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Assimilated

Silent Journey
DeJay

Iz's Story
Doreen Perrine

Communion
Fran Walker

Games With Chance
Andi Marquette

Backup Plan
Jess Sandoval

Bridgework
Darby O'Neil

Who's In Charge?
DeJay

Water Rites
Mary Douglas

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Day 1

I zip up my rain jacket and grab my keys from the hook on the wall. I can feel Elaina behind me, waiting. I turn to her and stumble over a packed bag. The living room is utter chaos. Her backpack is full of clothes and the coffee table holds her passport, wallet, and of all things, rolled toilet paper.

I hold a breath in as my throat closes. Elaina catches my eyes and her expression softens. She pulls me to her in a tight embrace. "I'll be back before you know it."

"I know. I just wish I could take you to the airport. I don't want to work today." I sound petulant.

"Look at it this way, love, you'll have plenty of time to write something." She kisses the side of my neck and I swallow hard.

It's a good idea, and one I fully intend to take her up on. I kiss her lightly then release her to open the front door. The spring air still holds the bite of winter, but birds are chirping in the trees. My eyes sting. I tell myself it's the wind.

"Ange, do you have your tea?" she calls after me.

I clear my throat and answer, "Uh . . . No, it's on the kitchen table."

I start the car and meet her on the front porch. She hands me my tea and leans down to kiss me goodbye. She tastes like coffee. Rich and creamy. I imagine putting this goodbye into a story and resolve to not only write it, but submit it while she's gone. It would be a first for me, just like her trip abroad.


Day 2

The clock reads 4:23 am. I turn my head in the other direction and shove the pillow into a more comfortable position. The cat grunts her discomfort as I shift again. She settles down as I rub the soft fur on her belly. I close my eyes and focus on the loud rumble running through my pillow, determined to sleep. Her tail thwaps me in the face, my calf muscle twitches, and I groan in discomfort.

"This is ridiculous, kitty." She agrees with me by walking across the top of my pillow and jumping off the bed. "No need to be mean about it," I call after her.

I sit up, push back the covers, and walk across the cold wood floor to the studio, where I pick up my laptop so I can take it back to bed with me. Snippets of scenes, conversation, and music filter through my thoughts. In my state of half-sleep I type out the first sentence. The rest of the scene comes quickly. A café, the smell of rich coffee, and a guitar player. Her voice as voluptuous as her body. My fingers fly across the keyboard and short clipped taps fill the empty room.

My eyes burn. I can feel the weight of my head as I nod sleepily. One more yawn, one more sentence, and I feel I can sleep. I put the laptop on the floor and tuck the soft down blanket up to my chin. This is going to be easy. How could it not, with an opener like that?


Day 5

Ceramic mugs clink dully against each other in the hot soapy water. I push my hair back from my eyes, avoiding the bubbles on my hands. I slow my pace, since I don't really need to do the few dishes I had accumulated, but after reading the finished draft of my nameless story I'd grown restless. Something wasn't clicking. It should flow smoothly, like soap on glass.

A familiar ping echoes through the house, snapping me out of my thoughts. I dry my hands on my pants as I race through the kitchen, turn right into the living room, and take another right into the studio. I plop down on the high-backed chair in front of the computer, push my glasses onto my face, and type, "Hello." into the blinking orange chat box. Come on, answer. She can't be gone already.

The chat box lights up. "I miss you."

My heart melts and I type back, "I miss you too, love."

"Three weeks is too long to be away."

She sounds lonely. At least I'm not the only one.

"Tell me about it. What're you doing? What time is it there?"

She responds, "8 am. I got your letter."

"You weren't supposed to open that 'til your birthday, cheater." Typical.

"I couldn't resist. So, what's this goal that you can't tell me about?"

She would ask. I roll my eyes. "You'll find out when you get home."

The orange box lights again in demand. "Just tell me, Ange."

"No." My thoughts run ahead of me. At this rate there was no way I was going to be able to submit my story. I was going to have to come up with a back-up plan and give up on the writing.

"Do it." I knew that tone. I was betting her eyebrow was raised.

"No, because if I do and I don't finish it, then you'll be disappointed in me. I don't want that."

"No fair."

No, it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that my characters had abandoned me and left me sputtering. It wasn't fair that everything I wrote was crap. It wasn't fair. I typed out, "I'll tell you when you get home, promise. It's something I need to do on my own. Just like your trip. Deal?"

She gives in. "Oh, all right. So, how's the writing going?"


Day 8

I reach across the white porcelain tub from the outside. The linoleum grinds into my knees but I ignore the twinges of pain and focus on scrubbing the far wall. I wish writing came as easy. I focus on scrubbing the faucets and think of my week ahead. A streak of panic courses through my system. I was never going to get the kitchen clean before the rest of my family descended on me.

I call out, "Hey, brat." The sound echos in the space around me.

I don't hear Max until she's in the doorway. "Aren't you done with that yet? You've been in here for, like, hours."

Miazaki pushes his head around her legs, forcing her to move over. His little black face is hopeful that I've called him. Max scratches the top of his head mindlessly.

I push a strand of hair from my face with the back of my hand. "I'll pay you twenty bucks in groceries if you do the dishes."

She crosses her arms. "You say that every time I'm here."

I stand and stretch my legs out before I reach to turn on the faucet. Luke warm water sprays out. "Yeah, well I'm never going to finish all of this before Dad and Tara get here. Come on," I hedge, "that's what sisters are supposed to do." I start to rinse the bleach from the tub.

She laughs sharply. "Riiiight, I'll remember that next time I need to mow the lawn." She pauses a moment. "Fine, but you have to convince Dad to buy pizza and ice cream for dinner. Chill?"

I roll my eyes at her word of the week and echo it back to her, mockingly. "Chill."

She stands in the doorway, watching me put the finishing touches on the tub.

"You miss her, don't you?" She hands me the bottle of shampoo and I set it on the shelf as she reaches for the next one.

"In ten years, we've never been apart this long. Yeah, I miss her." I turn the bottles so all the labels face the same direction.

"At least you have some time to write, right?" Her lips quirk up at her joke.

I smile back, then scowl at her question. "I wanted to write something and submit it before she got home." I sit on the edge of the tub, defeated. The dog puts his head in my lap. I scratch behind his ears. His tail wags at an increased pace. "With you lot here, I don't know how I'm going to get the time to write a whole new piece."

She sits next to me. "Why do you have to write a new piece? What's wrong with the one you wrote?"

"Oh, it's awful."

She nudges me hard with her shoulder. "Let me read it and I'll tell you if it's worth salvaging. If it's bad, I'll tell you that, too."

I punch her in the thigh. "I was thinking instead of submitting something I'd paint the studio for her. That way at least I don't look like a total slacker."

"That's a bit of a cop out, don't'cha think?"

I shrug.

"Well, my offer stands. Come on, they should be here in an hour or so." We both stand. I'm quiet as she leaves the room. I should take her up on her offer, but her "cop out" comment sticks in my throat. I don't know whether to be mad or just accept that she's right.


Day 13

I knew what I had to do. I had to prove Max wrong. The studio was not going to be a cop out, it was just a back-up plan, just in case. Yeah, right. Focus. Focus on the café. The premise was solid and I liked my characters. It just lacked . . . something. I pull up a clean page on the computer and close my eyes. I need to paint it out, in thick bold strokes of umber and crimson. I want the readers to smell the coffee, the fresh pastries. I want them to hear the strum of the guitar and the sound of her voice.

Ping.

I jump slightly and click over to the chat box to see who's interrupting me. Elaina. I smile and the tension in my face releases.

I type, "Hey you. Happy Birthday!!!!"

"Thanks, hon. I was hoping you were on."

"I was waiting for you. Did you open my present?" She'd probably opened it days ago, not that she'd tell me.

"Yes, I love it. I especially love the photo of you. Did you make it?" she asks.

"Yes, I thought you'd like to take us with you, and it was light weight so you could take it anywhere."

"Is the family still there?"

"No. Dad ate all of our blueberry jam, and they managed to work their way through most of the remaining firewood. I told them to put on sweaters, but NOOOO!" Hmm, a cup of tea sounds good. I will make a cup.

"Sounds like I missed all the fun. What are you doing?"

I type out, "Just tinkering around. Why? Did you have a special b-day request?"

"I wish. Someone just asked for the computer. I have to go, love."

Damn. Back to re-writes.


Day 17

I position my hands around the shelving unit in front of me. My arms are bent close to my body and I press my body against the unit and shove. GGGRRRRRRUUUUHHH!!! The damn story can't be submitted. It's unfit to see the light of day. I adjust my hip against the wood, and push again. It moves, my hope lifts, then falls as the unit slides back into place. Max was right, painting is just a cop out. I give up on trying to move the unit and start to unload the multitude of books, photo albums, and art supplies to the floor. Once empty I try shifting one side then the other. It moves. At least something is working right.

Elaina will love the grey-green color I chose for the room. My stomach flutters at the thought. She'll be so surprised. Why didn't I feel better about it? I take her new snowboard from the corner. A high-gloss varnish covers the bamboo base. An image of Mt. Fuji is at the bottom and sakura blossoms are screen printed in white over the top. It's a beautiful board and so far, unused. It's slick against my hands as I lean it against the door. I then clear the multitude of stretcher bars and tools off the adjacent bike hangers.

The paint is thick and viscous as I roll it onto the wall. I restrain myself from dunking my hand into the bucket, just so I can see how it feels to have it slowly suck me under. I move in long, broad strokes. Muscles in my back stretch taut and relax. It feels good to be moving instead of sitting in front of the computer. I can do this. Even if it's not submitted right away, I could still write it. I just had to have faith in myself.

I set the roller against the table and move to the far end of the room. The high-backed corner chair is easy to slide across the floor. Behind me I hear the extension on the roller slip against the table. I turn just in time to see it careen into the snowboard. Abandoning the chair, I grab a rag and pick the paint-sodden roller up from the floor. There's a three-inch long streak of paint over the top of Mt. Fuji. Maybe I should leave it, since it looked like a bank of clouds. Nah, better not. I use the soft rag and clean it off carefully. The door and carpet are blotted with paint, too. I ignore them. The carpet needed to be replaced and the door could use some paint anyway.


Day 18

"Ow!" I touch the top of my head. "Move over, dog." Miazaki paws at the cords I have in my hands. "Out. I know you want to help, but not much can help me now. Go lie down." I point out from under the glass-top desk I'm huddling under to a makeshift bed lying two feet away.

I dodge a lick to my face and scratch behind his ears before he leaves. I need to look at this whole thing in a different light. After a deep breath I continue to unplug the computer. I need to finish the studio now that I'd started it. And the rest . . . I'd figure something out. I scoot out from under the desk and clear all the leftover items from the top. The problem was motivation. I crank up the stereo and let Brandi Carlile's cover of "Folsum Prison Blues" soar in me.

"Almost there, boy." Miazaki looks at me with big brown eyes, patience everlasting at my muttering of curses and bouts of singing out of tune. I set the roller against the table, this time cradling it in a cloth so it won't slide. I move a small step ladder under the glass light fixture, climb up, and unscrew the base. Carefully, I step off the ladder and place the fixture on the desk near by. Now, for the smoke alarm. I wasn't quite sure how these things came off. I read the directions and turn it a quarter turn to the right. It feels stuck. I pull at it. It doesn't budge. I turn it the other direction and pull again. With a startling pop it comes off in my hand, teeters, and promptly falls face-down in the paint. "Shit." That can't be good. I climb back down the ladder. As I reach to retrieve the alarm, I notice on the underside, in bold letters, "Do Not Paint." A laugh escapes my lips. I go in search of the camera.

With a few succinct strokes I finish the ceiling. "What do you think?" I ask the dog. He raises his head from his paws and wags the tip of his tail. "Yeah, I think so too. It looks damn fine." Elaina will love it. The clean-up is quick, and when I finish, I yawn and reach up with my arms, straining with my fingertips. It feels good to stretch my back, and now, finally, I'm ready to stretch my writing skills, too. If my final re-write goes as good as the paint job, I'd have both my goals done.


Day 21

The house is quiet around me. I want to sleep but I want this moment more. I trail my fingers lightly down the side of Elaina's face as she sleeps. Her body is warm next to me, almost hot. I don't think I'll ever understand how she gets cold so easily. She shifts slightly, her head angled toward me. I can't resist and kiss her gently. Ten years and I still can't get enough. Her eyes flutter open. I want to feel guilty for waking her but I don't. I kiss her again, and get a small sigh from her.

She clears her throat. "Do that again."

I lean in for a gentle kiss. "I'm glad you went, but I'm happier that you're home." I pause briefly, then continue, "You needed this trip, and I needed some time alone." I push her hair back behind her ear.

She smiles broadly. "I'm gonna leave you alone more often if you keep finishing house projects."

Now was my opening. I took it. "Actually, painting the studio wasn't my goal."

Her right eyebrow quirks up. "Oh?"

I take a shallow breath and tell her, "I wanted to write and submit a story before you got home." I push back the covers and walk over to the bookshelf. I pull out a small, white, three ring binder and hand it to her before climbing back into the bed. She's re-adjusted herself and is propped up against the headboard. I adjust my pillow and sit next to her.

"This is it?" she asks, looking at me.

I nod once.

A look of triumph crosses her face. "Yes! I knew you could do it." She excitedly flips it open and reads the title. "The Groggy Nun Cafe." Ha. So did it get accepted?"

"I don't know yet, but it doesn't matter anyway. I just wanted to submit it. And I did." I knew I had a goofy grin on my face, but I didn't care.

Handing it back to me she says, "So, will you read it to me?"

"If you're good." I close the cover and lean over to set it on the nightstand.

She hooks her hand into the pocket of my hip and pulls me toward her. "I missed you," she whispers.

"You just missed my red chile," I retort.

I feel chills ride up my back when she groans. "Oh, hell yeah I missed your chile." She pushes me onto my back. "But I also missed this."

"Tell me exactly what you missed," I insist.

"A clean house, a new studio." She motions outwards with her hands. "Three cups of tea in the fridge."

"UGH!" I try to push her off me.

She giggles as I tickle her sides. We tussle until the sheets are tangled around us and we're breathing hard from laughing.

My breath catches in my throat when I see the look in her eyes.

"I love you," she says.

Ten years. Never enough.

(c) 2008 Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company