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Mar 21, 2013

In with a :toxx:


Mar 21, 2013

Never Stops (1195 words)

Rowan couldn’t remember the last time he had a U driver without bags under their eyes, but this one looked particularly haggard.

“What’s up?” He asked, and immediately felt awkward.

“Oh!” They looked back at him, startled, then slammed on the brakes. Rowan winced at the angry honks. “Er, uh, not much. Just worried about-”

The light turned green and Rowan clutched at his seat.

“-about Mariposa. The dust-up between them and U, to be honest, is freaking me out.”

“That’s reasonable.” The rivalry had escalated into full-out corporate warfare last week -- Mariposa had somehow convinced Packer Corporation to lock out U’s data centers on the basis of some terms-of-service violation. It’d only been for a day, but the absence of any U drivers in Yerba Buena had spurred nearly a third of the population to create Mariposa accounts.

Another sharp turn, and Rowan unclenched his jaw enough to ask, “Are you planning on switching?”

“A couple of my friends have, especially after last week, but U reps make it very clear they’re burning bridges.” They sighed as they pulled up to the curb. “I would if it wasn’t so risky -- Mariposa pays better, and they don’t steal tips. But if Mariposa doesn’t make it, and I’ve already switched -- well. Here you go.”

“Right. Thanks.” Rowan pulled out his phone, gave them five stars, and dug into his pockets for a ten-dollar bill -- U might say that they didn’t use tips through the app for payroll anymore, but Rowan didn’t believe them. “Look. I’m sure everything will turn out all right.” Especially once we find the proof that U’s hacked into the Packer’s servers.

Their double-take and subsequent grin stayed with him as he stepped into the elevator. Then he braced himself for another day of trying to fix bugs, but talking to angry customers instead. He’d just finished lunch when his phone buzzed.

hi this is urgent
please join the meeting here

As he joined, he could hear raised voices, and he hastily turned down the volume.

“-am shocked with the trouble we’ve had with your product, and with how we’ve been treated. It should not be this hard-”

This went on for a while, so Rowan reviewed the case notes his boss had appended. His eyebrows went up at the client name -- U Inc.

The actual outage seemed fairly simple -- for whatever reasons, the engineers at U had set up their server to handle bidirectional TLS traffic, but hadn’t followed the administrative guide’s instructions for the special configurations to do so. Just as he was wondering who the prick on the call was, since an actual engineer would’ve focused on solving the problem, his boss finally managed to introduce Rowan to Mr. Beros, the U’s CTO.

“Jesus, finally.”

Rowan swallowed, and offered, “Deepest apologies, sir. I didn’t want to interrupt.”

He paused to let Beros complain some more, then continued, “The fix won’t take long, but it requires a fair number of steps. If you could lend me control of the server instances?”

“No, I’ll do it.”


“All right. I’ll need you to share your screen, then.” Rowan said, fighting to keep his tone level. This added another hour to the call length right there, judging by Beros’ attitude and--

He managed not to choke. Beros had just opened a text file, highlighted a string of characters, and pasted them into a terminal for a server with a very familiar hostname. On instinct, he took a screenshot of the meeting window. This -- this probably meant the current operation they’d scheduled out for the next month might be finished tonight.

It took Beros snapping, “What now?,” for Rowan to remember where he was, and his mouth began running through the steps for a dump and restart of the server as his mind whirled with possibilities.

Rowan staggered out onto the street. The actual issue had been resolved rather quickly, but then Beros had decided to push for additional features outside of the contract scope, as well as more dedicated resources for U Inc support calls in the future. Rowan’s boss had handled that, but Beros insisted that Rowan stay on the call throughout the entire discussion.

His thumb hovered over the ‘U’ app for a second, before he went online and created a Mariposa account. Before too long, a car pulled up and he got it.

This time, he peppered the driver with questions, who answered them with remarkable grace. Yes, she used to work for U. Yes, the pay was better. No, she probably couldn’t switch back.
When she let him out, he handed her another tenner and dashed up into his house, logged into his computer, then from there logged into the proxy he used.

wtf were you doing

sorry, looking up leads -- you wouldn’t believe what I found

He posted the password from the earlier call into the chat, then the username.

it’s the password to one of the U instances

A quick back and forth -- this group were naturally suspicious, but he’d been in this group from nearly the beginning, so it didn’t take long to convince them to try it. A little longer, then:

well, i wasn’t expecting that

it worked, right??? Rowan made himself stop tapping his desk.

t did. I have the docs the client wanted.

if b has the script we can finish this tonight

I do, b responded. Nice work, r. I’m running it now.

Rowan browsed over to U’s social media account, and waited. It wasn’t long before the first angry reply to the account appeared.

The aftermath was surprisingly cathartic to watch. By all accounts, the company ground to a standstill overnight, just like a week ago -- but this time, they didn’t start back up. The money transferred into his account a few days later didn’t hurt, either.

Two days after U went out of business, Rowan called for a ride. The driver looked familiar -- and with a start, he realized that it was the same person who’d driven him to the work on the day of the U customer call. They didn’t look any less tired, though.

“What’s up?”

They looked up. “Oh. Just… work.”

“I can listen, if you want.” Rowan felt slightly sick.

“Mariposa’s changed the requirements for driver’s cars, and they go into effect next month.” They looked down and admitted, “Mine don’t meet them. I think that’s the case for everybody else, too. But I can’t afford the upgrades right now, so Mariposa’s offered me a loan, but the terms are terrible, and they’ve just instituted a pay cut, and --”

“Oh.” Rowan sat back.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you this.” They laughed, short and wet as their car pulled up in front of Rowan’s office. “Here you go.”

He tipped them, stepped out, and watched as they pulled away. He stood there, thinking, until his boss yelled at him to get in already.

Mar 21, 2013

I think I've got a basic premise & food, so I'm in. :toxx:

Mar 21, 2013

Peperonata (1185 words)

Travis had long since resigned himself to his parents’ never ending stream of dinner parties, but this was, admittedly, probably the nicest one he’d been to. He actually knew who everybody in the room was, they were in cozy, familiar rooms instead of the cavernous halls of the usual venues, and most importantly -- he wasn’t wearing shoes that pinched his toes, or even a blazer. Just jeans and a soft sweater. Under any other situation, he’d be pretty comfortable.

He glanced over at Miller, who was scanning the room. Most likely cataloguing exit routes, lines of sight, or whatever else bodyguards were supposed to do.

“What do you think?”

Miller didn’t look over at him when he replied, which Travis had been slowly getting used to. It was still a struggle not to let anything show on his face -- questions were the last thing he wanted at the moment.

“It’s not what I expected.” Miller said, which was the standard response. Then he continued, “But now I see it, it makes sense, since your mother clearly has a nostalgic side.”

Now that was a little more insightful. Typical Miller.

“It’s definitely not a side of Mother that many people guess at, let alone see for themselves,” Travis admitted, then forced himself to say, “Would you like a drink?”

Miller hesitated, and a week ago, Travis would’ve elbowed him in the ribs. He settled instead for wheedling, “I can’t imagine anybody’s going to mess with a house full of security personnel. And you are off the clock.”

“Hopefully for good,” Miller agreed, and, ouch. That obviously cut deeper than Miller intended, since he quickly added, “All right. A glass of wine, then.”

After that, the usual cycle of dinner parties began. Talk to people, sip wine, drift to another group, then talk some more. Miller almost immediately peeling off and mingling with his coworkers was hurt, but he’d dealt with worse. The conversations being with people Travis liked did dull the ache, but it was small comfort.

It was while his sister was talking his ear off about the newest Netflix series she’d gotten hooked on that he realized he couldn’t remember the last time he’d talked to Mandy in person. It was honestly a little disturbing.

He was still mulling over this when he noticed everyone had started moving into the dining room. As might be expected, there weren’t many seats left at the table -- and none next to Miller, who was talking with the blond woman that’d been assigned to Mandy -- so when Father waved him over, Travis stifled a sigh and sat. He’d have to pay extra attention to his table manners, then, since Mother had seated Sophie nearby. Travis was still a little surprised that the head of Shield Security and his mother had formed a rather steady friendship instead of keeping the relationship purely professional, but Kathleen Smith never followed expectations.

Mother said grace, and everyone lifted the covers off the dishes in front of them. There were a couple appreciative murmurs -- likely from Miller’s coworkers -- but it was a more down-to-earth spread than usual. Steak, mashed potatoes, asparagus, and stuffed mushrooms -- as opposed to the escargot, paella, and roasted pig that had adorned the last fundraiser’s tables.

“Kathleen, this is incredible,” Sophie said after a couple bites. “I’ll have to attend your next fundraiser if this is what’s on the menu.”

“It’s all due to Adam, our chef. He’s been cooking for the family since Mandy was born.” Mother paused, and Travis did his best not to groan. It was obvious what she was angling for. “He used to let Travis help in the kitchen.”

“Used to?” Miller asked, and while Travis was happy Miller apparently decided to acknowledge his existence, this wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.

Father grinned and took up the story. “Adam was preparing two dishes that night -- a pot of curry and peperonata. If you’re not familiar with the second one, it’s essentially a sweet bell pepper stew. But Travis -- he put the cumin meant for the curry in the peperonata!”

“I just mixed up the pans,” Travis protested, because the damage was done -- at this point, he might as well play along. “It was a simple mistake!”

The table as a whole laughed, and to his surprise, he was caught up as well. He tried to stop himself from looking over at Miller, but he couldn’t stop himself. The man was chuckling to himself, but regained his composure as soon as he saw Travis staring.

The conversation continued on, but Travis found his attention drifting down towards the other end of the table. Miller was talking with Mandy, head tilted towards her as deftly sliced his steak into pieces. He tried not to feel jealous.

Mother tapping her glass, and the ensuing hush, brought Travis back to reality. “Mandy, would you like to say a couple words?”

“Of course.” His sister stood, and Travis did his best to focus on what she was saying. The basics of the situation were covered -- once again, she’d managed to inflame a certain portion of the internet, but this time, a small group had taken a step further and managed to take candid photos of her, her fiance, and Travis. Mother had gotten Shield Security involved, but the police had managed to resolve the situation earlier than expected. Mandy expressed her appreciation for everybody’s work, and ended with a toast.

“Cheers,” everybody chorused, and general conversation resumed.

“So, Sophie, what are you all planning to do with all your free time?” Mother asked.

“There’s plenty of clients we’d put off while handling your case, and some of them are still willing to take us on. So we’ll be handling those first.” Sophie took a sip of wine, and thought for a bit. “I’ve offered time off to everybody here, but I think Miller and Angela will probably be ready to get back to work.”

She looked over at Miller, who was studiously focused on chewing his steak. It’d be almost comical, if Travis didn’t feel so sick to his stomach. Miller probably couldn’t wait to get away from Travis -- small wonder.

He pushed himself away from the table. Mother shot him a glare, but Travis just smiled and said something about getting fresh air.

He stepped out the back door, and continued walking down the garden until he was sure no one else could see him. Then he slumped down onto the ground. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Why in the world did he think Miller would be interested in him? Maybe he’d been watching too many rom-coms.

Travis heard footsteps behind him, and he whirled around to see Miller.

“What are you doing-,” he got out, before Miller pulled him into a hug. Uh. Warmth and safety and comfort, and Travis couldn’t help but close his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Miller said. “I’m not good with words -- but that’s not an excuse. I should’ve made it clearer that the only reason I was holding off was because you were still my client.”

He let Travis go and looked at him, and Travis never realized how much he missed that sense of being the only thing that mattered until now.

“You jerk,” Travis said.

Miller only smiled.

Mar 21, 2013

In for this one.

Mar 21, 2013

In :toxx:

Mar 21, 2013

Waterskating (1246 words)

The taste of brine stuck in Aaron’s throat, even after finishing the glass of water. He glanced up at the wine cabinet, considering, but there was no point risking Mark’s wrath when they’d be driving Victoria back to her mother in the morning. He’d just have to ignore the tide’s call until then -- the steady ebb and flow resonating within him, gentle enough to be inviting and not painful.

He wasn’t going back to sleep, though. There was still salt on his tongue.

Aaron sighed, and went on to check on his niece. Even without the nightmares, this was a pretty sour note to end the trip on. They’d only had a single day for water-skating before a storm rolled in. It’d finally lifted yesterday, right as the tide was rolling in -- and Mark had refused to take her out.

It was a pretty nasty tantrum, all around.

He stepped into the bedroom she was using, idly wondering what he would even do if she was awake, and then frowned. Even in the window’s dim moonlight, he could tell something wasn’t right. He flicked on the light, and a second later, he yelled for Mark.

The two of them sprinted to the pier, and Aaron couldn’t help but shudder as he took his first steps off land in years. The waves were thrumming in his bones now, a traveling ache that passed from head to toe and back again.

Mark grabbed his hand then, startling Aaron out of his thoughts with a bone crushing grip.

“She’s taken the boat,” he said. “And I don’t have the keys for the others.”

Aaron squeezed back. “She knows not to leave the harbor. And you never got the chance to refill the tank.”

“I thought she knew not to go skating at night,” Mark hissed. “Do you think there’s anybody who can help?”

“I think we’ll have to call 9-1-1. This entire stretch is private property, right?”

“I already called! They said someone would be coming in twenty minutes,” Mark said, and his next words echoed Aaron’s thoughts. “That’s too long, right?”

“Almost certainly.” Novices tended to bite off more than they could chew -- and while that was fine if they stuck close to the boat or dry land, Victoria did not seem the type to do so. And it was high tide. The number of joyriders who had either gone too far out to return or burnt themselves out was a sobering statistic.

Aaron tried not to think too bitterly about his contribution to the latter. He settled for saying, “I’m going to try something. Please don’t let go.”

Mark stared at him. “Aaron, you can’t-”

“We don’t have a choice.” Aaron said, more sharply than he intended, as the ache began to travel back up his legs. “At least this way, we can make sure she’s okay.”

Mark didn’t say anything more, face pinched, but he didn’t argue further. Aaron took a deep breath, squatted down on the pier, then stuck his free hand into the ocean.

A second passed, then every bone and every joint in his fingers throbbed, at once, and he couldn’t hold back a gasp.

“Aaron!” Mark yanked at him, but Aaron shook his head impatiently.

“I’m fine. I--” He closed his eyes, and tried to steady his breathing. Eventually the throb died down to a dull ache, which was definitely something he was going to pay for later. He exhaled, and began to read the waves.

It didn’t take long for him to narrow it down -- the high-tide boat tended to use vessels that left rather larger ripples than the motorboat that came with the cottage rental. When he finally came across someone skating just a half-mile out, he breathed a sigh of relief.

He opened his eyes, and waved in her general direction. “She’s out in that direction. We might actually be able to see her. She’s further from the boat than I would like, though.”

Mark relaxed, just a hair. “Do you think she’ll be able to hear us?”

“I’d rather not spook her. We can just wait for the lifeguards to pick her up -- as long as she’s wearing a life vest, she’ll be fine.”

Aaron and Mark both stood up and walked to the edge of the pier. After a little longer, Mark pointed towards the horizon. “I think that’s her.”

Aaron squinted, then shrugged and sat down cross-legged on the pier. “I’ll have to take your word for it.”

Mark stood there, looking out before he asked, “Do you still feel it? The ocean, I mean.”

Aaron laughed. “Of course I do.”

“Right,” Mark said. “I just thought, maybe all this time, it would have dulled a little.”

“I don’t think it ever will,” Aaron replied. “How long before the lifeguards arrive?”

“I thought they would be here by now, honestly.” Mark pulled out his phone, fiddled with it, then frowned. “Crap, I think she saw us.”

“You mean she saw your cell phone,” Aaron said. “Honestly, how did you never learn the meaning of ‘stealth’?”

He waited for Mark to reply, then looked up at him. “Mark?”

“I think she went under,” Mark said, face white. “I told her to always wear a life vest, but she hates the things.”

Aaron looked out over the waters, then down at himself. Then he stood up, and said, “Call 9-1-1 again. I’m going to… try something.”

“You can’t-”

“I can. It’ll just be really painful, until the adrenaline kicks in,” Aaron said, as calmly as he could. “Wish me luck, Mark.”

Aaron’s shoulder was caught in a painful grip. When Aaron looked back, Mark looked right at him, lips pressed into a grimace. “Don’t drown.”

Aaron nodded. He took a moment to compose himself, then stepped out onto the water.

The rolling ache in his body roared and he nearly sank, right foot sinking halfway past the surface. Mark made an aborted sound, and Aaron gritted his teeth, focusing on syncing up his body with the waves. It was almost bearable, now.

He angled himself towards the frantic splashing he could sense, by the horizon, then shot off.

Saltwater sprayed into his eyes, his clothes flapped in the wind, and Aaron swore that the pain had gone. He laughed, a short bark, and all too soon, he was there. He forced himself to stop, sending a magnificent spray up into the air, and found Victoria staring up at him.

All of a sudden, the pain returned, the pulses stronger than ever. He held out a hand to her, she took it, and as he helped her regain her equilibrium, he considered his options.

He could try to get back to land, but skating that fast with a passenger was risky, and he really didn’t think he’d be able to make it there anyways. He motioned toward the boat instead, faintly visible in the moonlight, and they started gliding.

This time, Aaron was keenly aware that his bones were aching and he was very, very cold. By the time they got to the small motorboat, it seemed Victoria was carrying him more than he her. He collapsed into the pilot’s seat, and curled up as the pain pounded over him.

“Uncle Aaron!” Victoria cried, but he waved her off.

“I’m -- fine. Just need to rest. We’ll be fine here.” He mumbled.

The last thing he could hear before he drifted off were motorboats.

Mar 21, 2013


Mar 21, 2013

Second Chance (991 words)
Simone Lutrell’s hands are nowhere near her holster, but part of me can’t help wondering if this is what finally convinces her to put a bullet between my eyes.

“Flores,” she says, coldly furious, “I believe I told you to find out which godforsaken cave Smith and his cronies were hiding out in. Discreetly.

I nod.

“Explain, then, why you instead decided to start a bar fight with his men, burn down one of the oldest establishments in Ladle as a result, and kidnap a --.” She spares a glance at my companion, who sullenly returns it, and grimaces. “--kid.”

Luther opens his mouth to protest, but our combined stares shut his mouth.

“I--,” I begin, then stop. I could say something about the hunted look in his eyes. It was the look I saw in the mirror after my first hit, six months after Father had thrown me out, and it was the one that returned after I’d taken out Marcus Lutrell because some miner boss was fed up not being able to demand twelve-hour workdays. But I wasn’t willing to talk about my past at the best of times, and Simone didn’t look like she wanted to hear. “I felt sorry for him.”

Both of them glared at me. I added, “And he says he’ll tell us everything we want to know, as long we give him a new life.”

“He says. Now Smith knows we’re here. There were other ways to get that information, you know.”

“I didn’t feel like holding a gun to his head,” I say, more lightly than I feel. Simone’s eyes narrow.

“Oh, I get it,” she bites out. “You’ve decided to jeopardize any chances to bringing Smith to justice, because some kid reminds you of yourself.”

I ignore that. “We’ll be fine if we strike tomorrow. And you can’t tell me you were thinking of going in without any idea of the floorplan.”

She crosses her arms and doesn’t respond. I snap, “Seriously? Do you have a deathwish?”

“If I did, whose fault would that be?,” she fires back, and that effectively ends the conversation.

The atmosphere isn’t any more comfortable when we ride out next morning, following Luther’s directions. The kid’s seated in front of me, while Simone followed close behind.

It takes longer than I thought for Luther to ask, “Why did she say I reminded you of yourself?”

I sigh. “I fell in with a bad crowd when I was young and tired of drifting. Did things I don’t anymore.”

“Like what?” He twists to look back at me, and I can’t help but snort.

“Shoot people.”

“You shot Billy and Eric back in the bar,” he points out.

“With aether pellets,” I say.

His eyes widen. “You were an assassin?”

“Hitwoman,” I correct him.

He thinks about this for a bit, then says, “I didn’t know they let hitwomen be law officers.”

I laugh. “I’m no officer. I just… owe Simone a favor.”

He clearly wants to ask more, but takes another look at my face and decides not to pry. Instead, we fill the rest of the ride with small talk -- best places to fish in the Morrison River, the brother he left behind upriver, and my halting descriptions of Colorado City.

The raid goes surprisingly well -- the moon’s barely clear of the mountains before every member of the Smith gang is trussed up and either groaning or unconscious. The flare’s already sent up, so it’s only a matter of time before their escort arrives. I’m making sure the knots on Smith himself are particularly secure -- ignoring his glare -- when Simone approaches.

“Where’s Luther?” she says. I wave over to the straggly bunch of pines where the kid’s sulking. Unsurprisingly, he’d wanted to join in; unsurprisingly, Simone had joined me in refusing.

She nods and walks off, and I can’t help but sigh. Clearing out the base with Simone had been familiar and oddly comforting.

Smith’s words bring me back to the present. “Never thought I’d see the <nickname> be panting over some prissy, stuck-up--”

I kick him in the gut, and he wheezes.

“Best save your words for the trial,” I say. “I don’t think there’s a lawyer within a hundred miles that’ll defend you.”

“Don’t need one,” he sneers. “Just need to do what you did and --”

Instead of paying him any further attention, I stand up and call to Simone, “You got a gag?”

“In my saddlebags,” she calls back.

I’m halfway there when Luther yells, but before I can turn I feel something burning in my left hip, and the world goes black.

When I wake up, it’s in a hospital bed. Luther bolts out of the room as soon as I sit up and returns with Simone.

She smiles, some sort of tension easing out of her shoulders. “I’m glad you’re awake.”

“How the hell did he get out of the ropes?” I croak, and she grimaces.

“He had an aether pellet in his mouth. A little manipulation after spitting it onto the ropes, and they were sliced clean open.” Simone frowns. “I had no idea he had the capability for that. I should’ve checked.”

“Right,” I say, unsure of what else to say.

The silence drags on, getting more and more awkward, when Luther rolls his eyes and shoves Simone forward. “Talk.”

Simone just glares at him as he runs off, but takes a seat by my bed.

“I’d like to apologize,” she says.

I look away. “It’s fine. What you said was true.”

“That’s not --” She fumbles, then finds her bearings. “It was unfair. I was being irrational, and I shouldn’t have used Marcus against you just because I was angry.”

I just look at her, and she laughs, softly. “Take care, Flores. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

She leaves, and her retreating figure is the last thing I see as I slip off to sleep.

Mar 21, 2013


Mar 21, 2013

:toxx:, flash, in

Mar 21, 2013


Enough’s Enough (896 words)

One month and three weeks after the fire, Aaron found himself dragged to consciousness by a insistent rapping on his study door. When he opened the door, he found himself staring at his tight-lipped sister-in-law.

It was unfair, really, for Marlie to look so like her brother. Same wide eyes, same perpetually-scrunched nose -- the most notable difference here was where Eric had clipped his hair short, Marlie wore it in a high ponytail.

Aaron forced himself to focus, and waved her in as he sat back down at his desk.

“I’m guessing Stella let you in?” He couldn’t tell if he was slurring. He didn’t much care.

A nod, then Marlie looked around the scattered study, apparently feeling no urge to elaborate. Aaron bit down the urge to tell her to stop prying and get out, but it was a close thing, especially when her gaze landed on the nearly-empty bottle of whisky sitting among the papers.

He did not feel like dealing with her disapproval right now, especially since she wasn’t the one dealing with daily reminders of Eric’s absence. He said curtly, “What do you need?”

He was vaguely aware that Eric had helped cover her rent and childcare expenses. Maybe if he agreed to do the same, she’d leave.

She might also leave if he insulted her enough. That would be fine, too.

“It’s not about me,” she said stiffly. “It’s about Stella. Daniel told me she couldn’t go on the field trip to the Adams Gallery of Photography because she forgot to turn in the permission slip.”

“Field trip?” Aaron asked, even though it sounded faintly familiar.

Marlie crossed her arms, and Aaron strongly considered seeing if there was any whisky left in the bottle. “Yes, field trip. I thought it odd, since Stella seemed excited about it when we talked about it.”

“Huh,” Aaron said. Back when Stella was still a faceless name that Eric mentioned over dinner -- before his world had burned down -- he did remember photography coming up. He didn’t remember much other than that.

Marlie was still staring at him, arm’s crossed. He shrugged. “I guess I forgot to sign the slip. But that’s not what this is really about, is it?”

“It’s related,” she said. “What I really came to ask you about was what the hell do you think you’re doing.”

Aaron spread his hands, and fought to keep his expression neutral, if not pleasant. “Care to enlighten me?”

“From my perspective, it seems like you’ve been making a young girl very miserable.”

Aaron was on his feet, and he wasn’t sure how. “Look, I may not have been you, but Eric made me promise to take care of her. And I have.”

“If you mean she hasn’t starved, sure,” Marlie retorted. “My definition of ‘taking care’ involves putting the goddamn bottle down when she’s here. Stubbing out your cigarettes when you come inside. Talking to her.”

As if she’d any right to --

“If you think I’m so poo poo, you could’ve taken her in instead,” Aaron said, and this time he couldn’t hold back the sneer.

“You know we already have Daniel, and you also know we’re already living paycheck to paycheck,” Marlie snapped back. “I’d assumed that she would better off somewhere where the ceiling doesn’t leak with every cursed thunderstorm.”

They glared at each other. Finally, her shoulders slumped and she looked away. “Clearly, I was wrong. I’ll take her off your hands.”

She turned to the door. Before Aaron knew it, he was blocking her path. She flinched, and Aaron couldn’t deny he felt a mean thrill at that.

“Please get out of the way.”

“And if I don’t?” He stepped closer.

She was shaking now. She put her chin up and said, clearly, “I’m going to leave now. With Stella. If you get in my way, I’m going to call the cops.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

She stepped forward, clearly intending to plow past him, but honestly -- Aaron could see her knees knocking. Who did she think she was fooling? That mean rush ran through his veins again, and the rest of the world seemed to fall away. It was just Aaron and this arrogant, presumptuous --

There was a whimper from the door, and Aaron found himself back in his mess of a study. Both of them turned towards the sound, and there she was.


Knees knocking just as bad as Marlie’s, but the grip on her cell phone was steady enough. The look in her eyes, though--

Aaron didn’t flinch. People like him didn’t flinch. But he blinked, and then Marlie was somehow at the door and talking quietly to Stella.

Both of them stepped out into the hallway, and then Aaron swore a familiar voice spoke into his ear. It wasn’t some soft and sweet whisper -- it was a sibilant hiss, begging him to just --

“Marlie, wait. Please.”

She didn’t turn around, but she paused.

The words felt like lead, but he managed to get them out anyways. “I can take over Eric’s payments. Since… he’s not here anymore.”

That got her to look back. Stella didn’t, and Aaron found himself compelled to add, “No strings attached. I won’t visit. Just…”

He fell silent.

Finally, Marlie nodded. Then they were gone, and Aaron was alone.

Mar 21, 2013

Flash, in.

Mar 21, 2013

In with Moment of Tangency. :toxx:


Mar 21, 2013


Mar 21, 2013

Green-Eyed (623 words)

Rosemary: A woman approaching her fifties. She likes bright clothes and the vegetable patch she’s growing in the backyard. Used to be the life of the party.
Peter: Rosemary’s husband, and just a little younger than her. He has thick glasses and a sweet tooth, and talks more during a day of office hours than he does at home during spring break.

A cozily lit restaurant. There is a round table with a neat tablecloth and a candle, and two chairs opposite each other.

[Peter and Rosemary are sitting together at the table, with half-emptied plates in front of them. Peter’s picking at his food.]

Rosemary: So, really, all you have to do is just water them in the morning before you head off. Except for the cucumbers -- they’ll need some more in the evening. Don’t worry about pesticides, or fertilizer.

Peter: [absentmindedly] Yes, Rosie. I’ll remember.

[Peter looks up.]

Peter: How long will you be gone?

Rosemary: Like I’ve said before, I’ll be with Sam and -- er, with them for a week. The flight’s early tomorrow, but I won’t arrive in Tokyo until Sunday night. Since there’s still the return flight, I’ll be back in the States by Monday.

Peter: Makes sense. I’ll make sure to pick you up when --

Rosemary: Peter! We’ve talked about this. I’ll call a cab.

Peter: Right. Sorry.

[Rosemary looks at Peter closely, then resumes speaking.]

Rosemary: You’ve spent so much time at the university lately -- I still feel you should have come along. [Peter is already shaking his head before she finishes speaking.]

Peter: I told you. l have to prepare the --

Rosemary: I’m sure Mrs. Beckett could take over for a couple days, and your TAs, especially that Max --

Peter: [louder] It’s not that simple. No one --

Rosemary: [insistent] You liked Aaron well enough at Thanksgiving, I don’t know why --

Peter: [standing, hands on table] That’s enough!


Rosemary: [quietly] Peter, dear, people are staring.

[Peter slowly retakes his seat. The silence stretches out.]

Rosemary: [tense, smiling] How’s your steak?

Peter: Good.

Rosemary: I’m really fond of this shrimp scampi, too. We should come here again, don’t you think?

Peter: Sure. [Beat.] I would like that.

[Rosemary relaxes, and pulls out a narrow menu.]

Rosemary: I wonder what they have for dessert.

Peter: The triple-layer brownie’s delicious.

[Peter freezes. Rosemary doesn’t seem to notice.]

Peter: That’s -- that’s what my students tell me, anyways.

Rosemary: If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

[She waves down a waiter, and points to the menu.]

Rosemary: Did you want anything, dear?

Peter: I... don’t think I have room for dessert.

Rosemary: [laughing] That’s a first!

[The waiter gathers the menus, and heads off.]

Rosemary: Speaking of your students, what have you been covering lately?

Peter: At the moment we’re going with a TA-directed unit -- each of them picks an author, and then the students in their discussion groups tries to find a throughline in that author’s works. The most interesting author --

[At that moment, a group of college students walk in, laughing and chattering. Peter instantly turns to look at them, and they look back, curiously. Then they start whispering.]

Peter: [loudly] The most interesting author chosen so far is relatively new to the scene -- a lot of her work is about jealousy, and missed opportunities, and… [he trails off.]

[Rosemary looks at Peter, then back on the group. Understanding dawns.]

Peter: Rosie, I --

[Rosemary shakes her head, and Peter falters.]

Rosemary: Not -- now.

[Peter looks away, while Rosemary stares down at her lap. Finally she looks back up.]

Rosemary: [brightly] I’ll tell you all about the trip when I get back. How’s that?

Peter: ...All right.

[End Play]

Mar 21, 2013


Mar 21, 2013

In, flash, :toxx:

Mar 21, 2013


Mar 21, 2013

Letting Loose (1050 words)
“What made you want to work here?”
Emily gritted her teeth, did her best to turn it into a professional smile, and her best to give a professional reply. Another bullshit step in the bullshit dance needed to get anywhere stable, or good, or that involved having to move back home to a place where -- while she wouldn’t have to worry about a place to sleep, or whether or not to order out or try cooking -- would feel impossible to bring anyone home, or do anything new without it being remarked on and then dissected by people who really only had her best interests at heart.
She didn’t want to smile and nod any longer, and clearly her body nor the universe wanted her in this room either, but the prospect of returning to that suburb and having every change she tried to bring upon herself commented on and questioned seemed to her like a coffin lined with feathers.
“...I’ve gone ahead and talked with this ‘Taylor Brown’ you’ve listed as a reference,” her interviewer said. Emily reminded herself to pay attention. “While he said you were a fine assistant to Mr. Goldluck, he wasn’t forthcoming about why you left. Could you elaborate?”
She looked up at Sophie -- she’d insisted they be on a first-name basis -- but before Emily could reply, Sophie interrupted. “Please relax, Emily. You’re making my shoulders ache, just looking at you.”
Emily jerked her shoulders back and took a deep breath, ready to launch into a series of vague, non-committal statements -- and then two things happened.
The first was that her body decided to really indicate the depths of its hatred for her -- even if Emily could convince herself that Sophie couldn’t possibly have heard the soft hiss of air being released, the brief flicker of Sophie’s gaze to the number above her head made it clear she knew what was happening. The second thing was that suddenly the platitudes in her mouth morphed and twisted into something entirely more sharp and edged on the way out.
“The reason I left Goldluck Offices,” she heard herself spitting out, “was that I found out that he had been deliberately omitting the overtime hours I’d been putting in from the payroll sheet. And when I confronted him about it, he --”
At this point, Emily’s brain caught up with her mouth and snapped it shut. She clenched her teeth, and was dimly surprised at how the anger in her words seemed to linger in the air. Sophie looked at her, with an expression Emily could only define as not unkindly, and nodded at her to continue. She looked down, and continued, “...he called me hysterical, said I was being stupid and making things up. Then he offered me an extra week of paid time off, then a raise, and then he -- he tried to threaten me. I ran out. And Taylor mailed me my things afterwards.”
Emily couldn’t bring herself to look directly at Sophie, but she could tell the woman was nodding slowly.
“That sounds rather difficult. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
Emily wanted to agree, and then she abruptly remembered where she was and who she was talking to. What was she doing? She said, “That’s all in the past, though. Er, can we…”
She looked back up and trailed off. Emily could swear that something had flashed across Sophie’s face, but right now the woman’s face was carefully blank. Sophie nodded, and picked up Emily’s resume.
“I think everything else here looks fine, but I would like to ask a couple more questions. Is that all right?”
Emily nodded, thinking over what she’d decided her greatest weakness and greatest strength was -- a reluctance to ask for help and a strong sense of initiative, respectively -- and began arranging the words to form a sentence that would somehow convince Sophie that she should overlook the ranting of a few minutes prior.
It was unfortunate, then, that Sophie’s question didn’t have anything to do with that.
“What do you value in a workplace?”
“Er --,” she stuttered, “Well, competent coworkers, of course, a strong leader, a--”
“Emily,” Sophie said. “Please relax, and take a moment to think about your answer. I’m interested in what you truly value, not what you think I want to hear.”
Emily folded her hands and looked out the window of Sophie’s office. She took a deep breath, thinking, and felt something ease within her. And then she realized the feeling wasn’t entirely metaphorical, and snapped her gaze back to Sophie, ready to apologize, and then realized that the woman was still looking back at her. Sophie cocked an eyebrow, deliberately looked up at the damning numeral above Emily’s head, and then back down.
“I think… what I want in a workplace is, well -- not necessarily a family. But people who care about each other -- people who, if they see someone in hurt, will stand up for them -- not just believe them, or sympathize, but stand up and --”
A choked sound interrupted Emily, and she realized it came from her. She tried to continue, but couldn’t. She tried not to think about how Taylor had stepped away when she’d asked him to talk to Goldluck for her -- how he probably still viewed her as a friend even as she couldn’t help but feel like he’d simply watched her fall. Something -- someone grabbed at her, and Emily looked down to find her hands tightly clasped in another. She looked up at Sophie, who was smiling softly at her.
“It’s okay,” Sophie said. “Let it all out.”
Approximately fifteen seconds later, the both of them stumbled out of Sophie’s office, wheezing.
“Emily, what the hell did you eat yesterday?” Sophie gasped.
“Leftover refried beans,” she replied, miserably. “I’m so sorry, I’ll just --”
Laughter interrupted her apology and she looked up, startled. Sophia’s shoulders were shaking, and Emily briefly wondered if she should call for help before Sophia managed to say, “I did tell you to let it all out,” before she dissolved back into helpless giggles.
Emily glared up at the large zero now floating above her head, before she, too, sat down and laughed until she cried.


Mod edit: banned for this :toxx:

Somebody fucked around with this message at 12:03 on Sep 7, 2019


Mar 21, 2013

In with a reaction

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