Friday, January 8, 2016
Short Story Submission
So I found out about a short story competition and decided, eh why not/. Might be fun. Now, keep in mind I haven't written anything in two years. I have tried, I have dabbled and doodled and dawdled to my heart's (dis) content...but nothing really came of it. Ever.
I won't lie. It bummed me out completely. I wrote five novels in a year. Five novels, and when I say novels, I mean big honking novels, like 90-100 thousand word novels. Then I dabbled here and there over the years between 2010 and 2014...not writing much, grew upset with myself and knocked out two in January and February of 2014. They were garbage...utter and total garbage, but it was something...then I went all of 2015 with nothing. I'm sick of aspiring and not doing. So I decided to pick myself up and give it a go...that and a super amazing wonderful co-worker of mine said of one of the stories that she wanted more...she wanted to know the other character's stories...yes, she was talking about a different character, but I always wondered what Allie's story was...so I gave it a go.
Yes, this is going to seem like it's missing something...like the ending is garbage...and well, that's because it is. I'm intending to keep the story going as long as the Allie keeps telling me her story. So...without further ado..my submission...
When I woke up this morning the sun was glaring through the sheer pale blue curtains framing the window casting rainbows of reflection on the walls. The crashing ocean accompanied the glare, echoing the pounding in my head.
My mouth was dry and my throat felt like I’d swallowed a pound of sand. Oh my god, what did I drink last night? As I sat up in the middle of an obscenely large bed the room dipped and spun. Grabbing my head, I slid off the bed and made my way to the bathroom for aspirin.
“Hey,” a soft voice belonging to my best friend, Ivy, greeted me.
“What happened last night?” I moaned.
“Too much tequila,” she whispered. “And jagerbombs. Oh the bloody jagerbombs.”
I filled a cup with water and tossed the aspirin into my mouth. Grimacing as I swallowed, I took another drink. “Why? Why did we do that?”
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” she groaned from the floor beside the toilet.
“Please don’t puke. I hate puke.”
She rested her head on the side of the tub and closed her eyes. “I think I’m okay.”
“Okay. But if you’re gonna barf, don’t do it on the floor.”
“You’re mean when you’re hung over,” she whined.
“I feel like I licked a garbage truck,” I groaned. “Where’s the toothpaste?”
She pointed lazily towards the sink. “Make mine too Allie.”
I grabbed the brushes and squeezed ridiculous amounts of toothpaste onto each. “Here,” I said, jabbing her with the tip of hers. Ivy swiped at it, smearing green gel all over her hand and grimaced.
She pulled herself up off the floor and joined me at the sink. We brushed silently and I stared at our reflections in the mirror. We both looked like something from an episode of 48 Hours; smeared mascara, puffy eyes and hair that resembled a bird’s nest.
Ivy rinsed and set her toothbrush into the holder. “Let’s go to the beach,” she suggested.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to swim with a hangover,” I told her.
She eyed me dubiously, “Really Allie?”
“Yeah, I read it in some magazine or something.”
“No, that’s bull. Shower and suit up. We’re going to sit on the beach and soak up the sun.”
I snorted and immediately reached for my head. “Ow.”
She playfully smacked my arm. “See, that’s what you get. We’re in California for God’s sake, why wouldn’t you want to go to the beach? It’ll be fun!”
I rolled my eyes at her as she left the bathroom, flipped her the bird as I toed the door shut and started the shower.
As the hot water rushed over me, I felt the hangover beginning to ebb away. We only had a week left in California before we were supposed to head home.
God, only two more years of school, I thought as I scrubbed last night’s gel out of my hair. Two years, then I’m free to do whatever I please; even if I still had no idea what that entailed.
Go to Paris, I thought, Milan, New York. Watch beautiful people model beautiful clothes. Get inspired, start my own clothing line. Create something beautiful of my own.
“Hurry up, I need to shower too!” Ivy shouted, banging on the door.
“Alright!” I shouted back, shutting the water off and reaching for my towel. “There, go!” I threw the door open, hurrying past her into my room.
“Love you!” She hollered as I shut the door.
“Pain in the ass,” I grumbled crossing the room to the long dresser that took up an entire wall. I pulled a drawer open and pulled out a bathing suit I made myself in one of design classes last semester.
Slipping a cover up on, because I think I would forever hear my father’s voice in my head telling me that no man would buy the cow when he got the milk for free, I went to find Ivy. She met me in the hallway wearing a floppy straw hat and black oversized sunglasses. My best friend looked the part of a rising Hollywood starlet. “Ready?” She asked.
I nodded, following her as she grabbed a bag from the hallway and hoisted it onto her shoulder. “Let’s go.”
We walked out of the sliding doors and stepped onto the deck. The golden sand beaches greeted us. Ivy glanced up and down the beach, nodded, then descended the stairs. I trailed behind, inhaling the warm, salty air.
“It smells like coconut and wet dreams,” she giggled as we made our way towards the shore.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just me,” I told her.
She said laughing, “Oh yeah, I forgot. John Krasinski lives somewhere around here.”
I stuck my tongue out at her. “Shut up…. You will never understand my mock love affair with Jim,” I said, referring to the actor’s character on The Office. “He rocks that whole nerdy dude thing and I don’t care what you or anyone else says.”
“I know… leave Jim alone,” she said. “I think this is a good spot.”
I glanced around noticing a group of guys to our left playing a vicious game of volleyball. “I don’t know,” I told her pointing to the group.
“It’ll be fine,” she retorted dropping her bag in the sand. “Come on; help me set all this stuff up.”
From her bag, Ivy produced a couple of beach towels and began laying them on the ground. I stood there, torn between not wanting to be so close to flying balls, literally and figuratively, and not wanting to piss off my best friend.
“Hello, earth to Allie!” Ivy said, waving at me. “Come on, help me.”
“Fine,” I sighed, “but if I get brained by errant volleyballs I’m going to kill you.”
“Again, it will be fine. Chill out.”
Knowing a losing battle when I saw one, I grabbed one of the towels and shook it, letting it settle on the sand. Ivy flitted around the towels tugging and perfecting them until they lay perfectly on the ground. It was funny to watch, it was a thing her mother had instilled in her and she did it without even knowing she was mimicking the person she disliked most in the world. I hid my smile and turned to watch the ball players.
There were six all together; they were standing in the center having a heated argument. All were tall, at least six foot, muscled and tatted, their shorts hung low on their hips and they looked like bad asses.
An arm came across my shoulders. “Eye candy,” Ivy murmured as we watched them.
“Whatever. I wasn’t watching them,” I muttered.
“Sure you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t,” I replied, slipping out of her arm. “What do we do now?”
Ivy shrugged, momentarily looking lost. “Um. Well, I’m not sure. I brought some magazines.”
I laughed and headed toward the beach towels. Sitting on the edge, I drew my knees up and stared out at the ocean. Waves crashed onto the shore and rushed towards me. Sitting beside me, Ivy said, “What’s going on with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were kind snippy the last few days. What’s wrong?”
I shrugged, hugging my knees closer. “We have two years left of school and I have no idea what to do after
graduation. I want to do something in design, but that’s such a vague notion. I don’t know what happens after college, you know?”
“You’re scared,” Ivy clarified. I nodded, biting my lip. “Al, we have two years left to figure it out. Two years worth of classes to help us choose what we want to do for the rest of our lives, to decide what our passions are, how we can use them to never work a day in our lives because we’ll be doing something that we rock at and that we totally love.”
I nodded because I didn’t know what else to say. Two years seemed so long, but so short at the same time. I was worried that I’d never find the thing that I loved, the thing that would make a passion a career, the thing I could wake up and do every day for the rest of my life and never get bored doing. I wanted that, a job that challenged me creatively, that made me strive to be the very best in whatever industry I chose, a job-
“Incoming!” A deep male voice shouted.
I looked up as a spherical object flew towards my head, then nothing. Utter darkness.
I felt my body being shaken violently. “Allie! Oh my God, you killed her. You killed my best friend! Can you hear me? Allie, if you can hear me open your eyes.”
My eyelids fluttered open. Dark shadows hovered at my peripheral. “Oh my god,” I moaned. “I’m dead. I’m dead and in heaven. Oh god, I don’t want to be dead.”
“Look at me,” Ivy commanded. I blinked a few times, letting everything come into focus. “Breathe, okay. You’re not dead. Not even close. Like I’d ever let you leave me,” she snorts. “You kind of passed out, or something; but you’re okay. Okay?”
I nodded slowly. “What happened?” I pushed myself up and rub my forehead.
“Sorry,” one of the volleyball players says. “This genius slammed the ball too hard. I tried to stop it, but it was way too high, I couldn’t reach it. I tried to warn you, but I guess I was too late.”
“I’m really sorry,” the tallest of the group said having the decency to look ashamed.
“Tell it to the giant lump on my head,” I snapped at him.
He reached out, and with tender fingers, probed at the lump on my head. “It’s not so bad,” he said.
I looked up at him. Whoa. Perfect hazel eyes, brown at the iris framed by the most intense blue-green I’d ever seen, a full sleeve of tattoos covered his right arm and most of his left. His sideburns melted into a well kept beard from the most perfect set of heart shaped lips id ever seen on a man. “Hi,” I breathed.
“Hey,” he exhaled.
The guy next to him elbowed him in the ribs. “Look at Nicky, knocking chicks out both literally and physically.”
“Shut up dickwad,” another one muttered. “And it’s figuratively, not physically.” He turned to me and said, “Ignore Mal, he’s a dumbass. I’m Jonah, are you okay?”
I nodded, feeling around the lump on my head. “I think I’ll survive. Thanks.”
The remaining three whose names I still didn’t know stood and wandered back toward their side of the beach.
“Okay, well, I’m gonna… yeah.” The one Jonah called Mal stood and followed the other three.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” the one Mal called Nicky asked.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Ok-ay,” he said drawing out the simple word. “I’m Nick, by the way.”
“Allie,” I said trying not to smile one of those stupid girl smiles.
“Yeah, I caught that,” he said dipping his head, smiling at me from under his lashes. “Your friend was really worried about you.”
“I can hear you,” Ivy muttered. “I thought you goons killed her.”
“Goons?” Jonah asked looking confused.
“You look like a bunch of criminals,” she sneered motioning their multiple tattoos.
Nick snorted, slapping Jonah on the back. “I’m sure Uncle Sam would love that one. We look like criminals. I bet they’re gonna want the thousands they spent training us back.”
Now it was Ivy’s turn to look confused. “What are you talking about? Wait, are you guy’s military?”
Nick and Jonah both smiled smugly, nodding.
“No way,” she said incredulously. “There isn’t a military base around here.”
“Sure there is,” Jonah said. “Point Mugu. It’s just up the road.”
“Oh wow, I’m so sorry.” She sank down next to me looking ashamed. “I’m sorry. I’m emotional; I jumped to conclusions.”
“It’s all good,” Nick said. “Happens all the time. It’s the tats.”
“Yeah, people always assume we’re trouble makers because of them.”
“So why do it then?” I asked.
Nick sat down next to me. I could feel the heat radiating from his tanned skin. “This one here,” he said pointing to a fraction, “is my unit, the first fourth, this one,” he said pointing to a set of dog tags, one blank, one with seven slashes on it, “is all the friends I’ve lost during my time in Iraq. This one,” he points to a bleeding rose, “is for my mom. Each drip marks a deployment. Every tattoo on my body represents or means something. The Corps doesn’t care much for it, but as long as I do my job there ain't much they say about it.”
Jonah nodded. “Same. I don’t put random bullshit on my body. If I’m gonna mark up the body my momma gave me it damn well better mean something. Her words, not mine.” His bashful smile gave away how much he loved his mom.
“That’s…cool, I guess. I’m not a fan of needles.” I glanced down at my flawless skin, free of any marks not introduced by life.
“It only hurts a little,” Nick said. He twisted his arm, showing me the underside of bicep where a gun stood, a helmet on top supported by a pair of boots. “This one hurt like a motherfu- uh, I mean, well yeah. It was sore for a while.”
I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about. I didn’t, I just wanted to hear him keep talking, needed a reason to keep him next to me.
“Hey, what are you guys doing later?” Ivy asked looking between Nick and Jonah.
The two exchanged a glance, shrugging. “Not much, why?”
“How about, to show there’s no hard feeling about almost killing my best friend, we grab dinner. We found this awesome dive bar with the best burgers last night.”
“I’m game,” Jonah said smiling at Ivy. She blushed and smiled back, dipping her head, hiding her face with her hair. “Nick?”
“I’m not doing anything. I’ll have to go back to base and shower, but yeah, I’m down for killer burgers.”
“Awesome,” Ivy clapped. “Go ask the others if they want to come too.”
Jonah hopped up and jogged across the beach towards his friends.
“I’m gonna go shower and change. Allie do you want me to take our stuff with us or will you grab it?”
“I’ll get it,” I told her as I sent her the look, the one all girls, especially friends as good as Ivy and I, knew. The one that said we needed just five minutes with the hot, mysterious stranger. Ivy nodded and stood, dusting the sand from her behind.
“I’ll give her a hand,” Nick offered.
Ivy gave him a thumbs up as she walked backward to our house. “Thank you Nick!” she called sweetly, then with a laugh, turned toward the house. “I’ve got a pocket, got a pocket full of sunshine!” she sang as she went.
My cheeks flashed red as Nick chuckled quietly. “Ignore her,” I told him. “She’s weird.”
“She loves the hell out of you though,” he said.
“She’s my best friend,” I said digging my fingers into the sand. Scooping up a handful, I let it pour through my hand. “You don’t have to do the dinner thing if you don’t want to.”
“What if I want to?”
“You sound surprised,” he stated.
“Well, I mean, yeah. I’m pretty sure there are a million things you’d rather do than-“
“Hang out with a pretty girl?”
“Don’t do that,” I told him.
“Act like you’re into me. I don’t need you to pity me or try to make me feel better for freaking out.”
“Shut up and go with it.”
We met up with Jonah, Nick, Mal and another guy they introduced as Ben, for burgers at the dive bar that we found the night before. The bartender spotted us, calling out, “Double Trouble! Back so soon?”
Ivy flipped him off and led the way to a table big enough for the six of us. Jonah snagged the seat beside Ivy, Mal and Ben sat beside them. I stood back for just a minute wondering what I was doing here right now.
Nick leaned down, whispering in my ear, “shut up and go with it,” then pulled out a chair, motioning for me to sit.
Oh Jesus why was this so hard? I sat my face hot. Nick sat and turned toward me. “So are you guys from around here?”
I shook my head no. “We’re on vacation. We go to school in Washington.”
“What’s your major?”
“Fashion design,” I mumbled.
“Do you like it?”
I nodded. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just talk to him? He seemed like he was into me and I was being a total ice queen.
“You know, I’m not really in the mood for burgers. Do you wanna go for a drive?”
I breathed a sigh of relief and nodded.
Nick grabbed my hand and pulled me out of my chair. He made his way through the bar and burst through the door. I could hear our friends shouting after us as we made our escape.
He led the way to an old black Jeep with no roof and opened the door. I climbed in and buckled my seat belt as he jogged around and jumped behind the wheel.
“Allie!” Ivy called from the door of the bar as Nick cranked the Jeep. It came to life with a deep grumbling from the engine and a whiny guitar from the radio.
“I’ll bring her back!” he called to Ivy as he peeled out of the parking lot.
Wind whipped through my hair as he sped down the Pacific Coast Highway. Nick reached over and grabbed my hand. “How’s your head?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I said automatically.
We drove in silence, nothing but the radio between us all the while his thumb traced circles on the back of my hand. After a while he turned off and parked the jeep. The headlights shining out over a bluff illuminating the night, below, the ocean crashed against the rock.
“We should probably start over,” he said turning towards me. “Hi, my name is Nick, I’m twenty four, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I am a Marine. I didn’t go to college, joined the corps after high school. I have three older brothers and my parents are still happily married after 38 years. I like alt rock and sushi, and I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie.”
I smiled and instantly relaxed. “Allie,” I said. “I’m 21 and from Seattle, Washington. I am currently enrolled in college. Only child, parents are relatively happily married after 25 years. I like boy bands and h ate sushi and I’ve seen every Star Wars movie.”
“Well now I know where not to take you on our next date,” he joked.
“Who said you get a next date?” I shot back.
“Who said I don’t?”
Nick got a next date. And another, and another. What started out as just a two week stay in Malibu turned into an entire summer in Malibu. By Labor Day I was suffering from a severe case of puppy love. The night before I was to leave, there was a knock on the door. Figuring it was Ivy, who’d went out earlier to shoot pool with Jonah, I opened the door to find Nick standing there in a tight gray t-shirt that had Keep Calm, I’m a Girl Scout, emblazoned across the front, hands shoved deep into his pockets, a black beanie he wore sometimes was haphazardly hanging on his head.
“Hey,” I said warmly. “What are you doing here?”
“Can I come in?” he asked softly. “I have something I need to talk to you about.”
Fear coursed through my veins colder than ice. Gripping the door, I nodded and pulled it open wider. Nick stopped in the foyer and shut the door. When the lock clicked, he pulled me toward him, holding me close to his chest. I could hear his heart beating rapidly through his shirt. “Nick, what’s wrong?”
“I got some news today. I think we should sit down before we talk about it.”
I nodded dumbly and followed him to the living room. When he sat down on the couch, I sank down next to him, curling up and leaning into his chest.
“I’m being deployed.” His voice was hollow and numb.
Tears flooded my eyes. No, this wasn’t happening. He wasn’t supposed to go back for another year. “When?” I whispered.
“I ship out tomorrow.”
“So soon? What? Why?”
“There’s been rumors flying for weeks, whispers that we would be going back sooner than we’d thought. Things there are out of control. Someone has to fix it.”
“It’s the job, Allie. I know this. I signed up for this. Can you promise me something?”
“Promise you’ll wait for me.”
I leaned back and looked up at him. “Nick, I would wait for you forever if you asked me to.”
“I know, love. I think I just needed to hear you say it.”
The next morning I drove him to what he called the rendezvous point which turned out to just be an airfield where six green buses waited. As we sat in the car, I fought the tears that threatened the entire drive up from Malibu. Hand in hand we walked across the tarmac. When he stopped, the tears broke free.
Nick gently held my face in his hands, gazing down at me. “Hey,” he said softly. “I’ll be back. It’ll be nine months, a year tops. And when I get back it’ll be as if none of this ever happened.”
I grabbed the front of his uniform and pulled him to me, wrapping him around me like a shield. “Promise,” I sobbed into his chest, “Promise me you’ll come home to me. And promise you’ll write me.”
“Allie, I swear on all that I am and all that I could ever hope to be, that I will write to you every day and at the end of this I will come home to you.”
He said the last part with such conviction that I immediately believed him. He would come home to me and we would spend the rest of our lives together just as happy and as in love as we were in this moment.
A gruff shout from the head of the buses caught our attention. Nick turned, glancing over his should. He let out a groan and pressed his forehead to mine. “I love you, Allie,” he said against my lips. “I love you so much.”
Tears flooded my eyes, dripping down my cheeks. The pain in my chest was indescribable; each heartbeat caused me pain; like the broken shards were ramming themselves into my chest. “I love you too,” I sobbed.
“Good, now give your man a kiss.”
I leaned up on my tiptoes and pressed my lips softly to his briefly. “Hanson! Quit smooching on your girlfriend and get your ass on the bus. Daylights burning!”
“That’s my cue,” he said with a sad smile. “I’ll see you soon.” Nick dropped a last kiss on my forehead, hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and turned towards the buses. I wrapped my hands around my body and let the tears come.
Nick dropped his bag on top of the growing pile then turned and blew me a kiss before mounting the bus. I held up a hand, waving good bye and stood there until the very last bus departed. I stood there until a M.P. escorted me back to my car.
Things slowly went back to normal. Classes resumed, letters from Nick started to arrive; a new one almost every day for almost three months.
Then a letter a day turned into a letter a week. I tried not to panic, to not let the fear consume me but it was a losing battle. My grades started to slip and by Valentine’s Day Nick’s letters stopped coming altogether.
Not knowing what to do, I kept writing. Page after page filled with rambling nonsense, tidbits about my bad, a professor who made me angry or called my designs horrible.
I wrote a letter a day for three weeks and convinced myself Nick was fine, he was busy, that something made it
impossible for him to write me back.
The first Wednesday of March all my letters started coming back. The day the first one came back will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. I opened the mailbox and saw my pale pink envelope sitting inside. With trembling hands I reached for it, my eyes seeing but not understanding the words stamped in blood red ink across the front.
Return to sender, recipient is deceased.
I carried it like a baby back to the dorm room and was met at the door by Ivy. “What’s that?” she asked as her eyes skimmed the envelope. They widened in horror as she grabbed the letter from me. “Nick?” she whispered.
As I shook my head yes, she vehemently shook her head no.
The next day, Ivy started getting the mail. When she came in one afternoon after class, her face white and her hands shaking, I knew she was about to say something important. “I don’t know if I should give this to you,” she whispered, her hands concealing whatever it was that she had. “I seriously thought about not giving it to you. I had made the choice not to, but then when I came in and saw your face I knew that if I didn’t and you found out you would never forgive me. I hope that after you read it you can forgive me for giving it to you.”
My heart slammed in my chest as I eyed her hands. Swallowing past the lump in my throat I held out my hand. When she placed a plain white envelope in my hands the first thing I thought was that it was from the dean’s office, officially telling me I’d been kicked out of school, but when I saw the familiar slanted handwriting, my heart caught in my throat.
My brain leapt to no less than fifty inconceivable notions. He’s alive! He’s been a P.O.W and they finally found him! Those were the two that I will always remember. I lay in bed, clutching the unopened letter to my chest crying as my heart broke all over again. I knew he wasn’t alive, I knew it in my soul. Finally, after lying there for hours, sobbing all over it, I opened his final letter.
Allie, the letter began.
I don’t know how else to tell you this, but I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my promise to you. I wish that I could, god there is nothing in the world I want more. I want to come home to you, to hold you in my arms and look into your eyes for the rest of my life, but I guess fate had another plan for us. I think we were supposed to meet Allie. I think I was supposed to knock you out with that volley ball. I don’t know why but I think it was one of those things that were just supposed to happen. I think I needed to fall in love with you so I could be okay with not living to see twenty five.
You should know that when the end comes, and its coming soon, yours is the only face I’m gonna be seeing. Your name is the one I’ll cry out for when my last breath comes. You made this life worth living, the thought of forever with you kept me going when all I wanted to do was give up. And I hate giving up. I hate that I’m not gonna make it out of this. I hate this war and I hate that we have to be the ones who are giving up our lives for people who don’t want to change. I hate it. I hate that I’ll never get to see you again. I hate that you get to be my forever, but I don’t get to be yours.
The only thing I don’t hate is being able to call you mine. You have made my life complete Allie. I hope you know that. I can die knowing that I had the unconditional love of an amazing woman. And you can get up tomorrow and get back to your life knowing that I loved you until the very end. I want you to get up tomorrow and get back to your life Allie. You are too bright to let your light die. The world needs it. The world needs people like you, people like you can combat the darkness.
And baby, someday you are going to meet someone who needs your light. And when you do meet him, I need you to let him in. I need you to love again, because I can’t go unless I know you aren’t going to let this be the thing that you cling to. I need you to promise me Allie, I need you to promise that this won’t be the end for you.
I want to say so much more, but I just don’t have the words. I’m a jarhead, not a poet. All I have in the way of pretty words is I love you. I have and always will. Now go and live your life, Allie, don’t forget about me, but don’t let this define the rest of your life.
I love you, always, forever and even longer,