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Aug. 18th, 2010

It's a run-off.

Ugh, I hope I make it to Week 3 of Brigits Flame! I'm tied for the final spot, and I have a great idea for my story. I guess we'll just wait and see...fingers crossed!

Aug. 13th, 2010

BF Week 2: Lazy river

The writing prompt had thrown the girl for a loop. She sat, hands hovering over the keyboard as if waiting for the inspiration to zip from her brain, down her arms, and out of her fingers. Each night she sat like this as that single, confounding word swam between her ears looking for an idea to wash up on. But such a shore was never found. 

The word continued to float along the lazy river of the girl's mind in its perpetual, clumsy search for a life outside itself. Its fingers and toes were pruned, and its inner-tube sprung a slow leak that whined as it wound through the girl's consciousness.

Suddenly feeling a  headache coming on, the girl decided to go to bed.

Aug. 1st, 2010

Brigits Flame, Week 1: "Clothes and all"

“Wake me when we reach the coast,” she says, popping the passenger seat back and curling up on it. She gives me a sleepy smile and it’s all I can do not to reach over and kiss her.

I pull out of the driveway and head towards the highway. It’s late afternoon and the descending sun washes the houses in pale orange light. Billowing thunderheads loom in the rearview, and I imagine I’m running from them and the storm they carry in their ever-expanding bellies.
 
She’s asleep now: tiny dreaming noises escape her nose every now and then. Some of her curls have become loosed from her bun and fallen across her face. My hand hovers near her temple for a moment, wondering if sweeping the curls away is too intimate a gesture from a best friend. I’m never sure. I clench my fingers into a fist and pull back, training my eyes on the road once more. Cars and exit signs whiz by and blur together outside in the weak amber glow of dusk.

I leave the radio off so she can sleep; my thoughts alone can keep me plenty busy while I drive, especially tonight. My mind races with equal parts anticipation and terror, and the two are fighting to the death. We’ve never spent an entire weekend alone together, and there’s always been this underlying tension between us that rages out of us, unstoppable, on drunken nights when no one’s watching. We confess our attraction for each other, kiss fiercely, and never speak of it again. What's going to happen when we're left to our own devices this weekend? I nearly giggle aloud as I ponder the delicious possibility of her reciprocating the feelings I try to bury so deeply within me when we're sober. Could it be?

The hours pass quickly in this fashion, my mind whirring along as she sleeps peacefully. Outside the sun has set and the trees look like giant silhouettes pasted to the indigo sky. I roll down my window and reach my hand into the night air; it’s cooler now, and I know the ocean and my weekend alone with her are only a few miles from here.

I pull off the exit and take the route that snakes along the coastline. The air is salty and moist now, and it wakes her before I can; the smell of home has a way of doing that. She inhales deeply, arches her back and stretches her arms. It’s adorable and sexual all at once. She sits up and I feel her looking at me. I give her a smile and ask her how she slept.

“Just fine,” she says, and I can hear the sleep in her voice. “Just a few more miles and we’ll be there.”

We ride in silence the rest of the way, my eyes on the road and hers on the ocean that glitters under the moon out her window. When we hit the dirt road that leads to her family’s summer cottage, she reaches out and squeezes my hand. I don’t pull away, but neither does she. We hold hands like this until I have to let go and park. My heart throbs in every vein as I look over at her and find her looking back. She reaches over and I meet her halfway. We share a kiss that is both soft and urgent at once over the stick shift and pull back smiling.

I can hear the ocean rushing in and receding a few feet away; the sound mobilizes us and we’re running now down to the shore, hand in hand and laughing like children. Breathless, we reach the sand and keep right on running, right on into the ocean. We’re knee-deep now and the black water laps at my thighs. Her white skirt bobs and sways like a giant jellyfish on the waves. I pull her to me.

“I’ve loved you forever,” I shout over the crashing surf, suddenly fearless and needing her to know this. I see her brilliant smile flash in the moonlight. We’re kissing again and she’s pulling me down into the crashing waves, clothes and all, holding me tighter than I’ve ever been held.

Feb. 14th, 2010

Brigits Flame, Week 2 (edited)


Easily Parted

I remember
the night of Jack and Coke
when boundaries bled
into shaky limbs
and desperate shadow kisses

I still taste
your whiskey tongue on mine
I can still feel
the curve of your hips
in the palms of my hands

Alone now:
eyes closed, remembering
fingers shaking
thighs easily parted
thinking of you.



 

Feb. 8th, 2010

Possible Week 2, 900 words

Stan Bardwell hung there on the beach upside down, suspended from a bungee cord tangled around his foot. The rocky sand swung in and out of range as he careened like a human pendulum across the trampoline. The faces of his classmates blurred before him, little more than gaping black mouths shrieking in laughter as Stan swung past. He wasn't sure how it had come to this, but he sure was glad to be leaving France the next morning.
 

It had all begun when Stan had registered for the annual senior French class field trip to Paris and Nice. A socially awkward 17-year-old Star Wars enthusiast, none of his fellow classmates, in any class, liked him very much. Ever the optimist, though, Stan was the first to sign up for the trip. He had hoped some quality time outside of class might leave him with at least one friend after high school.
 

Now, it seems to be well-documented among scam artists of the world that Americans are the easiest target one could pick. They are friendly, generous, and hate to see another human suffer: all wonderful qualities, but not in Paris. You couldn't try to look more American than Stan as he had stepped from the plane into Charles de Gaulle airport with his classmates six days before the trampoline incident. Between the Red Sox cap, the khakis, and the friendly grin on his face, they had seen him coming a mile away. And they didn't waste time.
 

First, there was the old gypsy woman in the airport who got him for five euros before his class had even gotten out of the baggage claim. She had shoved this raggedy post card with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the back under his nose asked him to "make sure my eengleesh iz okay." It detailed how horrible the woman's life was, how many sick children she had, the usual. But Stan couldn't reach into those khakis of his fast enough. Five minutes later, he had seen the woman with a whole mess of grubby-looking, but healthy, kids, who were counting wads of bills and stuffing them into their jeans pockets.
 

On the Metro to the hotel, Stan had shelled out seven euros in coins to a toothless accordionist. It wasn't until after he had dropped the coins into the old man's hat that one of his classmates reminded him that those were full Euros he was passing out like candy, not American quarters. He slapped his forehead with a big, sweaty hand and promised himself he would be more careful.
 

Under the Eiffel Tower, he steered clear of a familiar-looking gypsy, but an illegal immigrant selling stolen souvenirs from a tattered blanket had charged Stan five euros for a crappy Tower keychain: something that, with two seconds of haggling, would have been his for 50 centimes. By the time one of the chaperones realized what he had paid for the little plastic piece of junk, the man had swept up his goods and fled.
 

Dejected and disillusioned by his Parisian experience, Stan had spent the next three days holding his remaining funds close to him. He ate crepes on the street three meals a day and didn't even buy souvenirs for his mom or sister. Every stranger seemed to be sizing him up, asking him for something. He would be glad for the change of scenery that would come with the last stop of their trip: the French Riviera.
 

On the overnight train to Nice, it had seemed Stan's luck was finally changing. A young, unassuming woman had challenged Stan to an arm-wrestling match in his compartment; she'd bet him twenty-five euros. He had been so sure he would win that he invited all of his classmates to watch him win some of his money back. As you can imagine, the young woman crushed him in seconds. Stan hadn't noticed her rippling biceps underneath the flowy, peasant top she had worn. His classmates had rolled their eyes and heckled him under their breath as they went off to bed.
 

With the last of his money gone, he had called his mom when they got off in Nice to have her wire money into his account. And now, after trying to have some fun with the last of his money on the last of his days in that godforsaken land of beggars and thieves, Stan had gotten tangled in the bungee-trampoline attraction on the beach. The blood was now rushing to his head and making his face tingle. Finally, two surly, sweaty men finally jumped onto the trampoline and held him down to the mat while a third man freed his long, skinny foot. Stan fell face-first into the trampoline.
 

Thunderous applause swelled around him as he stood up and climbed off the trampoline. His classmates swarmed him, shouting to him like they would a friend. They held up their digital cameras and cell phones to show him the great pictures they'd taken. They even offered to buy him dinner that night in exchange for the great time he had given them, knowing the trampoline excursion had put him over his limit once again. And everyone wanted to sit next to him on the flight home.


As he stood there in the Riviera sun without a centime to his name, Stan Bardwell thought he was the richest man in France.


Feb. 2nd, 2010

Brigit's Flame, Week 1: Proud Mary



When the economy bottomed out in ’09, Camp Shenanigans was born.
 

At the time, folks in the city were losing their homes and jobs by the dozen, and it wasn’t just the poor families, either. Dads and moms in suits and skirts found themselves parked on the curb outside of their dream, watching it go to the highest bidder.
 

With nowhere to go, they all packed up and started walking. It was easy to spot these freshly-streetbound families, especially the kids. Their hair was still clean, their eyes still wide and bright, unlike the matted hair and on those feral children whose cradle had been the cold street and whose eyes seem too old for their dirty, cherubic faces.  
 

Along the way, these newly-nomadic tribes found one another and held on tight. Necessity replaced status and shame; former executives and donut shop workers could be seen feeding each other's children and picking through recycling bins together, looking for cans to cash in. 


It would have been inspiring if it weren't so damned sad.


Some of these clans pooled their money and hatched a plan for survival. They bummed rides to Wal-Mart and bought as much food and as many tents and sleeping bags as they could. They took their supplies and set up shop under the on-ramp to 95 and have been there, and growing, ever since.
 

By December of ’09, Camp Shenanigans was a fully-operational tent city. They had a system of government that rotated officials every few weeks. Hell, even the Governor knew about them and tried every so often to shut them down. But the Camp, united, always won. They’d even gotten the support of the locals, who dropped by every now and then with new blankets and hot meals.
 

Shenanigans citizens knew each other more intimately than most families do; a tent flap doesn’t offer much privacy, and showers were but a distant memory to most residents. That’s why they all took notice on a clear day near Christmas when an unfamiliar woman showed up on the grounds.
 

She was tall, broad and jittery, her skin was pale and blotchy. She wore what looked to be jeans that had been slept-in for a week and a gray, baggy “Newport” sweatshirt. On her feet were ratty old house slippers, and over her shoulder a large canvas bag, filled to busting. She crossed her arms and moved her big brown eyes back and forth across the camp the way the locals did when they dropped off supplies: no eye contact.
 

Jack Monahan, the Camp Shenanigans mayor at the time, was one of the first to spot the woman as she stood fidgeting at the outskirts of the tents. Earlier that day, a priest from the nearby Episcopal church had dropped off some leftovers from the soup kitchen, and the camp was having an early Christmas feast around the trash can bonfire. Jack made the new woman a plate of meatloaf and potatoes and headed over to her. She jumped as he stuck out his hand.
 

"Jack Monahan, mayor of Camp Shenanigans,” he said. He withdrew his hand after a while when he saw she had no intention of uncrossing her arms. “Welcome to our city!”
 

The woman’s eyes were red and the skin around them puffy, as if she’d been crying for days. Several times, she opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. Jack jovially thrust the plate of steaming food towards her.
 

“I know you’re feeling ashamed, but don't be. We're all just like you. Here in Tent City, we try to make the best of a bad situation. Let’s get you settled.”
 

The woman took a deep breath and crossed her arms tighter.
 

“I am not ashamed, and I don’t want your charity food or one of those tents,” she said. Her voice was powerful but wavered as she spoke. Her presence resonated with Jack. He imagined she had been someone pretty important until her life was turned on its head. 

“I have everything I need in this bag. I saw the fire and just wanted to warm my hands.”
 

She pushed past him. Jack turned and watched her stride toward the fire without stopping to introduce herself or lend a hand to anyone. He’d seen this all before. As a longtime Camp member, he had watched many a man’s pride disintegrate when the nights got cold and the options thin. He himself had shunned the hand of charity, until his children began crying with hunger and his wife left with them to live in a shelter. From then on, pride was a luxury he couldn’t afford. Everyone’s got a limit, he always said. It’s just a matter of when you hit it. He was willing to wait for this woman to come around.
 

Over the next few weeks, the woman passed through every couple of days, always looking worse for it. The holes in her jeans grew into gaping mouths at her knees and the Newport sweatshirt  was soon dark as tar in spots. She never spoke to anyone or accepted anything. She would push through people as if they weren’t there in order to get a bit of warmth from the trash can bonfire that burned through the night. Any eye contact she gave was filled with disdain and condescension. Camp members took to calling her "Proud Mary" and would clear out when they saw her coming. Except Jack. Every time she showed up, Jack was there to offer her food and conversation, both of which went unclaimed. The camp would all sit in their tents, shaking their heads at their mayor and his lost cause.  
 

February roared into Camp Shenanigans with harsh winds and bitter nights. The camp elections came and went; Lisa Berger, a former school teacher, was the new mayor. It was around election time that the camp members noticed Proud Mary hadn’t been seen for longer than she normally stayed away. Jack wanted to organize a search party.
 

“What for?” Louise Martin said at the weekly camp meeting. “It’s not like Proud Mary ever bothered with us.” A murmur of support rose from the tents surrounding the trash can fire where Jack stood, alone. Mayor Berger looked on, waiting for his argument, her teeth chattering under her hood.
 

"Make it quick, Monahan,” she said through a locked jaw. “The wind is picking up and the sun is down now. No one should be out in this.”
 

“Exactly!” Jack shot back. “We need to find Proud Ma—this woman. She’s out there alone in this, probably on the street. You remember how that is, don't you? So she’s got a bad attitude; that’ll change eventually. We have to do all we can.”
 

“But why?” Louise asked.
 

“Because,” Jack cried over a gust of icy wind. “She’s one of us. And we stick together.”
 

Silence fell over Camp Shenanigans for a minute. Rustling and shifting then mounted inside the tents and Jack saw fathers and mothers tucking in their children and grabbing flashlights. Adrenaline shot through him as he mentally reviewed the usual haunts of the homeless near their camp. He hoped it wasn’t too late.

Jan. 28th, 2010

Yessssssss

Um...best LJ icon ever.  Today sucks, but Harriet the Spy most certainly does NOT.

Ok, back to work.

Jan. 11th, 2010

(no subject)

I need a better writing routine.

Hell, I need ANY writing routine right now. I barely do it at all. Granted, I'm reading like a fiend, which is giving me ideas and expanding the way I think about writing, but I haven't put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for anything creative in far too long.

Resolution: Beginning next week, do Brigit's Flame in the "Just for Fun" category until February. Beginning in February, compete for real, and do "just for fun" if I get booted out.

I hope I can stick to something this year.

Aug. 12th, 2009

Shifting Winds


That’s the irony of first impressions: in those first fleeting moments of introduction, you’re too concerned with how the other perceives you to let them impress any of their own truth on you. You’re too busy guarding yourself to feel the air change, to feel your life change, forever.

 

I remember how plain I thought Julia Sawyer was when she first swept into my life. It was the fall of our freshman year of college, and we were going to be sharing a dorm room. She was already there and unpacking when I arrived. She was neither tall nor short, her brown hair was long and thin, and her eyes were the color of mud. She wasn’t terribly flat or curvy. Her smile seemed forgettable, her laugh nothing special. She was unassuming, unimpressive; I guess I was, too. We clicked immediately.

 

By the end of our first year, we were spending nearly every night together after class and on weekends. Most college girls were spending their free nights out at parties or frat houses, looking for love in all the wrong places, but I had no interest in bonehead frat guys, and Julia didn’t seem to either. Looking back, that constant desire to be near each other should have tipped me off. But as far as we could see at the time, we were just best friends making college memories together.

 

The shifting winds of summer kill most things cultivated in the first year of college. Nine-month-old friendships and relationships alike crumble in a matter of weeks, leaving behind the dust of a weak foundation and a dread of the assured awkwardness September will bring. Julia and I were not immune. She lived clear across the country and had plenty of friends back home to keep her busy until the fall. I lived just a few miles from campus and had nearly no one at my disposal. I wished I had been able to go home with her. I felt pulled towards her in a way that made me feel dizzy and out of breath.

 

That aching pull soon became a foreign, independent animal inside me. I would wake up, panting and covered in sweat, from dreams about her: the girl I’d found so plain and unmemorable just months before. I found myself calling her later and later at night and more frequently during the day. About halfway through the summer, she stopped answering most of my calls; it seemed the summer was going just fine for her.

 

I resented her for being okay. I was angry with her for not feeling what I was feeling. If we didn’t share our intensity, we couldn’t share anything, I thought. In September, I told myself, I was going to give her a piece of my mind and walk away forever. I would find a new best friend.

 

As the first day of school crept closer, the dreams about Julia were happening nearly every night. By late August, they had mutated from innocent kisses shared in shadows into mini-pornos staring me and her. I tried, even then, to chalk it all up to missing my friend; people have sex dreams all the time about people close to them, right?

 

September finally came. Just like the year before, Julia was already in our room setting up when I lugged my stuff up to our new dorm room. Summer had been good to her; she was bronzed, and her hair had strands of blonde and copper in it. She smiled at me as I walked in. Electricity shot through my stomach. She came over and put her arms around me and squeezed tight, telling me how much she had missed me. I felt her warm skin under my fingers, the curve of her waist in my palm. She smelled like sunblock and sweat.

 

Then I did the bravest and craziest thing I’ve ever done, even to this day. Holding her from me by her hips, I studied her face. Thick silence grew up around us as she stared back at me; she seemed terrified of what I would do next. Before she could utter a word to break the spell of stillness, I pulled her back into me and kissed her as I should have the moment I first saw her.


Of course, Julia didn't feel the same way. Afterwards, we both tried to act like nothing had happened, but she eventually moved out and slowly dissolved from my life. Her rejection hurt, but that pain was secondary to the sense of beauty, wholeness and light that had come from feeling another woman's lips on mine. In that moment, all questions had been answered, and I felt home.

Aug. 2nd, 2009

August Week 1: Long, but a quick read (promise!)

Untitled

Jeremy and Renee had been dating for a few months when he popped the question.

They were in Renee's dorm room one night; she was doing homework, and Jeremy was watching her from the bed.

"Honey?" he asked, shaking his shaggy blonde hair out of his eyes . Renee turned and leaned over the back of her chair, smiling at him.

"Yes, dear?" she replied, batting her eyes mockingly.

"Do you--will you come with me to meet my parents this weekend?" he said. "They're having a neighborhood block party this weekend and I want you to be my date."

Renee was nervous, but she agreed right away. She was excited to finally meet Mr. and Mrs. Sloane and see where Jeremy had grown up. The fact that he wanted her there seemed like a pretty good sign for their relationship, too.

The following Sunday morning the two of them got into Jeremy's car and headed out of their city campus north into the woods of Rhode Island. The Sloanes lived about an hour outside of the city at the end of a mile-long dirt driveway that cut through a forest of tall red maples. As they rounded the last curve of the drive, Renee could see a big, beautiful farmhouse coming into view. It was painted a cheerful yellow and the front door was a bright, inviting kelly green.
 
Jeremy parked and they stepped from the car. Renee took a deep breath and followed Jeremy through the front door, past a tall staircase, through the kitchen and out onto the back patio where the party was already in full swing. Before the door to the porch even slid shut behind them a tall, blonde man and woman were strolling towards them. 

"Jeremy, honey!" Mrs. Sloane exclaimed, throwing her arms around her son and kissing him on the cheek, nearly spilling her martini in the process. "I'm so glad you made it!" 

Mr. Sloane then slapped Jeremy on the back and pulled him in for a hug. "How's it goin', son? Workin' hard or hardly workin'?"

"It's good, Dad," Jeremy said. "Guys, this is Renee. The girl I told you about. I figured I'd bring her around and introduce you."

By the look on Mrs. Sloane's face, this was a surprise--and it didn't seem to be one she enjoyed. Renee's face burned as she shook hands with Jeremy parents, who both looked shocked; Renee swore there was a hint of terror in Mr. Sloane's eyes for a second. Mrs. Sloane put on an unconvincing smile and excused herself and her son. She pulled him over to a corner of the yard and looked like she was really giving it to him. Renee couldn't believe he had brought her here unannounced.

Mr. Sloane ran and got Renee a rum and coke and told her not to worry; Mrs. Sloane was pretty particular sometimes about who was in the house, he said, and she would get over it after one more martini. He handed her the drink and excused himself, leaving Renee alone in a sea of people she'd never met.

She turned from the party and looked up at the house; it was less intimidating than a patio full of unfamiliar faces. From the look of it, Renee could see that this house was old enough to be considered an historical building; the second floor even had the original windows, it seemed. Looking more closely, she saw a curtain flutter in the window farthest to the left and a shadow step out of the frame.

Jeremy came up behind her and put his arms around her waist. He kissed her neck and spun her around, his green eyes smiling. Renee was not amused. She pushed her way ot of his arms and slapped his chest.

"What were you thinking, bringing me here without telling your parents first?" Renee said. "Are you in big trouble with your mom now, all on account of me?"

"Oh, that?" Jeremy said, looking across the lawn to where he had just been talking to his mother. "Yeah, no, she was just surprised that I brought someone. It's cool now." 

The party went well after that; the Sloanes warmed up to Renee, especially after she beat everyone at musical chairs and helped them win the volleyball game against the Johnsons from two houses down. Three rum and cokes later, Renee had a good buzz and a full bladder. She asked Jeremy to tell her where the bathroom was; he told her to use the one upstairs because the toilet in the  one near the kitchen was broken. By the time she got through the sliding door and to the top floor, she'd forgotten if he had said second door to the left or the right of the staircase. She turned to the right and tried the second one; it was locked, but no one called back to say it was occupied. She knocked and put her ear to the door; something rustled inside but still no answer.

"Renee!"

Jeremy called from behind her as he ran up the stairs; she jumped. "What, are you following me?" she asked, hands on hips.

Jeremy was eying the door she had just tried. "No, I--I realized I had to go, too. That's not the bathroom," he said, pointing over her shoulder. He walked two doors to the left and opened it. "This is the bathroom."

"Ah, so this is the super-secret room then?" Renee said, playfully backing towards the room that wasn't the bathroom. Jeremy grabbed her wrists and pulled her back to him sharply.

"No, just storage," he said, laughing forcedly. "And we keep the cats holed up in there during parties so they don't get out."

Even in her rum-induced haze, Renee felt a strange panic in Jeremy that she had never sensed before. She kept her eyes on him as she walked to the bathroom.

Neither of them spoke about that awkward moment the rest of the day. The party wound down around nine, and Renee and Jeremy said goodbye to the Sloanes and headed back to campus. On the ride home, Jeremy put his arm around her and she scooted as close as she could without obstructing the stick shift. He kissed the top of her head softly and told her he was so happy he had met her. 

A week later, it was that very moment in the car that had Renee so confused as she sat at her computer desk, crying. Her best friend Darcy and sister Lisa were there, sitting on the twin mattress looking concerned and sympathetic.

"I just don't get it!" Renee cried, wiping her running nose with the back of her hand. "One minute, he's kissing me and having this really sweet moment with me, and the next thing I know it's been a week since I've even heard from him."

Darcy shook her head, her copper hair swinging about her face. "I told you it was a bad idea to set them up, Lisa," she said. "He gave me a bad feeling."

"Oh, bull," Lisa said defensively. "You liked him for her as much as I did! And everything was fine for months. How was I supposed to know he was a total flake?" 

Renee was relieved when the girls stopped bickering and started comforting her again. Her sister jumped off the bed and came over to stroke her hair. "I'm sorry, sis," she said. "You know I'd never--"

"Yeah, I know," Renee said. "It's not your fault. I'm just in shock." 

"Well, I know something that might not fix this, but it'll definitely ease the shock," Darcy said as she got off the bed, smiling. "It's chicken tender night at the dining hall!" 

The girls laughed and grabbed their campus access cards, all suddenly starving. Renee opened her door and nearly fell over; there was Jeremy, his fist raised as if  about to knock. The girls let out a collective yelp, and Jeremy looked just as startled. Renee thought he looked like he hadn't slept--or showered--in a few days. Darcy and Lisa scooted around him, eyes wide, and told her they would wait downstairs in the entryway for her. They sidled off together, whispering and looking back at the two of them.

Renee steeled herself and stepped into the hallway, the door to her room shutting itself behind her. She looked up at Jeremy with raised eyebrows, arms folded in front of her. She tossed her hair and said loudly:

"Well?"

Jeremy seemed shake as he struggled to find words. Renee felt a twinge of guilt for being so mad. Maybe there had been family trouble; who was she to make him feel badly for that? 

"I--I had to go home for a few days."

"A few days?" she boomed; the floodgates opened and drowned her guilt. "It's been a week, Jeremy. With no word from you. What, does your parents' house lack modern essentials like a phone? God knows I tried your cell phone enough times; your mailbox has been full for three days, at least."

Jeremy's eyes darted nervously about. He licked his lips and stepped back a step from her.

"I lost my cell phone and didn't have your number memorized. I'm sor--sorry, Renee." 

He spoke her name slowly; each syllable rolling off his tongue slowly like some foreign object covered in molasses. Uneasy, Renee studied his face, wondering what exactly had happened to him in a week that had shaken him up so badly. He stared at her and tried to speak; words failed him. He was so cute when he apologized. She brushed a lock of flaxen hair from his forehead; he flinched at her touch and blushed.

"It's okay," she said quietly, pulling him to her and kissing him deeply on the mouth. "Something happened to you; that's clear. I don't need details, I just hope everyone's okay at home."

Jeremy sighed and laughed. He grabbed her face, more roughly than he had ever before, and kissed her again. His tongue darted into her mouth and sought her tongue, aggressively. She pulled away.

"What's gotten into you?" she said playfully, slapping his chest. "Looks like somebody missed me. I have to go to dinner, and I have mounds of homework to get done before finals. We can see each other tomorrow, though."

Jeremy looked relieved but still a bit jumpy. He gave her another hard kiss and walked her down to meet Darcy and Lisa. 

All seemed to be going well for the next few weeks. Jeremy seemed more frazzled than usual and much less talkative, but Renee brushed it off as a combination of end-of-term jitters and whatever had happened in that week she hadn't seen him. Two Tuesdays later, Renee had finished her homework hurriedly, showered, shaved and slathered herself in her jasmine-scented lotion: Jeremy's favorite. Around nine o'clock, there was a knock at the door; she almost leapt to answer it, craving the feel of her boyfriend's taut, warm body against her.

To her chagrin, it wasn't Jeremy; instead, Jeremy's best friend and frat house roommate, Jake, stood at the door. He looked slightly miffed. 

"Jeremy here?" he said, looking over her shoulder into the empty room. "He missed the house meeting tonight. That's the third week in a row."

Renee said she hadn't seen him and asked Jake to come in. He took a seat at her computer desk, and she hopped onto her bed. 

"I thought he was at the frat house now," Renee said, confused. "I was waiting for him. He always comes over after.  I know he had some family stuff going on and was home a few weeks ago, but he's been back on campus now for a couple weeks."  Jake looked surprised at the news.

"Family stuff?" his face went ashen. He continued. "You've seen him lately? He hasn't been at the house at all since God knows when. I just thought he'd been sleeping here and slacking on his duties."  

Renee shook her head in reply. Silence fell between them; Renee could amost hear Jake's gears turning. This all seemed unbelievably strange to her. Jeremy had been best friends with Jake his entire life. They'd even applied to the exact same colleges as high school seniors, and yet he was in the dark about his friend's whereabouts? Renee tried to think of where he could have possibly been sleeping all those nights he wasn't with her. A sick panic washed over her. 

"I'm gonna to go to his house," Jake said suddenly, tearing the silence in two. He pushed himself out of the computer chair and headed for the door. Renee was close on his heels; she grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

"Do you think something's wrong?" she asked, looking at Jake. Before he could respond, she grabbed her sweater and said, "I'm coming, too." She pushed past him and swung open the door. 

Minutes later they tore out of the school parking lot in Jake's truck and were on the way out of the city and toward the Sloanes' old farmhouse in the woods. The sun had long since set; it was nearly eleven when they turned off the back roads and onto Jeremy's long driveway, which seemed darker and narrower than Renee remembered.

Jake steered around the final bend in the driveway, and Renee could see Jeremy's car; she let out a small cry of relief and anger; he was here. She and Jake rolled their eyes at each other and laughed. He was okay. Once the relief subsided, Renee felt anger at Jeremy for his deceit; she couldn't wait until he tried to explain himself for this one.

Jake parked next to Jeremy's car and the two of them got out.  "His parents must have already left for their cruise," he said, peering around in the dark and not being able to make out any other vehicles. He walked across the front lawn to the door with Renee in tow, hanging onto his coat so she wouldn't trip and fall in the darkness. She looked up at the house; one light was on in what she now knew to be the upstairs bathroom. She pointed up at the window and Jake knodded, smiling maniacally.

"Let's scare him on the crapper," he said. "That'll show him for being such a flake and scaring his friends."

Renee laughed and rolled her eyes; typical frat boy idea, she thought. Jake tried the front door; it opened freely.

The old farmhouse that had charmed Renee a week before was now dreadfully dark and still. Jake put his fingers to his lips and she followed him on tiptoe up the stairs.

Now two lights glowed around the doorframes and dimly lit the hallway: to the left, Renee recognized the bathroom door. The other light was coming from the second door to the right of the stairs; the storage room where they'd kept the cats during the party. She and Jake paused, contemplating which door to try. Still drawn by the curiosity of what she thought she'd seen last weekend, she pulled Jake toward the storage room.

Busting through the door, Renee screamed in shock; this was no storage room, but a fully made-up bedroom that was clearly used. And there, on the floor and tied to the bedpost, was Jeremy. He was pale and half-awake, looking hungry and weak.

"Jake," he wheezed weakly, his eyes filled with terror. "He's in the bathroom."

Without saying another word, Jake flew from the room. Renee sunk to Jeremy's side and untied his hands, her fingers shaking and making it hard to loose the knots. She grabbed his face in her hands and looked at him; dark circles ringed his eyes, and his cheeks were sunken and gray. A loud crash in the hallway made her snap her head in the direction of the door. She then heard the muffled sound of grunts and limbs hitting walls; Jake was fighting someone--a burglar? Renee's heart thumped erratically in her chest as she gripped Jeremy's arm. Would this be the last feeling she felt before dying: this all-consuming fear?

Two shadowy figures struggled in through the door frame and fell onto the floor and into the light. Jeremy and Renee scooted backwards until they hit the far wall. As Jake straddled his opponent, Renee could finally see his face; her stomach seemed to turn to ice: the same shaggy blonde hair and piercing green eyes, the same soft face and broad body. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. She looked dazedly back and forth between who she thought was Jeremy and this mirror image of him that lay on the floor. 

"I should've told you," the pale and sickly Jeremy said to her through tears, trying to keep her gaze on him. "I shouldn't have brought you here in the first place."

"Shut up, Jeremy," his doppelganger said with a menacing grin. Jake struggled to hold him by his arms. "She likes me better. We've been having a lot of fun together the past few weeks; right, honey?" 

The man laughed hysterically, looking her up and down. Jake gave him a sound punch in the back of the head and he passed out cold.

It was all too much to take in; as the man's face hit the wood floor, Renee let out a terrified shriek and began to sob uncontrollably, holding her knees to her chest and shaking from head to toe.

Jake dialed 9-1-1 while Jeremy tried to calm Renee. Once Jake had hung up, he turned to Jeremy.

"How long's Eric been staying here, Jeremy?" Jake asked, trying to catch his breath.

"He got out about a month ago." 

"You actually brought her here--" Jake motioned to Renee "with him in the house?!"

"I thought he was better. I figured--"

"Jer! I know he's your twin brother but for Christ's sake, he's dangerous and you know it. You could've died, man. She could have died."

Renee stopped crying as Jake said this. As they waited for the police to show up, Jeremy explained everything to her. He told her how his brother was mentally ill and had done multiple stints in the local mental hospital; Eric had been sick for as long as Jeremy could remember, but the first time he'd gone into the psych ward was 6 years ago. Jeremy had brought home a girlfriend for the first time, and Eric was so jealous that he started dressing, walking and talking like Jeremy and eventually started sneaking around with Jeremy's girlfriend, pretending to be him. 

"I only realized he was doing it when the cops showed up one night, saying I'd been arrested for assaulting her, but I hadn't seen her in days," Jeremy said. " I guess she'd caught on and was going to tell me and Eric tried to shut her up."

He went on to fill Jake and Renee in on what had happened the past month; Eric had been locked in the bedroom at the party and seen Renee with Jeremy. When Jeremy came home to see his parents off on their cruise, Eric knocked him out and tied him up in the room and would go out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to meet up with Renee. 

Nausea spread outward from Renee's stomach as she looked at this exact replica of her boyfriend passed out on the bed. It had been he who had slept in her bed the past two Tuesday nights and held her close. Her blood froze in her veins as she drew up her knees and hugged them close, reliving his breath on her neck and his tongue on her body.

She was brought back to present day by the sound of sirens and the flashing blue and light glow from the cruisers as they pulled into the drive. Soon after, the quiet farmhouse was filled with the static of police radios and the sound of the three of them giving statements while the cops escorted Eric out of the house in handcuffs. Jeremy was taken to the hospital for dehydration, and the Sloanes were contacted and made reservations on the next flight back from Cozumel.

It was nearly dawn as Renee and Jake drove back to campus; they would have to go back up to the station tomorrow to give official statements. As the sun came up over the deserted highway, Renee knew she was going to be single for a very, very long time.


 

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