Westmalle [Repost]

Prompt: Love

blue-crayon

Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.

Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.

The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.

“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.

They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.

“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.

“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.

“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.

“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.

“I can pay you,” Leep said.

“Yes, but—“

“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”

“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”

“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”

Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.

“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.

“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.

“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.

“And the story?”

“Improved.”

Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.

It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.

“Oh my god,” said Amanda.

People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.

“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”

“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”

“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”

Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.

Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.

This was the best date he had ever been on.


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Bob’s Brain [Repost]

Prompt: Ready

burning_book-t2

“I know I could probably do better than you, physically speaking,” Bob said. “We all have  our levels of attractiveness, and it’s funny that we rarely stray, either up or down, from those levels.”

So, Envy thought, could this be why such a presentable, almost handsome young man was never in a lasting relationship? He was a tall man, strong, broad in the shoulders and wide in stance, like a football player, with a fair complexion and neatly trimmed chocolate brown hair. His manner was open and friendly— always smiling, as he was now, with wonderful, traditional manners. He liked to open doors, take the curb side when walking, pay the tabs, bring a rose or a bottle of rosé when he picked up a lady for a date.

But he seemed to have no filter. Was that a result of indulgent parenting? Cluelessness? A disinclination towards self-examination? Maybe no one had ever called him on his proclivity for unnecessary truth-telling.

“Excuse me?” said Envy. They had stopped at a neighbourhood pub, halfway between the stadium and the car, on their way home. It was extremely dark, not as crowded as it should be, and the bartender seemed to be hoarding ice. Envy’s gin and tonic was flat and warm.

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Bob.

“How should I take it?”

Bob leaned over and kissed Envy on the cheek. She pulled away. He said, “It can’t be a huge surprise to you, Envy. I met your sister-in-law. She is a model. You are not a model. It’s not a big deal, why do you mind?”

“If you think you can do better than me, physically, I think you should,” said Envy. Of course it was no surprise to her. She was distinctly un-beautiful: her eyes and nose and mouth were placed as if God had randomly thrown these features from a distance onto her face. She tended to have very sensitive skin, so it was rarely smooth and without blemish. She would never be taller, and, she suspected, would never be thinner.

When he’d picked her up at her new condo that evening, she was ready, coat in hand. She took the bottle of rosé and set in on top of a large cardboard carton. The hallway and living room were still stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked. Bob peered in. “Bit of a hoarder, are we?” he said. She took that remark, and so many others, as if it was a joke. But no, it was not a random joke, it was just Bob’s brain spewing out unfiltered comments like a leaky faucet.

Well, this time it hurt.

“That was a hurtful remark,” Envy said. Bob started to order her another gin and tonic but she put her hand over his and shook her head. “I’d like to go home.”

“You could tell me I have a big nose, I wouldn’t be hurt if it was true,” Bob said, and then, as if he realized the weakness of the analogy, he made the mistake of expanding. “I just believe in honesty. I don’t lie, Envy. It’s not my style. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t be hurt if you said something I thought was negative, because if I am honest I have to expect honesty in return.”

“I am telling you something negative. You say hurtful things and don’t care. You don’t have to share your every passing thought, especially when it is hurtful. Of course I know I’m not beautiful. We ugly ones are the smart ones, remember? Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, I don’t need to be reminded about the fact that I’m not pretty, like when I’m out on a date.”

Bob had the grace to look surprised. “But you are pretty.”

“But you could do so much better.” Envy stood up and put her coat on. Instinctively, Bob helped guide her arms into the sleeves.

“Not so much better,” said Bob, unadvisedly. “I mean—“

“Just take me home, Bob,” Envy said, sighing.

They walked the rest of the way to the car without speaking. This seemed to be the pattern for all her attempts at relationships, since Marcus. A conflict, then silence, then the last chapter finished and the book closed. And burned.

But as Bob started the car, he turned to her and said, “I’ve wanted to kiss you and touch you since I first laid eyes on you. I said the wrong thing. Here’s the right thing: you are not a model, but are the sexiest woman I have ever met. Will you come back to my house and allow me to make love to you?”

Envy stared back at him. She couldn’t help but wonder: Did he finally understand that the truth is not always expedient?

Was he telling the truth now?


  • Original Prompt: Lukewarm, February 12, 2017.

Quiche Date

Prompt: Toxic

bisquick simple

“You just beat the eggs,” said Deb. She watched for a moment. “No, not like that.”

Leep had a big orange plastic bowl and a manual egg beater, which was bouncing off the edges of the bowl like stray bullets in a steel-walled room.

Beth (whom Leep called Lizzie, in his head) was sitting at the kitchen table reading the local newspaper which was spread out before her, and she looked up. “Show him, Deb. You weren’t so brilliant either, your first time. Leep, move the bowl away from the edge of the counter, would you?”

Leep was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, both now covered in egg splashes and smears of Bisquick. He probably should have taken the offer of one of Beth’s aprons, but he thought Deb was making fun of him when the caption was “Don’t Kiss the Chef, or I’ll See You in Court”.

He wasn’t interested in Deb, the widow of one of Leep’s co-workers at the mill, even though she was pretty and had nice legs. She was not interested in him either; in fact she treated Leep with the same kind of contempt and disdain that her murdered husband used to.

Ok, Leep would be the first to admit he lacked some essential social skills. But he’d actually been on a proper date and wanted another one, this time with a cashier called Lucy, according to her name tag. She had made a small joke when he sent the eggs and Bisquick and ham and cheese and a bottle of white wine along the conveyor belt so she could run it through the scanner.

“This looks like a quiche date,” Lucy said with a smile. Leep had never heard of a quiche date— was it a thing? He had used the Bisquick quiche recipe as a way to spend more time with Lizzie, and they completely believed him when he insisted a recipe wasn’t enough. They’d conceded that he’d need a personal demonstration.

Anyway Leep, not much further ahead on social skills despite his recent date, had blushed miserably under Lucy’s eye and attempted a laugh that indicated he knew what she was joking about, which he did not.

She had a dark complexion, possibly Persian? Leep thought she could be Persian. Her eyes were really a bit too big for her face and made her look doll-like. She was rather slim but extremely shapely. Leep had only seen her name tag by accident.

But she didn’t sneer when he blushed and made an incomprehensible sound, like a snorting baby rhino, while attempting to laugh knowingly. She just smiled warmly and reminded him which bag had the eggs in it, which he thought was a nice gesture.

Basically, she wasn’t repulsed by him, like Deb was, or completely and utterly out of his league, like Lizzie. Would she be interested in a quiche date? He would have to find out, somehow.

“Do you have an egg beater at home?” asked Deb.

“Nope,” Leep told her.

“Then you have to beat the eggs with a fork.”

“Or he could borrow ours,” said Beth.

“Or he could buy one of his own,” said Deb.

“Just beat until the eggs are frothy and bubbly,” Beth instructed, half standing up from the chair to see into the bowl.

Leep then added all the other ingredients he’d measured or chopped under instruction into the beaten eggs, and poured the whole thing into a greased ceramic pie plate. Much of the egg mixture missed the plate and spread like an oil spill on the counter. Leep was also not very coordinated, especially when Lizzie was watching him.

“About 30 or 40 minutes in the oven,” said Deb unhelpfully. Which was it?

“Test it with a toothpick,” said Beth. Whatever that meant.

It didn’t really matter. He had at least another half hour in Lizzie’s company, which could sustain him for the rest of the week, and might even give him the courage to speak coherent words to Lucy, sometime.

Collections

Prompt: Reservation

blue tit art

Evangelica was such a beautiful name, even if she shortened it to “Eva”. Why, it was an even prettier name than Elizabeth, which Leep had always thought to be the prettiest name in the world.

They met for the first time at a cafe called “Benny’s Reubens and More” which they agreed to after a lengthy back-and-forth about restaurants ranging from Famous Chef to take-away. They met at 5:30 pm, and the place was virtually empty; a compact environment of hard surfaces, with a laminated tile floor and polished, country-style oakwood chairs.

So even though the picture in her profile on Plenty of Fish in the Sea was blurry and contained more than one woman, and did not specify which was Evangelina, Leep was able to spot her at a table near a tall plastic (“faux”) plant, cleaning her nails with a fork. To her credit, she stopped immediately when Leep arrived and introduced himself.

He had given himself plastic (“faux”) courage earlier by imbibing two bottles of chilled Gambrinus Plzen.

“My first husband called me ‘Angel’,” said Eva, then she directed her attention to the menu, which gave Leep the opportunity to examine her face.

The profile photo had given no clue that a cascade of dark freckles romped across her cheeks and nose, and in some places they joined together in a great flock, like migrating birds. Leep was enchanted.

Leep was sure their conversation sounded, to the server who lurked in the shadows, like alien beings trying to communicate, since Eva’s voice was in a high register, and his own was very low. Like a cow communicating with a blue tit. Eva did most of the talking. She’d said she was outgoing, which was convenient for Leep, since he was not.

All he could really think about was the end of the date, when he believed he had a strong chance of ending up in her bed and thus ending a very long drought which spanned from his first sexual experience at age 18 and a half, to the present. He had this opinion because Evangelica had indicated she was “open-minded” and “not old-fashioned” and “experienced”. Debbie told him that meant she was a bit of a slut, until her mother told her to shush. Her mother was right. “Slut” was a harsh word, the wrong word.

Don’t blow it, he told himself, over and over. It wasn’t so much that he was attracted to Eva in particular, despite her freckles, as much as he wanted some solid experience so he would not look like the inept noob that he felt he was at the moment, to a woman he truly did want to please.

During their dinner of warm bowls of borscht and slabs of white bread, she was duly attentive but clearly unimpressed at Leep’s claims that he was both a mill worker and an almost-published author. She talked a lot about her “collections”— her spoons, her vintage magazines, her knit baby clothes, her enamelled pill boxes. “Not Franklin Mint, either,” she assured Leep, who had no idea what Franklin Mint was. She mentioned her first husband frequently, but made no references to the second one. She owned her own house. Would Leep like to see it?

You bet he would. Though he did not say that out loud. He was ready. He’d exfoliated and clipped and snipped and gelled and moisturized and deodorized and did all the things an article the old edition of GQ at the barber shop had recommended.

He followed her car in his, and she parked in front of a green stuccoed-bungalow, squat and square, with light trapped behind thin curtains at the wide front window.

She was a collector, all right. “Pardon the mess,” she said with a giggle as she opened the front door and revealed the start of a passageway— a winding narrow path between columns of boxes, shopping bags, and newspapers stacked to the ceiling. This path led to the kitchen, which was similarly stuffed with boxes, garbage bags, empty plant pots, and one magazine tower that spilled onto the kitchen table. “Ice Fishers’ Digest,” said Eva. “My first husband was a subscriber.”

Leep suddenly noticed there was another human being in the claustrophobic, dimly-lit space. Seated at the formica kitchen table was a teenage girl, in striped flannel pyjamas, eating a bowl of cereal with milk. She didn’t raise her head or say hello— it was the crunching of the Fruit Loops that caught Leep’s attention.

“Oh!” said Eva. “This is my daughter, Paulette. Also from my first husband.” Paulette rose, put her empty bowl in the sink, which was crowded with dirty dishes, cutlery, and two plastic cutting boards, and padded silently out of the room.

“Teenagers,” said Eva with a sigh.

There were more issues of Ice Fisher’s Digest in the bedroom, and Leep noticed one was the recent Summer International Issue. So she continued the subscription? There were other magazines, too. And newspapers that went as far back as the last US presidential inauguration. Amazon.com boxes. Plastic bags full of mystery contents. There were even unopened Franklin Mint boxes— was Evangelica entirely honest with Leep? There was not a square inch of surface unoccupied, save for the path to the bed, the bed itself, and narrower path from the bed to the small, ensuite bathroom.

Their first attempt was about as clumsy and ineffectual and swift as Leep had expected and dreaded, but Evangelica seemed unperturbed. Later on, a second attempt had a more pleasant result, and as Eva cuddled up to Leep’s exfoliated and moisturized torso, she whispered, “I want to have your babies.”

This seemed sudden. Leep remembered he had an early morning appointment and got his clothes on and left, after awkwardly planting a kiss on her forehead as he’d seen Ryan Gosling (or was it John Hamm?) do in a movie.

He navigated through the passageways, noticing a powerful, dominant odour for the first time. Cat litter? Cheese? Buttermilk?

It didn’t matter. Leep got into his car and turned on the ignition. He sighed heavily, but with contentment. Leep had got laid.

Dear Agony Ant: WTF [Repost]

Prompt: Grit

Tsunami


Dear Agony Ant,

What are the worst possible things that could happen on a Saturday night date? Because I think they just happened to me.

Sincerely,
WTF


Dear WTF,

Without question the two worst possible things are:

1. Going out on a double date with your boyfriend’s best friend.

So, you and the best friend don’t get along, mostly because he is everything your boyfriend is not: cocky, arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and is none too fond of you, either. You are an adult, right? You can handle this. What you can’t handle is your boyfriend, as the evening wears on, soaking up the friend’s assholery like a sponge, so that when you are alone in the car, driving home, he turns into his best friend. This leads to an argument.

2. Arguments in the car.

There is no escape when you and your fellow combatant are stuck in a moving car. Crawling into the back seat does not help. Shouting sounds twice as loud and three times more hostile. Silences are highly tense moments when you both think of something even worse to say.

And when the boyfriend stops the car, opens the passenger door, and in a grand gesture worthy of his best friend, snarls “Get out!” you have a decision to make.

Do you exit the car in the dark on a country road and hope you get assaulted so boyfriend will feel terrible? Or stay put and stew silently, planning a revenge which includes no sex, ever, for all eternity? Either way, catastrophic.

So avoid the above two situations.

By the way, WTF, what happened to you on your date?

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

I met my new boyfriend at a hotel bar, and he just disappeared, leaving me alone on a bar stool. Second, I lost my purse, or it was stolen. So I had no money and no phone. Then the hotel called the police and I was arrested for prostitution because I asked the guy on the stool next to me for some money. What’s worse, I think the boyfriend stole my purse.

Sincerely,
WTF


Dear WTF,

WTF, indeed.

Love and peace,
agony ant


Bob’s Brain

Prompt: Lukewarm

burning_book-t2

“I know I could probably do better than you, physically speaking,” Bob said. “We all have  our levels of attractiveness, and it’s funny that we rarely stray, either up or down, from those levels.”

So, Envy thought, could this be why such a presentable, almost handsome young man was never in a lasting relationship? He was a tall man, strong, broad in the shoulders and wide in stance, like a football player, with a fair complexion and neatly trimmed chocolate brown hair. His manner was open and friendly— always smiling, as he was now, with wonderful, traditional manners. He liked to open doors, take the curb side when walking, pay the tabs, bring a rose or a bottle of rosé when he picked up a lady for a date.

But he seemed to have no filter. Was that a result of indulgent parenting? Cluelessness? A disinclination towards self-examination? Maybe no one had ever called him on his proclivity for unnecessary truth-telling.

“Excuse me?” said Envy. They had stopped at a neighbourhood pub, halfway between the stadium and the car, on their way home. It was extremely dark, not as crowded as it should be, and the bartender seemed to be hoarding ice. Envy’s gin and tonic was flat and warm.

“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Bob.

“How should I take it?”

Bob leaned over and kissed Envy on the cheek. She pulled away. He said, “It can’t be a huge surprise to you, Envy. I met your sister-in-law. She is a model. You are not a model. It’s not a big deal, why do you mind?”

“If you think you can do better than me, physically, I think you should,” said Envy. Of course it was no surprise to her. She was distinctly un-beautiful: her eyes and nose and mouth were placed as if God had randomly thrown these features from a distance onto her face. She tended to have very sensitive skin, so it was rarely smooth and without blemish. She would never be taller, and, she suspected, would never be thinner.

When he’d picked her up at her new condo that evening, she was ready, coat in hand. She took the bottle of rosé and set in on top of a large cardboard carton. The hallway and living room were still stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked. Bob peered in. “Bit of a hoarder, are we?” he said. She took that remark, and so many others, as if it was a joke. But no, it was not a random joke, it was just Bob’s brain spewing out unfiltered comments like a leaky faucet.

Well, this time it hurt.

“That was a hurtful remark,” Envy said. Bob started to order her another gin and tonic but she put her hand over his and shook her head. “I’d like to go home.”

“You could tell me I have a big nose, I wouldn’t be hurt if it was true,” Bob said, and then, as if he realized the weakness of the analogy, her made the mistake of expanding. “I just believe in honesty. I don’t lie, Envy. It’s not my style. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t be hurt if you said something I thought was negative, because if I am honest I have to expect honesty in return.”

“I am telling you something negative. You say hurtful things and don’t care. You don’t have to share your every passing thought, especially when it is hurtful. Of course I know I’m not beautiful. We ugly ones are the smart ones, remember? Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, I don’t need to be reminded about the fact that I’m not pretty, like when I’m out on a date.”

Bob had the grace to look surprised. “But you are pretty.”

“But you could do so much better.” Envy stood up and put her coat on. Instinctively, Bob helped guide her arms into the sleeves.

“Not so much better,” said Bob, unadvisedly. “I mean—“

“Just take me home, Bob,” Envy said, sighing.

They walked the rest of the way to the car without speaking. This seemed to be the pattern for all her attempts at relationships, since Marcus. A conflict, then silence, then the last chapter finished and the book closed. And burned.

But as Bob started the car, he turned to her and said, “I’ve wanted to kiss you and touch you since I first laid eyes on you. I said the wrong thing. Here’s the right thing: you are not a model, but are the sexiest woman I have ever met. Will you come back to my house and allow me to make love to you?”

Envy stared back at him. She couldn’t help but wonder: Did he finally understand that the truth is not always expedient?

Was he telling the truth now?

Stress Panic Tremble

Prompt: Year

box-toxic

Envy picked up her cell phone, then put it down again. She was sitting in her car on the street in front of her new condo. It was raining. Inside the second floor apartment, boxes of kitchenware, clothing, papers, books, collectibles, junk, knickknacks, useless trinkets, and meaningless mementoes all awaited her, wanting to be unpacked and put away.

Why had she not been more discerning when she packed? Why had she accepted that box of her high school binders and yearbooks, pictures and trinkets, from her mother? She hated high school. Now high school sat in a box on the second floor of a modern brick building in a questionable, but soon to be upscale, neighbourhood. Or so her realtor had told her.

She could feel the vibes from the high school box emanating from the condo and penetrating the car. She couldn’t help but think of her college friend Tatiana, who always smelled like deep-fried garlic ribs because her apartment was above a Chinese buffet. Would Envy now smell of desperation and despair?

High school was why she kept trying to call Stuart. He’d rapidly become the best friend she had, with Virginia and Cash away, Marcus in prison, and her complete lack of interest (reciprocated) in the passive-aggressive friends of her ex-marriage.

Stuart and his boyfriend Trent had already invited her to join them at a New Year’s Eve party in town. They said it would be fun, quirky, and lots of straight people there too. Free food and liquor, and who knew what? Stuart said with a nudge. Wear what you like, but wear a mask. Come! they said.

And who knows? Maybe they thought she would enjoy it, that she would even contribute to the celebration. They didn’t know that on November the first, before Marcus, and apparently post-Marcus, she traditionally began the pre-December 31 stress panic tremble. She’d almost forgotten herself.

Or maybe it was a pity invitation, like her high school New Year’s Eves had been. Three of them, three miserable endless nights— but at least she’d had the dignity to stay at home the third time. She told her parents she had a cold, and stayed in her bedroom writing angry poems in her journal, plotting her dramatic suicide, and listening to Lucinda Williams. Her brother Cash just laughed at her. What a dick.

She knew it was foolish, but she loved beyond reason that she and Marcus had been able to choose from a respectable stack of party invitations, or choose to welcome the New Year alone at home, in front of the fire, with champagne, lots of sex, more champagne, laughing, and more sex.

Now grey skies rained, and water dribbled down the windshield, and all Envy could think of was Bob, a man she had never met. “He’s not that bad,” said Stuart when he’d first brought up the Bob possibility. At the moment that sounded like a glowing recommendation. Why had she waited so long to pounce on the opportunity to date such a highly valued man? He was not bad looking, Stuart said. That seemed to be the sum of his brag-worthy qualities. “Scrubs up nice, and I happen to know he is completely free at the moment.”

So what if he was a poor conversationist? If he was politically incorrect sometimes? If he was more interested in sports— watching, not playing— than he was in anything else? He was a man’s man. “More like a boy’s boy,” said Stuart. “But I kind of like him. He’s not entirely a bigot.” Not entirely?

“He’s very clean,” said Stuart.

That was it. Envy dug her cell phone out of her pocket one last time and punched in Stuart’s number.

Of course he was at work at the clinic, and she left him a message. “Stuart it’s me. Can you get Bob organized for me? Like, for New Year’s? Would I have to call him, or, what can you do? I know, I know, but you know. Anyway, I have to run, call me back when you get a chance. Love ya.” She threw the phone onto the passenger seat as if it stung her fingers.

Stuart understood. He would help her. In the meantime, a radioactive box of toxic memories was far too close. She started the car. It was Wednesday, and right now, until five pm, the church was handing out food baskets. She would go help Jerry pack up and ship out some cans of tuna, peanut butter, and dry pasta. High school could wait.