Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #14

Welcome to September. It’s the perfect time to start kicking back with a cup of hot cocoa and watch as the leaves begin to turn. Or that’s what books want us to think. In reality, it’s the time of year — at least in Ohio — filled with absurdly hot weekdays followed by rainy, muggy weekends. I know you’re likely wondering how the weather knows to rain on the weekend. And I can’t answer that. It’s just science1It’s not actually science. That’s not how science works..

It’s been a couple of months since our MMSSC prompt hasn’t had a theme explicitly tied to it. And since there will be one that’s also very thematic next month2Spoiler alert., this month’s prompt will be a bit more straight forward.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on October 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: Minimum 500 words, no maximum
  • Seven words to work into your story: Sun, community, quest, happily, cave, diving, ring
  • Genre: No limitations
  • Rating/Content/Perspective Limitation: First person perspective is encouraged, though not required.
  • Topic: Write a story centering around change.

Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire1I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”

Mid Month Short Story Challenge #13

Welcome to August — objectively the worst month of the year for anyone who likes holidays, cold weather, or nighttime1In the northern hemisphere, at least.. August is always the month of the year that I like the least and that feels (to me) like the hardest to get through. I don’t like to do much of anything in August2I say this despite having a ton of posts written for this month., not to mention it always seems like the month where I’m the most creatively stagnant3Which is in no way convenient to the fact that this is the first month I have Patreon rewards going out..

I’ve been told that some of you out there feel the same way, so I figured, why not build off of last month’s music based theme? However, instead of you having to pick your own song and coming up with a post based off of that, I’ve given you three song options to choose from directly in this post. Two of the songs are peppy, upbeat, new songs, while the third is a song I was saving for last month’s prompt for myself…only to forget that I wanted to use it after the fact.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on September 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

WIP Update #2

Inner monologue: La dee dah. I should really write another update for where I am on my work in progress. I said I’d give updates with some level of frequency. There were even people in the comments who wanted them. It has to have been three months or so since I did an update, right?

*Checks blog post dates*. February 12th.

Inner monologue: Well fuck.

So uh…time kind of got away from me over the last few months. Combine the fact that I’ve had a ton going on (I started a new job, I launched a Patreon, I started a podcast, plus other things I haven’t talked about on this blog yet) with the fact that I didn’t realize I had written that post so early in the year, and that’s how I go six months between giving updates on the new book I’m working on. Weird how that works.

At the time of the first update being published, I had just cracked the 24,000 word mark, having written around eight chapters of the book1I think I was midway through the eighth chapter, though it’s been long enough that I don’t remember exactly where I was at that point in time.. That accounted for somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the chapters I had planned out in the story, though only about one-fifth to one-quarter of the word count2I’m thinking the story will be around 90,000 words when I’m done, pre-edits..

I gave what I had done at that point to my very thorough, very patient alpha reader. And she tore the first three chapters apart. Which is awesome. There’s a reason I trust her to be the first person to read my story. That said, I also realize it was a bit of a mistake to send the file over when I hadn’t even finished the book yet. All of the comments, recommendations, and tweaks she suggested were wonderful advice, but they also (unintentionally) sapped my motivation to write on in the story at that time. That’s 100% my own fault for not taking into account how I have to structure my writing and editing process in order to be as productive as possible. That said, it also meant that I didn’t write anything new in the book from early March through mid-May.

Between mid-May and mid-July, I think I wrote a total of 1,500 words across eight weeks. Considering how busy this time in my life was3As this time period includes everything I mentioned above except the new podcast launch., the fact that I even got this much done was impressive in its own right. Nevertheless, I was disappointed in my own productivity.

So why write about this now? If nothing else, this post can serve as a reminder to myself about the struggles I had over the past five to six months4I’m not sure when I’m going to post this. I’m leaning towards mid-August at the time of writing this post, but we’ll see if that’s what actually happens., as well as the fact that I still got a little bit done in the book during one of the busiest times I’ve ever experienced. There’s a positive side to this tale as well though.

As of writing this post, the work in progress is now up to around 35,500 words, with 12 of the 26 planned chapters completed5Along with one scene later in the book that accounts for nearly all of the 1,500 words that I wrote between mid-May and mid-July.. Although I’m not at the halfway point of the book in terms of word count or chapters that I’m estimating, I have finished what is essentially the story of the first half of the book. I’m relatively happy with the way the story is progressing and I really like the way some of the main characters are developing.

I’ve also realized that I want this to become a series, though I’m unsure at this point exactly how I want to go about that. There is character that won’t appear until at least the second book of this series that I have in very vivid detail in my mind. While this is great for the long-term prospects for a series, it’s frustrating as the new character doesn’t fit in this first book at all. In fact, she needs the events of the first book to transpire for her to even have a need to exist — but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself by saying that.

I do want to take a moment to thank a few people — in particular Laidig, Eve, Tabitha, Mike, Stephanie, Erin, Dem, and my wife6As well as others I’ve surely, though accidentally, forgotten. — for their support as I’ve worked on this. I know my Patreon has been a big thing over the last few months. I know that I’ve written more than my fair share of video game posts, garbage posts, and random short stories while not talking about this project at all. But this project is one I care a ton about, not to mention one I want to do really well. There’s a ton of work that’s going to need to go into this project. I’m both thinking and hoping that in the end, the story that’s told7Both this book by itself and whatever series comes out of it, if I go that route. will be worth it.

Laramie

This post is a response to July 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


For reference, here is the song that was picked to use as inspiration for this month’s story1I ran a poll on Twitter in mid-July between four songs that had been stuck in my head recently. This song won after round robin coin flips following a three way tie.

The register of Grant’s cries burned at his own ears, stabbing harder at his ossicles than any noise he’d heard before. It wasn’t as though the sounds were any louder or more percussive than jet engines or fireworks, yet his own wails pained him far more. As tears trickled down his face and onto the steering wheel of his car, their landing slowly changed from a splatting to a splashing as the vinyl exterior covering his airbag was wetted.


It’s one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine minutes — more or less — to drive from Woonsocket, Rhode Island to Laramie, Wyoming. During his nearly thirty hour marathon drive, Grant could only feel that it was more than worth his time. The lack of sleep, the copious amounts of caffeine and fast food, the never ending white lights charging towards him on the interstate, the cramped car without air conditioning; all of them would be worth it. On the west side of Laramie, there was a hotel room for two waiting.

Nine years is a long time to wait for something to change. It’s even longer to wait on a person to change. Grant knew that. Yet he was committed to the wait, whether it be for two years or twenty. Candice would get over her fear in time. She had promised him that much.

On a Thursday evening nine years prior, Grant was settling into his seat on a tiny aircraft that would take him from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Chicago. He’d then board a plane bound for Boston, from where he’d get his car out of the Logan Airport parking garage and make the dark drive back home to Rhode Island. Even though it was in his best interest to get some sleep on one of the two flights, too many people on the plane would have their window shades open. As they should, Grant reasoned. It was still early evening, which coupled with a time zone difference meant a plane full of people who didn’t want to sleep.

Grant pulled his hooded sweatshirt off of his torso, rolled it into a ball, and placed it between his head and the wall of the plane. He closed his eyes and began to focus on his own breath, hoping his meditation would cause the sounds of others boarding the plane to fade away. For a few moments, it worked. But then Grant felt a hand forcefully lean against him. He opened his eyes to find a young brunette woman in a University of Wyoming hoodie struggling to hold herself up as she placed her bag in the overhead bin above them.

“You need a hand with that?” Grant asked.

“As long as you don’t plan on moving in the next five second, I should be fine,” she replied.

“Don’t worry,” answered Grant. “In a previous life I was a support column for a building.”

The woman chuckled as she finished stowing her bag and took the seat beside Grant. For the hour long flight from Cedar Rapids to Chicago, Grant spent time getting to know this woman who gravity had assisted him in meeting. Candice was a graduate student and tennis player at the University of Wyoming. She was back in Cedar Rapids to visit her family. Grant was amused to learn that Candice’s cousin was the receptionist at the Cedar Rapids branch of his company, while Candice found it funny that Grant attended the graduated from the same university during the same year as her current roommate (though they didn’t know each other). It was a small world, particularly considering Grant had never been to Iowa before that trip.

When they parted ways in the airport, Grant and Candice exchanged phone numbers and went on their way. They kept in touch via text over the next few months. As Grant’s next trip to the company’s Iowa branch loomed closer, he was overjoyed to learn that Candice would be back in town too.

They met up on a Tuesday night, spending the evening drinking at a bar with narrow chairs and overpriced cocktails. As the night progressed, both Candice and Grant began flirting with each other more aggressively, eventually leading to a night of passionate romance in Grant’s hotel room. The next morning, Grant woke up with a pulsing headache to find Candice gone. The only trace left of her was a hastily scribbled note written on hotel stationary.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Grant texted and called Candice, trying to get to the bottom of her early morning disappearance and her note. Days and weeks passed with no word back from Candice. Initially it was upsetting, but after a few weeks, Grant slowly began to feel better. It was a good night they spent together. Everything was consensual. He just go ghosted. It wasn’t the first time it had happened. It likely wouldn’t be the last.

About three months later, Grant woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of his phone buzzing, rattling against the glass of water on his nightstand.

“Hello?” he mumbled groggily.

“I didn’t want to just leave like that, you know.”

“Candice?”

“I’m engaged, Grant,” Candice replied, “and I made a mistake.”

Grant sat up in his bed, leaning against the headboard and wall behind him.

“Look,” Grant began,  “had I known that you were with someone, I wo…”

Candice cut him off. “No. I made a mistake getting engaged.”

“Then leave him?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?” asked Grant.

“When will you be in Cedar Rapids again?”

“Not for six weeks or so. Why?”

“How’s Rhode Island this time of year?”

Ten days later, Candice showed up at Grant’s door, a backpack full of clothes clutched close to her. She spent the weekend mostly in Grant’s arms, talking about how she desperately wanted out of her engagement, but how she didn’t want to hurt anyone. Her parents — who already weren’t doing well financially — would be out thousands of dollars they insisted on putting into her wedding. Her fiancee, AJ, had already been left at the altar once before and she didn’t want to make him hurt again. Grant largely listened, not knowing what to say in response to most of Candice’s concerns. He had begun to care for Candice, but knew it wasn’t right of him to try to convince her to call off her wedding. Emotions got the best of both of them, leading Candice and Grant to sleep together again. While Candice called AJ and continued her lie that she’d need to spend more time with her family in Iowa instead of with him in Wyoming, Grant defiantly told himself that she’d end up coming clean with AJ and ending their relationship.

Eight years and sixteen days ago, Candice and AJ married in a church just off of the campus of the University of Wyoming. In that time, Candice had met up with Grant hundreds of times by Grant’s count. Sometimes she flew to meet him in Rhode Island. Sometimes it was on one of Grant’s business trips to Iowa where Candice would conveniently also be in town to see her family. There was even a time where Candice flew to Las Vegas to meet up with Grant while he was at a conference for a weekend — just because she wanted to feel like they got to take a vacation together.

For Grant’s part, the initial mental struggle and concerns about his part in Candice’s infidelity soon gave way to apathy and acceptance. Grant loved Candice completely and irreversibly. If Candice had to borrow time from her life with AJ to be with him, Grant was willing to accept that. But with each passing visit, Grant wanted nothing more than for Candice to surprise him by saying that her marriage with AJ was finally over. Every time the thought of asking Candice to leave AJ crossed Grant’s mind, he got a little more courage towards asking her. Yet each and every one of those times, Grant chose not to say anything. For eight years and sixteen days since the wedding, and in nine years since Grant had met her, Candice was someone else’s — even if she was a very intricate part of his life.

This drive would change that. It had to. There’s no way that Grant could drive across nearly the entire United States in an effort to convince Candice to leave AJ, only for Candice to reject the plan completely. Candice loved him. She made a point to make sure to tell Grant that every single day, be it via text, via phone, or in person. Grant had told Candice he was going to be in Laramie. He told her where he’d be staying. All he had to do was to tell her that he was coming to take her away from her life with AJ so that they could be together. After all this time, it’d be a great relief to both of them. It had to work that way.

When Grant looked out his hotel room window and saw Candice’s baby blue sedan pull into the hotel parking lot, parking beside his own car, he sprinted out onto the second floor walkway. He met Candice at the foot of the staircase leading from the ground floor up to his hotel room, embracing her tightly. Candice didn’t hug him back though. Her face was tear streaked and somber, her eyes red and puffy.

“What’s wrong?” Grant asked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Candice replied.

“That’s why I’m here! You don’t have to. We can leave and go back to Rhode Island.”

“No.”

“I’m not married to Rhode Island. I’m at the point where I can freely transfer wherever. There’s Cedar Rapids if you want to be near your family.”

“No.”

“There’s San Diego if you want to be somewhere warm.”

“No. Grant.”

“Hell, if you really want to get far away from here, I’m sure we could go to Amsterdam or Auckland.”

“Grant!” Candice screamed. “Stop. Please.”

“I’m just trying to give you options,” Grant retorted.

“I don’t have options!”

Candice reached into her purse and grabbed a plastic baggy from in it. She handed it to Grant, being sure to have the readable side of the pregnancy test inside face up.

“You’re pregnant?” Grant said, stunned.

“Yeah,” sighed Candice.

“Is it ours?”

“It might be. It might not be.”

“We can raise him. Or her. I’m guessing it’s too early to know?”

“No,” replied Candice. “We can’t. I can’t do this anymore.”

“What if the child is mine?” Grant asked.

Candice wiped tears away from her face, though she struggled to keep her face dry as they formed quicker than her hands could move. She leaned in and kissed Grant on the cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry. Please don’t hate me.”

Candice pulled away from Grant and sprinted through the hotel parking lot and into a field that separated the hotel from the highway that ran behind it.

“Candice!” Grant yelled as he started to give chase. “Where are you going?”

Grant initially gained ground on Candice, but his lack of physical activity meant that Candice quickly pulled away from him. Candice continued her charge toward the highway, seemingly picking up speed the closer she got. Grant slowed to a fast walk, panting and huffing as he did so. As Candice neared the highway, Grant let out a strained shout.

“Candice!” he yelled. “Come…come back!”

Candice ran onto the highway at a point where an on ramp merged into the interstate, doing so at the same grade as the land beside the road. A car coming down the ramp saw her and swerved onto the shoulder, avoiding her before darting back into its lane. A second truck — a large moving van towing a small hatchback — wasn’t as quick to react. The vehicle struck Candice at full speed, launching her into the air before skidding to a stop on the side of the road. As Candice came crashing to the ground, Grant collapsed in the field, sobbing into the grass beneath him.


The chime of his car signaling that it was low on gas brought Grant’s head up from the steering wheel. It had been hours since he had talked to the police and paramedics about why Candice had run into oncoming traffic on the interstate. Since he wasn’t family, they couldn’t tell her anything more about her condition — merely the hospital she was taken to. Despite wanting to go and to be there for Candice, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the hotel parking lot. In between bouts of crying at the top of his lungs, Grant had dozed off, exhaustion both mentally and physically getting the best of him.

Grant put the car in reverse and drove along side streets from the hotel to the gas station on the other side of the highway. As he parked his car and got out to pump gas, a white pickup truck pulled into the station, parking at the pump across from him. Grant began to fill his gas tank as a tall man in a white cowboy hat exited the truck. The man began to fill his own tank while talking on his cell phone, leaving Grant to hear a one-sided conversation.

“That’s what they told me,” said the man to whomever he was on the phone with. “The cops were saying it was lover’s quarrel gone wrong.”

He paused.

“I figured it was bound to happen sooner or later. Her running off, that is.”

He paused again.

“Yeah, it’s morbid, but what in the fuck else is there to say?”

The pump clicked on Grant’s car, indicating it was full. He returned the nozzle to its latch, shut the gas tank door, and got in his car. Grant drove to the hospital, hoping that somehow, someway, Candice would still be alive when he got there.

Grant walked up to the front desk at the hospital, only to find it unstaffed. After a few seconds, an elderly nurse in pink scrubs walked around the corner and behind the desk.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Um, yeah,” Grant stammered, “I’m here to see Candice Hopewell-Ravinia.”

“Are you family?”

“Not exactly.”

“Are you on her allowed guest list?”

“I’m not sure?”

“What’s your name, hun?” asked the nurse.

“Grant Lazar.”

The nurse typed Grant’s name into the computer, slowly reading over the results on the screen.

“Room 2904,” she said. “Though visiting hours end in 35 minutes, so you can’t be up there long.”

“Thank you,” replied Grant.

Grant ran off to the elevator, frantically pushing the button to get the car to come down to him. Though the hospital was nearly empty as midnight neared, Grant stared down the hall towards the building’s full emergency room. A screaming child from the other end of the hall masked the sound of the elevator’s arrival, causing Grant to have to quickly throw his arm in the door opening before it closed and left without him.

Upon arriving on the second floor, Grant followed the meandering hallway to a room where he found Candice in several casts, her left leg in traction hovering above the bed. A young doctor was looking over Candice when Grant entered.

“Hi,” Grant stammered.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Thomas. You must be AJ.”

“No, Grant.”

“Ah, okay,” replied the doctor, “Candice’s mother said you might show up.”

“How’s she doing?”

“I can’t share any specifics with you, but we’re keeping a close eye on her. If her family decides to share more info with you when they arrive, they can.”

“I understand,” said Grant. “Do you care if I stay here with her for a little bit?”

“Not at all. There’s a chair in the corner that you can wheel over if you want.”

Dr. Thomas left the room as Grant brought the chair over to the side of Candice’s bed. Grant carefully placed his hand on her partially exposed fingers, holding them lightly. He began to sob, tears trickling down onto the bed beside his hand.

“I love you,” said Grant. “I’m so sorry this happened. If you never want to see me again, I’d understand.”

Grant felt Candice close her index and middle finger around his hand, clutching them as tightly as her cast allowed. As he tried to move away, Candice close the grip tighter, pinching his fingers against the cast. Grant moved back to his original spot, kissing Candice’s exposed fingers to let her know he was staying. The cast cut into his fingers, blood trickling down onto the sheet below. Yet Grant didn’t move. In this moment, perhaps for the first time, Grant felt like he could see Candice for who she truly was. He wasn’t leaving that moment.