Steeping by Melissa A. Bartell

Tea by Olu Eletu

Her trench coat was spattered with new and old raindrops, and the cuffs of her jeans stained with mud when she entered the café. Looking around for a table, she noticed that even seats along the bar were full, and that someone had told the students they had to limit their use of space to accommodate the crowd. This was not unusual for a rainy day, and she was about to order her drink to go when a man in a fisherman’s sweater and corduroy pants beckoned her over.

“Join me?” he offered, rearranging the plate, cup, and silverware in front of him, and closing the notebook he’d been staring at.

She wove her away between people and chairs, unfastened her coat, and sat down. “Thanks for the rescue,” she said. “I didn’t really want to take my order to go.” She paused then, looking down at the table-top, then back up at her new companion. “I have to confess though: I know that I know you; I just can’t quite name you.”

He laughed, and she noticed that he had dimples in cheeks. “Sarah! Honestly! I’m David,” he said. “Your bike messenger.”

“Of course you are!” she gushed, embarrassed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in clothes before.”

“Do I want to know what that meant?” the server teased by way of a greeting, arriving at their table. “Your usual macchiato today, Sar?”

Sarah laughed. “I meant real clothes. Street clothes,” she tried to explain, both to David and to the amused server. “No… it’s so wet. A pot of tea, please. That tarragon mint blend.”

“Sure thing,” the server said, “For one or…” He let the question trail off into innuendo.

“Make it for two,” David put in on cue. “And I’m done with this cup.” He gestured to the half-empty espresso cup before him. “It’s cold now, anyway.”

“Back in a jiff,” the server said, turning toward the kitchen.

“I can’t believe you lingered here long enough to let espresso go cold, as busy as it is in here today,” Sarah ventured once they were alone again.

“I was working on a poem,” David confessed.

“You’re a poet?  Are you published? Can I read your stuff?”

“I am, when I’m not wearing bike pants and delivering documents around town,” David answered, taking each of her questions in order. “I’ve published a couple pieces here and there,” he continued. “And as to reading it… the stuff I’m working on right now needs to steep a bit.”

“Poems steep?”

“Just like tea,” David said.

His smile, Sarah observed, was a gentle one, and his blue eyes danced with merriment – no – enthusiasm –  when he spoke about his art.

“So, why are you a bike messenger, then?” Sarah asked, and then immediately apologized, “Oh, wait. Was that too nosey? I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. “It’s a fair question.” He took a minute to compose his answer. “I like to be outside. I like to meet different people. I hate to exercise, but this way I get paid to do something physical… and the whole time, I’m writing poetry in the back of my head.”

“But you do put it on paper, right?”

“Eventually. When it’s ready.”

“I always wanted to write,” Sarah confessed. “I got pulled into the family brokerage before I even finished college. Now, Mom’s name is on our letterhead, but I’m running most of the day-to-day.”

“You seem successful.”

“How can you tell?”

“You’ve upgraded to larger suites in the same building twice in two years,” he began, ticking off points on his fingers. “The mood in your office is usually positive – even when there’s a problem that comes up, you and your staff are always pretty happy.”

“And that tells you we’re successful?”

“That and the fact that you’ve nearly quadrupled the volume that goes through our service.”

They laughed at that together, their voices mingling like tea and lemon – not matching but complimenting each other.

The server brought their tea at that moment. “Sorry to take so long,” he said.

“It’s not a problem,” Sarah said. “For me at least. David, do you have to be anywhere?”

“Free afternoon,” he said.  He reached for the pot, one of those round glass ones with the infuser basket, but the server stopped him.

“It needs to steep, still,” he said. He left, then returned with cups and saucers, napkins, spoons, honey, lemon, and a plate of crescent-shaped cookies. “Have some lemon moon cookies,” he said. “On the house.”

“Thank you,” David and Sarah said at the same time.

They waited in silence to be left alone again, for the tea to steep, to see who would speak next. Finally, Sarah decided the brew was ready, and she poured cups for each of them. “It’s hot,” she warned automatically.

“So are you – oh, God, was that my out-loud voice?” David laughed. Then he shrugged, “Well, you are.”

“I’m not sure what to say to that,” Sarah responded, stirring honey into her tea. “Thanks, I guess.” She watched his face for a long while, then nodded once, and asked, “Would you like to have tea again sometime… maybe on purpose?”

David squeezed lemon into his cup of tea, then dropped the spent rind on his saucer. “I was about to invite you to the pub down the street.”

“Now?” she asked.

“Saturday.  Seven-thirty. There’s a poetry slam. I’m reading.”

“I’d like that,” she said.

She sat with him for another thirty or forty minutes while they sipped their tea and ate the cookies (“Oh, God, these are heaven!!”)  By the time they left, the crowd had dispersed and the rain had stopped.

The next three days flew by, but on Saturday she met David at the pub, and he introduced her to the owner and some of the regulars. The event wasn’t truly a slam, in the pop-culture sense of the word, just a night of original poetry from local writers.

David was last. When he took the stage he looked right at Sarah and gave her a cocky wink. “This one is brand new,” he told the people in the audience. “It’s called ‘Steeping’.”

Image copyright Olu Eletu via UnSplash, used with permission.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Tinderbox by A.R. Hadley


He stood at the lectern, dressed to the nines.

Who does this guy think he is … Matthew Soren PhD?

“Fundamentally, faith in a higher power, a creator, is rooted in deceit. I will walk you through what led me to this belief. Because you see, I was not always an atheist…”

His words belie his stellar suit. More like a suit of armor. What are you protecting yourself from, Mr. Soren? 

When his speech ended twenty minutes later, the room burst into applause. I looked at the pacified crowd of college students. I watched them disperse and waited until they finished congratulating the handsome man.


I went right up to the knight in his armor, ready to put a chink in it. “What convinces you that you are right?”

“Excuse me?” He turned. His blue eyes traced the contours of my face.

Jesus Christ. 

I snickered. Out loud. Because after all, he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ.

“Are you a student here?”

“No.” Do I look that young? You look naïve. And you are still laughing. Like. A. School. Girl. Hush. 

“Um, excuse me.” I straightened my jacket and my face. “I said, what convinces you that you are right?”

He continued examining me with a subtle sensual scrutiny. “Did you listen to my speech, Miss…?”

“Ms. Carmichael.” I extended my hand, and as we touched, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. Military attention. “And, yes, I did listen. I took notes.”

Arching an eyebrow, he smirked.

“I heard you were lecturing. I wanted to hear your speech. I teach literature, but I’m also a minister.” Ah, there’s the pity, over his face like a wet blanket. 

“If you took notes, you should know I already answered that question in—”

“—in your speech.” I finished his sentence. I can play this game. “You don’t do personal interviews then?” I peered at him, pretending he didn’t intimidate me. But he did. Unexpectedly so. It was his eyes. Blue like my favorite pair of jeans. Confident and blue. A perfect complement to his jet black hair.

I want to slide my fingers through it and… Stop it!  

“How personal do you mean?”

Argh! He didn’t miss a beat and the inflection in his voice only meant one thing. He caught me ogling. Those denim eyes studied every inch of my body with the precision of a stealth flier. “Mr. Soren…”

“It’s Matt.”

“Matthew, I would really like to ask you some questions.”

“To disprove my beliefs?”

“Your theories.”

“Beliefs, Ms. Carmichael.”

“It’s Tracey.”

“Would you like to prove me wrong over coffee, Tracey?”

Smooth, Matthew.

No wonder he convinces students to abandon any shred of spiritual curiosity. “Have you ever studied the cell, Mr. Soren?”

He smiled and cleared his throat. “Do you think there is a Christian argument I am not familiar with, Ms. Carmichael?”

“I’m not arguing.”

“Indeed. What is your motivation then?”

“The cell has…” He interrupted the start of my sermon merely by standing taller, if possible, because he already had a good six inches over me, and I wore heels, but nevertheless, he stood taller and he inched forward. His smile spread, and that obnoxious grin coupled with the yummy smell of him, probably Temptation or Obsession or some other aptly named cologne, all of him, rendered me practically speechless. I. am. Never. Speechless.

“Have coffee with me.” He brushed my bangs away from my eyes. “I’m not asking.”

Ahem. Neck hair. Prickle. Tickle. “What is your motivation?” Was that my voice? A mousy squeak?

“To kiss you.”

“To kiss me?” I fumbled. The entire length of a football field.

“Yes. Would you like me to demonstrate my motivation, here?” He looked around. “In the classroom?”

I recovered. “The brain—” Almost.

“What?” He laughed.

The brain. You have one. Speak.

“In the time it took for you to look at me like that—”

“Like what?” He managed to press closer to me. Space didn’t exist between us.


“In the time it took for you to look at me, to suggest kissing me, to step forward, not to mention the blood that’s probably rushing to your lower extremities, not to mention the fact that you are continuously breathing.” He cupped the nape of my neck. “And that…” I stammered. “…all of it — a million little synapses are occurring in your brain. Right now. Instantly. Doing things you don’t even have to think about. You just do—”

His lips fell against mine.

You just do. You just do. You just do. 

I opened my mouth. His tongue slipped in, swirling, tasting and silencing me. Synapses on fire.

Brain… No. No thinking. Think. Think. Think.

I pulled away. Dizzy. Discombobulated.

Why is he having such an effect on me? An atheist. Jesus. That’s right, Tracey, only Jesus can save you from the sin of wanting to bed an…

He took my hand. “There’s a great little cafe on 8th.” He jingled the keys in his pocket. “I’ll meet you there.”

“You brought your car?”


“And it was made at a factory, by hardworking men and women, as well as the parts?”


“And have you met them, those people?”


He knows I’m baiting him. He’s allowing it. Because he wants to silence me with his prowess. “Then your car, it must have come about by chance. No one created it, correct?”

The handsome devil smiled and shook his head. “Oh, we will have fun together.”

My face flushed. The last time I turned the color of a rose bush I was probably fifteen, with a crush.

This is insane.

“Fun?” I tilted my flaming red head to the side.

“You can spend all night trying to convince me.” His irises’ danced, wining and dining me. “I am very motivated.”

The suit and the promise of what was underneath of it left me out of my mind.

My brain.

I’m a goner. He put a chink in my armor. Lord help me. Save me. Forgive me of my sins. 

“All night, huh?” I grinned.

I’ll have you calling out the Lords name, Mr. Atheist Matthew Soren PhD, before the night is over. 

About the Author: A.R. Hadley

ARHadleyBioA.R. Hadley has been a creative writer since elementary school, however, she all but gave it up after her children were born, devoting herself to the lovely little creatures, forgetting the pleasure and happiness derived from being imaginative.

No more.

She rediscovered her passion in 2014, and has not stopped since — writing essays, poetry, and fiction. A.R is currently working on a set of novels as part of a romantic trilogy, and also dabbles in penning short stories.

Day or night, words float around inside her brain. She hears dialogue when awakening from sleep. She is the one who has been awakened. Writing is her oxygen.

Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

The Bookcase by Debra Smouse

Colleen caught her breath as she lay sprawled on the floor, her head resting against the iron leg of a futon. Why was she on the floor of her daughter’s room at 4:48 AM? ImNotReallyAWaitressToesShe had managed to catch her big toe on the belt loop of a pair of jeans.

She shook her head. Only she could be such a klutz. Well, if she was lucky, the I’m Not Really a Waitress-red polish on her toenails had survived the tumble without even a slight chip.

She should have turned on the light, but she’d gotten in the habit of wandering through the dark house alone when she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t only that she was restless, either. After four weekends of being without the kids, she had stopped seeing her house as empty and lonesome, and was finding a sense of peace.

She laughed to herself, appreciating the irony: Alone, she was finally settling into the kind of feeling she’d always longed for from this house, the kind she’d never had when they’d all been pretending to be a happy family. The sweet sense of calm and peace that hadn’t seemed to exist when her soon-to-be ex-husband was living there, was surrounding her, now that he had gone.

Their separation and divorce had been anything but typical. Though they had filed the paperwork with the court before the shininess of the New Year had faded, they had continued living together until he found a place shortly before Easter. She kept the house; he moved into a high-rise condo closer to work.

The divorce would be final in just a few weeks, on May Day.

Since his official departure from the house – from her house – she’d been spending all her free time decluttering the sixteen years’ worth of crap that had accumulated. She’d recognized his insistence that the kids would be better “if their ‘primary living environment’ remain unchanged in any way” for the clever ploy that it was. He didn’t really care that every stick of furniture stay intact; rather, he wanted all new furniture for his sleek condo overlooking downtown.

The kid-and-dog-worn crap hadn’t matched his new décor.

She sighed from her position on the floor. “I’m not getting anything done just lying here.” But before she could gather the will to pick herself up, she felt the breath of her dog, Ingrid, on the back of her neck.

Suddenly, she wanted to cry, the first time in months that she’d felt the pinpricks of tears behind her eyes. She hadn’t cried when she’d discovered her husband’s affair, and she hadn’t cried when they’d agreed that divorce was their only ingrid_downoption. But with the dog nuzzling her neck, breathing in her owner’s scent in much the same way a lover would, holding back the tears was so hard.

Besides, she thought, facts are facts: she’d never get laid again. What man would want to date an almost-forty-year-old single mother with two kids and a hundred-pound dog?

She tangled her fingers into the giant dog’s curly fur, assuring the animal that she was fine.

Then she shoved Ingrid aside, rolled over, and pushed herself to her feet.

Switching on her daughter’s desk lamp, she saw the note taped to the computer monitor:

“MOM, if you insist on cleaning, can we PLEASE ditch that old bookcase?”

The bookcase. One of the few pieces of furniture from her childhood.

The bookcase. The last factor in Colleen’s decision to divorce him.

She had gotten used to the way her husband spoke to her, making her feel as if nothing she ever did was good enough. She had gotten used to his stonewalling, refusing to talk to her for days and weeks on end because of some imagined infraction. She had gotten used to his unending criticism of what she wore and how messy the house was. She’d even gotten used to the not-so-subtle implication that the disarray meant she was a crappy mother.

Colleen had gotten used to the constant barrage of things she didn’t do/shouldn’t do/wasn’t doing right, but she’d hated it, and when he turned his critical eye toward their children, she’d taken steps to protect them. She had become an adept liar, covering for the girls if there were infractions at school or a less-than-perfect conduct grade on any given day. She’d scurried around, picking up after them, making sure he’d never found a stray shoe or misplaced book in view.

But kids will be kids, and as good as she was at covering for them most of the time, there were always things that slipped through the cracks: a messy room, a late homework assignment, a found note from a teacher bemoaning a child’s inability to sit still and be quiet. And she couldn’t get her oldest daughter to keep her mouth shut when things began to escalate.

Oh, did that girl have smart mouth on her, especially for a thirteen-year old! She was intelligent and more well-read than the average college student, and had strong opinions. The unfairness was that the same words uttered a decade later (or to a stranger) would be considered “standing up for herself.  As a child, the expectation was to accept the verbal assaults her father volleyed across the bow as just more rules to follow.

And then, there was the day that he pushed her. Shoved their child so hard she fell against the open door to the stackofbooksbookcase and it pulled the hinges out of the wood.

He had insisted that he hadn’t touched her, that the girl was just backing away from him and tripped.

But Colleen knew that that deep anger of his, and believed her daughter’s version of the story.

That sticks and stones nursery rhyme was a lie. Words did hurt. But the shift from mere words to actual physicality crossed a line, and while he’d never struck her or the kids before, and she hoped it would never happen again, she wasn’t going to count on it.

That was the day that Colleen decided: no more. There would be no more walking on eggshells and no more dealing with the regular verbal assaults. She wasn’t going to allow her children to live like this every day. Always wondering if today, he would get physical.

She waited a few weeks, quietly getting her ducks in a row. She began documenting his affair with the aerobics instructor at their gym. Despite his denial when confronted months earlier, she’d stumbled across their text messages. She also combed through their finances to get a better picture of how things stood.

And three weeks later, the next time he began bitching about her inability to keep a tidy house, and then moved on to her total lack of culinary skills, he drove his own nail into the coffin of their relationship. “If I want a nice home, I’ll have to get divorced first,” he’d said. He always had been a master of the passive-aggressive statement.

Colleen had smiled a sad little smile at him and uttered the words she wouldn’t take back. “Then why don’t we just get a divorce so you can finally live in the kind of home you want?”

Yes, she had waited until things died down a bit because she never wanted her daughter to think she was at all responsible for the divorce. But she’d made her decision on the day of the bookcase.

Colleen brought herself back to the present and took a good look at the bookcase. It was a shame to part with something she’d had since she was a child. In all honesty, it wouldn’t be that difficult to repair it, but she totally understood why her daughter wanted the bookcase gone.

It was the constant reminder that sometimes the people who were supposed to love you and protect you were the ones you needed protection from.

As Ingrid settled in next to her daughter’s bed, Colleen decided: today, right now, she would deal with the bookcase. Looking around the room, she noticed the stacks of books on the floor – Dante, Terry Pratchett, Charles Darwin, Michael Moorcock, J.K. Rowling – and realized her daughter had already emptied the shelves.

A woman with a mission, Colleen ripped the top sheet off her daughter’s bed, laid it on the floor next to the case, and pulled and pushed until the bookcase rested on the sheet so it would be easier to slide across the floor.

More pushing, more pulling, and with Ingrid as a sort of honor guard, she dragged the bookcase down the hall, out the front door, and TheDoor(though she cringed at the skittering, scraping sounds) across the concrete of the driveway. Making sure the dog was clear, she gave a final heave letting the piece of furniture come to rest on its side, on the curb.

Sweating, she wiped her forward and told the big black dog “Thank goodness trash day is tomorrow!”

Colleen turned back towards the house, only to stop short. The edge of the rising sun was bathing the sky, and her home, in a pale pink glow. She stood watch as the pink shifted to orange shot with gold.

She made one last glance, over her shoulder, at that bookcase, its vacant shelves turned into depthless shadows in the light of morning.

Then she took a deep breath, called Ingrid to heel, walked back into the house – her house – and shut the door.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Chasing the Charade by A.R. Hadley

“Are you ready yet?” He walked into the hotel bathroom, never looking better in his monkey suit, and stood near the sink.

tuxedoone“Tell me again why we had to share this room?” She held the curling iron to her head. “Couldn’t you have booked a suite with a separate bedroom?”

“We’ve been over this.”

“I know.” She sighed. “I just don’t understand your family sometimes.”

“We have separate beds.”

“Thank God.”

“You know my mother would die if she knew the truth, Casey.”

Lies. Of course. What does he know about truth?

“You have to tell her sometime.”

“Not today.”

“I should’ve … you should’ve said I was ill. There’s no reason for this … this charade.”

“My mother loves you.”

He had to go there.

Silently, she stared into the glass. Into his eyes. Her lips a hard pressed line, but her eyes soft and full of the love she tried to deny. She was unable to hide it though. She loved his mother. He knew that. And she loved him. Casey had wanted to keep the latter veiled, but it was too late. He saw her love — all of it, shining off the brown of her irises. The months long separation hadn’t changed the love she felt for him. It had not even cooled. Her love for him was hotter than the iron. The iron.


A mist ascended her scalp like incense. His attention diverted to it. He grinned.

She unraveled the contraption. “Funny. Right. I’ll fry my hair. Just what I need tonight.” The steamed hair coiled and bounced.

His smile turned into a lure at the end of a line. “I remember this dress.” He touched her sangria colored gown.

With both of his palms on her hips, she couldn’t help but glance down. She stared at his fingers, her eyes like crazy glue, unable to shift, but her mind still sharp as a tack; aware that if they had stayed together he probably would have never remembered the dress he fondled, and maybe he would have never coveted her again — in the dress or ever. Now the old dress, the decoration in her closet, their closet, the closet they shared for years, was a symbol, gathering a static dust like their relationship.

“Yeah?” she replied, voice cracking.

“Yeah,” he said, holding her hips secure while peering into her eyes in the mirror.

She tilted her head down. He waited for her attention, but her gaze would not return, and so he released her and turned to walk away.

“Where, Mark?” She looked up with a start and caught the back of his head in the glass. “Where did I wear the dress?”

“At the anniversary party … their fiftieth.” He drew near and stood at her profile. “God, you know you haven’t womanatvanity_istockphotochanged? You’re still the—”

“I’ve changed.”

“You don’t love me anymore?” His voice was tender in all the right ways, his touch impossible to resist. She leaned into it as he stroked her chestnut curls.

“Mark,” she said, shaking her head. “Love isn’t always enough.”

“What is?” he whispered.

“We will be late.” She pulled away.

“They can wait.” He gripped her waist again.

“You are part of the wedding—”

“I’m part of you,” he said. “You can’t take the me out of you.”

“You took it.” Her thighs began to tremble. “You … you took it.”

“Tonight,” he said, his voice a balm, “tonight … I don’t want this to be a charade.”

Casey tilted her face away and pressed her palms onto the counter. Her eyes filled with tears.

“Don’t pretend you love me, C.J.” He searched her shimmering eyes. “Love me … be with me.”

“I am with you,” she said, twisting her head toward him in a flash, eyes wide, avoiding his implication. “I’m staying here, aren’t I? I agreed.”

Mark reached up and touched his wife’s cheek, stroking it. His fingers were behind her neck and tangled in her hair.

“Be … with … me.” He continued to gaze into her eyes. “I want you.”

Casey momentarily couldn’t speak. No man had touched her since Mark had moved out, and he hadn’t even touched her in the months leading up to the departure. Now his hands and breath were on her skin, and she was melting. Melting. Damn him. He could be so charming when he wanted to. Manipulative even. Everything was always about the chase though, the charm and the chase, and now he was chasing her.

Am I the other woman now?

It was nauseatingly fun for a moment, and then the moment would be gone, and yet there was still something.

There was something to his proposition of sex.

It would be just sex, wouldn’t it?

They weren’t divorced, but they clearly weren’t together. In name only. For the sake of the family. Mark’s pursuit was interfering with whatever life he had begun without her, and he was coming between the contentment she found in being alone, discovering herself again — herself apart from him. But … she was alone, she did have needs, and he could meet them comfortably. She had been unable to bring herself to be with a stranger, and she didn’t want to date. God. Date. It was too soon. And maybe it was too soon for this absent minded sexual reconciliation. It would be a one night stand.

Yes, a one night stand … unless … unless he could somehow manage to screw that up too.

There was still the ceremony and the reception to attend. He had hours to screw up, and then they might have hours to screw — each other, and their lives into a twisted bunch of irrecoverable knots. Nevertheless, the arrangement was sealed when she agreed to the whole cockamamie scheme, attending the wedding of his sister, sharing a hotel room — sealed when she said her own I do. She knew now that Mark would never truly be gone or over.

He is Mark.

He was her Marky-Mark-Mark. Somehow he would forever hold a little piece of her heart the way he held her now against the counter — hands demanding her attention, green eyes admiring her the way no one else did, making her forget every lie, fight and malice in their marriage that brought them to the moment they existed in now. No. For once in her life she wanted the moment to be the moment. No past. No future. No next minute, day or hour. No consequence. Fuck consequence. She tilted her head toward him, speaking all of the lonely and necessity without saying a thing. She stared into his eyes and parted her lips.

About the Author: A.R. Hadley

ARHadleyBioA.R. Hadley has been a creative writer since elementary school, however, she all but gave it up after her children were born, devoting herself to the lovely little creatures, forgetting the pleasure and happiness derived from being imaginative.

No more.

She rediscovered her passion in 2014, and has not stopped since — writing essays, poetry, and fiction. A.R is currently working on a set of novels as part of a romantic trilogy, and also dabbles in penning short stories.

Day or night, words float around inside her brain. She hears dialogue when awakening from sleep. She is the one who has been awakened. Writing is her oxygen.

Connect on Twitter and Facebook.

Waspish by Melissa A. Bartell


The door was open, and his bags were waiting beside it. “Sweetie,” he said, “I’m sorry. I hate traveling this much. This is the last trip this quarter, and I’ll be home in a week.” He tried to kiss her, but she stiffened, and pulled away.

“Go,” she said, in a flat tone. “Just go.” Something flew past her face–a wasp–and she reached a hand up to brush the feeling aside. Waspish

They had been fighting ever since he arrived home from his most recent trip. Hong Kong, she thought, or Tokyo. She really couldn’t be bothered to remember any more, where he was at any given moment, and she was also tired of fighting, tired of trying to make him hear her. All weekend, when they could have been in bed making up for all the days he had been gone, she had been in a mood, sometimes crying, sometimes screaming.

“It’s my job,” he threw back at her. “You knew I’d have to travel when I accepted the promotion.”

The wasp followed a scent trail to the kitchen window, and alighted on the screen, but neither noticed.

“I thought I’d get to go with you. Working from home was supposed to give me that option.”

“None of the wives get to go,” he said. “It just isn’t done.”

“I’m not ‘one of the wives.’ I’m your wife. You wouldn’t even have this job if I hadn’t written your resume.”

He walked to the kitchen window and slammed it shut, trapping the wasp against the screen. It buzzed angrily and tried unsuccessfully to escape. The buzzing didn’t cease, but neither of them noticed. “Is there someone else?” he asked softly.

“No,” she said, and then. “I just don’t like the person I’ve become. I don’t like that I’m always at home, waiting for you to come back. I don’t like that you have an entire life separate from mine, and when I ask how work was, all you say is ‘busy’. What kind of an answer is that?”

“Work is busy,” he said. “It’s always busy. I don’t even take lunch most days. And when I go away, all I do is work. There’s no time for sight-seeing. You’d be bored.”

“I could sight-see without you, you know.” She opened her mouth to say more, then closed it, and stared at him mutely. He was silent as well, staring back.

The blast of the horn from the taxi waiting at the curb jolted them out of their silence, and masked the soft thud of the tiring wasp falling to the bottom of the casement as it struggled to break free. Wordlessly, he picked up his bags and left.

She watched the taxi drive away then sank down onto a chair. She hated these chairs. They were too large for her short frame, and the table was too tall, and it made her feel small and helpless. He hadn’t closed the door behind him; she hadn’t bothered to do it after he was gone.

Her cell phone was just in front of her. She should pick it up. Apologize for being a basket case. Apologize for not kissing him goodbye or wishing him a safe trip. But she didn’t. She made coffee, instead, and fetched a magazine from the living room.

Behind her back, the wasp kept up a relentless exploration of every corner of its prison, looking for a way out.

When it grew too dark to read she looked up, and realized she’d never turned a light on. Her coffee, poured and forgotten, had grown cold. She didn’t remember a single thing she’d read in the magazine.

Her cell phone rang at three in the morning, and she groggily answered it. “Hello?”

“Hi, Sweetie. My plane was late, and I just got in.” A pause. “I wasn’t going to wake you, but…”

“No–” she interrupted, sleep leaving her, “–I’m glad you did. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“I know.” He took a beat, and she could hear the faint static that represented the thousands of miles between them. “I’m sorry I had to go.”

“I hate when you’re away.” She sounded pathetic, even to herself.

“I know. I hate being away.” His voice was soft.

“Forgive me for being so bitchy?”

“Always. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

She hung up the phone, and went back to sleep, her arms holding his pillow close to her body.

Downstairs, trapped between the screen and glass of the kitchen window, the wasp died.

Image Credit: victorass88 / 123RF Stock Photo

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Plotting and Planning by Æverett

old farmhouse window

Great, empty house with old, wood floors, and open rooms. Unclaustrophobic. The realtor would not shut up about the damn kitchen – how it’d been upgraded not so long ago, or how beautifully painted the cabinets were. She’d grimaced and immediately decided to strip them to the wood. The powder blue had to go. It was too… bright. Brushed steel would be less garish.

If the realtor’d been male, she’d have offed the awful woman already. She’d insold farmhouse windowulted the old windows. Truth was, the old farmhouse windows were a draw. She’d keep them, but refurbish and weather seal them herself. Couldn’t have the neighbors hearing screams.

But it was the yard that sold her. A wide swath of lawn and room for a shed. Room for a Garden. A place to plant her flowers.

She’d been searching for that for ages.

That’s *exactly* what she’d been searching for.

“I know, the rest is a bit rough, but…”

“Sixty-thousand, right?”

The realtor’s face went blank with shock – then lit with glee. “Yes. I’m afraid the bank won’t go any lower than that.”

“I’ll write you a check whenever we get the paperwork handled.”

“Oh! Wonderful! Let me just make some calls!”

She gestured the other woman out the door as she pulled out her phone and started dialing. *Yes, dear god, woman! *Get Out!** She closed the door and was alone.

Yes… Living room, spacious and dark, neat bathroom, modern kitchen, two bedrooms upstairs… and down, space for the Guest Room. Planning would be key. Soundproofing and insulating. Resealing the floors. Carefully furnishing. And the Garden.

She smiled at the thought: A sprawling herb garden… chamomile and bee balm blooming… feverfew in one corner… monkshood in another. Foxglove and anise. She would enjoy plotting the layout, constructing the beds, cultivating the plants. She looked forward to those long afternoons in the dirt.

But first, those fucking blue cabinets had to go.

And first the Guest Room had to be ready.

* * *

The neighbors were impressed with the new resident’s work. She’d cleaned the exterior, sorted and trimmed the yard. And she was making steady progress at refurbishing the old windows – one at a time, by hand, and by herself.

Mr. Tammond said she was an example of female ingenuity and resourcefulness. He said she’d be a good role model for young girls.

Alone, she laughed about that – as she considered welding the bed frame together. She didn’t *like* any man, but she thought it was okay for him to keep breathing.

The neighbors were impressed with her work. With the clean front walk and fresh windows. With the newly green trim and sealed wood door.

To them, she was just a quiet do-it-yourselfer, who worked odd hours and loved to garden. They were shocked when the FBI started digging up bodies.

Aren’t they always?

In hindsight, they realized why she never had any of them over for dinner.

Image Copyright: pavelk / 123RF Stock Photo

About the Author: Æverett

ÆverettÆverett lives in the northern hemisphere and enjoys Rammstein and Star Trek. He writes both poetry and fiction and dabbles in gardening and soap making. She has two wonderfully old cats, and a dearly beloved dog. He also plays in linguistics, studying German, Norwegian, Russian, Arabic, a bit of Elvish, and developing Cardassian. Language is fascinating, enlightening, and inspirational. She’s happily married to her work with which she shares delusions of demon hunters, detectives, starships, androids, and a home on the outskirts of a small northern town. He’s enjoyed writing since childhood and the process can be downright therapeutic when it’s not making him pull his hair out. It’s really about the work and words and seeing without preconceptions.

Unaccompanied by Melissa A. Bartell

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock Photo

Below the melody, I can hear the pressure of his fingers, blunt force pushing the string down to meet the fingerboard. Pale flesh meeting ebony wood with wire sandwiched between.

Copyright: belchonock / 123RF Stock PhotoThe actual piece doesn’t matter. It’s something by Bach, of course, baroque and brooding, an elegy at times, a discourse at others. I know that it’s Bach in the same way most people know the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but the name of the specific piece eludes me.

Between the notes, I hear him draw a breath. If I were watching him, I’d probably see him reposition his bow in that same moment. As it is, I hear the air being released from his lungs, from his lips, just before the bow attacks the strings.

I can’t watch him.

I look at my phone, observe the deep claret colour of the wine in my glass, devote close study to the remains of the dark chocolate mousse cake on my plate.

Anything to avoid his eyes.

Behind the music I catch the rasp of his sleeve where it brushes against the bridge on an up-bow. I lift my eyes – just for a second, I tell myself – and drink in the crisp white of his shirt, the jet black of his tie.

Finally, I am caught, trapped in the warm brown of his eyes.

He notices me staring at him, but his playing never falters, though there’s a slight quirk of his brow that just matches the note he flourishes.

Beneath the chords, I hear the faint buzz, not quite a wolf-tone, from the titanium strings, and discern – barely – the soft contact of his thumb resettling itself in the saddle of his cello.

As he lifts his bow from the strings, the faint tang of sweat and rosin assaults my senses. I lick my lips, anticipating the moment when he leaves the stage and joins me at my table.

People warned me about dating a musician. “You’ll be alone at all his gigs,” they said. “You’ll feel like a groupie; you’ll lose your identity.”

They were wrong.

I’m never alone, merely… unaccompanied.

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa A. BartellMelissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.