Tag Archives: Flash Fiction

Christmas in a Strange Place (Orig Pub 12/23/2011)

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge – Christmas in a Strange Place

“She won’t mind if you wake her.” Bodecia leaned against the bulkhead. Foxin tilted his head to the left and returned her study. One hand splayed across the glass of the cryo-unit.

“Why would I bother her when she programmed the damned thing herself?” His hand stroked the glass. “You’re here after all. It’s not like I’m alone.”

The former general huffed out a laugh. “Foxin, I’m not human. I can pretend, but I don’t feel the way a human does. If you need her for your ceremony tonight, wake her up. She’s a Romantic. She’ll understand.” He needed someone to share the night with, someone who would feel something about it or offer her own traditions. Bodecia had none of that. Sentimentality was not something her initial programming included.

“That’s part of the problem.” He sighed. He crossed the room to stand in front of her and meet her eyes. They were of a height, though his gymnast’s build was slightly larger than hers. He gestured toward the cryo-unit where Captain Starr rested. “She’ll think it means something. Even if she is still officially mourning.” His hand strayed to the widower’s mark on his temple. It was a small rectangle, about an inch long and half an inch wide. “I have doubts that I count as much more human than you are anyway.”

If she weren’t an AI, she might have winced at the bleakness of his tone. Foxin was human, though he had experimental accelerated healing. She’d never seen anything to match it, but not even Captain Starr had managed to get the entire story from him. The tone of voice decided her. She would stay with him to be sure he didn’t give into the frustrations of being the lone human awake on the ship. The ship would alert her to any obstacles. She followed him to the corner of the cargo hold he’d claimed for his own. His bedroll lay in the deepest part of the corner. A small display of shiny objects from the ports they’d visited for refueling decorated a dark green cargo box. They glittered in the diffused blue light.

Foxin pushed his dark brown bangs behind his ears. A small gold ring pierced one lobe. The Bi’Ho thief she’d worked with during the War had kept one too. “What does the ring mean?”

“Oh, my coming of age and contributing to the creche. Nothing much.” He shrugged.

She filed the information away for when Starr asked her about it. “What are you doing?”

He smiled, but didn’t answer. His hands moved quickly to assemble a small metal table. The light of the cargo hold seemed to be swallowed by the black finish. A large pot of what smelled like cinnamon tea was warming on a heat-pad. “Will you join me, General?” He made a sweeping motion to the other side of the small table.

“Of course.” She settled on the floor, mirroring his position. “So long as you explain.”

Foxin inclined his head. “Our Lady of Chaos rules our lives, but she does not exist alone. On this night we celebrate the birth of her consort, Order.” He placed a small clay dish of clear liquid on the table. The smell was sharp. A showman’s flick of his wrist made a flame appear between his fingers. The liquid ignited with a soft whump.

“On Earth Prime, we are told, this day coincides with the returning of the light and the lengthening of the days. The rebirth of the sun. No matter how far we travel between the stars, we must always remember to welcome the return of the light.” He carefully poured two half-cups of tea. No, she realized, it was something sweeter, headier. He offered her one of the delicate jade tea cups with a small bow. She gave him a commander’s nod as she accepted.

Holding his own cup he met her black and green eyes evenly. Very few people managed to do that. “With mulberry wine we celebrate the birth of light and the start of a new year. What is your wish for the coming year?” His voice held the cadence of ritual.

She considered. “May we successfully reach Earth Prime with our cargo and ship intact.”

“A noble wish.”

“And what do you wish for, Foxin?”

He studied his wine. “May the Lady see fit to guide my enemy into my hands and free me from my quest.”

Bodecia inclined her head. She copied Foxin as he put one palm under the cup and tipped the entire contents into his mouth. He set the cup on the table next to the fire. “Okay. Now let me get some real mugs and we’ll sit by the fire and you can tell me stories of battles I should be too young to remember.”

“And you will tell me stories of heists gone right and I will tuck you in when the wine finally hits.”


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Writing from Prompts #5 Creep (Orig Pub 3/30/2014)

Ellen slipped down the holly festooned stairs. The wooden treads had only one creak which she deftly avoided. Her nightgown brushed along the edge of the holly, catching occasionally on a leaf. The lights were out, except for one candle in the window to guide the Mary and Joseph to a safe place.

She crept through the front room back toward the cozier family room. There, in the corner of the room was her target, the stocking with the little puppy on the front of it. It was smaller than the others by just about one inch, which really wasn’t fair. The cookies and milk they’d left out for santa were eaten, and there was a chocolate santa left on the plate.

She smiled at the sight. That was for Petey. She was too old for that sort of thing now. She was almost eleven after all. Petey was just five. The tree wasn’t lit because Mommy was afraid of fires, but the ornaments glittered in the moonlight. The draft from the fireplace made the ornaments twist and send sparkles across the room. She smiled as one of the lights bounced off of the spangles on her stocking.

Sticking out of the top of it was a rolled up puzzle book. A doll peeked out from the edge. Ellen longed to run over to it, but she had one mission tonight.

She stepped in front of the fireplace and up onto the hearth. She looked at the blue stocking with the puppy. Her mother’s stocking was always almost empty. That just wasn’t right. She looked down at the bottle in her hand. She’d saved up her allowance for over three months for it. She tucked the perfume into Mommy’s stocking, then stepped down carefully.

She was about to creep up the stairs when she noticed the man by the tree. His beard was white and his suit was red. He smiled at her and winked. Then, he crossed the room and stepped up onto the hearth. He nodded at her once, then he turned in place and was gone in an instant.

She gaped at the empty hearth. Then, a slow smile crossed her face. She slipped up the stairs and back into bed. Santa was proud of her.


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Writing from Prompts: Demon (Orig Pub 8/6/2017)

Smallis leaned back in his chair. It had taken a long time to learn the arcane symbols needed to program a video slot machine, but he’d finally done it. He’d created the most powerful summoning program ever created. He was going to be famous. He spun the chair around twice, then clicked to send the app live.

He put his hands behind his head. “Suck it, you archaic dicks.”

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Writing From Prompts: Color (Orig Pub 7/10/2015)

The canary yellow scarf wrapped around the front gate seemed excessively perky. Joel scowled at it. “Don’t give me that,” he told the fluttering silk sharply. It didn’t seem to make a difference.

Joel limped up the front step. Cane down, twist hip, lift foot, stand, cane up. He made slow progress to the front door. Some wise-acre had put in a ramp that ran up the side of the house to the back door. Cane down, twist hip, lift foot, careful of the bottom of the ramp, stand, cane up. He ascended the Trex ramp past the profusion of red and purple flowers in the planters on the left side. He gripped the silver hand-rail until his fingers turned white as a wave of pain shot up his back.

After what felt like an hour, he’d made it to the back door. The six little panes of glass were decorated with little US flags and stars. Left of the door hung a mother’s flag with one gold star and two blue stars. Joel’s heart clenched a little. He touched the gold flag. “I’m gonna miss you, little sister,” he murmured.

He knocked on the back door. Time was he would have assumed that it was open, but life was very different from when he’d been a kid. The door opened slowly. The woman behind it froze. “Joel?” she whispered.

He nodded. “Hello, Mama.”

Suddenly, she was hugging him tightly. Maybe that silly yellow scarf was right. Maybe it was a good day.

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Writing from Prompts #19 Alley (Orig Pub 7/30/2014)

Another night, another alley. Princess Raspberry twisted her neck from side to side to relieve the pressure there. She stretched her arms and then settled down to wait. It wouldn’t be long before the usual prostitutes were walking the streets. Then, the real scum would follow. Not the men just looking for a night on the town. She didn’t give a damn about them.

No, she was waiting for the little fish of a drug dealer that would lead her up the chain. She’d been watching him carefully for almost a month now. He was going to be the thread that helped her unravel at least some of the tapestry of stupidity she saw every night. The first few prostitutes sauntered by. The oldest one, a ravaged addict gave her a wide-eyed stare, but kept walking. As long as she wasn’t horning in on anyone’s territory they were content to ignore her comings and goings.

Almost exactly twenty minutes later the wannabe gangsta with his bandana and velour jacket slunk by. He was still young, maybe twenty at the outside. He was a small fry, but he had a group of about six runners working for him now. Princess Raspberry stayed calm and waited for him to get about a block away. She knew where he was headed. She jumped up and accessed the fire escape that took her to the bank of roofs that lead toward his meeting spot. The buildings were jammed up against one another. She’d only had to set up a bridge on one of them. Hopefully, no one had taken it down overnight. She ghosted along the rooflines, out of sight of most of the security cameras and above the range of the streetlights.

The dealer, Ricky, kept his same swaggering pace. He was armed with a gun and a knife. He might even have more on him. But he wasn’t a trained fighter and he had a tendency to get too close with his weapons. She’d watched his tough-guy act with his runners. He’d be close to killing one of them and she’d nearly intervened, but she’d seen worse. Ricky had terrible gun control and never kept his grip steady. He liked the look of the turned weapon which meant his wrist was always canted when he had it out.

He swaggered his way past the townhouse she expected him to be going to. Raspberry’s attention sharpened. Her heart began to beat a bit faster. She scanned her surroundings. There were no signs of security. She stayed carefully in the shadows of the roofs as she moved from one to the next. There he was, turning into the last townhouse on the block. Shit, they owned more than one now. She only had enough equipment to properly watch one. He knocked on the door and waited, body jiggling with excitement. The door opened, there was a sharp pop, and he slumped to the ground. She focussed her binoculars on the scene and took as many shots of the men who stepped out to drag the body in as possible. Damn. Damn. and Double Damn. She had to find a new way into the organization.

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Writing from Prompts #18 Grass (Orig Pub 5/13/2014)

Angela shredded a piece of grass absently. The little strips of green fell haphazardly onto her stomach. The grass was cool, but not damp. The sky was a deep blue that didn’t seem real. Little puffy clouds drifted along the air currents creating strange creatures in the air. She plucked another piece and continued to stare up at the drifting clouds.

“Earth to Angela. Earth to Angela. Come in, Angela.” Her best friend made her best attempt at a megaphone sound.

Angela flipped her the bird. “Stop trying to be productive and look up at the clouds.”

“You are the worst partner for building a garden ever. You know that right?” Tara had dirt streaked across her face. Her hair was held back by a bandana as well as her braid. Her work-gloves were thick, sturdy things caked with topsoil and peat moss.

“I’ll get my part done. But it’s just too pretty to spend the whole day bent over glaring at soil mixes. Lay down and relax for a minute.”

Tara bit her lip. She glanced back at the shovel and plants. “Fine. But only for a few minutes.”

“Good girl.”

Tara laid down gingerly. She put her feet flat on the ground so that her knees were bent. She groaned. “My back is not happy.”

Angela just laughed. They drifted into companionable silence. Angela grinned as a soft snore escaped from Tara’s lips. Now this was a proper spring day. She turned onto her side to join her best friend in a well-deserved nap.


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Writing from Prompts #17 Kitchen (Orig Pub 4/17/2014)

Flour streaked the walls, the cabinets, the counters, and even the light fixtures. Milk had dribbled off the edge of the counter and formed a puddle between the counter and the fridge. Three broken eggs lay helplessly in the bottom of a glass bowl that was overturned by the back door. Two large carving knives were imbedded in that same door. A third was in the sink dripping blood onto the ceramic. A streak of blood ran from the front of the kitchen to the basement door.

“What the Hell? Rebecca?” her husband called out. Neil stood just outside the kitchen. His suit was rumpled from a day of meetings. His good shoes were in the closet and he was only wearing sock-slippers. There was no way he was wading into that mess if she didn’t need him to.

“Call for pizza!” she yelled up the basement stairs. “And get a two liter of Coke too.”

“Right.” He retreated to the den to call their favorite shop. Chore done, money set by the door, he slipped on his cleaning clothes. He got the cobweb broom from the closet and started on the fixtures first. He’d start at the top and hope that. The whir of the grinder downstairs made him wince. He needed to replace that with something quieter. The flour ended up in his hair and all over his clothes.

The pizza delivery man looked at him with a studiously blank face. “Kitchen emergency?” He held up the box. “One large pepperoni and black olive and two two-liters of Coke.”

Neil cracked up. “You could say that. Here.”

“Thanks. Have a good night.” The delivery man threw a wave behind himself as he went back to his car. Neil set the pizza in the small dining room. It was the only safe place for it until the vacuum came out to tame the flour.

“Was that the food?” Rebecca’s voice floated up from downstairs.

“Yes,” he called back.

“Can you tape over the broken back window?”

“Sure.” He hadn’t even noticed the broken pane in the back door. Well, hopefully, no one had heard that. He continued to clean up until he heard the thump of his wife’s feet on the stairs. She was obviously tired. Her apron was a mess of blood and flour. “Go wash up.”

She grimaced. “I’ll just take a couple slices down with me. This one’s taking longer than usual. I think we burned out the motor.”

“I’ll get a replacement this weekend.” He kissed her cheek in greeting. “Long day?”

“The longest. Son-of-a-biscuit broke in through the back door. He thought he’d get me.” She lifted her chin. “There’s a reason I’m the best at this game. We’ll have sausage for the rest of the year at this rate.”

“And a few pot-pies, and a roast or two?”

She smiled back. “Yes, indeed. I was trying to make the batter when he broke in. Thanks for cleaning up.”

“I’ll go get your pizza.” Life married to the best killer in the world was full of culinary adventures. “Oh, did I send you that sage meatloaf recipe?”

“Got it in my inbox this morning. Someone was supposed to be working, not trolling the Food Network for ideas.”

“I had a boring, boring day. But I convinced my boss that I could take vacation next month to join you in Russia. Just let me know what day to buy the tickets for.”

She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “And you’ll finally get to kiss me in front of the Kremlin.”

“James Bond dreams die hard,” he told her seriously. He dipped her into a kiss. “Go on. I’ll bring it down.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.” They brushed noses and then Rebecca was off to the basement kitchen.


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Writing from Prompts #15 Beach (Orig Pub 4/15/2014)

The sand was still wet when Sam formed the bowl-like depression with her hands. She used a stick to draw the circle around her, as though it would protect her from the photographers that she could see lounging against the rocks. The tide was going out and there were crabs scrabbling in the early moonlight.

She poured the white wine into the bowl she’d created and sat on the beach. She drew her knees up to her chin and sat watching the moonlight play along the tips of the water. It was quiet here. There were no planes flying overhead, no cars close enough to the beach to be heard. The sea-birds had retired for the night. The people had abandoned the space.

She closed her eyes in relief. “Oh, Mother,” she murmured – half to the moon, half to the water. “This gift is too much for me to bear.”

Her hair was pulled back in a sensible braid and the stone tiara that she’d received in the deep forest rested on the top of her head. She couldn’t lose if she tried. It always reappeared on the wardrobe when she was ready to do her hair. She’d tried leaving it in her backpack, but it appeared in her pocket. She wasn’t that thick.

This morning had been one of the better ones. She and Mom had managed to hide away at a small apartment near the beach. It had a gate and a security system which was more than she could say for their home.

Sam buried her face against her drawn up knees. The tears that streamed down her face were from relief. There hadn’t been a single sick child on her doorstep this morning. In fact, there had only been one reporter within range of the door. She didn’t recognize the writer, but she knew the photographer with him. It was Partridge. Paul Emery Partridge. Last time she’d seen him, he’d been thirty years younger, with more hair and fewer wrinkles. She’d been looking forward to the date too.

She sniffled into the soft cotton of her pants. She didn’t have her camera with her tonight. It was just as well. She couldn’t see through the tears to take anything approaching a good picture. There was a crunch of rocks and she lifted her head. The feather that was tied into her hair tickled her behind her ear. Paul stopped at the edge of her circle. He sat down carefully. He held the camera up for her inspection.

“You’ve been using that one a long time. Do they actually still allow you to get away with putting in prints? All the bastards I’ve been submitting to want digital.” She scrubbed away some tears with the side of her hand.

Paul snorted. “I scan them in. And I use a digital for most things. But moonlight and you? There was no way that I wasn’t going to use film.” His smile quirked up. “I waited for almost a year,” he said quietly. “It took me that long to find out you weren’t going to call.”

“No my choice,” Sam said. She blinked rapidly. No more tears tonight, she told herself. “We could have been a great team.”

Paul shook his head. “Or we would have killed each other within six months.”

“Or that.” They were quiet, letting the sounds of the ocean and the slight breeze fill the space between them. “You want pictures. For who?”

“That’s my son. Goes by his mother’s last name though. James O’Rourke.”

“You and Twyla?”

“Me and Twyla.” He smiled fully then. “She put up with me moping about you for years. Jamie just wants to know what was so important about you. I don’t think I can explain it.”

Sam considered breaking the circle. It wasn’t as though she’d put a lot of power into the ceremony, but she still felt – not obligated exactly – impelled to finish it. That meant staying until the moon was directly overhead. A fresh beginning with Paul. “Friends,” she said finally. “We were friends and we might have been more, but that was a long time ago for you. And with everything that’s happened? Somehow, I don’t think you’re planning to try anything with me.”

“I didn’t actually marry Twyla.”

“So? You did have a child with her. Are you still together?”

“We are. It’s been twenty-five years now. Jamie’s twenty-six.”

“Did you pitch the article to someone? Did you tell them that we’d been friends? Or did you just try to get by on the photo-journalist angle.”

Paul laughed. It was a rolling sound of genuine amusement. “I’d forgotten how blunt you really are. This public face you’ve developed is so different.”

“I haven’t developed anything. It’s the news. It’s so different. There’s so many more people talking and I have no idea where to start.”

He bit his lip. “I’ll get you the name of a reputable PR firm. Maybe you can get someone to look out for you.”

“Right. I’m broke, Pauley. I’m dead broke. I’ve been trying to sell my photography, but people are treating them like holy relics, not like prints from a forest.” She shook her head. “But tell him to come on over. I won’t bite. I won’t even get too mad about it. At least you’re not bringing him to me dying from leukemia.” She took a shaky breath. “At least I hope you aren’t.”

“No. He’s fine. I’m fine. Twyla’s fine.” He waved his son over. The younger man jogged across the sand. His father stopped him before he tried to reach into the circle. “Jamie, that is her demarkation zone, okay. Stay on this side of it.”

James nodded. “Nice to actually meet you, Ms. King.”

“Call me Sam or Sammy.” She looked the young man up and down. They were the same age. At least, that’s what it felt like to her. It was just that their lives were so different. “Your dad tells me we’re the same age. That is just plain weird. How long have you been a journalist?”

James looked more like Twyla than Paul. His hair had tight blond curls but there was a dusky tone to his skin that indicated that he tanned better than an O’Rourke. The nose was Twyla’s though. The ears were pure Paul – sticking out a little from the sides of James’ head like Prince Charles. At least Charles was still alive. “I’ve been working on papers since high school. I’ve been freelancing for a couple years now. I started when I was still in college.”

She smiled. A happy story. No one dead or dying in the family. It was such a relief. Paul’s hands lifted automatically to take the shot and she held still for him. She wasn’t sure what someone would see. Maybe the moonlight on half or her face. Or maybe just her teeth glinting. This was one interview that wasn’t going to destroy her calm. “Thank you, Mother,” she murmured.

When she looked back at the offering bowl, the wine was gone.


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Writing from Prompts #14 Diploma (Orig Pub 4/11/2014)

The diploma on the wall was obviously a joke. According to this, Melissa had a bachelor’s in Criminal Enterprise. Joey shook his head. She was a lovely woman with a twisted sense of humor. He’d only been dating her for about a month, but he felt a real connection with her.

Her apartment was neat without feeling sterile. There was a cozy afghan over the back of the couch and her cat had claimed one of the pink throw pillows. He looked at her bookshelf while she finished changing to go out. He blinked at the Evil Overlord handbook and the Evil Genius series of electronics books. Part of why he liked her was her intelligence. There was an entire section on true crime and criminology. He hadn’t asked her about school, but maybe he should. It looked as though she were gearing up for something big.

The next section was politics. Machiavelli had a place of prominence next to a copy of Sun Tzu that looked ready to give up the ghost. He made a note to get her a new copy. Maybe that nice hardback he’d seen at the bookstore when he was stopping for coffee yesterday. There were pictures on the shelf of her and her friends. He blinked, was that actually the Congresswoman who’d just taken office with a pasted on mustache and fake black-rimmed glasses. No, he must be imagining things.

The cat, a big black and white fluffy Persian named Archie wandered over to demand attention. Joey stroked over his silky fur and then scratched right behind his ears. Archie rolled over to expose his belly for petting, but Joey new better than to take the invitation.

“Some judge of character he is,” Melissa laughed. “Joey’s not falling for your tricks, you little demon.” The cat looked singularly unimpressed.

Melissa looked wonderful. Her dress was a simple black number with a flared skirt. She wore sensible vintage heels and a necklace with a single drop of crystal. The pendant might be diamond, but he wasn’t going to assume. He held her brocade jacket for her. “You look beautiful.” She slung the small suitcase she called a purse over her shoulder.

She patted her sleekly waved blonde hair. “Thanks.” She pushed her Tortise-shell cats-eye glasses back up her nose.

He offered his arm after she locked up behind them. “Your chariot awaits.”

“Always the gentleman.”

His car was a sturdy Volvo that he’d had for years. It felt shabby next to the beauty that was now perched in the passenger’s seat. “I have reservations at the Thai place and at the Italian place, which would you like?”

Melissa considered. “Italian. As long as we can get a booth in the back near the kitchen.”

He raised his brows at that, but asked the hostess when they arrived. The DiGregorio’s an old-school Italian joint with red and white checked tablecloths and a menu that would change when the head chef died and not a minute before, and Mama wasn’t going. There was a large party on the other side of the restaurant. Melissa smiled at him. “They look happy, don’t they?”

Dinner was good. The conversation flowed from topic to topic. Melissa stopped him before he could get the check. “No, this one’s on me. You go see if you can find the car. I’m going to run to the bathroom. You get to take care of the movie. I expect popcorn.”

He laughed. When he glanced over his shoulder, she’d put cash into the little black folder. He pulled the car up to the curb and she climbed in.

When they left the movie theatre the local news was playing on the radio. “A four-alarm fire engulfed local favorite DiGregorio’s this evening. Fourteen people were killed and ten injured. The owner Nana DiGregorio was unharmed, but angry.”

“That’s a shame. I loved that place,” Joey said.

Melissa patted his arm. “We’ll find a new favorite.”

He perked up at the idea of a joint favorite restaurant.

“Your shift starts in twenty, I don’t want you to be late. Sounds as though there’s a lot to take care of. Goodnight.” She gave him a peck on the cheek before heading up to her apartment.

He grinned at her as she left for the fire station. He could still smell the accelerant on her hands, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. So what if his girl was a fire-bug? No one’s perfect.


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Writing from Prompts #13 Bus (Orig Pub 4/9/2014)

The heat inside the bus was stifling. Jenna pulled her scarf off and folded it into a rectangle before tucking it into her backpack. She stripped off her gloves and hat. She shoved the gloves into the hat and added both of them to her bag. She tugged the zipper on the bag until it closed over the bulging center section. The young man in the aisle across from her watched with a little smile. “Would you like me to put that in the overhead rack for you?” he offered.

“No thanks. I’ll want something out of it soon enough.” She laughed a little bit.

“Are you riding all the way to Topeka?”

“I am. You?”

“Close enough. I’ll probably ditch at the last food stop and walk from there. I’m headed to my parents.” He grimaced as though that were something to be avoided. Or maybe as if there were something wrong at home. Jenna bit her lip. She did a quick judge of the other people filing onto the bus. None of them were even close to her age.

“Want to sit together?”

He crossed the aisle and leaned across the seats in front of her to look at the same group. “Oh, Jesus. That’s a tour group. Yeah, let’s sit together. Do you need the window?”

Jenna shook her head. She crossed the aisle. She stripped off her jacket and shoved it into the rack over their heads next to the roll-on suitcase he’d brought. “I brought books enough to last me. Well, I think I did at least.”

Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones?” he asked wryly.

She laughed. “Mysteries mostly. And some random things that my Mom got for me for my birthday a few years ago. I’m willing to share those too. There might be some sort of fantasy there.”

“I’m Will.”


“Nice to meet you.” He settled into his seat. “You travel the busses a lot?”

“Not really.” She bit at her lip. “It was the first thing I could afford to get the Hell out of Pennsylvania.”

Will grinned at that. “I hear you.” He settled into his seat. “So, what do you think? Will be lose any of the group before Topeka?”

Jenna snorted. “If this is any indication of how well they’re organized? I’m guessing at least three by the middle of the country.”

“I’m going to catch a nap. Poke me if I start to snore, will you? I camped out at the station last night.”


He slid down in his seat and closed his eyes.

He didn’t start to snore.

And it felt just right when his head lolled to the side and landed on her shoulder.

She opened her favorite book and brushed a kiss across her husband’s bangs. “Happy Anniversary,” she whispered.


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