Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP) – Chapter Five

Chapter Five: Sarah Wilcox

A jazzy rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” plays in the background.  Most people are oblivious to the music, but as Sarah spins out another order on the cappuccino machine, she sings softly and rocks her hips.  Caught up in the love of Christmastime, she whips up peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes by the dozen.

“Here you go,” she says with a wide grin as she sets another order on the counter for pickup.

The middle-aged couple returns the smile.  

“Thank you,” the woman says, slipping a dollar into the tip jar.

“Merry Christmas,” Sarah replies as they walk away.

She glances at the full tip jar.  Normally, at the end of each shift, the workers divide the money evenly, but during the holiday season, they’ve been collecting the money to go toward buying gifts for underprivileged kids.

“We’ve made quite the dough today,” remarks Benny, a handsome African American man who’s been working beside Sarah that morning.

Sarah smiles at him.  “That’s part of what I love about this time of year.  It brings out the best in people.”  

While they talk, their hands are busy making drinks.  Benny winks at Sarah, and she feels the blush on her face.  She’s been working beside him more than just this morning.  In fact, they’ve been spending hours working together, and Sarah wonders if he’s into her like she is into him.  He can’t be much older than her, and he’s tall and lean, not overly-muscular.  Maybe he played basketball in high school or college.

“What are your plans for the holidays?” Benny asks over the rush of noise.

“Gotta work till noon, but then my family’s spending the afternoon and evening with my aunt and uncle and their kids and grandkids.  The grandkids are young, so it’s that fun age of watching them open gifts, still believing in Santa and all that.  There will be tons of family there–even more than I can remember.  How about you?”

“Would you believe they gave me off work like I requested?  My last day before we leave for Florida is the 24th, and then I won’t be back until after New Year’s.  My family’s all down there.”

“You’ll be having more days off if you aren’t careful, Benjamin,” the assistant manager, Tina Ross, barks.  “Now, pay attention and get back to work, both of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Benny says.  When Tina turns her back, he mock-salutes her.

Sarah and he are reduced to a fit of giggles.  

“Careful,” Sarah says lowly, “if you aren’t careful–”

Benny snickers.

Hours later, Sarah finishes her shift and steps outside to gently falling snow.  She walks slowly to her car, savoring the peace that the snow brings.  Despite the revving of semi-truck engines getting on and off the turnpike, Sarah finds a certain stillness as she gets into her car.  She sits in silence for a minute before turning it on, then turns the radio dial until she finds a station playing Christmas music.  The song ends within seconds, and the radio announcer starts up.

“And we’re still going strong on our drive to touch the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, who don’t have the money to have a Christmas dinner and a few gifts around the tree.  It’s true that our families and friends are greater than what money can buy, as is the birth of Jesus Christ.  That’s why in the spirit of giving and love, we are asking those who are able to call in and make a pledge.  We’ve already reached–”

Sarah turns off the radio as her eyes fall on the woman who sits at the picnic table every day.  Before she can let fear change her mind, she goes back inside the rest area and orders a cup of coffee.  Nothing fancy, just something warm.

“You know you don’t have to pay,” Janice says as she rings Sarah up.

“I know.”  Sarah shrugs with a soft, sad smile on her face.

“Hmm.”  Janice hands Sarah the coffee.  “See you tomorrow.”

“Thanks.”  

Sarah holds the cup carefully between her hands, like she’s cradling a precious treasure.  She stops at the stand where the cream and sugar are and grabs a few, stuffing them in her coat pockets.  She heads back outside into the snow, which is still falling gracefully.  With every step in the direction of the strange lady, Sarah’s heart thuds in her chest and up through her head.  She eventually reaches the woman, who is staring in the direction of the woods.  Standing a few feet away, Sarah hesitates with what to say.  She closes the distance between them and gingerly sets the coffee on the table, adding too many creams and sugars next to it with shaky fingers.

The woman turns — a sudden, jerky movement that takes Sarah by surprise.  She’s wearing sunglasses.  Sarah half-smiles.

“I just, uh, wanted to give you this.  It’s cold outside and all, so I thought you might want something to keep your warm.  If you don’t like coffee, I can get you tea or hot chocolate.  I work at the coffee place right inside.”  

Sarah stops babbling as the woman picks up the cup and takes a sip.  “Coffee’s fine.  Thank you.”

Sarah’s face eases into a full smile.  “You’re welcome.”

The woman doesn’t say anything else, but as she takes another sip of the coffee, Sarah is certain she hears a contented sigh.  Before the happy moment falls into awkwardness, Sarah says a quiet goodbye and leaves, smiling to herself all the way to the car and all the way on the drive home.

“What are you smiling for?” Sarah’s mom asks when she enters the kitchen.

“Just, you know, Christmas and the season of giving and all that, Mom.”  Sarah kisses her mom’s cheek, asking, “What can I do to help?”

 

Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain – Chapter 15

There’s little joy around here.  It’s not like the guards put up greenery along the hallways and wind garland around the bars.  There aren’t any Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling.  It’s just the same dull, dim overhead lights, the kind that make a guy look even more like death than he already does in here.  It’s a week before Christmas, give or take.

So, when I’m told I have a visitor, my heart leaps with the first joy I’ve felt in a long time.  A guard brings me into the meeting room, where I’m seated on one side of a long table with bars separating the prisoners from the visitors.  I sit and stare into Ma’s concerned hazel eyes.

“Hi, Ma,” I say, although it sounds more like a croak.

Ma’s mouth moves, but nothing comes out.  Instead, she starts sobbing.  She keeps wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief, sniffling, and shaking her head, looking for all the world like she wants to speak but can’t.  Finally, she sets the handkerchief in her lap and pulls something outta her purse.  It’s bright red.  She shoves it toward me through the bars.

“I made it for you,” she says.

Picking the item up, it’s soft.  I realize it’s a hat.  I glance toward the guard, who’s got his eyes on me, and pull the hat down over my ears, hiding my messy hair.  Heart-gutting gratitude stabs at me.  God, Ma, why’d you have to make me something?

“I don’t have anything for you, but thanks, Ma.”

She shakes her head.  “Nonsense, Harry.  Why would I expect you to have something for me?  The best gift I can ask for this Christmas is to see you.  I just w-wish–”

My eyes drop to my hands.  The hat feels warm on my head, a piece of home.  “I know, Ma.  So do I.  I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry we haven’t come sooner.  I just– I just couldn’t bear that thought of seeing you here.”

“I’m sorry.”  I don’t know what else to say.  It’s pathetic but true.  Somehow, two little words do next to nothing to explain how much I wish I could undo the past and make right.  I wanna tell Ma that she’ll one day be proud of me, that when I get outta here, I won’t let her down ever again.  But it’s a lie.  It’s not a promise I can make.

Ma starts sobbing all over again, and before I can say another wretched “I’m sorry,” the guard says our time’s up and ushers her out.  I’m about to stand and leave, because if I need to blubber like a little kid, at least let it be in my cell instead of here, but the guard tells me I have another visitor.  I plant myself back in the seat, but I’m on the edge, my legs shaking.

Pa comes in and sits.  He tries to smile, but the pained grimace doesn’t reach his dull eyes.  “Hi, son.”

“Hi, Pa.  How’re things at home?”

Pa shrugs.  “Quiet.  It’s just us, Hannah, and Irma now.”

“How’s work?”

“I manage.  Not as much business as I used to get, but I’m holding it together fine.  Hannah’s been helping out with paying the bills when her money.”

“That’s Hannah for you.  Always lookin’ out for others.”  I try to smile.

“Yeah…”

“So, uh… Any plans for Christmas?”  I wanna kick myself for speaking to my father like I’m making small talk with a stranger in a food line.

“Amy, Jack, and Jean will be there.  Don’t know about Erik and Lily yet.  We don’t really hear much from your brother anymore.”

My insides churn as my thoughts darken.  What’s Erik’s problem?  He’s got all the freedom in the world, yet he can’t pick up the phone or be bothered to visit his family?  “He’s lucky he’s not in my shoes.  You know what I’d give to be there?”

Pa sighs.  “Don’t be too hard on Erik, Harry.  We all have our own battles to fight.”

I cross my arms over my chest.  “Yeah, well…”  

“It won’t be forever, son.  I hate seeing you in here, but just give it time.”

“Time’s all I’ve got, Pa.  I’m losin’ my mind here.”

Again, Pa tries to smile.  It’s who he is, what he’s always done: give that smile to fill us with hope, to cheer us on, to make us believe in ourselves when we couldn’t on our own.

“I wish I’d have known you had that problem, Harry.”  

His words are soft, but the firm undertone is holding them up.  He won’t even acknowledge what “that problem” is in words.  Go ahead, Pa.  Say it.  Tell me I’m an alcoholic.  Instead, I nod and am man enough to look my old man in the eyes when I reply, “I know.  Truth is, Pa, I never thought it was a problem.”

“Until it was too late.”

“Yeah, until then.”  You must be ashamed of me.  That’s the real reason why you and Ma haven’t come to this hell-hole till now.  I don’t blame you, Pa.  If I were you, I’d stay away from me, too, but I’m kinda stuck with myself.

“Time’s up,” the guard says without feeling, and he waits for Pa to join him at the door to see him out.  

As Pa stands, he says, “Ma and I will be back soon, son.  I promise.”

“Yeah, see you around, Pa.”

And then he’s gone.  Just like that.  I stand and walk toward the door on my side, looking through the bars one last time, maybe expecting to see the other side without that barrier that tells me exactly where my place is.

Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain – Chapter 8

The living room is filled to the brim, so it’s with relief that I take Kat upstairs.

I hadn’t realized what I was doing until we find ourselves standing at the top of the stairs.  The short hallway with its five doors — the three bedrooms, the bathroom, and the stairway to the attic — invites us, and Kat accepts the invitation.

“Which one’s your room?”

“Second door on the left.  ‘Course, I shared it was my brother for most of my life.”

Kat doesn’t seem interested in talking, as she’s already down the hall and entering my room.  I follow her, a bit uneasy because of the crowd just down the stairs.  “Kat, what’re you doin’?”

She flops down onto my bed and laughs.  “Aw, come on, big boy.  Don’t tell me you’re choosing now to play coy?”

I close the door carefully.  “Of course not.”

She eyes up the room.  I wonder if she’s expecting to find some sort of big secret, like I keep a collection of fresh eyeballs in a glass jar or something.  There’s nothing remarkable about this room, however.  A few of my brother’s old baseball trophies linger on our dresser, and there are my basketball ones as well.  Kat sits up and approaches the trophies.  Maybe she saw the way I was scrutinizing them.

She picks up the largest — a behemoth from Erik’s senior year, recognizing his years of excellence on the field.  “Jeez, you could use this thing for weightlifting,” Kat jokes, placing it back.  She studies the trophies for a few moments and then asks, her eyes still on them, “Does it bother you?”  Her voice has turned soft, gentle, like she’s talking to a kid.

“What?” I ask, the sunlight coming through the window gleaming off the trophies, uncomfortable on my eyes.

“That all these, I mean the ones that belong to your brother, are still here.  It’s like, I dunno, it’s like he’s still hanging around here, not giving you your space.  Look, his trophies are all bigger than yours.”

I can feel my eyebrows arching inward.  “Do we hafta talk about this?  Ain’t it enough that Erik had you under his spell downstairs?  Yeah, maybe I oughta just throw the damn things out.”

I pick up the biggest trophy and open the window, making to toss it.  Kat stops me by placing her smaller hand on top of mine.  “Sorry.  I didn’t mean to upset you.  I might be older than Will, but I’ve still felt like he’s the older brother.”

I return the trophy to its place, rightful or not.  Its shadow hovers over the smaller trophies, making sure they all know who’s the boss around here.  “I’m gonna ask Erik to take them with him before he leaves today.  This hasn’t been his room in years.”

Kat doesn’t reply, but instead she’s guiding me toward my bed.  I’m like a rag doll as she pins me down and claims my mouth with hers.  I don’t think as I return the kiss hungrily.  Our hands are all over each other.  We can’t seem to stop.  Breathing doesn’t seem important anymore.  All I want is her, the girl who gets me.

And she can get me all she wants.  Kat undoes her blouse, and I see them — her boobs just asking to be touched.  I push the bra away, but she’s already unfastening it.  I may have just gone to Heaven, because damn, this right here is better than any gift under the tree.  She’s unwrapping herself just for me.

As Kat runs her hands under my shirt, I begin to fumble with the buttons.  She yanks the shirt off, losing a couple of buttons in the process, and smiles deviously at me.  As she runs her hands through my hair and kisses me again, my eyes are closed.  Sure, we’ve necked before, but this…this is a whole new level.

I feel like a firecracker ready to go off, and as I tug at my fly, our little party on the bed is rudely interrupted by a knock from the door.

“Oh, crap,” I hiss as I bolt up from the bed, making to fasten my shirt.  I feel like someone simultaneously punched me in the gut and hit me over the head with a frying pan.  “Just a sec.”  I quickly glance at Kat and find her tugging on her blouse, her bra already on and closed.  She looks frazzled and equally annoyed.

“Harry, Ma’s about to serve dessert.  We wondered where you’d gone off to,” Erik’s muffled voice says behind the door.

I can’t help but smile at Kat.  Trying to contain my laughter, I say, “We’ll be down in a minute.”

There’s a pause.  If I’d heard footsteps retreating down the hall, I’d’ve thought Erik left.  Finally, he says, “What are you doing in there?”

“Can’t a guy show a girl his room?  Jeez, brother.”

“I’ll see you downstairs, Harry.”

Finally, the footsteps.  I let out a sigh of relief, and Kat begins giggling.  “Oh, you should’ve seen the look on your face,” she says.

“My face?  What about yours?”

Kat chucks my belt at me.  “You might need that.  Think they’ll notice your shirt?”

Excerpt from A Laughing Matter of Pain – Chapter 6

We wave goodbye as we step out the door.  The beams from the headlights of the jalopy pulling into our driveway are the only light we have to see by.  The car screeches to a halt, and something bangs under the hood.  The driver’s side door opens and a man steps out, followed by the back door opening to reveal a woman.

The man holds out his hand to Hannah.  “Hello, you must be Hannah.  It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

Hannah giggles softly as they shake hands.  “Hi there.  And you must be Will.”

“That’s right.  My sister has told me lots about you.”

The woman who must be Kat steps next to Will.  She hugs Hannah and whispers something in her ear.  Hannah smiles and turns her attention to Will.

My sister and her new boyfriend seem to fade away as my eyes fall on Kat.  The dark hides most of her features, but from what I can glean, she’s a looker: full lips–good for kissing–and a small nose–again, good for kissing.

“Ah, you must be Kat.”  I grin as my hands dig in my pockets to keep my excitement down.

“Well, hello there, Harry.”  Her voice is like chocolate in my mouth.  I could savor the sound of her words alone for days.  She holds out her hand.  

I take it and kiss it.  No handshake for this dame.  She giggles and takes hold of my hand, yanking me into the back seat.  Everyone’s in the car in no time, and Will takes the wheel.  Kat explains that we’re going to a party at a house that belongs to her friend who married some big wig doctor from the Cleveland Clinic.  Damn.  Millionaire’s Row.  Everyone who lives in Cleveland has driven by those small palaces on Euclid Avenue, but how many have actually gotten the chance to go inside one, and to a party nonetheless?

I half-listen as Hannah goes on about our folks and Pa’s job, but Kat doesn’t seem to care about that.  She turns to me and asks, “And what about you, big boy?  I hear you’re following in your father’s footsteps.”

“That’s right.  Even in these tough times, there’s a need for deliveries.”

Kat’s practically sitting on my lap.  Hannah focuses on Will.  I take this moment to get a better look at Kat and see that she’s got vibrant red hair.  I can’t tell the color of her eyes in the dark, but I’m banking on knowing by the end of the night.  Her heart-shaped face is decorated with a pouty smile and lots of makeup.

“So, tell me more about yourself.”  Kat wraps her arms around my neck.  She smells like vanilla and cigarettes.  An intoxicating combination.

“What d’you wanna know?”  I bring an arm around her lower back and draw her closer.

“Hmm, are you a good kisser?”

“Ah.  I’ve been told so on a few occasions.”

“Just a few?”

“Okay, more than a few.”

Kat laughs.  “So, you’re an experienced man.  Lots of heartbroken girls in the world because of you?”

“Something like that.”  I grin.  “What about you?  You a heartbreaker, Kat?”

“Why are you asking?  You worried?”

“Nah.”  I wave her off.  

Her smile widens, and she whispers in my ear, “I’m yours for the taking, baby.”  Her breath tickles my lobe, the tingle going all the way down to my groin.  

Excerpt from Arianna – Chapter 28

“Maybe we can go bug my big brother now.  He’s always good for a laugh.”

I gave his shoulder a little shove.  “You’re downright awful.”

“I’m the younger sibling.  It’s my job to instigate, no matter how old I get.”

We walked farther down the hall and stopped at the door at the end.  Marc knocked.

“Mom, I told you I’m not comin’ down,” came an irritated reply.

“It’s not Mom,” Marc said.  He flashed me a grin and then looked back at the door, his smile widening.

“Marc?”  A few seconds later, the door opened.  A man a head taller than Marc stood there, his dark blonde hair unruly.  A light brown, trim beard covered his jawline.  “Well, look what the cat dragged in.”  He smelled of beer and cigarettes.  His eyes landed on me.  “Who’s the pretty lady, little bro?”

“Her name’s Arianna.”  Marc wrapped his arm around me, almost possessively.

Justin chuckled.  “Don’t worry, Marky-Marc.  I’m not gettin’ any ideas.  All I can say is, about time.”

“You sound like Dad.”  Marc frowned.  “Speaking of stuff being ‘about time,’ what’s up with you, loser?  Got a job yet?”

“You’re hilarious,” Justin said, shoving Marc in the chest a little too hard for it to be only in jest.  “What about you?  Make it big in Hollywood yet, you pathetic dreamer?”

“I’m a stage actor, dipshit.  And hey, at least I’ve got ambitions.  More than anyone can say about you.  Who’s your latest hooker?”

Justin’s eyes darkened.  “You don’t know shit, Marc.  Donna’s the real deal.”  Then he seemed to remember I was there and frowned.  “Uh, sorry.  Hope this little douche isn’t too whiney for you.”

I glared.  “Marc’s the first good guy I’ve really been with.  I’ve been around the block enough to know about guys like you, Justin, and yeah, maybe that makes me just as dirty as you, but at least Marc had the balls to see something good in me.”  I gasped as the last of the words left my mouth and covered it with my hands.

Marc smirked.  “We’ll be seeing you, Justin.  Glad to know you’re as charming as always.”  He took my arm, and we walked down the hall to the stairs.

The slam of Justin’s door echoed down the hallway, but with the noise downstairs, it was unlikely anyone else heard it.

I leaned against the wall as we stood next to the steps.  “I can’t believe I said that.  D’you think I pissed him off?”

Marc waved me off.  “Who cares?  Maybe he needed to hear it from someone outside of the family.”  He took my hand and squeezed it.  “That was… What you said about me…”

I met his gaze and found him blushing.  “It’s true.  Your brother seems to rub you the wrong way.  I’ve never seen you so…”

“Rude?”  Marc chuckled softly.

Excerpt from WIP Arianna – Part of Chapter 4

When I walked into Nana’s house that day, she turned, elbow-deep in flour as she made bread, and said, “You’re home early.”

“I quit.”  I took a seat at the table, placed my interlocked hands on its surface, and stared at my peeling nail polish.

“You what?”

“I quit my job.”

“Why would you do that?”  Nana wiped her hands on her apron near her hips and went to the sink to wash up.  After the water turned off, she grabbed the tea kettle and filled it.  I knew what was coming.  “We’re going to talk about this over some tea, Ari.”

“Isn’t it a bit hot for, um, hot tea?”

“Fine, then.  I’ll make iced herbal tea, but it’s still best to let the water boil on the stove, the tea bag steep, and then add the ice.  None of this instant nonsense.”  While the kettle warmed, Nana joined me.  “Now, what’s this about?”

I pointed at my face, half-smirking.  

“Your choice of decoration?”

I laughed.  “Yeah, Jeanine didn’t approve.  She wanted me to remove it, said it was against the rules or some garbage.  I didn’t agree, so I quit.”

“Hmm, seems a bit rash, dear.  But then again, you don’t seem that broken up.”

“I thought I might be more upset, but to be honest, I feel free.  And if I’m going to be completely honest with you, Nana, I don’t think I want to continue with beauty school, either.”

Nana’s eyebrows rose.  “Don’t you think you’re making an awful lot of changes, Ari?  I understand if you’re not happy with that way things are going, but too much change too quickly is, well, not healthy.”

I laughed humorlessly.  “Don’t I know it?  Don’t we both know it?  What choice did we have when my parents died, Nana?  None.  I wanna make some choices that are gonna have a better effect on my life.  Example–my whole relationship with Brad was coming apart at the seams for years.  I was living in his shoes.”

Nana chuckled.  “I never really cared for that boy, but I tolerated him because I thought you liked him.  He never stayed for dinner.  A man who doesn’t like my cooking automatically gets a lower grade in my books.”

I laughed at her spunk.  “Oh, Nana.”

Just then, the kettle whistled.  Nana stood and took care of making iced tea the right way.  We enjoyed her creation and further conversation.  I then helped her bake vegan bread, which was something I’d never done.  It was a lot of work, but something was therapeutic about it.  By the end of the afternoon, we had three loaves, one of which we used with dinner.

Excerpt from WIP Arianna – Beginning of Chapter 3

 

After leaving Brad’s house, I drove in circles until I pulled into McDonald’s and ordered a large fries, two cheeseburgers, and a Coke.  I found a spot under a tree in the corner of the parking lot and turned off the car.  I kept the radio on and spent the next ten minutes eating away my sorrow and pretending that the girl singing the latest song of heartbreak was belting out those lyrics just for me.  After finishing the Coke, I felt sick.  The food didn’t sit well with me, and judging by the tightness of my shorts, I knew I should stop my bad habit of getting fast food almost every day.  Nana’s meals weren’t keeping me full.

I wondered about texting Kelly from work to see if she was still out with some of the other girls.  Maybe a few drinks with “the girls,” even though they weren’t my girls, would be the escape I needed–from thinking about Brad, my parents, my dead-end job, my supposed beauty career.  

I pulled my phone out of my purse.  My finger hovered over the screen in indecision.  Biting my lip, I glanced at the fence in front of me.  My eyes locked onto a sign there.

“Looking to make big money?  No experience needed.  Call 216-555-7634.”

I wrestled a pen out of my overstuffed purse and wrote the number down on an unused napkin.  Why I was doing this, I wasn’t entirely sure.  It was probably a scam.  Something too good to be true.  All I knew was that I needed a change.

I turned for home.  When I entered, Nana was sitting in the armchair in the small living room, reading her evening Bible verses.

“You’re back sooner than expected,” she said as she set her materials aside and removed her reading glasses.

I dropped onto the couch.  “Yeah, um, things didn’t exactly go as planned.”  My voice gave way at the end.  Damn it.

Nana left her seat and joined me.  “Ari, what’s the matter?”

“Brad and I, we br-broke up.  I mean, I broke it off with him.”

“Oh, Ari, honey, I’m so sorry.”  Nana drew me into a hug.

“I don’t know why I’m crying.  I should be glad to be rid of that– that–”

Nana released me and gazed at me with a small smile.  “It won’t be the first time a young lady had her heart broken, even if it was your choice to end things.  It sounds like things must have been going south for sometime if you weren’t happy with him.”

“Maybe.  Yeah.”

“Isn’t there anyone you want to call, Ari?  A friend?”

I shook my head.  “It’s pathetic, but I don’t really have any friends, Nana.”

“Really?  There’s no one?”

“Not really.  I kinda pushed the few friends I had away since Mom and Dad died.  I’m not really close with anyone at the salon or at school.  I mean, sure, there are some girls I talk to at work or school, but we’d never do anything social together.”

“What about that one girl you were close with back in high school?  What was her name?”

“Lori?”

“That’s the one.”

“Lori and I haven’t talked since the summer after high school, Nana.  She went away to college, somewhere on the west coast, I think.  I never heard from her again.”  That wasn’t completely true.  We were Facebook friends, but I didn’t think that counted.  We never interacted on there, and Nana understood social media about as well as I understood how a car worked.

“Maybe when you go to beauty school tomorrow, you should consider getting to know someone there better.  You have something in common, after all.”

“Yeah, we’ll see.  I think I’m just gonna turn in for the night if it’s all the same to you, Nana.”

“Well, good night, then, Ari.”  Nana kissed my cheek.

I offered what I hoped looked like a smile and not a grimace and went to my room.  Pulling out my phone and plopping down on my bed, I went onto Facebook and pulled up Lori Hensen’s profile.  She was still single and was now in a master’s program.  She had a ridiculously big grin on her pretty face in her profile pic.  As I clicked through her photos, she was almost always surrounded by friends.  My finger hovered over the message button.  Oh, what the hell?  Why not try?

Hi Lori, sorry we sorta lost touch.  How’s life?  I didn’t say anything on here but I lost my parents last month.  Plane crash.  Sorry if that’s tmi.  I just thought I’d check in and say hey.  If you got a sec I’d love to talk sometime.  Miss you. X

I sent the message, but it didn’t look like she was on.  Deciding that maybe Nana had a point, I tapped on Kelly’s number.  I’d never actually texted her before.  We’d exchanged numbers early on, just because Kelly was the type of person who was nice to everyone.

Hi Kelly, its Arianna from work.  Hope ur havin fun 2nite.  

I was surprised when the phone pinged.  Up popped a message from Kelly: Hey arianna!! Whats up girlie?  Ur missin a fun time.  U sure u dont wanna come out w/ us?

If I were the partying type, I would’ve jumped at the prospect.  I walked to the vanity and glared at myself.  My eyes shifted to the journal and black binder, and my hand hovered over them.  Stay home and write away my sorrows or go out on the town?  You want change or not, Arianna?  This is a chance to get out there and make that happen.  As Nana would say, to take the bull by the horns.