I swallowed my truth whole, the moment I heard yours. Anything I said could only be a contradiction to your belief. My silence made little difference. My face was a marquee and you turned away in disgust.
I let you leave the house without trying to stop you. Why I didn’t speak, I don’t know, but it should have been obvious to you. How could you not see how ugly those yellow boots looked with your green skirt?
I found you in the woods after days of searching. Your eyes stared sightlessly at the metallic sky. A sky whose gray color reflected your skin. If you were flying, it would have encompassed you, like camouflage. You would have enjoyed that… To leave the bounds of gravity and become one with the sky. I wondered if you could now.
It’s strange, the thoughts that fill your mind when faced with the worst case scenario. Perhaps it was a function of shock. I’m not sure. I was numb and tired from days of searching. It took me a few minutes to find my phone and make the call.
I didn’t cry. I already knew, when you didn’t come home on time. I stayed by your side, refusing to leave the site until the coroner zipped you in, covering your face with a shroud of black plastic. My heart felt like it too, was encased.
I knew you too well, though. I knew you flirted with death like it was an old girlfriend you couldn’t get over. I hadn’t expected to grow old with you. You were too restless for anything so mundane and I guess I am too.
Tomorrow I’ll go climbing, because I can’t go to your funeral. I can’t watch you be placed in the ground, so far from the sky you worshipped, your adrenaline all dried up. I’m going to ascend in the exact same spot I know you were attempting to climb when you fell. Maybe I too, can become one with the sky.
“She’s on my last fucking nerve today!” Kelsey slammed her keys down on the table, flopped into a chair and forced herself to take deep breaths. She had to get her composure back before she went back out there.
Aimee poked her head out of her office. “Do you want me to get your mom out of the car?”
“Is it ok if I hide in the bedroom for a few minutes?”
“Yeah. Go. Take a break.” Aimee kissed her on the head. “You’re doing great, Honey. It’s ok to be frustrated.”
Aimee left through the back door, allowing Kelsey to retreat and find her composure. She closed the bedroom door and fell onto the bed, sobbing for what felt like the thousandth time that week.
Aimee entered quietly forty minutes later. “She’s settled in front of her TV with her lunch. How bad was it?”
“She told the doctor I was keeping her locked up in a lesbian prison, then berated me all the way home for my immoral lifestyle and told me I should stay out of her business. Why are we doing this again?”
“We don’t have to,” Aimee said, plainly. “You don’t have to accept her abuse anymore.”
“Yeah. I just thought if we let her stay with us, cared for her, maybe she would…”
“Accept your immoral lifestyle? See us as an legitimate couple? Treat you how she should have always treated you as a mother?”
“Yeah. I guess I did.”
“It’s pretty deep conditioning isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Kelsey sobbed again and Aimee wrapped her arms around her pulling her to her chest.”
When she finished, Aimee kissed her forehead gently, “You are enough and you deserved to be loved unconditionally by your mother. I’m sorry you aren’t getting that from her.”
“So. What do you want to do.”
“I want to start the process of getting her placed, but… I’m going to tell her what’s happening, lay down some ground rules and tell her we’ll reconsider if she manages to treat us respectfully.”
“Do you think she will?”
“No. But I want to be sure I gave her the opportunity.”
“Ok. I support all of that.” She kissed Kelsey on the forehead and moved back to the edge of the bed, standing up. “I’m going to go check on her.”
“Ok. I’ll call the social worker and get things started.”
“I’m proud of you, Babe.”
“Thanks. I think this is the right thing.” She watched Aimee leave, appreciating her gentle, loving support. It had been a rough few weeks and Aimee had barely complained. She as right, too, she didn’t have to accept continued abuse. She picked up her phone and dialed with a sense of relief.
I haven’t been able to update here as frequently as I used to. My life is actually in a bit of an upheaval at the moment. In a good way… but still. It keeps things busy.
I just completed a long distance move and am living in a house full of unpacked boxes. As a result, I am also in the middle of a career change… or at least changing my main source of income. I’m still writing every day but I’m having trouble coming up with interesting stories to post here. In a way, I think that’s a good thing as it was starting to feel a little repetitive. I’m ready to stretch myself.
As such, I entered a short story competition through NYC Midnight. It’s my first time doing anything like this so I’m ok with whatever the outcome is. They promise critique for every story submitted, which is invaluable. I’m working on a story for the first round now.
I’ll keep posting the micro-fiction as it comes to me, I’m just allowing my focus to widen for the moment. Hope everyone is well. Thanks for listening!
Jessie shifted uncomfortably in the pew. The heat was getting to her, making her neck itch under her turtleneck. She tugged it, rubbing it back and forth on her itchy neck and pulling it out to let some air in. If only she could step outside for some air but she sat in the middle of the row, a parent on either side. She wasn’t going anywhere without a really good reason.
“Stop fidgeting, Jessie,” her mother hissed, “it’s unbecoming.”
Jessie willed herself still, turning her attention to Pastor Grey. Anything to keep her mind from the itching. It was an unfortunate mistake.
“… living in sin, every day. The Bible says if a man has sexual relations with a man, as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.”
Jessie fidgeted slightly and recieved a warning look from her father.
“Homosexuality is a sin,” Pastor Grey continued, “punishable by death.” He paused for effect, “And yet in the book of Matthew, God welcomes home his lost sheep. To the sinners among us, I warn you, no matter how well you think you can hide, God sees you as you are. Repent before it’s too late. Repent and come home to God’s green pasture. Repent before your sins carry you straight to Hell!”
Did his eyes rest in her for an moment? Jessie arranged her face in what she hoped was an interested look. The church was becoming hotter. Blood was rushing in her ears and reality was slipping into something dreamlike. Please don’t let me pass out, she prayed. If I pass out they’ll know why and they’ll send me away to that horrible camp.
Sure enough, Pastor Grey had gone on to speak about conversion therapy. Jessie concentrated on her breathing and willed her heartbeat to slow. Pastor Grey was reaching a crescendo. He had to be almost done. The ringing in her ears rescinded slightly.
The congregation was standing now and Pastor Grey was striding down the aisle with a look of proud arrogance. Jessie averted her eyes as he passed. She felt her body flush with a mixture of shame and bitter hatred.
The crowd moved slowly towards the exit. Jessie followed her father towards the sunlight streaming in through the open door. The air felt fresher and her body relished the coolness of the mid-winter air as they stepped outside. Finally, she thought, it’sover.
Tomorrow she headed back to college for her final semester. One more semester and she was free. One more semester and she could live honestly, free from parental control. She wasn’t sure she would ever come home again.
There was a flurry of activity as we made frantic preparations, and then we waited. Instead of huddling together in one group, we had splintered off into small cliques. Milo and I took advantage of their preoccupation to make our way to a quiet spot by ourselves. We wanted to die together, unencumbered by the group.
We slipped into the tiny vestibule behind the altar. Milo slumped against the wall and slid to the floor with his legs folded to his chest. I followed suit, plopping bedside him with my arms folded on my knees. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so exhausted or afraid.
“Do you think we’re going to die, Milo?”
“I hope they do.” He gestured over his shoulder toward the sanctuary with his thumb.”
“I’m not sorry, Theo. They’ve kept us captive and killed the others. Death is too good for them.”
“I know, but I don’t want to wish it on them. I would rather the fuckers were taken alive. They should pay for their crimes in this life.”
“I’d rather they die.” He shook his head forcefully as if trying to shake them out of it. “Ever since…” Milo shuddered, and I closed my eyes to block out the memory.” You know. Ever since what they did to you last time. I want them to hurt.”
“Shhhh. Milo, don’t… Don’t become them.” I reached for his hand. “We’ll shelter here together, ok? And if… No, WHEN we make it out of here, we’ll be able to be together for real.”
Tears streaked down his cheeks, and I reached out with my free hand to wipe them away. We were forbidden to touch each other at all, much less so intimately, but the world was ending, and no one was here to stop us. I savored the touch of his flesh. It was only in these small stolen moments when we did more than just survive.
He leaned into me, and I let go of his hand and put my arms around him, allowing his full, muscular frame to collapse into me. I held him as if our lives depended on it. Comforting Milo was my thing. Giving me hope was his gift to me.
“I’m sorry. I meant to hold it together.”
“Theo, I wan…” He trailed off. “Shhhhhhh. Something’s happening…”
From behind the closed door came muffled shouts, screams, and bangs. Smoke began to flow under the door jam, and I took off my shirt and stuffed it in the crack. There was no other exit. I sat back down, pulled Milo back into my arms, and held on to him for dear life, but we both knew it wouldn’t save us.
The door flew open and noxious gas filled our lungs. We coughed uncontrollably, escalating our fear. My brain could barely make sense of what was happening. Who was coming? Our guys or someone unknown?
Two figures entered wearing gas masks, and I still didn’t know if they were friend or foe. I clung to Milo. If this was it, there was at least a small comfort in being together. Milo’s fingers cut into my flesh. His heart was beating in earnest against my chest, which felt bruised and sore. We were drooling and snotting all over each other.
I felt arms around my chest, pulling me away from Milo, but I wouldn’t let anything separate me from him. I went into full fighting mode, flailing my arms wildly against the unknown attacker. I couldn’t see at all, and I could no longer feel him. They had won. They had finally torn me from my lover. Eventually, I realized I was no longer in the vestibule or even the sanctuary. I was wholly outside, still flailing in the air like a panicked swimmer.
“Calm down!” I felt my arms pulled behind my back and cold metal against my wrists, first one, then the other. I struggled and toppled to the ground.
“Noooooooooo! Millllllooooooo!!!! Nooooooo!!!” The cult had used handcuffs the last time they tortured me. I wasn’t going down this way.
“Take the cuffs off him! You’re making it worse! You don’t understand!”
It was Milo’s voice. “Millllooooo!!!” I rolled and bucked on the ground, not caring at all for my exposed skin. I was beyond feeling anything but panic. “Help me! Millllooooo! They’re doing it again!! Milo! Help! Please!”
“Take them off! What are you doing? They tortured us in there! Take them off! He didn’t do anything! We’re victims!”
“Stop struggling.” It was another voice, a deep growl. “Stop! I’ll remove the cuffs, but you have to calm down.”
“Theo. Do what he says. I’m right here.”
I froze. My chest was a volcano of panic. I was face down on the sidewalk, half emerged in a puddle, wracked with terrified sobs. I heard, rather than felt, the cuffs release. I didn’t get up. I just pulled my arms up to my head and buried my face in them.
“Theo.” It was the growling voice again. I felt a hand on my back. It was gentle now. Calming. “Were you being held against your will?” I tried to nod but could only sob harder.
“Yes. We both were.” Milo’s voice sounded calmer than ever. His matter-of-fact answer was like a lifeline. I grasped it and pulled my way back to sanity.
“Are there other victims.” The growling voice must be a police officer.
“No.” I heard Milo answer. “There’s only the two of us left.”
I turned, sat up, and met his eyes. “Milo…” It came out barely a whisper.
“It’s ok, Theo. I think we’re safe now.”
“Are you sure?”
“No.” He sat down next to me, put his arm around me, and pulled me close. “I’m not sure, but I’m hoping.”
I let myself lean into his familiar warmth. His hope had always been enough for me. It would have to carry both of us right now.
“We’ll need you to give us a statement,” the cop growled.
“Ok. We’ll talk, but only if you keep us safe.”
The cop nodded. “I’ll make arrangements.” He stomped off, yelling instructions into his radio.
I still wasn’t sure, but Milo squeezed my shoulders, reassuringly. “C’mon, Theo. We have to go with them. It’s the only way.”
I nodded. Milo stood, helped me up, and putting his arm back around me, steered me to the car behind the cop. I would be unprepared for the lifetime of recovery, which lay ahead. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never stop looking over my shoulder. Often I would wish I had died in the compound, but I would always fight my way to my feet again and again with Milo by my side. He was my one true love and my hope for the world.
Tara climbed the rock face with concentrated ferocity. Her lean and muscular body worked with rote muscle memory, pulling her closer and closer to the ledge on which he waited. Her hands gripped and released, gripped and released, while her legs maintained a steady balance below.
From above, her face could be seen as a mask of concentration. Jason knew that face well. He jokingly called it her Type A face. “Tara,” he’d say, “turn down the intensity, you’re scaring me.” At this moment, however, her death defying climb was terrifying him and the only thing keeping his anxiety in check was her focused look.
He wasn’t like her. Given the choice, he had hiked up the trail, rather than climb the sheer cliff face. He was simultaneously in awe of her fierce courage and terrified by it. In the five months since they had been dating, he’d often wondered if his reserved nature was enough for her bold independence.
He watched as she traversed the final outcropping, her legs dangling dangerously for more moments than his heart could take and the other thought arose-was she too much for him? He was falling in love with this girl and a part of him was sure it would kill him. How many times could his heart leap from his chest before it finally gave out?
This girl… This amazing, intense and possibly certifiable girl was… She mesmerized him and she scared him in the best and worst ways. Why did she always have to cheat death? Couldn’t they just stay in and chill sometimes?
And then it happened… She lost her grip. She dangled for a moment one-handed… Or was it forever? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was his heart stopped beating and the world threatened to implode. His mouth opened to scream but nothing happened. She was already climbing again.
His mouth closed with a click. His heart began to beat again. It beat feverishly, madly but it was beating. He knew in a moment the answer to his puzzle. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t do this anymore. He had to end it before he got in deeper. He would tell her tonight. He would drive her home and drop her off for the last time. It would hurt but… It was the right thing to do.
Tara’s fingers reached the ledge first. Her red and white gloves contrasted the grey rock sharply as she gripped her final handhold of the climb. The rest of her emerged moments later grinning from ear to ear. Her excitement was palpable.
“Did you see that? I nearly lost it. Oh! It was the best climb though! I totally nailed it!”
Jason grinned back in spite of himself. Her excitement was contagious. “You looked great, Babe! I’m so glad I came!”
“Want to climb with me tomorrow? There’s a more technical climb I want to try.”
Leandra clutched her bag to her chest as she meandered through the crowded hallway after her last class. It had taken all of the skills she had acquired over the past three years to navigate her first day at university. She connected to her breath when she felt her anxiety arise. She reminded herself frequently of her progress. She even tried the half-smile technique her therapist suggested. She was tired but also proud and happy at her growing confidence.
Still, though, she was relieved to step out of the building and into the open air. Crowded hallways were definitely not her thing. She smiled into the sunlight and savored the warm breeze as she made her way to the parking lot and got into her car.
Her phone rang as she wound her way through campus traffic and she laughed out loud. He was so predictable. “Hi, Bob.” She didn’t need to look, it was almost always Bob.
“Leandra! You said you’d be done at two, so I waited until 2:15 to call!”
“I was expecting you.”
“So, what?” She knew why he called but she enjoyed keeping him waiting.
“So… How was your first day? Was it awful? Was it wonderful? C’mon, Leandra, I need to know!”
“It was fine.”
“Fine? Just fine? Oh no!!”
“Relax, Bob. Fine is good. It was a good day. I used all of my coping skills and everything went well.”
“Really? You remembered them? Did you try the half-smile technique?”
“Yes! I did and it actually helped.”
“See? I told you it would help.” The phone got quiet for a few minutes and Leandra let the silence draw out. She was used to Bob’s silence. It was where he processed… “Leandra?”
“Do you think I could go to school with you next semester? I mean, if you can do it, maybe I can… ” He fell into silence again. Leandra waited patiently as it lasted almost a full minute. “I think I would like to become a counselor too. I want to help people like us. Do you think I could someday?”
“I think you could, Bob.”
“If you want to sign up for classes in the spring I’ll go with you and maybe we can even take a class together.”
“Oh, Leandra! It would be so much easier with a friend. We are friends aren’t we, Leandra?”
She smiled in spite of herself. “Yes, Bob. You call me five times a day, of course we’re friends.”
“Oh, good. I worry I might get annoying sometimes.”
Leandra burst out laughing. It was true. He was annoying sometimes but he had been so sweet, so persistent, he had worked his way permanently into her heart. “No. You’re pretty good to me. I’m glad you’re my friend.”
“I’m glad too… Hey, Leandra? Can we talk more later tonight? I have to go into group now.”
“I have homework but maybe we can chat when I’m finished.”
“Ok. I’ll call after dinner.”
She hung up, giving their relationship deeper consideration. Bob never asked anything from her. He always celebrated her successes and gently prodded her whenever she lost her way. She was lucky to have found someone like that. Plus he made her smile.
She smiled warmly but pushed the thoughts aside. She wasn’t ready to consider the matter further. She had to get home to her studies. She was a college student now.