Jealousy

jealousyAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a two part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Mailbox.

Each day, like Pavlov’s dog, the two boys would race to the curb and pull open their respective mailbox with the hope of finding a letter. And each day, both Josh and Billy shuffled through the assorted flyers and coupons in search of an envelope that simply wasn’t there.

November 6. Billy would remember that afternoon. As if arriving at the mailbox first would cause a letter to materialize, Josh yanked open his mailbox a split second sooner than Billy. Still hopeful, Josh carefully slid the junk mail out of the way, but again found nothing. Billy, carrying out the same routine just a few short seconds later, filtered through the same assortment of junk mail. Shifting the flyers to the side, Billy saw something new – a stamp. It was on the corner of the envelope peeking from beneath the pile, just begging to be revealed. He could tell this was it. He pulled it out, raised it in the air and yelled, “Got it!”

Looking over at Josh, Billy could sense the feeling of aggravation and dejection written all over Josh’s face. And in that short moment, he suddenly felt sorry for Josh. This was silly – a competition over who could get a response from a girl first. The initial look of jubilation on his face disappeared as he brought the envelope down from its position above his head. His victory didn’t feel as good as he thought it would. And then, it got worse.

As Billy looked at the address on the front, he noticed that there was something amiss with the perfect penmanship in purple ink on the front of the envelope. It wasn’t addressed to Billy. It was addressed to Josh. Billy never liked roller coasters, especially ones of the emotional variety. He was on one now, plummeting into the depths of a deep abyss that had no perceivable bottom.

“It’s for you,” Billy said simply under his breath.

“What?” responded Josh, not recognizing the reality of the situation quite yet.

“The letter – it’s for you, not me. They messed up the address.” Billy plodded the few paces over his crunchy brown grass and into Josh’s lush green yard – a color that was figuratively all over Josh’s face just a few short moments ago in the form of jealousy. He handed the envelope over to its rightful owner.

A smile of victory began to spread across Josh’s face. As he confirmed what Billy already knew, he began to chant and partake in a victory dance, “Oh yeah, who da man? That’s me – uh huh.” As ungraceful as it was, Josh didn’t seem to care. He was top man on the totem pole now. Billy didn’t stick around to give Josh an opportunity to gloat any longer. He turned around and retreated to his corner.

As he was walking back up the steps to his front door, one of the flyers in his hand dropped to the ground. As he reached down to pick it up, he could see the reflection of Josh in the side view mirror of his dad’s station wagon. It had been knocked off by a kid riding his bike on the street some two months ago, and they didn’t have the money to fix it. Positioned just perfectly, it revealed Josh glaring over in the direction of Billy. Josh was watching him wallow in defeat. And although Billy was upset, he wasn’t sure that it was because he had lost this competition. He thought it had more to do with how he thought he would feel upon winning, and how he actually felt when he thought he had. The teenage hormones were running rampant, and he wasn’t sure what or how to think right now.

As he bent down to retrieve the pizza coupon that had fallen to the ground, the welcome mat – missing the O in welcome – revealed a hidden gem of its own. Sticking out from the corner of the mat was something pink. As he peeled back the corner of the mat, Billy saw his own name written across the front of the envelope. There was no stamp. This letter was hand delivered. As he flipped it over to open it, he noticed the lipstick impression where the envelope was sealed. Written around it was a message – “Sealed with a lick because a kiss wouldn’t stick.”

Josh was still looking over at him. Billy had won after all. But, this victory had nothing to do with receiving an envelope first. He glanced up at Josh, winked, and smiled. He pushed the door open and proceeded to close it behind him – making double sure it latched so no cold air from the outside could get back in.

Author’s Note: Thank you, as always, to all who take time out of their day to read and comment. It is sincerely appreciated. I will be releasing my very first original piece to the Amazon Kindle store on Monday, June 15th. The story is one of my personal favorites, and you can read the short synopsis at Impression. I will also be publishing an excerpt of the complete story here on my blog Sunday evening, June 14th to whet your appetite 🙂

As a humble sign of my appreciation, the complete short story will be available for free from Monday, June 15th through June 17th. If you find the story enjoyable, I would sincerely appreciate any feedback on the Amazon site so that other readers have a better chance of discovering it. Thank you once again to each and every reader who makes it so much more rewarding to be a writer – inspire and be inspired.

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Mailbox

mailboxThe rumble of the mail truck rolling away from the curb sent the two of them in motion. Josh raced out his front door. The large ornate knocker cracked against the wood as he slammed the door shut to prevent his Dachshund puppy from following him. He ran across his family’s perfectly manicured lawn, and past the bed of thorny roses. He arrived at his silver mailbox a nanosecond before Billy next door. The chill in the air had nothing to do with the reading on a thermometer.

Billy’s mailbox used to be silver, but it was more rust colored now with the paint peeling off and accumulating on the ground beneath it. While Josh’s jaunt across his yard was effortless and quiet, Billy’s was characterized by the crunchy sound of dying grass. It took him a split second longer to reach his own mailbox – not because he was slower – but, rather because he had to pull the door shut tightly and double check it. The latch had never worked quite right since they had moved in.

Josh and Billy lived next door to each other. And yet, they lived worlds apart. They were friends, you could say. They were both fourteen years old – the only two teenage boys in a three mile radius of this small rural town. How they became friends was not much of a mystery – it was a relationship of convenience, maybe of necessity. The reason why they remained friends – now, that was more mystifying.

The two boys did not have anything in common save for one thing – the spirit of competition. Josh was the star pitcher on the high school baseball team in the next town over. Billy was nicknamed motor-mouth at the same school. This may have sounded derogatory to most teenage boys, but to Billy it was a compliment. He had earned this moniker due to his uncanny ability to solve math problems in his head and rattle off the answer before any of his classmates could even announce their name.

It’s was the glue that kept this friendship together – the rivalry of one boy outdueling the other in their own convincing way. They began to tire of the arguments of how a ten strikeout performance could compare to the swift and accurate process of successfully solving an advanced trigonometry problem – without pencil or paper. That was how this little competition that they mutually designed came to fruition. It was something on the minds of all teenage boys – teenage girls.

The moonlight ball was three weeks away. It was a school dance planned annually to take place on the last full moon of the semester before winter break. It was held outside in the school courtyard by the light of the full moon. The twinkle lights adorning the trees added atmosphere to the already enchanting mood. There was a twist to this engagement, however. You must arrive as a couple. And in order to be granted access into the school courtyard, the couple was required to provide two letters – one invitation letter and one acceptance letter. It was Ms. Hutton’s way of slipping the art of letter writing into her tenth grade English class. And it worked – hook, line, and sinker.

They had agreed that each would compose a letter to their invitee and drop it in the mailbox on the corner – on the same day at the same time. In that way, neither Josh nor Billy would have an advantage. The person who received a letter back first would be the victor. It was silly. It was misguided. It was unsuitable grounds for a competition. But, these were teenage boys, and to them – it was perfect. Almost.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a two part short story. The second installment will be published next week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – best wishes for an inspired day!

Young heart

produce-stand-tomatoAuthor’s Note: This is the final chapter of a three part short story. If you would like to read the previous two chapters, please visit Hot dog and Chance encounter.

As he watched the bus pull away from the curb, Lloyd sat back down on the bench. He didn’t have another delivery until later that afternoon. He couldn’t help but intervene, or at least attempt to, in Derek’s situation. He wished someone would have done the same for him in his younger days – not that it would have been likely to make any difference.

Lloyd remembered the expensive suits, the fine dining opportunities that he relished so much, and the aspirations for a corner office on the top floor. He had lived in that world in some past life. He pushed everything that was ultimately important to him into the background – relegated to sometime later when he had accumulated the prestige and money to do what he really desired – open his own restaurant. He exchanged his time for money, unprepared for the realization that he would never get that time back.

It was the strangest day in Lloyd’s life. Dressed to the nines, walking down the street after a chaotic day in the office, he paused in front of a local produce cart on the street, looking for the perfect ingredients that comprised his infamous spaghetti sauce. He picked up a tomato and held it in his hands. He couldn’t explain it – and it never would do any good to even try – but it was as if the delicate texture of that fruit softened his own thick skin and allowed him to see what was really important to him, for the very first time in his life.

That chance encounter with a tomato – yes, a tomato – caused Lloyd to do the unthinkable. He left the security of his high paying career. What he also left behind was the chaos that accompanied it. He opened his own produce delivery service using only the decrepit bike sitting next to him and his own two feet. He always had a gift for choosing the perfect piece of produce. His discerning sense of sight, touch, and smell was appreciated by some of the finest restaurants in New York City. And they paid him quite well, relatively speaking, for his expertise. Did Lloyd have his own restaurant? No. What he did have though was a sense that he was helping to create the most magnificent meals, for tourists and locals alike, that he appreciated so much.

The knowledge that he was making a difference in the world, however small it was, in a way that he felt passionate about, caused Lloyd to smile inside and out. It took him longer to come this realization than he may have hoped. But, as they say, better late than never. Not only was Lloyd perceptive with produce. He had the same insight into human behavior. As confident and ambitious as Derek appeared to Lloyd, there was something in his body language that spoke differently.

And although Lloyd’s attempt to uncover the root cause of Derek’s situation was not welcomed, he felt that he needed to at least try. He hoped that time would not escape Derek’s grasp like it had for him. He had done all he could do at this point.

Seated in the city bus rolling out of downtown, Derek pulled the wallet back out of his pocket. Guilt washed over him for even feeling the need to check that everything was still there. Driver’s license, credit cards, social security card, not even a single dollar of the fifty-seven in his billfold appeared to be missing. As he thumbed through the bills, one by one, he finally came to the conclusion that there was nothing missing. In fact, there was actually something in the wallet now that wasn’t there before. It was a small piece of paper folded into four, about the size of one of those small pocket notebooks he used to record homework assignments as a child in grade school.

Unfolding the paper, written on one side was a message in a language he understood perfectly – In economics, opportunity cost is the next best alternative you give up when you make a choice. When we choose one thing, we refuse something else at the same time.

On the opposite side of that paper was a message that would make sense to him at some time in the future, after he had accumulated a bit more experience. Lloyd had hoped this particular message, although confounding right now, might help Derek short circuit the path to understanding.

It takes a long time to grow young. ~Pablo Picasso

luna-lovegoodDerek wasn’t sure why, but he felt an uncanny desire at that moment to purchase a blank canvas for the wall of his new apartment in the city – and to create upon it his own vision, to splash upon it colors in a random, yet redeeming way. The childhood artist inside him poked his head from behind the curtain of adult responsibility to reveal itself – momentarily. His ego would most likely intervene this time around, pushing such a frivolous and silly yearning to the back burner in preference for his lifelong ambition of wealth and prestige. One’s deepest desires, however, are very subtle – and persistent. His inner voice would continue to court Derek until he accepted the invitation. His physical body may have been growing older by the day, but Derek’s heart was growing younger – and wiser – with each passing minute.

Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read and comment – may your heart continue to grow young in pursuit of your deepest desires.

Chance encounter

wall-street-federal-hallAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Hot Dog.

Lloyd appeared homeless with his ratty brown hoodie, rickety bike, and unkempt facial hair. His actions were characteristic of someone short on luck – keeping to himself, and not making direct eye contact with any passersby. He may have even smelled a bit foul, or perhaps that was a piece of produce in his bike basket beginning to ripen beyond its consumable age.

The infamous proverb states that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck. With that rationale, it was evident that Lloyd was homeless. There is another proverb, however, that beckons us to not judge a book by its cover. The push and pull of conflicting proverbs can often lead the mind into murky waters, awash with doubts of what is right and what is wrong – what is illusory, and what is real.

While casually eavesdropping on Derek’s conversation with his girlfriend, Lloyd proceeded to scribble several notes furiously on a page of his pocket sized notebook. Whatever it was he was writing, Lloyd was hyper-focused on transcribing what was in his head on to the tiny page posthaste.

After the phone call ended, Lloyd used his peripheral vision to catch a glimpse of Derek taking a bite of his hot dog. The aging gentleman quickly snatched a red delicious apple from his basket and took a big juicy bite, loud enough to invite Derek’s attention. Peering over towards Lloyd somewhat involuntarily, Derek quickly returned focus to his own personal space. That was all Lloyd needed though – a crack in the door – and now he was poised to kick it wide open.

“First New York hot dog?” asked Lloyd in a gruffly voice.

Derek pretended not to hear, but glancing to his left, he couldn’t ignore the sapphire blue eyes staring back at him. Without any recourse, other than getting up to leave, Derek responded curtly, “Yeah.”

“You know, it’s funny,” continued Lloyd, “the great American hot dog was invented by some German guy and you used to be able to get one for three cents apiece back in the day.”

Derek wasn’t sure where this line of dialogue was going. The commentary sounded like the ramblings of some old man running short on his sanity. He was getting ever closer to simply rising and retreating to the safety of the building lobby just a few short steps away. He could catch the next bus. His flight wasn’t scheduled to depart for a few more hours.

Lloyd continued on, not waiting for a response from Derek, “Money ain’t everything you know. Don’t matter whether a hot dog cost three cents or three bucks, if you ain’t enjoyin’ it, what’s the point?”

Derek was now gathering up his belongings. It was becoming evident that he had reached his threshold of patience with this babbling lunatic. He knew that he would eventually have to build up a callousness to these type of shenanigans as a New Yorker, just not now. Lloyd pressed further, “Name is Lloyd, how about you?” He took another accentuated bite from his apple, awaiting a reply.

Rising from the bench, Derek turned to leave. “Might not want to leave yet – Derek.”

Derek stopped in his tracks and turned around to face Lloyd, now with a smile on his face. “How do you know my name?” He was quite certain that his name had not arisen in his conversation with Missy.

“That’s what your driver’s license says.”

Patting his pockets, Derek looked to be performing a cheap knock-off version of the Macarena. With a confused look of disbelief spreading across his face, he turned his head, and narrowed his eyes uttering, “You have my wallet.” It was part question, part statement.

Lloyd withdrew the black leather wallet from his jacket pocket and handed it to Derek who was taken aback. This elderly man who had obviously come across difficult times could have disappeared with his cash, credit cards, and identity. He wasn’t sure how to react. Derek presumed that Lloyd was waiting for some remuneration for his honest nature. Opening up his billfold, Lloyd stopped him, “Not necessary, just promise you’ll think about what I said.”

dont-judge-a-book-by-its-coverIt was just a bunch of random gibberish as far as Derek was concerned. What was there to think about? Genuinely grateful now for the honesty of this fellow New Yorker, Derek offered a sheepish thank you as he began to climb aboard the bus now parked at the curb. Lloyd simply provided a smile in return, one that Derek could tell conveyed much more than a message of you’re welcome.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Hot dog

wall-street-nycSitting across from the executive on the fiftieth floor of the high rise in New York City, Derek’s hands were sweaty with anticipation. This was the final stop on his whirlwind day of interviews with one of the most prestigious investment firms in the Wall Street district. Everything had gone as well as he could have hoped. But, he knew that the ultimate decision concerning his prospective employment lay in the hands of the person sitting across from him.

Peering over his half-moon spectacles while carefully considering his notes, pondering the myriad of responses provided by Derek over the course of the day, the CEO reached across the mahogany desk separating the two and extended his right hand. “Derek, I think you are exactly the type of ambitious individual that this company needs. Welcome to our team.” Involuntarily, a genuine smile of satisfaction spread across Derek’s face, “Thank you sir. I really appreciate this opportunity,” replied Derek with a firm handshake to accompany his confident words.

Derek had been working towards this very moment for the past six years – perhaps much longer. Living in a small suburban town just outside of Chicago, Derek completed his MBA just three weeks prior – the last step in preparation for a life on Wall Street and all the perks associated with it. From his earliest childhood memories, Derek was consumed with numbers, trends, data, and the detailed analysis of it all. Most kids opened the newspaper and flipped straight to the comics. Derek, however, stopped at the business section, perusing the trends on his favorite stocks, always on the lookout for the next ticker symbol equipped to surpass street expectations.

As the floor number displayed inside the elevator approached the lobby level, Derek’s thoughts were already shifting towards his next ambition. He always dreamed of owning a penthouse overlooking Central Park with the finest art hanging on its walls. Numbers and fine art, they were the two things in Derek’s life that stimulated him more than anything else. As diametrically opposed as they were – art and math – his natural ability in one allowed him to enjoy the other.

To anyone who witnessed Derek strolling through the lobby, they would have thought him to be a seasoned veteran at the firm. The fine Italian suit, the wavy yet slicked back hair, the black wing-tipped shoes, and most importantly the confident gait was proof positive that Derek belonged in this atmosphere – on the surface, at least. Looks can be so deceiving.

Walking out of the quiet lobby and on to the sidewalk, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple burst into action. The constant motion, honking horns, and murmur of shuffling footsteps was intoxicating to Derek. He felt at home around the busyness of big city life. The knowledge that this was now his new home brought upon a wave of euphoria. The scent of fresh hot dogs from the sidewalk vendor added to his feeling of exhilaration. In a seemingly underwhelming celebration, Derek had promised himself a genuine New York hot dog to christen his official acceptance into the city that never sleeps.

hot-dogStepping up to the gentleman situated under the faded umbrella, Derek barked out his order as if already a weathered New Yorker, “One dog – onions, relish, mustard, and ketchup.” Exchanging a few dollar bills for his celebratory meal, Derek ambled towards the bench beside the bus stop. Seated at the end of the bench was an older gentleman with unkempt facial hair and a hoodie pulled over his thinning gray hair. The old bike leaning precariously next to him had a basket on the front – in it were a bushel of apples and a few ears of corn still in their husks. He held in his one hand a tattered notepad, in the other a partially sharpened pencil.

Setting the hot dog beside him on the bench, Derek pulled out the ringing cell phone from his pocket. The incoming call was from his girlfriend, Missy, back in Illinois. The first words he heard were characteristic of his longtime partner, “So, are there Broadway shows in our future?” She was both witty and confident. Their relationship was proof that sometimes it was likes, not opposites that attract each other. The next several minutes involved congratulatory remarks, shared dreams and aspirations for a new lifestyle supported by a six figure income north of a half million dollars per year. By the sound of the conversation occurring between the two, it appeared that their first years’ worth of income – and then some – had already been spent.

“Miss you lots, love you more, see you soon.” It was their signature communication that was unique to them. As he pressed the button to end the call, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Sinking his teeth into the hot dog, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh of contentedness through his nose while he closed his eyes and absorbed everything he had been dreaming of for so long. It was now becoming reality. He was the new dog on the block, and he was poised to establish himself as the next alpha male in the financial district.

journey-secret-destinationWhat Derek failed to notice was the furious scribbling that the elderly gentlemen had been penning on his notepad throughout his conversation with Missy. What also eluded his attention was the wallet that had come out of the pocket with his cell phone, resting beneath the bench he was seated on. The hustle and bustle of New York City seems to accelerate everything. There was no exception in this situation. The wallet sitting beneath him was there no more. Derek was completely unaware of its disappearance. As it turned out, Derek was unaware of so much more.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. Please stay tuned for the next chapter to be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Unspoken voice

its-all-make-believeI am nothing but a figment of your imagination. I am nonexistent in the physical sense. But even imaginary entities deserve a name. Mine is George. I know, it’s a rather plain name. Maybe that explains why it has been such a struggle to have my story told. You see, there are so many other imaginary creatures inside my author’s mind – he is real, by the way – I think. Anyway, these other voices have much more interesting names like Francesca, Isadora, and Anastasia – or Broderick, Ignatius, and Nicodemus. Forget for a few minutes that these voices come in male and female counterparts. That’s another story for another day, if I am able to be heard again. It was difficult enough edging my way into the conscious corner of my writer’s mind this time around.

All those other voices? They have elegant and pretentious sounding names. And the stories they beg to tell prey on the ego of its readers. They weave plot twists together to compose the most daring adventures. They hide magical talismans in the most unlikely but fortuitous locations that lead to wonderful tales of discovery. This is not one of those stories. So, if you are looking to travel around the world, discover hidden treasure, and be surprised by unexpected plot twists, you may as well stop reading now. Well, on second thought, maybe you do want to continue reading. Take a chance, why don’t you?

This is a story about a man. The entire story takes place on a park bench. Pretty interesting, huh? This man has a name, but nobody knows it. It’s Fred, by the way – his name that is. Another one of those plain names. Maybe that’s why his story has remained untold for so long. I can relate, but I digress. I must stay focused lest my creator banish me from existence. I have seen him do it before.

Seated on this park bench, Fred stares at the sidewalk in front of him. He wears a brown hooded jacket and tattered blue jeans that look as if they have been worn for the past week and a half. Truth is, they have probably been worn for much longer than that. He holds a can of peach slices in his one hand, picking out the pieces of fruit from the syrup inside with great care. He doesn’t want to waste the juice. It is sustenance that he needs to help him get through the day.

Fred tilts his head to the side as a mom walks by with her young son. He must be ashamed of his primitive existence here on the bench. He looks away to avoid eye contact. No one has seen his eyes, it seems. People waltz by talking on their cell phone, listening to their music, absorbed in their own world. They are oblivious to the existence of this other human being – one who deserves to have their story heard as much as anyone else. But no one stops to ask what that story is.

He snorts long and hard through his nostrils. The cold fall weather, his clothes that inadequately cover his extremities, and the evident malnutrition has probably led to some medical condition that will never be diagnosed, never treated, and will only cause his health to deteriorate further over time.

It seems like a sad life, doesn’t it? To our materialistic and egocentric selves, yes. But, you see, I think that is why I exist. If only for a fleeting moment, I am that unspoken voice that finally edges his way into the conversation to shed some light on reality – and the truth.

Remember when I said no one knew Fred’s name? No one cared enough to ask? I suppose that’s why I did ask. Well, I can’t ask of course. I don’t exist, remember? But, I somehow coerced my inventor to carry out this request on my behalf. It’s not something he usually does so I was quite surprised by his obliging manner. I was even more surprised – and I think he was too – by what happened next.

“Good morning, what’s your name?”

“Fred.”

Just one word was spoken, and yet the message conveyed through those steel blue eyes spoke a seemingly infinite number of words painted in the most charismatic hues. Time seemed to stand still. Yeah, I know, it’s one of the clichés you find in those other stories. This was no cliché, however – this was real. It was as if the rewind button had been pressed, the movie just witnessed was replayed frame by frame in the space between our collective eyes, momentarily locked upon each other.

Fred stared at the ground – he wasn’t mired in feelings of self-pity and depression. He was watching the line of ants navigating around the twig at his feet. Undeterred, the tiny insects always seemed to find a way to persevere and survive despite their lacking physical endowments. Inspiration from an ant – the same ants that are considered pesky and annoying to the rest of us.

house-wrenFred tilted his head – he wasn’t ashamed of his disheveled appearance or poverty stricken lifestyle. He was simply directing his good ear towards the chirping bird in the tree above him. The house wren was plain and simple in appearance. And yet, he was still able to create beautiful and exquisite music. No one could ever convince him that he should not sing his song to the world. Everyone else misses out on these simple pleasures. We have a cell phone to our ear. We have our latest mile time to beat. We have more important things to worry about. Not Fred. No, not Fred.

Fred snorts through his nostrils – he isn’t sick, not yet at least. No, he is grabbing hold of that crisp fall air as it blows by him. Pulling it back through his nostrils, he inhales it deeply into his lungs. The air, filled with the scent of fall leaves, sends a message to his subconscious mind. He is catapulted back to his childhood, recalling fond memories of jumping into the leaves that his dad had just raked into a tall pile under the giant oak tree in his backyard. He is struck with a sense of humility – and gratitude. Things can change in the blink of an eye. He appreciated what he had now, even if it was only a can of peaches and a second or third hand brown hooded jacket. It could be much worse. Of course, the rest of us look upon this situation and feel a mix of pity, remorse, maybe even anger – surely, it couldn’t get any worse than this – and geez, all you have to do is get off your butt and do something. You have control over your own life, after all.

listen-to-the-quietest-whispersHard to believe, isn’t it? All this from a glance into someone’s eyes. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Things are rarely as they appear on the surface. Maybe that’s the whole point though. We don’t really know how a story is going to unfold before our eyes. We can’t appreciate the seemingly insignificant or misconstrued details until we decide to listen to a story – deeply – whether it’s through our eyes, our ears, or those unspoken voices inside our head that we seem to neglect far too often.

Grace under fire

closed-doorAuthor’s Note: This is the final chapter of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first two chapters, please visit Choice words and Double helix.

For the second time in twenty-four hours, Quentin leaned against a closed door, seeking respite from the onslaught of personal accusations and their repercussions. The ensuing days left him feeling isolated and alone – physically and emotionally.

Taking offense to his outspoken opinion on the book ban petition, the town council had been persuaded by its constituents to expedite the removal of Quentin from his mayoral office. It seemed a rather nonsensical and knee-jerk reaction, but Quentin couldn’t be sure at this point in time. There were very few rational thoughts running through his mind.

He remained so self-conscious about the need to defend himself in public that Quentin sought refuge inside his home. He felt safe from any further public assaults, but the doubting voice of his internal conscience continued to swell in volume.

As days passed, the feeling of entrapment within his own house began to prey on Quentin’s sense of sanity. Although he still felt unprepared to confront questions from the community, the desire to escape from what felt like a confined box – its four walls seemingly closing in upon him – was overwhelming.

In what was a more courageous action than it should have been, Quentin picked up his attaché and headed out the front door. Making his way down the sidewalk and around the street corner, he mapped out the shortest and most inconspicuous route to the quiet coffee shop on the edge of town. Quentin felt this was the safest location to get some fresh air – and coffee – to collect his thoughts.

As he slipped through the front door, a bell overhead signaled his entrance. Quentin was pleased to see he was the only patron in the shop. Shuffling up to the counter, the owner seemed oblivious to the controversy brewing around town. Thank goodness for that, thought Quentin. Purchasing a double mocha latte, Quentin slunk to the back corner of the shop and stared into his cup of coffee, as if the steam rising from the surface held some elusive wisdom in its captivating tendrils. Alas, this hope evaporated from Quentin’s mind as quickly as the steam into thin air.

He felt guilt-ridden for expressing his opinion in front of town hall. Worse yet, he began to question his own ideals. If there were so many people opposed to his viewpoint, was it possible that he was off-kilter in the assessment of his moral values? These deteriorating thoughts brought along with it a domino effect of self-deprecating criticisms that left Quentin as nothing more than a fragile shell of his former self.

Setting his coffee cup to the side, Quentin reached down into his attaché and retrieved the object that initiated all the chaos over the previous two days. As he carefully creased the spine, he began to read the opening pages of American Dream. The first page was blank save for an opening quote that consumed his thoughts.

bell-above-doorQuentin thought he imagined hearing a bell inside his mind – signaling receipt of a message he was meant to hear at this exact moment. As it turns out, the ringing bell had originated from elsewhere. Whether he spent seconds or minutes staring at that page in the book, Quentin was pulled from his hypnotic gaze by two voices that had just rounded the counter. Two individuals, an older gentleman and a younger woman took up residence at the table next to Quentin, apparently unaware of his presence. There was something about the young woman that looked familiar. Not wanting to call attention to himself, Quentin quickly retreated behind the cover of his book. He wasn’t reading, however. He was listening.

As if in a collegiate debate competition, comments were fired back and forth between the two.

“Dad, why can’t you just accept who I am and what I want to do with my life.”

“Gracie, the front line of a battlefield is not the proper place for a woman.”

“So, tell me then Dad, where is the proper place for a woman?” retorted the young woman. Quentin was picking up on the general tone of this conversation as he hid behind the cover of his book – Dad thinks he knows best. Daughter disagrees and tries to prove otherwise.

“Now Gracie, don’t go and turn things around on me like that. You know that’s not what I mean. I just want what’s best for you,” pleaded Dad.

“Dad, you know I love you. But, I’m not going to let you steer my path through life like you did with Kelly. What’s best for me, Dad, is standing up for what I believe in – even if it means I stand alone.”

With the last statement, Quentin involuntarily let the book in front of his face drop below eye level. As if by fate, his gaze met that of Gracie. The long brunette hair, the distinctive jawline, and the penetrating hazel eyes – he immediately recognized the physical characteristics. Whether she knew what was held within the covers of that blue hardcover entitled American Dream or not, whether she even knew that her older sister worked as his secretary, Quentin could have sworn he perceived the slightest grin on her face. Quentin gave a slight wink and let a smile spread across his own face is if to say thank you.

Gathering up his belongings, Quentin rose from his seat. Passing the table occupied by Gracie and her Dad, he laid his copy of American Dream open to the page he had been so deeply contemplating before their arrival.

The mind is like a parachute. It works best when it is open. ~Dalai Lama

Quentin kept walking, past the counter and out the front door. He was a different man than when he entered. Slinking into this establishment less than thirty minutes ago, he now walked out with his head held high. He had not regained his position as mayor. Quentin had, however, reclaimed something much more valuable – a sense of self, a firm resolve to stick up for what he believed in.

to-be-yourself-greatest-accomplishmentThe gears began to turn as he strolled down the sidewalk. He wasn’t any more right or wrong about what he believed in as was Kelly, Gracie, their Dad, or – for that matter – any other member of this small, conservative town. What was wrong, thought Quentin, was denying someone the choice to believe in something that was meaningful to them.

With each subsequent step, the characteristic bounce returned to Quentin’s gait. His perceptive mind kicked back into high gear as he chuckled to himself and thought about the irony – grace under fire – he had so many reasons to smile, so much to believe in, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take that privilege away from him ever again.

Double helix

what-we-think-we-becomeAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Choice words.

Kelly was waiting at the front door to escort Quentin back to the relative safety of his office. She had spent three and a half years working beside the mayor, and it was obvious to her that something was amiss. She understood that the spilled coffee was a veil for some other underlying issue.

“What was that about?”

Running his hands through the thick black matte of hair atop his head, Quentin loosened his tie once again and exhaled deeply, “I don’t know.” Sinking into the high backed leather chair behind the desk, he stared up at Kelly, another uncomfortable connection made between the dots of this evolving puzzle. He just now recalled seeing Kelly’s signature on the petition.

Quentin learned his lesson, albeit a little too late, “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Is this about that book?”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it right now,” replied Quentin, a little more agitated.

“You don’t actually support that gibberish, do you?”

This kind and compassionate woman who had stood beside him professionally for what seemed like an eternity revealed a side that he had not previously seen. Trying to regain some sense of composure, Quentin replied a bit more calmly, “Look, I just need a little time to process what just happened, okay?”

Kelly turned on her heels, like a soldier resolved to enter battle, and stormed out of Quentin’s office. He was wondering whether the woman who just walked out of his office was the same person who had entered just a few moments earlier – it was as though some metamorphosis had occurred in the previous two minutes.

The crass comments furnished by his secretary were just that, scolding and insensitive – on the surface. What these seemingly chiding remarks did not convey was the long standing and deep-seated regret in Kelly’s psyche. From her earliest memories as a child, she had dreamt of a career on Broadway. She had been guided – more like coerced – into taking a more sensible route. And that’s how she found herself working eight to four, five days a week – pushing papers, answering phones, collecting paychecks – while her dreams remained latent. If she didn’t have the freedom of choice in her life, why should anyone else? Nope, Quentin didn’t hear or understand these unspoken emotions.

Quentin reached over to the bottom drawer of his mahogany desk and pulled it open. Resting on its side was a book with the title American Dream. Running his index finger over the spine, he lifted it out and placed it on the desk in front of him. Placing his left index finger over his mouth, Quentin simultaneously ran his right palm delicately over the textured blue cover, as if to console this inanimate object for the injustice it had just been served.

As the furious scurrying of endorphins through his brain began to slow down, a semblance of reason began to reappear in Quentin’s consciousness. He had to admit that his objection with the long list of names on that petition was more than just a political stance. It was also an attack on his personal values and belief system.

reporter-pen-paperThe murmur of voices in the hallway began to escalate in volume until five individuals, four of them carrying a pen and pad of paper, entered through the doorway of his office. The fifth person, arms crossed over her chest, had a conniving grin on her face. “There are a few people here that would like to speak with you,” uttered Kelly in a most contemptuous voice.

It was one thing for Kelly to express her personal opinion, it was quite another for her to expose Quentin’s vulnerability given his present state. This was beyond cruel. It was bordering on sadistic. As if Kelly’s announcement concluded all formal introductions, the accusations disguised as inquiries began to suffocate Quentin, one fired after another like lethal bullets.

“Were your statements outside pertaining to the book American Dream?”

“What do you think about same sex marriages?”

“You aren’t married, are you?”

“Are you a homosexual?”

Attempting to remain relatively calm in the face of these probing questions, Quentin replied quickly, “Yes, no comment right now, no, and no.” Getting up from his chair, Quentin pushed with an invisible force on the reporters invading his space. As they recoiled out of the office, Quentin forced the door closed and secured the lock.

He felt trapped, physically and emotionally. He was pretty sure there was no way the people outside town hall would disperse anytime soon, especially with the fodder that those nettlesome reporters would feed the hungry crowd. Sinking back into his chair, Quentin resigned himself to holing up in his office until later that evening.

Thoughts from Quentin’s past filtered through his consciousness as the clock on his wall ticked – seconds turning to minutes and on to hours. At seven o’clock that evening, Quentin paused and listened for any sign of activity outside. It appeared as though his persistence had prevailed over the curious minds he addressed earlier in the day.

Gathering up his belongings, Quentin began to head out the office door before he paused. Returning to the desk, he picked up his copy of American Dream and slipped it into his attaché. The scene outside was thankfully serene. All that could be heard was the continuous chirping of crickets. The short commute home was uneventful. The same could not be said about the proceedings of the following day.

daily-newspaperQuentin felt grateful that it was a Saturday morning. Emotions had boiled over. Everyone just needed a bit of time to cool off. With a government holiday on Monday, the long weekend was a stroke of luck, a perfect opportunity for normalcy to return at the office on Tuesday morning. Quentin convinced himself of this probable outcome until he opened the front door. Greeted by the front page of the morning newspaper, his optimism vanished.

The headline title read “Mayoral Misrepresentation”. Aside from the poor attempt at alliteration, the story detailed a contrived stance on Quentin’s views. He had absolutely no idea where the substantiation for this article originated from – he had said all of eight words to reporters the previous afternoon. Quentin knew that this was a town populated by conservative folks. He didn’t realize they were prone to such libel, slander, and defamation of character.

Quentin stood there in his doorway, reading the contents of this article with an overwhelming sense of betrayal washing over him. It would only get worse. His good friend Ben, the local family practitioner, was strolling up the sidewalk to his front door.

“Hey Ben, not you too?”

Quentin could tell by the look on his face that this was not a cordial visit. “What’s going on,” inquired Quentin hesitantly.

“We need to talk,” responded Ben with a concerned tone in his voice.

As much as Ben desired a different outcome, his hands were tied. “The town council wants you to resign from your mayoral position.” Pausing for a response that he didn’t get, Ben continued, “They don’t think your representation is aligned with the views of the general population.”

“What? All this from one statement? You’re kidding me, right? Isn’t this a bit knee-jerk in nature?” asked Quentin.

“Unfortunately, no, this is not a joke. The motion passed by one vote yesterday evening.” Feeling the need to provide some semblance of solace, Ben continued, “For what it’s worth, I don’t support this decision.”

Quentin sighed deeply, resigned to the action now required of him. “I’m sorry Q,” offered Ben, “I know this isn’t right, but I don’t have a choice. I asked to be the one who let you know. I hoped it would be easier on you.”

Quentin wasn’t sure whether receiving this disheartening message from one of his closest friends made it easier or more difficult. Quentin always had the most peculiar and perceptive thought process during times of struggle. It’s what allowed him to be such an effective leader – until yesterday at least. The instinctive connection between Ben’s profession and his current predicament emerged through the murky cloudiness of his mind.

what-screws-us-up-the-mostThe self-replicating material in our human form – our DNA – is comprised of a double helix pattern. Two strands twist together like a vine to form a structure that is not easily severed. In his present situation, one strand represented the mainstream expectations of society, the other strand symbolized the general population of this conservative town. The last piece of this puzzle – the one that didn’t fit – was Quentin himself. He felt like an extra chromosome expelled from the equation for fear of some viral disease being caused by his mere presence.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Choice words

botanical-gardenQuentin reached over to press the intercom button on his phone, “Kelly, can you bring me the items left to resolve this week, please and thank you.” Within thirty seconds, the mayor’s secretary appeared in the small government office. “Here you go,” replied Kelly as she handed over a stack of manila folders each about a half inch thick. “The most important ones are on the top. And don’t forget you have the press conference at three o’clock today.”

Quentin couldn’t possibly forget the press conference. That’s what he enjoyed most about serving as mayor of this small southern town. He relished the opportunity to be in the spotlight, to provide leadership for the citizens of his community. And he was mighty good at it too. The majority of folks living in town not only approved of his representation, most also considered him a friend.

The press conference was scheduled in order to share plans for construction of a new town park complete with a paved biking trail and five acre botanical garden. Quentin was excited for an opportunity to share this symbol of progress during his term.

Rustling through the items that required his stamp of approval, Quentin flipped open each folder in succession – increased fines for traffic violations, a new bingo night request for senior citizens at the community center, as well as a few financial and legal documents pertaining to improvements on the town streets. He had become numb to these common requests that always seemed to end up on his desk. He never liked the paperwork aspect of his job. He much rather preferred the face to face interaction with people.

Glancing down at his watch, Quentin realized there were ten minutes remaining before he needed to be outside – time to glance at one more item. As he opened the jacket of the folder, he expected to see some other mundane legislation request, perhaps a further restriction on the leash length for pets being walked in public.

What he found inside that folder left him numb once again, not due to a lack of interest, but rather from shock. Staring back at him was a request in the form of a signed petition to ban a book from the shelves of the public library. The book’s title was innocent enough, American Dream, but the synopsis of the book indicated otherwise. The main plot line of this fictional novel told the story of a young couple seeking the adoption of a baby girl. The caveat to this otherwise normal plot line was that the adopting couple was not what everyone considered to be traditional. The two partners comprising the adopting couple were both men.

Quentin could feel his pulse begin to involuntarily accelerate as he perused the long list of signed names scrawled on the petition. These were people he knew – or thought he knew at least. Needless to say, it was now obvious that these people did not share the same stance on some of the more controversial issues facing society. It wasn’t that Quentin either approved or disapproved of the story told within the covers of the book. He simply felt that everyone deserved a choice. Equal opportunity was more than a catch phrase to Quentin. He believed it. He lived it. And he felt as though he needed to fight for it.

As he tightened the knot on his tie and gathered the notes for his speech to the crowd gathering outside, Quentin’s attention was not where it was supposed to be. The contents of that last folder had jaded the congenial attitude he had been carrying with him all day. As he passed by Kelly’s desk, she had noticed the mix of anger, frustration, and confusion in his gait. “Everything OK?”

“Yes … well, no.” And then, recognizing that he didn’t have the time to get into a drawn out conversation, Quentin continued on, “I just spilled coffee on my notes, no big deal, I can still make out the major points.”

Slipping out the front door, Quentin approached the podium outside town hall, greeted by a few dozen members of the community. By the time the top of the hour had arrived, the numbers of attendees had risen to well over one hundred along with several reporters seeking content for their column in the next edition of the local newspaper.

town-hall-meeting“Good afternoon,” feigned Quentin into the microphone. Everyone could tell that he was not his usual exuberant self. The details of the new park that were planned to be filled with hope and excitement came off sounding flat and uninspired. The final planned sentence rolled off Quentin’s tongue in a rote manner, “This new addition to our community will give us an opportunity to share and grow together over the coming months and years, for our generation and those that follow.”

Quentin knew he should have let things sit right there. He needed time to collect his thoughts. He needed an opportunity to subdue his raging emotions before broaching the concern in the forefront of his mind. What we think we should do is not always what ends up happening. Our emotions can be extremely persuasive, and Quentin succumbed to their wishes in the heat of the moment.

“And speaking of community and growth,” continued Quentin with a bit more conviction. “I feel it is important to mention our duty as citizens to respect the choices of others. So long as they are living within the bounds of the law, every individual should have the freedom to choose, among other things, the books they would like to read.”

true-measure-of-a-manSeveral heads that had been lulled into a state of complacency by the mayor’s flat speech were suddenly at attention once again. One by one, the look on their faces were transformed to convey disbelief. Although not explicitly stated, the crowd in attendance knew exactly what Quentin’s choice of words meant to convey. And the murmur that began to grow among the crowd let Quentin know that he had now indeed reached the end of this press conference. Retreating into the safety of his office, the press members in attendance were circling like vultures, just biding their time before they had the opportunity to spring on their prey.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. The second installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!