Fiction, Flash Fiction, Hope

A Phoenix in the Garden

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We met on the track I was wearing in the hallway carpet. Pacing. Stretching my legs, ostensibly, but pacing, in truth. My brother was on the fourth hour of his third round of chemo. I was on the fourth hour of sitting by his side in one of the cancer center’s treatment rooms.

“What’s the matter with you?”

The question came from an individual I nearly tripped over as I rounded the end of my route again. It was a boy, a young man maybe, and his inquiry sounded genuine enough. Age was difficult to guess in this place. The undereye gray shadows and translucent skin beneath a knit hat could be a misleading combination. He may have been fourteen or he may have been twenty.

“With me?” I fumbled my reply, “No, nothing. Needed to stretch my legs.”

I tried a smile but my lips would neither part nor curve upward. His white-blonde eyebrows rose toward his shaved scalp, visible along the edge of the hat. He was as convinced as my smile was convincing. That is, not at all.

“Stretch your legs?”

“Stretch my legs.”

My perfectly good, functional, strong legs, I added to myself and continued walking. My mind summoned the image of my big brother, his limbs withered and wrapped in two blankets while lifesaving, toxic chemicals were pumped into his body. I walked faster.

“What you need is air.”

I slowed my feet, realizing he’d followed me.

“You know the way to the garden?” he asked.

I shook my head. The hallway suddenly felt stifling.

“There’s a garden?” I pushed the words past the stone in my throat.

He moved to the front, lifting one bony shoulder to indicate I should follow.

It wasn’t that the building was so awful. The walls and furniture were awash with soothing colors. The architecture was effectively welcoming, not to mention it was stocked with a staff deserving of an Olympic gold medal in warmth. Nonetheless, there was no way for it to be anything but a building you wished to leave.

It was also a building with a garden. My companion led me down new hallways, around new corners, and through a set of automatic doors. The doors opened on a small park of groomed grass and flower beds. Brightly painted wooden benches filled the in-between spaces and a swing set stood at the opposite edge with three rubber seats suspended on sturdy chains.

My guide sat down on the first bench we reached, which faced a fountain. In the center of the fountain was a bird that I recognized as a phoenix. The creature was painted blood red, a startling hue against the gray stone structure. Water flowed and fell from the carved pile of ashes from which the bird rose. Its wings were half-spread and its chest and head stretched toward the sky. Ready for flight.

Just us and the stone bird, still and silent we sat. I don’t know for how long. The young man’s breaths had an almost inaudible rasp. When a girl emerged through the doors, running to the swings with a woman calling caution after her, I spoke.

“Thank you for bringing me out here.” I glanced sideways and added, “I’m June.”

“Perry.”

“I’m here with my brother.”

His eyes remained fixed on the fountain. Their shade of brown was likely quite ordinary but set above those gray shadows they were bright and bold.

“Are you cold?” I asked.

“Not yet.”

The sun warmed me through my jeans and black t-shirt, but I’d witnessed how the disease robbed a person of his internal heat. My brother was invariably cold.

Perry and I returned to silence. The hushed rasp of his breaths, the squeak of a swing set chain, and the water moving beneath the phoenix accompanied my thoughts. None of those thoughts connected. They collided and stacked on top of each other. In between grocery lists, dentist appointments, and messages I’d been meaning to answer came the repeated question: Will my brother survive? Each time that one rose to the top, I scrambled for my next thought, for one that I could answer.

God could answer the other one. Only Him. This fact was both a source of pain and a balm to the pain. Was that truth really any different for the rest of us though? Cancer or no cancer, I knew as little about my own chances of survival as my brother’s.

True enough, I conceded, but our experience of that truth is anything but the same.

Perry cleared his throat. “I’m going to get a tattoo of that bird when I’m done here. When I’m in remission, I mean. I look at the thing every day. I don’t know, but I think I’ll need to take it with me.”

He turned my way and this time I had a real smile for him, lips curved up and everything.

“It will make an excellent tattoo,” I said.

A cloud obscured the sun and my smile fell away. Perry shivered. I looked at the phoenix once more.

“I should go back to my brother. Do you know the time?”

Perry shrugged. “I don’t pay attention to time anymore, not more than if it’s day or if it’s night. When I did pay attention, I was only counting down. I got tired of counting down.”

He leaned heavily on the arm of the bench and stood. His movements and his tone that followed were suited to a man of a more advanced age.

“Come on. You’ll never find your way back on your own.”

Perry left me at my brother’s door. I walked inside and asked, “Have you seen the garden yet? It has the most beautiful fountain.”

*”A Phoenix in the Garden” was originally published in Ever Eden Literary Journal, Spring 2020 issue.

 

Family, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

What Zoe Said

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Shannon counted the broken steps on the abandoned lighthouse’s staircase.

Nine.

When she reached the lantern room, a pair of mourning doves departed in a hurry through a hole in the cupola. The space held only cobwebs, discarded birds’ nests, and a smattering of broken wood. Years ago, the massive lantern was removed. The glass window panes were gone too, with some spaces boarded up and the rest open to the outside.

Footfalls sounded on the stairs below.

“Shannon?” Oliver’s voice echoed up the lighthouse. “Are you up there?”

She nodded, all words hitched on her vocal chords until she moved to an open window frame and sucked the lakeside air into her lungs.

“I’m here,” she managed.

By the time she heard her brother reach the lantern room, then felt his shoulder press against hers, she’d squashed the mutiny of her emotions. Oliver’s head turned from one direction to the other, taking in the state of their old haunt.

“Time hasn’t been too good to this place,” he said. “When was the last time we were here?”

Shannon watched his forehead wrinkle as he tried to remember. There was a sprinkling of gray in his brown hair, and fine lines beside his eyes.

“Fourteen years,” she answered. “You were twenty-four, I was twenty and Zoe was seventeen. It was after her high school graduation party.”

His expression cleared and brightened. “Yes, we sat out on the gallery and talked until a thunderstorm rolled in.”

“Then we sat in here until it passed.” Shannon nodded. “I remember my shoes were ruined in the mud as soon as we started walking home. Zoe took them and threw them in the woods.”

Oliver laughed. “Of course she did.”

“She said I’d be stronger without them, whatever that meant.”

A rope of silence coiled around them. For a minute, they both yielded to it, then Shannon snapped its hold.

“Sometimes I wish I believed in reincarnation.”

Oliver raised his brows at her. “Why?”

“Another chance,” she whispered. The threat of mutiny swelled again within her chest. “For her. For me. So I could hope. Maybe we could do better the next time around.”

He slipped his arm around her shoulders and she settled into his side, resting her head. His steadying heartbeat drummed in her ear. When the wind off Lake Huron brought a shiver, Oliver hugged her a bit tighter.

“She was so sick, Ollie. How did we not know?” Shannon asked, her voice laden with desperation.

“I don’t know,” Oliver admitted. “When Mom called and told me what happened, it knocked the air out of my lungs. I still feel like I’m trying to catch my breath.”

“Did she really hide it that well? Or did I not pay attention?”

He didn’t offer the automatic consolations she’d received from friends in the past week. Together, they stared in the direction of the turquoise water, barely visible through the tangle of overgrown pines and birches surrounding the lighthouse. Waves, heard but not seen, slapped the rocky shore.

“I’m glad we don’t believe in reincarnation, Shannon.”

“Why?”

“That night of Zoe’s graduation party, when she was talking about college, and art, and traveling, and everything she was determined to do, she said something that stuck with me for a long time. I’d forgotten about it, honestly, but it came back to me this week.”

A fire-red cardinal landed in the limbs of the nearest pine. It flew to the next tree when Oliver continued.

“She said, ‘He knows how many days I have, but I don’t.’”

“I remember,” Shannon said.

“Do you remember how badly she wanted to make us understand?”

The memory washed over her. She heard the rise and fall of her younger sister’s voice, and saw Zoe’s dark, unflinching eyes and her hands lifted and gesturing.

“She had on purple nail polish that day.” Shannon raised her fingertips to her lips. “I can’t believe I remember that.”

Sliding her calf-length black dress to her thighs, Shannon climbed through the open window frame to the gallery encircling the lantern room. The decaying boards groaned beneath her feet.

“Be careful,” her brother called before sighing and climbing out after her.

Shannon stepped cautiously over one of several gaps in the walkway. Finding the lengthiest series of sturdy boards, she gripped the cold steel rail and sat down with her legs dangling over the edge in the wind. Oliver joined her, wariness pinching his features.

“Zoe said, “I don’t know if I have any more days, but I know I have today. I’m going to live like today is all I have.’”

“Yes,” Oliver murmured.

Shannon’s voice rose in agitation, “But don’t you think that’s a terribly dangerous way to live?”

“I do,” Oliver said, his expression guarded. “Don’t you think pretending it’s not true is also a terribly dangerous way to live?”

The cardinal landed on the gallery railing, two yards from where they sat. A song, sweet and brief, came from its lifted chest and yellow beak.

“Oh!” Shannon yelped, for her left shoe had slipped from her foot and dropped.

They watched its plummet from the gallery to the ground, and in that fall—with its tree branch collisions and flips—Shannon saw more than her black leather, two-inch pump hit the ground. She saw her choices. Her refusals to choose. Her fears dressed up as wisdom. She saw her sister and all the signs of what came.

Oliver leaned over the rail, shattering her momentary trance.

“I think I see the old path over there. I might be able to get the shoe if I….”

She kicked off her other shoe and stood, not waiting for it to land.

“Leave them.”

Her brother looked up at her. “It rained last night. Plenty of mud on the way home.”

She smiled back at him. “Maybe I’ll be stronger without them.”

*This story was published in “Ever Eden” literary journal, Fall 2019 issue, August 2019.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Emote

E: Emote

I was in people-watching mode tonight but with little reward. Let others stare at their televisions and phones. There was nothing more fascinating than real life.

The restaurant was more than half-empty. Being a Tuesday evening, this was no surprise. The place was known for its steaks, lobsters, and oysters. Few folks knew the chef also made the finest potato and ham chowder in the city. It was an overlooked selection on the flashy menu.

At a table for two but with one place setting, under the west-facing bay window, I sat sipping the hot chowder and watching the sunset between the downtown brick city-691957_640.jpgbuildings. Day departed on the rosy orange coattails of the sun. I turned my head when the front door opened, allowing in two seconds of street noise. A couple stepped inside, all nervous glances and tight smiles. Uncertainty hovered over them like a hummingbird over a flower.

“Oh, do sit where I can see you,” I whispered over the spoon at my lips.

It was a first date, without a doubt. First dates made for wonderful people-watching. I always rooted for the evening to be a success. To witness that moment when the sparks ignite, when the nerves loosen and the smiles become real – it is a special privilege to see. But they can’t all be successes. The reward in watching then is the curiosity of how each party will handle the disappointment. I have witnessed grace and gentleness, cool indifference, outright rudeness, and desperate attempts to turn it around.

My eyes followed the couple to their table for two, against a wall beneath softly glowing sconces. They were young. Most people seemed young at this point in my life, but this couple had surely seen fewer than twenty-five years.

The girl wore a black wrap-dress and ballet flats. Her brown hair, a shade or two darker than mine was before it turned white, was flawlessly straightened and reached her shoulder blades. She’d accessorized with a simple silver necklace and matching bracelet. Her companion was clean cut, all-American good looks in a blue oxford and gray slacks. He pulled the chair out for his date before seating himself. I smiled my approval.

Their position gave me a clear view of the girl’s face. The boy’s back was to me but I knew there was value in the body language I’d discern nonetheless.

Except it was over before it’d begun. I saw it on the girl’s face.

The young man’s movements, leanings, and gestures grew more relaxed by the second. His forearms were on the table, his back and head tilted toward her whenever she spoke. He answered with lifts of his hands and plentiful words.

But I saw no change in her. No ushering out of the initial nervousness. No softening of the stiff shoulders. Her back leaned away from him, as if fastened to the back of her chair. Her slender hands remained clutched together in her lap, never lifting and never opening. I willed her to emote and engage, to allow her guarded expression to crack.

“You have already made up your mind, haven’t you, dear?” I shook my head and looked away.

Normally, I would continue my observations, curious to know how the tragedy would unfold. Instead, sadness washed over me and I had no wish to see more. I pitied the boy and, perhaps more so, the girl too. My waiter visited my table and I requested the check.

“Dessert?” he asked. “Or a cocktail to finish?”

“Next time, maybe,” I said. My gaze fell on the couple once more. “I’ve had quite enough for tonight, but next time may be better.”

“Certainly, ma’am.”

As I paid my bill, I handed the water an extra twenty.

“Put it toward their meal,” I instructed, indicating the couple across the room. “And tell that young man those words. Tell him that next time may be better.”

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Diorama

D: Diorama

pexels-photo-421160Harold’s run stalled outside a brick bungalow on Cedar Street. The skyline was rimmed pink, with everything above still ink and stars. Daily, before dawn, Harold ran one and a half miles at an eleven-minutes-per-mile pace. Every single morning, except Sundays, and he did not stop for anything mid-run. Never.

“You’re seventy-two. It’s okay to slow down,” Harold’s doctor said at his most recent check-up. “Maybe mix it up with walking or swimming, something a bit easier on the joints.”

Harold lied when he told the doctor he’d consider it.

He checked the tracker on his wrist. The device was a gift from his son. Harold had scoffed at learning its features and tricks, or even growing comfortable with its bulk around his wrist. He was loath to admit to anyone how much he appreciated it now, with its details and data and graphs, its uncanny ability to measure the value of his daily movements.

Eight-tenths of a mile to go.

So, why had he stopped? Why did he stand, feet planted on the damp sidewalk instead of striking it at his self-regulated pace? He stood still because he was traveling through time, and travel like that tends to take a person’s breath away.

Inside the house, on display through a wide picture window, was a diorama of the past. A living room: white walls, gray sofa, black recliner, and two lamps glowing from each of the end tables framing the sofa. Family photos in frames. A book on the arm of the recliner.

A woman and a child.

Harold’s pulse throbbed. He felt it in his chest, in his neck.

“My girls,” he whispered.

The woman – slim, average height, pixie-cut chestnut hair – stood in the center of the room, her arms wrapped securely around the child lying against her, chest to chest. Her head was bowed with her cheek resting on the crown of her daughter’s blonde head. Her eyes were closed.

The child’s face was turned away from the window, tucked into the curve of her mother’s neck. She looked to be two, perhaps, clothed in plush, yellow pajamas. One little hand held the ears of a well-loved, stuffed bunny, and the other hand rested on her mother’s shoulder.

All was still. A three-dimensional snapshot of thirty years ago.

Harold reached for the tree branch above his shoulder. The coarse bark beneath his palm broke the spell over his senses. He pulled his eyes away from the house, away from the intimacy of the moment between mother and child, and forced himself to move.

At the end of the block, where Harold typically turned left to return home, he turned right. Then he turned right again, then left. He jogged into the cemetery, along the gravel paths to a headstone beneath a birch tree. There, he kneeled.

Harold waited for his heartbeat to slow. He laid his hands in the dewy grass and squinted at the sun mounting the treetops.

“I saw you today, Rosie.” He cleared his throat. “I used to see you everywhere. Everywhere. But it hasn’t been like that in a while. It was you and Sadie, when she was just a little thing. It was our living room. I mean, I know it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t you, or Sadie, or our home. For a moment though, it was, and it was the happiest and the saddest I’ve been in a while.”

He leaned forward on his knees, pressing his palms into the cold, solid stone. He rubbed the ridges of her name with his thumb and sighed.

“It was wonderful to see you.”

Harold stood, and ran home.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Catharsis

C: Catharsis

I walk two blocks west from my hotel and spot the wooden sign for The Griffin. When I asked the front desk attendant for a recommendation of both the best Reuben sandwich and the best whiskey old fashioned, this was his immediate answer.
As I push open the door, I loosen my tie and undo the top button of my white oxford shirt. I scan the

room. It’s large. Dark, polished wood, red accents, and brass hardware under dim, golden light create a weighty ambiance. There are about a dozen patrons inside, each silent or conversing in their lowest voices. The mahogany bar runs the full width of the front of the room. I pick a stool near no one and order my first round from an indifferent bartender. He keeps his eyes on a muted flat screen television on the adjacent wall. It’s a re-broadcast of this afternoon’s Dodgers-Giants game. While I sip my drink and peruse the kitchen’s menu, a man sits on the stool to my left.

The bartender immediately hands him a Budweiser without a word from either of them. He’s about my age, I discern from a sideways glance. His hands look older. Their calluses and knobby knuckles remind me of my father’s hands. My father was a union man in an iron foundry for forty-two years. I wonder briefly what this man does for a living, but the curiosity passes. There’s only one thing that occupies my mind tonight. One person.
My food order taken, the bartender brings me a second cocktail. I turn the glass in my hand. The slick condensation transfers from the glass to my fingers.
“Ricky?”
My neighbor on the next stool is peering at me with bloodshot eyes.
“Ricky! What’s it been?” he slurs. “A few years, I’d say. How you been, man?”
“I’m not Ricky, sir.”
His raspy laugh turns into a cough. “What are you going on about, Ricky? I’d know you anywhere.”
“My name is David. I’m not Ricky.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, man. It’s good to see you.” He swats my shoulder and almost slips off his stool.
I decide to ignore him. My brain returns to the same questions plaguing me since I flew to this city on Monday. It’s Thursday now. How’s it going to be when I get home? More of this? What do I want it to be like when I get home? That last question is the one I know I need to answer.
“You heard what happened, I’ll bet.” The man is teetering on that thin line between thoroughly intoxicated and sloppy drunk.
I stare into my glass after taking another swig.
“Yeah, of course you heard what happened to my Jenny.”
He doesn’t seem to care that I’m not responding. I look toward the bartender for aid but his eyes are on the already played ballgame.
“Can I confess the truth?” The man leans in as if he’s whispering, though he is not. “Sure, sure, I can. You’re an old friend. You won’t tell.”
I shake my head, wishing I’d stayed in and order overpriced room service.
“I think I killed her.”
My fingers stop tracing the rim of my glass. I turn my head a little and meet his eyes. They’re wide and bleary. He waits and I find my voice. “Listen, sir. I’m not Ricky. Maybe you need to have a water, or a soda, and sober up a little.”
 It’s as if I didn’t even speak. “Geez, it feels good to admit that. Really good. I mean, don’t call the cops or nothing. I didn’t kill her.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“But still, I think I killed her.”
He goes silent for more than a minute and I hope it’s over. It’s not.
The man downs the last of his beer. “She only took drives like that when I made her mad. Fast. Old roads. Curves and hills.” His voice fades out. There are fat tears on his cheeks. I doubt he even knows they’re there. “‘You’ll kill yourself, driving like that, woman!’ That’s what I used to tell her. ‘Good,’ she’d say. ‘I have a way to do it then when you make me want to.’”
I shudder at the darkness of this exchange he had, more than once, with Jenny, whom I assume was his wife. It sounds outrageous. Even as I think this, I am flashing back to the bitter words that filled the air of our living room Sunday night, and the cold indifference Josie and I maintained on Monday morning until I left for the airport. No calls, no texts. None, this whole week, and tomorrow I fly home.
“I made her so mad that night. Madder than I’d ever seen.” He pounds on the bar and the bartender looks our way. “Another, ya’ lazy barkeep!” he chortles.
The bartender shakes his head. “No can do, McNeil. I already called your cab. I warned you that bottle was your last for tonight.”
McNeil scowls. Then his expression clears and his focus is back on me. “Do you think she meant to do it, Ricky?”
My mouth is dry. My drink is empty.
“Do you think she meant to hit that tree? Maybe, man, maybe. Either way, it’s on me. I knew what I was doing to her. I knew. I killed her.”
“Cab’s here,” the bartender interrupts.
“I could’ve stopped her, Ricky. I could’ve made it good.”
He stands and wobbles in his steel-toed boots. I see the grief, the self-loathing, in the lines of his face and the drop of his broad shoulders. He’s a large, muscular man, but he walks like a weaker, older version of himself.
After I watch him go, I rest my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands. Josie’s face fills my vision. The bartender slides my plate in front of me, but I stand up and mumble that I’ll be back in a minute. I reach for the phone in my pocket. “I have to call my wife.”

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Bisou (Kiss)

B: Bisou (Fr: Kiss)
Photo Prompt: The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, by Robert Doisneau

I sit at my usual table by the sidewalk, facing the Hotel De Ville. I drink my usual coffee, and take slowly paced bites of my usual croissant. People pass in their usual way, silent beside the street filled with noisy motor cars. All is as usual.

Then, it is not.

A couple appears. They are young, considerably younger than I. Pretty, but still blending with the stream of pedestrians. In front of the table beside mine, he stops. His arm is around her waist, so she stops too. He moves his arm to her shoulders, drawing her into his side as he dips his head toward her. Her graceful neck stretches, turns to match him. His lips meet hers, urgent and sincere. It is beautiful.

“The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville” by Robert Doisneau, 1950

It all happens in a matter of five seconds, maybe fewer. The kiss lasts as long, then his arm slides back to her waist and they walk on. Phantom smiles on their lips; a blush upon her cheekbones; and with no notice of the other persons in the flow that they rejoin on the sidewalk, they are gone.

My hand trembles around the porcelain coffee cup. The only thought in my mind slips through my lips in a whisper, “How long is it since I’ve been kissed like that? Have I ever?”

A memory flashes like a film reel. Yes, I have.

It is night, more than ten years ago. We walk beside the Seine. There is space between us, and then there is not. He takes my hand, pulls me in, and kisses me for the first time – the only time – for he is my friend and nothing more. His kiss is earnest. I feel his fingers tighten with mine.

I hear his voice in my head and I close my eyes to listen.

“I needed to do that,” he says.

But I am too stunned to speak.

“Should I apologize?”

“No,” I manage.

My fingertips rest on my lips, although I do not remember lifting my hand there. Every emotion, every sensation, returns to me, in the aftermath of those strangers’ kiss. How had I forgotten?

No, I did not forget, but I had not remembered either.

I lift my coffee for a drink, my hands no longer shaking. A smile teases at my lips. I reckon it is a match for the smile the woman on the sidewalk wore after being kissed like that, after being kissed like I have been before.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Intentionality, Writing, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Aspire

A: Aspire

“What do you aspire to be?”

The odd question echoed over the noise in Sasha’s head.

Raina waited as patiently as a therapist.

Sasha waited too. She tucked her errant curls behind her ears. She crossed her legs under the table. She waited for an answer to come. The question made her want to laugh. Aspire? I’m not sure I remember the meaning of the verb. 

Raina finished waiting. “You know I love you, right?”

She nodded. “That’s usually what you say before you tell me I’m a fool.”

“You’re a fool.”

She did laugh a little then, and it felt like the first time she’d breathed today.

“You made me promise to tell you when you’re being a fool, ever since you almost switched universities to follow that chump Carter.”

“Carter was not a chump.”

“Carter couldn’t spell chump.”

Sasha stared at her chicken entree, fighting a smile.

“His brain tree was more of a shrub.”

There was no helping the laughter now. She caught her breath. “Mother of pearl, he was hot though.”

Raina smirked over her glass of iced tea. Drops of condensation fell to the table as she took a drink.

They sat on the patio of their favorite pub. Sasha had called the emergency convocation over her dilemma. When in doubt, consult Raina. It’d been her policy since sophomore year – the year of the infamous Carter. Raina never failed her in the seven years since.

“So, my fool of a friend, whats your answer?”

Sasha paused, her fork hovering at her lips. “Answer to what?”

“What do you aspire to be?”

“That’s  a job interview question.”

Raina shook her head. The ends of her sleek amber hair swung in unison around the base of her neck. Her eyes moved from Sasha to the view across the street. A mist floated over the bay tonight, not thick enough to be called a fog. The oscillating lamp of the lighthouse cut through the mist to the open water. An empty fishing trawler, tied to the dock, bobbed on each swell and fall of the water in a hypnotic rhythm.

Her eyes still on the water, Raina said, “You asked me that question once. It was during finals week, first semester junior year.”

“I did?” She couldn’t summon the memory.

“It was during your annoying step-by-step planning phase.”

She did remember that part. “I was not annoying,” she objected even as she laughed knowingly.

Raina raised her eyebrows. “You planned everything. Everything. ‘Nothing will happen if you don’t make it happen!’ That was your motto. It drove me crazy. One of the times I complained, you asked me what I aspired to be.”

“I was clueless.” Sasha shrugged.

“You were,” Raina agreed without apology. “But you changed the course of my life.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not!”

Sasha took another bite. She watched her best friend, wondering what Raina was trying to convince her of with this claim. Raina was the poster girl for following your passions, naysayers be damned.

“I blew off your question but I couldn’t get it out of my head over Christmas break. When I came back in January, I decided I’d had enough of the coasting I’d been managing since starting school. If you remember, that’s when I switched over to the biomedical engineering program. So, yeah, changed the course of my life.”

“I had no idea,” Sasha said, mulling this over.

“Maybe you need to tap into that annoying, ambitious version of you from years ago. When’s the last time you aspired to be what you actually want to be? That’s all I’m asking. You don’t even have to answer me, but promise you’ll think about it as you make this decision.”

“I promise.”

“Good.” Raina took another drink. Her voice still reflective, her eyes back on the mist over the bay, she said, “Carter really was hot. What do you think ever happened to him?”

Sasha lost her breath laughing.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.