Beverly always liked to get in the restaurant during the blue hour. The place was silent like church, with only the hum of the walk-ins to punctuate the quiet. When she breezed in, past the porter waiting for the early deliveries, the energy of the place was like walking into the ocean. It enveloped her. For a precious few minutes, there was nothing. No noise except what she made. Starting from scratch, for real.

She flipped lights on, the fluorescents joining the walk-in hum, a little higher pitched. Coffee. The pulse and whine of the Burr grinder, then filling the basket and flicking the machine to on. She moved to the basket of chalk by the chalkboard and wrote ideas for the day's specials, her finger tapping against her pale lips. Early mornings were times for starting braises, dough, stock. She poured herself a cup of coffee and lifted it to her mouth.

All of this done in the perfect quiet, so silent she can hear the whoosh of the gas range as she flares it to life. This one hour is all breath and beat (rhythmic onion chops), scattered sleepy thoughts that don't need to go anywhere, that have no set destination. Sometimes she would steal a spoonful of yogurt or a handful of fruit and pop up onto a silver prep table, chewing slowly, almost meditative.

And she had the feeling that someone soon would be paying her a visit. It's a Saturday and the air just had that quality to it, like if you reached out with a feather and pushed, you'd get a completely new day. She took her coffee out to the darkened dining room. Her visitor didn't need lights to see. She sat down in a booth and waited, her only movement the sound of a chewed ragged fingernail tapping against her watch. It was time.

LJ Idol: Take a Hike (or a Swim, in this Case)
The half moon was just barely winking above the horizon as I pounded down the beach early one spring morning. It was my first time being out since last fall and I smiled for a second as my run interrupted some sandpipers out in the tidepools looking for breakfast. They all took flight at once, a dozen tiny brown flightlings yelling pint sized squeaks. I ran around them, breathing in the salty air and squinting a little as the sun began to rise overhead. This was my favorite time of day, right at the cusp of dark and light, when everything was soft and tinged with pink.

If you took a listen to the music blasting in my headphones, though, the picture wasn’t so rosy. Beach runs meant punk, screaming guitars and earth shaking drums. My girlfriend’s punk band, specifically. Mystics of Venus’ second studio album had dropped a month before, and between tour dates and press appearances, this had been my first chance to listen to the whole thing like the fans did. And it was good. Devon’s vocals were just right, perched over the instruments so you could always hear her and know that she was the frontman. That voice still made me go all shivery in the knees, even four years after I’d first heard her sing. “Like the memory of that first cigarette you sneaked in college, and the girl with the ripped jeans and bubblegum lipstick who gave it to you,” Rolling Stone had described it. Of course I’d cut out that review and tucked it into my wallet. I sighed and checked my watch. Devon wouldn’t be up for another hour or two, but maybe I could bring her a coffee from Salty Dog after I was done with my run. Yeah, I liked that plan, of tiptoeing back into the house, shedding shoes in the mud room, softly opening up the bedroom door to see her tousled red hair and purple painted toes peeking out of the bedcovers.

Up ahead, I could see a figure coming out of the waves. I frowned. It was a little early in the year for swimmers and surfers, but maybe if they had a good wet suit and a devil may care attitude about their safety? The figure was tall, I could see that, and solid looking, almost assuredly a woman judging by those hips. I drew closer just as the dreamy ballad “Subtle” was starting, and tried not to be distracted by how sexy Devon sounded when she sang the first verse, all breathy high notes and husky lows, blending in perfectly with the keyboard. But really, who would be out in the waves when the water was still so cold from the winter? I really hoped they weren’t crazy. I’d had my share of crazy people this week and I didn’t need another one.

“Good morning!” I called as I got within ear shot. The woman had a hefty build, but she wasn’t fat, I could see that. Or at least, all that extra had a purpose. She was dressed in a long brown dress with what looked like green glitter on the bust. It clung, and I looked away quickly. Long black hair and scuba fins on her feet. No one I knew, but my little town of Linden, Maine, was changing fast these days, and I was away so much with Devon that it was a wonder I knew hardly anyone.

“Beverly Chang,” I heard her say, and I pulled up, my thighs quivering from the sudden stop. Her voice sounded like an ancient creaking door swinging open. I felt a chill, crazy person sensor all atingle. But I didn’t want to run off. Maybe she needed help. Yeah, and maybe she had a conveniently placed truck with a bed big enough to carry my lifeless body out to the woods, too, I told myself, rolling my eyes.

“Do I know you?” I asked, walking a few steps closer. “I’m Beverly.”

The woman looked at me with eyes that looked like the clearest green sea glass. “Oh, I know,” she said. “I’m Doris, the sea witch.”

“Uh, sorry,” I said, assuming I’d misheard. There was no way she had just called herself a sea witch in real life. “Who? You’re… what?”

“Doris the sea witch,” she said again, a touch of annoyance in her voice. “You know the old rhyme, when Doris the sea witch appears, you needn’t be afeared…”

“Uh,” I said again. Definitely crazy. I took a step back. “No, sorry, I don’t know that one…”

“That’s a shame,” said Doris. “What are they teaching in schools nowadays? I know it’s been a few years since I was on land for any longer than a day, but do you mean your governess didn’t sing you that song?”

“Governesses haven’t been a thing for about a hundred years,” I said. Why was I still standing here talking to this woman? “Folk tales aren’t exactly big on the mainland anymore.”

“Folk tales!” huffed the sea witch. “Come now, I’ll show you what a folk tale I’m not!” She raised her hands and gestured to the water, and a small, tongue-like wave formed, different from all the other waves somehow, and glided towards us, bumping her gently on the bottom. She laughed and the wave seemed to wiggle. I stared. I’d seen ghosts before, of course I had, this was Linden for God’s sake, but water sprites? That was new.

Yeah, new, and if she kept up with this chatter, I’d never get to the Salty Dog in time to get Devon coffee. “Well, that’s just great!” I said brightly. “But I’ve got an appointment, so I’ve got to go now.” I backed up a few more feet. Maybe if I didn’t turn my back on her, she wouldn’t hex me. Or something.

“But aren’t you curious how I knew your name?” she replied, sighing, even as I kept backing up. “You humans always are. It’s in your natures to be curious, you sweet little things.” Then she stopped and shrugged. “Oh well. I can’t win them all I suppose. You go on, enjoy your day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well… okay. Bye! Enjoy the… water.” (How did one end a conversation with a sea witch? There had to be some Wikipedia article on that.) I turned and strode up the beach toward the parking lot, frowning. The music had stopped on my phone during my conversation with Doris, but now that it was over, the music started up again, filling my ears with Devon’s songs. The sun was slowly rising higher in the sky, and I looked back to see Doris walking along the surf line, apparently having a rousing conversation with a crab. As I continued to watch them, Doris reached down, picked up the crab, and bit off his head. I smiled a little and shook my head. This was Linden, after all.

An hour later, I met Devon on the front porch. Just as I predicted, I had arrived at home too late to surprise her in bed with coffee. “Hey babe,” she said, wrapped up in her robe and two blankets, peeking out from under the blue and white striped duvet. “I got the strangest call while you were gone. Who’s Doris?”

“Someone I met on the beach during my run this morning,” I said, handing her her cup and sitting down next to her on the porch swing.

“Well, she’s just the nicest woman,” Devon said. “We should have her over for dinner sometime, she said you were really kind to her. What happened?”

“Oh,” I said. This was a turn. “We just chatted briefly as she was coming out of the water. I assume she likes fish…” Above my head, the conch shells on our wind chimes jingled with the cool spring breeze. Doris wasn’t done with me yet, that much was certain. Now, did I want to cook Dover sole or Lobster thermidor for her?

LJ Idol S10, Week 9: The Trolley Problem
“Okay, let’s see here, ma’am,” Ned said as he pressed the large blue button on the repair console. Tabitha struggled not to gasp as her twenty-seater trolley lifted up into the air. No matter how many times Ned put it up on the hoister, watching it float up off the ground like that was an adventure. She winced a little as the thick rubber straps containing the Green Lady’s tonnage strained and stretched, but they held, they always did. “You said it was making a weird smell as you got above twenty miles an hour?”

“Which I don’t do often,” Tabitha replied quickly. “Just when I’m on straighaways or bringing her back to the yard after the day’s through.”

Ned laughed, his spiky brown hair even spikier than usual on account of the engine grease stuck in it. “No need to be defensive, ma’am. I can well understand the allure of taking the Green Lady on a little high-speed spin every now and again.” He walked over to the chartreuse and lime trolley. “You just hang out there while I check this out. I’m gonna need to be asking you some questions, though, but I promise, I’ll bring you a Dr. Pepper right as soon as I’m done.”

Tabitha’s daddy had always told her that if she wanted to run the family trolley business, she had to have two things, and one of them was a damn good trolley mechanic. “These big babies,” he’d say. “They’ll run you a pretty penny if you’re not looking after ‘em careful. So you make sure to always keep a sniffer out for little things.” Ned was her mechanic and had been for years. Only grease monkey in the state who could diagnose problems on the Green Lady with any kind of accuracy. And his shop was the only place Tabitha could still get a cold Vanilla Dr. Pepper within city limits. It was her treat.

She watched Ned root around in the trolley’s guts for a few minutes before he stuck his head back up. “What kinda weird smell was it? Sweet, bitter, touch of rotten eggs, maybe?”

“Like a barn,” she said. “That musty hay smell. Warm, somehow.” She had noticed it the first really cold day of the season, back in October, and it had been coming and going since then. Thank goodness none of the customers had noticed, but she had, and now a few weeks later the autumn tourist boom was dying out enough that she could bring it in to Ned. She tapped her handbag with long wine-dark fingernails, fretting to herself. What if it was the head gasket or the heating coils? Would she have to retire the Green Lady for good? She was getting on in years, it was true, but she still seemed happy enough to start up, even if it did take a few tries during the chilly mornings. But no, Tabitha thought, we’ll cross that bridge if it comes to us.

A squeaking drew Tabitha’s attention, followed by Ned saying, “Oh!” very softly. “Ma’am,” he stage-whispered. “You better come here and have a look at this.” She hurried over, heart pounding, biting her lip. What was it? She dropped her bag onto the floor, stuck her head over to where Ned was pointing and -- “Oh my,” she said. “Well, hello there, little fellow. How in the world did you get there?”

Ned took off his gloves and laid them on the trolley’s bumper. “You should come on out of there,” he said. “Come on, now. I’m gonna pick you up. Don’t bite me, okay?” He threw Tabitha a sheepish look. “I’m not a huge fan of cats, but don’t tell my wife, she’s got two who’d have my bones for playthings if they heard.” He gently reached into the engine block and lifted the tiny silvery tabby out, then handed the cat to Tabitha. “Girl cat,” he said astutely. “About four weeks old, I reckon. I wonder how she survived in there, it does get quite hot.” He poked at the area where the kitten had been tucked away. Remnants of hay and stray feathers littered the springs, and he brushed them away. No need for them now.

Tabitha settled the kitten against her shoulder, where she immediately started to purr and bat at Tabitha’s earrings. “She’s obviously made of stronger stuff than us mere mortals.” She breathed a sigh of relief. Tabitha had been wanting a new kitten, after all.

“Whyn’t you go down and get yourself your soda, and I’ll just make sure that no other critters are trying to bed down for the winter in here,” said Ned. “I’ll close her back up and run her out into the yard when I’m done. No charge for today. Hell, I’ve even got a little milk in the office she’s welcome to have.”

Tabitha smiled at him. “Thanks, Ned, I’ll wait there for you.” She made her way down to the office and stuck a couple of quarters in the drink machine. Maybe she’d call the kitten Pepper.

LJ Idol Week 8: No Comment
“So what’s your answer?”

The answer was there inside me, lodged deep within, where my lungs met my heart, where the blood was pounding hardest. He looked up at me with those eyes so bright and glassy from the booze in his flask, you could almost ice skate on them. I swallowed hard and felt every second of it. The wintry breeze spread cold sparkles of snow on my face, and I stamped my feet to keep them warm. I knew what my answer was, and I knew that he would not like it. But there was no use pretending. I was where I was, and that had to be the end of it.

“It’s okay,” he said, putting an arm around my shoulders. “We can just go in. We don’t have to have a plan.”

“No,” I managed, because flashes of him with her suddenly flooded my mind. But then I saw me saying what I had to say, what my answer had to be, and I saw the brightness fading from his eyes, his shoulders sinking. I didn’t want that, either. “Uhm, can we see how it goes? Maybe if I can get to know her…”

“Yeah,” he said, perking up. “She’s great, you’ll love her.”

I was sure she was a lovely person. He wouldn’t be so excited to see her again if she wasn’t. He wasn’t the kind of man to waste his time on someone. And I knew that, and I knew that was why he had been with me for nearly six years. But it was just the first time we’d done this. This, being… we were standing at her door in Massachusetts with overnight bags, about to walk into this woman’s house, because my boyfriend might be falling in love with her. None of us knew where it was going yet. It was lucky I felt some kind of instant happiness at seeing him so happy, and since he’d met her last month, things had been going great in our relationship. But there was still the whole “other woman” business. So here we were, about to drink wine and eat cheese and crackers, and maybe have a conversation about she was going to fit into our lives.

That’s all it was, I thought to myself, just a conversation. Logistics. Data. Negotiation. The kinds of things that my analytical mind loved. Maybe we wouldn’t even bring up the whole feelings thing. (Why was I so reluctant to explore that particular corner? I asked myself. Because you’re afraid he’s going to stop loving you, came the answer.)

And really, that was the answer to the question he’d been asking me. “Hey,” I said, as he had just raised his hand to knock on her door. “Just don’t forget about me, okay?” There was that pre-cry sting in my nose, and I felt my eyes water as he dropped his fist and gave me a hug. “I know you can’t promise that,” I said into his overcoat. And really, that was what scared me.

LJ Idol S10, Week 6: Pas de Deux
“Five, six, seven, eight!” called Mrs. O’Shea as Penelope lifted me into the air. Her strong fingers were on my hips and I could feel her nails digging in, just a little. I raised my arms over my head, trying to let the music flow through me and direct my movements. O’Shea was all about the body’s natural response to music, and almost nothing we did was wrong if the music directed us. Of course, when I heard that, all I could think of was how furious Mr. Braithewit would have been. “You’re squandering all your discipline on modern ballets?” I could hear him say, his English accent inflamed by outrage. “The cheek of it!”

But right now, all I could concentrate on were Pen’s hands as they slowly glided up my torso as she put me down. My toes in their pointe shoes bumped against the studio floor and I wobbled for an instant, but she hadn’t let go of me yet, so I used her as a counterbalance, arabesquing and dragging my fingers across her waist. Because we were basically choreographing the ballet as we went along, there was no right or wrong movement. It was all about what you chose to do in the moment.

“Yes, Evelyn! That arabesque was beautiful, that will be staying in the piece. Good use of your space,” Mrs. O’Shea called to me. Penelope passed a quick smile my way as we ended the sequence and walked over to the teacher. “Right, ladies, that’s all for today, just keep stretching your muscles over the next day, and don’t forget to care for your feet.” I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Two hours of rehearsal was nothing compared to the grueling six hour rehearsals I’d become used to in my performing arts high school. I’d come to this college on the pretext that they had a wonderful dance program (got a nice scholarship out of it, too), but after my first semester, I realized that I was a big fish in a medium sized pond. I was just trying not to be bored to tears.

As we were leaving, Penelope caught up with me. Her long curly black hair and olive complexion made her a bit of an anomaly in the dance world, but she had good feet and a lovely face. And she smelled really good. I had to admit that. Like vanilla mixed with something flowery. “That was fun,” she said. “I’m not used to making up my own moves, but you’re a good partner.”

“Thanks,” I said. “We move well together, I think.” She caught my eye and winked. As we moved down the hall to the theater building exit, I got brave (despite my pounding heart) and brushed her hand with mine. It was strange. We spent so much time touching each other in rehearsal, but as soon as it ended, we were awkward and unsure again. This was the third time we had left together, and every time we managed to circle closer to my dorm, but Penelope never asked to come in, and I never invited her.

“My dad always said, like finds like,” she said. “I thought it was bullshit until now.” I blushed and ran my fingers through my hair, letting loose my bun. Penelope inhaled, her shiny hazel eyes on mine. “It’s so nice to not have to dance with smelly boys,” she said. “At least you smell like shampoo and scrubbed skin. A little Ben-Gay, too, but I don’t mind that.” She grinned at me. I smiled back, and our stride settled into the same pace, which made me wonder what else might settle the same.

“I try?” I said. My mouth was dry and I was conscious of how sweaty my palms were. Half praying she wouldn’t take my hand, half praying she would. “You smell good too. Like vanilla and orchids.” I’d never smelled an orchid in my life but I assumed they smelled like Penelope did. Now it was Pen’s turn to blush. “I like the way our dance is coming out.”

“Me too,” she replied. “Hey, I’ve got to go to the library, but can we meet up later to draw out the finale? Around seven in my dorm? I live in Carter, we can meet in the fourth floor common area.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll bring coffee. You like the white chocolate mocha from the Beehive, right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Cool, thanks!” We stood on the front steps of the building awkwardly, other students flowing around us like we were boulders in a stream. “I’ll see you later,” she said, and before I really knew what was happening, she had leaned forward and pecked me on the cheek.

I stood there in shock for a few seconds. Did she just -- ? Okay, she did. Okay! “Yeah,” I replied, smiling broadly at her. I took one of her hands and kissed her knuckles quickly, before I lost my nerve, and for a moment all I could see in the world was her smile and glowing eyes. She made a noise like a chirp and I swallowed hard, my heart pounding. But then she gave me one last flash of sunshine and turned away towards the library. Man, if I thought my knees were wobbly during rehearsal…

I headed back to my dorm. Coffee wasn’t the only thing that would keep me buzzing tonight, that was for certain!

LJ Idol S10, Week 5: Fear is the Heart of Love
A few miles away from here, there’s a lady singing in a bar, and I love her, and she loves me. But I’m not at the bar now. I should be, but as I open up the church door and slip inside, I remind myself that there is more important work to do tonight. Something I’ve been putting off for a long while, and the time to complete it grows short.

I cross myself, breathing in the warm air and the silence as I look around. Dim flickering light draws my attention. There is a small horseshoe of lit white candles in the sanctuary, along with some incense that fills the small side room with cedar and rose scented smoke. I smile to myself. Father Deegan’s never been one who was much for staying in the lines. “Anything can be done in the name of the Father,” he used to say in his soft Irish accent. Even ritual smoke cleansings, apparently. I finger the hematite stone in my coat pocket. It’s funny how certain things become so obvious if one knows how to look.

The sound of heavier footsteps behind me makes me turn. There’s himself, bustling along (the man knows not how to move slowly), long skinny limbs with jeans and plaid overshirt flapping. The only indication he’s not a late night handyman is the white collar that peeks across his Adam’s apple. He sees me and waves, and I can see the glint of teeth in his smile. “Beverly Chang!” he says, pleased. “I wasn’t sure you’d make it.” I close the gap between us and he shakes my hand. “It’s been a long time, eh?”

“It has,” I reply. “Too long.” I’m all fluttery in the stomach at seeing him. Though the man is gifted at swift motion, the point of a conversations often takes him a while to find. “Are you well?”

“Ah, well enough,” he says, waving his hand. It shakes a little. “But how are you? I must admit, I was surprised to get your email, given how long it has been since you last came to see us. But death makes inquisitors of us all, I suppose, and it is entirely right that you are here.”

I laugh. “I feel a little like my teenage self, sneaking back into the house long after curfew, doing my damndest to pretend I never left.” It’s been many years since I was last in a church, and I’m half expecting to be struck by a stray lightning bolt.

“Oh, but Bev, you never did,” says Father Deegan. “Although your practice may have changed - and I have to admit, smoke cleansing is well useful, thank you for that tip - it all goes to the same place. Different roads, same destination.” He leads me to the altar steps and we sit down, his knees groaning a little as he stretches his legs out.

“I never heard that perspective from the nuns at St. James,” I say. “I remember the first time I brought a sigil to school to help me on a math test, I’ve no idea how Sister Mary knew I had it, but my goodness. She made me burn it, gave me bloody knuckles, and then still made me take the test, which of course I failed miserably.”

Father Deegan nods. “I’ve heard similar stories from some of the other students. Sister Mary had fear in her heart that she covered up with layers of devotion, but there’s only so much earth to bury your lies. Truth outs, no mistake, like sunflowers tracking the sun across the sky.”

A beat of silence, and then my real questions pops out out of my mouth before I can jam it back in. “When my mother died, was there fear in her heart? Did she go… was it all right?”

Father Deegan looks at me for a measuring moment. “She didn’t want to. Anyone could see that. But everyone has their time. Just because she didn’t want to go, doesn’t mean it was wrong or that…” he seems to struggle for words, then changes tack. “The universe is wiser than us tiny mortals. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” I reply. “But she clung. Is that what you mean?”

“Even after her heart stopped, you could feel her in the room for several minutes,” he says. “Yes. Tooth and nail, she clung. Because she loved you so, and because she loved life.” He pauses. “Has she been bothering you?”

“Not... bothering,” I say carefully. “But she does make herself known. Glasses get knocked off the kitchen table, sometimes some of her kitchen utensils go missing. Asking for them helps bring them back, but they’re never in the same spot as I left them.”

“But these aren’t unhappy things,” Father Deegan points out. “If you were hearing screams in the night, let’s say, or dreams in which she seemed to be in distress, I might worry then. She’s just saying hello.” He pats my shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid, you can’t love. They live side by side in our hearts, and you choose between them each moment, each breath.”

I nod. “Thank you, Father. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got someone to see.”

He rises. “Tell Elona hi for me. We’d love to see the two of you at Mass sometime.” He starts walking up the aisle. I frown after him. I’d never told him her name.

“How did you…” I call, following after him.

He turns briefly as he enters the sanctuary. “You’re not the only one in this town blessed with a little extra vision, Beverly.” I can see the glint of his smile as he blows out the white candles and pinches the incense with a handkerchief. “So mote it be,” I mutter under my breath, my fingers curling around the stone in my pocket. So mote it be.

LJ Idol Week 4
Maybe, I find myself thinking tonight as I’m heating up leftovers for dinner, maybe I don’t need to go to therapy anymore. I haven’t been in three weeks. I don’t really miss it. I mean, I’m stable. Right? Mostly. Meds are, anyway. I’m learning good coping mechanisms to combat my ADHD. Or at least I’m learning them on a theoretical level, even though I’m still working on putting them into every day practice.

(I still need to change my mailing address that my student loan company has on file. They’ve been forwarding my mail for the past six months and soon they won’t anymore. But how soon is soon? How do I change my address? Do I have to talk to a human - horrors - or is there a page on their website I can fill out? If I have to talk to a human, will they be able to understand me? What if English in their second language and we just go back and forth for ten minutes trying to correct each other before I settle on Catfish Hill instead of Codfish just to get off the phone? Will I have to know my account information to be able to talk to a human? Where might I find that information? What if I don’t have it? What if I can’t talk to a human at all and instead get lost in an endless automated robo-menu tree and have to hang up and try again, and what if I never get anywhere and--)

(Do I really need to change my address? What if they just stop sending me statements? I’m going to be in debt to them for the next two years at least. Why do I need a progress report every month in the mail? I’d really prefer not to get that. Maybe I just won’t change my address at all. Maybe if I just don’t deal with it, it’ll go away quietly and it’ll almost be like I actually did it.)

(Yeah, but I should. Actually do it. Because Adulting. Ugh.)

What about that executive function, huh?

Well, okay, and what about working through my mom’s emotional abuse? I’m doing… well, not all right, but it’s okay that my measure of success in a day is how much praise and attention I get from my bosses and partner, right? And that a really bad day is when somebody makes me feel small and stupid? That’s… well, it’s not okay, but it’s… manageable? I guess.

I’m not feeling well tonight. My head hurts in that specific pre-cold way and I’ve been achy and tired all day. I’ve just gotten home from work. My partner is sullenly washing dishes that I neglected to get to this morning, because we had overnight guests and I was fetching them coffee and hashing out plans for the weekend instead of rinsing out breakfast bowls and scrubbing dough crumbs from wooden spoons. I can feel the resentment floating off the surface of his skin like oil in a greasetrap. It makes my already tense shoulders hitch. My breathing gets a fraction more shallow. I just want to heat up my leftovers and hide in the bedroom for the rest of the evening, but, no, I should face the problem head on, like my therapist tells me. So I ask, “What’s wrong?” and before he has a chance to answer, I rush on, “I’m sorry for not doing the dishes, I was busy with Tom and Anna, and I ran out of time...”

“I see that,” he says coldly, and I bite my lower lip as the microwave timer beeps. Should I make it up to him by trying to clean? But I’m so tired, what if I don’t do a good job and he has to do everything over again? Yesterday I swept the bathroom floor to get loose cat litter up, and I thought I got it all, but when my partner did a sweep a few hours later, he got as much as I did, plus more. Besides, he gets annoyed when I try to do anything productive when I’m sick. So I go to the couch and sit down with my dinner while I watch him wipe down the kitchen counters.

“What’s wrong?” I ask from my place on the couch again. “You seem upset.”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he says, but I wince when he turns on a workout video and kicks a box filled with my stuff out of his way with particular pointedness. Something’s wrong, I’m sure of it, and I’m sure that something is me, or something I’ve done or not done or forgotten to do. I shrink back on the couch under a blanket, because maybe if I make myself small, the weight of me will be lighter on his back. Maybe if I fold myself into the size of the tiniest bit of scrunched-up napkin forgotten for months in a coat pocket, I won’t be able to do anything else wrong. That thought makes me weepy, and I let a few tears fall when his back is turned as he’s doing jumping jacks. I can’t do jumping jacks with him because I’m sick and I’m supposed to be resting. You’re taking care of yourself, you’re trying not to get sicker, I remind myself, trying to be kind, trying to be gentle. But it is so hard to be kind to yourself when all you feel you’re doing is messing everything up.

He eventually goes to the far side of the cottage to work on finding a cheaper electric company, and doesn’t talk to me except to tell me, half an hour later, that he’s succeeded. The silence between us thrums and hisses like a live wire, but I feel like only I can hear it. I cuddle into my blanket, which smells like my guests from last night, and I cry silently. I’m too good at that. It’s always embarrassing when you have to admit it an hour or two later, when someone finally notices your puffy eyes and the used tissues in the garbage.

I really need to call that student loan company tomorrow and change my address.

And thank God I have therapy tomorrow.

That One Friend
Tap, tap, tap. Nora’s short fingernails weren’t good for much, but they could still make noise on the bar countert when she got impatient. She checked her phone. Resisted the urge to text again. What would I say? She thought. “No, but for real, are you coming?” after the last text from Jamie had said, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” That had been twenty minutes ago. There was probably traffic. Nora pushed her empty glass out of the way. Being anxious was thirsty work, but she was still waiting for the buzz to kick in. The bartender with his bright eyes and too-greasy hair walked over. “Get you another?”

“Nah, thanks, I’m waiting for my friend,” she said. Then thought better of it. “Actually, you know what, better make it a double. The same.” Gin and tonic with a twist. Even the dirtiest dive bar couldn’t fuck that one up. The bartender nodded and got her a fresh glass. She tried to stop herself from looking past the tiny LED spot lights into the darkness of the cabinets and low boys, below all the bottles displayed so neatly, the light flaring the amber and jewel-colored liquids just so. She knew she’d only be disgusted. Fruit flies clinging to every surface down there in a place like this. But she couldn’t resist. Blame it on industry curiosity. Couldn’t turn the chef off even if she tried.

But before the illusion could be completely broken, the bar door banged open and in breezed Jamie. Nora’s shoulders dropped as soon as she knew it was her. Dressed in long charcoal slacks, a flattering red blouse, and a pearl necklace, Jamie looked as fresh as eight in the morning. “Hi, darling,” she sighed into Nora’s ear as they hugged. Nora felt tears in her eyes and blinked hard a few times so they wouldn’t fall. “How’s you?”

“Um,” said Nora. “Been better.” The bartender delivered her drink and she gestured to Jamie. “She’ll have a Jim Beam on the rocks with a lemon wedge.” They knew each other’s drink orders, just like Nora knew that when Jamie cracked her knuckles, she wanted to leave wherever they were. Just like Jamie knew that if Nora took too long to choose something off a menu, she just ordered for herself, but everything double. “How’s you?”

Jamie laughed, that deep smoker’s chuckle, a little phlegmy. “I wasn’t the one who called an emergency drink about it meeting, darlin’. You ready to talk or you need that one still?” She gestured to the drink in Nora’s hand as Nora was tonguing the straw. When Nora took her time answering, Jamie took a gulp of her Jim Beam.

“I’m good,” Nora replied. She took another draw on the drink, then pushed it away. “It was just a rough day.” She stole a glance at Jamie’s profile. “I woke up bad, and then I borrowed some extra ovaries to talk to Pauline about the thing.”

“The thing.” Jamie sat back and gazed sidelong at Nora. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific, Nor.”

“You know what I mean,” Nora said, spinning her glass in her hand, the drink sloshing but only just so. “The thing. The Event.”

“Fear of a name - “ Jamie started, but Nora shot her a look. “Okay,” she said, relenting. “So what happened?”

“She was fine,” Nora said. “Better than fine. Sympathetic. A little taken aback, probably, but she hid it well. At the end, she patted my shoulder like she was afraid to touch me.” She laughed, the mirth on her mouth outweighing the sadness and exhaustion in her eyes, but only just. “I’m not sure if that’s a win or not.”

Jamie scooched her chair closer, making the wooden floorboards under it squeak, and rested her head on Nora’s shoulder. “I’d say it is,” she said into Nora’s pulled up hair. She took another sip of her drink. “Fuck that guy.” She smiled ruefully. “You know that’s why I wear these.” She gestured to the chunky rings that glittered on her fingers. “So that if some dude ever tries to rape me or anyone I know ever again, I can punch him in the face. Square cut diamonds leave a lasting impression, after all.”

Nora smiled back, the shadows still holding sway over the pinched edges of her mouth. She wished she could magically make herself better, for Jamie, so she could be a better friend. Scratch that. A better human. “I’m sorry, J,” she mumbled into her glass. “I wish it had never happened.”

“It did,” said Jamie firmly, stabbing her lemon wedge with her straw and dragging it through the liquor and the melting ice in her glass. “And I love you just the same.” She paused. “Uh, but just so you know, your hair smells like fryer grease, and it’s gross.”

Nora flicked a wet straw wrapper at Jamie’s face, eliciting a yelp. “No, that was gross.”

Later, after the conversation had moved on to other things, they split an Uber home. The car slid through the early winter night, the soft crunch of frost audible against the tires. The women were quiet in the back, Jamie scrolling through work emails on her phone while Nora retweeted a famous chef’s deconstructed chocolate cake and added the caption “#goals”. They shot each other unseen glances, studying each other’s profiles lit by the glow of other people’s lives. The car got to Jamie’s house first, and Nora gave her a smile as she reached for the door, her shoulders slumped now with drink and drowsiness. “Be good,” she said, and they hugged in the backseat. “Thanks for coming.”

“Anytime, darlin’,” said Jamie, giving Nora’s hand a squeeze as she climbed out of the car. “You be good, too.”

The Things You Do
Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just know in your bones that you should’ve gone back to sleep. Those times, Nora’s grateful to have the job she does. She can’t go back to sleep. People need dinner. She pulls on an old soft sweater, jeans, her denim jacket with the patches on the back. Thinks about brushing her hair but it’s greasy anyway and it’ll only get greasier. She takes a few bites of sandwich from the styrofoam box in her fridge, downs her pills with a glass of water, and leaves the cat enough food to last another twelve hours. He glares at her balefully from the window as she’s walking out the door, the late autumn sun peeking weakly from behind soupy clouds. Keys, more meds, pocket knife, pepper spray. She ticks off the list in her head and touches her fingertips to everything in her purse to make sure she has it. But she can still taste the sleep in her mouth as she gets into her car and starts it, rubbing gloved hands together in the chill air.

The harsh light of the kitchen, those old flourescent tubes Harry won’t replace, make Nora blink hard. Rodrigo, the grill guy, pushes a steaming hot cup of something coffee-like into her hand. “You look like hell,” he says. “You okay?”

Something small, something on her Facebook scroll. Something on the news. Not much, but enough to make her grip her stupid pink pocket knife a little tighter, enough to make her eyes go hard when a man passes her too close on the sidewalk. But she says she’s fine and rolls her shoulders under her chef’s coat, because there’s shit in your head and there’s the shit at work, and never the twain shall meet.

She’s able to lose herself for a few precious hours washing hundreds of mushrooms and cutting in butter to flour to make pie dough for Catie the pastry girl. The how of these things is in her hands. Her brain can shut down and run damage control, to stop the seep of blackness in her mind that started before she opened her eyes this morning, before the soft gray of dawn crept over her tangled bedsheets. By the time service starts, she’s almost herself. The shadows have all but retreated from her eyes.

But not quite.

Sometimes the shit in your head affects the shit at work. Sometimes you have to let people know when it hurts. So she finds herself tracking down the general manager, Pauline, and standing in her stained kitchen clogs in the middle of the immaculate dining room with its carefully shined silver and lush velvet banquettes. Pauline is frowning at her laptop screen as she clicks around an Excel spreadsheet, and Nora almost stops her fingers from touching the other woman’s shoulder - almost.

But not quite.

“Hey, Pauline, can I talk to you?”

LJ Idol Season 10
Buckle up, let's do this. More queer girls, magic, and Southern settings comin' your way!


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