‘Thomas’-my first flash fiction piece

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                                                          Thomas
Sometimes I dream of my hypothetical son.

Heʼll jump on the bed, wake his Dad and me proclaiming itʼs his sixth birthday. Iʼll brush his dark brown hair from his forehead, kiss his cheeks with skin that turns a perfect caramel color when heʼs out in the sun too long, and thank him for reminding me.

He will miraculously appear that very morning.

Iʼll make him a chocolate cake, from scratch, then pipe ʻThomasʼ in robinʼs egg blue icing. As it cools, my son and his Dad will play a game of catch in the backyard. Afterwards our son will run his sweaty finger along the side of the bright white mixing bowl, and heʼll giggle as he licks it clean.

Weʼll take him bowling, where heʼll score a 300, and the whole alley will sing ʻHappy Birthdayʼ to my son right before he blows out the candles on his cake.
There will be water balloon fights, which his Dad will win, then my son and I will turn the garden hose on him. My son will gaze in wonderment as a rainbow stretches across the yard. Heʼll run through the rush of lukewarm water in an attempt to catch it, and refuse to come inside until the sun goes down. When we tuck him in to sleep Iʼll stay and read to him, about the greatest wizard in all of England.
“Is there really magic, Mommy?” Heʼll ask.
Iʼll grin, and whisper to him, making it a secret between us. “Yes, Thomas. Thatʼs how you got here.

When he gets the flu, Iʼll sleep with him every night in the hopes the virus will use me as itʼs host, and not my beloved.

Heʼll hold my hand when weʼre out in public, and ask me to hold on tighter if we come across a snake. The cold, slimy, slithering reptiles will be his only fear.

Then one day he wonʼt intertwine my fingers with his. He wonʼt ask me to kiss his scraped knees from climbing every tree he on the block. His body will stretch, as if made of taffy, and not every wish I ever had. There will be no time for enunciation, only mumbling. My sonʼs clothing wonʼt be neon colored and mismatched anymore, but dark and oversize. Heʼll only want to talk to me if he needs money, or advice about a girl.
Iʼll gaze at my son, the most perfect creature to grace planet Earth. Although Iʼll know that no girl will be worthy to breathe the same air, Iʼll say, “Treat her with respect, ask her questions, and make sure to meet her parents before you take her out.”
Heʼll grunt at me, and Iʼll throw an arm around him for one last embrace before heʼs completely lost to me. Heʼll reciprocate, if only for a moment, and Iʼll savor every millisecond of it. Then before he leaves the room Iʼll call out to his slouched frame, “And for Godʼs sake use a condom, Tom.”

Iʼll blink.

And when I open my eyes, I will be at his wedding. Sheʼll claim to love him forever and a day. Iʼll scoff because no one will love him more than I-the woman that created him with her thoughts alone.

Then, heʼll really be gone.

My son will call and tell me that heʼs graduated law school, and medical school. Heʼll travel the world with his wife and twin girls, which will help him brush up on the five languages heʼs fluent in.

Heʼll return when my eyes are milky, skin tattered as crumpled wet newsprint, and a mind that has dulled like the crayons he used to draw with. Iʼll beg him to let me die in my own bed, like his Dad did years prior. This time heʼll be the one sleeping next to me, wrapping his long muscular arms around a shrunken, shivering woman that had once been so strong. Heʼll remind me of the wizardʼs mentor who said we shouldnʼt fear death. Heʼll tell me that I did everything right, and he only became the man he is because of me.

My ashes will be spread in the Atlantic Ocean, but no one will miss me. There will only be tears for Thomas, the greatest man who will ever live. The man who mysteriously faded into nothingness, because he existed only in my dreams.

Sophie’s 18th Birthday

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That particular car ride to St. Margaret’s was longer than I had ever remembered it being, and not just because I had to slow down for an endless stream of trick-or-treaters.
I picked up Sophie first since she lived only a few blocks away from me. It took all my will power not to grin as I walked up the driveway to her front door. Before I knocked I stuck my hand in my coat pocket to double check that the envelope was still in there.
When the door opened I was greeted by a crooked smile. “Hey, Blake.”
“Hey, birthday girl.”
She giggled, the sound as gentle as a butterfly. “Lemme just grab my bag, and we’ll go.”

There was a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with fun sized candy. I wasn’t there a few minutes before the doorbell rang and Sophie’s Dad handed out candy to a princess and a superhero. It reminded me of the first year I met Sophie and we had already become fast friends by her birthday. Chris and David grumbled when our parents told them they were in charge of us, along with Mike, as we ambled throughout the neighborhood. It wasn’t what we wore, or how much candy we got, or how scared Mike was of the creepy clown that seemed to follow us that stuck in my memory. It was how Chris treated Sophie.
He held her hand the entire night, told her that she was the prettiest mermaid he’d ever seen, and although he was joking around with David he made sure that his little sister was safe by always keeping her in his line of sight. I know my brothers love me as much as I love them, but it was obvious that Chris would do anything to protect the sister he loved more than anything. All my life I’d been surrounded by men, but it was my best friends older brother that taught me how to treat a woman. I already knew I wasn’t good enough for Sophie before Chris told me right before he stepped on the bus to basic training.
I could still see the way his face turned to stone as he and his broad shoulders leered at me and said, “Watch out for my sister, make sure any creep keeps his hands off her until I come back to kick their ass. That goes for you too, Blake. Don’t want to have to beat up my best friends little brother.” He ruffled up my hair, and left.
It was the first time anyone articulated my feelings for Sophie, that I wanted more. But even Chris knew I was too much of a loser for her.

As if my thoughts manifested her, and brought me back to the present, she walked toward me. “Let’s go.” Sophie zipped up a dark green jacket.
“Don’t you want your present?”
“You have it right now?”
“Yeah.”
Her eyes traced my entire lanky frame, before she grinned, and said, “Is it you, Blake?”
“No, it’s a million times better than me.” I pulled out the lavender envelope with her name etched in black calligraphy on the front, and handed it to her.
“Doesn’t look like a pony.” She ripped open the top with her fingernail.
“They didn’t have any rainbow colored ones, so this will have to do.”
Her pale fingers glided under the gold embossed letters of the tickets that spelled out ‘The Rockettes’. Before I could ask her if she liked it a squeal erupted from her, and she threw her arms around my neck. Words rushed out of her mouth, “Thank you so very much, Blake, it’s the best gift ever.”
I knew I was supposed to say ‘You’re welcome’, but I couldn’t break from the spell of vanilla that her wavy hair seemed to exuded. My hands burned as they rested on the small of her back which blocked any signals from my brain to the rest of my body. When she unwrapped her arms from my neck she looked up at me. I rested my forehead on hers just long enough to imprint the feeling of her skin on mine, and the way her back muscles tightened against my palm. I took a breath, then stepped back two paces, and exhaled. Slowly.
I was still close enough to count the freckles on her cheeks when I said, “I know you always wanted to see them.”
“How’d you know my parents were going to New York for Thanksgiving?”
“I asked them.”
“This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. You must have spent everything you have! I don’t deserve this, seriously.”
“You deserve everything, Sophie. You’re the best person I know.” I noticed that I’d double knotted my left shoe, but not the right.
She laughed. “You really think that?”
“If I could, I’d shrink the Earth, and put it on a chain, so you could wear it around your neck.”
“Well, if you turn the Earth into a pendant then where will we be?”
My gaze met back with hers as I scoffed. “If I have the ability to decrease the atomic mass of a planet without destroying it, I’m sure I’d have access to a space shuttle.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks again, it’s really cool that you got these tickets.”
“I thought it as on par with a first edition.”
“Totally, let me just put these up.” She rushed up the stairs to her bedroom which gave me a chance to concentrate on slowing my heart rate. Her forest green boots bounded back to me, and we opened the door just in time to catch the next batch of superheros.
For a second I reached for her hand as we walked down the cracked concrete driveway, but I stopped short. Even if I had just given her a dream present, it just didn’t feel right. I could hear Chris’s voice in my head as if her were behind me, and not in Iraq, yelling ‘Keep your hands off my sister asshole!’. I also dreaded the unending awkwardness between us if she pulled away. I could never touch her, not really, because that could ruin all we had. I could live with us being friends, but I couldn’t live if we were nothing.
That’s why I kept my hands at ten and two once we got into the car.

On the outskirts of the neighborhood we picked up Jasper. He stood at the edge of his paved driveway wearing the white melted mask from the movie Scream. He opened up the passenger door, hopped in, and asked, Sophie, “So, how’s it feel to legally be an adult?”
She rolled her eyes, “Kinda like seventeen did considering I’m talking to someone while they’re wearing a creepy mask.”
He pulled it up so the thin jaw protruded from his forehead like a bill on a cap. “Happy Birthday, Sophie.” Jasper handed her a thin rectangle wrapped in the Sunday comics from the local paper.
“Thanks, but next time, use the crossword.”
“Well, I’d already finished it.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Ten minutes.”
Sophie swung her head until she faced, Jasper. “I swear I’m gonna beat you one day.”
He shook his head. “You can’t be great at everything.”
“I know I’m not, I’m just a little competitive.”
Jasper and I asked in unison, “A little?”
Sophie smirked at both of us, and tore off the paper from her present. She slid the mix CD into player. Aimee Mann’s melancholy voice filled the car.
I sighed, very loudly. “Seriously, man. You gave that to her now?”
Jasper shrugged. “It’s her birthday, aren’t we supposed to do whatever she wants?”
“Exactly!” Sophie playfully punched me, not nearly hard enough to jolt my hands, and turn the wheel. “You guys have to listen to what I want to listen to.” She hit the button and the next track started. I smiled at Jasper in the rear view mirror when Radiohead came on.

A few blocks from the church I made a left and Jasper asked from the backseat, “Where are you going, Blake?”
“Oh, this is where Zoe lives.”
“We’re picking up Zoe Malone?”
“Well, yeah. Thought you knew that.”
Jasper straightened his posture, “No, man. I figured since she lived so close she’d walk.”
Sophie shook her head. “And that’s why you’re single, Jasper. You’d make your girlfriend walk to a date in the cold, and at night.”
“Zoe’s just my friend,” I said. “And that’s why I’m picking her up, just like I picked up you two.”
Jasper took the mask off his head, shoved it under my seat, looked at me through the rear view mirror, and said, “We can’t both be your friends, dude.”
“Why not?”
“Simple. You and I have never made out, so by definition, I can’t be categorized the same as her.”
“Jesus Christ.” I muttered as I pulled into the Malone’s driveway. Only a friend that’s as much of a dork as me would ‘categorize’ our peers based on social mores. The fact that Sophie’s face had turned crimson when Jasper mentioned Zoe and I kissing took up more of my gray matter than I’d expected. I could feel the tension in her body rise, and not in the same way the muscles in her back reacted to my touch. I knew she was anxious. I just didn’t know if it was because of me, or Zoe.
But I chalked it up to girls were weird about other girls. It was like they were constantly ranking themselves based on the company they kept.
I got out and trekked up to her door, but Zoe opened it before I could knock. Her golden hair had been curled into perfect spirals, it reminded me of the shape of D.N.A. Her eyelids were dusted with green glitter, lips a pale pink, and she wore a tight white shirt which made me forget my own name.
“Hey, Blake.” I was glad she reminded me of it.
“Hey.” I heard my voice, but didn’t feel my mouth move.
“So, are we just gonna stand here all night?”
“Oh,” Feeling came back to my extremities. “No, come on.”
When I got back to the car and opened the drivers side door, I saw that Sophie had moved to the backseat with, Jasper. Her arms were folded on her chest, and her eyes refused to meet mine. “Why’d you move?” I asked as I sat down in the driver’s seat.
Sophie shrugged. “I figured Zoe should sit up front.”
Zoe flashed her a smile. “Thanks, and happy birthday, so you’re like nineteen now?”
“No, I’m eighteen.”
“Whoa, how is that? I mean you’re birthday is really late. I mean mine’s in November and I’ll be nineteen. Did you skip a grade or something?”
Sophie nodded. “The fourth grade.”
Zoe’s words were so soft I could barely make them out over Exit Music (For a Film). “Like the fourth grade is really that hard anyway.”
“So, how do you like Annapolis?” Jasper said in a voice deeper in tenor than usual.
“It’s ok, I guess. I mean my Dad said he’d take us sailing, but he’s like, always traveling opening up hotels, and casinos, and stuff.”
Sophie turned to Jasper and said. “Sounds very arduous.”
Zoe nodded at her through the rear view mirror. “I know it is rigorous, all that traveling, is like really hard.”
“That’s not what I said…” Sophie started.
“Yeah, but it means the same thing…” Jasper began.
But, Zoe interrupted them both, “What is this weird music, anyway?”
As her hand reached toward the stereo I said, “It’s Radiohead, one of the best bands ever. They’re up there with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Are they like, your favorite band, or something?”
I shook my head, “No.”
Zoe showed me a mouth full of teeth as she smiled. “Who is?”
“Weezer.” Jasper and Sophie said in unison.
“Oh, isn’t that the band with the geek as their lead singer?”
My heart, lungs, and soul were stuck in my throat. “Rivers Cuomo isn’t a geek. I’m a geek, he’s a rockstar.”
Zoe turned back to Jasper and Sophie. “Who’s Rivers Cuomo?”
“He’s the lead singer,” Sophie said.
“Of Blake’s favorite band,” Jasper continued.
Zoe returned her eyes to me. “I just knew him as the guy with the cool glasses.” A long tan finger touched the edge of my frames. “They remind me of yours.”
I know I should have taken it as an insult, since my crush basically called me a nerd, but I chose instead to believe that she called me a rockstar. Thankfully I pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of a single story white church. It’s white steeples reached up into the starlit sky. I didn’t bother locking it considering there wasn’t anything but a graveyard and a scattering of houses amongst acres of green. Besides there were nicer cars to break into than my Mom’s 1996 Ford Taurus.

St. Margaret’s Church had a hospital grade tile floor. A dozen plain glass windows ran along the white concrete walls. I’d never been there on a Sunday, but I didn’t think the cold and impersonal building would make me feel closer to God.
Since it wasn’t a holy day there were two dozen fold out metal chairs in the center of the sanctuary. There was still a crucifix above the stage I assumed the minister used as his pulpit, but the band always played below it, about five feet from the front row. In all the times I’d been there, I’d never seen anyone actually sitting while music was being played. Everyone talked in between sets, or like now, long before the headliners started. The three guys were freshman, and their timing made me believe they’d just learned the song a few days ago.
All the teenagers drank our of blue plastic cups, half of which I knew were spiked with something. David had come home a fair share of nights long past curfew, and wasted, after a night at St. Margaret’s. But as further example of how different I was from my older brother I didn’t follow the same path. I still loved live music, besides we lived in Annapolis, what else was I supposed to do with my free time?
“Hey, Morgan,” Trace said my last name, but I didn’t know why. He’d never spoken to me when I was actually in his house at one of the dozen parties Zoe had taken me to.
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and when I opened my mouth a stranger spoke. “Yeah?”
“You’re friends with the hot red head, right?” He nodded his angular jaw toward a girl dancing in the crowd.
Granted she looked pretty with her long wavy copper hair, tight aqua colored sweater, and leather boots that reached her knees, but I wouldn’t describe her as ‘hot’. “Her name’s Sophie.”
“She’s not seeing anyone is she?”
I shook my head.
He bit his lip as his eyes lingered on her as if he were peeling of her clothes. The jock ran his hand through the thick bushy long hair that verged on an ’60’s boy band. All the lacrosse players wore their hair the same as if it were part of their uniform. Then again I hadn’t had a haircut in months either. “Cool.”
I don’t know if I asked him because I was looking out for my best friend, like Chris told me, or if I was jealous. “Aren’t you still with, Nina?”
“Nah. I like meeting new people too much.”
In my mind I punched him until his nose bled, and he lay sobbing on the floor. In reality I watched him walk over to Sophie. I didn’t have long to analyze how I felt about the situation before Zoe wrapped her arms around my torso.
“I missed you,” she nibbled on my earlobe. I assumed she did it because she thought I must feel some pleasure from the sensation, but I didn’t. It made me feel as if she were testing me before she decided whether to devour me whole or not. Zoe’s lips fused with mine, which was a sensation I did thoroughly enjoyed, until I heard Trace yell over the blaring music.
“You spilled your drink on her man!” The lacrosse captain pushed the tall dark haired boy. He was on the team too. In fact Joey had shoved me into a locker when we were in seventh grade. It was Sophie who got me out, and was presently covered in a dark liquid I believed to be beer.
“It was just an accident.” Joey raised his hands above his head as if Trace were a cop.
Trace pulled on his flannel shirt so their faces were inches apart. “Apologize to her.”
“I’m sorry.” But, Joey didn’t look in Sophie’s direction.
“Whatever,” she shook her head. “I’m going home.” Sophie walked over to Zoe and me. “Can we go home now, Blake?”
“No we can’t yet, the band hasn’t even played!” Zoe whined still hanging on to me.
Sophie’s glare met with Zoe. “I’m sorry to ruin your night, but I’m covered in beer on my birthday.”
Zoe twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Your shirt will dry out.”
“Forget it, I’ll call Lilly.” And in a flash my best friend was gone.
I took Zoe’s hand and started toward the door. “I have to take her home.”
“She said she’ll call whoever, Blake.”
I picked up the pace. “If it was the other way around I wouldn’t let you go home alone either.”
“Whatever,” Zoe sighed.
We found Sophie standing in the gravel parking lot as she hung up her phone and dropped it back into her purse.
I came up to the side of her. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Sophie shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Lilly’s five minutes away, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll wait with you.”
“No, it’s freezing!” Zoe tugged on the sleeve of my jacket.
I looked down at her. “Go back inside where it’s warm, I’ll be back in time to hear the band.”
“OK,” She stood on her tip toes and kissed me before she went back to the safety of the church.
The cold breeze sung in my ears but it couldn’t block out the sound of electric guitars and teenagers cheering.
“You don’t have to wait,” Sophie said.
“Yes I do because something’s wrong,” I said.
“I’m covered in alcohol that I didn’t even have the pleasure of drinking.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve been acting weird for weeks.”
Her eyes lingered on mine, “It’s nothing.”
I poked her in the ribs in hopes to alleviate the tension, the action made her face turn orange, as if all her freckles had merged together. “Tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She pulled her black knit beanie down until it covered most of her face save her lips.
“I’ll get it out of you eventually.”
“It wouldn’t make a difference even if I did tell you.”
“What does that mean?”
A car horn honked as Lilly pulled up alongside the curb. Sophie flipped up the edge of her beanie up and turned to me. “It doesn’t matter because you have a girlfriend.”
I brushed the hair off my forehead. The downward spiral of the conversation was starting to take a much darker turn then I’d expected. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“You keep telling everyone that as if it makes it true.” She yanked the car door open, “Goodnight, Blake.” Her words became a mist that hung in the air, long after she was gone.

Lights On The Bay-A scene from ‘Everything That Counts’

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Before I fell to deep into despair over Chris’s circumstances we were driving down the narrow brick streets of downtown Annapolis. On each side of us were row-houses. Most were brick, others with wood shutters, and they ranged in color from cardinal red to snow white. You could see large Christmas trees covered in lights in each bay window on the bottom floor, and all the steps leading to the front door were sprinkled with large grains of salt. It didn’t snow often so close to the water, but it always iced. Invisible ‘black’ ice was the worst.
My father parked and we strolled down West Street with a couple dozen other families. The Capital building loomed behind us, the harbor a few blocks ahead of us. The narrow inlet that Kunta Kinte had been brought to was what locals called ‘Ego Alley’ because only people with the nicest boats sail by in essentially a three point turn, just to show off to the entire town.
Tonight the sailors would have a parade of sorts. Their rigs would be outfitted with Christmas lights, and they’d take them across the entire harbor making sure to make a pass through downtown. The displays were innovative: glittering snow flakes forming the outline of the sails, the Grinch climbing up and down the mast with a full sack of presents, gingerbread men doing cartwheels on the deck, and purple lights strung across the entire boat that met at point starboard forming the beak of a raven.
I found it odd how much Maryland used Edgar Allen Poe as the state mascot, when his only connection was to have the misfortune of dying here.
I thought about that until I gazed out onto the sparkling lights from the next boat. The smell of the water, the frozen breeze that whipped my cheeks, and a starry night above me made me feel at ease. Being in nature made me feel at home, at least until I got hungry.
Through the crowd Lilly and Sophie maneuvered their way on the wooden dock towards my brothers and I. She and Lilly seemed deep in conversation but Sophie still threw a glance our way. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to play it cool, didn’t want to let on that I’d stayed up all night polishing a music box. Especially since saying the words aloud would only give my brothers more gasoline to the fire that was their unending torment of me. As Sophie’s face caught the light I realized that my creation could never be anywhere near her beauty.
David wrapped his arms around my best friend before I could say a word to her. “I hear you’re gonna be dancing at the Kennedy Center!”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Sophie said. The girls looked as if they’d just come from rehearsal for Swan Lake. Their faces were perfectly made up with a line of black above their eyes and bright red lips, hair wrapped in a tight bun on top of their heads.
“You’ll have to do the Nutcracker next year so I can get off school and see it.”
“This is probably gonna be my last year, David.”
“Why?”
“Because,” I said. “She’s attending Johns Hopkins next year, duh.”
“Chris always said you were ten times smarter than this dummy here.” David punched me in the arm, and I hated to admit that it hurt. “And just like him I’ll make time away from school so I can interrogate any creep that thinks he’s good enough to date you.”
Sophie rolled her eyes, “Well you won’t miss much school since I haven’t been asked out by anyone. Ever.”
Lilly grinned. “There is Trace.”
My heart stopped beating, and an overpowering need to clean my room took up all the free space in my brain.
“He’s not my boyfriend, Lilly,” Sophie said.
“So what? He’s just been IMing you every night, and says he needs a” Lilly made quotation marks in the air with her fingers, “‘study buddy’ in order to keep his full ride at Penn State.”
I threw up in my mouth a little when I realized that Trace Allen had been accepted to Penn State when he hadn’t read anything more advanced than Cliff Notes.
Sophie shoved Lilly in the ribs. “He’s having trouble in Algebra!”
“Probably because I’m in Calculus and he can’t cheat off me anymore,” I muttered. Sophie shot me a look of disdain.
“Is this guy Gracie’s little brother?” David asked.
“You should know, you took her to Prom,” Mike said.
“Oh, yeah, the blonde, right?”
“No,” I said. “She’s a brunette you idiot.”
“That’s why I want to meet any guy you wanna date, Sophie. Can’t be dating players like me.” David ran his hand through his long wavy brown hair and I noticed a few girls in the crowd began to drool.
“I’m telling you, David. There’s no one.”
Mike chuckled. “I would have thought you’d get a boyfriend before this freak got a girlfriend. Especially one as hot as Zoe Malone.”
“It just doesn’t make sense, you know, Sophie? I mean you’re pretty, and Blake is a total dipshit,” David said.
My jaw was clenched so tight I didn’t know how words came out of my mouth, much less why I chose them. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“Well you obviously haven’t slept with her because she’d dump you after the worst thirty seconds of her life.” David laughed and Mike high fived him. Lilly giggled and Sophie turned beet red before she looked down at her shoes.
I turned to my older brother, “You’re the biggest as…” I growled.
My mother joined the group and interrupted me. “Lilly will you take a picture of us please?” She nodded and took the camera from my Mom. When Sophie stepped away from us Mom pulled her back and said, “No, stay here, you’re a part of our family too.” She positioned her in-between Mike and me.
Even though rage was still surging through my body, when the tips of my fingers brushed the cuff of her gloves, I wanted to hold her hand. I pictured weaving my fingers with hers as we walked back to our parents cars, and we wouldn’t have to say anything to each other. Simply exist.
Instead I spent the rest of the night sulking.

The end of Chapter 3-October from ‘Everything That Counts’

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That particular car ride to St. Margaret’s was longer than I had ever remembered it being, and not just because I had to slow down for an endless stream of trick-or-treaters.
I picked up Sophie first since she lived only a few blocks away from me. It took all my will power not to grin as I walked up the driveway to her front door. Before I knocked I stuck my hand in my coat pocket to double check that the envelope was still in there.
When the door opened I was greeted by a crooked smile. “Hey, Blake.”
“Hey, birthday girl.”
She giggled, the sound as gentle as a butterfly. “Lemme just grab my bag, and we’ll go.”
There was a plastic jack-o-lantern filled with fun sized candy. I wasn’t there a few minutes before the doorbell rang and Sophie’s Dad handed out candy to a princess and a superhero. It reminded me of the first year I met Sophie and we had already become fast friends by her birthday. Chris and David grumbled when our parents told them they were in charge of us, along with Mike, as we ambled throughout the neighborhood. It wasn’t what we wore, or how much candy we got, or how scared Mike was of the creepy clown that seemed to follow us that stuck in my memory. It was how Chris treated Sophie.
He held her hand the entire night, told her that she was the prettiest mermaid he’d ever seen, and although he was joking around with David he made sure that his little sister was safe by always keeping her in his line of sight. I know my brothers love me as much as I love them, but it was obvious that Chris would do anything to protect the sister he loved more than anything. All my life I’d been surrounded by men, but it was my best friends older brother that taught me how to treat a woman.
“Let’s go.” Sophie zipped up a dark green jacket.
“Don’t you want your present?”
“You have it right now?”
“Yeah.”
Her eyes traced my entire lanky frame, before she grinned, and said, “Is it you, Blake?”
“No, it’s a million times better than me.” I pulled out the lavender envelope with her name etched in black calligraphy on the front, and handed it to her.
“Doesn’t look like a pony.” She ripped open the top with her fingernail.
“They didn’t have any rainbow colored ones, so this will have to do.”
Her pale fingers glided under the gold embossed letters of the tickets that spelled out ‘The Rockettes’. Before I could ask her if she liked it a squeal erupted from her, and she threw her arms around my neck. Words rushed out of her mouth, “Thank you so very much, Blake, it’s the best gift ever.”
I knew I was supposed to say ‘You’re welcome’, but I couldn’t break from the spell of vanilla that her wavy hair seemed to exuded. My hands burned as they rested on the small of her back which blocked any signals from my brain to the rest of my body. When she unwrapped her arms from my neck she looked up at me. I rested my forehead on hers just long enough to imprint the feeling of her skin on mine, and the way her back muscles tightened against my palm. I took a breath, then stepped back two paces, and exhaled. Slowly.
I was still close enough to count the freckles on her cheeks when I said, “I know you always wanted to see them.”
“How’d you know my parents were going to New York for Thanksgiving?”
“I asked them.”
“This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. You must have spent everything you have! I don’t deserve this, seriously.”
“You deserve everything, Sophie. You’re the best person I know.” I noticed that I’d double knotted my left shoe, but not the right.
She laughed. “You really think that?”
“If I could, I’d shrink the Earth, and put it on a chain, so you could wear it around your neck.”
“Well, if you turn the Earth into a pendant then where will we be?”
My gaze met back with hers as I scoffed. “If I have the ability to decrease the atomic mass of a planet without destroying it, I’m sure I’d have access to a space shuttle.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks again, it’s really cool that you got these tickets.”
“I thought it as on par with a first edition.”
“Totally, let me just put these up.” She rushed up the stairs to her bedroom which gave me a chance to concentrate on steading my heart rate. Her forest green boots bounded back to me, and opened the door just in time to catch the next batch of superheros.
For a second I reached for her hand as we walked down the cracked concrete driveway, but I stopped short. Even if I had just given her a dream present, it just didn’t feel right. I could hear Chris’s voice in my head as if her were behind me, and not in Iraq, yelling ‘Keep your hands off my sister!’. I also dreaded the unending awkwardness between us if she pulled away. I could never touch her, not really, because that could ruin all we had. I could live with us being friends, but I couldn’t live if we were nothing.
That’s why I kept my hands at ten and two once we got into the car.
On the outskirts of the neighborhood we picked up Jasper. He stood at the edge of his paved driveway wearing the white melted mask from the movie Scream. He opened up the passenger door, hopped in, and asked, Sophie, “So, how’s it feel to legally be an adult?”
She rolled her eyes, “Kinda like seventeen did considering I’m talking to someone while they’re wearing a creepy mask.”
He pulled it up so the thin jaw protruded from his forehead like a bill on a cap. “Happy Birthday, Sophie.” Jasper handed her a thin rectangle wrapped in the Sunday comics from the local paper.
“Thanks, but next time, use the crossword.”
“Well, I’d already finished it.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Ten minutes.”
Sophie swung her head until she faced, Jasper. “I swear I’m gonna beat you one day.”
He shook his head. “You can’t be great at everything.”
“I know I’m not, I’m just a little competitive.”
Jasper and I asked in unison, “A little?”
Sophie smirked at both of us, and tore off the paper from her present. She slid the mix CD into player. Aimee Mann’s melancholy voice filled the car.
I sighed, very loudly. “Seriously, man. You gave that to her now?”
Jasper shrugged. “It’s her birthday, aren’t we supposed to do whatever she wants.”
“Exactly!” Sophie playfully punched me, not nearly hard enough to jolt my hands, and turn the wheel. “You guys have to listen to what I want to listen to.” She hit the button and the next track started. I smiled at Jasper in the rear view mirror when Radiohead came on.

A few blocks from the church I made a left and Jasper asked from the backseat, “Where are you going, Blake?”
“Oh, this is where Zoe lives.”
“We’re picking up Zoe Malone?”
“Well, yeah. Thought you knew that.”
Jasper straightened his posture, “No, man. I figured since she lived so close she’d walk.”
Sophie shook her head. “And that’s why you’re single, Jasper. You’d make your girlfriend walk to a date in the cold, and at night.”
“Zoe’s just my friend,” I said. “And that’s why I’m picking her up, just like I picked up you two.”
Jasper took the mask off his head, shoved it under my seat, looked at me through the rear view mirror, and said, “We can’t both be your friends, dude.”
“Why not?”
“Simple. You and I have never made out, so by definition, I can’t be categorized the same as her.”
“Jesus Christ.” I muttered as I pulled into the Malone’s driveway. Only a friend that’s as much of a dork as me would ‘categorize’ our peers based on social mores. The fact that Sophie’s face had turned crimson when Jasper mentioned Zoe and I kissing took up more of my gray matter than I’d expected. I could feel the tension in her body rise, and not in the same way the muscles in her back reacted to my touch. I knew she was anxious. I just didn’t know if it was because of me, or Zoe.
But I chalked it up to girls were weird about other girls. It was like they were constantly ranking themselves based on the company they kept.
I got out and trekked up to her door, but Zoe opened it before I could knock. Her golden hair had been curled into perfect spirals, it reminded me of the shape of D.N.A. She wore a tight white shirt which made me forget my own name.
“Hey, Blake.” I was glad she reminded me of it.
“Hey.” I heard my voice, but didn’t feel my mouth move.
“So, are we just gonna stand here all night?”
“Oh,” Feeling came back to my extremities. “No, come on.”
When I got back to the car and opened the drivers side door, I saw that Sophie had moved to the backseat with, Jasper. Her arms were folded on her chest, and her eyes refused to meet mine. “Why’d you move?” I asked as I sat down in the driver’s seat.
Sophie shrugged. “I figured Zoe should sit up front.”
Zoe flashed her a smile. “Thanks, and happy birthday, so you’re like nineteen now?”
“No, I’m eighteen.”
“Whoa, how is that? I mean you’re birthday is really late. I mean mine’s in November and I’ll be nineteen. Did you skip a grade or something?”
Sophie nodded. “The fourth grade.”
Zoe’s words were so soft I could barely make them out over Exit Music (For a Film). “Like the fourth grade is really that hard anyway.”
“So, how do you like Annapolis?” Jasper said in a voice deeper in tenor than usual.
“It’s ok, I guess. I mean my Dad said he’d take us sailing, but he’s like, always traveling opening up hotels, and casinos, and stuff.”
Sophie turned to Jasper and said. “Sounds very arduous.”
Zoe nodded at her through the rear view mirror. “I know it is rigorous, all that traveling, is like really hard.”
“That’s not what I said…” Sophie started.
“Yeah, but it means the same thing…” Jasper began.
But, Zoe interrupted them both, “What is this weird music, anyway?”
As her hand reached toward the stereo I said, “It’s Radiohead, one of the best bands ever. They’re up there with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins.”
“Are they like, your favorite band, or something?”
I shook my head, “No.”
Zoe showed me a mouth full of teeth as she smiled. “Who is?”
“Weezer.” Jasper and Sophie said in unison.
“Oh, isn’t that the band with the geek as their lead singer?”
My heart, lungs, and soul were stuck in my throat. “Rivers Cuomo isn’t a geek. I’m a geek, he’s a rockstar.”
Zoe turned back to Jasper and Sophie. “Who’s Rivers Cuomo?”
“He’s the lead singer,” Sophie said.
“Of Blake’s favorite band,” Jasper continued.
Zoe returned her eyes to me. “I just knew him as the guy with the cool glasses.” A long tan finger touched the edge of my frames. “They remind me of yours.”
I know I should have taken it as an insult, since my crush basically called me a nerd, but I chose instead to believe that she called me a rockstar. Thankfully I pulled into the gravel parking lot in front of a single story white church. It’s white steeples reached up into the starlit sky. I didn’t bother locking it considering there wasn’t anything but a graveyard and a scattering of houses amongst acres of green. Besides there were nicer cars to break into than my Mom’s 1996 Ford Taurus.

St. Margaret’s Church had a hospital grade tile floor. A dozen plain glass windows ran along the white concrete walls. I’d never been there on a Sunday, but I didn’t think the cold and impersonal building would make me feel closer to God.
Since it wasn’t a holy day there were two dozen fold out metal chairs in the center of the sanctuary. There was still a crucifix above the stage I assumed the minister used as his pulpit, but the band always played below it, about five feet from the front row. In all the times I’d been there, I’d never seen anyone actually sitting while music was being played. Everyone talked only in between sets, or like now, long before the headliners had started. The three guys were freshman, and their timing made me believe they’d just learned the song a few days ago.
All the teenagers drank our of blue plastic cups, half of which I knew were spiked with something. David had come home a fair share of nights long past curfew, and wasted, after a night at St. Margaret’s. But as further example of how different I was from my older brother I didn’t follow the same path. I still loved live music, besides we lived in Annapolis, what else was I supposed to do with my free time?
“Hey, Morgan,” Trace said my last name, but I didn’t know why. He’d never spoken to me when I was actually in his house at one of the dozen parties Zoe had taken me to.
I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and when I opened my mouth a stranger spoke. “Yeah?”
“You’re friends with the hot red head, right?” He nodded his angular jaw toward a girl dancing in the crowd.
Granted she looked pretty with her long wavy copper hair, tight aqua colored sweater, and leather boots that reached her knees, but I wouldn’t describe her as ‘hot’. “Her name’s Sophie.”
“She’s not seeing anyone is she?”
I shook my head.
He bit his lip as his eyes lingered on her as if he were peeling of her clothes. The jock ran his hand through the thick bushy long hair that verged on an afro. All the lacrosse players wore their hair the same as if it were part of their uniform. Then again I hadn’t had a haircut in months either. “Cool.”
I don’t know if I asked him because I was looking out for my best friend or if I was jealous. “Aren’t you still with, Nina?”
“Nah. I like meeting new people too much.”
In my mind I punched him until his nose bled, and he lay sobbing on the floor. In reality I watched him walk over to Sophie. I didn’t have long to analyze how I felt about the situation before Zoe wrapped her arms around my torso.
“I missed you,” she nibbled on my earlobe. I assumed she did it because she thought I must feel some pleasure from the sensation, but I didn’t. It made me feel as if she were testing me before she decided whether to devour me whole or not. Zoe’s lips fused with mine, which was a sensation I throughly enjoyed, until I heard Trace yell over the blaring music.
“You spilled your drink on her man!” The lacrosse captain pushed the tall dark haired boy. He was on the team too. In fact John had shoved me into a locker when we were in seventh grade. It was Sophie who got me out, and was presently covered in a dark liquid I believed to be beer.
“It was just an accident.” John raised his hands above his head as if Trace were a cop.
Trace pulled on his flannel shirt so their faces were inches apart. “Apologize to her.”
“I’m sorry.” But, John didn’t look in Sophie’s direction.
“Whatever,” she shook her head. “I’m going home.” Sophie walked over to Zoe and me. “Can we go home now, Blake?”
“No we can’t yet, the band hasn’t even played!” Zoe whined still hanging on to me.
Sophie’s glare met with Zoe. “I’m sorry to ruin your night, but I’m covered in beer on my birthday.”
Zoe twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Your shirt will dry out.”
“Forget it, I’ll take a taxi.” And in a flash my best friend was gone.
I took Zoe’s hand and started toward the door. “I have to take her home.”
“She said she’ll get a cab, Blake.”
I picked up the pace. “If it was the other way around I wouldn’t let you go home alone either.”
“Whatever,” Zoe sighed.
We found Sophie standing in the gravel parking lot as she hung up her phone and dropped it back into her purse.
I came up to the side of her. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”
Sophie shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Lilly’s five minutes away, I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll wait with you.”
“No, it’s freezing!” Zoe tugged on the sleeve of my jacket.
I looked down at her. “Go back inside where it’s warm, I’ll be back in time to hear the band.”
“OK,” She stood on her tip toes and kissed me before she went back to the safety of the church.
The cold breeze sung in my ears but it couldn’t block out the sound of electric guitars and teenagers cheering.
“You don’t have to wait,” Sophie said.
“Yes I do because something’s wrong,” I said.
“I’m covered in alcohol that I didn’t even have the pleasure of drinking.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve been acting weird for weeks.”
Her eyes lingered on mine, “It’s nothing.”
I poked her in the ribs in hopes to alleviate the tension, the action made her face turn neon, as if all her freckles had merged together.. “Tell me.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She pulled her black knit beanie down until it covered most of her face save her lips.
“I’ll get it out of you eventually.”
“It wouldn’t make a difference even if I did tell you.”
“What does that mean?”
A car horn honked as Lilly pulled up alongside the curb. Sophie flipped up the edge of her beanie up and turned to me. “It doesn’t matter because you have a girlfriend.”
I brushed the hair off my forehead. The forward momentum of the conversation was starting to take a much darker turn then I’d expected. “Zoe’s not my girlfriend.”
“You keep telling everyone that as if it makes it true.” She yanked the car door open, “Goodnight, Blake.” Her words became a mist that hung in the air, long after she was gone.
What I didn’t understand was why she moved to the backseat when we picked up Zoe? Wouldn’t she want to sit next to me if she really did want to be more than a friend?

A peek at ‘Caroline Hearts Toby’

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I remembered the first night we spoke, at a party, a week after I turned fourteen.  It was a humid Saturday night and an ex had decided to start a fight with me.  I turned into a full fledged drama queen, and ran crying to the solace of a wooden gazebo on the edge of the woods behind the party house.  The tip of his long shadow touched the steps of my fortress before Toby did, “Are you OK?”  he asked.
“Yeah,”  I said between racking sobs.
“You want to talk?”
“Yeah.”  I went on for what felt like years but was actually a few hours without taking a breath.  “…he’s just such an asshole you know, I could do so much better than him.”
“You could do a lot better, like me.”
For the first time that night, I burst out laughing.
The side of his mouth turned up in a half smile.  “What’s funny about being my girlfriend?”
“You don’t want to date me, I’m like, totally crazy.”
“Maybe,” his light eyes enveloped me. “But you’re laugh is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”
Before I could decide if he was serious or not a group of boys with baggy jeans, flannel shirts, and backwards baseball caps called out, “Hey!  We’re leaving, man.  You coming?”
He stood up.  The eaves of the rotted wood sighed beneath his tall frame.  “I gotta go, see you around.”
“See you around.”

That Monday, Margo and I strolled up to the side entrance of the two story brick prison called high school, and there he was.  His azure eyes were half closed as he sat on the steps playing an acoustic guitar the color of wheat.  The scene was more fantastic than an e.e. cummings poem.  My heart stopped beating in my chest as I followed the trajectory of his skinny left arm and the fingers of his right hand caressing the neck.  Even though he was fully clothed, a hundred feet away from me, and so into the song he didn’t know I was staring at him, it was the most erotic event of my life up until that point.
Margo, my best friend since forever, nudged me.  “Gawk much?”
I took a breath, not realizing I’d been holding it the entire time, and shook my head.  “No way.  Total waste of time.  It’s not as if he likes me, or whatever.”
“He totally likes you, Caroline.”
“How do you know?  Are you psychic?”
“I have eyes.”  A smirk stretched over Margo’s tan skin.  “Every time you speak, he looks over at you and smiles like a little kid.  I’m afraid he’s gonna pull on one of your pigtails during recess, or something.”
My pulse sped up.  “Really?”
“Watch him for yourself if you’re so interested.”

I did.  Our eyes met for the briefest of moments and it made me feel as if I’d been shot out of a cannon.  I turned back to my notebook and started to write, secretly wishing my Mom would give in and buy me a cell phone.  Since I was fourteen, the best idea for expressing my undying love to him was to pass him a note after class, and that’s exactly what I did.  The rest of the day proved supremely agonizing.  As I walked out the front door to my bus, he stopped me, and handed me a note of his own.

I wrote him a note every day for the next two years.

Blake Morgan’s First Kiss

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I threw myself onto my bed and rolled over.  My glasses were askew, and when I straightened them I saw glossy dark leaves reflecting the Moon outside the large bay window.  They swayed in the wind and reminded me of my first kiss, five years ago.
It was the Fourth of July and my parents had a crab broil for the block.  David insisted we invite Chris, which filled me with relief, because then I didn’t have to admit that my best friend was his sister, Sophie.
The younger kids ran up and down the street with sparklers while Sophie climbed halfway up the White Oak in my front yard.  “C’mon Blake, you can see the fireworks better from up here.”
“I’m good down here.”  I was never a big fan of heights.  If humans were meant to fly, we’d have evolved wings by now.
“Why?  Too cool to climb trees anymore?”
I sighed and pulled myself up to the same limb she sat on.  From my new vantage point I could see David making out with someone who wasn’t his girlfriend on the side of the garage.  “Jesus Christ.”
“What?”
“You didn’t tell me there’s a perfect view of my brother and Jordan down there.”
“Where?”  She giggled and turned her head side to side.
“Right there.”  I pointed.
“Uh!  I hate being so short.”  She pulled up on my shoulder, until her face was parallel with mine. Her long red braid tickled my arm.  “Whoa, I bet he knows what she had for lunch.”  She sat on her knees so her eyes leveled with my throat, although she directed them to the night sky.  “I can’t wait until someone kisses me like that.”
I shook my head.  “Girls are so weird.”
She turned back to me.  “Why?”
“Boys don’t think about stuff like that.”  I knew it was a lie once the words left my mouth because I thought about it too.  All the time.
“Yeah, right.”
“I don’t.”
“Oh, I forgot, I’m talking to the Casanova of Annapolis.  So, what do boys think about?”
“I don’t know, stuff?”
She giggled then lowered her voice, “Like hunting, bowling, and beer?”
I laughed.  “Yeah.”
She raised her eyebrows.  “But, you don’t think about any of that.”
I shrugged.
She exhaled the words.  “Well, you must be right, because no one has ever thought of kissing me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because no guy has ever kissed me.  I always thought I’d have my first kiss before I started high school.”  She gazed at me with her big green eyes.
I don’t know what came over me since every action I took had always been carefully thought out.  Maybe it was because I wanted to have my first kiss as well, or that I knew she wouldn’t laugh at me, or that her fair skin shimmered in the moonlight.  My mind went blank when I craned my neck and pressed my lips to hers.  She tasted like strawberries, sunsets, and honeysuckle.  My first kiss lasted just long enough to wonder if Sophie’s mouth was made of flower petals.
For a while there was only the laughing of children running in the yard, the adults banter that grew in volume throughout the night, and the hooting of a distant owl, until I said.
“Now you don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
She opened her mouth and began to respond when an explosion of fireworks erupted.  Red, white, and blue lit up the sky blocking out the stars and planets I loved so much.  Neither of us ever mentioned the kiss.
But, we did hold hands until the display of perchlorate, copper, and sulfur diffused into the atmosphere.