Tag Archive: Short Story

Sea Glass & Pressed Flowers – Short Story Sunday

Image by JSpiess (JSpiess – photography shot in Eastern PA) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a short story that I wrote just for my blog, and to practice writing internal dialogue (I may or may not have forgotten that was the aim of the story halfway through.) Enjoy. :)

 

Keslie sat on the beach with a pen and paper in her lap. She wasn’t focusing on that, though, but instead looked out across the ocean with glistening brown eyes. Her blonde hair was full of salt and whipped around in her face to tangle itself into terrible knots, and she didn’t bother to brush it out of the way; she knew it would just find its way back into her face in another moment.

The beach held so many memories, and she’d been trying to write them into the music she held on her lap, still half unfinished. Unfortunately, they merely stuck in her head and played over and over, like a living chronicle of her whole life. Keslie saw herself in her mind’s eye a toddler, swinging down the beach between her mom and dad. They both had the same blonde hair as she did, and it was just as constantly salt-filled as hers. Growing up in a house right on the beach meant daily trips to go swimming in the ocean.

As a little girl of seven, she was still skipping down the sand dunes to the water’s edge. Her parents came behind her, hands clasped with each other’s, fingers entwined. She’d longed to have a love like theirs, so sweet and carefree. Her white cover-up danced in the ocean breeze, and she grinned as the salt taste hit her lips. A giggle bubbled up in her, and she allowed it to escape.

At thirteen her dad joked about buying a shotgun and she laughed at him, her brown eyes dancing with delight at her father’s adoration of her. He taught her all he could of the piano, and after that paid for classes to take her to the next level. She had him to thank for her love of music.

From a young age she could hear that music in everything. It was in the waves, in the wind, even in the shift of the sand beneath her feet. It had been a wish to put that natural music into her piano playing that had started her in composing. Not that she did much of that, at least not officially. She played with melodies and harmonies when she played, but rarely wrote her compositions down. It was an escape from reality, nothing more.

Keslie looked down at the paper in her lap, snapping herself out of her thoughts. She looked at the notes on the page, trying to concentrate. She hummed out the tune and just kept going, jotting down the notes as they came to her. She stopped when the page ran out and looked over the melody again. Several notes were erased or changed, and she hummed it out again. It sounded good, but it would sound better on the piano, with harmonies laced in.

Rising from the sand dune she was sitting on, she turned away from the shore and up to her house. Her sandals clipped on the steps onto the back patio and she knew they heralded her return to her mother, who was no doubt in her bedroom working on her book.

The sliding door keened as it opened, and she stepped inside, closing it behind her and leaving her sandals on the woven mat.

The room she stepped into was an office, and a sharp pain shot through her chest as she looked at the walnut desk. No one had sat at that desk in two years. Her father’s impression on the seat was almost entirely faded, despite the millions of times he had sat there.

She turned away from the desk toward the piano in the opposite corner, just a small standing instrument. She set her music and pencil on top of it before heading through the living room to the stairs and heading up to her room. Keslie glanced at her mother’s closed bedroom door as she passed. There was no sound coming from the room except that of the large metal fan that she knew took up the space next to the desk, and the click of keys as she typed out her book. There was no greeting as she passed.

Keslie stepped into her room and closed the door behind her before heading to the closet and changing out of her blue floral bathing suit into a flowing white tanktop and skinny jeans.

As she started back for the steps she hesitated at her mother’s door, considering knocking. She just wanted to see if her mom would reply. If she would be the cheery woman Keslie missed so much. But she knew that wouldn’t happen. Lilah Bardell hadn’t been happy in two years.

Keslie turned away from the door and headed downstairs, little reminders of her father flitting past as she walked. She could hear his heavy steps on the stairs as she walked, their laughter mingling as he swept her off her feet at the front door. As she stepped off the bottom stair and turned into the living room she could see all three of them sitting around the coffee table, laughing and talking as they played their favorite board game. Walking into the office she could see him everywhere; he was at the desk, playing the piano, browsing the books on the shelf. She gave herself a bittersweet smile and took a seat on the piano bench, pulling the music down from on top and setting it on the music holder in front of her.

The ivory keys were familiar and smooth under her fingertips, but she still played the first notes a bit hesitantly. She took a deep breath and started again, allowing herself to be swept into the music like an ocean current. She watched her fingers dance across the keys as she played, working in harmonies and chords as she went. Some of the notes didn’t mix and nearly jolted her out of the music, but she just took a breath and closed her eyes, falling into the music once again.

Music was one of the few escapes left to her, a protective wall to ward her from the harshness of reality and the pains that came with it.

She could lose herself in her playing and not have to feel anything but the music surrounding her.

She didn’t know how long she’d been playing when a hand touched her shoulder and startled her. Keslie looked up to see her mom standing over her, a bittersweet expression on her face. Keslie tried not to stare at her mother. She’d accumulated so many wrinkles over the past two years, and so much pain was reflected in those blue eyes of hers. Those eyes almost seemed faded, like a worn photograph.

“It’s time for lunch,” Lilah said. “I fixed you an egg sandwich.”

Keslie nodded, removing her fingers from the piano keys. “Thanks, Mom.”

“You’re welcome.” Lilah stroked Keslie’s hair once before heading into the kitchen.

Keslie hesitated a moment before heading through the kitchen to the dining room, looking over the music that rested on the piano, just one note at a time so far. She’d have to add in the harmonies after lunch.

She reluctantly stood from the bench and headed into the dining room, finding her sandwich set at her place at the small oak table. She took a seat in the cushioned dining chair that was hers and said a quick prayer before taking the first bite of her sandwich.

She ate rather slowly. She always ate slowly these days. She was supposed to be recovered by now, she told herself. She was supposed to be over it. Dad was gone and he wasn’t coming back.

She should just cut him out of her life completely, her mother had said when she received the first letter. When Keslie had insisted on reading the letter, Lilah had frowned and set a rule in place that Keslie would be allowed to read any letters her father sent her, but not send anything in reply.

Keslie had agreed, though she was of course disappointed, and Lilah had handed her the letter. Now all of her father’s letters sat in a tin under her bed, along with flowers she had pressed from their trip to Nebraska and some sea glass she’d found after he was gone. She’d cried when she found it, remembering when he used to point out sea glass buried in the sand any time they’d walk along the beach.

Finishing her sandwich, she took her plate into the kitchen and set it in the dishwasher. Her mother sat at the island looking over a stack of papers, one hand on her temple and the other tapping a pencil against the sheets. Keslie looked at the paper and saw it was part of her mother’s book. She was glad it was that and not bills, though the Bardells were well enough off that she didn’t expect to see her mother stressing about the bills anytime soon.

She headed back into the office and looked out the sliding doors. The waves were rolling up cerulean on the beach, but she was rather tired of sand and water. She suddenly realized something and glanced at her waterproof watch.

“Oh crap,” she muttered, grabbing the music off the piano and slipping into her sandals before heading out the front door.

She grabbed her pink bike and tucked the music into the front basket before hopping on and pedaling as fast as she could for the local cafe. It took her five minutes to reach it, everything around her going by in a blur, and she almost ripped the pages of music as she grabbed them from the basket and rushed inside, leaving her bike lying on the pavement outside the front door.

“Sorry I’m late!” she gasped.

The man behind the counter frowned a bit, but nodded over to the piano in the corner. It was the same style as the one at home, and she slid comfortably onto the bench, tidying her music before setting it on the stand. She took a moment to catch her breath before starting into the song. She was taking a risk playing something new here, but her trembling fingers pressed the keys and soon she was swept away once again.

She played uninterrupted, not even noticing when people left her tips, until someone set a cup on top of the piano. She looked up, her fingers falling still, and looked at its contents. Rose tea with cream and sugar, her favorite. She looked after the barista who had delivered it.

“I didn’t order this!” she said.

“No, but I did.” The voice was familiar, and her breath caught in her throat. She turned to face the speaker, almost afraid to see who it was. There stood her father, with a bittersweet smile on his careworn face. He dropped a five into Keslie’s tip bowl.

“Daddy.” Her voice was barely a breath, as if she was afraid she’d vanish. And maybe she was. This couldn’t possibly be real. He’d been gone for two years, and there was no reason for him to come back. Mom would just push him away again. But maybe if he cared enough about her, about mom…

“Yes.” He smiled, and there were tears glistening in his eyes. “It’s good to see you again, Kes.”

She bolted off the piano bench to hug him and nearly knocked him over, tears forming in her own eyes. “Daddy. I missed you.” Her voice was a small whisper, though in her heart she was shouting with all the joy in the world. A million emotions spun through her mind like a whirlpool, dancing and darting like seagulls.

His arms were strong around her, just as she remembered them. After a long moment he pulled away and she almost tried to hold him back, but let him lean away, not bothering to wipe her tears.

“I missed you too. More than I can say.”

“You have to come see Mom.” Keslie wasn’t sure why she said it. She knew a meeting like that would never go over well. But she knew they needed to see each other just once more.

Any hint of a smile drained from her father’s face, and immediately she regretted her words. “I can’t, Kes. You know that. She’ll kick me out again. She won’t let me see you again.” He brushed her hair out of her face. “Can we please walk for a while together? I want to talk to you. In person. It’s been so long.”

“But my shift-”

“I already talked to Gordon. He’s all right with it. You only had half an hour left, anyway.”

Keslie nodded. “Okay. I just have to get something from the house first. I’ll be right back.”

Her father nodded, though she saw a reluctance in his eyes to let her go, like he thought she wouldn’t come back.

Keslie slipped out the door and mounted her bike, riding back to the house and rushing up the stairs sounding like a herd of elephants. As she passed Lilah’s door, there was still no sound from within other than the whooshing and the clicking. She stepped into her own room and reached under the neatly-made bed for the tin that held her memories. It was about the size of a journal, with a scene of Victorian England on the top. It had been an heirloom, given to her by her grandmother.

She rushed back down the stairs and out the door, setting the tin carefully in her bike basket before heading back to the cafe. She took more care of her bike this time and carefully took the tin from the basket, cradling it protectively. She’d never taken it out of the house before. Her father hadn’t moved, and she tentatively took his hand as she reached him, like she had when she was a little girl.

He smiled down at her with another bittersweet smile. “Ready to go?”

Keslie nodded.

“Before we go, let me just tell you I’m not trying to kidnap you. I know some family members kidnap younger family members, and I’m not going to do that. I still love your mom, and I wouldn’t take you away from her. I think she probably needs you more than I do.”

Keslie nodded again. “I wasn’t worried. You were thinking the southern edge of the beach, right? Where we always built sandcastles together?” Her eyes misted at the memory.

Her father smiled, and this time there was less sorrow in it. “Perceptive as always, Kes.”

They left the cafe, heading down an embankment behind down to the beach. The sand was soft under Keslie’s steps, sliding on her feet around her sandals. They didn’t have to walk very long before they reached where they were going. It was a quiet spot, somewhat secluded with a cave behind it. Keslie had always loved the people on the beach, but she equally loved spending time with her parents in the quiet. A pang went through her chest as she felt a distinct gap. Her mother should be here. Her mother was always here when they came down here.

“You’ve gotten better with your piano,” Keslie’s father said as he took a seat on the sand.

She sat down next to him, curling her legs up under her and settling the tin on her lap. “Thank you.”

He nodded, then glanced at the tin. “My mom’s tin. What’s in there?”

Keslie tipped open the lid and was met with the faint aroma of old paper and dry flowers. The flowers sat on top, daisies and roses, mostly. The daisies were from a field her father had shown her and Lilah that he loved to play in when he was younger, and the roses were a gift she’d gotten from her grandparents when she played piano for the family reunion. That had been when she got the tin, too.

Under and around the flowers were shards of sea glass in various shades of blue. Under everything was a stack of handwritten letters that were worn from multiple occasions of rereading.

“What’s the sea glass for?” her father asked.

“I saw it not long after you left. It made me think of you and how you always pointed it out on the beach. She smiled a bit, looking fondly down at everything. She handed him the tin, feeling a bit nervous giving it even to him.

He looked at everything, flipping through it reverently, careful not to damage the fragile flowers. “You kept them all,” he breathed.

“Every last one,” Keslie replied, her own voice soft.

“I’m honored.”

She shrugged. “You’re my dad. Of course I kept them.”

They sat there on the beach for a while, talking about music and life and Keslie’s classes. At one point her father asked if she had a boyfriend, to which she replied with a blush and a no. Then talk had drifted to other things and they talked almost until sunset.

“I should get home,” Keslie said, reluctance evident in her voice. “Mom will be wondering where I am.” She stood, tin in hand, and looked down at him. “You could come too?” She was tentative to suggest it, but she did so anyway.

He shook his head. “Not yet.”

“You can’t put it off forever.” Keslie bit her lip, blue-eyed gaze falling to the sand.

He was silent for a long moment before nodding slowly. “You’re right.” He rose, brushing the sand off of himself. “I’ll come see her. But I don’t expect it to go well. She kicked me out.”

“Maybe she’ll be glad to see you. She hasn’t been the same since you left.”

“I didn’t leave. You know that.”

“It just… sounds more gentle than saying she kicked you out.”

He shook his head. “No. Just say she kicked me out.”

They walked along the beach as the sun set and after several minutes arrived at the house. As they came to the base of the back porch stairs Keslie’s father stopped.

“Come on,” she said gently. “You have to see mom.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes you can. You survived five years with her before she kicked you out. You can face her once now. Please?”

He looked at her with almost pleading eyes before taking a deep breath and nodding. “Okay.”

She led him inside, her stomach doing flips. What if Lilah really did kick him out again? What if she had to listen to them fight? She took a deep breath as she left him in the living room and ran upstairs. She lifted her hand to knock on Lilah’s door and hesitated. This would be the first time in a long time she’d knocked on her mother’s door. Her knuckles rapped against the wood and she heard the clicking of keys stop. Footsteps approached the door and it opened.

“What is it, Kes?” Her voice was as weary as the rest of her, and she raked an almost trembling hand through her tousled waves.

“I need you to come downstairs with me for a minute.” Keslie struggled to keep a nervous tremble from her voice.

“Why?”

“Just trust me.” Keslie reached a hand out and Lilah hesitated for a moment before taking it and following her daughter downstairs.

Keslie felt an unexpected wave of relief when she saw her father still standing in the living room. She hadn’t realized she was afraid of him running away from this meeting. Lilah stiffened behind her as she entered the room.

“What is he doing here?” she asked, her voice a harsh, tired whisper.

“He came to see me. I insisted he see you, too.”

“That… Was a bad idea. A very bad idea.” Lilah turned to leave, but Keslie held onto her hand.

“Please, Momma. Just talk to him? For me?” She turned her pleading eyes from Lilah to her father and back again. For a terrifying moment she was afraid Lilah would leave, but she turned back  and stepped further into the room.

“Julian,” she said, her voice tight.

“Lilah.” His voice was tender, filled with held-back tears.

They were silent for several minutes, just looking at each other. Julian’s expression was filled with pain, doubt, and love. Lilah’s was filled only with a tired mix of pain and anger, which slowly faded only to tired pain.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Lilah finally said.

“I wanted to see you and Kes.”

“It was a bad idea. I don’t want to see you.”

“I can’t just not see my daughter for the rest of her life.”

“Yes, you can. You didn’t seem to care about her before I kicked you out.”

The pain that shot through Keslie at her mother’s words was reflected in her father’s eyes. “Lilah, you know that’s not true. I always took care of her. I always took time for her.”

Lilah shook her head. “You were constantly buried in your work.”

“Yes, I was, but I always stopped when you or Keslie asked me to. Always. You know that. And I’ve learned from that. I want to do better by both of you. I won’t let myself be swallowed up by work this time.”

Lilah shook her head again. “No. There won’t be a this time. Get out. Leave me and Kes alone. I don’t want you to hurt her again.”

Another shot of pain went through Keslie. Her father had never hurt her. She only wished that he and Lilah hadn’t gotten into a fight that resulted in him leaving. She missed him. That loneliness was the only thing hurting her. That and watching her parents fight again. She knew that her father would leave again. He wouldn’t want to hurt Lilah.

Julian looked at the floor, trying to hide the pain on his face, and nodded slowly. “I’ll leave, then. If you don’t want me around, I’ll leave. I don’t want to hurt you.”

He turned for the front door and Keslie watched, feet rooted to the ground, as he left. She stood there paralyzed for a heartbreaking moment before the tears began and she ran up to her room, slamming the door.

She slumped down to sit on the floor, burying her face in her knees. She knew she should have expected things to go poorly, but she’d been so hopeful that her parents would reconcile and she’d have a normal family again. She knew she shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up. She only had a few moments of quiet before she heard a soft knock on the door.

“Kes…”

“Don’t call me that!” Keslie screamed, raising her head. “That was Dad’s nickname for me, not yours!”

There was silence on the other side of the door, and then a gentle sigh. “I’m sorry, Keslie. I’m sorry that your father and I can’t get back together.”

“No you’re not. You said you didn’t want him to hurt me, but that alone hurt me. He has never once hurt me, Mom. Not once. He always took care of me and spent time with me. He’s the one who taught me how to play piano. You hurt me when you drove him away. You hurt me when you sent him away again just now. You hurt me every time I pass your bedroom door and the only sounds I hear are clicking keys and the fan. You hurt me mom, not him.”

Another silence. “I’m sorry.” Lilah’s voice was softer this time, and Keslie knew she’d hurt her mother. A pang of guilt went through her, but she fought it down. She’d only said what she felt. “I’m sorry.”

After a lengthy silence Keslie heard her mother’s footsteps retreating. She heard Lilah’s bedroom door click closed and buried her head in her knees once more as hot tears spilled down her face.

After a long time Keslie lifted her head again and glanced at the clock on her bedside table. The glowing blue letters read nearly seven thirty. She stood, wiping her eyes, and stepped over to her dresser, looking into the mirror on top. Her eyes were glossy, as she’d known they would be, and she glanced down at the top of her dresser, grabbing a ponytail holder and her hairbrush. She quickly brushed her hair and pulled it into a ponytail before heading over to the door and opening it slowly. The usual sounds were coming from Lilah’s room, and Keslie struggled not to lose it again.

She kept her footsteps quiet as she headed down the stairs and out the front door. For a moment she just watched the passing cars on the road in front of the house, trying to decide what she wanted to do. She could try to find her father, but he could be anywhere, and it wouldn’t do any good anyway. Her mother had officially cut ties with Julian. She could go to the beach, but that would only remind her of her father more.

Keslie took a deep breath and headed toward the cafe, where she realized she’d left her bike. She walked slowly, hearing the rush of cars as they passed and the cry of seagulls on the beach. It took her almost ten minutes to reach the cafe, and she stepped inside quietly. A bell above the door heralded her entrance and she took a seat in the corner, looking out the front window to watch the cars.

“Good evening, Keslie.”

Keslie looked up and saw the other barista standing above her. She attempted a smile. “Good evening, Dominic.”

“Are you okay?”

She nodded and looked back out the window. Dominic had been a good friend of hers for a long time. She knew he wouldn’t believe her lie. “I’m fine. Just get me a rose-” She stopped.

“Rose tea with cream and sugar?”

Keslie shook her head, wiping away a stray tear. “Never mind.”

Dominic took a seat across from her at the table and set his notepad and pen on the table. “Keslie, you’re not okay. What’s the matter?”

Keslie shook her head again. “Nothing.”

“Okay.” Dominic stood again and picked up his pen and pad before heading back toward the kitchen.

Keslie almost lost it again. Dominic was always thoughtful and respectful. He would leave because she’d made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about it, but he wouldn’t stop worrying.

In a couple of minutes Dominic returned and took his seat again, pushing a mug toward her. It smelled of cinnamon, and Keslie immediately knew what it was. She turned back toward the table and took the mug, letting the warmth seep into her fingers. She looked into the mug, seeing her reflection in the apple cider within.

“Thank you, Dominic,” she said, her voice quiet.

“You’re welcome.”

She took a sip of the hot liquid and immediately burnt her tastebuds. “I’m sure this is delicious, but after that I won’t be able to taste it.” She chuckled a bit.

“Well don’t drink it so hot, then!” he said, putting a pretend reprimand in his voice.

Keslie couldn’t stop a smile from escaping. “You’ve got to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Making me smile when I’m miserable.”

Dominic smiled, lighting up his blue eyes. “I don’t think I will.”

Keslie smiled and lifted the red mug to her lips again.

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes before Dominic broke the silence. “So what’s the matter?” His voice was gentle, telling her he wouldn’t press too far.

Keslie set her mug down and took a deep breath. “My dad came into town.”

“I saw him.”

“We hung out for a while and then I insisted he come see Mom.” She took a deep breath, glancing out the window and shaking her head ever so slightly. “I really wish I hadn’t.”

“She kicked him out again?”

Keslie nodded, tears welling in her eyes again. She swallowed past a lump in her throat. “I just want him back. I wish he and Mom could get back together. But I know that’s hoping for too much.” She looked down into her mug.

Dominic didn’t say anything, understanding the need for silence.

The silence lasted for a long time, and Keslie finished off her cider, setting the mug aside. Another several minutes of silence passed before she rose from the table and walked across the cafe to the piano. She took a seat on the bench, the leather seat comfortable and familiar under her, and rested her fingers on the keys. She considered playing the memory song, but she quickly dismissed the idea and started playing something new. The notes flowed with a melancholy ring as her fingers danced across the keys. Before long she closed her eyes and let herself drift away, letting the notes come from somewhere within her instead of from her mind.

She didn’t know how long she played, only that she was stopped when Gordon, the owner of the cafe, rested a hand on her shoulder.

“That’s beautiful, Keslie, but we’re closing.” Regret was evident in his eyes and tone.

Keslie nodded and rose from the piano bench, heading over to the corner table again, where Dominic was still sitting. “How long did I play?”

“About half an hour. It was beautiful.”

Keslie smiled gently. “Thanks.”

Dominic stood and grabbed her mug. “I’d better clean up here.” He rested his free hand on her shoulder. “Go home. Take care of yourself. Take care of your mom.”

Keslie nodded. “I will. Thanks for the cider.”

He headed for the back and she headed for home.

 

Keslie stands on the beach, the waves lapping at her toes. She looks out over the ocean, watching the sun sink toward the horizon. She hears her name from down the beach and turns to see her father walking towards her. Her heart does a flip and she runs toward him, but just when she’s about to embrace him a wave crashes over her and tugs her into the ocean.

She screams for her father, but not because she’s frightened of drowning. She’s frightened of losing him. She screams for him over and over, blowing bubbles in the water, but when she’s thrown back onto the shore and looks around, he’s gone. She calls for him again, but there’s only the sound of wind and waves, and suddenly it’s a very lonely sound.

 

Keslie woke up with tears streaming down her face. She hugged her pillow to her and let herself cry for several minutes before getting out of bed. She dressed in a pink tank top and skinny jeans, slipping her feet into her sandals.

As she passed her mother’s door, she was surprised to only hear the fan. She headed downstairs and found her mother sitting at the table with a bowl of cereal. Keslie poured herself a bowl and sat down across from Lilah, shifting uncomfortably.

“I’m sorry about last night.” Lilah was the first to speak.

“Me too.” Keslie twirled her spoon around in her bowl.

“You were right. I’m not helping you any.”

“But I was wrong to lash out at you.”

Lilah nodded. “Can you forgive me?”

Keslie nodded.

“I’d like to do better.” Keslie was silent. “Would you like to read my book?” Lilah’s voice was hesitant.

Keslie looked up at her mother, hiding her surprise. No one had read Lilah’s book. It was something she kept secret. “Really?”

Lilah nodded. “I’d like you to see it.”

Keslie nodded slowly in return. “I… I’ve always wanted to know what it was about.”

“After breakfast I’ll bring it down for you to look at.”

They finished eating slowly, still mostly in awkward silence, and Keslie took care of the dishes as her mom went upstairs to get her book. When Lilah returned, it was with a giant three-ring binder in her hands. She set it on the table and slid it toward Keslie.

Keslie opened it tentatively, glancing at Lilah as if to make sure it really was okay, and looked at the title page. It read: Broken. A novel by Lilah Bardell. Keslie glanced again at her mother, who gave a pained smile.

“You have your escape, I have mine.”

Keslie turned to the first page and started reading. She wasn’t surprised to find it told Lilah’s story, beginning with her wedding day. As Keslie read she got a glimpse into her mother’s mind, and she finally began to understand how her mother’s thoughts worked. She marveled at her mother’s willingness to show this book to her daughter when it bared so much of her heart.

It took Keslie hours to finish reading, and her mother brought her laptop down to continue writing while she did. When Keslie did finally finish, she looked up at her mother, who looked up from her computer screen to give her daughter another pained smile. “What do you think?”

Keslie didn’t answer, just hugged her mother. “I’m so sorry I didn’t do anything to help you.”

“It was never your job,” Lilah replied, resting her hand on Keslie’s back. “But it was my job to help you, and I’m very sorry I didn’t do so.”

“You were dealing with your own problems. But why did you push Dad away?” Keslie pulled away and looked into her mother’s weary blue eyes.

“I don’t know.” Lilah looked down at her keyboard. “I wish I hadn’t. Maybe then neither of us would be in such rough shape.”

“We can do better now, though. Both of us.”

 

A week later Keslie stood laughing in the kitchen with her father on the phone. After she and her mother had reconnected, Lilah had allowed her to correspond with Julian again. He was back in Nebraska, but Keslie made their phone calls a daily occurrence, and she treasured every minute of it.

She glanced at her mother, standing in the doorway with a smile on her face, and mouthed a “thank you” just before another comment from Julian set her to laughing again.

This was how she remembered her time with her father: carefree and full of laughter. Another grin split her face as she realized she was starting to regain that. Her family might not be quite whole yet, but it was a family again.

The Dust Thief – Short Story Sunday

This is a short story I wrote a while ago as a backstory for one of my characters. It has a sad ending, fair warning.

 

Chapter 1

He stepped into the bustling tavern, looking around at everyone and looking for one man in particular. After a moment he saw him, sitting alone in the corner, his hood pulled low over his face. Leo walked over to him and took a seat across from him at the table.

“I have the dust,” he told the go-between, pulling a vial from his cloak and handing it to the man.

The man took it and looked it over.

“This is not what the master requested.”

“What do you mean? It’s the Glowmine Dust. I got it for him just as he requested.”

“No. He asked for the barrel, not the vial.”

“I’m sorry. I must have misheard.”

“There is no mishearing when it comes to the master, understand? If you mess up, he is not forgiving.”

“I will make it right.”

“You’d better. You have half an hour to retrieve the barrel of Glowmine Dust. That is all. After that I must return to the master. I will either have what he wants or I will not. You better hope that I do.”

“Half an hour?! That’s impossible! It cannot be done!”

“And yet it must. If I were you I would leave now so that you have the most time possible. Go.”

Leo nodded and rushed out of the tavern toward the Glowmine where he’d gotten the vial. He’d have to steal a barrel, and he’d have to be quick about it. But it was mining hours, and the miners would be everywhere. He’d just have to hope that they weren’t alert. They were usually absorbed in their work, so it shouldn’t be a problem, but Leo still worried.

He entered the mine and crept along the wall toward the Dust chamber. He reached the chamber without running into any Miners, which seemed odd. There should have been someone on that route, yet there wasn’t. He reached the Dust chamber door and peered in through the keyhole. That was why he hadn’t run into anyone. All of the mine council members were assembled in the Dust chamber. When there was a council meeting, all the miners were sent to the Delta section.

“…Gone.”

“Why’d they take a mere vial of Dust? Why not more?”

“The stuff is potent. They wouldn’t need much. Probably they didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting a larger container.”

Leo sucked in a breath. They’d found the vial missing. But why? It was a mere vial.

“Potent stuff” the one council member had said. But it just glowed. Right? Maybe not…

Leo jumped as the council members began heading for the door and ran off down the corridor, exiting the mine and running all the way back to the tavern to talk to the go-between.

“Did you get it?” he asked.

Leo shook his head, out of breath.

“They found the vial missing. They’re going to come after me. I couldn’t get the barrel.”

“The master will be very disappointed in you. I’ll just have to tell him you were sloppy. I wouldn’t want to be you when he finds out.”

The go-between stood up and prepared to leave.

“Wait! Please! If the miners find me they’ll kill me! You can’t just leave me!”

“I can, and I am. The miners are your problem. You were sloppy, now you’re paying for it. Now if you’ll excuse me I must inform the master of your failure.”

Leo watched as the go-between left the tavern, leaving him alone to sort out his problems.

 

Leo headed home, stepping in the door to see his little brother Axel running up to hug him. He smiled as the little boy wrapped his arms around Leo’s legs.

“Hey there, buddy.”

“Hewwo, Weo. I wuv you.”

“I love you too, buddy.” Leo patted Axel’s head.

“How was work?” Leo’s mother asked, walking in, wiping her hands on a dish towel.

“It didn’t go so well. I think I got fired.”

“You think?”

“It’s a long story.”

His mother nodded and placed a now-dry hand on his shoulder.

“It’ll be all right.”

Leo nodded, not so sure.

“Thanks, mom.”

She gave him a reassuring smile and picked up Axel, carrying him with her into the kitchen.

“You want to help me fix dinner?” Leo heard her ask Axel.

“Yeah! Cooking!”

Leo smiled and headed to his room, taking a seat on his bed and picking up a notebook and opening it. His schoolwork for the day was written in black ink and he sighed. The work never ended.

“Leo, would you like to help with dinner, too?” his mother called.

“Will it get me out of schoolwork?”

His mother laughed.

“Just for tonight, since you had a rough day. But this is a one-time deal.”

“Thanks, mom.”

Leo closed the notebook and set it aside, heading into the kitchen. Axel was standing on a stool mixing up a salad, half of which was ending up on the floor, and his mother was kneading bread dough, flour dusting her apron, face, and hair.

“What do you need me to do?”

“You can put the cake in the oven.”

“Cake? What’s the occasion?”

His mother laughed.

“It’s your father’s birthday, silly.”

“Oh, it’s his birthday already? I didn’t realize.”

“Obviously.”

He smiled and picked up the cake pan, sliding it into the oven.

“When is dad getting home, anyway? He’s late.”

“I asked his boss to assign him some extra work and keep him busy until supper’s ready. I didn’t want him to see the cake too soon.”

Leo nodded and walked over to Axel, tickling him.

Axel laughed and almost knocked the salad bowl off the counter.

“Oops,” Leo said, laughing and picking up the toddler, swinging him over his shoulder, and tickling him some more.

“Don’t forget to let him breath in between,” his mom said with a smile, grabbing the rolling pin and starting to roll out the dough.

“I won’t.”

He let up on the tickling for a moment and then started at it again, loving the sound of his brother’s laughter.

“Stop it!” Axel said through his laughter, “Please!”

Leo stopped and set Axel on the ground.

“I wuv your tickles, Weo.”

Leo smiled.

“And I love tickling you.”

Axel smiled, lighting up his whole face.

“I wuv you.”

“I love you too, buddy.”

Leo kissed Axel on the top of his head and turned to his mother.

“Anything else?”

“Can you grab the tomato sauce?”

“Are you fixing pizza?”

She smiled.

“Your father’s favorite.”

Leo kissed his mom on the flour-covered cheek and walked over to grab the tomato sauce from the cupboard, glancing out the window as he did so. He started. There were half a dozen black-clad men looking in.

“Mom, are we expecting company?”

“No, why?”

“No reason.”

He handed her the tomato sauce, forcing a smile, and headed for the back door, stepping into the yard and walking over to the men.

“Who are you?”

“We work for the master.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Waiting.”

“For what?”

“You’ll see. Go back inside before we’re forced to hurt you.”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m afraid we can’t do that. Go inside.”

“No!”

Leo heard the back door open and fear gripped his chest. They couldn’t come outside. It wasn’t safe.

He ran back to the door and almost collided with his mother. She put a hand to her chest.

“Goodness! What’s the matter?”

“You can’t come out here.”

“Why not?”

“You just… You just can’t.”

“But I need to pick my oregano for the pizza!”

“I’ll do it. You go back inside.”

She looked at him, befuddled.

“All right…”

She turned to head inside, glancing back at him in confusion before entering. He let out a sigh of relief.

He walked over to the oregano bush, trying to keep an eye on the men at the same time, and picked some of the herb, heading back inside with one last look over his shoulder. As he stepped inside, one of them smiled. It was a smile that chilled him to the core, and as the door swung shut he shivered.

 

Chapter 2

“Here’s the oregano,” he said, handing it to his mother.

“Thank you,” she replied with a concerned smile. “Why did you want me inside so bad?”

“No reason. I just didn’t want you out in the cold.”

“Leo, it’s March. It’s not particularly cold.”

“Still, it’s chilly, and I know how easily you catch cold.”

She pursed her lips.

“I do not, and you know it. I very rarely catch a cold, or any sickness for that matter. What’s going on, Leo?”

“I’ll explain it all later. Let’s just enjoy the evening, shall we? There’s no reason to worry dad. Or for you to worry, for that matter. It’s nothing. Let’s just forget the whole thing.”

She looked at him suspiciously for a moment more and went back to the pizza.

“Who are the men outside?” Axel asked.

Oh no. He saw them.

“What men, honey?” their mom asked.

“The men in black that are standing in the yard.”

She looked out the window.

“Oh dear. I’m not sure.” She turned to Leo. “That’s why you didn’t want me to go outside, isn’t it? Who are they?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I have a bad feeling about them and I didn’t want you to be put in danger.” It was almost the truth.

“Thank you for trying to protect me, sweetheart.”

She smiled over at him, a tight smile that told him she was still worried.

“Of course.”

“Can you get Axel cleaned up and take him over to see your father? Maybe you three can go to the market and keep your father busy.”

Leo hesitated.

“But what if the men decide to attack you? I can’t leave you alone.”

“I can take care of myself. Run along. You don’t want your father coming home early.”

“I’d rather he come home early than you be hurt.”

She sighed, opening the oven and sliding the pizza onto the rack.

“All right. But can you please get Axel cleaned up anyway? Maybe the two of you can play a game while I finish supper.”

“A game! Can we pway Hunters and Knights? Can we?”

Leo smiled down at Axel, who was jumping up and down next to his legs.

“All right. Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Axel beamed and skipped off down the hallway to the bathroom. Leo glanced back to his mother, who gave him a reassuring smile, before dutifully following.

 

Leo finished washing Axel’s hands and face just as the front door opened.

“Daddy!” Axel yelled, running out of the bathroom and back toward the kitchen. Leo followed, though at a significantly slower pace, and saw his father entering the kitchen with a smile and picking up Axel, while his mother gave him a disapproving look.

“You’re not supposed to be home yet,” she said.

“Sorry.” He sniffed the air. “Is that pizza I smell?”

“Pizza and chocolate cake.”

“Thank you, Mia.”

She nodded.

“It’s the least I can do for a man who’s put up with me for fifteen years.” She smiled.

He set Axel down and walked over to her, kissing her forehead.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Leo looked down at Axel.

“I’m not sure this will ever not be awkward.”

Axel looked up at him and nodded.

“Yeah.”

Leo chuckled.

“Do you even know what that means?”

Axel shook his head.

“Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Why don’t we do presents while we wait?” Mia suggested.

“That’s a good idea,” Leo agreed, picking Axel up and carrying him into the living room.

Mia and Xavier followed, taking a seat on the couch next to their sons. Mia reached over the arm of the couch and picked up three packages, handing them to Xavier.

“Here you go. Axel got excited and wanted to give you two presents. Leo forgot it was your birthday.”

Xavier gasped, feigning shock.

“How could you forget?!”

Leo laughed.

“Sorry, dad. I knew it was coming up, but I didn’t realize it was so soon.”

Xavier reached over and ruffled Leo’s hair with a smile.

“It’s all right, son.”

He looked down at the packages.

“Which one should I open first?”

“Save mine for last,” Mia requested.

“The wittle one! The wittle one!” Axel said, bouncing up and down.

Xavier opened it with a smile to see a rolled up piece of paper. He unrolled it and started to read the scrawled print.

“No, daddy! I sing it!” Axel took the piece of paper and began to sing the song he’d written.

“Daddy, I wuv you. I wuv you a wot. I’m so happy it’s your birfday, and I wanted to sing you dis song. I wuv you, Daddy. I’m glad you’re my daddy. I hope you’re wif me fowever. I wuv you.”

Xavier smiled over at Axel as the song finished.

“That’s very sweet. I love you too.”

He reached over and hugged the little boy, who was beaming.

As he began to tear open the second gift, the back door slammed and several sets of footsteps sounded in the kitchen, coming toward the living room.

“What on earth?” Xavier said, setting the packages aside and standing up, facing the kitchen as the men from the back yard stormed in, each with a dagger in his hand.

“Do not mess with The Master!” the lead one declared, walking over to Xavier and attempting to slit his throat. Xavier caught his hands just in time and held them back.

“Protect your mother and brother!” he yelled to Leo, who was already standing beside his mother, clutching Axel close.

“Resistance is futile!” one of the men said, walking around to Mia and cutting her throat.

Leo stared at the blood in shock and clutched Axel tighter.

Xavier’s arms began to give.

“Protect him! Protect Axel!”

Then his arms gave way and his throat was cut.

Leo stared at his parents’ still forms and then looked at the men, who were closing in.

“No. This can’t be happening.”

The men stepped forward and tried to wrench Axel from his grasp.

“No! Weo! Don’t let them take me! Weo! Hewp! Pwease!”

Leo had tears running down his face as he tried to keep a grasp on his brother. But he wasn’t strong enough. The men took Axel and cut his throat, discarding him on the couch and sneering at Leo before leaving.

Leo screamed and fell to his knees next to his brother, sobbing.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t save him. I let him down. I let them all down. I wasn’t strong enough. It’s my fault…

He sat there crying until he couldn’t take it anymore and then ran out of the house and didn’t stop running until his legs gave out a couple of miles outside the city.

I have to get away. I have to leave.

He sat there only as long as he had to and then started running again, never looking back.

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