Short Piece #5 – The Lights

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The following is an older story, from about a year and a half ago. It’s rather short, but I’ve always liked the end result. To celebrate the beginning of August, I thought I would post it here…

They looked at the lights.

Jason shook his head and turned his attention back to the poker table and the cards in front of him. He didn’t look at them again. He knew what they were. And they went perfectly with the flop on the table already. The jack of clubs made his pocket jacks three of a kind. Kinda like him, his girlfriend Lauren, and that other guy.

The man to his right bet. He called. Once again, the game became everything for him; the tourists gazing at the lights of Las Vegas were forgotten.

All three other players folded. The turn came out. A four of hearts. Nothing threatening. The guy to his right bet big this time, the stack of red and black chips reflecting off of his sunglasses. Jason called. It was tough to respect a guy who had to hide behind sunglasses. Sort of like how it was tough to respect a guy who kept coming on to your girlfriend when he knew she was taken.

The river: another four. Jason hid his smile, and waited for Mr. Sunglasses to dig himself even deeper into a hole. He did.

Jason called and laid down his full house. Mr. Sunglasses threw his hands in the air in disgust, gathered his remaining chips, and left the table. Jason pulled his winnings over and stacked them. It was just so easy to lose himself in poker, especially when he was winning. He simply forgot about his job and the sale on the line when his vacation was over. He forgot about Lauren and that guy who wouldn’t leave her alone even though he knew she was taken. He forgot about everything but the cards and the almost finished rum and coke at his elbow.

The sounds of the Strip washed over him as he won another hand, this time bluffing the pants off the fat blonde lady across the table. He sipped at another drink when the waitress brought it, feeling a slight burn as he swallowed. The bartender made that one strong.

Jason leaned back and stretched. As he lowered his head and started to return his attention to the table, he saw her.

It wasn’t Lauren. It couldn’t be. She was back in California. But the dark brown mane of hair looked so similar. The girl’s size four body, accentuated by black tights and a purple tank top, was identical. She glanced at him and her eyes struck him, green and brown and grey, all at the same time. Lauren’s eyes. He couldn’t look away.

Then she grabbed the hand of some tool in a polo, broke eye contact, and laughed. The two of them rounded a corner.

Jason gathered in his chips and stood up, to the shock and relief of the others at the table. He wouldn’t be taking any more of their money tonight. He would have laughed, had his mood not darkened so suddenly.

Chips clinking in his bag, Jason stalked away from the table. He intended to cash them in, but his feet led him away from the cashiers’ booths. The open exit from the Planet Hollywood casino beckoned.

Jason couldn’t get the image of her out of his head.

So he walked into the open air, feeling the warm night breeze ruffle his shaggy hair. He stood there, the flow of the crowds passing around him.

And he looked up at the lights.

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Cerulean Sundown – Revised

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And finally, after almost two months, I’m posting the revised version of Cerulean Sundown. I’ve had it written for quite some time (since the end of April, actually), but due to some issues with wordpress and my own obnoxiously busy life, I’ve slacked and delayed posting it—and yes, it is, like Folds of Ruby, vastly different from the original. Now, after far too long, it is up for your enjoyment. I sincerely hope it was worth the delay…

The mood at the  reception was as expected: subdued, with hints of normality hidden just below the surface. Most of the people were just glad to be done with the funeral, but couldn’t quite work up the nerve to be openly relieved. In a way, Mat appreciated that; mostly, though, he found it beyond irritating.

He wandered among the tables, hardly registering the half-hearted sympathies that the guests sent his way. His glass of dark red merlot rested, forgotten, in his right hand. His left was clenched around Jordan’s hand while she walked next to him, tears falling silently from her eyes. He knew that those tears weren’t totally for Andy, but he had no desire to confront that yet. Continue reading

Folds of Ruby (i.e. Clouds of Ruby, revamped)

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After realizing that Clouds of Ruby needed some significant work in order to hold its own as a short story and not just a scene in a bigger narrative, I decided to rewrite it. Completely. And rename it…so, the following is the new, polished and finished product: Folds of Ruby.

Mat had a hard time getting his head around the upcoming weekend. It didn’t feel right, for two reasons: one, he wasn’t in college anymore; and two, he knew that Andy would try to set him up with someone. It had been two years, after all, since Nicole’s treachery had reared its head and sent their relationship straight to hell.

So Mat sat on his back porch and fretted, trying to calm himself with a beer and a Sudoku puzzle. He tried to lose himself in the descending weather, a phenomenon that was part of why he loved Haven Falls so much. The heavy humidity of the evening summer air condensed into fog as the temperature dropped, leaving the neighborhood blanketed in a myriad of colored blurs. While the dark brew traced its way down his throat after each sip, Mat watched while his small yard became faded in slow increments. He compared it to his past relationships; even those that didn’t go anywhere always started out seemingly clear, but ended shrouded in ambiguities and confusion.

His tension reached a peak when he felt his phone buzz, and he withdrew it from the pocket of his jeans to read a text from Andy, proclaiming “ETA 30 secs.”

Mat took a couple deep breaths and attempted to ignore his suddenly pounding heart. Whether he wanted it or not, he knew, the weekend at Andy’s cabin was upon him. He couldn’t simply ignore the myriad female opportunities that were sure to present themselves this time.

He finally stood up and smoothed down the red button-up shirt he had on. Some small part of his mind seemed to whisper, if you’re so against girls and relationships right now, why did you dress up?

It took him only about twenty steps to reach the front door, just a few seconds after he heard Andy’s knock. The familiar one-one-three rhythm announced that it was definitely his best and oldest friend standing outside.

Mat managed a smile when he opened the door, fully expecting to go through their normal fist-bump greeting.

He halted, hand half raised and fist unclenched, when he saw that Andy was not alone in front of the open door.

Jordan?” Mat blurted out.

She was standing right next to Andy. It was her, no doubt about it. Jordan Brewer, one of his best friends in college and the girl he’d always had a crush on. The girl who he was always too afraid to pursue, lest he somehow irretrievably ruin their friendship.

The girl who was still stunningly gorgeous.

She was wearing  a dark red sundress, her dark brown hair hanging loose to her shoulders. She wasn’t wearing her glasses—she usually only did when she had her hair in a ponytail—and her light blue eyes shone out at him. She looked every bit as good as she did in his memories of her.

A smile bloomed on her face, and he noticed that she was wearing a dark red lipstick. “Hey, Mat. It’s—well, it’s been a while.”

Mat nodded, a little overwhelmed by her sudden appearance on his doorstep. He wanted to shoot an accusing glare at Andy, but knew that she would see it and wonder. Meanwhile, the small voice in the back of his mind spoke up again, teasing him: Aren’t you glad you dressed up, now?

“Yeah. Yeah, it has,” Mat said, a little hoarse. “Uh, come in.”

When they kicked their shoes off, Mat realized that he’d completely ignored Andy so far. He turned to say something, but found his best friend grinning in a bemused sort of way. “Ha, ha,” Mat said instead.

Andy’s grin widened. “What?” There wasn’t even an attempt at innocence in his voice, and Mat scowled.

Jordan raised an eyebrow at their little byplay. It reminded him of how he’d always loved her dry and witty sense of humor.

He ground his teeth, frustrated and amused that Andy’s little ploy seemed to be working perfectly.

“Can I get you anything to drink? Jordan?” he asked, feeling compelled to say her name out loud again. A slightly warm sensation spread through his stomach when he did. Dammit, he thought. I’m falling for her, and it’s been thirty seconds since she stepped into my house.

She nodded and brushed her hair back behind her ear. He saw that she’d gotten another piercing since college, and now had a pair of studs in her earlobe. “Water’s fine for me.”

“I’ll check out your beer,” Andy said, his deep voice contrasting with Jordan’s mellow tone. He followed Mat into the kitchen and began digging through his refrigerator.

Mat punched him on the shoulder.

Andy turned around, already clutching a frosty Guinness in his left hand. “Huh?”

“Come on, you’re killing me!” Mat whispered fiercely.

Andy’s smile returned as he rubbed his shoulder. He popped the cap off of the Guinness on the edge of the counter and said, “Hey man, you needed it.” He lowered hisvoice. “You needed her.”

Mat grimaced and turned away to fill up a glass with water for Jordan. He wanted to protest, to say that he was fine—but that nagging conscience wouldn’t let him. He knew Andy was right.

After dropping two ice cubes into the glass of water, he grabbed Andy by the arm and said, “You’re a good friend, you know that?”

They went back into the living room by the door and found Jordan standing in front of the couch, looking at Mat’s pictures hanging on the wall.

“Here’s your water.”

She spun around, little spots of embarrassment on her cheeks at being caught looking. She took the cup and said thanks while her fingers momentarily intertwined with Mat’s against the condensation and glass.

Mat failed to mask his sudden intake of breath. He stared down at his hand, at the spot where her fingers touched his. Now is your chance to finally make that move, he told himself, the move that you never made in college.

He opened his mouth and prepared to speak as she reached down and smoothed out the folds of her ruby dress.

New Short Story! – Amber Below Her Feet

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This little story is a shorter one, but I hope it turned out just as well as my longer stuff…..

                Mat knew what the night meant to her. He dressed for the occasion: Nice black slacks, black cotton jacket, his best silk tie. He brought her to the nicest Italian restaurant he knew of in the town. Haven Falls didn’t have much of a selection in that regard, but he thought that he made an appropriate choice—especially when he escorted her out of the restaurant and suggested a romantic moonlight stroll through the town’s downtown shopping district.

                Nicole smiled up at him, the glow of the moon reflecting off her pale cheeks, her arm through his. Mat was certain that his arrangements for their evening were appropriate for the two-year anniversary of their first date.

                They strolled down cobblestone sidewalks and glanced into the lighted windows of clothing shops and restaurants and ice cream parlors. The warmth of the summer night almost demanded the crowds that packed the latter.

                Nicole’s slender arm was looped easily through Mat’s right, bare to the shoulder. For the second or twentieth time that night, he let his eyes wander over the sleek black dress that she had on, accentuating her curves and her natural beauty. She caught him looking and gave him a playful swat.

                “Not on the street, Mat,” she said, a twinkle in her eye as if promising things for later on, in private.

                He grinned, a little guilty but happy that he was with a girl with a sense of humor. They lapsed back into contented silence, satisfied to simply be walking, holding onto each other. It reminded him of their first date, holding hands and walking around during the town’s harvest festival. It was almost too bad that that particular tradition stopped after the riot the previous year.

                Their feet carried them into the town square, shops all around and lamps overhead. Instead of cobblestone sidewalks here, there were raised wooden walkways and a few small streams meandering through as decoration. Other couples were about, and children raced across the walks, jumping over the creeks and laughing.

                Mat and Nicole stopped in front of a street performer, his hat on the ground in front of him for tips and his hands busy playing an accordion. The instrument lay comfortably on his generous belly, almost seeming to not need the strap that hung around his neck. He smiled at them, jovial in his playing, and the song changed to a slower, somehow romantic tune.

                Nicole snuggled her face closer to Mat and closed her eyes, just listening to the music. Mat, too, felt himself be drawn in, and he reminisced about a particularly memorable party back in college, where a very drunk party host—wearing no shirt—broke out an accordion and played to the general approval of the partiers.

                Mat found himself grinning at the memory for a moment, before the rest of that night resurfaced. He remembered standing in the kitchen, a cheap light beer in hand. He remembered watching the drunken musician ten feet away. He remembered his best friend, Andy, approach him with the gravest of looks on his face and break the news that his girlfriend was cheating on him.

                Struck back to the present by that recollection, Mat opened his mouth and, without thinking, looked down at Nicole and asked, “Would you ever cheat on me?”

                He regretted the words even as they came out of his mouth, sure that she would take offense.

                Her reaction was not what he expected. She opened her eyes and stared at him in shock for a second before breaking eye contact and responding in a slightly hoarse voice. “Of course not, Love.”

                He tried to catch her eye again, but she turned her head and looked up at the moon instead, inadvertently letting its light illuminate the spots of red on her cheeks.

                Mat’s face fell, and he was left staring at the amber wood below her feet with a hollow feeling spreading through him.

Full Short Story! – The Face in the Glass

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               The face staring back from the mirror was ugly. It was the face of a murderer. It was the face of a sixteen-year-old girl.

                Lisa steeled herself as she put her makeup on; it was hard to escape her thoughts and her dreams. The eyeliner, the blush, the mascara; it was all a mask, not to put forth a good face to the world, but to hide her face from herself.

                She did her best to ignore the smooth cheeks, the deep brown eyes, and the long, straight, black hair that she knew were her own features. She lengthened her eyelashes, to hide the brown eyes. She applied blush, to change the cheeks. She curled her hair, to make it less like the hair of a killer.

                Lisa closed her eyes when she finished, and simply sat before her mirror, preparing herself for another day at school.

                Her mother’s voice filtered through the closed door to her room and into her bathroom. She sighed and got up, though she didn’t feel ready to face the day. It wasn’t a new feeling for her; she never felt ready. Her feet tread the carpets of her house nonetheless, down the stairs and into the kitchen.

                Her mother was bustling about, a smile on her face. Lisa almost had trouble seeing her mother; they looked more and more alike each day. She hated seeing even the smallest vestiges of the killer in her mother’s face.

                One key difference was apparent, though. Her mother smiled all the time. Lisa forced a smile onto her own face, her now-habitual morning grimace for the sake of any members of her family still home when she came downstairs. They didn’t know about her. Nobody knew the truth about her.

                “Hello, honey,” her mother said, glancing over her shoulder at Lisa as she entered the kitchen. “I made some pancakes for your brother, and there are two left over if you want them.” She gestured at the table, where a plate sat with the steaming pancakes. A glass of orange juice stood next to the plate.

                Lisa nodded her thanks. “Okay.” She cleared a stack of newspapers from her chair before sitting down. The pancakes were perfect.

                “What classes do you have today, honey?” her mother asked, finally settling down and taking a chair across the table.

                Lisa chewed a mouthful of pancakes before answering. “Today? Uh, math. Web design, marketing, and history. That’s it.” She wasn’t thrilled with her schedule during this new semester. It seemed as if every autumn of her life was destined to be miserable.

                Of course, nothing would ever be worse than when she was seven, when she went to the playground on an early fall day.

                “That’s nice. Marketing and web design sound fun!” Her mother’s enthusiasm broke through her bleak thoughts and brought her back to the breakfast table.

                “Mmm,” she responded, preferring to stuff another bite of pancakes into her mouth rather than answer directly. Her mother wouldn’t understand why no class could be interesting, anymore.

                She hurried through breakfast, feeling the strain of the façade she put on for her mother. Her smile had just started to slip when she grabbed her backpack and keys and rushed to her car.

                                                                                                              *     *     *

                Marketing was the hardest class, for her. Not because the subject matter was difficult, but because the people in the class were nice. Two girls—Kate and Katie—insisted upon becoming her friends. They talked to her every day, despite her lack of interest and her dour responses. No amount of one-syllable retorts seemed enough to deter those two pretty faces.

                “Have a good weekend, Lisa?” Katie pressed, her smile too wide by far and her eyes much too excited to hear about Lisa’s social life. “Do anything fun?”

                Lisa kept her eyes down; she had no desire to fuel Katie’s intrusion upon her privacy. In any event, Katie truly would not want to know what was going on with her outside of school.

                Unfortunately, she wasn’t aware of that; neither was Kate, who sat down on Lisa’s other side and piped in. “Yeah! Why didn’t you come bowling with us? It was a lot of fun!”

                Lisa, finding herself boxed in, finally glanced at Kate. Her brown eyes shone with the same interest as Katie’s blue ones on her other side. The two of them could have been sisters: the same straight brown hair; the same short, round nose; the same thin lips. The only real difference lay in their eye color…and their expressions usually mirrored each other enough to erase that.

                “I was busy,” she said. As usual, her flat tone did nothing to stem the tide.

                “Busy? With what?”

                “Yeah, what were you doing instead?” Katie chimed in.

                Lisa clenched her eyes shut, hoping that their teacher would enter the room and call for quiet right at that moment. She didn’t, of course.

                “I had family in town.” One of the advantages of never hanging out with them was that they never knew when she was lying…which was usually the case.

                “Aww, lame!” Kate said. “That sucks; I’m sorry!”

                Lisa grunted in reply, and stared straight ahead. The two of them had chosen tactful places: she couldn’t really look away from one without looking at the other. The teacher was late, now, and she felt claustrophobic stuck between the two of them. Their incessant questions drove her to the point of an outburst.

                “Stop!” she shouted, glaring back and forth at them.

                The room quieted immediately, and Lisa felt her face heat as twenty-odd students stared at her. She couldn’t stand it; it felt as though each one of them knew the exact reason for her discomfiture. She grabbed her bag, stood up—knocking her chair over in the process—and fled, blushing.

                The hallway in which her locker was located stood blissfully empty. Lisa calmed down as she slowed her pace; her feet no longer sped over the red-and-blue tiles of the east wing. Her face still felt hot, and her breathing was faster than normal, but she felt in control once again. She had nearly broken down. Her memories of past episodes still haunted her, still drove her to avoid any such confrontations. Her parents had understood—somewhat, as they didn’t know the whole story—and helped to keep her steady when the guilt rose up.

                That hadn’t happened in three years, though.

                She dialed in the combination to the locker that she shared with her only real friend. Jordan was the only girl she felt genuine affection for, and so she felt comfortable sharing a locker. Jordan didn’t know everything, however, not even as much as her parents did. And so, she didn’t know the dangers of keeping a pink-trimmed mirror hanging on the inside of the locker door.

                Lisa shrieked when she opened the door and saw her reflection. To her eyes, her cheeks were not flushed and hot; no, they were blue and puffy and cold, the cheeks of a strangulation victim.

                She lost her footing, stumbling backward, away, away from the horrid visage that shone back from the pane of glass. It is not real. It is not real, she repeated to herself over and over and over again. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t happen, not here, not in school, where everyone could see and judge and denounce her for the fiend she knew herself to be.

                Eyes squeezed shut, she fell across the hall and slammed into the far row of lockers. The metal hinges dug into her back, granting her lucidity in her moment of madness. The lockers were real, yes. The face was not.

                “Are—are you all right?” a voice asked.

                Lisa gasped; she’d thought she was alone in the hall. Her eyes opened and found a short, balding man with a concerned look on his face. He stood by her open locker, one arm resting on the door. He seemed too nonchalant in that position for the unease in his voice.

                “I’m okay. I’m okay,” Lisa mumbled, putting a hand to her head. “I…just got dizzy.”

                “I think you should see the nurse, young lady. You nearly fell, just then.”

                Lisa shook her head. She refused to let the experience beat her. “I’m fine.”

                The man squinted at her, wrinkling his forehead in an almost comical fashion. Lisa fought to keep from cracking a smile; it would have been inappropriate in the situation.

                “Well…if you say so. You should get back to class, at the least.”

                “I’ll do that.”

                His expression was almost too much for her to take. She spun on her heels and walked away from him. The terror that had consumed her moments before struggled to rise up again as soon as she moved beyond sight of the funny little man. She forced her legs to keep moving, to escape the fear. Her car awaited in the parking lot in front of the school.

                Upon approaching her car, though, her trepidation piled upon her: driving would require looking into her mirrors. Normally it wasn’t an issue, but it was on her mind now. She inserted her key into the handle with a shaking hand and pulled the door open despite an arm that felt weighed down by steel.

                Lisa heaved a deep breath. She sat down with a wary eye on the side of the rear-view mirror; she made sure to keep her head tilted to the side, so she wouldn’t have to see herself reflected.

                Driving home proved to be a challenge. She found herself looking over her shoulders almost constantly, and her fear of changing lanes was somewhat problematic when she had to turn into her neighborhood. She breathed out, relaxing and sitting a little easier in her seat, when she drove past the familiar red sign and pine trees at the entrance to her street. She hadn’t looked once in her mirror. The pale grey driveway leading up to her house never looked more inviting.

                She reached forward and twisted the key in the ignition, relishing the silence when the engine quieted. She slumped forward in her seat and rested her forehead on the steering wheel, her eyes closed. They flew open almost immediately; she had seen the hideous image from the locker mirror on the back of her eyelids. Her mind seemed determined to summon her most horrifying memories.

                Lisa screamed and slammed her open palms on the dashboard. A wave of horrid, repulsive, brutal images overcame her. A swing set, sitting too still in the cool September air. Yellow and green leaves on the trees above. A crowd of yelling parents. One little, six-year-old, blonde-haired girl with the chains of the rightmost swing twisted around her neck.

                “No, no, no, no…” she mumbled. “This isn’t happening. Not again, not AGAIN!”

                She started shaking. Her hands gripped the wheel. Her knuckles whitened. She felt lightheaded, and her vision narrowed. The blackness that constricted her sight was welcome; it obliterated the memories of her worst day.

                She passed out, face into the steering wheel.

                Loud tapping pulled her from the dark. She turned her head, slowly regaining consciousness, and saw her mother peering through the window. Wrinkles painted her forehead: she was concerned.

                Lisa sat up, unbuckled herself, and opened the door. Her right cheek burned, and she knew that there was a red imprint of the wheel there.

                “Honey? You’re home early. Is everything okay?”

                “…hmm? Oh, yeah. Yeah. I—I just wasn’t feeling well.”

                She pulled herself out of the car and managed to stand in front of her mother. Her head felt thick and her knees threatened to fold under her. She reached out a hand and steadied herself against the car.

                “Not feeling well? What happened?”

                “I…don’t want to talk about it. I need to go inside.” Lisa straightened up and tottered up the front walk and through the open front door. Her mother trailed behind her, peppering her with needless and annoying questions.

                She collapsed straight onto the blue-checkered couch in the family room. She buried her face into the cushions and tried to ignore her mother’s high voice. Some distant part of Lisa’s brain registered that she heard her mother talking about calling her father home from work early. She grunted a distracted reply while she marshaled her thoughts and emotions.

                The sun fell in the sky while she watched, lying on the sofa with her head turned. She breathed in a slow, controlled, conscious rhythm and savored the peace of being alone; her mother had long since left her in the family room and went into the kitchen to start dinner.

                The sun smiled down on her. The trees in their back yard stood in a wall, their leaves already mostly dark reds and brilliant yellows. The sun tinted the sky similar colors when it reached the tops of the trees. At least there was one thing about autumn that was wonderful. Nothing was more beautiful than fall in Minnesota. Lisa submerged herself in the tranquility of the moment. Nobody tried to talk to her. Most of all, nothing plotted to send a reflection of that face at her.

                She fell asleep there, for a bit, and was woken by the sound of the heavy door into the garage slamming. Her father was home.

                She blinked her grainy and sluggish eyes before sitting up. The dry feeling wouldn’t go away, so she rubbed them with a fist.

                While she was still gathering herself together and preparing to emerge from the bliss of sleep, she heard her parents talking in the kitchen. She had no doubt that her mother was giving her father the rundown: home early from school, passed out in the driveway, then asleep on the couch.

                Just as she stood up, she heard the dreaded word: “episode.” Her father, at least, had an inkling of what was going on.

                The all­-too-familiar panic assaulted her again. She had to lean back down and steady herself on the couch arm with a shaking hand. All she had to do was wait. She knew her father. He would want to talk to her. He always had, every time her memories rose up to overwhelm her during her childhood and preteen years.

                Thus, all she did was sigh and close her eyes when his voice barked out of the kitchen. “Lisa? What happened today?” The man himself followed the voice.

                She opened her eyes to the sight of his lined and tanned face. He wore a business suit, of course—just home from work, and all—but she always pictured him in his bright orange hunting jacket. It was more suited to him. The mug of tea in his hand seemed even more foreign. He only looked natural holding a thermos or a beer.

                When she didn’t respond immediately and stared somewhat vacantly at him, he spoke again. “Lisa, honey?”

                She started, breaking from her thoughts. “I’m okay, dad. It was just a bad day, and I wasn’t feeling well in class.”

                “Was it another episode?”

                “I—“ she looked away. She couldn’t deny it, couldn’t lie directly to his face. Instead, she sealed her mouth.

                He nodded in a knowing fashion and pulled her into a hug. “We can have you see the therapist this weekend.”

                She shook her head, and he released her from the hug in surprise at the force of her motion.

                “Lisa, listen to me,” he pulled her over by the glass coffee table and sat her down on the couch again. He extricated his mug from the fingers that still gripped her left arm and placed it on the table. “This could be serious. The doctor said that there was always a chance of these things resurfacing.”

                She shook her head again, adamant.

                He bowed his head and rubbed a hand over his face. She looked away, uncomfortable at the sight of the thin spot in his black hair. It reminded her too much of old age and human mortality.

                Her glance away was a mistake. She looked down by reflex: two years in a big high school had taught her that much.

                However, she looked down, and directly at the coffee table.

                The face staring up at her from the glass was not her own, not as she saw it. Swollen cheeks puffed out under terrified, bloodshot eyes. The red in those eyes clashed with the blue skin of her face.

                Lisa shrieked. She shot to her feet, grabbed the mug from the table, and smashed it down into the glass with both her hands. The table shattered, shards flying in a dozen directions, embedding themselves in the carpet, her hands, her father’s pant legs.

                “NO!” she screamed, “Not again, I don’t want to see that again!”

                Her father stared at her, aghast and somehow unaware of the glass that had sliced his shins.

                She couldn’t stand his eyes on her. She turned and ran, through the kitchen and up the stairs to her room. She slammed the door behind her and ran to her bathroom. The face stared, accusing, out from the mirror above the sink, too.

                The anger, the guilt, the pure emotion was too much for her to contain. With a wordless roar, Lisa snatched up the heavy makeup box on the shelf and dashed it into the mirror. The image was obliterated in a shower of glittering angles.

                A banging on her door penetrated the red haze in which she stood panting. Her father was yelling; she couldn’t understand him.

                Her door crashed open a moment later and he came through with a curious and frightening mix of concern, anxiety, and anger on his face.

                She forced herself to meet his glare, and even before he spoke, she saw in those brown eyes that he knew the truth about the little girl on that playground. He always had.