Tag Archive: Short Story

The Grand Beginning – NaNoWriMo Excerpt Day #13

This is another excerpt from a short story instead of The Shadow Raven.

*******************

Fiona’s eyes flashed open. The room around her was still, but it only took her a moment to identify what sound had woken her. The front door had opened. Why was someone coming into the house at… She glanced at the clock by her bed. Why was someone coming into the house at three in the morning? She debated for a moment over whether it would be better to stay in bed or go investigate, and finally she got out of bed and put on socks and tennis shoes. It would be good to be ready to run if the need arose.

She heard footsteps on the stairs and looked at her closed bedroom door. Best to pack some things, too. Her parents had told her someone might come after her. She grabbed her backpack from the closet and stuffed some clothes into it, followed by her purse and a box of granola bars from her desk. The footsteps came toward her door and she glanced at it. The knob began to slowly turn and she slung the backpack onto her back. Time to go.

To Feel the Water – NaNoWriMo Excerpt Day #12

Today’s excerpt isn’t from The Shadow Raven, but from a short story I’m writing for my little sister for Christmas.

*******

“I made my choice. There’s no changing it.” Cordelia looked out the window over the sink, looking out at the beach outside. Waves crashed on the sand, and she was reminded of what she’d left behind. A tail. The ability to breathe underwater. A few good friends. A glittering underwater city. She brushed a piece of dark hair out of her face. “I’m going to go swimming.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I won’t try to go back. I promise. I just want to feel the water.”

James nodded, but there was a hint of concern on his face. “Be careful.”

“I will.”

One Shot – Short Story Sunday

This one is a spy story, something I’ve not written before. It was pretty fun to write, though I think spy stories aren’t really my strong suit (maybe I’d be better on a longer piece?) and I probably won’t write many more. I hope you enjoy it. :)

 

*******

Isaac glanced through the cafe window to make sure that she was there today. Yup. There in the corner, the same place she always was. Her electric blue eyes gave her away instantly, along with her vibrant purple hair. He wondered why she’d made herself so noticeable.

He headed inside, trying to look casually interested, and set a hand gently on the chair across from her. “Is this seat taken?”

She looked up, a lock of bright purple hair falling over her eye. She brushed it away. “No.”

He took a seat. “I’m Isaac.”

“Atrea.” She looked at him, obviously intrigued.

“Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” Her jacket sleeve had slid up to reveal a barcode tattoo on the inside of her left wrist. The numbers underneath read “G-037.”

“Interesting tattoo.” He pointed.

Atrea slid her sleeve back down and moved her arm to her lap. “Thanks.”

“You seem really interesting.” Well this conversation was going much slower than Isaac had intended. He had to get her talking. He had to make her feel comfortable.

Atrea shrugged. “I suppose. I’m really just like anyone else.”

Isaac decided against mentioning her eyes. That would have just spooked her further. “Do you like music?”

“Yeah. Do you?”

Isaac nodded. “I love it. I’m going to a concert tonight at the park, actually. Mya & Alex are performing.”

“I love them.” Atrea grinned. “Do you have a favorite song?”

“What could be better than Charming?”

“Agreed.” Atrea’s grin widened.

“I actually have an extra ticket. Would you like to come?”

“Of course you have an extra.” She smirked. “I’ll think about it.”

Isaac pulled out a card and handed it to her. “Here’s my number, so you can call me when you decide. I hope to see you there.” He winked and got up.

“Thank you.” Her vivid eyes twinkled.

Isaac glanced up at the counter. There was Giselle, his coworker, her black hair up in its usual ponytail. He didn’t trust her much. Her black-green eyes met his gaze and she gave him a short wave before turning back to her work. He turned back to Atrea and gave her a farewell smile before heading home.

********

Isaac was unsurprised to get Atrea’s call that afternoon, and that evening he met her at the park gate, about to enter.

“Well fancy seeing you here,” he said with a wink.

“Yes,” she replied, equally facetious. “I didn’t expect to see you ever again.”

Isaac grinned, handing the two tickets to the guard.

“Enjoy the concert.”

Isaac and Atrea stepped through, and Isaac found them seats on the fifth row. As the concert progressed, Isaac looked around and spotted Giselle a couple rows in front of him. His brow furrowed. Giselle didn’t strike him as someone who would enjoy a Mya & Alex concert. And indeed, she looked quite bored with the whole thing. She constantly shifted, as if wishing she could leave.

Isaac turned his attention back to the concert, keeping Giselle’s presence in the back of his mind.

When the concert ended, Atrea and Isaac headed over to a park bench and talked. Isaac caught sight of Giselle out of the corner of his eye, over Atrea’s shoulder, and noticed a tattoo on her neck. It was a series of numbers, and though he couldn’t read it he knew exactly what it meant. How had he never noticed it before? Giselle matched his gaze and gave a bit of a smile before looking again at whatever it was she was studying.

Isaac looked at Atrea. “Do you need a ride home?”

He could tell from Atrea’s eyes that she was masking alarm at his abrupt change of topic. “So eager to cut things off?” She gave a smile, but it faltered slightly.

“Trust me.” He took her hand and headed toward the park gate. She hurried to catch up. He grabbed a set of keys from his pocket and clicked the unlock button. His car lights blinked across the parking lot, and he hurried over, opening the passenger door for her.

“What about my car?” Atrea asked, getting in.

“One of us can come back for it later. We need to get out of here.” He closed the door, looking over the car to see Giselle coming toward them. He tried to look casual as he rounded the car and got in, turning the key in the ignition. “Where are we going?” He backed out of the parking space.

“I don’t think it’s particularly safe to go to my house, if you’re right in your worry. Drop me off at the fire station.”

“The fire station?”

“They’ll take care of any one who comes after me, and thus whoever’s after us probably won’t come to get me.”

Isaac nodded, getting on the road toward the station.

Pulling into the station parking lot, Isaac’s stomach flipped at the thought of leaving Atrea alone. He was supposed to bring her in, and if he lost her to Grantech… “Are you sure you’ll be all right here?”

Atrea nodded. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.” She gave him a reassuring smile before heading into the station.

Isaac hesitated a long moment before heading home, still worrying that Giselle would catch her.

********

How had he missed Giselle’s tattoo? Isaac hung his keys on their hook, closing his apartment door behind him. It had been clear as day at the concert, and she always wore her hair in a ponytail, so her hair wouldn’t have covered it. She must have used makeup or something, and forgotten at the concert. Or was it deliberate? Had she wanted Isaac to know who she was? Surely not.

Isaac took a seat in his living room chair and stared at a spot on the wall, not really seeing it. He can’t lose Atrea. Losing Atrea means losing his job, and losing his job means… He swallowed hard. He wouldn’t lose Atrea.

He headed into his room, slamming the door shut.

********

Isaac woke to the sound of his phone ringing and rubbed his eyes as he answered. “Hello?”

“Hello, Isaac.” He recognized Atrea’s voice on the end of the line. “I didn’t wake you did I?”

“You did, actually. Hi, Atrea. What’s up?”

“I just wanted to see if you wanted to meet for coffee this afternoon. At my place?”

The fact that she didn’t choose Giretti’s – the cafe he and Giselle worked at – didn’t get past him. “Sure. What time?”

“Two? Meet me at the fire station and we can walk from there.”

“Did you get your car last night?”

“I got it this morning.”

“Glad it was still there.” Isaac smiled a bit, attempting a joke.

Atrea chuckled. “I don’t think anyone would be real interested in stealing a rusty old pickup truck. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Sure thing.”

The connection clicked off and Isaac rolled over to go back to sleep.

********

Isaac waited fifteen minutes at the fire station before Atrea finally showed up. Instead of being annoyed, he was impressed with her ingenuity. If someone had been tracking the call, they’d expect her at the station at two, not two fifteen.

“Hello,” she said with a grin. “Sorry I’m late.”

“That’s fine. I understand.”

Her eyes twinkled. “Let’s get going, shall we?” She linked her arm in his, startling him a bit, and they started down the sidewalk.

“Nice delay,” Isaac whispered.

“Aw, thank you.” She smiled and rested her head against his shoulder. He played along with her masquerade, impressed that in her short time free she’d learned to go undercover so effectively.

They got to her house, a small cottage with a door to match her hair, and she let them in. “How do you like your coffee?” she asked, flicking on a couple of lights in the living room and heading into the kitchen.

“Black, with two creams and a sugar.”

“Ugh. How do you drink that? I can’t stand the bitterness. I have to get something like a mocha.”

Isaac shrugged. “I’m not a huge fan of sweet drinks.”

“You’re crazy, but okay.”

After a minute she headed back into the living room and, seeing him still standing, gestured toward the couch. “Have a seat! Goodness. Did you think you had to wait to be invited to sit? I don’t care about etiquette nearly enough for that.”

Isaac chuckled and took a seat on the brown leather couch. “Thank you.”

“Sure.” She took a seat next to him, and Isaac noticed her wrist tattoo again.

“So, where did you get that tattoo?”

“Determined, aren’t you?” She smirked. Abruptly the smirk faded and she swatted at the air. “Dumb bugs…”

Isaac looked around. There weren’t any bugs. Unless she was acting again. “What do you think of tech?” he asked.

“Nasty stuff.” A gleam in her eye told him he’d guessed correctly. She wasn’t talking about insects, but the fact that her house was bugged. He should have known.

“I agree.”

“Like your coffee.” Atrea grinned and Isaac rolled his eyes.

The timer went off in the kitchen and Atrea went to retrieve their drinks, handing Isaac his and taking a sip of her own.

Isaac stopped just before his mug touched his lips. He raised it toward her. “Want a sip?”

Atrea laughed. “No thank you, sir.”

Isaac took a sip of his coffee, grinning. “Well I think it’s delicious.”

“Good for you.” After another few sips, Atrea spoke again. “So, what’s your story? You don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d choose to work in a cafe.”

“No, not really.” Isaac took another sip. “I was a football player in college-”

Atrea cut him off. “And you were injured, lost your scholarship, and disowned.”

Isaac chuckled. “Is it that cliche?”

Atrea nodded. “Yup.” She eyed him over her mug, lowering it after her sip. “Is that really your story?”

Isaac nodded, though it was mostly a lie. He’d been a football player in college, but then chosen to join the CIA in college and left his football career dreams behind.

She arched an eyebrow, but didn’t push further.

After a long conversation in which both of them pointedly avoided the subject of their pasts, Atrea looked up at the digital clock above the mantle. She looked back at Isaac. “I’m sorry to kick you out, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, but I have dinner plans with my sister this evening. I’ll see you later?”

Isaac nodded. “Sure. Something tells me I won’t be seeing you at Giretti’s.”

Atrea’s only answer was a mysterious smile. “I’ll see you later, Isaac.”

Isaac rose and left, walking back to retrieve his car from the fire station and heading home.

******

Several days passed and Isaac didn’t hear from Atrea. All of his calls went to voicemail, and he was more than a little worried that Giselle had captured her when he woke up in the middle of the night to his phone ringing. The clock by his bed read two o’clock. He grabbed his phone and put it up to his ear.

“You have quite the penchant for waking me up to talk.” He smiled as he said it, but it was just to mask his racing heart. Was she all right?

“I need you to come over.” Her voice was calm, but even over the phone he could sense the underlying panic. “I know who you are. Your interest in my tattoo and lame backstory gave it away. You’re going to need to work on that.” She followed up the comment with a nervous laugh that cut off short. “They’re almost here. Hurry.” The connection clicked dead. Looking at his phone, he saw the screen was black, the battery empty.

Isaac threw off the covers and dressed as quickly as he could. Before five minutes had passed he was on the road to her house with enough cash in his pocket to get them both out of the country.

When he arrived, all of the lights were off and he wasn’t sure if he could be glad or very worried. He tried to walk calmly up the stairs and knocked on the door. Atrea wore a smile when she opened the door, but her eyes revealed her terror.

“Thanks for coming.” As Isaac stepped in, he noticed that Atrea was still wearing everyday clothes, a white tank top and skinny jeans under a purple cardigan. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Sure.”

“Good. It’s already on.” She gave him a short-lived smile before her gaze flicked to the three locks on the door. “Don’t let them take me back.” Her voice was barely a whisper, and Isaac wasn’t even sure if he was meant to hear or not.

“I won’t.”

Her electric blue eyes met his, and she didn’t even attempt to mask her fear this time. “You won’t take me, will you?”

“No.” He rubbed her shoulders. “No.” Though when he’d been given the assignment he would have given anything to take her back to the CIA, now, after getting to know her and with her fear right in front of him, he knew that he meant it. He couldn’t take her in. “What did they do to you?”

He knew that she’d been given superpowers, but with so much genuine fear shining out of those almost luminescent eyes, he wondered how they’d done it.

She looked at the door again and shook her head. “You don’t want to know.”

Light shone out on the street. Headlights. Atrea took a step toward Isaac, grabbing his arm in a death grip. “Protect me.”

“I will.” He looked around. “Do you have a scarf you can use to cover your hair?”

Atrea nodded and reluctantly released his arm, heading through the house. When she returned, it was with a black scarf over her hair and a matching leather jacket over her tanktop and cardigan. “Where?”

“Somewhere without spiders.”

Atrea nodded, understanding. She took hold of his arm again. “This way.”

The two of them slipped out the back door, careful not to let it make too much noise opening and closing. Isaac took the lead, heading toward the nearby train station. There was no noise from the house as they drew farther and farther away from it, something that terrified him worse than if he’d heard doors and windows crashing in.

It took them ten tense minutes to reach the train station, and Isaac wished it weren’t so late so that there’d be more people to fade among.

He placed a hand on hers. “You might want to loosen your grip.”

Atrea did so, shifting so that her arm was looped through his instead of gripping it. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“I just don’t want to go back there…” She shuddered, and he drew her closer.

“It’s okay. They’re not going to get you.”

She looked up at him. “And what if they do?”

Isaac didn’t answer, just led her toward a bench. As they sat down, Isaac spotted Giselle enter, flanked by at least a dozen Grantech goons. Atrea flinched beside him.

“Find them.” Isaac couldn’t hear Giselle’s words, but it was easy enough to read her lips.

“We have to go,” Atrea whispered. “They’ll find us here.”

Isaac nodded and tried to appear casual as he and Atrea rose from the bench, heading toward the back entrance of the station. “There’s a warehouse not far from here. Abandoned.”

“How original.” Atrea gave a quick smile. “But if it’ll make us harder to find, I’m all for it.”

A shout sounded from behind them just as they pushed through the door of the station, and they broke into a run for the warehouse. Isaac busted the door in when it didn’t open. It was less than subtle, but he knew they didn’t have time to wait. He pulled Atrea behind a stack of crates and crouched down with her.

Isaac’s breath was short and quick as they waited in electric silence for the sound of footsteps entering the building.

Finally, there they were. Isaac peered through the narrow spaces between crates and saw that Giselle was the only one who had entered. Surely there were goons waiting outside, or a sniper on the roof waiting for them to run.

“I know you’re in here, Isaac. Thought to take her in, eh? Sorry, but I’m afraid she’s our property.”

Atrea was shivering uncontrollably beside him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“Just give her here and maybe we won’t kill you.”

Atrea shook her head, frantic. Isaac rubbed her shoulder to reassure her. He reached into his pocket for his phone, cursing when he remembered it had died and he’d left it on his bed.

Atrea moved beside him, pulling away. “You can’t touch me,” she warned, still shaking. She stood and staggered out from behind the crates to within full view of Giselle. Isaac almost grabbed her, but he knew she had powers of some kind. If she needed help, he’d give it.

“So, you’ve made your choice,” Giselle said with a smile. “Thank you, Isaac.” She lifted her gun and pulled the trigger.

Atrea thrust her arms toward Giselle, launching streaks of electricity at her. Her eyes really did glow, now, but the bullet was still shooting toward her.

Isaac leapt from his hiding place, throwing himself in front of the bullet. He yelled as it bit into his shoulder, embedding itself there. The electricity hit Giselle, knocking her to the floor.

“Isaac!” Atrea yelled, grabbing hold of his arms.

“I’ll be fine,” he said through clenched teeth. He grabbed a wad of cash from his pocket and handed it to her. “In case they kill me. Get to Thesbia.” He got to his feet, holding his shoulder.

She tucked the money into her jacket pocket. “They won’t kill you.” She wrapped her arm around him helped him past Giselle.

As they reached the doorway, Isaac stopped. “You can’t run while you’re helping me. I can run. You come after me.”

Atrea’s concern was evident in her eyes, but she nodded.

Isaac ran out of the warehouse as fast as he could, and almost immediately was on the ground, a bullet in his head.

Atrea shoved down a scream and ran out herself, trying to take advantage of the time the sniper would need to reload. She dashed into the train station, trying to slow her pace as she entered. Her heart was racing, her breathing too quick. Isaac was dead. She set a brisk pace toward the ticket counter and bought a single ticket for the route that went nearest the airport. It left in five minutes, and she spent those breathlessly running to the proper platform.

As she collapsed into her seat, tears came unbidden. She didn’t even know Isaac, but she’d been the cause of his death. She was responsible. And now she was going to run away from Grantech, and from his death. It would provide her escape from Grantech, yes, but was escape really what she needed to do? The train jolted into motion.

Too late now, she thought, looking down at her lap. Too late. Isaac was dead, but he had died – sacrificed himself, really – to grant her freedom. He wouldn’t want her to throw that away, would he?

She tried to banish her thoughts, but they haunted her all the way to the airport, and through two hours of her ten-hour flight out of the country before she finally fell asleep.

The next thing she knew, she was no longer Atrea Bowman. She was Patricia Tyre, a Thesbian florist, and that was what she would be for the rest of her life.

Music – Short Story Sunday

All right, so this is really late being published because I was out of town this weekend and didn’t have a lot of time to work on it. As such it’s also a bit rougher than some of my other short stories, and please keep in mind that I am a novelist, not a songwriter, so the lyrics of these songs might not be the most spectacular because I didn’t have a lot of time to look over them. Anyway, I hope that despite all of that you’ll enjoy this. :)

*********************************************

Mya’s heels clicked on the concrete as she stepped out of the recording studio, saying goodbye to her recording crew with a stunning smile. A young man whose reputation she knew well passed her in the hallway.

“Good morning, Mya,” he said with a smile.

“Good morning, Alex.” Her expression lost all warmth. Alex Reid was her rival in this singing competition. Each contestant was to record one hundred songs and send them in to the record label, and the winner was to be chosen this evening. There were fifty contestants, but none of them were so good or as close to home as Alex. The others all lived across the country, and Alex lived across town.​

He’d asked a couple of times if he’d done something wrong when she greeted him like she did, but after she gave a terse “no” the first couple of times he’d stopped asking. So he simply moved on this time and she left the building as he entered the studio she’d just left.

She got into her car, a Mercedes her dad had gotten her when she joined the competition – an early prize, he said, so sure his daughter would win – and drove off toward her apartment, a gift she’d gotten herself after winning a different competition. She couldn’t stand living with her father who practically thought she could do no wrong. It was something of a blessing, but mostly a curse as he always expected the best from her.

Tossing the keys onto the sideboard upon her arrival, she headed into her room to listen to some music and get her mind off of Alex. Tucking the earbuds into place, she set her MP3 player on shuffle and started listening. She skipped over a couple of songs, which she refused to even look at the titles of. There were only two artists she skipped most of the time, and one of those was her father.

He’d been a piano performer – still was, in fact – and out of a sense of obligation she bought every album he put out, but she hated listening to them. It wasn’t because he was bad, but in fact quite the opposite. He was one of the best artists she’d heard, and she knew she could never live up to his standard. Hence the apartment, to try to get him to stop hounding her to be perfect. It hadn’t worked as well as she might have liked, but it made it at least a little bit more manageable.

She listened for several hours, doing her nails, makeup, and hair with her MP3 player in her pocket, before her alarm went off at six and she headed to the park for the concert where the winner of the contest would be announced. She smiled at those she passed, making her way to the front row of seats. The label executives were milling around on stage consulting with each other and getting things set up.

Alex took a seat next to her and she slid to the opposite side of her chair to put more space between them. She sat with her arms crossed in tense impatience before finally the head executive of the label stepped up to the mic.

“Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. I am Grant Golde, owner of Golde Records. If I could just get everyone to take a seat, I’ll announce the winner of the Hundred Songs Challenge.” People took their seats behind and around Mya, but her eyes remained riveted on Grant, waiting for the announcement that she had won. “Thank you. Now, ladies and gentlemen, this was a tough competition. All of the contestants are incredibly talented performers, and lowering them down was incredibly difficult.”

Get on with it, Mya growled into her mind.

“In fact, the competition was so tight that we couldn’t choose only one contestant and had to choose two.”

Mya’s eyes widened. Two winners? That was entirely unfair. This was a competition to choose the one greatest singer of the bunch. She would not share her victory with someone else.

“Those two winners are Mya Johnston and Alex Reid.”

Mya’s jaw dropped. Not Alex. They had to be joking. Surely this was all some great prank. She couldn’t have shared her victory with Alex Reid. That was impossible.

“Would Alex and Mya please come up here?”

Alex glanced at Mya as they rose, but she ignored him, forcing her mouth closed and mounting the stairs. As she shook hands with Grant, she whispered to him. “This is a joke, right?”

Grant shook his head. “No. We chose you.” He grinned. “Congratulations, Mya! You’re incredible!”

If I were incredible, she thought, Alex wouldn’t be up here with me. Instead of voicing her thoughts, she gave a wry smile and stood next to the executive.

“Congratulations to you both!” Grant said. “Now, let’s have our performance for tonight, shall we? Welcome onto the stage Isaiah Johnston!”

Cheers abounded from the crowds as Mya and Alex headed back to their seats and Mya’s father mounted the stage. He wore the same dazzling smile she used so often, and he used both hands to wave at the crowd as he crossed the stage to the piano. As he started playing, Mya gritted her teeth. If she hadn’t been in the first row she would have gotten up and walked away, but as it was her father would have seen her and been disappointed. She hated listening to his music. It was too smooth. Too perfect. It was almost slimy, like an eel.

She cringed her way through the concert and was the first one out of her chair when it finished, heading to the parking lot. Alex stopped her first, tapping her on the shoulder. When she turned, he held out a hand.

“Congratulations,” he said.

She ignored his offer of a handshake and gave him what was almost a glare. “Thanks.” There was no warmth in her voice, and she immediately turned back to her track.

Her father stopped her next, grabbing her arm. “Where do you think you’re going so fast, Mya?”

She turned and looked at him, pasting on her best smile, hoping it looked genuine. “I was just heading home.”

“So soon? I thought you’d mingle with some of the other artists. It pays to have friends in high places, you know.”

With you, who else could I need? she thought, sarcasm rolling off of the answer in waves, but she just smiled again. “I’ll have plenty of time to mingle now that I’ve won the competition.”

Isaiah’s almost triumphant expression faded. “About that. I’m disappointed in you.”

You always are.

“You’re my daughter. You’re more than capable of winning that competition without any tie. Didn’t you give them your best work?”

“Of course I did! You think I’d slack off for something like this? Of course I gave them the best I could! I don’t know why they would have chosen Alex, too.” She scowled down at the pavement, crossing her arms.

“Well then you need to step up your game, it seems. You’re a Johnston. You should be the greatest.”

“I’m well aware!” Her gaze snapped up to seize his in a glare. “I am well aware of how big a failure I am! I don’t need you to remind me!” She turned on her heel and stormed off toward her car.

“Mya!”

She ignored Isaiah’s shouts and slammed her car door closed behind her, speeding off.

****​****

The phone was ringing when Mya arrived home, and she yanked it off the cradle, slamming the answer button. “Hello?” She knew she was snapping at whoever was at the other end – she hadn’t paid attention to the ID – but she didn’t bother to fix it.

“Miss Mya Johnston? This is Golde Records. We’re calling about your winning the competition.” If you tell me you got things wrong and I lost… “You left before we could speak to you. We’d like you and Alex Reid to meet us at Golde to go over your performing with the label.”

Mya took a deep breath. “Thank you, sir. When would you like me to come?”

“Will tomorrow morning at ten be suitable?”

“I’ll be there. Thank you.”

“Of course. See you there, Miss Johnston.”

She gritted her teeth as she clicked the off button. She hated being addressed only by her last name. It associated her far too much with her father. She headed to her room and slammed the door. Maybe she could clear things up in the morning.

********

Mya was uncomfortable, but not surprised, to be sitting next to Alex in the meeting room with the Golde Records executives. Grant Golde, of course, headed up the meeting.

“We’d like you to perform together two weeks from today, at Tyron Park.”

“Absolutely not,” Mya said.

“Is there a problem?” Grant asked, turning his gaze to her.

“I refuse to perform with him.”

“And why is that?”

Alex was looking at her, brow furrowed in confusion, and she ignored him, keeping her gaze unwavering on Grant. “I should have won that competition, and I refuse to share my stage.” She choked on her next words, almost unable to believe she was saying them. “Johnstons perform alone and always have.”

“Then I suppose you’ll have the privilege of breaking the mold,” Grant said. The word ‘privilege’ was drawn out as a reprimand.

Mya crossed her arms. “I won’t perform with him.”

“You’ll comply with our orders or you’ll lose your contract.”

Mya tightened her jaw. Now that was something that would make her father furious. She couldn’t lose the contract. “Fine.”

“Thank you. We’d like you to perform six songs. We’d like you to do Finding My Tomorrow and He Thinks He’s Charming, and the others are up to you.”

He Thinks He’s Charming was one of Mya’s hundred songs – written in annoyance about Alex, actually – and she didn’t recognized the other. She guessed it was probably one of Alex’s one hundred.

“Yes sir,” Alex said.

“The concert will be at six, as usual, and you’ll be expected there at four to get ready and practice and so forth.” Grant glanced at the other executives. “Is that it?” The others nodded, so he turned back to the singers. “Preparations of the songs are up to you. We’ll see you for a test recording in a week and then at the concert, unless we hear something that needs work next week. You’re excused.”

Mya got up almost simultaneously with Alex and immediately sped up her pace. He kept up, walking abreast with her. “Why do you object to me so much?”

“Johnstons work alone.”

“So it’s just pride and vanity. You’ll be a joy working with, then.”

So he could lose his charming cover after all. “I suppose we’ll enjoy this equally, then. Goodbye, Alex.” She shoved past the door and loaded into the car, heading for home.

********

Mya got deja vú as she stepped into the apartment to the phone ringing. She picked it up, a bit more civilly this time. “Hello?”

“Hello. It’s Alex. Don’t hang up yet. We have to practice, or we’re both going to make fools of ourselves at the concert.”

Though she didn’t want to, Mya conceded that point. “Fine.”

“Should we meet at your place or mine?”

“You are not coming into my apartment.”

“My place, then. Can you meet in half an hour?”

“If I have to.”

“15 Braddock Lane. I’ll see you then.” The connection clicked and Mya rolled her eyes. This was going to be a lovely partnership indeed.

********

In half an hour Mya sat on Alex’s basement couch. He still lived with his family – unsurprising, seeing as he was only seventeen, like Mya – and he’d made the basement his home studio. There was a guitar against one wall, several microphones on a shelf, not to mention the numerous speakers hooked up to a stereo by the couch.

“So,” Alex began, “We’re settled on Finding My Tomorrow – my hundredth song – and He Thinks He’s Charming… I assume that’s one of yours?”

Mya nodded, still unhappy and uncomfortable. “My fifth.”

“What would you like to sing for the other four?”

“I don’t care.”

“Then how about A Song for the World, Grace for Everything, and then two of yours. You can pick, since I don’t know them.”

“I’m not singing any more of your music than I have to.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I can’t stand listening to your music.”

Alex winced. His voice was quiet. “Ouch.” Mya didn’t apologize. “Look, we’re not going to get anywhere if you continue being stubborn, and if we can’t do this performance then we’ll both lose our contract. I know you don’t want that, and I know your father wouldn’t.”

Mya wheeled on him, fire in her glare. “Don’t ever bring up my father again!”

Alex backed up. “Sorry! Please, Mya, can we get done with this?”

Mya turned her scowl to the coffee table. “Fine. Whispers of My Imagination and Stolen Choices. Are we done?”

“It would help if we knew what songs the other is talking about.” Alex hit play on the stereo and skipped a couple songs before letting one play.

Mya gritted her teeth as Alex’s smooth voice started across her ears. It wasn’t nearly as smooth as her father’s, but it still grated on her nerves, and for the same reason. He was good. He was very good, and she knew he was better than her. Mya was in the business because she was a Johnston. Alex was in the business because he had a passion for music and was willing to work for it. Her scowl deepened. She’d never be as good as him.

The chorus started and Mya failed to tune it out.

“This is a song for the world that is falling fast.

This is a song for the world that may not last.

This is a song for the world that we wish to save.

A song for the world of the brave.”

“What does that even mean?” Mya asked.

“Our world is kind of falling apart right now. I thought I’d write a song giving hope that we can save it if we’re brave enough to work for it.”

Mya shook her head. “People don’t like songs like that.”

“Maybe not. But if it fails to sell it fails to sell. I still want people to hear it.”

The song changed after another verse, and Alex skipped quite a few more before letting it play again.

“Mercy to forgive.

Bravery to live.

Give me grace, your praise to bring.

Lord give me grace in everything.”

“And this one?”

“A praise song.”

“You’re a Christian, then?”

Alex nodded.

“People don’t like that, either.”

“Some do. And even if they didn’t, I’d still sing it.”

Mya shook her head again. “You’re crazy.”

“Maybe. I just know that I sing what I believe, and I sing what I’m passionate about.”

“That’s not what sells albums.”

“So be it, although I think you’re wrong.”

She glared at him yet again. “I know the industry. I’m not wrong.”

Alex shrugged as the song ended. “Do you have an MP3 or a CD with your songs on it?”

Mya pulled out a CD case from her purse and handed it to him. “Be careful with that. It’s number five on disc one, and one-hundred on disc ten.”

Alex nodded and switched out the discs.

“In my imagination there are whispers of your name.

In my imagination there is a burning flame.

And in my imagination we are quite the same.

But it’s only my imagination that you came.”

“And that’s what your imagination came up with?” Alex asked.

“What’s wrong with it? It’s the mindless stuff that people like listening to. It’s not supposed to be deep. It’s music, not a philosophy book.”

“Are you kidding? Music is possibly the most powerful media out there! It should be used to be powerful and moving, not just entertaining and frivolous. I’d rather my music sound like a philosophy book than a cheap movie.”

Mya stood and switched out the discs, putting in disc ten and skipping to song one-hundred, the tenth on the disc. She sat back down with a huff, crossing her arms. “Well in that case, maybe you’ll like this one better.” Her heart was pounding. She didn’t want to share this one, and least of all with him, but if it was what he wanted…

“You’ve ordered my life and you’ve stolen my voice.

You’ve covered my songs with the roaring of piano keys.

You’ve left my words to be lost on the breeze.

And among all of this, you’ve stolen my choices.”

Mya bit her lip as the song finished. It was about her father, of course. Her heart still pounded.

Alex reached over and stopped the stereo before it repeated the disc. They were both silent for a long moment. “That was a life story, wasn’t it?”

Mya nodded slowly.

“Why did you share it with me?”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was small.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t.”

Another lengthy silence followed.

“Are you sure you want to perform those?” Alex asked.

Mya shrugged. “I guess.”

Alex almost rested a hand on her shoulder, but he stopped himself and placed his hand back in his lap, picking at his fingernails. “I guess we’re done for the day?”

Mya nodded. “I’ll see you later.”

********

Mya opened the door and Alex stepped inside. “Hello,” she said. She drew her sweater around herself. It was constantly cold in her apartment. The AC had broken a while ago and she hadn’t gotten it fixed yet. “Sorry about the cold.”

“It’s all right.” Alex set his guitar against the couch.

“What do you want to practice first?”

“You can choose.”

A Song for the World, then.”

They practiced for hours, arranging parts and deciding on future practice times. As Alex got up to leave, he turned to Mya. “Messenger Sparks is playing at the park tomorrow night and I have an extra ticket. My best friend’s manager changed the schedule on him last minute. You’re probably not interested in going with me, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask…”

Mya nodded a bit. “Sure. What time?” She rubbed her arms through her sweater.

“I can pick you up at six? Or we can meet there at six thirty?”

“Six sounds good.”

Alex nodded. “Cool. I’ll… see you then, I guess.”

Mya nodded and Alex hesitated a minute before heading out. Mya stood there silent for a moment before her eyes widened. Had she just agreed to go to a concert with Alex Reid?

********

Alex was punctual, arriving at 5:59, and Mya grabbed her cardigan as she answered the door. She gave a bit of a smile. “Hi, Alex.”

“Hi. Ready to go?”

Mya nodded, and in minutes they were driving to the park. Mya played with her floral skirt as they drove, butterflies having a ball in her stomach.

When they arrived, Alex guided her to a seat near the middle of the crowd, a place she was unused to sitting. She always sat in the front, a habit given to her by her father and the concerts they used to attend. She shooed the thought away.

They enjoyed the concert, but Mya was glad to get home if only to still the butterfly ball within her. What was up with that?

“Thank you for the ride,” she said.

“No problem,” Alex replied. “I hope you enjoyed the concert.”

Mya nodded, biting her lip. “I did.”

Alex nodded back. “Well… It’s pretty late. I should probably be getting home.”

Mya nodded again. “Yeah. Goodnight, Alex.”

“Goodnight.”

Alex headed down the hall and Mya closed the door with a sigh. What is wrong with me?

********

The two weeks passed, and Mya finally became more comfortable with Alex. She was sitting backstage in her dressing room, one of the attendants Golde had sent her applying the finishing touches to her makeup. She rose when the attendant – Lacy – finished, smoothing out her skirt.

She headed into the wings to find Alex already there, his navy blue button-down and dark jeans accenting her silver dress. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey. You look nice.”

“Thanks.” She gave him a smile, the most real smile she’d given him yet.

“Please welcome,” Grant said on stage, “Alex Reid and Mya Johnston!”

The two of them exchanged a look and a nod before heading out onto the stage. Mya gave her dazzling smile to the crowd, and Alex waved with his own almost crooked grin. They stepped up to the mics and the band started up behind them, playing He Thinks He’s Charming. Mya grinned. She and Alex had some fun tweaking this one as they practiced, and now they’d get to share it.

Mya grabbed her mic and turned to face Alex. “He thinks he’s charming. He thinks he’s smooth. He thinks he’s dashing. He thinks he’s cool. But he’s just playing. Yeah he’s a fool.”

Alex took up his own mic and turned to her. “She thinks she’s gorgeous. She thinks she rules. In her new Porsche, thinks she’s a jewel. But she’s just teasing. Yeah she’s just cruel.”

The chorus was a duet. “But then again, maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s old school.”

“Maybe she’s a jewel.”

“Maybe I’m falling for him…”

They acted as they sang, and Mya threw all of her melodrama into it. They grinned regularly as they sang, and somehow, Mya realized, they’d gone from bitter rivals – all because of her – to really good friends in just two weeks. She didn’t have friends, she realized. Fame did have its drawbacks, and as they sang Stolen Choices, she sang it with all the meaning that it had been written with. She didn’t have to be her father’s pet, and maybe Alex was right. Maybe music was better used when given meaning.

As the concert ended and the crowd erupted into thunderous applause, Mya gave a breathless grin and glanced over at Alex. He took her hand and hoisted it into the air. Maybe this partnership wasn’t so bad after all.

Mourning Marie – Short Story Sunday

This is another short story I wrote as a character’s backstory, and it’s even sadder than The Dust Thief, so be prepared. (Change in tenses was intentional. Don’t throw me under the bus for that, please.)

 

“Alick! We’re going to the hospital!”

Alick recognized his father’s voice and his eyes widened. It was time! His mother was in labor!

He dashed through the halls, not even bothering to put on shoes, and threw open the door, nearly forgetting to close it behind him.

The car was already pulling out of the driveway. He ran after it, yelling.

“Stop! Stop! Wait for me!”

The car slowed and he threw open the door, sliding into the back and slamming the door behind him.

Alick’s heart was racing the entire trip to the hospital. His mother was moaning in the front seat, and his dad was calmer than he could have thought possible under the circumstances.

After what seemed like an eternity they reached the hospital and helped her inside.

 

Five hours later the doctor came out to tell Alick and his dad the news. They rose from their seats, and Alick knew something was wrong the moment he saw the doctor’s face.

“What happened?” he asked, his voice tight.

“Stillborn. I’m so sorry.”

Alark choked up. He’d been waiting for his little sister to be born for so long. He’d wished for a younger sibling since he was young, and now to have that dashed…

His dad walked over and hugged him. That was when he lost it. He cried all over his dad’s shirt.

After a minute, his dad turned back toward the doctor. “How’s Sharol?”

“She’s fine. Heartbroken, but fine.”

Alick tried to contain his tears as his dad walked him into his mom’s room.

Marie, cold, blue, and lifeless, still lay cradled in her mother’s arms, and tears streaked down Sharol’s face when she looked up.

“She’s gone, Mark,” Sharol choked out. “Forever.”

Mark walked over and put an arm around his wife’s shoulders, the other hand on Marie’s clammy face. “I love you.”

Alick knew the phrase was meant for all of them.

 

***********

 

It’s midnight. He and his parents have just returned from the hospital with his baby sister. His dead baby sister.

His mother is sobbing in the kitchen, and his father is trying to console her. Alick has no intention of doing anything but going up to his room and going to bed. Maybe it’s all been a nightmare. A terrible, hellish nightmare.

But when he wakes in the morning, nothing has changed. His mother no longer has a baby bump, and her eyes are red and swollen from staying up all night crying. His father doesn’t look much better as he nearly misses his mug with the coffee pot. His hair is a rumpled mess, and his eyes are bleary.

Alick bursts into tears. He can’t help it. His baby sister is gone forever.

His mother starts crying immediately after and he feels guilty for making her cry.

“Is she really gone?” he chokes. “Marie is gone?”

His mother sobs harder, and his father nods.

“Yes, son. She’s gone.” Mark walks over to his wife and rubs her shoulders, trying to calm her. “It’s okay, Sharol. Everything is going to be okay.”

“No! It’s not okay! My baby is… My baby’s dead.”

“When are the services?” Alick asks, his voice barely above a whisper, not wanting to upset his mother further, but wanting to know when this nightmare will be over. He knows it will never truly end.

“This evening,” his father replies.

“I have to go clean up,” his mother says, wiping her eyes and heading up the stairs.

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

“For what?”

“I upset Mom. I didn’t mean to, but I did. I thought maybe it was a nightmare, but it’s all real. How can this be real?”He teared up again and his dad walked over to hug him.

“Oh, son. It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault. And I don’t know how this is real. I don’t know why God did this to us. But all His plans will be revealed in the end.”

***********

Alick takes a deep breath as he nears the casket at the front of the room. His stiff shirt collar feels so much tighter than it ever has before, simply adding to his claustrophobic feeling as he places a hand on the casket’s edge. He almost can’t look into the coffin, but finally he gathers up the courage and looks inside.

He can only catch a glimpse of her beautifully serene face before looking away, squeezing his eyes shut to defend against falling tears. He begins to sob and covers his eyes with his free hand.

He feels a firm hand on his shoulder and knows his father is there for him again. He allows himself to be guided back to his seat near the front of the room. His father’s arm wraps around his shoulders and pulls him close.

Mark doesn’t talk for several moments, just letting Alick’s tears wet his suit jacket. Finally he draws in a breath. “I love you, Alick.” Alick can’t respond. His sobs are coming to hard and too fast. “Your mother loves you. We all loved Marie, and she will always have a place in our hearts. Just remember that we’ll get to see her again one day, and be with her for eternity.”

Alick nods, feeling some tiny spark of hope. It’s quickly dampened back down by the heavy darkness of grief that presses in on him like a woolen blanket. “But that’s so far away.” He only manages a whisper.

“I know. Believe me, I know.” Alick hears his father’s own rattling sobs as he speaks, no longer able to contain his grief and put on a bold face. “And the years between will be very hard. I know they will. But we just have to look forward to that time when we see her again.”

Alick doesn’t reply, just keeps his head rested on his father’s shoulder, eyes closed, letting the grief wash over him. He’ll see her again, he keeps reminding himself. I’ll see her again, I’ll see her again, I’ll see her…

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