Friday, April 13, 2018


Today's muse: Verse Escape: Friday 55

* * *


Pale skin shimmers like moonlight.

She cannot see. He has made sure of that. She wears nothing but silk ropes that hold her in place; hold her open.

But she hears. Hears his breathing. Hears the swish of his belt released from his pants.

She knows what is next. And she waits. And she wants.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Locker Room Talk

Locker Room Talk

There is an intimacy that comes with seeing another person naked.

I don’t mean the nakedness involving sex with a willing partner, or the nakedness of your feet resting in stirrups as your doctor pokes and prods.

I mean the nakedness of stripping down in the locker room at the gym, dripping with sweat, hair clinging to your forehead, with nothing but a minuscule cloth wrapped around your body.

And all the while, chatting away with the woman beside you who is also naked and sweaty and wearing what is laughably called a towel.

We started chatting about a year ago, when we both staggered into the change room, gasping for air, cursing our respective trainers.

At first, conversations were mostly about our evil trainers, but over the course of a year, we have discussed work, family and the other personal things that only women discuss. We have settled into a routine of sorts and although we only see each other at the gym, we talk every day and notice certain details.

Like yesterday.

“You left your hair down,” I said to her as I wiggled into panties.

She normally pulls it back into a smooth stubby tail. It looks good on her—puts the focus on her enormous dark eyes—but yesterday she left it down and used a flat iron.

She ran a hand over her bob. “I have something after work today, I won’t have time to go home and do my hair.”

I hooked my bra, stepped into my pants. “Job interview?” She’s not entirely happy with her job and I wondered if she was looking for something better.

“No.” She laughed as she buttoned her shirt. “I have a date.”

“Do tell!”

She grinned and told me about the guy she met on line. They have exchanged texts but are finally meeting face to face.

“You’re meeting in a public place, right?” I can’t help but worry. I’m old-school and can’t wrap my head around on-line dating.

“We’re meeting at a restaurant, listening to jazz music.”

“Do you want me to drop by and make sure he’s not a serial killer?”

She laughed. “I’ll be fine. We’re in a busy club. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”

“You better.” I point a finger at her. “I want to hear all about it.”


It’s a promise she hasn’t kept.

She wasn’t at the gym this morning. I don’t know how to find her. I don’t even know her name. The writer in me has concluded that one of two things has happened.

Date Guy turned out to be a serial killer and her dismembered body is scattered in an alleyway somewhere. Or, she didn’t want to show up in the same clothes and do the Walk-of-Shame at the gym.

As there was nothing in the news, it’s most likely she’s still in one piece.

But if she is in one piece, I want to hear why she wasn't at the gym. Is she still in bed? Is she alone? The woman owes me a story!

* * *

This is a true story, happened a few weeks ago. I saw her at the gym after the weekend. And to paraphrase Grace VanderWaal, I now know her name.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Eyes Closed

Today's muse: Verse Escape: Friday 55

* * *

Eyes Closed

Eyes closed to hide sorrow or, perhaps, to withdraw from harsh reality.

No matter.

Either way, peace at last. Away from intrusive questions, awkward gazes. Pitiful murmurs.

The light is not so bright here. Rather, it surrounds in a candlelight glow, a warm embrace.

The gentle rocking soothes and comforts, wraps me in eternal sleep.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dying Embers

Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday

Today's words: Decaying, Ember, Fragrant

My father-in-law is one the sweetest men I know. He and my father are cut from the same cloth. It is heartbreaking to watch a vibrant man submit to dementia.


Richard Edward Massabki died on December 13, 2017, at home, surrounded by his family.

I will miss you, Richard. À la prochain.

* * *

Dying Embers

He is fluent in three languages: French, Arabic, English. His time with the military exposed him to many nationalities and he can spew a key sentence from a dozen other countries. Phrases like finito la musica, passato la fiesta and haben Sie eine Schreibmaschine.

Granted, these are not expressions that will save his or your life, but if you’re with him in Italy, Richard can cheer last call and he can get you a typewriter in Germany.

He is an engineer—was an engineer before AutoCAD, when everything was drawn and written by hand. That precise writing that you see at the bottom of schematic drawings? Back in his day, that was meticulously written by hand, not by computer.

And that’s how Richard writes. Neat. Precise. Exact.

And that describes Richard. Neat. Precise. Exact.

It is how he conducts and presents himself. Pressed pants. Pressed shirt. Polished shoes.

Richard embraced the long-forgotten skill of conversation. My father also has this skill. It is a talent lost on the last few generations. It is easy to forget how to converse when you communicate with your thumbs, punch in abbreviated words without making eye contact.

Richard came come home from the auto shop one day—he’d had the oil changed or his tires rotated—and he told us about the young mechanic that serviced his car. He knew the man’s name, his wife’s name, the names of his three children and their ages—the youngest was having a birthday party next week—and he knew the man’s parents were from Poland, that they had emigrated in 1963.

Richard should have had a talk show. He would have had better ratings than Carson and Oprah combined.

I met Richard twenty-four years ago. He wasn’t home when we arrived at his house—he was out on his bicycle, riding home from a woodshop class he was taking. He was 70 years old.

When he vacationed with his wife—a woman who speaks English and French fluently; a teacher by trade—they took road trips into the States, attended Elder Hostels where the focus was learning. They took up bird-watching, studied the Civil War and learned how to play the kazoo.

He would entertain us with funny and heartbreaking stories about his life in Egypt, his hardships as a new Canadian. He told the romantic (and amusing) tale of how he met his wife at a church picnic, how she charmed him—a man from a foreign country with a thick accent and a meager sandwich wrapped in newspaper.

His eyes were mischievous, his smile quick and genuine. He flirted with every woman he met, told me each time I saw him that I was beautiful.

Now, at ninety-four, Richard’s gaze is tired and vacant. He no longer recognizes me, though he understands that I am a friendly person. Of course, he still tells me I’m pretty. He is, after all, an incorrigible flirt.

He holds out a trembling hand when I visit, reverts back to his native Parisian French when he greets me. Quelle belle fille, he says. He grins at me (ever the flirt), his smile now lopsided after a mild stroke.

“How are you, Richard?”

“I am well,” he replies, his English precise and formal. I know he lies. He is not well.

His brilliant mind is decaying at an alarming rate. Conversation—once fragrant with sweet endearments—is now riddled with anger, punctuated with profanity. This is not the Richard I know. This is not the Richard I love.

I watched him spiral into the void, unable to extinguish the fire that burned away the man I once knew. All that is left is a dying ember that cannot spark.

But once in a while it glows, and his eyes focus on me. I know in that moment he recognizes me. He smiles—the kind of smile that reaches his eyes and lifts my heart—and he sees me. Knows me.

I hold onto those moments.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Running Scared

This is a re-write of an old post that I removed because the link no longer worked.

A warning: This post is more than a little naughty. Read at your own risk.

* * *

Running Scared

Voices buzzed around him like angry wasps. Nate couldn’t understand a fucking word, but it didn’t matter. Two flights, three trains, and one terrifying bus ride. She couldn’t find him here.

He was confident with the distance he’d put between him and Fiona, so he treated himself to a restaurant meal. He’d grown tired of roadside food carts, exchanging crumpled wads of money for bowls of limp vegetables.

Wait staff bustled by carrying platters filled with foods he didn’t recognize.

A girl with enormous dark eyes stood at his table. Straight black hair hung down past her shoulders. He could see the sphere of a nipple ring through her thin tee.

“You English?” She smiled when he nodded. “What you eat?”

Nate tightened his grip on the small canvas bag he carried, pointed at a picture on the menu with his free hand.

She angled her head when she leaned in, pressed a toned thigh against his arm. “Noodle with fish.” She breathed it in his ear as if she described more than today’s special.

He bit back a moan. Today’s Special, indeed. “Give me that.”

She smiled again, a curve of lips both innocent and beguiling. “It will be my pleasure,” she crooned.

Narrow hips swayed as she walked away, a snug skirt barely covering her ass. His eyes followed until she disappeared behind the kitchen door. He needed more than food, he admitted. He could lose himself for a few hours, wrapped in those long, brown legs, buried in wet warmth.

But he had to find a new location, keep moving. It wasn’t safe to stay in one place too long. By now Fiona would know he’d taken the bag. He could picture her tearing through the house, her beautiful face now demonic, wild curls trailing behind her.

Sail out to one of the islands, he decided, hide from Fiona on some secluded plot of land where he could finally relax. He would rent a shack—no, fuck it, he’d buy one. Cash wasn’t a problem, he thought, tightening his grip on the bag. He would live quietly for a while, until it was safe. Smoke some weed. Get some pussy. His cock twitched in response as the plan unfolded in his head.

Nate clutched the worn bag against his chest as the slim waitress brought his plate. Her hand brushed over his shoulder, cool fingers whispered across his neck. “You want something else?”

“Sorry, honey. I can’t stay.” It pained him to decline what he knew would have been a glorious afternoon and evening. His ego was boosted when she pouted.

“You make Mimi sad.”

Nate sad, too, he thought, as she walked away.

He enjoyed the meal, tossed a few bills next to his empty plate, pushed back from the table. He contemplated seeking out Mimi, finding a dark corner off the kitchen where he could hoist her up against a wall for a quick goodbye.

“Nate.” The familiar voice purred next to his ear, warm breath teased his lobe.

Nate’s bowels liquefied as Fiona pressed the blade of a pearl-handled knife against his throat. He knew she carried it in a special compartment in her purse.

“Missed you, baby.” She ran her moist tongue along the sensitive spot below his ear, purred his name as though she’d just climaxed. She reached around him, popped the button on his jeans, edged the zipper down.

Despite his terror, he was instantly hard. Ashamed with the knowledge that he’d always want her, he closed his eyes in defeat. He felt Fiona’s lips curve against his throat as she wrapped her fist around his cock.

A feral moan was all Nate managed as he ejaculated and Fiona severed his carotid.

Welcome Wagon

Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday

Today's words: Tangy, Unhinged, Vapid

* * *

Welcome Wagon

An impressive pile of discarded outfits were strewn across her bed. The simple act of selecting attire shouldn’t be this difficult, she mused, when she was merely going out for dinner. Because it wasn’t a date.

No, it wasn’t.

Anna selected a pair of earrings, hooked them on her lobes. Tilting her head from side to side, she analyzed the effect in the mirror, removed the earrings, replaced them with another pair.

Dammit. She was making an issue. This was becoming a date.

No. It wasn’t. It was just dinner. A friendly gesture because she was the new neighbor. It wasn’t a date.

Who was she kidding? Of course it was.

She walked through the living room to the kitchen, poured two fingers of courage, downed it in one gulp. She didn’t want to like him, but Jay Watson had charmed her.

He had helped her carry boxes when she had moved into the unit across the hall, had rewired and hung her new chandelier in the dining room. He had even boosted her car when she had left her lights on—without, she noted, the vapid lecture that her ex always seemed to give her whenever she did something that displeased him. And, yeah, that happened a lot.

The Idiot—as her mother called him—had been, well, an idiot. And just a little unhinged. Which was why she had walked out six months ago. She was relieved that he didn’t try to follow or find her. Which was fine by her. She spent some time rediscovering who she was and who she wanted to be. Found that she liked being alone, which was quite different from being lonely. She wasn’t tethered to anyone.

But now she was going out on a—she was going out for dinner. With a friend. He was just a friend.

Her head jerked up at the quiet knock. She wiped her damp palms on the simple cotton dress she’d finally selected. Maybe she should change.

Jesus! Just breath for Christ’s sake! He’s taking you out to dinner. Probably because he feels sorry for you.

But, oh god, she hoped it was because he liked her because she really liked him.

Anna set the glass in the sink, walked over to the door, flipped the lock.

Jay stood in the doorway, his grin wide and fierce. He clutched a bouquet of daisies in his hand.

“You look great,” he said.

She admitted she was out of practice, but Anna recognized attraction when she saw it. His gaze traveled down, hovered at the dip in her dress, paused for several moments at her bare legs. When his eyes came back to meet hers, they no longer smiled. There was no question in those dark orbs, only demand.

Desire, sharp and tangy, rushed through her.

Anna wondered why she’d bothered changing her clothes so many times. She was just going to take them off.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Service Elevator

Today's muse: Oh, wouldn't you just like to know!

* * *

Service Elevator

A glance out her office window told her that she’d worked too late. Again. The office tower across the road had dark windows which meant that it was at least midnight and the automatic timers had engaged.

Emily turned her wrist, narrowed a look at her watch. Yup. Twelve-fifteen.

She hooked her bag over her arm and walked out to the elevator. Working late was not an anomaly for Emily Grant, so walking through the office in complete silence, flanked by dark offices, didn’t bother her. She rather liked it. There was a general exodus around six o’clock, which made it easier to accomplish tasks that required her undivided focus. By eight, the place was empty. It was bliss.

She pushed through the secure glass doors into the corridor, pressed the down button. She was tired but had accomplished much more than she had expected. The proposal was finished and she could present it to the board on Monday. She was confident they would like her ideas and move to make the changes she was suggesting.

She closed her eyes, took in a cleansing breath, and let it out in a disappointed sigh when she heard footsteps. She knew everyone in her office was gone—had been gone for hours—so whoever was working late was with the investment firm across the hall.

Emily cursed the slow elevator. Now she would have to share the ride with a stranger. Not that she was concerned for her safety. She could look after herself. But she would have to make Small Talk and, dammit, it was too fucking late for that.

“Oh, hey.” Tall and lean, he wore a charcoal suit with a vibrant yellow and orange tie. He carried a leather briefcase. She recalled his name was Frank. He’d introduced himself the first time they’d met at the elevator several months ago. She’d had the hi-how-are-you-nice-weather-we’re-having conversation with him almost every day since then. The mundane had recently shifted to flirting, but it was still late. Not to mention, she had a chardonnay chilling at home that was calling her name.

He grinned at her. “We seem to be on the same schedule.”

She noticed the dimple this time. It softened his look, which was all dark and broody, a little dangerous. God help her, but bad boys had always been her weakness.

He pressed the down button.

“Why do people do that?” Emily asked.

He frowned at her. “Do what?”

“Press the elevator button when it’s already been pushed. The elevator isn’t going to get here any faster if you push the button several times.”

“Yes it will.” And to make his point, he pressed the button once more.

Emily let out a surprised laugh when the elevator chimed its arrival. “Well, it appears you have magic hands.” Oh god! Did she just say that?!

He held his arm out to keep the doors open. “I do,” he murmured as she eased by him.

She licked her lips. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that late. Should she ask him out for a coffee? A drink? More?

Frank’s finger hovered over the service button and he glanced over at her, lifted one eyebrow in question.

No, it wasn’t late at all, Emily thought, and nodded her consent.

Her smile bloomed as the elevator stopped between floors and the lighting shifted to a dim emergency glow.

He pressed her against the elevator wall, pulled her chin down with his thumb. His mouth was hot and greedy against hers, his tongue offering promises.

Oh god, she thought, naughty, naughty boy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Motorcycle Maintenance

Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday

Today's words: jockey, kindred, lopsided

* * *

Motorcycle Maintenance

It had been a pretty good week, in Amanda’s opinion. She landed the Miller account and collected on receivables that she’d been chasing for six months. Both brought in over six figures. She’d have a quick drink to celebrate, then head home.

She crossed at the light in long strides, despite the narrow pencil skirt and three-inch heels she wore. She’d always thought that stepping into The Master’s was like walking onto a movie set. Walls were trimmed with warm wood. Sofas were covered in dark fabric. Music was quiet and comforting. The place just begged you to sit and enjoy a drink.

As she edged onto the last empty high top, Frank bustled over. “Do you want a table, Amanda?”

She shook her head, set her clutch on the bar. “I came to have a drink.”

Frank—the owner and occasional bartender—nodded. “Rough day?”

“No, actually, a good day. This is a celebration drink. Not a crying drink.”

He beamed a smile at her. “The usual?”

“Thanks, Frank.”

The man next to her leaned over. “I’ve always wanted to go to a bar and order ‘the usual’.”

He was about her age, Amanda judged, wore dark trousers and a linen shirt in robin’s egg blue. The cuffs were rolled a few times, revealing what she judged was a tattooed sleeve on his left arm. His eyes were trusting and danced with laughter. She decided he was harmless.

“In my case, it either means I’m predictable or I drink too much.” She shrugged. “Probably both.”

“That depends. What’s ‘the usual’?” He turned to face her, his body language telling her he not only asked the question, but wanted to know the answer. Okay, she’d play along. After all, he was cute and she was in a dry spell right now.

“Dry Martini. Bombay Sapphire. Neat. Three olives.”

“A kindred spirit.” He nodded his approval. “Stirred, I presume.”

Amanda smiled. The man knew martinis. “Of course. Bond doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Tattoo Boy snorted. “Right. Vodka. As if.” He lifted his glass in toast when Frank delivered her drink. “To a good day.”

She lifted hers in response. “Cheers.”

She jutted her chin at his tumbler. “Scotch?”

He nodded. “Laphroaig.”


He offered his hand. “I’m Sam.”

“Amanda.” She took his hand, pleased with his firm shake. Setting down her glass, she turned his palm. “Calluses.”

His eyes seemed to lose their luster then and he pulled his hand back. “I’m not a desk jockey.”

Instantly contrite, she apologized. “That’s not what I meant. It’s just that, well, you’re wearing that gorgeous shirt and with the ink.” She waved her hand and up and down. “It all doesn’t fit together.” She let her shoulders slump. “What do you do?”

“I’m a mechanic.” Sam all but barked out the reply, as if he dared her to ridicule him.

“Automotive or industrial?” She sipped her drink, could see her response surprised him. “My brother’s a mechanic,” she explained.

That seemed to relax him. “Automotive. And motorcycles for clients that have them.”

“Oh yeah? I’ve been taking my bike to Murphey’s for service, but it’s a little far. Where’s your shop?”

“You ride?” She could see he was stunned by this revelation, but he quickly recovered and smiled. His grin was crooked and showed a small dimple in his right cheek. He was rapidly moving from Cute to Hot.

She smiled. “I have a Triumph America.”

“Nice.” Sam narrowed a look at her. “Wait. You named it, didn’t you?”

She laughed. “Gertrude. It sounds British.” She smiled into her drink, watched him shake his head. “You didn’t answer my question.” She pulled an olive off the skewer, popped it in her mouth.

“What? Oh. Right. My shop’s in Malvern, off Windsor Road.”

He signaled Frank, waved a hand between them, lifted two fingers. “You’ll join me for another.” It wasn’t a question and she found she liked his authority. “What do you need done?”

She gave him a blank stare as her mind raced. Oh, she could think of a lot of things she needed done.

“With your bike,” he clarified.

Oh. Right. “Just regular maintenance. Get it ready to put away for winter. Fuel Stabilizer. Oil change.”

He smiled at her use of the term. “I’ll give you my number. Call me and we’ll set a time for you to come in for an oil change.”

Was he flirting?

“If you want, we can enjoy a ride first. Then I’ll look after,” he sipped his scotch, “...changing your oil.”

Oh, yeah. He was flirting.

She arched one eyebrow. “We’re still talking about motorcycles, right?”

He shrugged, gave her his lopsided grin. “Sure.”

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tall Tales

Today's muse: Three Word Wednesday

Todays words: dappled, elaborate, filthy

* * *

Tall Tales

Most days she could stand in the backyard and let the sun wash over her, burn away the shame. Once, she could throw back her head, spread her arms to the sky and ask for forgiveness. Even receive it.

No more. Filthy girl.

She hid beneath the large oak, rubbed at the dark finger marks that peppered her arms and legs. The aching had not yet started, but she knew it would come.

She deserved it. Filthy girl.

She could hear Mama calling for her, promising it was safe. Olly, olly oxen free! She should run, dance toward the soft voice, touch home and be safe. But she couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.

Keep quiet. Filthy girl.

She would stay curled in the dapple shade of the oak tree and devise an elaborate story. A tale that would explain everything. One that she would tell for years. One that everyone would believe.

Even herself.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Good Book

Today's muse: First 50 Words

The prompt: A good book

* * *

A Good Book

She reached for the notebook she kept on her night stand. More than forty years and she still had nightmares.

She relived her childhood horrors in the words she scribbled down, then flipped back several pages. She smiled when she realized that she had the makings of a good book.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Old Ghosts

Today's muse:

I started a new job recently. Yesterday morning started with a bit of an adrenaline kick. If nothing else, I will have to thank the partner down the hall for providing great writing fodder.

* * *

Old Ghosts

She arrived at work much earlier than everyone else. She said it was because she could get caught up on work before her boss waltzed in, but truth was, the commute was more bearable at that hour.

There aren’t many people on the train at five-thirty in the morning. Most days, she could sit in a quad alone and not have anyone near her. Touch her.

At rush hour, it was an orgy of bodies sausaged together, talking, breathing, pressing.

The last panic attack had her bolting out the train doors, racing across the platform to retch onto the eastbound tracks.

That was months ago.

She had a new job now, a new routine. She hadn’t made any friends yet, but it was better that way. Fewer questions.

She looked forward to mornings now; the routine, the quiet, the normalcy of it all. She lost herself in books on the train, reinvented herself as the strong protagonist in her favorite novels. The nightmares hadn’t stopped, but it was getting better. She had slept through the night last Tuesday, hadn’t woken in a cold sweat, gripped in fear, listening for him.

The new office meant she stopped at a different Starbucks in the morning. They knew her order now—Grande black Americano—and started brewing it when she walked in the door.

A few years ago, it seemed impossible that she would feel so content.

She waved her security pass over the sensor and breezed through the door. She no longer watched behind her and waited for the door to lock in place to be sure no one followed her in. To be sure he hadn’t followed her.

She shrugged off her sweater and hung it over her chair, sat down and kicked off her walking shoes, slipped on the strappy pumps she kept under her desk. She had started wearing heels again—it wasn’t easy to run in them, but then, she hadn’t had to bolt for a while.

She pulled out her book, opened it to where she had left off on the train and sipped her Americano, lost herself in the Irish setting of her current read. She was well into the next chapter when she heard him behind her.

“Hey there!”

She cursed herself for wearing the heels, then forced herself to sit still when David came into her line of view.

“Jesus!” Her heart pounded and the ringing in her ears was deafening. She hadn’t paid attention, had felt so comfortable that she had stopped being aware, stopped looking behind her.

The senior partner was laughing until he saw her face. David stepped back, hands up in submission. “Hey. I didn’t mean to scare you. No one here is going to hurt you.”

She forced a smile, managed to pull off easy banter and joked with him about her reaction. He was the only other person who arrived at work at the same ridiculous hour. Though they didn’t work in the same department, she felt a kinship of sorts; had exchanged a few words about the demise of the current generation and felt at ease with him. Maybe it was because they were cut from the same era, had the same work ethic. Maybe because he was so different from the other one.

She knew that David maintained the idle chat with her until she calmed, and she was grateful.

He turned to walk back to his office, paused before turning the corner. “No one here is going to hurt you,” he repeated.

As his footsteps retreated down the hall, Monica put her book away and analyzed the layout of her desk. Tomorrow morning, when she came in, she would re-arrange it so that her back was not exposed to the hallway. She would pack away the strappy pumps and replace them with loafers. She would hang a mirror at her desk so she could see anyone coming up behind her.

And she would call her therapist for an appointment. She wasn’t over him. She realized that now.

As she took a sip of her coffee, she accepted that she never would.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Goodbye Kiss

This piece was a semi-finalist in the WCDR's Whispered Words competition and appeared in the printed Anthology (there is a link in the bar on the right).

* * *

Goodbye Kiss

Depending on which side you’re standing, the carpeted aisle between the church pews stretches for miles. It was much less scenic from this side of a marriage certificate. Not at all what Jake had imagined so long ago.

In a dark corner of a quiet bistro, Shayla sat across from Jake. They laughed and talked with a natural ease that surprised them both. Oblivious to the other diners, unaware that coffee was long-ago cleared, they were more than a little embarrassed when the waiter cleared his throat.

“Pardon me, but the staff will be leaving soon.”

Shayla glanced at her watch. “It’s after midnight.”

Jake apologized to the waiter. “We were talking and I guess we lost track of time.”

The man shrugged, flashed a smile. “You shouldn’t rush love, my friend.”

No, Jake thought now, you shouldn’t.

Reluctant to bring the evening to an end, Jake took his time driving Shayla home that night. He parked on the quiet street, in front of the little yellow cottage she called home. Brilliant flower beds flanked the stairs that led up to the porch.

Jake led Shayla to the house. Her palm was warm and dry as she locked her fingers with his. Beneath the single coach light beside the front door, he pulled her close. His eyes tracked her face, committing every feature to memory.

“I had a wonderful time,” he said, cupping a hand behind her neck.

“Me too.”

Framing her face, his fingers wrapped in her thick curls, Jake dipped his head down as Shayla tipped her face up to him.

Just a light kiss, he told himself, a chaste goodnight.

Their lips hovered a breath apart, pressed lightly. Shayla breathed a sigh. Then it changed.

Jake was freefalling, the air roaring in his ears. Shayla’s arms crept up his back as he pulled her in, changed the angle of the kiss, took it deeper. Teeth scraped, tongues searched and he fell further, darker.

Jake was abruptly aware that he had Shayla pinned to the front door, the strap of her dress hanging off her shoulder, the crest of one glorious orb glowing in the warm coach light.

He held her away, shame tearing through him. How much further would he have gone? And on her front porch for chrissake.

Her breathing, he noticed, matched his: fast and uneven. Shayla’s hazel eyes were wide with surprise and—he could see a hint of it—fear.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.” Jake shook his head. “I’ve never...”

“Me neither.”

Shayla leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, pressed his cheek against the top of her head and willed his heart to steady.

No, Jake thought, as he walked down the narrow church aisle, this kiss wasn’t going to be like that at all.

The planning for this day began almost a year ago. At first, there were vague notions, like the ambience and tone they wanted to set for the day. Jake smiled as he thought of how often Shayla had changed the music selection. She was determined this day would be perfect.

“After all,” she’d said, time and again, “it only happens once, right?”

Yeah, Jake thought. Only once. As soon as they knew the date, they met with their priest.

“This will be a trying time for you,” said Father Jim, his voice soft and soothing. “You will argue, and there will be tears, but if you rely on the strength of your love for each other, it will carry you through.” Jake squeezed Shayla’s hand. “We won’t argue, Father.”

And they didn’t. Jake couldn’t see the point. It was Shayla’s day and, as far as he was concerned, she would have whatever she wanted. Shayla had a vision of how she wanted her day to be and Jake found it easier to agree. When anyone questioned their plans, his firm response was always, “It’s what Shayla wants.” His tone left no room for discussion.

Despite the cheerful façade he had maintained, Jake could now admit that Father Jim had been right. This past year was trying.

He stood with Shayla at the front of the tiny chapel. The arc of colour cascading from the stained-glass windows seemed to dance in celebration.

Behind him, Jake could hear family and friends shuffle in their pews, their hushed voices drifting up to him. A year of careful planning had come down to this moment. A whole year, and he still wasn’t ready.

He glanced at Shayla, her face relaxed and serene. Diamond earrings—a gift for their one-year anniversary—winked at her ears. The ivory dress she had selected so many months ago, now fit just a little too loose.

Everything is going to change, he thought. It’s never going to be the same. Ever.

He wanted to go back to the way things were, before it all went wrong. Every instinct told him to run, burst through the chapel doors, and rush into the sunlight. He thought he was ready for this. He needed just one more year, one more month.

Just one more goddamned day.

It was too late, and there was nothing he could do to change it.

Jake closed his eyes for a brief moment, then nodded at Father Jim. Silence shuddered through the small chapel when the priest raised his bible. As Father Jim’s gentle voice floated over them (‘Friends, we are gathered here today…’), Jake covered Shayla’s delicate hands with his.

“I love you,” he whispered, as he bent down and pressed his lips against his wife’s cold, lifeless mouth.