Saturday, June 24, 2017

Writing Prompt: That's Like Hypnotizing Chickens


The rain fell in a steady stream, but Sofia didn't seem to care. The basket hung from the crook of her elbow as she stomp stomp stomped her way through the flooded back yard. Her red muck boots, which she always took extreme care to de-muck before taking them off in the mud-room, were polka-dotted with little spots of mud. A gust of wind shook the trees and it seemed, for just a moment, that it was raining harder than it actually was. She stopped, right in the middle of the yard, and turned her face up to the sky. The cool rain washed the hot tears from her eyes.

It had been two weeks since Dylan had left her and the farm. Of course, she didn't realize at the time that's what he was doing--leaving. He told her he was going into town to pick up some lumber. He was finally going to fix the hole barn's roof. She watched him attach his wallet chain to his belt loop and shove the old brown wallet into his back pocket. She had given him that wallet for their third wedding anniversary. Leather was the traditional gift for three years, and back then, they were both still trying to conform to the standards of marriage, though he never was good at keeping track of what he'd gotten her, so sometimes he'd repeat gifts.

"That wallet's near to bursting," she said. "I don't know how you can sit on that thing to drive. What do you keep in there anyway?"

"Noneya, woman!" Dylan winked a crinkly blue eye and smiled warmly at her. "I don't ask you what you carry around in that giant purse of yours, I'd appreciate the same courtesy about my wallet."

It was a familiar routine with them. He liked to think he was being clever, being coy, but she knew the truth well enough after all these years. He was a paper hoarder. He collected scraps of paper the way her grandmother's sister had collected stray cats. He kept grocery receipts from four years ago, bills, and credit card statements for credit cards they didn't even have anymore. If someone gave him a business card, he'd keep it in a stack with all the other cards. Eventually, he'd forget who gave him the card in the first place. One of his favorite things to keep was old lists. But not his lists. He kept lists that other people lost. Mostly grocery lists, abandoned in the bottom of the shopping cart. Eggs, cheese, shoe strings, apples, sponges, shampoo. Sofia used to ask him why he kept those random lists, but she'd long since given up trying to talk sense into him. Now, she was just glad that he was able to contain a huge portion of his paper collection to just his wallet. When the wallet got too full he'd pull out some of slips of paper and stash them in one of  his unlocked lock-boxes. He always kept them unlocked because he knew just as well as she did that there really wasn't anything worth keeping in there. Certainly not worth keeping secret anyway. Turned out, the man kept all his secrets in his heart and head, where she could never get to them.

Sofia wiped her face and continued on her way to the coop. How long had she stood there, face upturned to the weeping sky? Fifteen seconds? A minute? Three minutes? It was as if the drops falling on her face had hypnotized her for a spell. No matter. The eggs had to be collected, rain or no, and standing around like a damn fool, replaying the last time she'd seen her husband wasn't going to change the fact that he was gone.

The chickens squawked and beat their wings as she approached.

"Hey there, lovely ladies," She greeted in return. "What do you have for me today?"  She closed the gate behind her and gently pushed Jenny Blue out of the way with her foot. Jenny Blue was the only of the the chickens who seemed to like her. Anytime Sofia came into the coop, J.B. was at her heels. More like a puppy than a chicken.

"It's about time I start selling your eggs, chickies. I just don't eat enough of them to justify keeping them. And it'd be nice to have a few extra bucks now that..." Sofia lost the thread of her conversations. She was talking to chickens, as if they could actually understand her. As if they gave a damn whether she ate their eggs or sold them.

Dylan had a saying when he thought things were pointless or silly: It's like hypnotizing chickens, he'd say.

The chickens watched her gather their unformed young and put them into her basket.

"I know what you girls are thinking. My putting one foot in front of the other, gathering up your eggs, trying to keep the farm from collapsing down around me...it's like hypnotizing chickens, isn't it?" She took a deep breath and blew it out. "I suppose you're right, but what's the alternative? Give up and run away, like him? Someone's gotta tend to you, you know. So how 'bout a bit of gratitude, ladies."

The chickens blinked. They weren't hypnotized and they didn't care whether she was tending to them or not. But no matter. They eggs needed collecting, regardless.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Prompt: Your Heart Will Guide You True--Listen to It


We were leaving Santa Fe. It was a warm, spring day and we had spent the day at an art fair, then we had lunch at a little dive. I even remember what I ordered. Migas made with blue corn chips. I didn't like them.

For years, I'd been asking for a dog. My husband was a cat person, and I married into three cats. We had been married for ten years, and I was ready to finally get a dog. But, we were renters. And we already had three cats. We weren't super financially secure. There were a million reasons not to get a dog.

After lunch, we got back on the highway to head home. My husband and I had been sniping at each other a bit, and the mood in the CR-V was tense. Not hostile. Not angry. Just...tense. He drove past a beat up truck on the side of the service road with a handmade cardboard sign that said simply PUPPIES in large, scrawly, black letters. My heart soared, but I didn't ask if we could stop. Without looking at me, without saying a word, my my husband turned around.

We parked off to the side of the service road and approached the dirty man who was sitting in the beat-up truck. His plates were expired.

He was trying to get rid of two puppies--Bilbo and Frodo. They were fuzzy and sweet and the puppy breath almost made me die of happiness. One of the pups, I don't remember which, was black. I picked him up and my heart swelled. Then it soared. Then it broke in a million pieces. My heart spoke directly to this dog. His heart spoke to mine. It was like our souls recognized each other. I set him down and picked up his tan brother. He was cute, with a little black robber's mask, but my heart didn't react the same to him. So I passed him off to our seven year old son and picked up the black puppy again. Again, my heart swelled-soared-shattered-spoke.



This dog was mine. I was his. There was no way around it. He called to me, and my husband, from the side of the road in the middle of the desert between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. I couldn't leave him. I couldn't.

Because we had been at an art festival, we had a little cash. We got in the CR-V to discuss what to do.

"I need him. My soul recognizes him. Please, Stirling." My voice was on the verge of cracking.  He nodded and pulled out his wallet to see how much cash he had. I pulled out my remaining cash.

I called our landlord. "Please, please let us get this dog. He's a shepherd-lab mix, and he needs a home. Please." The landlord agreed.

Stirling and I pooled our cash. It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough by almost half. But there was no bank anywhere near. I knew if we drove away, we'd never come back for the dog of my heart. We approached the man with the two fluffy puppies.

"This is it. We don't have any more money. If you just can't do it, we understand, but this is all we have."

The man dropped his cigarette and stubbed it under his boot. "Which one do you want?"

Stirling looked at me, and without hesitation, I picked up the black one. I scratched the tan one and thanked him for letting his brother go. I thanked the man for negotiating with us.

I rode in the back seat, little Bilbo or Frodo in my lap, and my heart settled into a happy rhythm. By the time we got to the pet store in Albuquerque, the dog had a new name: Harvey. Harvey the Wonder Mutt...dog of my heart.


Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of his death, and my heart still calls for him. It always will. I miss Harvey every single day.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Writing Prompt Redux

A friend from DFW Writers Conference posted a cool prompt on Twitter, and I thought I'd take a stab at it. I was supposed to set a timer for 10 minutes and write, but I forgot to set the timer, my dog started freaking out at the garbage truck, I got a string of texts from a friend. You know, life stuff happened. That, and I got carried away by the story that unfolded in my head and I couldn't force myself to stop writing until I found the end. I probably spent 30 minutes on this prompt. It has not been edited. It's just pure, delicious, writing prompt word vomit. But it was fun!


I felt normal until...Boxes of rocks... Choices... Write for 10 minutes. Incorporate all of these things.



I woke up feeling like I always feel. Sluggish. Disappointed. Slightly confused. I also had to pee like a mother fucker. I have a small bladder, and I'm a deep sleeper, so normal for me is waking up with a dull ache deep in my body. I rolled out of bed and kegel-walked my way to the bathroom to relieve myself, not wasting time to turn on the light.

When I was done on the toilet, carefully made my way to the kitchen. Boxes of rocks littered the hallway, obstructing doorways. Some of the boxes were arranged in sloppy, sagging stacks, the cardboard straining under the weight of the contents. I've been telling Nate for months that if he didn't get the damned rocks out of here, I would. He promised me a hundred-thousand times he'd deal with them, but he never did. Neither did I. Instead, the stacks got higher, more precarious. The more boxes of rocks he lugged in, the less fight I had left in me. I loved him, after all, and if this odd collection of his soothed his soul, who was I to get so pissed off about it? It's not like he was a drunk or a cheat. He didn't gamble our money away. He didn't have mistresses secreted all over the city. He was just a broken man who had a strange hobby. I didn't understand it, but I reasoned it wasn't my place to understand. After what he'd been through, the only thing I could really do was support him through his journey, wherever that may lead. Still, though, it hurt like hell when I stubbed my toe against one of those boxes. Boxes of rocks aren't known for being well-cushioned.

I flicked on the kitchen light and shook my head at the mess on the counter. When he first started this rock collecting phase, it quickly became clear that it could take over our whole house if we didn't lay down some ground rules..."ground" rules...har har har. I insisted he keep his collections contained in some manner--build shelves, stored in giant tubs, whatever--as long as individual rocks weren't strewn about the house. My only other rule was to keep them out of our bedroom and the kitchen. Just because he randomly developed a rock fetish doesn't mean I have to sleep and cook with the damn things. Until that morning, he had always done a pretty good job about respecting my boundaries. The kitchen was a blissfully rock-free 99% of the time.

"Nate," I called as I filled the carafe with water. "Honey, please get these rocks out of here! I wanted to make breakfast, but I can't lift the box off the counter!"

I measured out the coffee beans and ground them into a fine powder before trying again.

"Honey! I need the counter! Get these damned rocks out of here."  The coffee pot sighed and sputtered the irritation I tried to swallow down.

"You know what? That's fine. I'll take care of it myself! I wouldn't want to disturb you." I winced at my own passive-aggression. I swear, I'm not a bitch. It's just that living in a house of crumbled and dusty stone was starting to get to me. The coffee maker spat out the last of its brown juice, and I filled two mugs.

"I'm sorry, Nate. That was a total bitch comment." I side stepped the boxes between the kitchen and dining room and set my coffee on the table. I wrapped both hands around Nate's mug. Something was wrong. Nate wasn't into ignoring people. Even if he had his earbuds in, he always kept the volume low enough to hear me if I called for him.

The living room light was on. The curtains were flung open...odd. Since he started his collection, he preferred to keep the curtains drawn. It was as if he understood that his behavior and our current living conditions were far outside the range of normal, and he was afraid of being judged by outsiders.

There was usually a wobbly stack of boxes behind the couch. I don't know what he was thinking, stacking them so high. I'd told him over and over that it was dangerous. They could topple over and crush us while we watched The Office. Maybe he finally got around to moving them to a safer place.

I came around the couch and screamed. Nate's coffee mug fell from my hands, hit a neatly stacked pyramid of rocks, and shattered. Nate was on the floor, his feet toward the pyramid. The pile of boxes that had always threatened to smash our heads in while we watched mindless television had finally come down. But not by themselves. Nate did it. He had positioned his head at the base of the boxes and pulled them over onto himself.

Why? Why did he make a fucking pyramid in our living room? Why did he sacrifice himself at the base of it, to the gods of his inner demons?  I was the one person who loved him most in the world, and he chose not to trust me. Not to confide in me. To tell me what was really going on with him. He chose to leave me here, in a rock-hoarder's hell hole, knowing perfectly well I couldn't lift those fucking boxes.

As I screamed my grief and rage at the crushed body of my husband, it dawned on me that I was a widow.

I'd never wake up feeling normal again.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Toothy Writing

What you fear, if you turn toward it, will give your writing teeth--Natalie Goldberg

This is one of my favorite writing quotes. I love it so much, it's on my business cards. It comes to me when my inner gremlin tells me I suck, or that I'm a huge fake. It comforts me when I feel like my fingers can't type the words my brain needs to say. That quote reminds me that as long as I'm willing to tell the stories I need to tell, I have power. It runs through my mind when I press my right hand into my only tattoo for strength and comfort. What you fear, if you turn toward it, will give your writing teeth. It's become my mantra and it pulls me through the scary times.


I'm writing something that scares the hell out of me right now. Okay, I'm actually writing two things that scare the hell out of me right now, but this one thing--it's really scary, yet I'm completely in love with it. There are times I want to stop working on it because I'm not exactly convinced I'm the right person to tell this story. Who am I to be able to do it justice? Hell, since I'm a pantser, I don't even know what's going to happen one page to the next. Surely, this story is meant for another storyteller, not me.

About a year ago, my family and I took a trip to Universal Studios Orlando. At the time, this story hadn't revealed itself to me. It wasn't even a blip on my story radar. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter knocked our socks off, but the highlight of the trip was Ollivander's. For those who may not know, Ollivander's is the wand shop in Harry Potter. It's not just an ordinary wand shop. No, in this wand shop, the wand chooses the wizard. Well, that's not just book magic, my friends. Against the odds, the wand actually chose my son! We knew someone would get chosen, but since my kid was thirteen, and there were younger kids there, we thought for sure one of the littles would get lucky. When Ollivander looked right at my kid and called him up to the counter, he looked at me and his dad, shocked that he'd been picked. He pointed to his chest and whispered "Me?" Ollivander assured him he was the chosen one and it was time for him to come up and fulfill his destiny by opening himself up to just the right wand.


I feel like my son did that day: Shocked. Surprised. Incredulous. Flattered. Nervous. Excited. But add scared shitless to my list. I didn't pick this story any more than my son picked that wand. The story picked me. Me, with all my baggage. Me with my worries and fears. Out of everyone in the entire world, this story picked me. I'm the only one who can write this one, so I have no right to turn away from it, even though it scares me.

What you fear, if you turn toward it, will give your writing teeth.

I sure as hell hope so. I hope I have the strength and the courage to tell this story without flinching, dumbing it down, or turning away. I hope I have the strength to tell this story with the grace and tenderness it deserves. Above all, I hope that because I refuse to turn from it, it will sink its sharp teeth into your soul.

How do you handle writing the things that scare you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Post Where I Talk About My First Writers Conference

It always seemed to me that if I really wanted to call myself a writer, I needed to do more than just write, I needed to go to a conference. But since I've never been published and my blog is just barely crawling along with lurches and gasps, going to a writers conference seemed a bit too...ambitious. Like everyone would be able to smell the Eau de Impostor that wafts around me like too much Axe Body Spray.

I really did go! I have the picture to prove it!

I came at DFW Writers Conference sideways. First, I stalked the website and Facebook page, wondering if I could hang. Wondering if it would really be worth it. Then, I put it out of my head entirely--for about two hours. It turned out, I couldn't focus on anything but the conference. There was a wobbly pit in my stomach, and a voice in the back of my head urged me to talk to my husband about finding the money to make attending a reality. So we talked. And talked. And talked some more, and we decided that we could make it happen for one day. I was over-the-moon that we could manage even that much, so I studied the schedule harder than I've studied for anything since college. After a lot of deliberation, I picked Saturday because I really wanted to hear Jane Friedman speak. I joined DFWCon's closed Facebook group and proceeded to ask roughly eleventy-trillion questions about everything from what to wear to how to avoid vomiting in the ferns. Pro-tip: Just don't barf in the ferns. That's what toilets are for.

Everyone in the group was so nice, and no matter how silly my question was, it was always answered with reassurance and kindness. Not once did I feel like an idiot for asking something. In a group with over 400 members, that speaks volumes! Two weeks later, I purchased the second day. It wasn't an easy thing for me to do. We got bills to pay, we got mouths to feed. But my sweet husband told me to see it as an investment in myself and my writing, and really, how do you say no to that? Pro tip: You don't.
 
Through the Facebook group, I met a woman who lives in my town, and I offered to carpool with her. Then she offered me the second bed in her room. I had been planning to come home each night, but staying onsite and getting to soak up the writer-magic for a whole weekend was just too spectacular to pass up. Of course I said yes!

Roommates! 
My roommate and I arrived on Friday evening. We checked in and met up in the lobby with some other early attendees for chatting and game playing. After dinner, we wandered around and found ourselves on the third floor, where the conference would be. We just wanted to get the lay of the land, but we were invited to sit and chat with a couple of the volunteers who were taking a break from setting up. As we were chatting, we met an agent, fresh in from out of town.

In the group, we were told that it would be cool to pitch agents anytime, anywhere, except while they were eating, going to the bathroom, or on their way to a class or something. But my new soul-sister and I didn't pitch this agent. Instead, we chatted with her. She talked about her life and her favorite foods...just, you know, chit-chat. And it was fabulous!

As a writer, I tend to forget that agents are just people. I spend so much time researching them, trying to find out what they love and hate, trying to craft the perfect query so I can land an agent and live the dream, that I sort of start to see them as these out-of-this-world beings who pull the strings of my fate. Logically, I know that's simply not true, but it's easy to lose a healthy perspective when you're in the query trenches.  Over the course of the weekend, this agent and I had a number of conversations, and I never pitched her. I probably could have, but I was enjoying the conversations and didn't want to ruin them with a pitch. That first conversation with that first agent was also my first, and possibly most valuable lesson of the weekend: People are people. Writers, agents, editors...we're all people. We all either love or hate guacamole, and if you remember that, you'll be just fine.

Drinks with an Agent.

I could tell you about all the classes and and workshops I took, but I'm not going to. Not because they weren't valuable. They were. But more than that, they were just non-stop. It'd take me a week to write it all down, and I'm not sure it'd be a compelling read. What I can say is that DFWCon was about so much more than classes, pitch sessions, and agent receptions. Yes, those things are wonderful and valuable, but that stuff is all just surface level. What DFWCon is really about is relationships. It's about finding your community--finding your people. When you put 400 writers together for a weekend, the conversations are intense and the connections are often instant. I learned that even writers who seem to have their shit together feel anxiety. Even writers who flit from conversation to conversation still need to take a bathroom break just to have a moment of quiet to gather themselves. I learned that as weird as any of us may feel out in the real world, when we come together as a group, we all fit in. I signed up for the conference by myself, but I left with four hundred new friends. There just aren't words to describe how empowering and completely awesome that is.

Fun Hair = Instant Friends!

In the end, it didn't feel like I was going to a writers conference. It felt like going home. To everyone I talked to, everyone who smiled at me, everyone who laughed when I laughed, and everyone who lifted me up when my self-doubt tried to hold me down: Thank you. You made my first writers conference an experience I will never forget.

And to all the volunteers who put this gig together: We're not worthy! We're not worthy! We're not worthy! You were the true rock stars of the weekend. Thank you for everything!

Thank you, DFWCon Volunteers! This one's for you!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing Prompt Monday: The Rainbow

Write a story less than 500 words involving a rainbow and a bell.

I sat at the edge of the pond, scraped and bruised knees drawn to my chest. All around me, the birds chittered, as if daring me to dive into the cool, clear water. Not that I needed to be dared; I always felt more at peace in the water than I ever did on land. It was easier to pretend in the water. When I was underwater, my bruises were invisible and my muscles didn’t hurt. But as much as I longed to swim, I knew I couldn’t take the risk. Mother ordered me to stay dry, and punishment for disobeying was always swift and harsh. Anyway, I was lucky to even be allowed to come out by myself, no way would I press my luck by swimming. I laced my hands behind my head and laid back in the soft grass. Even though it hadn’t rained in a couple of days, there was a vibrant rainbow overhead.


I closed my eyes and imagined sliding down the colorful arch, hair flying behind me like a mane on a wild horse. Of course I knew it was impossible to slide down a rainbow, but the thing about imagining is it doesn’t have to make sense. In my mind, I slid faster and faster until I flew off the edge of the rainbow and into the middle of the impossibly deep pond. I swam until my lungs burned, before finally breaking the surface of the water with a gasp. I floated on my back letting the rainbow bathe me in soft warm light. The colors healed both my broken skin and my soul.

The bell’s measured ringing pulled me from my daydream. I didn’t want to leave the rainbow and the pond, but when Mother rang the bell, I had just a few minutes to get home, no  matter how far away I was. Without hesitation, I turned from the water and light and raced home through the dark forest.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Writing Prompt Monday: No Matter How Hard I Try

The writing prompt: You are a teenager trying to rebel, but no matter what you do, your parents aren't getting upset.

I took a deep breath before turning the knob and pushing through the front door. There was going to be hell to pay, no doubt about it. But I really didn’t care. In fact, I welcomed it. I was as excited for the backlash as a starving man for a cheeseburger.
It’s not so much that I was looking forward to getting yelled at or punished, I was just eager for some sort of reaction. My whole childhood had been spent trying to get their attention by doing good things, positive things, and my efforts had always been met with disappointment or criticism. Nothing I did was ever right. No matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t trying hard enough. No matter how good I was, I wasn’t good enough. So screw it. I knew it was immature and totally predictable from a psychology standpoint, but I didn’t care. If they were going to treat me like a rotten kid, I might as well just be a rotten kid. Maybe then they’d wake up from their dream world and see that I’m actually a really good person.
Mother was in the kitchen, literally pulling a tray of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. Put her in a poofy dress and a pair of heels, and she’d be a regular June Cleaver. Mrs. Mary Housewife, that was my mother. She was so perfect, it was borderline insane. People weren’t really supposed to be like her. Never a hair out of place or a smudge of lipstick on her teeth. Always gorgeous. Always smiling. Always pushing me to do and be better. God, I resented her.
“Hey, Susan!” Mother’s name sounded foreign in my mouth.
Mother set the cookies down on the cooling rack and turned to look at me, Barbie smile glued to her face. “Hello, dear. How was your sleepover?”
She didn’t even glance twice at my hair. What was going on?
“It was good. Leslie and I had a great time doing each other’s hair.” Maybe baiting her was immature, but how could she ignore the fact that my once long, strawberry blonde hair was now short and Smurf blue?
“I see. Well, perhaps Leslie can come over here next time. Maybe she can help you study for your biology final.” She put another tray of cookies into the oven busied herself removing the finished cookies from the pan. “Would you like a cookie, honey? They’re still hot and gooey.”
“I’m not hungry,” I mumbled as I left the kitchen and went to my room.
The next day at school, Leslie and I stood at our shared locker. Kids shouted and shoved each other around us and locker doors slammed shut in the symphony of high school.
“Hey, Regina, nice hair!” Greg was the hottest guy at school, and though his locker was just three down from ours, he’d never said a word to me.
“Thanks.” I felt heat rising to up my neck to my cheeks, and I brought my hand up to my head. I really did love it, even if it was totally different. Leslie smiled like a dope and busied herself pretending to look for something in the locker.
“Why the sudden change?” Greg slammed his locker and sauntered toward ours. He reached out his hand and stopped just short of touching my hair. Electric currents ran from his fingertips to my head. When he pulled his hand away, disappointment gnawed at my heart.
Be cool, Geena, be cool! I cautioned myself. But how the hell was I supposed to be cool when Greg Owens was talking to me?
“I just got tired of my usual look, thought it was time for a change.” I pulled books out of my locker and hugged them to my chest. “I also thought it’d tick my parents off, but it didn’t.”
“You’re kidding, right? Regina Cabot, honor student, yearbook editor, and student council president actually wanted to piss off her parents? How’d that work out for you.”
Shame swirled in my belly like an angry serpent. He listed my accomplishments as a matter of fact, but to hear them out loud like that made me realize how much energy I had always put into pleasing my parents instead of living my own life and finding my own path.
“I thought they’d flip their lid, but neither one of them mentioned it all weekend. Not one single word. Even when I left blue stains on the shower floor.” Oh, God! Did I really just talk about taking a shower in front of the most gorgeous guy in the world?
“Why were you trying to upset them?”  He leaned on the locker next to mine and bent in toward me a little, as if he had been my best friend for years instead of a hot guy who completely ignored me. Is there a word for feeling flattered and uncomfortable at the same time? Unflattable maybe?
“It’s dumb,” I hesitated, but he waited patiently. “Nothing I ever do is good enough for them, and I’m just sick of it. It’s like they see me as some major screw-up, and if that’s what they think, then I might as well show them what that looks like. I mean, I’ll get in trouble either way, so what do I have to lose?” The words rushed out like a flood before I could moderate or weigh them.
“Maybe I can help. If you go out with me, you’re sure to piss them off.” A crooked smile raised one corner of his lips and his green eyes danced with mischief. It was true. Going out with Greg would definitely drive them up the wall. Greg with the attitude. Greg with the leather jacket and motorcycle. Greg with the 80’s rocker hair that was so retro but absolutely perfect on him.
“Yeah,” I tried to sound casual, “I think that might help.” The bell rang but neither of us moved.
“We’re going to be late, Geen.” Leslie slammed our locker.
“I’ll catch up,” I said without looking at her. She sighed and sprinted down the hall, leaving me and Greg almost alone in the nearly deserted hallway.
“So, I’ll pick you up at seven?” His hand came back up, and this time he ran his fingers through my short hair. I tried not to shiver when his finger brushed against my ear.
“Yeah. Seven is great.” The bell rang. For the first time in my life, I was late for class, and I didn’t care.
At ten after seven, Greg rumbled his motorcycle up my driveway. I had spent the last thirty minutes watching for him from my bedroom window. I hadn’t told Mother or Daddy that I was going out. I wasn’t allowed to date because they thought boys would distract me from my studies. If I had said I was going out with Greg, I’m sure I would have been met with the expected lecture about rules and responsibility, but the expected lecture was not what I was after. No, I wanted full-on World War III.
My reflection smiled at me. I looked fabulous! Since I knew I’d be riding on the back of Greg’s motorcycle, I decided against a skirt and went with a pair of black skinny jeans and a fitted hot pink tank top. The pink shirt contrasted sharply with my Smurf hair and the whole outfit made me feel powerful. My parents would hate it.
I ran down the hallway and past the living room where my parents sat reading the paper. No joke, my parents still subscribed to and actually read the town newspaper like it was 1965 or something.
“I’ll be back later!” I shouted as I neared the front door.
“Just a minute, young lady.” Daddy’s voice was stern. “Come in here.”
I rolled my eyes and went to the living room, ready for a fight.
“Where are you going?” Mother didn’t even bother to look up from her paper.
“Out.”  I looked Daddy in the eyes and searched for some reaction, but there was nothing.
“With whom,” he asked.
“Greg. He’s outside waiting for me, can I please go now?”
He pressed his lips into a thin, white line and I braced myself for the incoming nuclear attack. Outside, Greg revved his engine and honked his horn. Oh, that was sure to get my parents. Anytime we watched a movie with a guy picking up a girl by just honking the horn, I was always lectured about how they would never allow such a disrespectful punk to take me out.
“It’s a school night, you know,” said Daddy.
“I know.” I put a hand on my hip and sighed deeply
“Okay then. Have fun.”
“You’re going to let me go?” As excited as I was about the idea of riding off into the sunset on the back of Greg’s bike, I never expected to actually get to go. I thought for sure this would freak them out enough to lock me in my room until I was twenty.
Mother turned the page of the newspaper and remained quiet.
“You look lovely. Have fun.” Daddy picked up his newspaper and continued reading.
“Okay. Good night, then. I don’t know when I’ll be back.” It was a last ditch effort to rile them up.
“Then you better take your key with you.” Mother laid the newspaper in her lap and smiled at me in a way I hadn’t seen in about a million years. “Your dad’s right. You look lovely, dear. Now, don’t keep your young biker friend waiting.”
Without another word, I turned and left the house. Tears burned my eyes and I blinked them back. What was I upset about anyway? Wasn’t this exactly what I had always wanted? Mousey Regina Cabot was going out, on a school night, with the most gorgeous guy in school. And my parents didn’t even give me a curfew. It was more than amazing. It was a miracle. And it was scary as hell. Did they not love me anymore? Had I done something to disappoint them so much that they decided the best thing they could do was write me off? I hated them for trying to ruin my night like this.
“Wow! You look amazing, Regina!” Greg held a helmet out to me. I considered turning it down, but I wasn’t stupid. I slipped it over my head and climbed on to the back of his bike. The vibrations rumbled up my belly and into my head.
Greg backed down the driveway and as we roared past my house, I took a final look to see if my parents were peeking from a window or the front door. They weren’t.
I held onto Greg’s waist more tightly than I needed to and rested my head against his back. I don’t know why my parents suddenly stopped caring about what I did or how I did it, but maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. I was in charge of my own life. I could make my own decisions. And maybe, if I didn’t have to worry about getting yelled at for a bunch of stupid crap, I would have more energy to do the things I really enjoyed.
Greg pulled into a parking spot and helped me off the bike. I took off my helmet and handed it to him so I could try and fluff up my plastered down hair.
“Don’t worry about it. You look great.” He tilted my chin up and kissed me lightly on the lips. My first kiss.
My heart raced so hard I thought for sure it would break my ribcage.
“You hungry?”
“Yeah.” My reply came out a breathless whisper.
“This place has the best burgers. Let’s eat and figure out what to do with the rest of the night.” Greg pulled me to his side and wrapped his arm around my waist as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to skip the burger, get back on his bike and leave everything behind. I wanted to see the world with him. I wanted to kiss under the stars. I wanted to be wild and reckless. But that’s not what I was going to do.
“I have a Lit. test tomorrow, and I really need to review. Could you take me home after this?” We were settled into a booth in the cafe.
“You serious? I thought you wanted to freak your parents out.”
“I do. Or I did. I don’t know anymore. But yeah, I’m serious. I want to make sure I do well on my test for me, not for them. So, even though it makes me sound like a hopeless nerd, I do want to go home after we eat.”
He smiled and took my hand from across the table. “If that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do. But maybe we can eat slowly?”
“My parents always complain that I’m a terribly slow eater,” I replied.
“I figured this was too good to be true, anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you serious,” he asked. “Regina, you have to know you’re like the most beautiful girl in school. I’ve been wanting to find a way to talk to you since I moved here, but I figured you wouldn’t give me the time of day. I didn’t even think you knew my name.”
“Wait, what?” I bit my lower lip and stared at him, trying to find a crack in his lie. Only, he didn’t seem to be lying. He was sweet and nervous and sincere. “You didn’t think I’d go out with you? Why in the world not?”
“Because you’re so...you. So smart and busy and, well, sort of perfect. And look at me. You have to admit, I’m not the preppy kind of guy I figured you’d go for. But when you changed your hair, I realized that maybe there’s a side to you that I didn’t know before.”
“This is so weird.” I took a long drink of water and tried to think of the best way to say what I was thinking.
“What is? Me?”
“No. This whole situation. I’ve been crushing on you like a fan-girl for months now! But you never so much as looked at me and I figured you were just way out of my league.” I blushed. “I can’t believe I just told you that.”
“Scoot over.” He came around the table and slid into the booth next to me.
“This is a weirdly poetic situation, isn’t it? We could have been coming here, together, for months if either one of us had just gotten past our fear and said something to the other.” His arm was heavy and comforting around my shoulder. Heat radiated off his neck.
“It’s weird alright. But good.”
“So, even though your parents aren’t mad about you seeing me, you want to go out again?”
I looked into his green eyes and my heart soared. “Yes. Definitely.” This time, I lifted my face to his and kissed him. My second kiss.
Our food came and we ate slowly, nibbling and laughing our way through the night, until we both agreed it was time to go.
“You’re gonna rock your Lit test tomorrow,” Greg said, helping me off the bike. “Let me know how it goes.”
“Thank you for understanding.” I hugged him tightly.
“Nothing to understand. You have to do what you have to do. I’d be a jerk not to support you.” He hugged me tighter and I felt safe and warm encircled in his arms. I didn’t want him to let go. But eventually, I had to.
“I had fun. Thank you for dinner.”
“See you in the morning!” He swung his leg over the seat and the engine rumbled to life. “I’m not leaving until I see you’re safely in the house. I’m a gentleman like that.”
In the house, I leaned against the door and listened to him ride away until I couldn’t hear him anymore. The television was on in the living room. My mother was lying with her head in my father’s lap as they watched some crime drama.
“Did you have fun?” Mother asked.
“Yeah. A lot.” My lips still tingled from our parting kiss.
“You’re home earlier than I thought.”
“I have a test in the morning I need to study for.”
“Well, goodnight, dear.”
“Night.”
I never figured out what made my parents let go of the reins so suddenly, but I’m glad they did. I aced that Lit test, by the way, along with all the rest of my finals. And the best part is, I did it for myself, not to try and please them. Greg and I have been going strong for nearly a year now, and sometimes he still looks at me like he can’t believe I picked him. I know exactly how he feels.