Short Story: Obedience

It was less dramatic than I had envisioned. I had imagined groans, yells, pleads for mercy, but there was none of it. The most I heard was a pitiful groan as I plunged the cold, serrated blade into his gut. He knew it was coming, knew but did nothing to protect himself. He let me stab him willingly, almost praying to do it quickly, having nothing more to gain from another day, each breath becoming a burden.

I had loved him, or so I thought, when I first saw him that night at the club. I had just turned twenty-one a few months before, and since then, I had become  regular at all the hotspots, enjoying the life of a single woman, single but beautiful. I say that not because I’m vain, but because it was the truth.

He was older, much older, nearing forty. He was lean and fit, and had a roguish smile to match his boyish looks. He was unshaven, but fashionably so, with a touch of gray that punctuated his demeanor. He was older. He had lived, but he was raring for another adventure, it was evident in the glint in his eye.

I fell for him, though my friends warned me about him. “He’s a whore,” my friend Sandy whispered in my ear as he made eyes with me. “A total pussy hound,” agreed Lana.”

But I couldn’t help myself. I was drawn to him. It was as if here was a force between us, a gravity that pulled us together, or a strange magnetism that only worked on me. In spite of the warnings my friend told me, I met him, danced with him, and before I was even aware of it, moaning as he hiked up my skirt to enter me behind the club. It was not romantic in the least, but it was risky and adventurous, and I had always wanted to be that kind of girl.

He used me, and I knew it. He used me and discarded me. I didn’t mind in the least. I had used him as well. I didn’t see him for months, but then one night I was him, at another club, leading another conquest out the door before he saw me. He recognized me, winked, and with the merest nod, motioned for me to join. I did.

This time we made it to a studio apartment not far from the club. It was hers. I had never been with a woman, but with him there it came naturally. It went on for hours, and after it was done, I left with him, leaving the other behind as though she was simply a toy that had worn out its usefulness.

So we started dating. I call it dating, but I don’t really know what it was. I was faithful to him, but he slept around, no questions asked. Sometimes I joined, but most of the time I didn’t. After a few months he moved in with me, and again no questions asked. I got pregnant within another month, and he forced me to abort the baby, though I was strictly pro-life. I couldn’t say no to him. Denying him was not an option.

I could go on, but sufficed to say that this went on for years. I dropped out of school, found a job, and supported the both of us on my meager wages. I lost contact with my family after they refused to support me with my decision to drop out and support my man. At the time I didn’t understand, but I came to realize that I was being used, but that was years down the line.

What opened my eyes, I’m ashamed to admit, was discovering his other girls around town. I’m not talking the one-night stands. I knew about those, but it was learning that he had other women supporting him, other homes where he lived. I wasn’t even his main girl, but a side bitch that he used whenever his wife threw him out. I never knew he was married. I had learned not to ask questions.

When he turned up, we got into a fight, our first, and I demanded that he leave and never come back. It wasn’t pleasant, mainly because he didn’t tolerate my nonsense, as he called it. He hit me, and not for the first time. He pushed me down, punched me repeatedly in the stomach, and slapped me hard enough to leave a handprint on my right cheek, but not quite enough to bruise me.

I tried to get away, but he pulled me back, laughing as he did so, calling me his little cunt, and used me right there. I had grown accustomed to his being rough with me, but this went beyond his usual treatment. This was revenge for me daring to stand up to him. He was punishing me for trying to question his manhood. He believed it was his right to sleep with as many women as possible. He claimed it as a God-given command.

When he left, he threatened that if I called the police, that he would make sure that not only would I suffer for it, but that my parents, who I had not seen in years, would bear the brunt of his displeasure. They would die horrific deaths, and that I would be forced to watch. I was his to use, and I had better learn my place.

I cried when he left. I curled up in the shower, letting the water cascade over my battered body, attempting to wash away what he had did to me. After the hot water was used up, I stood up, shivering as the cold water hit me, waking me up to the truth of my situation. I shut off the water, looked at myself for the first time in years. I looked horrible. I was not even twenty-five, but I looked forty, and not in a good way.

I called in to work and plotted my revenge. I was planning on waiting for him to return, whether that night or a week, as it was not unusual for him to disappear for days at a time. I planned on letting him use me, and when the time was right, to cut off his manhood. I wanted him to lose his gift to women. I wanted him to be useless.

And the moment came, and I chickened out. I couldn’t do that to him. It was cruel, and I had allowed myself to fall for it all. I was to blame for it all, though to call him innocent was beyond ridiculous. He needed to suffer, and as he started to leave, I called out to him, cold steel in my hand, and thrust it forward when he turned to face me.

I felt the rush of adrenaline as I felt his blood run down my hand. He shuddered as he tried to remain upright, groaning as I pushed the blade even further. It lasted only moments before he buckled and fell to the floor, grabbing my wrist and dragging me down with him. He didn’t say a word, but held fast as he struggled to breath. He looked me in the eye, forcing me to watch as something in him dimmed and then was gone. One moment he was there, and then he wasn’t.

I looked down on him, angry at the anti-climax of the moment. I had killed him, but there was nothing to show for it, no pleading for his life, no apologies for his actions. He died without so much of a betrayal of emotion. I wondered as I stared at his corpse, whether he had wanted someone to become a murderer because of him. I laughed.

I was found laughing on the floor next to him, though I have no recollection. I had killed him and didn’t bother to close the door. My neighbor saw me laughing hysterically, or so I’ve been told, laughing and crying, rocking back and forth and wringing my hands. I had the appearance of a deranged woman, and maybe I am.

I feel no remorse for killing him, only for having lost all those years because of him. I reconnected with my family, and they are fighting for my life, for my freedom, but I confess I don’t care much about that or anything. I’ve lost something of myself when I killed him. I’ve become untethered to this existence, and maybe that’s why I’m in this place, enduring one doctor after another, suffering through one therapist after another.

I don’t feel much at all, other than a faint shadow of guilt for putting my family through all this. I don’t feel much at all, anymore. I can still feel him, from beyond the veil, pulling me with him. I can feel his fingers around my wrist, and I yearn to join him, hating him for it, but I cannot resist. I am powerless to say no, and I’m compelled to obey.


Short Stories

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Previous story – Chance Encounter

Short Story: Chance Encounter

Our eyes locked unexpectedly as we stood in line at the DMV. I recognized her at once, even after more than two decades. I could tell she was struggling to place me, and I had no intention of helping her along. The pain she inflicted on me was not something I would ever forget, though it had long since stopped being a source of suffering.

We met twenty-three years ago, she having started working towards her Master’s in Nursing. I was a struggling undergraduate, in spite of the fact that I was a few years older than her. She came from a wealthy family, with all the attendant privileges you might expect. Needless to say, though I’m going to say it, she never had to worry about money, or how she was going to pay for her tuition and other expenses.

I, on the other hand, was a product of extreme poverty. I grew up in a poor family, with parents who also came from poor families. Schooling was tolerated only because it was mandated, and my family had no use for book learning. I, however, yearned for more. I wanted nothing more than to escape the soul-crushing reality of our existence.

So I worked hard, earned a few scholarships, but otherwise had to work to make ends meet. Sometimes I had to skip a semester in order to save up enough money to continue. I could have taken out loans, but my family preached against that, and at the time I fell for their misguided belief. The upside to this was that I left college without the immense debt that saddled many of my fellow students.

I was working as a janitor at the time, spending most of my time in the Medical building cleaning the restrooms, classroom, and occasionally the labs. I was cleaning the biology lab at the time, trying to get done early so I could go to my room to study, when a group of graduate students, led by Liz, walked in. I could sense trouble was brewing from the moment I saw her.

Like I mentioned, Liz was a product of a privileged upbringing, and she carried herself that way. She was the blond, tall, and statuesque, and usually traveled in a pack of no less than half a dozen hangers on, mostly other women like her, but sometimes men hoping for a chance to get her into bed.

I was tall, though lanky and of the wrong race and color. My brown skin seemed at odds with the student body in the medical center, discounting the foreign students. I was the stereotypical janitor, and they treated me with as much contempt as they could muster.

On our first meeting, she remarked that the only way a spic could ever be allowed into the medical center was to sweep the floors and wash the shit stains out of the toilets. Her coterie laughed sycophantically as I kept my head down and tried to finish sweeping the floors.

I made to leave but Liz blocked the way.

“Do you comprede dumbass?” She laughed.

“I understand quite well, thank you” I enunciated through gritted teeth.

“A spic with a brain,” she smirked. “Now where do you pick up the ability to speak? Been watching BBC instead of Telemundo?” Her clique laughed again.

“No,” I said, anger coursing through my veins. “I’m a Business major, minoring in English. I’m a student here. I graduate in December.”

“Affirmative action student, huh?” She smirked. “Gotta meet those pesky quotas, like my grandfather always says. He was a Senator in D.C., you probably heard of him, Senator….”

“I know exactly who he is,” I spat. “He worked to expand welfare, didn’t he? Working tirelessly to enslave the underprivileged.”

“Ungrateful,” she mused. “Probably kept your ass from dying of hunger. How many lived in your house? Twelve? Twenty?”

I shoved her aside and raced out of the room as she continued launching one taunt after another after me. This continued all semester, not bothering to stop even in the presence of a professor. They half-heartedly admonished her, but her grandfather was an alumni and a benefactor. They didn’t want to risk losing the donations he lobbed their way.

***

I tried not to think about her treatment, but I confess that it was next to impossible, especially with her turning to look at me every few minutes. I kept my eyes resolutely focused on the employee at the window, counting down the number of people in line, but Liz would look away and return her gaze to me, determined to figure out how she knew me.

This went on for nearly half an hour before her eyes grew wide in recognition, and she flushed with embarrassment. She turned to face the head of the line, hoping to disappear into the crowd, but it was a lost cause. I knew who she was and the source of her embarrassment. I admit that I enjoyed her discomfiture more than I should have.

It took nearly another half hour before the line wound down and she made it to the agent. Once done, she quickly departed and another five minutes I was at the window, renewing my driver’s licence. When I left, I found her waiting outside, shifting her weight from one leg to the other, steeling herself for the encounter I had hoped would not happen. I was greatly disappointed as he called my name.

“Diego,” she said nervously.

“Wow, I think that’s the first time you called me by the correct name,” I said without a trace of sympathy. “Usually you called me by the wrong name or else a series of ever more insulting slurs.”

Her wan smile faltered and she looked away, on the verge of tears. “I guess I deserve that,” she cried, her voice quivering with emotion.

“How are you?” I said, allowing a thaw in my tone to appear.

“I’ve been better,” she chuckled nervously. “You?”

“Never been better,” I smiled.

I took in her appearance, and it contrasted greatly with how I remembered her. As a student, she was young and thin, and now middle age did not agree with her. Where once she was dressed impeccably, she looked frumpy. It was less with how she dressed and how she carried herself. There was no pride in her, slouched over as though she wanted to hide from the world.

“I heard you were back in the area,” she said. “Vice President of Operations for the Southwest Region. You’ve done well.”

“Been lucky,” I say humbly, though we both know it was anything but luck that propelled me to my current position. “Right place, right time. You know how it goes. And how’s it been going with you?”

I see her smile falter as she looks away, and she seems distant as she replied. “Not as well as you, I’m afraid.”

“How so?”

“Divorced,” she says with a barking laugh, as though she’s seeing the absurdity of our meeting. “Ex-husband, the once great Dr. Plough sued for malpractice, arrested for medicare fraud. His practice closed, and my reputation in tatters because I worked with him in the clinic. Never mind that I had nothing to do with the fraud,” she huffed, “nevermind that it was him and his business director that did it all, I took the fall with him. Unemployable, my degrees in nursing and hospital administration not worth the paper they’re printed on.”

“So what are you doing now?”

“Working at a dry cleaners down the way,” she waved vaguely west. “Bought it with what was left with my savings. Family refuses to help me, saying it would ruin their reputation. Brother’s running for a House seat this November. I’m getting by, but barely.”

“That sucks,” I say, feeling sorry for my one-time tormentor.

“It’s not all bad, I suppose,” she said without meeting my eye. “I’m not in prison like my ex is, and I’m able to pay my bills, though I had to part with my dream home. I live in a studio apartment, but at least I’m not homeless, right?”

“Yeah,” I responded, the ache in my chest intensifying.

“So, anyways. I didn’t wait to bitch about how my life’s going. I – I’ve been thinking about you a lot over the years.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, and I’m ashamed of how I treated you. I was raised better than that. Took me a few years to realize how much of a bitch I was to you. Took me working a few years at the downtown clinic to realize how hard minorities have it, and how bad poverty affects people. It opened my eyes to how remarkable someone has to be to rise above that. A lot of them don’t.”

“It’s not easy,” I agreed.

“For what it’s worth, Diego, I’m sorry. I was a bitch, a rich, white, ignorant and blatantly bigoted bitch. I guess karma took care of me. Look where we are now, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” she fidgeted. “So, listen, I have to get back. I have some paperwork to do.”

She turned and began to walk away, and I struggled with myself for a moment before stopping her, “Hey, wait up!” She stopped and I ran to catch up. “There’s an opening,” I began, “in one of our area hospitals for Director of Nursing.”

“I’ve stopped applying,” she replied miserably. “What’s the point?”

“The point is,” I countered crossly, “is that I’m V.P., and I can pull a few strings, get your foot in the door. Pay is only in the low hundred thousands,” I shrugged as she wrapped her arms around me, tears streaming down her cheek. “Don’t thank me yet. I can’t guarantee you the job.”

“That’s fine,” she hiccupped. “I’ll do anything. Truth is, I’m on the verge of losing my business. I’m probably going to  file for Chapter 7 before the end of the year. After that?” She finished with a shake of her head.

“Well,” I mused, looking at her with interest. “If you’re willing to do anything….”

“I am,” she interrupted eagerly.

I ran my fingers down her face and she didn’t resist my advance. Instead she moved in, wanting nothing more than to do whatever she had to get out of her predicament. I pulled her in, kissed her, and whispered, “Meet me in my office. Suite 1011, seventeenth floor, Stevenson Building. Wear something suitable for an interview, but on the sexy side. If you need an advance, I can front you something.”

“Don’t worry,” she cried happily. “I have something I’m sure you’ll love.”

“Three-thirty,” I informed her, excitement building for our rendezvous.

“I’ll be there. Thank you.” She hurried away, a bit of her old pride evident in her posture, and in the glow in her face. Of course I had no intention of getting her the job, but then again, why not? She was still the granddaughter of an ex-senator, sister to the likely next member of the House. She could prove useful as an ally, and after my divorce with my soon to be ex, marrying into her family could help me in turn. I have political ambitions of my own, and what better revenge than to use my once tormentor to help me with my goals?


Short Stories

Next story – Obedience
Previous story – Shards

Short Story: Shards

The look in Timothy’s eyes said it all. Grace saw him as he rounded the corner of the aisle as she stocked the shelves of the toy department. She had dreaded seeing in him for some time, dreaded the look he was now giving her. Her hands instinctively went to her belly, protecting her baby from his anger, though he was never prone to fits of outrage. His reaction was all the worse for it.

With one glance at her pregnant form, she could see waves of shock and surprise fighting with jealously and anger. She thought there was revulsion in there where, but she wondered if she was reading her own feelings in his eyes as they stared silently at one another. Her customers walked by them, oblivious to the awkwardness of the reunion.

“His?” Timothy muttered at last, once he found his voice.

She nodded. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t tell you. Me and Ken are, well…”

“I can see that,” Timothy said as he grappled with the unexpected feeling of betrayal. “You and him, huh?”

Grace nodded again, rubbing her belly absently, regretting the chain of events that led her to this moment, and not for the first time. “It was an accident, you see. Didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“Didn’t mean for it to happen,” he sighed quietly, closing his eyes as he tried to make sense of everything. “I thought he was only a bit of fun after your divorce. Wasn’t that why you and me didn’t happen?”

“I know,” she whined. “I know. He was only supposed to be someone to  play with before I settled down with someone a little more stable. I’m sorry. I know we were supposed to, but,” she shrugged helplessly. “You disappeared, and I know we kept in touch, but I thought I would never see you again.”

“I moved an hour away,” he retorted angrily, losing control of his emotions. “Promoted and moved one fucking hour away. I tried to call you, but you never answered. I text you, and the same. Oh, and you blocked me on everything. I guess you didn’t want me to know what was going on.”

“That was Ken’s doing,” she protested weakly. “Didn’t want me to get any ideas. He’s kind of controlling, and he’s always been jealous of you. You know how he’s like.”

“Oh, I remember Ken. Spent his whole marriage, or all three of them, controlling them, cheating on them, and just plain treating his wives like crap.”

“I know, but he promised it would be different this time.”

“Different? This time?” He said inquiringly as he pieced it all together. “You and Ken are married?”

“Well, no,” she shook her head, “but we’re supposed to get married in a month, once his divorce is finalized. “I don’t want to raise this baby without his father.”

“But you had no problem raising your other ones without their father,” Timothy argued heatedly. “What makes him so special.”

“I don’t know really,” she furrowed her brow in concentration, trying to explain the unexplainable. “It just is, you know. We’re together now. We’re going to have a family.”

Timothy scoffed, shaking his head in disbelief. “I must be the biggest fucking idiot.”

“No you’re not! Why would you even think that?”

“Because, I was hoping that maybe me and you could, but now this,” he pointed at her pregnancy. “I mean, holy fuck woman! You’re having Ken’s baby. And you’re marrying him? How fucking stupid can you be? How fucking stupid am I to hold on to the hope that maybe you’d finally decide to give me a chance. I mean, you said you loved me. You said you were in love with me.”

“I was,” she cried. “I still am, but it’s complicated.”

“No,” Timothy shook his head. “It’s simple, or at least it was. You chose him over me,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Funny how everyone says I’m a nice guy, but it’s always the asshole that ends up with the girl. Either no one wants the nice guy, or maybe I’m really not as nice as everyone pretends I am.”

“You are, and I’m sorry,” Grace pleaded, sobbing into her hands, longing to fall into Timothy’s arms once more. “I fucked up. I should have picked you, but now I’m having his kid. I’m sorry.”

“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m the one who should be sorry. I wasted all this time hoping that you’d give me a chance, but of course it was just that. I colossal waste of time. I – I have to go. Um, see you around, but probably not.”

He turned to walk away but Grace grabbed his arm and turned him around, pulling him towards her and kissing him. His resolve melted as he kissed her back, his need pulling him towards her in spite of himself. He ached for her and now there was nothing for him to do but walk away, but he couldn’t tear himself away.

Finally he wrenched himself from her grasp, unable to control the sobs tearing down his pride. “I love you, but I can’t do this. Not again. I’m sorry, but – goodbye.”

Without giving her a chance, he raced away. Grace stood there, rooted to the spot as he disappeared back around the corner, watching the man she was in love with get away, and she died a little.

***

A little over a year later, Timothy walked around his store, making sure the workers were busy with their tasks when he got a text. “It’s Grace. I need to see you. Can we meet?”

He stared at his phone the rest of the day, not knowing how to respond. Once he was home, he picked up the phone and replied. “I guess. I’m off tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

They agreed to meet at the city park. He waited on the bench by the pond as Grace walked up pushing a stroller and followed by her two other children, a boy and a girl.

“Thank you for meeting me,” she said timidly. “Can you guys go and play? I need to talk to Timothy for a minute.”

Her children ran towards the playground, not bothering to wonder why they had driven more than an hour to meet the strange man. She watched them for a moment before turning around and taking a seat next to Timothy who sat impassively watching the ducks waddle by.

“You wanted to meet?” He said in a cold voice.

“Yeah, I did,” she replied timidly.

“Ken know you’re here?”

“Me and Ken are getting a divorce,” Grace replied, picking up her baby from the stroller.

“That him?” Timothy pointed.

“Little Dexter,” she said lovingly. “He’s turning one next month.”

“Time flies doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“So why are you here?” Timothy asked at last. “I mean, I don’t mean to be rude, but why bother driving all the way up here just to tell me you’re divorcing that sack of shit. I suppose you caught him?”

“Three times, the last time in my bed, while the kids were sleeping,” she whimpered. “That was the last straw. I kicked him out. That was last month. He doesn’t care enough to call to see how Dexter is doing.”

“Okay, but why are you here?”

“I fucked up, okay?” Grace choked. “I choose the wrong guy and let the right one walk away. I should never have decided to play with him and lose you in turn. That was not what I wanted.”

“But it’s what you did, and what you got. You can say sorry all you want, but it’ll never change the fact that you picked him over me. He was the one you wanted, not me. Why should I give a shit that you’re here apologizing?”

“Because,” she begged, “I was hoping you’d maybe give me another chance? Please?”

Timothy laughed. “You’re fucking unbelievable. You expect me to take you in after what you did?”

“I expect you to tell me to get lost,” she shook her head wearily, resigned at the idea of losing him for good. “I had to try anyways. I have to see if you’d give me another chance.”

“I don’t know,” Timothy shook his head slowly. “I’m tired of always coming in last. I’m never anyone’s first choice.”

“You’re my first choice now.”

“No, I’ll never be your first choice. You made sure of that the moment you went with him. I’ll always come in after that asshole, no matter what you try to say on the contrary. He married you, and you had his baby. No matter what, you’re linked forever. I can’t compete with him.”

“You don’t have to,” she cried. “He gone. Out of the picture. He moved in with that whore of a homewrecker.”

“As I recall, you broke up his last marriage. Don’t get mad that he treated you like he treated everyone else. You knew what he was like, and you choose him over me anyways.”

“You made your point. I guess I drove out here for nothing then?” She looked at Timothy, and he could feel his resolve slip away. She had a way of doing that when no one else could.

She stood and he joined her, looking deep into each other’s eyes. He had forgotten the striking blue of her eyes, or the dimple on the corners of her smile, or the way she’d squint when she smiled, as she did right now.

He had to have her, but he knew it would end in heartbreak. He also knew his heart would fail if he allowed her to walk away. Either way he’d end up hurt. It was a no-win situation, and he hated no-win situations.

They fell into each other’s arms before their lips met. She fit perfectly in his arms, and she felt it too. They were perfect for each other. They held on for a minute or two before they broke their embrace. He had to answer her. Yay or nay? Either way he would end up broken, and he wondered if he should bother. He looked at her, ready to give her the answer, wondering to himself as he spoke if there would be enough shards of his broken heart to put back together again.


Short Stories

Next story – Chance Encounter
Previous story – Noticing James Smith

What I’m up to

I think I’ve spent more time writing my short stories than I have anything else lately. I haven’t even been reading much this year, considering I’ve ended doing book reviews. I feel as though I did a poor job with my reviews, but the time it took to read and consider how to write what I thought of the book wasn’t worth what I got out of it.

I’ve picked up a story again, but I can’t help but wonder what’s the use? As much as I’ve said I want to publish, will I ever do it? Will I get to the point where my stories are good enough? Will I get to the point where I feel as though I’m brave enough to put it all out there?

I don’t know, but considering I’ve been at it since 2011, and saying that I’m going to publish my story this year, every year since 2012, I have to say that I’ve made myself into a liar. What’s stopping me?  My ability to finish whatever book I’m writing satisfactorily. Then there’s the cost of finding an editor/proofreader, a cover designer, and if need be, someone to help format the damned thing.

Maybe I should have picked an easier hobby, one that I’m capable of actually doing, or maybe I should buckle down and see it through. I’ll never be happy unless I follow through. I need a mentor, I think. Now where to find one.

Short Story: Noticing James Smith

He was invisible, or at least as invisible as a man can get and still be solid and alive. It wasn’t as though no one ever saw him, but they didn’t notice him. They’d greet him absently and immediately proceeded to forget him. That’s what he was, forgettable.

He was common and average, from his name James Smith, to his height, build, and weight, to the color of his skin. His eyes were a common brown, as was his hair. His clothes, while immaculately pressed, were somehow neither dated nor fashionable. He didn’t stick out, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was, as he thought, the way it was, and that was that.

From a young age, he learned that he didn’t matter. His parents only tolerated him, lavishing their attention to their eldest son, and their youngest daughter respectively. He had middling grades, no athletic abilities, and barely any artistic talents. He wrote poetry under a pseudonym, which was published by some obscure online magazine, but was never paid for the honor.

It didn’t matter to him much. He didn’t have many friends, and the few girlfriends he ever had almost immediately forgot about him, moving on to their next boyfriends, most often without bothering to tell him about it. He shut that part down, repressing his need to engage with anyone, especially with people of the opposite sex. He saw no use in putting himself through that torture ever again.

The only thing that might be considered remarkable was his uncanny ability to play the markets. He bought stocks from every job he worked for, that being one of the benefits he took advantage of. Soon he’d sell and trade, looking for patterns, listening to the prognosticators on the business channels. His worth reached $100K by the time he was twenty-three, $1 million by twenty-seven, and he was nearing $10 million, hoping to hit it before his thirty-first in less than a month.

He didn’t need to work, so he didn’t. He passed his time idling away in one non-adventure after another, visiting art museums around the world. He took pictures of European cathedrals, castles, and monuments. He heard the best symphonies played by the greatest musicians in the grandest auditoriums, and met the most talented singers. What he didn’t do was go off the beaten path. He never had an adventure.

James Smith sat in a coffee shop across from Central Park, having gone to the Big Apple to see an off-Broadway production solely because he read a favorable review. He sipped his Irish cream latte while scrolling down the page on his phone, wondering where to go next. He didn’t notice the woman in front of him until she interrupted his research. “Do you mind if I seat here?”

James took his eyes off his phone and looked up and almost gasped. In front of him was his exact opposite. She was tall and thin, her perfect skin almost translucent, with only a few freckles dotting her otherwise flawless face. Her head was aflame with a mane of red hair, curls framing her heart-shaped face. She wore a short dress which showed off her toned legs, and she wore impossibly tall red stilettos.

“Oh,” he stammered as soon as he found his voice. “Please. I was about to leave anyways.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” she sighed before taking the seat next to him and breaking into a nervous laugh. “I’ve been hit on by one creep after another, and I just need some peace for a moment. I’m hoping they’ll leave me alone if they see me sitting with someone. My name’s Vesper, by the way. Vesper Deering.”

“Oh,” he stammered again, not know what else to say. “Smith. James Smith, and that makes sense. I can stay a little longer.”

“So I’m not keeping you from anything important? A job or a wife?”

“Nothing at all,” he states wistfully. “I’m enjoying an extended vacation and I’m not married.”

“Not even a girlfriend?”

“Not even a hope for one,” he confesses, embarrassed by his admission.

“I find that hard to believe. You’re a good looking man,” she says before blushing. “Or are you gay?”

He shakes his head, amused by her question. “No, I’m straight. I’m just not the kind of guy people, and especially women, notice.”

“I noticed you,” she says, flushing scarlet again.

“You’re the only one.” He looks around, and everyone in the coffee shop steals glances at her, men and women, and even he’s being eyed enviously by just about everybody. “I see that everyone can’t keep their eyes off of you, and I don’t blame them. You’re beautiful.”

“I know,” she sighs sadly, before looking at James and seeing his reaction. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not conceited or vain, but I’m being told constantly that I’m pretty and that I’m beautiful, and men can’t stop hitting on me. Sometimes women can’t as well.”

“That must be exhausting,” James says astonished, the very idea sounding foreign to his ears.

“And I can’t imagine what’d it be like not to be noticed, but sometimes it would be a welcome change.”

“It’s not so bad, but it does get a little lonely at times.” James sits in shock, having never thought about his situation.

“So what is it you do?” Vesper inquires, trying to get the conversation started once more.

“Nothing really. I play the stock market full-time, and I make just enough to indulge my love of art, theater, and traveling.”

“Sounds amazing.”

“It was,” he sighs. “It’s grown stale but I don’t know what else to do.”

“You could always go off on an adventure,” Vesper says wistfully. “If it were me, I’d try something new and exciting. For instance, I’ve always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.”

“So why don’t you?”

“Because I don’t have the funds to do so,” she states. “Oh, there’s always somebody willing to give me what I want in exchange for favors.”

“I can’t imagine being bold enough to try something like that.”

“I’ve dealt with it my entire life,” Vesper says wearily. “For once, I’d like someone to like me for my mind, and not for this,” she motions at her body.

“And I’d like some one to like me.”

“For what?”

“Not anything in particular, just like me. Like I said, I’m usually not ever noticed.”

“That’s a shame. I think everyone needs someone, a friend, a companion, a lover.”

“I’ve never had any real friends, and the few I have now are more interested in my bank account than my company. The last lover I had was, well, so long ago that I’m embarrassed to tell you.”

“Then mine was so recent that I’m equally embarrassed to admit. Finding lovers has never been difficult for me,” she shakes her head sadly. “I just can’t find someone to love me, truly and really love me for me. I think I’ve taken up enough of your time,” she says suddenly, looking at the watch dangling on her wrist. “The guys that were harassing me are gone. I think it’s safe for me to go.”

“Oh,” he says, feeling suddenly disappointed. “You sure?”

“I think so. You can walk me out, if you want. I could use an escort. I’d appreciate being able to walk the street without the cat calls.”

“I won’t promise that you won’t be whistled at, but I’ll do what I can.”

James stands up, offers Vesper his arm, which she happily accepts. “You’re quite the gentleman, aren’t you?”

“I can be, when given the opportunity.”

“Then I’m glad I gave it to you,” Vesper smiles.

The pair walk  out in silence, James allowing his mind to wander, thinking about what it would be like to have an adventure. “Kilimanjaro,” he says quietly after walking almost an entire block. “It’s in Tanzania, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Vesper nods.

“Never been there,” he says, his wanderlust kindled. “I don’t suppose you’d go with me? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a real adventure before.”

“I hope you don’t expect me to sleep with you in return,” she jokes.

“I don’t, but you don’t know what you’re missing. My lovemaking prowess has often been described as ‘just what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ I think my aforementioned lover fell asleep once. It was quite the fiasco.”

Vesper begins to laugh, and not a polite chuckle, but a loud laugh, ending with a snort and another wave of laughter. “Well see, Romeo,” she grins before kissing his cheek. “We’ll see. How about something a little nearer to home before we start traveling the world.”

“Technically I live in Ohio, but in actuality I’m a bit of a vagabond. I’m staying at the Plaza at the moment, and you know, I’ve never actually been to Niagara Falls. Is that close enough.”

“Better, but how about Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog? It’s only a couple of blocks away, and I’m famished. Haven’t had a bite to eat yet.”

“I’d like that,” he says. “I’ve always meant to go there but never quite made it.

“Today’s your lucky day then, James.”

Later that evening, after he walked Vesper to her apartment, he walked a little straighter, his eyes focused on the road ahead. He witnessed a subtle change in how people regarded him, noticed by passers-by, and he smiled, glowing from the small kiss goodnight that Vesper had given him on his cheek. Somehow, he didn’t feel so ordinary anymore.


Short Stories

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