3.3.20 – InstaShortie – The Storm

An eerie silence fell over the pitch-black room. I clutched his tiny, warm body to my chest. The tiny gasps of his uneven breaths did little to soothe the anxiety rising inside of me. I strained my ears in a feeble attempt to dig through the silence in search of the familiar sounds of rain, wind, and thunder. Those were the sounds I needed to hear. Instead, the roaring stillness embraced us.

The absence of sound meant one thing. Well, at least on nights like these. Nights when the starry night sky gave way to clouds dark and blank and filled to the brim with angry droplets of rain and electricity. Nights when the wind howled so loud the sirens didn’t bother to blare. Or, if they did, they were muted by the elements.

I rested my cheek atop his head and brushed my skin back and forth over the tiny baby hairs that only I could see. To the world, my little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy was as bald as a polished stone, but to me, he had a head full of hair as pale as his father’s. The same shade I spent hundreds of dollars perfecting. Those tiny, invisible hairs brought the solace I’d been seeking. Each one caressed my face and calmed me in a way I’d never have imagined possible. Three months ago, he hadn’t existed outside of me. A year ago, he didn’t exist at all. Now, his entire life rested on my shoulders and in my arms. His sustenance swelled inside my breast, aching for him to wake and relieve the pressure.

But he didn’t stir. He was blissfully unaware of the storm raging outside his home or the one raging silently inside it. The very man that had given him the blonde hair that brought me a simple kind of joy was the one behind the internal storm. His anger and disappointment whirled inside these four-walls until the rage became too much for concrete and brick to hold. The nights it bubbled over, much like this night, I retreated with our son into the darkness of his nursery. When the words and the fists battled to see which could be the cruelest and inflict the most damage, I let the walls and doors shield and hide us from the wrath. Inside this room we were safe. He wouldn’t dare enter the sacred space that housed his son. Even if that one tiny heartbeat had sealed his father’s fate and life-sentence. His arms and legs shackled in their place beside me. He’d wrongly assumed I’d held the key. As though I’d had any control over his decision to intrude into my life. After all, it had been him who’d shown up night after night until I acquiesced to his desires. It has also been him who’d provided the assurance that the very child I was holding was an impossibility.

Tiny fingers grasped at the neck of my nightshirt. The unexpected touch startled me, pulling my mind back into my body. He tugged as he sensed the time for his nightly feeding had long passed. I stepped back and leaned against the wall and let my body slide down it. I landed softly on the carpet. The tiny thud my body made barely penetrated the air. He curled against me and positioned himself.

How long had we been holed up in this closet? Five minutes? An hour? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. The silence of the storm hung over us as the clouds hooked and rooked into the unmistakable, angry shape I’d been raised to fear.

A gust of wind rattled the window in the nursery. I pulled him tighter to my chest and leaned over him; protecting him as I always did. And, always would.

A second, third and fourth gust shook the entire house. I closed my eyes and pulled my son closer. We were already connected but still, I pulled him tighter. If I could have, I’d have pulled him back inside me and tucked him into my womb where I knew he’d always be safe. There, he’d forever remain innocent and unharmed. The angry voice of his father would be muffled into a low murmur by the layers of muscle, fat, tissue, and skin that stood between him and the outside world.

“Shh,” I shushed him over the rumbling sounds of the storm as it grunted and moaned as it pulled debris and air into a rotating cyclone. My heart raced inside my chest as the pounding inside my ears competed with the loudness of the storm. Both sounds were deafening. Yet, he seemed unbothered as he suckled and clung to me. Every ounce of him trusted in me. He knew without a shred of doubt that inside my arms he was secure.

With my eyes squeezed tight, I couldn’t see the walls crumble or the roof lift but I felt it all the same. Raindrops dripped onto my bare legs. I shivered against the chill of the midnight air. He stirred and squirmed away from me. His body tensed for a moment. When he didn’t move, my eyes flew open and I pressed my hand against his back, searching for the telltale sign of breath. When his back pressed against my hand, I sighed with relief but kept my hand firmly in place. I didn’t dare move until I counted six full breaths. I glanced down at him and our eyes met. I lifted him closer to my face so he could see me better through the newborn haze. His lips pursed for a second, then curved into a tiny smile.

I didn’t bother to survey the missing walls or debris. There was nothing left here for us. Sirens blared and neighbors shouted, their voices carried by the gentle breeze the storm left in its wake. As I stood, I braced myself against the two walls that remained; the one behind us and the one beside us. The house—it had never been a home—lay in ruins around us.

“Are you safe?” a worried voice asked. A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I jumped forward and pulled myself free. “Is your husband home?”

I nodded toward what had once been our bedroom at the back of the house. “He wouldn’t get out of bed.” My voice trembled and betrayed the calm lie I clung to.

When I’d heard the sirens that his snoring threatened to drown out, I didn’t bother waking or alerting him. I’d been certain it was just another false alarm. Or, maybe I’d known the truth and let the storm do what his temper had always threatened to do.

Someone draped a blanket over my shoulders and led me away from the chaos. With my gaze fixed on my son’s curious face, I didn’t look back.

2.20.20 – InstaShortie – One Decision | One Mistake

One mistake. That’s all it was. An error in judgment. A simple yes when I should’ve said no. It wasn’t more complicated than that. There was nothing nefarious in the decision. I didn’t even think about it, I simply said, “Yes.”

At the time, it wasn’t a difficult decision. My answer was my answer and there was nothing left to consider.


That single word answer would come to define everything that came after it. I’d thought it was a one-word sentence. There was an assumed noun—I. An action and a period. The end. But it wasn’t the end. It was the beginning, even I didn’t realize it at the time.

When I look back on that day and the question that led to my answer, I never wonder if I’d change my mind if I could. There was no doubt now that the right answer—according to anyone else—was no, but I can’t say with any level of certainty that I’d do it any differently given the chance. Yes was my answer then, and even knowing what I do now, it is still the answer I’d give. Because to me, it wasn’t a mistake. I didn’t regret my yes that day or the ones I’d uttered since.

I sucked in a deep breath and tried to steady myself. After more than a year, I shouldn’t feel this nervous, but my palms were sweaty and my legs shook. I ran my hand over my hair to smooth the tiny baby hairs that had recently sprouted and then tucked the platinum blonde strands behind my ears. With my shoulders pulled upright and straight, I took a step forward and rang the bell. I waited until the ringing stopped before I exhaled. Then, I closed my blue eyes and opened my ears, listening for the familiar footsteps. They came right on schedule, just as they always did. I forced my lips to curve upward and bit the inside of my cheek in anticipation.

“Miss Shepherd.” The young man greeted me with a smile.

“Hey, Eddie,” I said and kept my voice neutral despite the increasing tempo of my heartbeat.

“Come in. Mr. Thompson is waiting.”

“Is Mrs. Thompson in?” I asked.

“Rosaline is in New York this week.” His voice held the same sense of relief I felt. Rosie, as Mr. Thompson called her, was rarely home. I’d only met her once and I wasn’t keen on the idea of a second meeting. Eddie stepped aside and waved me into the house. I thanked him and removed my coat. He took it and left me alone in the foyer,

I took in the massive space and marveled at the elegant emptiness that filled it. I’d seen it exactly 65 times since I’d given my one-word answer—every Tuesday for the past 16 months—and it still amazed me. I didn’t belong here in this house. My name shouldn’t be on the lips of a butler who took my $15 thrift store coat, and he certainly had no business calling me “Miss Shepard.” No one else did, not the friends or family I had left. They just called me “Illy.” like Lily without the “L.”

I smoothed my hands over my baby blue cashmere sweater and tugged it down over my belly. The expensive sweater was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Thompson. Though, I doubt Rosaline knew it had been given to me. She’d likely approved the gift with a flick of the wrist and an eye roll, dismissing her husband. She didn’t much care for me but I suppose most women aren’t too eager to pick out gifts for their husband’s mistresses. Then again, I doubt many wives handpicked the woman their husband was going to have an affair with. My mother certainly hadn’t. Neither had I, but I hadn’t been given the opportunity. Perhaps my first marriage would’ve lasted if I had.

“Ilona?” His voice called down the stairs. “Is that you?”

I took a step forward and flinched at the clomp of my shoe. I bent down and slipped it off. The mansion the Thompson’s occupied was larger than the apartment complex I lived in. Their expensive artwork and oversized furniture filled the space but the house was void of much else. Every tiny sound carried.

With my shoes tucked under my arm, I followed his voice and climbed the stairs. As I made my way toward the top, I let my body relax. I started with my eyes. Blinking them slowly, I pushed the tension aside. He’d see it immediately if I didn’t. Then, he’d spend our hours together fretting over me.

Once my face relaxed, I rolled my shoulders, and then my arms. I swayed my hips back and forth to loosen them as well. By the time I reached the top, I was a different woman. I was confident and casual. I was sure of myself and my decisions.

I turned to my right and let my gaze fall onto the door that never opened. That room belonged to Rosaline. It was the one room in the house I’d never been inside, but it was the room that held my curiosity. I was forbidden to enter it or to ask questions. I was to pretend she didn’t exist. On the surface, that was an easy task. There were no photos of the lady of the house in her husband’s living quarters. He didn’t wear a wedding band, and there wasn’t evidence of a woman’s touch anywhere in the house.

It’s cold stone exterior and high ceilings were the opposite of inviting. The first time I’d come here, it felt like an overpriced prison. Rosaline had walked through the structure at a brisk pace and pointed out each room. Every space had a purpose to her but to me, it seemed as if it all existed to convince the world it was worthy of its inhabitants. Rosaline and Derrick Thompson existed to prove that same point.

When I first met Rosaline, I was struck by her power first. Her beauty, though astonishing, was the last thing I noticed. She commanded attention with every word and movement. Nothing was without intention. She spoke slowly and chose her words with care. She didn’t take a step without first evaluating every one of her options. I was nothing like her. Rosaline would never leap headfirst into a decision as big as the one she’d asked me to make.

My gaze lingered on the door for a moment longer than usual. A moment too long. The door I should have been standing in front of opening. Click-click. The sound of the doorknob turning danced down the hallway, bouncing off the pristine white walls. I turned on my heels and moved away from Rosaline’s forbidden door and smiled.

“Derrick,” I said and clicked my tongue against my teeth. He opened his arms and wiggled his fingers, inviting me in for our typical greeting. The forced smile melted from my lips and was replaced by the genuine one I reserved for him.

“Ilona,” he whispered into my ear. His lips lingered on the last syllable, dragging it out as if he were savoring the sound as I was. He said my name with an elegance I’d never heard or imagined possible. His chest pushed into mine as he inhaled deeply. “I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you, too.” Though I didn’t want to, I pulled back from him. “Shall we?” I nodded towards the open door of his bedroom.

“Are you—” he paused and placed one hand on my waist, “Is this okay?”

I dropped my head, not wanting to see the concern and sympathy in his eyes. I couldn’t bear the weight of his sadness or pity. I swallowed back the tears I’d been fighting for two months.

“Yes,” I said. I shivered as he ran the back of his hand over my cheek. He cupped my chin and tilted my head up toward his. His eyes brimmed with his own selfish tears. Unlike me, he hadn’t bothered hiding them. They’d flowed freely and without guilt. I hated him for it but those tears were what had made me fall in love with him.

He took my hand and led me into his bedroom. The door slammed shut behind us, sealing us in his sanctuary. This was the only room in the house that made me feel welcome. The dark gray walls and plush carpeting pulled me into their embrace and rocked me gently in their arms. In this room, Derrick wasn’t Mr. Rosaline Thompson, he was just Derrick. His touch was thoughtful, and his kisses were bountiful. In here it was just us.

In here my answer would always be yes.

Derrick sat on the edge of the bed and pulled me in front of him. I stood between his legs and waited for his tears to stop. He slid one hand under my sweater and rested it on my belly. The chill in his skin stung against the warmth of mine. I shivered as his fingers traced tiny circles and hearts into my flesh. He splayed his fingers across my flat stomach and closed his eyes.

I watched the memories move across his face. Each twitch of his lips and flicker of his eyelids a moment we couldn’t get back.

“Derrick,” I said, caressing his name as it rolled over my tongue, “I’m ready.”

He blinked his eyes open. “Just one more minute. I’m trying to remember the curve of her.”

The lump I’d swallowed back earlier, rose up my throat. I breathed in through my nose and held my breath as I counted from one to ten and back down. It took three full breaths to shut away the emotion I refused to feel. I wasn’t paid to feel. Feelings were what had gotten us in trouble in the first place.

I placed my hand over his and intertwined my fingers with his, breaking his connection with my skin. I pushed his hands higher until they rested on my breast, to remind him why we were here. The sound of his groan filled the room, and he lay back on the bed.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” he asked. He knew I couldn’t answer that question. It was the one yes I couldn’t give.

“Don’t worry about tonight,” I replied. I brushed a strand of his chestnut hair from his eyes and lowered myself onto him. I tried to focus solely on Derrick and push aside all thoughts of Rosaline. In this room, she didn’t exist. Those had been her parting words to me after I’d agreed to her plan. My one and only job was to keep Derrick happy and smiling. He was the one I’d said yes to, not her.

“I love you, Ilona,” he whispered into my hair as it spilled around him. I let those four words linger in my ears before shutting them out and retreating back into myself. If Rosaline heard him say those words to me, I’d be right back where I’d been when she found me, and I had no intention of ever going back.

2.12.20 – InstaShortie – Hand-Me-Down Words

Maybe it’s the calm breeze. Or perhaps it’s the sound of crickets and toads serenading their mates. Or the field and never-ending rolls of hills and trees. Whatever it is, it whispers my name and tugs me back. I can hear the siren call even in the darkest corners of the city intertwining with the neon glow of the light pollution and the hustle and bustle of city life. The loud bellow echoing through the city streets creating a symphony. The song is one I know so well I can ignore it, but it’s always there in the back of my mind stuck on a loop.

Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see it. The blue skies that never end. Trees dancing in the gentle winds. Over time, though, the blue faded to gray. The trees lost their rhythm. Much like me, the vividness of the memory is lost.

Now as I stand in the middle of the airport, I wonder if the welcoming arms of home will envelop me in their embrace, or if they will cross protectively over their chest the instant I am seen. Though I crave the former, I know the latter is what will greet me upon my return. Whatever is waiting for me is inevitable. I cannot avoid it. No matter how long I ignored the calls. The news I’d received made it impossible to continue to live in blissful ignorance. Home exists and it is expecting me.

I hand my ticket to the gate agent and smile. He returns the smile, though his is more rehearsed and perfected than mine. The curve of my lips is forced and tired. I’ll save the faux enthusiasm for later today. I can’t waste the effort now. No offense to the agent, he isn’t the one waiting for me. He doesn’t care if I’m genuine or not. He won’t lament the loss of my sweetness to the devil in the big city. He’ll just take my ticket and then move on to the next person. Another face. Another smile. Here I am just a number. A chore to check off a list. I have a name, but it only exists to confirm that I do in fact belong on this jet. My given name means nothing. At least not here.

There it matters. There I am someone. A daughter. A sister. I have a name and that name lays out expectations. It isn’t just mine. The legacy it carries is one I can’t escape. I could try, but home would always remind me. I belong. My smile, no matter how fake, matters. Everything matters there.

I take my place in line, sandwiched between two men in black business suits. My own suit lacks importance. Leggings. Sweater. Boots. Items that allow me to blend in and appear casual. The look, though contemporary and fashionable, provides me with a barrier. Clothing I can hide in. They hide the scars and bruises. The ones that don’t bubble on the surface, but instead linger deep below the skin festering and waiting for secrets to be whispered.


I look up, tucking a stray strand of my auburn hair behind my ear, and force another half-smile at the flight attendant and show her my ticket. She glances down and smiles as she reads. First-class always seems to bring out an extra level of happiness. As if they’ve been trained that I am somehow more special and important than the others. I slowly file into the aisle, waiting patiently for my seat to appear to my right. An aisle seat. Never the window. I know what the ground looks like from thirty thousand feet. I’ve seen it before. More times than I care to mention, in fact. The aisle allows for easy exit. I can escape quickly. I slide my carry on into the overhead compartment and settle into my seat. Unlike my seatmate, I tuck my phone away. Having turned it off before I left my apartment, I didn’t need to check any last emails or make any calls.

Instead, I pull my book from my bag and slip my earplugs from my pocket. My neighbor leans over to say something, but I ignore her. I’m not here for small talk or friendships. She lingers a moment longer than necessary before returning to her screen. I open the book to the page I last marked. Not that I needed to, I’d read this book a million times. The book that was written for me. The one that nearly destroyed my father, and the one that made my mother an icon.

I hated this book. I’d hated for as long as I could remember, yet every year I revisit it. Each year, I buy a new edition. One with an updated cover or a new forward. One to celebrate an anniversary. Unlike the book’s biggest fans, I don’t keep them on display. Instead, I read it and tuck it away in a box. All thirty-five editions relegated to a coffin under my bed never to be seen in the light of day again. I collect them, yet I wish to destroy them. Burn their pages and return them to tiny particles. Brush away the secrets buried within the pages and pretend they do not exist.

“I love that book,” my seatmate says loudly. She ignores my desire to remain unbothered and continues, “is that the new cover? I have a first edition and then the twenty-fifth-anniversary one they did. Have you read her other books?”

Her question is one I’ve yet to figure out how to answer, despite having a lifetime to find one. I watched my mother give birth to them. I sat in a corner in total silence, not daring to breathe or move for fear of interfering with her creative process. Rather than speak, I nod.

“Which is your favorite?”

None of them. All of them. I lift the one I am holding and grin. This time, I pull from deep within my resources and produce a genuine smile. Emma’s Eyes,” I answer. “Yours?”

“Emma’s Eyes is mine too,” she says, “but I also loved Emma’s Heart, too.”

“Another good one.”

“I heard the author passed away last week,” she says. I wince, trying to hide my reaction. She turns towards the window for a moment. I blink away the tears that threaten to form in my eyes and compose myself before she turns to me and whispers, “so tragic.”

I nod. It was tragic. A tragedy I’d been expecting for years. One I saw coming from the moment I saw my mother for who she really was. The woman behind the words was much different from the woman on the page. Her own smile was rarely seen inside our home. She saved that for her adoring fans. She reserved her passion and compassion for her characters.

“Where are you headed?” she asks. “I’m off to Kansas City for a girl’s weekend. I’ve got twin boys. They’re two and a handful. My mom is helping my husband out this weekend. My name is Jennifer Grant, by the way.”

“Katie,” I say and offer her my hand. She shakes it gently, holding on to me as if I were a wet noodle. I don’t offer my last name—I never do—and thankfully, she doesn’t ask.

I sense she wants to ramble on and on about the challenges of motherhood. So, I nod along and add sound effects that indicate I am listening when I’m not. I allow her to talk to me about the trials and tribulations of working motherhood. Something I know nothing about. Nor will I ever. I ignore the tugging inside me, the one I’ve worked to silence.

“I’m sorry! I’ve been talking about myself and not letting you speak.” She tucks a strand of her brown hair behind her ears and raises her eyebrow, nudging me to speak. “Where did you say you were headed?”

“Home,” I say. 

“Kansas City?”

I shake my head. “A little further south.”

She waits for me to answer. When I don’t, she shrugs. “Oh.”

She says it so softly, my guilt kicks in. “It’s a small town just outside of the city. Only a few hundred people live there.”

“Any special occasion?”

“My mother passed away.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” My answer has the desired effect. She offers a frown and turns her attention back to her phone.

The rest of the flight is spent in silence. I read the pages without reading the words. I know this story by heart. I could recite it in my sleep. Emma often comes to me in my dreams. Though my mother never confirmed it, I always knew that Emma was the daughter she’d wished I’d become. Loyal, loving, and compliant. Like my mother, Emma was a wordsmith. She crafts beautiful prose and tells stories. She’s also a private investigator, though my mother confessed years ago that storyline was just a ploy to sell more books. Emma was never meant to solve crimes. She existed for beauty. She gave my mother a sense of peace and calm that she couldn’t get anywhere else. 

My mother loved Emma in a way she’d never been capable of loving either my father or me.

11.7.19 – InstaShortie – A New Ending

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up earlier. Before bed, I’ll set out my tennis shoes and sports bra. I’ll have the coffee accouterments set out on the counter. I won’t hit snooze. I won’t give in to the temptation of nine more minutes. I’ll dig deep down inside and find my willpower.

And tomorrow, I will listen to her.

Tonight, however, I fully intend on pouring a second glass of wine. Perhaps a third. I’ll hold the stainless steel spoon in my hand and wrap a paper towel around the pint of Half Baked so my skin won’t freeze to the side.

Tonight I’ll indulge in whatever rom-com Netflix recommends. I won’t ignore the tears as they tickle my eyes. I will let them do their thing. Slide down my cheek and roll across my nose. A sob or ten may escape, but the sound of the spoon hitting my teeth will drown it out.

Because tonight I will put it all behind me. Tomorrow, I’ll detox.

Settling into the worn corner of the couch—the spot I always sit in—I pull the weighted blanket over my lap. My wine glass sits on the end table to my right and the ice cream rests on my knee. Balance. I reach for the remote and click on the television. Netflix is the first app, making it easy and quick to access. The algorithm knows me well. Every suggestion is something light and humorous. Occasionally, it gets quirky and recommends a documentary. Not tonight, though. The Netflix bots appear to have a direct line of sight to my living room. They recognize the ice cream, wine and blotchy face as signs of desperation.

Tiff needs to remember that true love exists. Oh, let’s make her laugh too.

“Thank you, Netflix,” I say as I shove a spoonful of brownie and cookie dough into my mouth. I select the first option presenting. A nice, adorable movie about a girl that wins a dilapidated bed and breakfast. I’m certain I’ve seen this one before, or one just like it. Either way, I’m craving the predictability. I need it after today.

I force my eyes to remain open while I stare at the screen. I can’t blink. The back of my eyelids won’t let go of the replay of this evening’s disaster. It’s stuck on a loop of the most humiliating and devastating night of my life. Neither sleep nor blinking are options tonight.

The day started like the others. I woke up and kissed my fiance good morning. We went for a nice, casual walk around the neighborhood with our dog (technically, his dog, as he reminded later in the day). Carson made coffee while I scrambled eggs and threw bagels in the toaster. We went our separate ways. I headed downtown for work, while he headed to the suburbs to teach his newest charge of unruly kindergartners. 

The rest of the day was as boring and predictable as any other Friday. The detour didn’t hit until after lunch when the power went out at work. Along with it, the internet. The powers that be sent us all home to work. I packed up my laptop and hit the road. Carson wouldn’t home until later, so I didn’t see any reason to text him the change in plans. We’d still meet up at home before heading out for our Friday night dinner. Our standing reservation at our favorite Italian restaurant was the highlight of my week. Lasagna for Carson and eggplant parmesan for me. We’d share a bottle of pinot noir and, maybe, we’d indulge and split a tiramisu.

Carson and I craved routine, or so I thought. Our life had a rhythm and neither of us stepped outside of it. We knew the beat and it pushed us forward.

I should have detected the change in tempo the instant I pulled into the garage to find Carson’s car parked, but I didn’t. Perhaps I’d simply forgotten to write down an early dismissal day. Or, the sniffles he had the night before had morphed into a full-blown cold. He did work with small children, after all.

If the car didn’t tip me off, the low lights and candles should have. Had I missed those, the open bottle of Moscato definitely should have. But I missed it all. Or ignored it.

I climbed the stairs towards my tiny office—the room that would one day have become a nursery—and then plopped myself at my desk. It was then that I noticed something different. Voices. One in particular. Well, two. Carson’s, of course, and hers. They weren’t talking. Well, he was. She was giggling that high pitched prissy giggle that makes my ears cringe. It was unmistakable.

My heart raced as I left my office and walked towards or bedroom, and it leaped clear out of my chest when I opened the door.

The signs had been there for far longer than I care to admit. I knew she was more than a friend. I knew his buddies didn’t go fishing and hunting every other weekend. I followed them on Instagram, too. They posted plenty of shots of them on the boats. For the last few months, Carson hadn’t been in a single shot. They hadn’t tagged him either.

I’d been so focused on our routine and plans, I’d missed the moment he fell off course. His bags were packed long before I kicked him out. It’s not the betrayal that stung the most, but the ease with which he walked out. A simple shrug and a mumbled, “you’re right” was all he offered. Without a single ounce of regard for me or the three years we spent together, he wrapped his arm around her waist and they walked out of the house he and I used to share. Just like that, everything was gone.

For the first Friday in two years, I didn’t have eggplant parmesan for dinner. I did have my bottle of wine, though I stole the Moscato she left behind. The sweetness did little to soothe the bitter rage that had taken over my body, but I drank it anyway.

I tuck my feet under me and rest my head in my hand. My fingers twist through my blonde hair wrapping a chunk between my thumb and index finger. I snake my way up the hair until I reach the top of my head and then start over. The rhythm lulls me back to the moment. I allow my brown eyes a single blink. This time I do it slowly and let the images of the day play one final time. When I open my eyes, I draw in a deep breath and let it go slowly.

Today was a hiccup. A blip. A tiny, insignificant moment. Three years is a long time to waste on someone who turns out not to be who you thought they were. The silence of the room creeps in around me. I strain my ears to see if I can still hear Carson. The clomp of his boots on the stairs or the whine of the country music he insisted on playing day and night. But there is nothing but quiet.

A smile spreads across my face. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the sound of nothing. With Carson, there was always some noise whether it was his music or a University of Tennessee football game on the TV, he couldn’t stand silence. He also couldn’t sit still. He’d have hated watching me sit on the couch and watch a lame-ass chick flick.

I revel in the lack of man in the house. When he moved in, his things started taking over. Guns & Ammo magazines on the coffee table and his music on the iPod. Mud and dirty boots on my cream carpets. Throws and blankets replaced with dog hair and camo jackets. Though, I did miss Ruby’s dog hair and Ruby herself.

As I watched the young woman in the movie learn her dream of owning a quaint bed and breakfast would require years of work and renovation by the only (annoying and handsome) carpenter in town, I realized I didn’t actually miss Carson. I missed the idea of Carson. The imagined life for us I’d created is what I missed.

I sink further into my comfy spot on the couch. This time when my eyes close, my smile widens. 

9.25.19 – InstaShortie – Over-Expectated Chapter Two

Need to catch up? Check out Chapter One here.


Darkness met me when I opened my eyes. No light from outside, which meant it was still early. I stretched my arms over my head, arching my back and yawning. My bladder begged me to get out of bed, and I’d tried unsuccessfully to ignore it. The room, though fully equipped with the wonders of modern central heating, felt just a few degrees warmer than the air outside. Shivering, I slipped out from under the covers and braced myself for the cold, laminate floors. Not hardwood, of course, not in this cheap apartment.

I ran to the bathroom, not even bothering the flip on the light. As I sat on the toilet, I closed my eyes and replayed the events of last night. I opened then quickly. There was absolutely no need to relive any of that. Still single. Now unemployed. But, hey, I did win a two-week cruise with my best friend. After I flushed, I made my way back to the bed. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee wafted in my room, which was odd considering I hadn’t made it and I didn’t have one of those fancy coffee makers with a timer.

Mom. It had to be, unless the world’s nicest intruder was currently in my house brewing me coffee before sunrise on a Saturday. 

“Ugh,” I groaned and grabbed a pair of flannel pajama pants off the floor.

“I can hear you,” my mother called from the other side of the door.

“Good morning,” I said, forcing as much fake enthusiasm into my scowl as possible.

“I made coffee. You really should change the password on your computer. Took me all of two tries to guess it. Also—”

“Nope,” I said. I held my hands up in surrender. I wasn’t ready to talk about why that name was my password, or how she’d figured it out so quickly. Geri Yancey didn’t do boundaries. No locked door could keep her from breaking into her daughter’s apartment to make coffee and hack into her only child’s computer.

“Anyway, I took a look at your resume.”

“Can I have coffee before you dive into how pathetic my life really is?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to say the words, Mom. I can hear it in your tone and the fact that you hacked into my computer to fluff up my resume for Uncle Ted.”

“Carrie, I just don’t understand why—”

“Coffee first. Then you can shame your little heart out.” I padded into the kitchen and pulled open the cabinet. Grabbing the largest clean mug I could find, I pulled it out and filled it with coffee. No cream. No sugar. Just black. 

Mom was sitting on the couch with my laptop perched in her lap. I reluctantly made my way over to her and sat beside her. No matter how much I wanted to avoid whatever conversation we were about to have, I knew resistance was pointless.

“Well, the one bright spot is that you have agency experience. Though, I’m not sure we can put Jake down as a reference.”

I cringed. It was far too early to hear that name. As long as she didn’t dive into details, I might survive this conversation.

“Considering how badly you screwed that one up.” She clearly had no intention of avoiding painful memories.

“Mom, please,” I whined. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of experience in my field any more than I wanted to drudge up the ex-boyfriend that sent me crying back to minimum wage and stocking shelves. “Not today. Besides, I didn’t screw anything up.”

“Sure, dear.” My mother patted my knee and turned to face me. Her brown eyes studied mine for a moment. I got my eyes from her, as she liked to remind me. The mousey blonde hair came from my father’s side of the family. “Who was your boss at Tabor and Associates?”

“Jake,” I replied. His name spilled from my mouth like venom. “His boss was Robin.”

“Can we put her down?”

Considering Robin was the reason we broke up, probably not. I shook my head. “Can we just leave that one off? I was only there two years.”

“It’s your only relevant experience.”

“This is Uncle Ted we are talking about. Your brother won’t dive into his niece’s resume.”

“And if Uncle Ted doesn’t hire you?”

I laughed. “Mom, Uncle Ted once paid me two hundred dollars to tie his shoes because I needed a new tire on my car, I’m pretty sure he’ll hire me the second I ask.”

Mom smiled and said, “You’re probably right but can you take this seriously, just in case he doesn’t?”

“Sure,” I replied, “oh, by the way, I’m going on a cruise on Monday.”


“With Aaron.” I held my breath as I waited for her response. The only thing she hated more than my lack of career growth was my friendship with Aaron. Ever since she found him standing naked in her kitchen digging through the refrigerator our sophomore year of high school, she hadn’t been able to say his name without gagging just a little. The visual of Aaron’s naked ass was forever etched in her mind.

“Excuse me?”

“Mom, I know you heard me. Aaron won, well, I won, a two-week cruise through the Mediterranean.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Not even a little.”

“Do you think now is a good time for you to be galivanting halfway across the world with … Aaron.” Her nose wrinkled and her lips curled in disgust.

“Aaron,” I said, repeating his name just to watch her squirm, “won the trip for us, so yeah, he has to go. And, I’m unemployed now, what better time to escape reality for a little while.”

“And if Uncle Ted hires you?”

“Then I start in two weeks like any other normal job.”

“This is a bad idea.”

“But what if I meet some hot Greek guy, fall in love, get married and squirt out a few grandbabies.” Mentioning Aaron was guaranteed to produce a reaction of disgust. Mentioning future grandbabies was sure to elicit my mother’s approval of anything.

She thought for a moment. Her eyes twinkled at the possibilities. She was probably naming her grandchildren as she sat there.

Smiling, she said, “I suppose you’re right. Two weeks is a normal lead time before starting a job. Do you have clothes? Formal dresses for dinner? Bathing suits? Maybe we should go over to Green Hills today.”

And just like that, I went from winning a cruise to winning a new wardrobe. “That sounds like an excellent idea, Mom.”

9.17.19 InstaShortie – Over-Expectated

“Men like you,” I said and raised my glass, “are the reason women like me have vibrators.”

The amber liquid hit my tongue in a shockwave and burned as it flowed down my throat. I dropped the glass on the bar and grabbed my purse from the hook underneath. Not bothering to give my date a second glance, I slid off the tall stool and tugged my shirt back into place.

“You owe me for that drink,” he replied. “Bitch.”

I paused and squared my shoulders, preparing my response. My jaw clenched in an effort to hold in the tirade begging to break free.

“It’s on the house, Carrie,” the bartender, Adam, called after me. 

I waved to say thank you, but didn’t turn around. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other and pulled out my phone to order an Uber. I should have done it an hour ago, the first time Grabby McGrabby Hands tried to touch my boob. Or five minutes ago when he called me a slut for winking at Adam. Or, perhaps, I should have kept my swiping finger to myself and ignored the impulse to get out of the house.

Literally nothing good comes from a right swipe at ten o’clock at night. Nothing. McGrabby was just another mistake in a long string of bad decisions I’d made sitting alone in my apartment. If only I’d gone to the grocery store and picked up more popcorn. Then, I could have used my fingers to shove salty goodness in my mouth and continue to ignore the fact that I am thirty-two, still working in retail, and single. I don’t even have a cat or a dog as my landlord is strictly anti-anything with fur, gills or wings. I don’t even think she likes humans, but that’s an entirely different story.

I stepped out into the darkness and wrapped my coat tighter. The bitter December air was yet another reminder of this disastrous evening. I could be at home, snuggled under my down comforter—that I got for 75% off retail—but instead, I am out in the cold. Alone and praying that McGrabby stays safely inside the bar and away from me or any other unsuspecting female.

According to the app, my ride was a few minutes away. I clicked out of that app and hovered my finger over the app that had caused me so much trouble.

“Tinder?” I mumbled to no one. “Goodbye.”

I pushed my finger against the screen and waited for the tiny red X to appear. When it did, I tapped it and confirmed my desire to delete the headache. No more swiping. No more winking or flirting or paying an algorithm to find my match. Apparently, I wasn’t the type that could find their type by answering lame questions about my inner desires.

This could be because I don’t know what I want. Or, who I want. I’m not sure I even know my most basic desires, much less my innermost ones. At thirty-two, I’m supposed to have this shit figured out. I have a degree. I followed the rules. I dated. I made friends. I pushed myself forward. I did everything I was supposed to, and yet, here I am. Nowhere near where I should be.

My phone lit up with an incoming call. I groaned, but answered.

“Hey,” I said, sighing. “What are you doing up this late, Mom?”

“Did you see the news?” she asked. Her voice filled with a strange mix of anxiety and excitement.


“Oh, sweetie,” she cooed. Now she just sounded sad.

“Who died?”

“Carrie! No one.”

“Mom, it’s cold and my Uber should be here soon, could you just tell me?”

“Galaxy Apparel went under. Closing all stores immediately.” She drew in a deep breath. “Apparently, the CEO and CFO were using the chain as a front to launder money.”

“What?” I pressed the phone closer to my ear as if that would provide the clarity I needed. “I was just there today, Mom. I go into work at nine tomorrow. Everything was fine.” 

“Check your email.”

“Hold on, let me put you on speaker.” I yanked the phone down and opened my email. A two sentence message from my boss confirmed the news. Closed. Immediately. 

“You know what this means, right?” my mom asked with a renewed sense of purpose.

“That I’m unemployed and even more pathetic than I was two minutes ago?”

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, Carrie. This means you can finally put that degree your father and I paid for to use.”

“If I don’t end up homeless first.” I lifted the phone back to my ear. A white sedan pulled up. “My Uber is here, can I call you back?”

“No.” She sighed and continued, “I know you won’t actually call me back. I’ll stay on. You can just listen if you don’t want to talk.”

“Great,” I said, rolling my eyes. I pulled open the door and slid into the back seat. The driver repeated my address to me and I confirmed. I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. “Mom, I know you mean well, but I don’t have the patience for a lecture right now.”

“It’s not a lecture, dear. I just want you to call your Uncle Ted tomorrow. There is an opening at his agency. Entry-level, but without experience, it’s the best you can hope for. I’ve already told him you’ll be giving him a call. He’s expecting you.”

“Perfect.” I groaned. “I’ll call him.”

“Are you wallowing? I can hear it in your voice. Don’t wallow. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. This is a gift, Carrie. A rare gift. I’ll see you tomorrow. Since you won’t be at work. I’ll be by first thing in the morning. We can polish up that resume.”

“Sure, Mom,” I said, not bothering to argue. It was pointless. My mother had a new project and not even her subject would stand in her way. “See you then.”

I hung up before she could respond. Rereading the email, I couldn’t believe it. As much as I hated my job at Galaxy, I’d been there for four years now. It paid the bills and was easy. Plus, I got amazing deals on clothes, and I had plenty of downtime to read or pretend to work on that novel I was determined to write. A job with Uncle Ted would give me none of that. It would exile me to a life of “yes sir” and tiny cubicles. Office politics would take over my life, and I’d end up bringing work home on the weekends. I knew the drill. I’d watched every single one of my friends lose their souls to corporate America. As much as I hated being stuck in retail, at least I was stuck on my own terms.

“Miss?” the driver called back to me. “We’re here.”

“Thank you,” I said and held in a yawn. I thanked him for the peaceful ride and climbed out of the car and back into the cold air. The walk up the stairs to my one-bedroom apartment was dark. The light in the breezeway burned out a month ago and the landlord hadn’t yet replaced it despite countless messages from both myself and my neighbor. 

The key caught in the lock, as it always did, and I yanked it hard. It took a few tries, but it opened eventually. It always did. I felt along the wall and flipped on the lights. My shoe flipped across the room and landed just in front of the TV as I kicked it off. The second hit the ground just behind its mate. I slipped my bra off, sighing when it released its hold, and dropped it onto the kitchen counter. I could deal with it tomorrow. All of this could be dealt with tomorrow. Tonight, I planned to wallow my heart out.

Before I could turn off my phone, an incoming call illuminated the screen. Assuming it was my mother again, I went to ignore it. It wasn’t.

“Carrie!” my best friend Aaron shouted in my ear. “You’ll never guess what just happened?”

“If you’re calling about the Galaxy news, I already know.”

“The what? Why would I be calling about your stupid job at midnight?” he asked. “Remember that cruise contest we entered?”

“No.” I yawned. Aaron was always forwarding me random giveaways and contests. I was his designated bonus entry.

“The two week cruise. In Greece, Carrie,” he said. His voice filled with indignation at my inability to remember.

“Aaron, you enter a thousand sweepstakes a week. That’s all your social media is. Shares of giveaways.”


“Okay, two-week cruise. In Greece. I don’t remember, but I will pretend I do. I’m on the same page,” I lied and poured myself a generous glass of wine.

“I won! Well, technically, you won.”

“What? I didn’t get an email?”

“Of course not, I signed you up using the email address I created for you.”

“I won’t ask now, but we will be discussing boundaries.”

“Did you hear me? You won, Carrie! We’re going on a cruise!”

“Don’t I get to pick my plus one?”

“Nope,” he said. I heard the distinct sound of Cheetos being crunched. “Besides, who else would you want to go with?”

“Tiffany. Shannon. Lauren,” I said, listing off my other friends. All of whom I would much rather be trapped on a cruise ship with.


“When is this cruise?”

“We’d leave on Monday.”

“As in two days from today?”

“Carrie, you’re unemployed, single and cat-less.”

“Thank you for the reminder.”

“Pack your bags, Carrie! I can’t believe I finally won something!”

“I won, Aaron.” He muttered something about me being ungrateful and hung up the phone. I turned mine off before anyone else could call or text. My mind whirled with the news of the evening. Shit date. Unemployed. Won a cruise. It was like whiplash. Unlucky. Unlucky. Lucky. 

I flopped onto the couch and lifted the wine glass to my lips. Maybe Mom was right, this was just the push I needed.

Want more Carrie? Click here to read Chapter Two.

6.4.19 InstaShortie – Heart First

Late again. Always, always late. My mother is going to kill me!

I silently cursed myself. I knew I didn’t have time to curl my hair, but I did it anyway. It just fell so much softer when it was curled; my platinum blonde hair framing my face perfectly. I could have skipped the dramatic smokey eye, but the shimmery purple made my blue eyes glow. I could have simply thrown my hair into a messy bun, slipped on my favorite Vanderbilt hoodie and a pair of jeans. My makeup could have been more natural and less dramatic. Of course, I didn’t need a stop at Starbucks. Caffeine was necessary, but it was entirely possible for me to make my own rather than standing in a line to order a six buck latte.

Yes, I could have been on time. But if I had, I wouldn’t have met him. And that would have been a tragedy. I might have missed everything.

His blue eyes wouldn’t have pierced my soul when he turned around to excuse himself after bumping into my bag. That sweet smirk might never have been tossed my way. I might never have known how hot his skin would feel against mine.

“Lonnie,” he said, offering his hand. I took it and held on for just a bit longer than was necessary. I did not want to let go. “Lonnie Rhodes.”

“Quinn Smithson,” I replied and smiled. His hand still warm and tight around mine. I’d never been one to fall for the cliche of love at first sight, but as I studied  his face, I knew there was something about him. It called to me like a favorite song playing in the background. Subtle. Sweet. Transformative.

He dropped my hand. Disappointment rushed through me.

“Let me buy you a coffee.” He winked, and I couldn’t say no.

“Not necessary, but thank you.” I felt the flames rise in my cheeks. I willed myself to get it together. I ordered my Americano and followed him to the side of the counter.

I checked the time on my phone. It was almost nine. Mom was definitely going to kill me. Or, at least harass me for hours on end about my inability to follow a schedule or read the time.

“Late?” He asked. His eyes sparkled as he gazed at me. It was if he were drinking me in, memorizing my face. The feeling was intoxicating.

“Yeah,” I said and nodded. “It’s my dad’s fiftieth birthday.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off his face. Everything about him was perfect. The way his chestnut brown hair fell in his eyes, the way it curled subtly at the ends. His sharp jawline and cheekbones. Those soft, kissable lips made me want to know what they might feel like pressed against mine. Electricity flowed through my veins at the thought.

“Where’s the party?” He asked.

“In Franklin,” I answered without thinking. “That’s where they live.”

“Fancy,” he said. “What’s a Franklin girl doing slumming in East Nasty?”

I laughed. It was a question my own mother often asked. “I like living away from the pomp and circumstance of old money.”

It was half true. I did like the calmness of the suburb my parents lived in. But the big houses and perfectly manicured lawns were suffocating. Mom’s house was practically covered in plastic. My brother and I were never allowed to touch anything. The house was always immaculate. Pristine. Much like the images of our family my mother plastered all over Facebook.

When I told her I was moving to East Nashville, she’d nearly vomited on her Tory Burch boots. Her nose turned up at the name as she spat it back at me. Though, that reaction was not nearly as bad as her response to my chosen profession. She couldn’t wrap her head around my desire to work and live in an area known for its crime and low incomes. Mom had never once stepped foot in my apartment, always insisting I come to them. I was fairly certain my mother had never been south of the airport, despite spending her entire life in Nashville.

“Hmm.” His lips vibrated. “‘Maybe I should have let you buy my latte.

“Next time,” I offered.

“It’s a date.” His smile spread across his face.

My Apple Watch buzzed on my wrist. Mom was calling for the hundredth time this morning. I help up a finger and mouthed an apology before turning my back to him and answering the phone.

“Hey, Mom,” I said casually as if I weren’t aware of the fact that I was supposed to be somewhere.

“Where are you?” She hissed. I could hear my dad in the background telling her to calm down.

Oh, Dad, you know better. I silently scolded him. My mother didn’t understand the meaning of calm down and bristled at the suggestion she do so.

“I’m at Starbucks right by the interstate. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

“You were supposed to be here an hour ago.” The annoyance in her voice crept through the phone. I pulled it away from my ear.

“Mom, I told you it be there at nine. It’s just now nine. I’ll see you soon. Love you. Bye!”

I hung up before she could argue and returned my attention to Lonnie. Suddenly, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and talk to him. Let his eyes hold me captive. I could get lost in them. For a moment, I did. I dove heart first into the ocean blueness and allowed myself to drown in the possibilities they held.

“Gotta go?” He asked and handed me my latte.

“Sadly,” I said and offered a shrug. “I am late for my Dad’s birthday party.”

We both stood there, my hand on his. He didn’t let go of the drink. I didn’t let go out his hand. I didn’t know if I could.

“I am going to hold you to that coffee date,” he said. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Quinn Smithson.”

“Likewise, Lonnie Rhodes.” His name rolled off my tongue smoothly. It made my lips tingle. Get it together, Quinn.

He offered one final smirk before heading to leave.

“Wait!” I called as I followed him out. “Don’t you need my phone number?” Even I could hear the desperation in my voice.

“You have mine,” he replied and nodded to the cup in my hand. I turned it and noticed he’d written his name and phone number on the sleeve.

I giggled and mouthed, “oh.”

Then, as quickly as he’d walked into my life, he was gone. I climbed into my Acura MDX, a graduation gift from Dad, and let my head rest on the back of the seat. I closed my eyes and images of his face appeared. I was fairly certain I’d be dreaming about him tonight.

5.29.19 InstaShortie – Run

Pink, purple and orange streaks burst across the sky. My hands gripped the steering wheel so tight I feared my fingers might pop off. I didn’t dare look in the rear view. What was behind me wasn’t anything worth looking back on. There was nothing fond about those memories. Nothing I wanted to take with me. Everything faded into a bleak darkness that I wished would swallow me whole.

Desperate for a distraction, I turned the radio on. Static from the preprogrammed station greeted me. The signal likely went out a few hundred miles ago. I wasn’t sure how far I’d driven, but I was certain it wasn’t far enough. I could drive all night and all day without stopping and it still wouldn’t be far enough.

I blinked. My eyes heavy from staring down an open road for hours. I didn’t want to stop, but I needed to. My eyes caught the glow of a small town on the next exit.

The neon lights sparked on and off, illuminating the vacancy sign. According to the last city limit sign I’d passed, I was just passed Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My mother had always insisted I not travel alone, but if I did, always pick a brightly lit exit with at least one franchised fast food restaurant with a name and a logo I recognized. According to her, McDonald’s and Burger King made an exit or town legitimate and less likely to attract serial killers or rapists.

This exit had neither of those. The motel I chose preferred cash and didn’t offer HBO. There wasn’t a fast food chain in sight. If she weren’t already disowning me, this moment would have solidified her decision.

“No daughter of mine,” she’d say, scolding and judging. Her mouth soured into a frown.

My only requirement was that the exit had a motel or hotel with an empty bed. This exit met that. I wasn’t staying long. Eight hours max. Six to sleep and a nice, long, hot shower.

The clerk handed me a key. An actual key; not a keycard. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been in a hotel with a metal key attached to a hard plastic key tag. Heavy and foreign in my hands, I slipped it into the keyhole and pushed the door open.

Stale cigarette smoke and old, lingering recirculated air caught my nose, I fought back the sneeze, not wanting to inhale anymore than I already had to. Flicking on the light revealed orange and mustard yellow decor dating back to well before my birth. The comforter on the bed looked as itchy as I was sure it felt. The burgundy and white floral pattern did nothing for the room.

As long as it’s free of bed bugs. I thought, adding another item to my list of requirements. It only had two and for now, that seemed like plenty.

I’d been on the road for eight hours now. Having stopped no less than four times to pee, eat or get gas. Every two hours. That’s it. I timed it as perfectly as I could with little planning.

My eyes blurred from exhaustion. The tears I’d shed hours ago had long since dried, but looking in the mirror the evidence remained. My brown eyes were highlighted by red veins and outlined with dark circles and streaked mascara.

I raked my fingers through my hair, pulling out tangles and loose strands. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen my natural hair color, but the familiar deep auburn shade I spent hundreds on every month dulled in the fluorescent lights. The lights did little to flatter the rest of me. My pale skin was nearly translucent under them.

In my haste, I hadn’t even packed a toothbrush, much less a hairbrush. I splashed cold water from the rusted tap on my face, attempting to wash away what makeup remained. Unwrapping the soap on the counter, I tried not to think about the feature story I’d seen on how hotels reuse soaps.

Peeling off my tank top, I tossed it into the room, careful to make sure it landed on the chair. The shower handle was just as rusted as the faucet in the sink. A burst of maroon water flowed out before turning clear. I waited another minute before pulled the  lever for the shower. My jeans landed next to my tank top, followed by my bra and underwear.

The water reached an acceptable temperature, but not nearly as hot as I’d have preferred. I threw a towel on the floor to have something soft to step on when I finished and then stepped into the lukewarm stream of water.

The hotel shampoo gave me less confidence about its freshness status, but at this point my standards had already been lowered. It lathered and rinsed, what more could I ask for? I squirted a generous amount of conditioner into my hands and worked it through my hair. At home, my conditioner was a deep treatment masque meant for less frequent use. Out of habit, I let the cheap excuse for a conditioner soak and sit on my hair while I scrubbed the rest of my body with the bar soap and Brillo pad of a washcloth.

Nothing in this motel would pass for soft or luxurious. I’m not spoiled, per say, but my job paid for four and five star hotels when I traveled.

Nope. Do not think about work. Do not dwell on the past, Vic, it’s not worth it. I scolded myself.

I rinsed my hair and pulled open the shower curtain. It wasn’t the long, refreshing shower I’d spent the last 400 miles dreaming about, but it would suffice. The white towel that I grabbed was at least very white and very clean, but it was rough and scratchy. I dried quickly and pulled the one pair of clean underwear I’d packed in my backpack and slipped them on. In addition to the underwear, I also grabbed a change of clothes and a t-shirt. I slipped on the t-shirt and laid out the clothes for tomorrow.

My hair would have to air dry, I decided. Without tools and product, it wasn’t worth attempting to use the motel’s hairdryer. Rubbing the towel over my head, I tried to tousle it dry. It would eventually settle into a mess of untamed curls.

I sat on the bed and pulled out my phone.

No missed calls or texts, but my emails and calendar notifications were too many to count. I deleted them all before going into my settings and disconnecting my work email. As tempting as it was to read the messages, I knew nothing good would come up it.

Up next was social media. I logged into my Facebook app and disabled my account without even checking the notifications. Then did the same on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Tomorrow, I’d find an AT&T store to trade in my phone and change my number. I assumed I had at least another twelve hours before anyone noticed my absence.

If they noticed.

Lying in the dark in an unfamiliar bed in a town I’d never been to brought a sense of peace. This was what I’d been working towards. A fresh start. A clean slate. No obligations. No chains. Nothing to remind me of the life I’d never wanted. Every mistake erased. A million secrets to keep.

Everything is alright. I whisper into the darkness of the car. I am safe.

I wasn’t running, I reassured myself. This wasn’t some lame attempt to grab his attention or make him miss me. This was for me. I needed this.

I’m not running away from the past. I’m chasing the future. My future.

5.21.19 InstaShortie – Baxter

Warm liquid ran down my calf. It worked its way from my ankle into my brand new Kate Spade pumps. Pooling under my foot, I felt the heat rise all the way to my cheeks. I lifted my head and stared up at the cloudless sky. The sun warmed my skin even more. Confusion followed the heat as it spread through me.

If the sky was clear and I wasn’t standing in the shower, where the hell was this water coming from? I looked down. The confusion was replaced with horror. This is not happening. Not today.

“I am so sorry!” a deep voice behind me shouted over the buzz of early morning commuters. “Baxter, no!”

The sound of a puppy whimpering mingled with the man’s disappointment. Did this dog just pee on me?!

I glanced around the lobby of Starbucks. There were two people ahead of me and about fifteen behind me in line. It was 7:30 am on a Monday morning. There was no way I was giving up my spot. I’d been in this line for fifteen minutes. My foot and shoe would have to wait.

“Baxter!” he called to his dog again but the chocolate brown puppy plopped down on the sidewalk next to me. His deep black eyes peered up at me, melting whatever anger I’d just felt. I reached down and patted his head. He tilted to the side, giving me access to his ear. I obliged his silent request and scratched behind his ear.

“What a cute boy you are Baxter,” I said. My voice ticking up an octave or two as I slipped into the voice reserved for my baby sister and, apparently, dogs. My sister, now twenty-five, hated it. But Baxter seemed to appreciate it. “You’re just cute enough for me to forgive your for peeing in my new favorite shoes.”

“Let me buy your coffee,” the man said. I didn’t bother looking up at him. Baxter had my full attention. His hand grazed mine, sending a jolt through me. I jerked my hand away. I may have forgiven Baxter, but this human should have known better than to bring his non-potty trained puppy to the busiest Starbucks in downtown Nashville on a Monday morning.

I shrugged, acknowledging the fact that he’d effectively used his dog’s potty break to cut ahead in line. The lady behind me groaned but I ignored her.. “Sure, that’d be great.” I stepped up to the counter and decided to treat myself. “I’ll take a venti iced skinny cinnamon dolce latte with an extra shot.”

He cleared his throat.

“And a whole grain bagel, toasted with cream cheese.”

“Anything else?” the young barista asked. I shook my head. “Name?”

“Maddie,” I replied.

“Tall Americano, please.” I detected the tiniest hint of annoyance in his voice. He brushed my shoulder as he stepped past me to pay.

“Thank you,” I said and turned away, leaving him to deal with the bill. I walked carefully towards the station with napkins and pulled out a handful. Sitting down at the closest table, I slipped my shoe off and soaked up the dog urine with the napkins and attempted to clean my foot.

“I’m Lucas,” he said. After offering to take the napkins and throw them away, he sat down in the seat across from me. Baxter settled at my feet, seeming to have given up on his human. I didn’t blame him. Lucas cleared his throat. He extended his hand and I shook it, ignoring the sweat that soaked his skin.

“Oh, I’m Maddie. You’ve got a sweet puppy, here.” I reached down to pat Baxter’s head again. “Just need to work on his social and bathroom skills. Preferably on knowing when and where it’s appropriate to relieve himself.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled. “We are working on it, huh big guy?” Baxter lifted his head and yawned. I did not believe the two were on the same page.

“Bagel for Maddie!” I excused myself from the lack of conversation to retrieve my bagel. I didn’t need or want it, but it was the least he could do. When I took my seat next to him again, my eyes drifted over his jeans and up his torso towards his face. The sharpness of his jaw and the depth of his blue eyes took me by surprise. His hand was grasping his chestnut brown hair, and a long frown settled on his lips. They looked soft. It was a stark contrast to the hardness the rest of his body carried. His soulful eyes were deeply imbedded in dark circles.

“Puppies are a lot like babies,” I said. My comment hung in the air for a moment before he allowed the tiniest smile to flirt with the corner of his lips.

“He doesn’t sleep much.”

“How old is he?”

“Six months, I think?” he said. “I rescued him a week or so ago. He was dumped on the side of the road by my parent’s house.”

“Awe, who could abandon a face like that?” I said, cooing.

“I know, right?” He yawned again.

The barista called my name and his. Before I could get up, he was on his feet and walking towards the counter to retrieve our respective drinks. I couldn’t help but stare at the way his jeans curved perfectly around his butt. My cheeks reddened and flames spread through me. If there was ever a time I was grateful to have been peed on, this was it. Some people imagine how quarters might bounce off an ass, but my mind was not at all on quarters as I studied the way he moved. I could think of a few things more enticing than quarters.

My body responded almost as quickly as my thoughts. It shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d been single for almost a year and a half now. I’d been on a few dates, but nothing promising. I insisted it was too soon when friends tried to set me up. I didn’t think I was ready. But watching Lucas, I was beginning to think the time had come. I was ready to dive back into the dating pool. Or just a random night of fun with a hot guy who’s dog had already stolen my heart.

“Your latte,” he said, handing me the cup. I was careful to not touch him this time. I didn’t trust my body to respond appropriately. He slipped his hand into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so jealous of a wallet. “Here.”

He handed me a white card. Lucas Moretti. I ran my finger over his name. Below his name was the name of a local real estate firm and a phone number.

“That’s my cell,” he said. “Don’t worry, I won’t try to sell you a house.” This time, a real smile crossed his face, wrinkling the tan skin around his eyes.

“Oh,” I replied. I pulled my own card out from my purse and handed it to him.

“Maddie Anderson,” he said, drawing my name out. Each syllable slithered off his tongue. I watched his lips move and tried not to imagine just how magical they would feel against mine. “Is Maddie short for Madison?”

“Amanda,” I said, shaking my head. “I hate the name Mandy, but there were seven Amandas in my school. So, I picked Maddie.”

Tugging at a strand of my blonde hair, I twisted it around my index finger and thumb. Over and over. Each time dropping it so the curl cascaded down my shoulder. I recognized this as my nervous tic. I glanced around the cafe, trying to decide whether or not to make eye contact. When my gaze finally landed on his face, he held his eyes on mine. Still smiling, neither one of us broke the stare. I couldn’t look away. Baxter laid his head down on my foot, resigning to his fate of being stuck in this cafe. Neither Lucas or I were willing to make the first move. I needed to get to work, but I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I’d rather be doing with this man I’d just met.

“Let’s get dinner sometime, Maddie short for Amanda.” He smirked.

“You’ve got my number,” I said and stood. I decided to play it cool. He didn’t need to know I’d been holding my breath waiting for him to ask that very question. I knelt down to give Baxter one final ear scratch. “Bye, Baxter. Don’t go peeing on any other girls today, okay?” His head bobbed up and down as if he’d understood my request.

I offered Lucas a quick wave before ducking out of the cafe and back onto the busy street. My heart raced when I turned back and noticed him watching me walk away. I could only hope that my skirt was giving him the same thoughts his jeans had given me.

Taking a long, slow sip of my free and extra potent latte, I forced a smile and pulled open the door to the office building. I shouted a greeting to the security guard and walked through the large, ornate lobby. I scanned my badge at the elevator and closed my eyes. I took three deep breaths, letting each one in and out slowly and deliberately. Today was going to be a good day. Today was my day.

5.14.19 InstaShortie – Delivery

Sweat beaded at my hairline and trickled into my eyes. My fingers curled into tight fists. Gritting my teeth, I exhaled sharply. The hissing sound I made danced through the chaos barely audible. I heard it. I heard and felt everything. I tried in vain to concentrate on anything other than the pain. It tore through me in quick waves, syncopated but uneven. The room was dim, but the lights from the machines around me illuminated the faces I couldn’t focus on.

The woman standing beside me squeezed my hand. “It’s time,” she announced.

“Time?” I gasped. I wasn’t ready. It couldn’t be time yet. We’d been here nearly twelve hours, and I still wasn’t ready. Not that I ever would be. I’d read the books, watched the YouTube videos, scrolled the blogs and made the lists. But I knew I’d never be ready. After all, that’s what they all said. Nothing can truly prepare you for the moment or flood of emotions. Or the years of exhaustion and elation that followed.

“Dad,” she called across the room. “It’s time to push.”

My husband didn’t look up. He reached into his backpack, his back to me. We watched in complete silence as he shuffled through the contents. When he found whatever it was he was looking for, his back straightened. But he didn’t turn around. The nurse repeated herself as my body tensed for another contraction.

“Dan!” I hissed. “What the fuck are you doing? It is time to push!”

He turned around. His eyebrows furrowed and his mouth open. “Flossing.”

“What?” I asked not believing what I was hearing.

“Flossing,” he repeated without hesitation.

“It is time to push,” the nurse said again. Her tone far kinder than mine had been.

“Okay,” he said. The floss picker between his fingers, he opened his mouth wider and popped the blue plastic tool between his teeth.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. My teeth clenched so tightly I knew I was bound to chip a tooth. “You’re flossing right now. It couldn’t wait?” My body pitched forward, curling around my stomach.

“There was something stuck in my teeth.” He remained calm and unphased. His shoulders slouched forward and eyes on the floor.

“Yeah? YOU have something stuck? YOU?!” My hands flew in the air in the touchdown formation. I dramatically waved them down towards my swollen belly. “If you don’t put down that stupid flosser, you’re going to have something stuck somewhere even more painful.” The words flew out, growing increasingly louder until I was screaming.

His eyes grew wide for a moment as if he’d just remembered where we were and what was happening. But he didn’t drop the floss. He stood shell shocked and stared at me.

The nurse grabbed my leg and I felt the flames of her stare as she shot daggers across the room. “It’s time,” she snapped. The sharpness in her voice pulled him back. I glanced at her gratefully and she nodded. “You’d be surprised by the stupid shit Dad’s do in the delivery room.”

He sighed and dropped the floss in the trash. I could hear his feet shuffling across the floor during his walk of shame towards the bed. The heat from his breath and the lingering smell of the ice cream cone he’d eaten in my face an hour ago smacked me when he leaned in to kiss my cheek. I jerked away and glared at him. I was starving. The smell of old ice cream mixed with the Greek he’d had for dinner. The two smells danced in my nose and taunted my empty stomach. I growled under my breath.

Before I could utter the words I wanted to curse him with, my lower half tightened into a ball of fury and held my breath captive.

“Ready to push?” The nurse asked.

“Yes,” my husband said as if he’d been ready the entire time.