?" He swept his hand toward the interior holding room. "They need a home and I haven't gone this long without a pet since I was in college."

She licked her lips and cast her gaze back over the containers.

"You don't want to do this?"

"It's not that, Jake." She rubbed at her temple. "The apartment-."

"Says we can't have anything over 50 pounds."

"Isn't it going to be messy?"

"A bit of hair and a litter box." Jake shrugged and scooped her free left hand into his grasp. "No worse than me. I still remember all my mom's tips too."

"You're mom has allergies," Abby recalled.

"And two cats. We'll be fine."

Abby felt her shoulders wilt.

"Come and look, at least?"

Jake's eyes grew wide, like a rabbit pleading with a set of headlights.

Closing her eyes and holding her breath, Abby nodded. She allowed him to tug her through the doorway and seat her on the tweed cushions.

"Oh, hello."

Abby's eyes snapped open. A reedy young woman with a neat bundle of raven hair walked toward the back door with a broad grin on her cherry stained lips and a sturdy box in her arms.

"Hi," said Jake. The couch sagged as he sat down beside Abby, her hand still in his. "We're interested in meeting some feline friends."

The young woman giggled and swiveled back to them. "This is the newest litter we have."

She bent over to reveal the box, full of mewling kittens.

"You're welcome to introduce yourselves." She set the crate on the floor.

"Thanks," said Jake, his eyes flicking between each of the little faces.

"I'm Meg by the way."

Abby gave Meg a thin smile as she straightened and gazed down at Jake's bowed head.

"Abby," said Abby. "This is my boyfriend." She elbowed Jake in the ribs and he looked up at her, then to Meg as if he had forgotten both existed.


"Nice to meet you both," said Meg. Abby thought she caught a bit more frost on the gleaming smile. "Let me know if you'd like to meet any of our other critters. We've lots that need a good home."

"We'll do that," said Abby while Jake reached into the box.

Meg's mouth closed. She cocked her head, like a puppy determining if a toy was really fun to play with, then headed back on her initial trajectory. Abby waited until the door shut again before glancing at Jake.

"Look at this one."

A street-cone orange kitten with a white belly and vibrant eyes barely filled his hands. Fluff tinged ears turned toward Abby and a pink mouth yawned, showing tiny teeth.

"Cute," Abby said.

The box at their feet thumped and the other five kittens staggered out, like drunks from a bar at dawn. Abby blew out a long breath.

"You really want to do this? With me?"

She met his gaze once Jake tore himself from a staring contest with the kitten. Lowering the fur ball to his knees, his thumb continued petting the head absently. The sparkle in his eyes diminished a bit, tempered by the wave of concern seizing his features.

"Why else would I have brought you here?"

Abby rubbed her hands on her knees and absorbed every stain in the matted piece of carpet.

"It's just kind of serious you know? Sharing an apartment is one thing, but this..." She motioned toward the litter rampaging on the floor. "This is another life. That's a commitment."

Jake shrugged. "I guess it is."

"And you're ok with that?" she asked, looking back up at him.

She searched his face until Jake returned to stare at the kitten. He fell silent so long, Abby was certain his brain had been overcome by feline adorableness. When he met her eyes again, his level stare nearly stopped her heart.

"I am."

A tug at her shoe yanked Abby from his eyes. A kitten with coal stripes against a gray backdrop pawed her laces.

"I think that one likes you."

Abby felt her cheeks color. She reached down and plucked the kitten off the floor.

Her fingers soaked into the soft fur until she reached the warm body underneath. The rapid heartbeat of the little cat throbbed against her skin and sank into her bones. A narrow tongue gave her finger a sandpaper lick.

Reaching around her shoulder and pulling Abby slightly against his side, Jake gave the top of the kitten's head a scrub. A paw struck out playfully then lay on Abby's hand as a round of purring began.

Abby leaned the top of her head against Jake's jaw line and felt the butterflies return en masse.

"I think she likes you too."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Jokes - 10/19

Cal tilted his head away from his half guzzled beer and squinted down the narrow corridor leading to the bar’s patio. A half grin stretched on his lips and he lifted his chin in greeting.

"Uh oh," said Wendy. Cal glanced back and she smirked around her dark green straw.

"I know that look." Paul pulled another gulp from his bottle.

"What?" asked Cal, innocence flooding his voice.

Harold snickered. Meg rolled her eyes before sharing a knowing look with Wendy.

Paul clicked his bottle against Cal's. "Go on."

Cal hugged his beer in twined fingers and shook his head, swaying his shaggy waves. "I don't even know her name."

“She’s pretty though?” asked Paul.

“Hey.” Wendy shot him a glare.

Paul raised a defending hand. “I’m just asking.”

“So is she?” prodded Meg with a mischievous grin.

Cal wiped a hand over his face. “I can’t believe you’re asking me this. I don’t know who she is.”

"You won't find out sitting here," drawled Harold.

"And if you don't go," said Wendy, waving her drink and decorative orange slice toward the hall, "we'll be listening to your "If I'd only" all week."

Meg nodded her agreement, bouncing her tight curls.

Cal jolted in his wooden seat as Paul's foot impacted his chair leg. A few scrapes on the concrete forced a few inches between Cal and the table.

Cal hung his head, the weight of the four pairs of eyes boring into his skull as the others fell quiet.

"So,” began Wendy, interrupting the expectant silence, “you didn't say how things worked out with Jim."

Cal looked up and found she and Harold renewing their conversation. At his each side, Meg and Paul had turned their shoulders, boxing him out as they leaned over the damp table with clear exclusionary tactics. He had just learned, Cal noted, how to turn invisible.

"Thanks guys," he muttered.

He finished his beer without garnering a response and stood. The dimly lit room swayed then steadied back into the mahogany paneling, cluttered bar dotted with customers and scattered tables surrounded by other hunched groups drowning another day away.

He raked his fingers through his hair, tested his breath against the back of his hand and adjusted the unbuttoned collar of his shirt.

This is as good as it gets, he thought as he gave the table one last shove.

The momentum started his feet moving and he took a quick detour to the bar for another round before angling toward the lean passageway.

She was still leaning against the wall of flyers seeming to read those attached to the opposite side of the corridor. The bar's dank light mottled her snug v-neck sweater and jeans while the rest of her curves soaked in the leaf patterned topaz street lights and silver rays of the moon pouring through the patio’s glass doors.

The faded ads rustled then drooped from the thumbtacks keeping them adhered to the bulletin board as she swiveled her head. Her shoulder length locks swayed. Her oval face seemed to freeze as if unsure what emotion to indicate on her blushed cheekbones and glistening lips.

Cal swallowed and felt his stomach flopping around like a beached fish.

"Hi," he said, leaning one shoulder against the wall and fighting back the urge to kick himself for the juvenile opening line.

She grinned for a fleeting moment, her charcoal eyes traveling to his scuffed loafers and then settling on his face.


"I don't think I've seen you around before..."

A small snort escaped her button nose and she took a swig on her dwindling caramel colored beverage. "That's because I haven't been."

"Right." He tried to keep his smile from turning dopey. "I'm Cal."

"Hi Cal."

He winced, downing half his drink as a couple pushed through the patio's door, allowing in a chilly gust. A cloud of cigarette smoke followed them as they sauntered back into the bar, his arm around her waist and her head on his shoulder.

Cal noticed the woman at his side drawing in a long inhale, as if wallowing in the scent of a bouquet. Her rings clicked rapidly on her glass.

Cal lowered his eyes to the rubber mats lining the floor until the couple passed, then glanced over the ads settling back against the wall as the breeze died.

"Found anything interesting?"

She shrugged one shoulder. "Lots of ads by musicians. Learn the guitar. Piano lessons." She pointed a black tipped finger at one of the crisper forms lined by detachable tabs with the same Sharpie written phone number. "Be a drummer."

"That's what you call someone who hangs out with musicians." Cal tried to swallow back the elementary joke as her eyes turned back to him. Her ebony stare heated the soles of his shoes and turned his mouth into a desert. "Sorry. That was pretty terrible.”

"You could say that."

Cal ran his tongue over his teeth and sank his gaze back into the floor. Silence dropped between them like a concrete wall. Then a soft laugh bubbled into the void.

"Why did Ellie go to the bar?"

Cal frowned and looked back at her. A coy smile had curled on to her lips and one eyebrow had taken on an inquisitive curl.


She plucked his bottle out of his hand and began a slow stride back into the interior. "Can't you guess?" she asked over her shoulder.

Cal gathered his dropped jaw and heaved off the wall a moment later. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and collected all his frazzle nerves in order to find out what Ellie had in mind.

Active Imagination - 10/15

Embers popped as the flames ate at the remains of the fatter logs in the camp fire.

"Perfect," whispered Harry in a clouded breath, drawing back his marshmallow tipped branch from the fading heat. He blew on the sticky lump as the nearly charcoal mass slid with a few elastic strands. Bits of burnt sugar glowed then died.

He raised the stack of graham crackers sandwiching a peppermint tainted chocolate from his knee with a near frozen hand. Squishing the marshmallow between the top cracker and candy, he withdrew the branch and rested the moist, sugar stained stick against the rocks rimming the fire. He licked his lips free of sweat and crumbs as he took his countless dessert in his fingers.

A hollow-sounding whisper turned his head. He peered into the shadows sliced by rays of moonlight and swallowed down the feeling something terrible was about to happen.

"Did you hear that?" he asked the quiet camp.

Mark's sleeping bag rustled like a bird taking flight as he rolled.

"What?" He sat up, hunching in the evergreen sack with his fleece cap pulled low around his ears.

Harry glanced between Mark’s weary face and then the darkness, before finally settling back on the silver pools of light.

"I heard something."

"What?" Mark asked again.

Harry shrugged. "I don't know."

Mark snickered. "Either the sugar, or Paul's ghost story are getting to you."

Across the fire Paul jostled in his sleeping gear, gave a grunt then his snoring settled back into rhythm.

Harry sighed and stood. His bladder grumbled. Finishing his peppermint s’more in two clomping bites, he dusted his hands.

"I'll be back."

Mark shook his head and curled back up into his sleeping bag. Harry waited until Mark had settled into the groove his body had carved into the rocky ground before stepping away from the light and warmth of the fire. Pine needles snapped and the dry must of fallen leaves took to the air around his thick soled hiking boots as he headed for an appropriate bush.

Harry winced as he tried to quiet his stride. He guided himself past the nearest trees, bare fingers brushing rough bark. Cluttered branches swept passed his face, dampness clinging like cobwebs to his numbed cheeks.

The slope dropped down from their camp’s clearing and Harry swiveled his gaze, orienting in the moonlight. The trail from the afternoon trundled back up the hillside, granite boulders glittering like the stars between the trunks. The slight valley to the left pulled at his attention although the hollowed whispers failed to rebound once more out of the darkness.

He scratched at his temple beneath his cap, mussing greasy hair.

"You're hearing things."

The wind picked up and Harry stopped short. The putrid stench of rotting flesh poured out of the shadows and drowned his nose. The noisome odor mixed with excrement and seemed to saturate his sinuses, dive into his lungs and cling to his every stitch of his downy jacket and cargo pants.

His heartbeat throbbed between his muffed ears and his mouth turned dry while his stomach quivered. His eyes widened to drink in the light.

Angular shadows dove into bottomless pools dropping around roots and rocks, apparently empty except where his imagination stepped up to occupy the voids with toothy monsters and hungry beasts.

A second hollow whisper rippled into the night from further down the gully, striking Harry's chilled face with a moist breath.

“Screw this,” muttered Harry, already backpedaling up the slope.

He stumbled into camp and sagged onto the lump of rock by the dwindling fire. He prodded the embers back to life with the sticky end of his roasting stick. The flames grew from scarlet dots into thin tongues of pale yellow. He tossed the stick into the flames, away from his wobbly touch.

Tucking his hands into his sleeves he burrowed them into his armpits and folded over, his eyes locked on the fire. The embers bit into the last of the wood and sent warmth toward his face. He shivered as the heat failed to warm his skin or find away to melt the ice in his bones. Hunching into himself like a frightened turtle, Harry tried not to count the hours until dawn.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Special Order - 10/9

Gabby fumbled with the lock as she crouched on the damp sidewalk. The glass door between the bars misted under her breath and she shivered.

"Come on," she growled at the key, "or I'm never opening you again."

The jagged metal finally slipped into the hole, the bolt thunking. She grabbed the base of the grated screen and heaved. The barricade rattled up into the roll above the cafes' facade and stopped. The echo rumbled down the bare street, carried away on a morning gust.

Gabby fought with the locks on the door, pushed inside causing the bird like chimes to sound, and flicked on the lights. The dangling lamps glowed beneath their hand blown shades, creating pools of pale greens, yellows and purples on the upturned chairs set on the tables. The floor still carried the scent of pine from the previous evening's mop.

She locked the door behind her and a check on her watch kept her moving. She scampered behind the counter. Dumping her bag into the drawer below the cash machine with one hand, her other passed over the keys. A few beeps later and the system was up and running. She spun and began pouring out whole beans by the cupful into the grinder while slipping into her apron. The coffee grounds tickled her nose and pushed away at the morning haze clinging to her thoughts. She added water to the pots and started the vats brewing.

A tap at the door called her attention.

David gave her a drooping smile through the windows and waved with a hand holding his current book. His angular shoulders slumped beneath his matte black shirt and long jeans dangled over his stalk like legs.

Gabby trotted to the door and flipped the latch. The bell above the door tinkled.

"Morning," she said.

"Yeah," he said striding in. "Coffee?"

"Be about 5 more minutes."

He plodded forward and behind the counter. Gabby rotated the wooden sign dangling in the side window, the perked cat whose tail coiled through the large O in Open, now facing outdoors.

She began putting the mismatched chairs upright while David filled the glass cases with fresh pastries and bagels.

The greeting chimes chirped.

"Hey Gabby. David."

A lean woman in magenta scrubs strode to the counter. Her perky ponytail bobbing with each step of her thick soled shoes.

"The regular, Hanna?" asked Gabby, heading behind the register.

"You know it.” Hanna slapped down a five dollar bill.

David provided the large cup of black with an inch of room for cream and began toasting the multigrain bagel a moment later.

Hanna cupped the compostable container and drew in the coiling threads of steam while Gabby fetched her change.

"You know the drill," said Hanna, waving off the half dozen coins.

"Thanks." Gabby chucked the dimes and quarters into the tip pail while Hanna moved off to peruse the bookcases lined with faded paperbacks while her breakfast crisped.

The bell rang again. The regulars continued streaming across the cafĂ©’s threshold.

Joe for his Americano; Sara for her non-fat, extra foam latte she refused to call a cappuccino; Benny for his coffee with an extra shot of espresso; Jane for her coffee with a shot of chocolate; Paula for her tea; Abigail for her Danish. The morning flowed on, bell chime, greeting, order, pour or press or steam, pay, tip, farewell.

Gabby's feet began to grow numb by the third hour in the morning routine. The petite cafe had warmed with the fourth round of brewed coffee and the few who remained to read or simply sit and catch a breath before the day truly began.

Gabby glanced up from steaming a cup of soy milk as the now sun drenched door glittered and bells twittered.

A pack of four, by Gabby's quick count, continued talking frantically as they entered. Their voices invaded the quiet like a sudden flood. Heads looked up with frowns from newspapers and books.

"Got a rush," Gabby said to David who was adding vanilla syrup to one cup while pouring a small coffee.

He bobbed his head in acknowledgement then began the third drink in the order for the Johnson and Tyler firm down the block.

Meanwhile Gabby poured her steamed milk into a waiting porcelain cup, added a fern to the froth and set the order on the pickup counter.


The delicate Asian woman in her business suit looked up from her hand held device and swept up her beverage.

Gabby smiled although her cheeks had begun to burn with all the grins and then headed to the counter to await the newest arrivals.

She cocked her head, watching them as they milled like bees in the front seating area.

"Look at those," said a plump blonde holding a clipboard against her blazer and bulky scarf. She waved a peach tinted finger at the dangling lamps.

"Yes, yes," said a shorter man next to her. The soft light glinted on his balding head and glasses. "We'd only have to bring in some stands."

"And these bookcases are quaint aren't they?" A skinny fellow full of pointed edges from his sharp nose to the tips of his polished boots, waved a pale palm at the shelves.

The blonde frowned and thumped a pen on her cherry stained lips. "Might have to swap some of these out." She gestured her ball point like a wand.

A round of nods followed, joined by scribbles by a mousy woman with cowed shoulders whose face remained burrowed in her note pad.

"Can I get you anything?" asked Gabby.

The balding man swayed forward, the smear of a smile on his ball shaped face. He adjusted the thick rectangular frames highlighting a pair of sharp blue eyes.

Behind her, Gabby heard David gasp then a mug shattered on the tiles. Gabby glanced over her shoulder and found him frozen, mouth gaping open and eyes as wide as saucers.

"You''re..." stumbled David.

"Yes," said the pointed man, “he is.”

Gabby turned back to the waiting customers. "Excuse me?"

The blonde rolled her eyes. "This is Don Jenkins."

Some of the other customers began to mumble. Chairs squeaked as people leaned around for a better look.

For her part, Gabby blinked at the blonde. A part of her stunned mind began counting the lashes outlined by the other woman's thick mascara. Gabby leaned into the counter and her hands smacked onto the tile. The sway in her knees ebbed with the firm sense of the stone against her skin. She wobbled her gaze back to the balding man.

His smile stretched.

"Wow," Gabby began, the words pouring, "I didn't realize. I didn't recognize you."

"It's alright," said Don with a wave of his left hand. His palm landed back on his barrel chest, the thick band around his ring finger clacking against his jacket's zipper. "Pleasant change actually."

Gabby tried to steady her grin. "What can we get for you?"

"I'd like your shop actually."


"For my next film, you see. I'm setting it in local establishments rather than some sterile movie stage. My prospectors were out here a few weeks ago and now I'm making my final selections." His grin fell a few degrees. “I want to use yours.”

"Oh..." said Gabby. She gazed around the shop. The bulletin board full of advertisements for lessons, local services and events hung slightly out of square next to the single bathroom. The mismatched chairs and tables paralleling the counter had chips on their edges. The paintings and photographs, all from emerging artists from the neighborhood, stared out from mottled frames with various themes and price tags. By the front, the shelves seemed dusty and the plush chairs seemed to sag. She returned to Don with a frown. "Here? Really?"

"I'll have my people call your people."

"I am my people, Mr. Jenkins."

David coughed behind her.

"David Andrews," she said with a wave, "one of my two baristas."

Don stuck out his meaty palm. Gabby thought David might crumble as they shook.

"Nice to meet you."

"You too, Mr. Jenkins." David licked his lips. "You wouldn't need any extras would you Mr. Jenkins? For your film?"

Don chuckled. "Maybe, kid. I'll keep you in mind."

David's face broke into a childish grin. "Thanks."

Gabby felt Don's attention returned to her. "You'd be amenable to the idea? Ms..."

"Gabb-Gabriel Hunt," she said, extending her own hand. "And, well..." She closed her mouth and made her brain begin to process thoughts more logically. She set her hand back onto the counter, the warmth from their shake lingering. "I don't mean to be rude, but it would depend on the circumstances. What exactly you wanted to do here."

"Gabby," muttered David.

The blonde and pointed man both gave derisive snorts in parallel octaves.

"Quite practical of you, Ms. Hunt." Don's acknowledgement silenced his party. "I'll have a contract written up, outlining all the formalities. You can read that and we can negotiate matters from there."

Gabby nibbled at her lip, but failed to find a trap. Tyler or Johnson, she thought, might even provide some legal advice in exchange for a few free drinks. Her head began nodding slowly. "That sounds reasonable."

"Excellent." Don drummed his hands on the counter as if sounding a final note.

"Can I get you anything for now?" Gabby tilted her head at the assortment behind her.

Don rose up on his toes to peruse the collection. "I'll take a medium sized cup of your house blend."

Gabby nodded and the other three gave their orders, the mousy one remaining to pay while the others continued their debates. She dumped a few extra bills into the pail.

Gabby started to pour around David's rapid mopping of his earlier spill. The handle of the coffee pot, the soft thud of the espresso press and sizzle of the steamer oozed onto her spiked nerves. By the time she finished with the fourth beverage, she had found her rhythm and weaved between David and the components behind the counter with renewed ease.

She set the drinks into a four holed recycled tray on the pickup counter.

"We'll be in touch," said the mousy woman, laying a card on the counter before taking hold of the order.

Gabby took the rectangle and stared at the name, address and number all in finely embossed letters alongside a cartouche made of a perched parrot with one raised claw.

The tinkle of the chimes at the door tugged her away from the raised font and she watched Don and his crew walk out of her cafe.

"You think they'll be back?" David asked as he rested his chin on the top of the mop handle.

Gabby stared back down at the business card. Her finger passed along the thick, solid edge of the only bit of evidence from their transaction with the world famous Director.

"I guess we'll see."

"I hope so."

"I think I do too."

Gabby smiled, slipping the card into her back pocket as the chimes chirped and the current of the day flowed on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Permission - 10/2

The car sagged onto the end of the cul-de-sac between a pile of bursting trash bags and a rusted sedan set up on cinderblocks. Sara gripped the wheel of their rental car and watched the windshield wipers sway back and forth. Rivers coursed down the blades and down the steaming hood. Mike shifted on the passenger side, his seat belt rattling as the strap sucked in and out of the holder.

The house sat before them, tucked behind drooping willow branches and overgrown bushes. Scuffed periwinkle shutters peeked out through the leaves and sheets of rain.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sara asked.

Mike rubbed his hand on his trim slacks as if he each brush swept away more of her misgivings.

"It's tradition."

"It's your tradition," said Sara. "I don't think he'd give a damn."

"He's your father."


She poured out a long breath before flipping the key. She leaned her chin on her hands, like a child peering over a ledge. The car chirped around them as the motor quieted. Her eyes lingered on the front stoop and faded slats.

"Does it look the same?"

She shrugged. "Does anything look the same after 25 years?"

"It's the right house though?"

She nodded.

The car windows began to fog.

Sara inhaled and leaned back into the chair. Mike's hand found hers on the wheel, his touch soft and warm. She found her tense hold melting, her fingers slipping away from the leather to intertwine with his.

"I want to ask him," said Mike.

Sara shook her head and burrowed her eyes into the safely tucked away air bag.

"I don't need you to."

"I need to."

She tore her gaze off the stitched beige and settled on his clean shaven face. She knew he had been looking at her with those crisp blue eyes, ever since he had taken her hand. His gaze remained unwavering even as a timid smile breached his lips.

"Better get it over with then," she whispered.

Sara closed her eyes as Mike squeezed her fingers. She hoped he'd stop, before any of the tears she swallowed down were squished free. When he released her hand, lingering warmth continued on her skin until she found the door handle.

Gushing drops drummed onto her shoulders as she stepped outside. She tugged up her rain coat's hood around her frizzing curls and the world suddenly became cavernous. Each smack battered against her head like a pounding hammer. She flung the door closed, the long bang preceding a similar bash from the passenger side.

Sara shrank into the mustard rubber. Her flats drank in water like camels and she hopped past a puddle before making a final leap onto the sidewalk next to a similarly inundated Mike.

They walked shoulder to shoulder to the concrete path dominated by weeds bursting out from the cracks. Water pooled then spread off into muddy oceans in the unkempt lawn.

Sara bowed her head and watched her feet traverse each step. A wilted poinsettia drowning on the porch foretold the imminent arrival of the front door.

With distant clash of thunder, the downpour escalated into a full on monsoon. Despite the weight in her soaked flats and better judgment, Sara scampered forward to be free of the battering. She broke through the curtain of water descending from the front heaves and skidded to a stop as the cave within her hood quieted.

Before her, a molded knocker sat between flaking white paint chips.

Mike shook his shoulders like a dog, showering the concrete porch with spatters. She watched him give the door a stoic glance while she nibbled on her thumbnail.

"Do we knock?" he asked.

She snorted and stuffed her hands into her coat's pockets.

"Do you see a doorbell?"

He gave her another half grin while reaching out with a dripping hand toward the screen door. Sara stepped to the side, giving him room and swallowing down one last suggestion to walk away.

Sara held her breath as his raps dwindled off into the interior.

Clanging and a bass woof joined the scratch of claws on the other side of the door.

"Oh God," whispered Sara.

"What is it?"

"Maggie, our...his scruffy dog. I thought she'd be dead."

Thumps neared with creaks of loose floorboards. A shadow came closer, swaying in the door's single pane.

"Sit boy."

The words slurred together as if each desired to be rid of the mouth speaking them.

Sara winced. A gust smacked wet drops onto her back and shins. Her khaki's began to drag at her hips as if made of lead.

A latch then chain lock clattered. The door opened, breaking suction like a vacuum.

He was frailer than she remembered, as if he and the bony hound at his side had begun to merge. They shared the same red rimmed and drooping eyes, wobbly jowl, and wavering stance whether on two or four legs. Her father's short sleeves dangled over withered arms mottled like the dogs grunge stained fur. A wristwatch once snug around his skin rattled as he moved his arm on the doorframe.

"What the hell do you want?"

Sara inhaled, the smell of boiling shrimp, mud and beer crawling into each nostril. She pulled down her hood.

"Hi, Papa."

The dog sniffed, wet nose flaring with ragged breaths. The furry chest rumbled with something near a growl.

Her father's eyes walked down her rain coat, met her soaked feet then trundled back up to her face.

"I think you have the wrong house. I haven't had a daughter in years." He stepped back inside, hand already swinging the door closed.

Mike stepped in front of her and struck his palm onto the faded paint. The screen door he held open with his other hand clattering.

Sara staggered back, her eyes widening as she stared over Mike’s broad shoulder.

"Sir, please."

The crimson flared in her father's eyes. "Some might call you trespassers."

Mike squared himself before the door and the dog's growl rumbled again, now louder than the rain.

"I want your permission to marry your daughter."

Sara watched a lump tousle her father's Adam's apple. His hand on the door whitened. He drew a pale tongue over crackled lips.

"You want to marry her?"

"Yes sir."

"Why do you want my permission?"

"You're her father," said Mike. "I need to have your blessing."

"Marriage isn't a blessing boy."

Sara put her hand on Mike's shoulder. The facets in the diamond ring sparkled like a fresh drop of rain.

"Let's go," she whispered.

She felt his back tense into stone and bowed her head.

"You want her," said her father, "you can have her. I never did."

The door slammed shut.