Routine

With school back in session, the coffee shop was the fullest it had been all summer. Rhonda and Katy sat at a table by the window. One with black coffee; the other, sugar and cream. One with a dry, overbaked scone with blueberries that looked like raisins; the other, a bagel and cream cheese.

Katy looked like a pinned up first-time professor in a short-sleeved red coat dress and wedged heels. Rhonda looked the most out of place in her ripped baggy jeans and “not a hugger” t-shirt, a pair that was in the dirty hamper that morning, but still smelled alright.

“It’s not fair,” Rhonda said shaking her head, and then again, “it’s just not fair.” She put her phone face down on the table.

“You know, marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

“How would you know? You’re a closeted lesbian.”

“I kissed a girl once, and I was in high school!”

“I’ve never seen you with a guy, Katy. Ever!”

“That’s because I don’t need a man to make me happy.” She folded her arms across her chest and turned her nose up to the ceiling.

“Well, I do.” Rhonda bit into her blueberry scone. Crumbs collected around the corners of her mouth, but she didn’t bother to wipe them away.

“You set feminism back 50 years.”

“Bite me.”

“You know, Rhon, you might find a guy worth marrying if you stopped acting like you were still 20 years old.”

“We can’t all be perfect like you, Katy.”

“I’m not perfect, I just…” Katy paused, looking at the straggly ends of Rhonda’s dirty blonde hair grazing the edge of her styrofoam cup, almost dipping into the coffee. With an audible sigh, Katy added, “When’s the last time you washed your hair?”

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Treat me like I’m a lost cause.”

“I’m not, I just—” Katy snatched the phone away before Rhonda could turn it over and continue to brood over the lastest Facebook engagement announcement.

“I wish people would be more real on social media,” she said while tapping her fingers on Rhonda’s screen. “All we see are these happy, perfect relationships, with their perfect hair, and perfect makeup and perfect engagement rings, and perfect in-laws who love them like family. People are innately selfish, and relationships are hard. Where’s the messy fights? The hitting below the belt? Bringing up past infidelity? Passive-aggressive status updates about mamas’ boys, and coddling mothers-in-law?”

“They usually post them in the middle of the night and delete them after an hour.” Rhonda belched into her fist then brought the coffee to her lips, sipping loudly.

“Why do I feel like you’ve done that before?” Looking over Rhonda’s disheveled appearance, Katy questioned, “Why do I feel like you did that last night?”

“Because, Katy,” she hung her head, as if a weight was sitting on the back of her neck, and looked up at Katy, barely raising her eyes past her chin. “I’m self-destructive. Obviously why I’m still single.”

“Aw don’t say that.you just haven’t met the—”

“Save it for your book!” Rhonda stood suddenly, nearly jumping from her chair, hair fraying. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”

Probably to throw up, she thought to herself. On her way, she caught the eye of the barista behind the counter. Definitely a freshman. Definitely too damn young for her. But that was definitely his number he’d written on the bottom edge of her coffee cup.

And definitely, if she was that desperate (she was), and drunk enough (she will be), a late-night booty she’ll regret later.

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Not Gonna Fit

I’m fat. I’m fatter than fat. I’ve gained nine pounds since Mitchell proposed, and with the camera already fabled to add ten, I’ll be nineteen pounds heavier in all my wedding photos. Not to mention I won’t fit in my dress!

I should call Renee and tell her I’m not coming. But then, how would that look? The bride a no show to her own dress fitting. I was supposed to be there an hour ago, but Mitchell, he was so patient, attentive, smooth, gentle deliberate. He made love to me with such care, never rushing, always giving me exactly what I needed first, which satisfied him beyond a quick orgasm, just to hear me exhale and lie back, having had my fill.

God, I love that man. Who cares if I never put on the dress, as long as I’m at that altar Christmas day to say, “I do,” now and forever.

I wish he was still here as I stand naked on the scale, wet from the shower, and touch myself. As much as he wanted to stay and spend this day lost underneath the sheets, he had to get home—which in eight days will be our home, he reminded me—he needed to straighten things up for his family, who would be coming down to stay with him until the wedding, supposedly to make sure we don’t consummate too soon.

I laugh at this. If only they knew. I can already feel his seed germinating inside me. It makes me want him even more. I suck in my stomach and look down at the digital number displayed on the screen between my two big toes. Is there any way I can get this down between now and Christmas? Not with a bridal shower and rehearsal dinner still to come. Oh! And the cake tasting with the caterer! I completely forgot! They’ll definitely have to sew me into my dress after that—I can’t rely on a single bite to make my decision. Mitchell will just have to go by himself. I can trust him to choose the right cake. He remembers I’m allergic to strawberries, right?

My skin has managed to dry without a towel. I step off the scale with a sigh, conclude that it’s just lying to me. After this morning’s “workout,” I should have lost something. Sex burns calories, they say. And since I only had eggs for breakfast—the bacon burnt to a crisp—I should see some results.

But I can’t hide the fact that my stomach is looking fuller than usual, and the added girth isn’t fat that I can pinch, but solid and firm, bloated. Water weight, maybe? I pull my jeans over my hips. It’s a snug fit and my sides spill out over the top. I’ll have to stick to the stairs for the rest of this week. And avoid the carbs, which means no bread, no pasta. That’ll be hard with Renee planning the menus for all our wedding events. She doesn’t believe a meal’s balanced unless it has at least two starches— beans and rice, beans and potatoes, two kinds of potatoes, mac and cheese and potatoes. Did I mention potatoes?

But I remember that I also put on extra pounds just before my period starts. It’s close to that time, right? Though, I thought it was due to come last week. As long as it’s not next Saturday, because Mitchell and I have plans.

When I walk through the doors of Marinette’s Parisian Bridal Shop, I think Renee’s head just might literally explode. Her face as red as the quarter Cherokee blood she claims runs through her veins.

“Where the heck have you been!” As mad as she is, she still doesn’t curse. I have to admire that. I’m not always able to stay in character, but then she wouldn’t be setting a good example for Bryan if she couldn’t bite her own tongue.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I lost track of time.”

“Doing what?” Rita asks. I’m surprised to see her here, that she actually beat me, and that she looks half-way decent before noon. Her skin is glowing, actually glowing, not dark and burnt from all the weed she smokes. This fast is doing her good. The teal blue jumpsuit she wears, accessorized with a large fuzzy white wool shawl, reminds me of freshly fallen snow. Her hair even seems to be sprinkled with a dusting of something white and sparkly. And is that makeup she’s wearing? The blue eyeshadow she repeatedly tells me is so middle school whenever I wear it? What has gotten into her? Or should I say, who?

“The next wedding party will be here in ten minutes. The coffee is cold. The macaroons are hard. Your mom and I called you twenty times. Where were you?” Renee is saying, practically shouting, almost crying.

I put my hands on her shoulders and shake her back into reality. “Renee, breathe. I’m the one getting married here. I can’t have you freaking out on me.”

“Never mind that,” Renee says, waving her arms around her head as if swatting away flies. “Now I have to find your mom. She’s trying to buy another dress last minute, and we’ve got to get you in yours before they kick us out.” She rushes off to the back of the store, disappears behind the fitting room curtains.

When we’re alone, Rita turns to me, folds her arms over her chest. Looking down on me—she has me beat by five or so inches—she says with a smirk, “So what were you really doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Tash, you’re glowing, girl.”

“I could say the same about you.”

“Ok. You don’t want to tell me.” She shrugs, doesn’t acknowledge that I’ve noticed a difference in her too. She picks up a blue macaroon from the snack tray. It breaks apart and crumbles around her lips as she sinks her teeth into it. Chewing with her mouth full she says, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were pregnant.”

My stomach drops in my gut.

“Tash, today!” I hear Renee yell. “We still have to see the caterer!”

God, I hope this dress fits.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue
Next: Welcome to the Club

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue

Snowflakes are blue. In Rita’s mind, they’ve always been blue.

Ever since she was a child, and she traded in her ice white crayons for a combination of navy, aqua, and baby blue to trace the snowflake designs on her Christmas wish lists to Santa, snowflakes have been blue. And Christmas was her favorite holiday of the year until she was eleven, when her mom banned the holiday because her deadbeat dad stopped paying child support.

“No money, no presents.” Her excuse.

But Rita still dreamt of blue snowflakes piling high in her front yard on Christmas morning—even though she grew up in southern Georgia, and the coldest temperatures she ever experienced were still in the upper 40s. When she peeked out of her bedroom window every Christmas, squeezed her eyes shut and wished for a foot or more of densely packed, blue snow—an hombre effect developing the deeper you went, from white on the top layer to an almost cobalt at the very bottom—she knew one day it would happen, all her letters to Santa would be answered. One day she would wake up to jingle bells, a front lawn covered in a blanket of blue, and her father standing on the porch, carrying a gift box, wrapped in red and gold paper, almost as big as he, with the oversized bow to match.

This was what Rita thought about as Hank’s head lay in her lap, his tongue in her flesh.

It wasn’t right. She didn’t want to take him home. Well, she did, but Renee’s voice in her head nagged her of her missed appointment with Jesus—prayer and fasting more important.

But he didn’t have  a ride when the store closed—she the last customer to leave. It was too easy. And with an unannounced visit from Jerome still a possibility, she felt safer having Hank there.

Plus she needed someone to carry all the paint she bought. She couldn’t remember what colors she picked; she just grabbed the closet can and slug it in her basket, kept it moving.

Hank’s tongue fluttered inside her, like a swimmer kicking the water as he paddled down stream. She went loose, tensed up to hold it a second longer, went loose again.

Hank looked up. “You good?”

She pressed his head back down. Less talk, more . . . mmmm . . . She twirled her hips underneath him, rolled her eyes to the back of her head as he drank her up, slurped her as if finishing off the end of an icie, and when he hit that spot, she screamed, “Oh, god,” and then, “Jesus Christ,” and then, “Stop.”

It wasn’t right. But she still waited until she came before she finally pushed him off of her.

And she didn’t want him to leave, not yet. Not while her walls were still white. She crawled over to the paint cans lined up by her door, examined the labels. Merlot red? No, that color pallet was too close to hell. She figured when she died, she’d probably end up there anyway; she didn’t need the reminder. Canary yellow? Hell no. Not even if she had a cat. It made her think of the short story she read back in high school. If white was driving her crazy, yellow just might make her kill herself.

With a sigh—she probably should have put more thought into making her selections—she spun the third can around, tilted it back and looked at it under the white moonlight coming through her window.

Cerulean. Blue. Perfect.

“Let’s paint these walls,” she said, a chipperness in her voice.

“Now?”

“Why else do you think you’re here?”

He shook his head. Maybe to get blue balls. To tease him even more, Rita jumped at him, fell on top of him back on the bed. She sat up on his lap, felt him lift through his boxers. His hand trailed down to the pocket and pulled out what she’d been craving, so she could see it, so she could go ahead and sit on it. She wanted to. She really wanted to.

And she did. But first, they painted.

Her room is brighter this morning. Brighter even than when the walls were white. It reminds her of Christmas, and she can’t remember a Christmas when the sunlight didn’t fill her whole room back home, as it does right now.

The paint still smells. They probably shouldn’t have slept in it. But when she considers how much sleep they actually got, she thinks they’ll be ok. She looks up at the walls. Horny and half-naked, they still managed to coat them evenly, and they didn’t get a single drop on the floor. But that may be because they spread and entire box of black heavy duty trash bags over every inch of the plush white carpet.

Under the suns rays shinning through her window, her walls are the perfect snowflake blue she always imagined as a kid. If the paint is still wet, she’ll straighten out a paper clip, or maybe just use the tip of her fingernail, to carve in the skeletal snowflake designs, like on her wish lists to Santa.

On the floor, one trash bag is smeared with paint from end to end like the frantic brushstrokes of an improvisational painter receiving his dose of inspiration in that very moment. This was where they collapsed, after laying the final coating, and then finished each other off in the leftover blue paint poured from the can.

She can’t remember how exactly she ended up back in her bed, however.

She hears a swishing to her right, looks over to see the blue shadow of Hank’s body printed in the sheets next to her, and Hank standing by the window, his pants already on, buttoning his shirt.

“You’re leaving.” She says it more like a statement than a question. She should be used to this. What’s to stay for? He’s gotten what he was after, even though it took all night to get it.

He spins around, surprised, almost frightened, by her voice. Who else would it be? She wonders. This is her apartment.

“Oh, I didn’t want to wake you.”

Too late.

He stands there, as if caught with his hand somewhere it shouldn’t be, not sure what to do or how to explain himself. His eyes shift from her to his shoes on the floor at the foot of her bed.

“Just go.” she closes her eyes. It would’ve been better if he’d left last night. Before the sun came in and brightened her day, filled her with a false hope that things would be different now, that she could be different. That her dreams as a child would finally come true, and it would snow on Christmas the color of the Disney castle in the opening credits of her favorite princess movies, and her prince charming would finally come, and stay forever.

“I’m sorry,” he stammers. “I just– I thought you would want–”

He rushes back to the bed, his shirt half unbuttoned, his skin hot when she touches his abdomen. It warms her through, and she leans in to kiss his navel, dip her tongue inside like it’s morning coffee and she’s testing the temperature. He sinks his hands into her hair, pulls her up, sticks his whole tongue in her mouth.

This is all she wants for this whole day. Him filling her every opening. She’s supposed to be meeting Tash and Renee for a dress fitting. How late is it? Is there enough time to slide him into her for a few minutes more? She’d promised Renee she wouldn’t be late, and she would help her set up for the rehearsal dinner afterward. But then, did Renee really expect Rita to keep her word?

Not when this man is giving her everything she thinks she needs.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Every Morning
Next: Not Gonna Fit

Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans: Every Morning

Bacon sizzles in the pan. Mitchell opens the refrigerator, gets out three eggs, cracks them against the counter, scrambles them in a bowl. He turns back to the stove, flips the bacon. Grease pops his skin, and he slaps his wrist, brings it up to his mouth, sucks on the burn, the way she sucked on every part of Natasha last night, and before he realizes, his tongue is doing a somersault dance.

He shakes his head, returns to the eggs, adds salt, pepper, scrambles them until the yolks blend with the whites into a pale yellow liquid. He goes back to the refrigerator for cheese. He likes sharp cheddar, but Natasha only buys Parmesan, prefers the saltiness to it, that it melts better, but is lower in fat. So health conscious. He sprinkles a handful from the bag. He guesses he should get used to compromising now. A pang in his heart tells him he already has.

He returns the cheese, closes the refrigerator and notices the calendar on the door. Red and green X’s counting down to the 25th, which is double circled in yellow rings. Eight more days and this will be his life forever.

When he turns around, he finds that his bride-to-be has emerged from the bedroom, rubbing her eyes. She wears his wrinkled t-shirt, which looks ten times better on her than it ever did on him last night. The creases and ripples in the cotton fabric dip and stretch over the curves of her body at just the right angles, shaping her figure like how water surrounds and compliments an object partially submerged on its surface.

She slowly walks over to him, sliding her bare feet across the floor. She wraps her thin arms around his waist, lays her head on his chest, looks up with that smile, that same beautiful smile that made his whole world stand still the first time he laid eyes on it. Her cheeks radiate like the sun. He kisses them both, and she in turn kisses him where his heart stutters to beat.

“I love you,” she says softly, cooing like a dove.

Oh, god. He loves her too. He scoops her into his embrace. He kisses her neck, and up her neck, and along her jawline, and to her lips, lingers there, then back down to her neck, and her collarbone, and across her shoulder, and further down. He can’t stop kissing her.

He pulls his shirt up over her head. She’s naked underneath, and this only arouses him more. She rushes in, curls her fingers over the top and inside his slacks, drops them to the floor, hooks her arm around his neck, pulls him down to her, inhales his scent, laps him up. He cups his hands around the backs of her thighs, lifts her with a grunt, sits her on his hip.

Bacon in the pan getting crispier by the second. He’s cooked too.

“Tell me you love me,” she whines, desperate, like she’s pleading with him, like she’s in physical agony not to hear him say it.

“I love you,” he whispers, lips tracing the curve of her ear, and he can feel her smile, can feel her hold her breath and let it release.

And he releases all of him inside her. His insecurities about them, his hesitations to move too fast, his worries and cares. She accepts all of it and more, assures him with every kiss, every moan, that this is right, that to deny themselves this moment would be like death, the one needing the other just to breathe.

Oh God, If every morning is like this for the rest of his life, he will be complete, he prays.

But a faint voice in the back of his mind tells him he should have waited.

—Nortina


Part of Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans
——
Previous: Not Drunk
Next: Snowflakes Have Always Been Blue

Sunday Photo Fiction: Circle of Life

Each morning, I rise before the sun to admire nature in its purest form. Before the honking cars and cursing businessmen shouting into cell phones. Before squealing children standing at bus stops and their worrying mothers watching from behind stop signs.

I jog the quiet streets of my neighborhood. Past the dark windows of brick homes and the still backyards housing families of squirrels, wild rabbits, and various rodents. The light from the rising sun reflects off the dew on the grass. The air smells fresh, like the night’s debauchery washed away with a cool shower just before the dawn.

I bend over to tie my shoe when I notice a grasshopper leap from the curb and land on my wristwatch, its antenna twitches above my heart rate readings. Just as quickly, a robin swoops down from the phone lines overhead. It encloses it’s beak around the grasshopper’s body and flaps towards the trees, disappearing behind a veil of green leaves. I can hear the high-pitched chirps of delightful chicks as they sing the blessing before devouring breakfast.

The early bird catches the worm.

—Nortina


Sunday Photo Fiction is a weekly challenge for writers to create a story of approximately 100-200 words using the provided photo prompts.

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