Martha Wittie’s Saturday

4:30 am  Saturday:

“Wake up, Jake!  Last call!!”  I shout upstairs.  This is his last chance to get up himself before I pull him, kicking and screaming, out of bed.

If my darling boy doesn’t get his tush out of bed we are going to be late for his soccer tournament at the University.

“I’m up!” He grumbles, shuffling down the steps, already dressed in his uniform, socks, and Nike slides.

I sigh.  He’s up.  And dressed.  Awesome.  I restrain the urge to scoop him in my arms.  He’s 10 now.  Big boys don’t hug their mommies anymore.  Or answer to the name Jakey, apparently.  I can barely see my Buster Big Boy Baby in his face anymore.  Sigh.

He stops his shuffle just inside the kitchen door and gives me a sleepy smile.

“PB toast and apple slices on the counter.  Eat while I’m in the shower, okay?”  I tousle his messy brown curls, my arms still aching to hold him.

He nods and takes his seat at one of the counter stools.

I wish we had time to chat over breakfast like we did when he was little, but we have a tournament to make.  And just like Jacob donned his uniform, it is time for me to don mine.

Also just like I’d laid out Jake’s uniform last night, I’d laid out my clothes just before I tuckered out and tucked in mere hours ago.  Yawning, I survey my pick of heather gray yoga pants, a white tank top, and the team mom purple zippered hoodie with “Jake Wittie” and the number 4 in white on the back.  Boots or sneakers?  Sneakers.  Yeah, that’ll do.

I could linger in the shower for hours, but instead take a quick one, throwing one longing look at my soaking tub.  One day, my friend, one day…

In less than 25 minutes, I am dressed, my dry-shampooed hair in a strategically messy bun.  As I sweep Jake and his backpack of snacks, cleats, chocolate milk and Gatorade out to the car, I realize we still have just enough time to hit a Starbucks drive-thru.  Score.

Finally, it is 6:30 and I am hoofin’ it to my spot on the bleachers with the other Brandywine Striker moms.  I see my friend Deb across the field.  I wave and she waves back.  I smirk and dig my cell phone out of my pocket to text her.

“United’s going down, McFadden.”  I tease.  Her son Matt is the striker for our rival team.

Beep beep goes my text alert. “Oh we’re gonna box now, Wittie.”

She reaches into her bag and pulls out her blue and white MOT United cap.  After she pushes it crookedly onto her head, and flips me the bird, I watch as she types furiously with her thumbs.

Beep beep, “United rules.  Brandywine drools.  Yo.”  She pulls up the hood of her blue and white team mom sweatshirt, and I can see her giggling to herself.

I text her, “LOL”, and take a sip of my rapidly cooling Caramel Macchiato.

Beep beep, “Spiked?”  Deb asks.  I can’t help but smile.

“Not this time,” I type back, “Got a luncheon for Finnian and a sleepover with 4 preschoolers tonight.”

Beep beep, “All the more reason, dammit.”  She holds up her water bottle, which I suspect contains more than a splash of Grey Goose Cherry Noir.

The whistle blows and the game begins.  There won’t be anymore texts until after the game.  Deb & I are two of the very few moms who actually come to watch, and not to show off our designer hand bags.

I watch as my Jake challenges Matt for the ball.  The two are pretty evenly matched, but this time Matt gets past Jake’s defense and nearly scores.

“Mark closer, Wittie, dammit!”  An irate Dad yells from the first row of bleachers.  I hate that guy.  He’s just jealous that my boy is a starter and his warms the bench.

“Good pressure, Jake!”  I yell louder.

“Yeah, Wittie!”  Another mom follows my lead and I feel vindicated.  I sit back and relax.

The crowd fills Olympic stadium with roars.  Only seconds to go for Team USA vs Team Italy in the Gold Medal game. 

I scan the field, or the pitch as they call it here in Jolly Ol’ England, for my boy.  I see him finally, centerfield, defending Italy’s best attacker as he attempts to score the tying goal, which would bring this game to overtime.  

“USA! USA! USA!”  the fans chant, followed by “Wittie, Wittie, Wiiiiiittttie!”

Italy’s Paolo Millardi goes for a banana kick around Jake.

Jake blocks with a back tackle, getting tangled up with Millardi, but sending the ball in the direction of USA’s top striker Matty McFadden. 

McFadden leads a demanding counter attack and scores in the last millisecond before the buzzer. 

GOOOOOAAAALLLLLLL!!!

USA wins 5 to 3.

We won the gold.  The Gold.

Beep beep.  My text alert snaps me to attention. “Earth to Martha.  Come in, Martha.”  It’s Debbie.

I text back.  “Sorry.  Game over already?”

 

11:45 am:

“Marth?”  Finnian peeks his head into the bathroom to check on my progress.  I am just putting the finishing touches on my hair and applying on last coat of mascara.

“Two minutes, tops!” I promise him and hook the clasp on my necklace while slipping into my heels.

We are nearly running late to the retirement luncheon for the founding partner of Finn’s law firm.

I make my way down to the foyer, where he is already pacing nervously.  “Ready!” I say with forced cheerfulness.

The luncheon is at some hoity toity country club and I am so not in the mood.  But my husband is next in line to make partner, so we have to make an appearance.

“Tie straight?”  He asks before meeting me with a quick kiss at the bottom of the stairs.  I survey the perfectly knotted grey silk that not too obviously compliments the silver sash on my wrap dress.

“Perfect, as always, my handsome man.”  I kiss him again.

He rolls his eyes and makes a face.  “Whatever.  Let’s go.”

We make sure the babysitter has our cell phone numbers and then we’re off.

We are taking his Cadillac instead of the mini-van and it feels almost decadent.  Riding around and listening to grown up music, in a vehicle that’s not riddled with old french fries and gummy bears.  I’ll take it.  This luncheon thing is starting to seem more appealing.

I relax into the leather seats, stretch out my legs, and listen to the new Mumford & Sons on the satellite radio.

“Let’s just run away…”  I kid and Finn laughs.  We throw scenarios back and forth highlighting where we’d go and for how long.

Before we know it, we are pulling up to the valet at the club.

Soon, I am standing there, my one and only glass of wine of the day in hand, as my husband and his fellow attorneys talk shop.  I take tiny sips, savoring my Sauvignon blanc, not paying a bit of attention to affidavits, burdens of proof, or causes of action.  I’m just watching Finn talk, so self-assured and confident.  So sharp minded.  Sexy.

Our eyes meet over the twinkle of our wine goblets.  Finnian is a warrior, a knight new to our kingdom, come to slay the dragon at the request of my father, the King.

“Your eyes sparkle with the light of a million stars, milady.”  He flatters me with the truest of chivalry.

“Sir, you are a poet as well as a dragon slayer. ” I demure, lowering my face and looking up at him through the fringe of my eyelashes.

“Aye, your highness, and a dancer.”  He puts his wine down on a nearby tray, takes mine and does the same.  “Join me for a carol?”

He gallantly leads me to the dance floor, my hand resting gently on his proffered arm.

With expert timing, he and I swirl, turn, curtsey and step through the chain of the dance.  Our eyes are locked, our whole selves in tune, even the most casual brushing of arms bringing tender thrills.

The music ends and we bow to each other.  Forgetting all courtesy, Sir Finn takes me suddenly by the waist with one strong arm.

“Princess…  I cannot resist.”  He breathes huskily seconds before his mouth crushes mine in a kiss that rivals song itself.

“Martha?”  Finnian clings his pint glass against my wine glass.

“Hmm?”  I snap back to reality, “Oh, lunch time?”

“This way, my dear,”  he chides and holds out his elbow.

We walk arm in arm to our table, my head rests on his shoulder, and I smile.

 

7:30 pm:

I can barely keep my eyes open, but I promised Jocelyn and Vivian and their two best buddies that I would watch their “fashion show”.

I hear them giggling and fussing in the playroom, and I check my watch.  Half an hour until I can reasonably get them to try to go bed.

Might be in bed by midnight, then.  I yawn so hard tears spring to my eyes.

Jocy  tiptoes in the room, and flips off the switch.  “Lady and Geddlemens…”  She says in her cute sing-songy voice, “Presenting the best fashion show in the wooooorld!”  She flips the light back on and pads back to the playroom with the others.

Seconds later, Lola, our 4 yr old neighbor -the oldest one in the group tonight- dramatically struts down the front hall, plastic heels clicking on the hard wood.  She swings her hips and her pink feather boa in exaggerated rhythm.  She’s wearing the boa, a huge straw hat, a sparkly tank top, the purple plastic shoes, and nothing else except her Dora the Explorer panties.  But, she is working it…

Her facade cracks before she makes it to the living room carpet, and she collapses in a giggle fit on the sofa.

Next in is my Vivy, decked out in last year’s Halloween costume- Belle from Beauty and the Beast- and some lime green cowgirl boots, and a fez.

“Vivy… you wear fezes now?”  I laugh.

“Yes, Mommy,” she laughs as she skips down her imagined runway.

“Nice.  Fezes are cool.”  I laugh some more, and watch my adorable girl bounce onto the sofa next to her fellow fashionista.

“Is it my go now?” Grace, Lola’s 2 yr old little sister stage whispers from the play room.

“Yes!”  All three older girls yell, exasperated, in unison.

Grace baby steps down the hall in sunglasses, flip-flops, and one of my old satin nightgowns belted with a hair ribbon, the gown trailing the floor so that she has to lift the hem to walk.

“Ta da!” She exclaims as she reaches the living room, then covers her face and giggles shyly before joining the other girls on the couch.

“And lastly…”  Jocy calls out, “here comes the bride!”  And she step-stops, step-stops down the hall in her dress-up Barbie wedding gown.

My heart falls to my stomach.

“Who presents this woman to be married?”  The priest says, and my gut churns.  I clutch my disintegrating Kleenex in one hand, and hold onto the back of the pew in front of me with the other.

“Her mother and I do.”  Finn chokes out, fighting emotions of his own.  He turns to face our girl.  He lifts her veil, kisses her cheek, and transfers her hand to the arm of her groom to be.

Finn makes his way to our pew, and takes my hand tightly in his own.  We smile at each other, such joy and such sorrow mixed as one in our tear-filled eyes.  I feel a brush of an arm on my back, see a quick pat on Finn’s shoulder.  Our boy Jacob, now a man with a family of his own, offers us his support.

We are giving away our last baby today.  Talk about bittersweet.

The priest asks us to take a seat, and I tuck my arm in Finn’s and look at the lovely wedding party standing so poised and perfect at the altar.

Jocelyn asked her sister to be her Matron of Honor, of course, and was nothing other than thrilled to find out she’d have a 7 month pregnant honor attendant on her special day.  Vivian was just glowing in her buttery yellow gown, full of love, and new life, round and happy, and smiling at her twin as the vows began.  The other girls, Lola and Grace, beamed proudly in soft pink taffeta as their best friend pledged her troth.

Finally, my eyes settled on my baby girl, my Jocy, and my chin began to wobble with unshed emotion as I listed to her repeat those legendary promises.  Girl grown to woman.  Woman made wife.

“Mommy?  Are you crying?”  Jocy bounded into my lap and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Me?  Never!”  I wiped my eyes and then tickled her ribs.  “Who is ready for popcorn?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confession of a Groupie

It’s the last song of their last set.  My last chance to catch his eye.

My mouth is cotton-dry from a joint that some dude was passing around in the back row.  I’d kill for a beer.  The thought of hoppy bubbles makes my tongue feel thicker, scratchier.

But I finally worked my way through the sweaty, gyrating crowd.  I am finally standing at the very front, so close that I can see the glisten on his forehead in the stage lights as he plays.

No way I’m leaving this spot.  I’ve come for him.  And he is what I’ll have.

I watch him slap the strings of his bass guitar, and imagine the roughness of his fingertips on my skin.  His eyes are down, looking at his instrument so that his lashes leave shadows on his cheekbones, and I ache to kiss them.  His luscious lips are parted in concentration, and I yearn to taste them, my once dry mouth watering.  His body is swaying with the beat, and my body responds to his rhythm.  We move together.  We feel the music.

I am transfixed, tingling, titillated.

He flicks his head up to shake a dark curl out of his eyes.  His focus shifts to the crowd.  Our eyes meet.

I see that sultry twinkle in the depths of his rich brown eyes, and I know.  I’ve hooked him.

For the remainder of this song, this set, this show, there is only me and him.  When he smiles, I know he shines for me.  When he licks his lips, I know he burns to lick mine.  When his fingers move up and down the fret, I know he itches to touch my skin.

The song ends, the lead singer speaks, and we are still locked in this silvery flirty dance.  I see him whispering to a band mate, motion in my direction as they leave the stage.

I know what comes next.  This isn’t my first concert conquest.  I wait.

And sure enough, I am soon being led backstage, back to him.

We are divinely alone in this small room.  I take off my shoes.  The checkered tile floor is blessedly cold on my hot feet.  I pad, soundless, across the room to where he waits.

An oscillating fan whirrs towards us, cooling the sweat on my arms and chest, bringing up goosebumps.  My skin is alive, waiting for his touch.

I’m standing before him, and I move in to kiss, but he stops me and mutters, “Wait.”

He’s holding something tiny pinched between his finger and thumb.  He runs his free fingers along the inside of my forearm, and I exhale shakily at his caress.  His fingers continue past the tender bend of my elbow, up to my shoulder, my neck, my jaw, my lips.

“Open.”  He whispers and I comply.

He places a small square of paper on my tongue and I smile, knowingly.  He shows his own hit to me and I giggle.

Finally, his hands are on me, strong and hot, pulling me close.

Now is That Moment.  My favorite moment of all.  Those milliseconds before lips meet lips.

His eyes glow with flecks of gold and green in the brown, his heavy lids nearly close as he focuses on my mouth.

He licks his lips like he had onstage, and he grins greedily, hungrily .  Yes.  This.  Now.

Soft and strong, warm and wet, his kisses taste like orange.

His mouth leaves mine only to lead me to the couch.  He pulls me down to him, I straddle his lap.

We are face to face, heat to heat.

His lashes shade his face once more as he looks at my body as if it were a new instrument to play.  I kiss his cheekbones, taste the salt of his skin.

I kiss his jaw, his chin.  I kiss a warm, wet trail, cooling it with my breath, until I reach that tender morsel of earlobe.  I take it in my mouth. I graze it with my teeth.

With a groan he lifts me, turns and shifts until he is above me.  I cannot blink, cannot look away as he tears off his shirt, slides out of his jeans.

My eyes take in the sight of him, ready and needy as I slip out of my dress.  The silk falls, pools on the floor like molten wax.

We are skin to skin, heart to heart.

I close my eyes and succumb.

 

 

 

 

 

Final Daybreak

We are coursing through the clouds, headed back west, back towards the night.

My heart is thudding in my chest.  The Petit-Maitre has completely worn off and my horror has set back in, squeezing my lungs and chilling me to the bone.

The overwhelming sharpness of my senses has returned, but all I can see are her wine-red curls mixing with my ashy brown waves against an ink-black sky.  The only sound is the whistle of the wind, the only scent my own.

“Take me home, Courtney.”  I say timidly.

“Not yet.”  She holds me tighter to her, pinching my arm.  Her voice is a tight utterance through her clenched jaws.

She’s angry with me.

After she referred to children as “darling bloodbags”, I’m more than ready to be out of her presence.

“Why are you doing this?” I try to look her in the eyes, but she’s focused on the horizon ahead.

“I told you on that goddamn soccer field, Anne.  You deserve this.  You will love it.”  She sighs, her anger slipping into apparent exhaustion with the silly human that I am.

“I don’t believe that.”

“You’re so damn stupid!” She shouts at me, finally turning her head to me, and bears her fangs.

“Take me home.” I repeat, firmly this time.  As terrified as I am, I refuse to look away.  Vampiric moodswings or not.

“I know just where to take you…”  She turns her attention back to the sky ahead, and we gain speed.

So much time passes with us locked in that intimate soaring embrace, I am almost tempted to broach the topic of home again when we descend.

It’s stifling, warm and sticky, even though the sun has barely risen.  I can tell by No Entry After Dark sign on the gate that we’re back in America.  The fence is ancient wrought-iron with ornate stone columns and a grand stone arch.  On the far side of it grows gothic oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.  The air itself smells green.

I’ve been here before, on a road trip with Tony when I was pregnant with the twins.

Georgia?

“You’ve taken me to Georgia?”

“More precisely, a cemetery in Savannah…”  She purrs, mightily proud of her choice.

“Because?”  I start walking down the gravelly path strewn with crunchy, fragrant leaves.

“I believe a funeral is about to start.”  She almost giggles, and flicks her head towards the fence.

She’s right.  Through the archway, I see a long procession of vehicles led by a gun-metal gray hearse.

She and I move, unobserved, to the shadow of one of those great oaks.  We watch as the family gathers around the canopied grave, as the pallbearers carry the ornate mahogany casket to its place, as the funeral director places the heart composed of white roses next to the coffin.  The heart is draped with one word, “MOM”.

I watch, for the second time on this adventure, moved to tears.

The priest says the final blessing, “O God, by whose mercy the souls of the faithful find rest; mercifully grant forgiveness of their sins to Thy servants and handmaids, and to all here and elsewhere who rest in Christ: that being freed from all sins, they may rejoice with Thee for evermore. Through the same our Lord.”

The mourners sniffle and sob and wipe their eyes with crumpled tissues in clenched fists.

The funeral director steps forward, murmuring words of comfort, and invitation to the wake at the home of the deceased.

A young man is the first to step towards the coffin.  Somehow I know he must be the dead woman’s son.  Shoulders trembling for only a moment, he shakes himself just once, a quick shiver of resolve.  Steadily he places a single white rose on the gleaming wood of the casket, just beginning to glow in the morning sun.  He pauses only briefly, and I can see his lips moving.  He is saying goodbye.

I watch him ignore the pitying smiles, brush away the comforting pats on his arms, and make his way back to  the limo.  I watch as he rolls the limo window down and stares back towards the canopy, unblinkingly, not wanting to waste a second’s view of his mother’s eternal resting place.

“Is this what you really want, Annie?  To put your children through this?”  Courtney whispers and takes my hand.

“Huh?”  I brush a single tear off my cheek, and finally look away from the boy.

“Do you want to hurt them like he’s hurting?”

I think about her meaning for a moment.  Briefly contemplate the bizarre idea of never growing old.  I picture myself as I am, walking down the boardwalk with my girls.  They are bent over with age, using canes, heads of whispy white.  I also consider that perhaps I could do for them what Courtney is offering for me.  Could I?  Should I?

I start to walk away from her then, although she follows silently behind.

I pass headstones plain, headstones ornate.  Angel statues, crosses, doves.  I read all the names, the dates.  Some of these graves have been here for centuries.  So many lifetimes.  So much history.

Then another question, another quandary percolates in my brain.

“Do you have a grave, Courtney?”

“Huh?”  It was her turn to be confused.

“A place your parents can visit, your cousins, Evan?”

“You know I have a grave.”  She answers curtly, and not really acknowledging my real question.

“I don’t mean some hole in the Earth where you lay dead.”  I turn on my heels to face her.  “Do you have a memorial place?  In a hundred years will there be a place that proves you were born, you lived, you died?”

“Um…”

“Didn’t think so.”

“Annie, what the hell?”  She’s getting frustrated, she knows I’ve made up my mind, and she doesn’t like the answer.

“Courtney, take me home?”

“What for?  So you can grow old and weak?  So you can die and moulder in some box for eternity?”

It was my turn to chuckle.

“You say I’ve learned nothing tonight, but I have.  Have you?  Have you been paying attention, at all?”

“Enlighten me.”  She snarks, and perches atop a large tombstone.

“I am gloriously alive.”

“Yeah.  For now.  Go on.”

“You don’t get it, ” I walk over to her, and take her hands in mine.  “I have all those memories of my twenties, going dancing with my girlfriends, flirting with strangers, kissing boys.  The angst, the thrill, the buzz, the chase.  I did that.  I’m done.”

“Whatever.” She whispers and goes to move away, but I squeeze her hands tighter, wish her to look at me.

“I am in love with my husband, with our family.  As mundane as the daily grind can be, nothing can replace the ecstasy of seeing my little girls light up the world.  No prima ballerina is more captivating.”

I see pink blood-tinged tears clouding those cobalt blue eyes, threatening to spill down her porcelain cheeks.

“I want to grow old and wrinkly and soft.  I want to have a plush lap for my grandbabies to crawl into.  I want to sing them lullabies and laugh when they ask me why I have age spots.”

“But…”  She hops off the stone.

“No, Courtney.  I want a long life, I want all the ups and downs, the aches and pains, the joy and sorrow.  I want there to literally be a marker that says, ‘Anne Lived.  Anne Died.’  I want the full package deal.”

“Are you certain?”  She puts her hands on my shoulders and searches my face.

“I am.  I deserve it.  I will love it.”

She charges at me in a flash, knocking the wind out of me, swooping me up to the sky.

Then blackness.

——————–

I wake to the usual sounds.

Tony snoring softly beside me.  Elise and June giggling quietly in their bedroom across the hall.

I roll over and reach on my nightstand for my cell phone.  I check the time.  8:26.

Wait.  How did I get back home?  What day is it?

I check my cell again.  Saturday.

But…

My shaky hand reaches to my neck, my quivering fingers brush the smooth warm skin there.

No bites.

I sneak out of the covers, careful not to jostle Tony.

I run to the bathroom, flick the light switch.  Just the normal dull glow of the lights, just the usual whispering whirr of the fan.

“Mooooommy!!!”  June bellows from her bed.

Peeking my head in their room, I whisper, “Yeah, baby?”

“Can we have waffles?”

I smile and bound over to her bed in one big step and swoop her up in my arms.  Elise bounces over and joins us on the bed.  I kiss them both on their sweet little heads.

“Sure, sunshine.”

We tiptoe downstairs for the day, and walk past my desk.  I am so relieved that it was all a dream that I almost don’t see it.

The single white rose.  A single drop of crimson on one perfect petal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shining Starlight

“Ballet?”  I ask, adjusting my vice-like grip on Courtney’s shoulders. She is flying me over the ocean, eastward towards the new day.

“Trust me.”  She answers, “Just relax and enjoy the stars.”

Since she dosed me with Petit-maitre, I’m finding this soaring through the sky thing to be less terrifying.   No reason I can’t try to enjoy this.  How often do I get flown across the world by a vampire that I thought was a fictional character of my own creation.  Wait, what?

I look up at the starry night and take a deep cleansing breath.  Relax, Anne…  I close my eyes and I can almost hear the music, feel his body next to mine.  I fiddle with my wedding rings and try to remember the exact color of Tony’s eyes.  They’re green, right?  But I can’t picture them.  All I can see are the crystal blue of the other man’s gaze.

I sigh heavily.

“Don’t beat yourself up about it, Annie.”  Courtney shouts at me over the wind.

“Huh?”

“Did you have fun at Cielo?”

“Yes.” I sigh.  I have to admit it.  That was the most fun I’d had in a long time.  The loose and luscious feeling in my limbs, the flash and pulse of the lights and music, the freedom.

“If you take what I’m offering you, Anne, you can have that.  Any night.  Every night.”

A tiny whisper of guilt tugs fleetingly at my heart. but then is gone.  Her offer is becoming more and more appealing.

Doing what I want, dancing all night, no stress, no responsibilities.  The rush of first kisses, new conquests, promises of adventure and romance.  Being powerful and eternal. How could I turn this down?

I smile, that tugging regret now gone, and I hold on tighter to my vampire.

I hum that last song and remember that dance.

I am feeling light, energetic, like an angel flying across the night.  I could do this.  Couldn’t I?  I mean…

Why not?

I am lost in thoughts of what could be when I feel that dropping fluttering sensation in my belly.  We are landing.  Back to Earth.

She settles me on the ground more gingerly this time, and I don’t even stumble.

“Where?”  I ask, taking in our surroundings.  It seems we are in some European suburban type town.  There is a school hall or something less than a block away.

“Never been good at geography…  Germany?  Gah, hell.  I don’t know Anne.  We’re going to the ballet.  That’s all you need to know.”

I start to argue with her about how she could know where to take me and not know where we are, when I see a family get out of a car and practically skip their way towards the hall.  I pay them no mind, barely noticing the two pink ruffles squealing past.

A mom, a dad, and two little girls in pink leotards and tutus.  Boring.  I thought we’d be seeing some metropolitan dance company.  What is this?  Where are we?

“Showtime.”  Courtney smiles and takes my hand.

Suddenly, I’m no longer in my club clothes, but instead in gray corduroys and a black cable knit sweater.  I’m grateful for the warmth, but  I immediately feel disappointment.

Couldn’t I just have another shot and then hit another club?  Or a concert maybe?

She leads me with preternatural speed into the hall and we settle into seats in the back row.  This is stupid.  I just want to get out of here and back to the fun.

“Court-”  I start to whisper as the lights go down and the stage curtains part.  A shy young woman comes out to the lone microphone.  She’s dressed in a black body suit and leg warmers and her hair is pulled back in a tight bun.  She announces something in a crisp Germanic language and nods politely at the ensuing applause.

She sweeps elegantly out of the spotlight and we hear the tiny patters of ballet slippers as 6 little girls appear in one straight line.  All of their eyes are on the young woman, presumably their instructor, just off stage.  The music is queued up and Delibes’ Ballet Suite from “Sylvia” tinkles through the air.

“C’mon… MOM…”  Courtney teases.  “Isn’t this much more your style?”

I almost protest, but then I notice one little ballerina wave a plump little hand towards the front row and giggle.  I see the backs of the heads of the parents that scooted past us outside.  The mom is wiping her eyes with one hand and waving back to her little one with the other.  The dad is holding up his smart phone to capture every step on video.

June and Elise just had their first recital a few weeks back.  I remember taping and watching their little show, misty-eyed, and hand-in-hand with Tony.

A smile spreads across my face and my vision quivers and fogs.  I miss my babies.

I am mesmerized by the halting and awkward plies and rand de jambes.  The rest of the auditorium is now in soft focus and I giggle and gasp at the adorable dancers, clutching my hands at my heart.

The song ends and I applaud and cheer along with the other parents and grandparents.  I’m wiping my eyes with the cuff of my sleeve and can feel the icy gaze of my vampire.

“What?”  I sniff, defensively.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Well, I mean, it’s sweet!”

She turns to walk out of the school, and I follow her, continuing my defense, “Even you have to admit they were darling…”

“Darling little bloodbags, yes…”  She sneers.

“COURTNEY!”  I grab her arm and stop her from stomping any further away.

“You haven’t learned a thing tonight, Annie.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  I search her face.  What exactly should I be learning, I wonder?

“It means we’re not done.”

And we’re off into the night again.

 

Dance of the Dark

I am terrified, ice-cold, and doing my best to breathe deeply and get my heart to slow down.  If not, it just might burst. I refuse to open my eyes, sure that I’ll plummet to the ground if I do so.  I am shaking, shivering, practically vibrating.

“Chill, Annie, chill.” Courtney whispers into my hair.  She is holding me tight like a child woken by a nightmare, cradling my head and stroking my hair, my face buried in that gentle slope of neck and shoulder.  I wrap my arms more tightly around her waist as we fly.

We have been soaring above the trees, the highways, the fields and towns for what seems like an hour.  Finally, Courtney carries me down back to the Earth.  I can sense the descent in the sinking of my gut, but also in the way the smells of a city invade my nostrils.  Dirty water dogs, soft pretzels, bus exhaust, sweat, and that hot, base, human smell from the subway.  New York.  We are in New York.

My eyes pop open and I break from Courtney’s embrace, nearly stumbling backwards on the sidewalk.  I am stunned.  How?

“I’m fast.  I know.”  She brushes her shoulders, shakes that glorious burgundy mane, and smiles proudly.

I shake my head, and resist the urge to ask a passerby to pinch me.  I must still be dreaming.  There is no need, however, because a big muscled Guido barrels past me, spinning me around, and yeah, I felt that.  I think I might have a bruise.  I look up and see the sign on the building before us.  Cielo.

“Um?”  I gesture to the sign, and raise my eyebrows at her.

“We’re going dancing!” Seeing a vampire giggle is off-putting to say the least.

“I’m in yoga pants and a hoodie.”

“No you’re not.” She grabs my hand and squeezes.  Suddenly my arms feel colder and, hold on, am I taller?

I look down at myself and the sneakers and running clothes are gone.  I’m dressed in a dark pair of jeans, flared slightly from the knee, 2 inch heeled black boots, and a sleek silver tank top with a deep scooped cowl neck.  Wait.  These are my clothes.  Well, they were anyway.  From the freaking 90s.  I don’t even own these anymore, nevertheless FIT in them.  What the…?

She takes my other hand as well, leans in close so we’re forehead to forehead and whispers, “Born witch. Made vampire.  Got skills.  Let’s dance.”

Courtney spins me around and gives me a once over. “I like the way you work it!”  She starts humming No Diggity.  I have to force myself not to hum along.  I am resolute.  I stifle my smile.  This is not the 90s.  This is barely reality.

“Court-”  I start.  This is great and all, but my mind is seriously fucked up.   My heightened senses are exhausting me.  I feel like I’m on drugs.  And I really feel like sleeping it off.

She winks and I sense some shift in gravity, some movement and suddenly we’re inside, and Courtney is pulling me through the crowd towards the bar.  The bartender’s gaze zeroes in on her, like a moth to a flame, and he shouts, “Hey Stranger… Usual?”  She nods and holds up two fingers, “Two!” She shouts back. “One with a twist!”

Within a minute, he’s handing her two shot glasses.  One, a caramel color, the other the color of wet rust.  She hands me the second shot and downs her own.

“It’ll make you feel good….”  She teases as I tentatively sniff my drink.  It smells of vanilla, orange, and something else…  I take a small sip. Yes.  Pennies.  “Bottoms up, bitch!” she takes the glass from me and goes to pour it in my mouth.  I take it from her and slug it down.  It’s sweet and rich and fills my mouth and throat with something more than warmth.

That thick velvet feeling spreads from my core to my arms and legs and soon my hands and feet feel luscious.  What’s more, I’m energized and calmed all at once.  My senses are smooth.  I feel fantastic.

“What was that?” I shout at the back of her head.  She’s pulling me now to the sunken dance floor of gleaming, shiny hardwood.  I am dazzled by the multitudes of disco balls of all sizes above us.  We’ve found a spot in the center, and Courtney begins to dance.  I can’t help myself.  I dance too.

“Petit-maitre”  She answers smugly.  She thinks I don’t know what that means.  It’s French for Little Master.  But, I know, it also means blood.  I find the idea that I’d quite possibly just ingested blood less disgusting than I’m comfortable admitting.  Whose blood?  The bartender’s?  Courtney’s?  Does it matter?  I feel better than I have in years.  Quite possible better than ever before.

The DJ blends the song into another and I find myself, eyes closed,  getting lost in the dance.

I smell his cologne seconds before I feel the warmth of his hand slipping gently onto my hip.  He smells of spice, of cloves.  I like it.  I slide my hand up his arm and rest it on the curve of his neck.  I pull him close, the soft hair on the back of his head tickles my fingertips.  I like this too.

I open my eyes and see.  It can’t be.  Crystal blue eyes framed with thick fringes of gold.  My eyes search his face.  It can’t be, but it is.  It’s him.  Those full lips part, smiling his habitual half-smile, and he licks one corner of his mouth.  I can’t stop myself.  I’m drawn to him like a magnet.  We kiss.  Soft and slow, deep and hot.  We are oblivious to the music, although we somehow keep moving along with its rhythm.  Rocking together as our mouths melt.

I break the kiss and hold him closer, tighter.  I rest my chin on his shoulder and take a deep, long, breath.  He breathes out.  I take in his scent,  his body heat fills me.  We just seem to fit, like I always knew we would.  I breathe out, he breathes in.  I move my left hand from his waist, up his side, curling my arm under his and resting my hand there on his shoulder.  My wedding rings sparkle in the twinkling disco ball light.

Tony.

Thud.  My heart drops to my stomach and I push him away.  He says not a word, but reluctantly lets me go, keeping a tender hold of my hand as I walk off, touching me until the last graze of fingertips.  We smile sadly, but without regret.  We know we’ll meet again.

I find Courtney dancing alone near the bar.

“Home. Now.”  I plead.

“Not a chance.  I’m taking you to the ballet…”  She purrs, and in a flash, we are off.

 

 

 

Dusk to Decide

“You sure you feel well enough for a walk tonight, Annie?”  Tony asks as I’m holding my breath to tie my horrendously smelly sneakers.  He is speaking normally, I remind myself, and I try to deal with his voice seeming so  loud that I can feel my hair vibrating.  “You’ve been sick on the couch most of the day.”

“I think the fresh air will do me some good, babe.”  I stop and give him a quick kiss, careful not to cringe at the fading garlic aroma on his breath from tonight’s dinner’s alfredo sauce.  I grit my teeth against the scrape of the wool and pull on my hooded cable knit sweater.  “Just make sure the twins get their allergy meds after their bath.  I’ll be back soon.”  I say, and I know I might be lying.

“You have your cell phone?” He shouted through the door I’d just locked behind me.  No need to be so loud there, dude.  But still, I shouted back that I did.

Okay, Courtney.  What now?  I skip down the front steps of my house and onto the sidewalk.  I feel freer and lighter than I have all day.

It begins.

After fitting my ear buds (which feel the size of wine corks) in my ear, I switch on my iPod to the lowest volume possible and laugh at the irony that the first song in the shuffle is Bullet With Butterfly Wings.  The world is a vampire…

Just as I reach my favorite part of my neighborhood walk, the cresting hill where Leslie Ave meets Edro, just as I’m admiring the last trace of pink in the twilight sky, she’s there.

Suddenly I’m weightless.  I feel her behind me, cold as stone and just as hard, her marble arm encircling my waist as she lifts us higher, faster and faster.  We are soaring above the trees, the wind roaring like jet planes in my ears, the cold biting into my skin like razors.

And just as quickly as we went up, we descend.  She lets me go and I tumble to the dry leaves covering the rec soccer field.   I’m engulfed in their crunchy, earthy aroma.  I get up to my feet and after my head stops swimming, I turn to face her.

“Why?” I ask breathlessly.  I take off my earphones and wrap the cord up before shoving it all in my pocket.

“What did you think was going to happen?”  She says snidely, dropping to the grass and sitting with her legs folded like a child at story time.

“You’re a dream.”  I stand, stubbornly before her and cross my arms.  I can be childish too.

“No.”

“Are you really-”

“A vampire?  Yes.  You know all about me, Annie.  You’re writing a goddamn book.”

I lower myself to the field next to her.

“I thought it was fiction.”

“I know you did.  I know.  Your fiction’s much better than my reality, let me tell ya.”  She lays back, rests her head on her folded arms, and sighs.

“How?”  I start pulling the grass out in handfuls, wiping the blades off my palms, pulling again.

“I dream-jacked you.”

“Pardon?”

“Its sorta this thing I do for fun.”  She’s star-gazing, talking to me like we were discussing casserole recipes.  “Hey, is that Venus?”  She points to a bright light in the indigo sky.  “I really should learn more about astrology.  Or is astronomy.  I always get those mixed up.”

“Astronomy.”  I answer and lay back to observe the heavens with my new undead BFF. “So…  dream-jacking?”

“Right.  I get bored.  It’s not like vampires sleep at night like the rest of the world.  So, I sometimes enter people’s dreams.  It’s like watching a movie that I can be a part of.”

“So, why me?”

She chuckles.  “I was in the neighborhood?”

“Listen, jackhole, you freakin drained most of my blood.  Something about me is changing.  I need answers.”  I sit up and turn to face her. “Serious ones.”

“Okay, settle down.”  She sits up and turns to me.  We are now sitting knee to knee in the middle of a soccer field.  This is surreal.  “I really just found you randomly, I swear.  But your dreams were different.  I liked how your mind worked.  I kept coming back.  Eventually you had a dream about writing a horror novel.  I started to play around with you, to show you.”

“So all of that, every word I’ve written, came from you?”

“Give yourself some credit, Anne.  You do have a way with words.”  She brushes a stray piece of grass off the knee of my sweatpants.  Even through the material, I can feel how icy is her touch.  I scoot back, suddenly feeling too close.

“Why did you bite me?”

“You deserve it.”

“Excuse me?  I deserve to be bled to death?”

She throws her head back in laughter, the rising moonlight sparkling on her crimson curls.

“Now who’s the jackhole, huh?”  She smiles at me, her cobalt eyes twinkling with amusement.  “You deserve this.”  She gestures to herself, to the night sky, to everything.  “The Gift.”

My heart thunks to my gut and back again.  Did she just offer me immortality?  Is this happening?  Maybe I’m having a stroke.  This cannot be real.

I stand up and start walking towards the wooden bleachers.  All I can see is the ground before me, all I hear is the churning of my belly, I am tormented by one thought.

She’s already sitting on the top row when I make it there.  Sneaky fast.  I sit on the bottom row.  I need space.

“Will I die?”

“Not unless you want to.  I am giving you a choice here.”

“If I choose to live, what will happen to me?”

“Your body is already working on making new blood, but I can take to to a nurse friend of mine for a transfusion to speed it up.  You’ll be good as new.”  Soundlessly, she’s next to me, on the opposite end of the row.  “Well, at least you will be once my venom- the reason your neck is still so pink and fresh where I bit you- fades in a few days.  Unless…”

“Unless?”

“Unless you choose to go the other way.”

“How does that work?  Will it hurt?”

She’s closer now, I can feel the cold radiating off her body.

“No.  The worst part was last night.  You passed out, so…”  She shakes her head in mock shame.

I laugh, “You scared the shit out of me Courtney.”

“Sorry.”  She literally wipes the smile off her face and shows her best imitation of contrition.

“What happens if I choose your way?”

“I’ll have to draw a little of your blood to get the circuit started, but then I’ll fill you with my blood.”

“Fucking gross.”

“Hey, don’t knock it.”  She shoulder-nudges me jokingly.  “Then we’ll go to the earth at dawn, and when we wake next dusk, you’ll be a vampire.”

“What about my family?”  I am staring at my hands, twirling my wedding rings.

“What about them?”  With her index finger, She turns my face so I can look at her.  Her eyes are so startlingly clear, so earnest. “You’ll always be able to protect them.”

“But what if I want to-”

“Eat them?”  Her hand drops from my chin.  She moves to kneel before me, and takes my hands in hers.

“Yes.”

“I won’t let you.”

“I don’t know.  I don’t…”  I let my words trail off, feeling the panic starting to rise.  My heart is beating so fast, I am sure I’m going to pass out.

“Ok.  Let me show you something.”  And quick as a flash, her arms are around me and we are up and away into the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the morning’s light

I wake to the usual sounds.

Tony snoring softly beside me.  Elise and June giggling quietly in their bedroom across the hall.

I roll over and reach on my nightstand for my cell phone.  I check the time.  8:26.  I’m still exhausted.

What time did I go to bed?  I can’t recall.

My head pounds as if I’m headed for a hang over.  But that can’t be.  Not after only one glass of wine-

Wine.

I sit straight up, my head swimming as my equilibrium shifts.  Her.

Her red hair, the smear of my blood on her pale lips.  The wicked gleam in those icy blue eyes.

That WAS a dream, right?

My shaky hand reaches to my neck, my quivering fingers brush the tender bruised, sticky skin there.

A scream sticks in my throat when I see the black-red stains on my fingertips.

Nausea gnashes through the pit of my stomach and I rush to the powder room, making it to the commode just in time.

“Mommy?”  Elise whines, worriedly.

I kick the door shut behind me between retches.

“One sec!” I manage to groan just before my stomach empties the last remnants of yesterday’s dinner.

I sink to the floor and lean against the wall between the sink and the toilet.

How is this possible?

I must still be dreaming.

“You okay, Mama?” June says tearfully, jiggling the doorknob.

Thank goodness I never got around to taking off those kiddie proof doorknob locks.

“Mommy’s okay, baby girl.  Just one more minute.  Go play with Sissy.”

“Okay…” she sniffles, still unsure, but walks away.

I sigh in relief and attempt to gather the strength to stand up.  Deep breaths, Anne, deep breaths.  In and out.

Gross.  The stench from the toilet fills my nostrils.  I reach up and flush.

Crap!  Was this flusher always so loud?  My ears buzz with the near-deafening churns and swirls, sucks and glugs.  It finally stops and I realize I’d had my hands clenched over my ears.

Wait…  I don’t hear the fan.  The fan always goes on with the lights.  Lights.  I…  I never turned on the switch.

How the fuck have I been able to see in a windowless room, in the dark??

I can see everything, even the spider web in the corner behind the trash bin.  The print on the Prevention magazine on the little shelf.  I can even read the directions on the can of Lysol.  All in the sliver of light coming in from under the door.

Fascinated, but frightened, I slowly stand and wait out the dizziness and the threat of more nausea.  Once the sickness subsides, I carefully turn and face the mirror that covers most of the wall.  I keep my eyes down, focused on my feet, on the old linoleum that is years past its replacement date.

If I see anything other than me and the shelf behind me, I don’t think my psyche can take it.  I’m not sure my mind hasn’t fractured already.

Here goes nothing.  I look up.

The shelf and the magazine and air freshener and…

Me.

I’m awfully pale, my eyes are puffy and bloodshot, my hair is atrocious, and my neck is smeared in blood.  But, it’s just me.

I reach for the towel to my left and turn on the faucet.  I quickly turn it lower because of the absurd volume of the water.  Even the sound of the slow trickle running down the drain is maddening.  I wet the towel and shut the damn thing off.

The terry cloth scrapes like sandpaper and reeks like mildew and fabric softener, but I need to get the blood off, so I do my best to ignore it.  After wiping, rinsing, wiping again, the bite is cleaned.  I turn on the light, finally, to examine it closer.

My eyes water and burn as the lights come on, bright as the noontime sun, and I screw them shut.  I work on ignoring the grinding whir of the fan, work on adjusting my retinas to the light shining pink and hot through my closed lids.  I focus, modulate, and slowly open my eyes.

I see that my skin seems even paler in the light, almost blue.  The area around the twin pinpricks is pink though, ironically healthier than the rest of me.  I probe there with my fingers, and they are also noticeably warmer.  Odd.  What happened?  What is happening?  What will happen?

I can hear the girls whispering in their rooms.  I know they are waiting for me.  I don’t have time for this existential crisis.

Besides, any answer I need can only come from Courtney.  Can only come after sunset.  I’ll wait.

She better fucking show up.

“Moooommmyyy!!!”  This time it’s Elise jiggling the doorknob.  It sounds like cogs and springs of a giant machine banging together.  This is going to be a long day.

“Here I come, babu!” I say and hope I got the volume right.  It’s like I’m an alien and this is my first day on Earth.  My mind is definitely fractured.

But what’s a Mommy to do?  There’s work to be done.

Fucking vampire bullshit.  I give my pitiful reflection a determined and fiery grin.  I got this.

I force pass the stench of old tissues and baby wipes in the trash bin as I bury the bloody hand towel under old refuse.

I’m going to have to get used to ignoring everything if I’m going to get through this day.

I check myself once more in the mirror.  I look retched, but I probably won’t scare the kids now.  The two tiny wounds can easily be explained away.

I flick off that infernal light and fan and open the powder room door.

“Who wants waffles?”

Bumps in the night

“Coming to bed soon, babe?”  He asks me, as he stands behind me at my desk.  His warm, warm hands caress my head, my neck, shoulders.  His strong fingers stroke the sides of my throat before he rests his palms on my shoulders.

“Ummm…”  I reply as I continue to type, to finish that one thought. I take my hands off the keyboard and place them over his.  Looking up and back at him, I smile, “Feels good, sweetie.”

“It’s supposed to.”  He smiles tiredly.  “See you upstairs?”

“After I finish this scene.  I’m in the thick of it now.”

He sighs.  “Sure, sure.  Not too late, okay?  It’s your turn to get up with the kids tomorrow.”

“I know, I know.  I’ll be up within the hour.”  I tilt my head up to his, and kiss him softly, “It’s your sleep-in Saturday.”

“Mmm-hmm…  Yeah, right.  Little Miss Writes-a-lot.  Goodnight.”  He gives me another quick peck on the lips and then heads upstairs.  “Make sure the doors are locked and the alarm is set…”  He calls down.

“Will do.”  I call up.

I listen until the creaks from the floor above go quiet, and I’m finally alone with my work.  The house is dark except for the glow of my screen, quiet except for the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.

Ten minutes later, twenty, thirty, maybe, I sit up straight, shake out my hands, and crack my knuckles.  Done for the night.

I sigh contentedly and click the save icon.  While the program shuts down, I’m stretching my back, and thinking longingly of my blanket and pillows waiting for me upstairs.

I see something, a flash of movement behind me reflected in the monitor screen.

My heart skips a beat.

I spin, jerkily, in my seat.

Nothing but the darkened kitchen behind me.

The window shade is open.  Must’ve been a bird or something outside.

Yeah, must’ve.  My heart resumes its normal rhythm.

I click on shut down, and gather up my cell phone and wine glass and head to the kitchen.

I hear the tink-tink-tink Tink tones of my PC going off.

Scrape, swoosh.

I turn on my heels back towards my desk.

Just the darkening computer and my usually messy menagerie of books, scraps of paper, phone chargers, and a couple of jar candles.

I pause for a beat before going to the sink to deposit my empty glass.  It catches the edge of a dirty spoon abandoned in the deep porcelain basin and tips over with a clank.

My whole body starts at the seemingly loud sound in my quiet, sleeping house.

I shake my head and smile.  This is what I get for trying to write a horror novel, I think to myself.  Still, I turn on every light on the way to the bathroom, feeling quite ridiculous nonetheless.

I continue to feel silly as I pull off my sweat pants and tee-shirt, toss them in the laundry basket, and pull my nightshirt from the hook on the door- all while avoiding looking in the mirror.  To test my bravery, I turn towards the bathroom vanity, and watch myself pull on my jammies in the mirror.  Reflection all normal, see?  Just me, the shower curtain, and the towel rack.

Scrape, shuffle, taptaptap.

The sound is coming from the other side of the closed door.

I go still, eyes locked on the door, but the sound doesn’t repeat.

I convince myself it was the wind outside or the house settling.  I take a few deep breaths, give my reflection a crooked smile, and continue my night time routine.

Teeth brushed and flossed, eyes slathered in wrinkle cream, and still rubbing the excess hand lotion on my dry elbows, I am walking towards the staircase, shutting off lights as I go.

Shuffle, scrape, shuffle.  Sigh.

I see its shadow cast across the floor, in the moonlight coming through the kitchen window.

I stop in the doorway.  Frozen in place.  One foot on the cold tile of the kitchen floor, one on the dining room carpet.  My eyes still adjusting in the dark, I still clearly see the shadow moving, a figure coming closer to where I stand.  I cannot lift my head up, I will not.

My skin has gone cold, tingly, alive and aware.  Danger.  I feel my heart pounding in my throat, hear it in my ears.  My mouth goes dry.  The shadow comes closer.  I have to look up, I know this, but I can’t move a muscle.  I am stone.

It’s so close now that all there is is shadow before me on the tiles.  So close that I should hear its breath, but I don’t.

“Look.”  She speaks.

I’ve begun to tremble, my entire self vibrating with tension.  With concentrated effort, I stiffly lift my head, my eyes meet hers.  Shocking blue.  Wine red hair.  Skin so pale, translucent.  The breath I didn’t even realize I was holding comes out in shaky puffs.

“You…”  I exhale and now my breath has quickened to shattering gasps.

“Me.”

A wide wicked smile parts her pale, full lips to reveal glistening fangs.

The last sensation I feel before darkness pulls me under is the burning,  piercing pricks on my throat.

The Day in the Secret Life of Martha Wittie

I’m standing in wings of the stage watching that man of mine and his band play the songs that make the whole stadium sway.  His feet are stomping in that crazy rhythm of his own, twist, turn, step, step, turn, twist…  “‘Cause we’re trippin’ billies…”

My love looks over to me, warm brown eyes gleaming, and smiles our secret smile.  He nods his head, and strums his red acoustic guitar.  His lips are nearly touching the mike, his words go out to the world, but his voice is all mine… 

“Mooooooommmmyyyyy!”  a voice beckons from the living room.  I turn off the water, grab the dish towel and halfway dry my hands before pausing my iPod.  I walk out of the kitchen in the direction of that voice. “Moooooom!”  it yells again.

“What?” I snap, instantly regretting my tone.  I throw the dishcloth over my shoulder and go to them.  My girls.  Dave Matthew’s real wife has twins too.  I wonder if they bellow for her every second of the day like mine do…

Jocy shakes her sippy cup at me, not taking her big green eyes off Doc McStuffins.

“More milk!”  She’s stuffing her mouth with a strawberry frosted Pop-tart with the other hand, and I smile at the trail of crumbs covering her sweet toddler face from plump cheeks to dimpled chin.

“More milk, please…”  I prompt, lovingly.  My little monkey.

Her twin sister shakes her cup at me too, “More milk, please, Mommy!”

I take Jocelyn’s cup, then Vivian’s.  “Sure thing Vivy.  I love you.”  I stoop over and give my other little monkey a kiss on her honey colored curls.

“Love you too, Mommy!”  Vivy replies, eyes still glued to the adventures of Lamby, Stuffy, and the Doc.

“Love you, Jocy.”  I pause before my last born babe and wait for her reply.  Nothing.

She sighs and leans over so she can see the TV around me. “More milk.”

I shake my head and head back to the kitchen to get their Royal Highnesses more milk.

I open the fridge and that’s when I hear the voice behind me.

“Your Majesty!” 

I turn and see the palace’s longtime, faithful, steward.  He is wearing a jet black velour robe over his pin-striped cotton pajamas.

“Oh Jeffrey, you’ve startled me!”  I pull the tie of my red silk kimono tighter and remember my posture.  This royalty thing is new to me.  All I wanted was a glass of milk.  Now there may be some sort of incident.  I smile nervously as I imagine the headlines, “Duchess of Disaster caught in midnight tryst in Buckingham kitchen!”

“No worries, M’am.” He takes the sippy cups from my hand and gestures to the stool pulled up to the kitchen island. “Could I make you a cup of tea?”

“That’d be just lovely, Jeffrey, thank you.”  I sit down and sigh.  It’s nice to be taken care of. 

In mere seconds, Jeffrey’s handing me a warm cup of Earl Grey.  I smile and close my eyes, inhaling the steamy scent as I cradle the teacup in both hands.  “Sit with me, Jeffrey…”  I pat the counter before the stool across from me, “It’s been forever since I’ve had a real conversation.”

Jeffrey smiles shyly and starts to sit down as the phone rings. 

“Sit, I’ll get it,” I smile back and walk over to the kitchen phone.  “Hello?”

“Mrs Wittie?” A concerned older woman asks.

“This is she.”

“Hello, this is Ms Collins, the nurse at Farmington Elementary…”

I get a tight feeling in my belly.  Jacob HAD told me he felt woozy before I chased him out the door to the bus stop this morning.  Christ, did I really send an actual sick kid to school?

“Hi.  Is Jacob okay?”  I start looking for my keys and my purse.

“He has quite a high fever, M’am.  102. Sore throat too.  Might be strep.  It’s been going around the fifth grade like wild-fire.”

“Great.” I mutter under my breath.  “I’ll be right there.  Thanks for the call, Ms Collins.”

Somehow the twins and I are out of the house, dressed, if you can believe it, in under 20 minutes.  Well, the girls are decently dressed.  I just put on a pair of yoga pants over my nightshirt and stepped into the first pair of flip-flops I could find.  I’m lucky I had the time to run a wet toothbrush through my coffee mouth.  My unwashed, uncombed hair is tucked unto one of Jacob’s Yankees caps.  In under 20 minutes more, the 4 of us are back in the minivan, navigating our way out of the school parking lot, on the way to the pediatrician, whom I called on the drive to school.

“Mooom…”  Jake croaks, “The twins are pinching each other!”

“Girls!”  I say between gritted teeth, rolling up the windows so that the afternoon kindergarten moms who are dropping off their little ones won’t hear.

“Sissy started it!”  Jocy whines.

“Nu-uh…  Vivy said I’m a doo doo face!”

I sigh and shake my head.  Doo doo face?  I mean, really.

Now that we’re out of earshot of the other moms, I roll the windows back down, turn on 90s on 9, and crank up the volume.

“She’s going the distance…  she’s going for speed… she’s all alone, all alone in her time of need…”  I remember this song.  Cake!  Nice.

I rest my left arm on the car door and lean over to feel the breeze in my face.

I hear the rumble of the Harley’s engine before I see it.  He pulls up beside me at the next light.

His chin length blond waves peek out of his black half-helmet.  He flashes me a sexy smile, lips full and kissable, his one gold tooth glinting in the early afternoon sun.

I smile back.

He raises his eyebrows and mouths,”Nice ride.”

“Thanks.  You too.” I mouth back. 

The light turns green and we both drive off to the next intersection just as that light turns red.  I check my lipstick in my red Corvette’s rear view mirror and take off my head band, shaking my luscious locks so they frame my porcelain face.

We meet at the next light, and he’s pulled his sunglasses off to reveal crystal blue eyes.  He winks at me and grins broadly.

“Going my way?” He shouts over the roar of the engine.

“Absolutely…”  I shout back, laughing and tossing my hair, seductively.  The light turns green and I follow him wherever he might lead.

“Mooom!”  Jacob’s croak is scratchier this time, “You missed the turn!”

“Wha?”  I watch the exit pass by and check the minivan’s dashboard clock to calculate just how late we’re going to be now, “Sorry, baby.  I was distracted.  Try to save your voice, mmkay?”

3 hours later, after the doctor’s appointment and trips to the pharmacy and Mc D’s drive through, we are finally home.

I get my poor little man set up in his bedroom with his new Avengers DVD and a lap desk full of his 20 piece nuggets and fries.  Boys his age have quite the appetite.  He’s growing like a weed.  Too fast.

“Open up, Jakey.”  I nudge and I squirt the pink, bubble gum flavored anti-biotic into his mouth.  I leave two chewable children’s ibuprofen next to his cup of Sprite.

“Take these after you eat, baby.”  I lean over to kiss his burning forehead and I run my hand through his soft brown curls.  My boy.  He smiles tiredly up at me, but I know he’s waiting for me to leave so he can press play.  He really loves Iron Man and The Hulk.  I shuffle sadly out of the room, leaving his door open just a crack in the off-chance he needs me.

I’m taking one last peek at my first-born then feel the hot breath on my neck.

He grabs a handful of my hair and spins me around to face him.  My old foe.  The cretin.  The evil Pirate Doom.  He’s come to take my son to his ship.  Not this time, buddy.  Find your cheap labor somewhere else.  He’s shoved me against the wall, his blade at my throat, dark determination in his coal-black eyes.

“You bastard!”  I spit in his pock-marked face.  I can smell the rank of stale, dried rum from his crusty gray beard. 

“Aye…lassie, that’s it…  Me likes a wench who struggles a bit…” 

“He’s MY child!  You’ll never take him.”  My attempts to break away prove futile.  With every movement, I feel the knife grating onto the tender flesh of my neck.

“His pa done lost all the chances the wee boy had left…  Has a hankerin’ for the card games, he does.”  He winks at me and presses his body closer,  grotesquely grinding against me, his legs on either side of mine as he pins me harder against the wall.

“Screw…”  I slowly shift my weight to my left foot and center myself for what comes next, “You…” And my right knee slams into Doom’s groin, sending him groaning back, hunched over his smashed precious gems.

I take advantage of his crouched stance to kick him square in the jaw.  He flies back towards the starboard rail and I turn tail and run to find my sword. 

I’m pulling it out of its red leather scabbard when Doom catches up with me.  I have one chance to swing at him, spinning on my boot heels, my long wool coat swirling out in slow motion.  My blade hits its mark and Doom crumbles to the deck, defeated for the last time.

“Martha?”  I hear my neighbors voice coming from the foyer downstairs.  “Where are ya, hon?”

“Penny?”  I call down, smoothing my rumpled clothes and shaking my head to clear my mind.  “I’ll be right down.”

Before I even make it all the way down, I can hear the tell-tale whimpering of Molly, our 8 month old golden retriever.

“Oh shoot, again?”  I say, making a silly, ‘my bad’ face at Penny as I take Molly’s leash from her.

“This is the third time this month, Marth…  Ya know I wouldn’t complain, but…” I don’t hear the rest of what Penny is obviously complaining about.  I pick up something about mums and her porch and yaddayaddayadda.   I’ve had enough crap today.

“We’ll repair the fence this weekend, I promise.”  I let Molly off her leash and her nails skid on the hardwood as she skedattles away.  Leading Penny out the door, I make more promises and excuses about ordering the right color wood and how my husband, Finn, will be finishing that bottom segment first thing Saturday and thanks again for wrangling our puppy and it won’t happen again and I will definitely buy her a new pot of mums…

I close the door behind Penny and lean against it, blowing an errant strand of hair from my face.  I hear a crash and more skittering puppy paws.

“Molly!  C’mere girl!  What have you gotten into now?”

…..

Finally, it’s 11:30.  Jocelyn and Vivian are all tucked in, stories have been read, two renditions of Doggy in the Window have been sung, and they are sound asleep.  Jacob’s fever has gone down and he fell asleep playing Skylanders.  Finn fell asleep on the couch while we were watching The Artist on Netflix.  I’d just finished my third glass of Cabernet, and now it was bedtime.

As I take my bedtime pee, I sit there thinking about the next Oscar-winning movie in our queue.  I wipe and pull up my pajama bottoms and then wash my hands, lost in thoughts of the Kodak Theater on Hollywood’s biggest night.

I grab my toothbrush, and begin my acceptance speech.

“Wow, um, gosh!”  I stammer, my heart beating out of my chest.  Holy crapballs is that George Clooney?  Anyway, “Yeah, wow.”  I take a deep breath and compose myself, keeping a vice-like grip on the golden statuette with one hand and steadying the other over the smooth red silk chiffon covering the butterflies in my stomach. 

“Well, I’d like to, of course, thank The Academy.  I’m just awestruck at even being nominated with such great talents!  Anne, Kate, Meryl, Marissa, you have been my heroes and inspirations, thank you for your brilliant bodies of work.”  I lick my drying lips, wish for a sip of champagne, and tuck a curl behind my diamond-adorned ear before I go on.

“I’d like to thank Stephen, of course, for writing and directing such a glorious role of a lifetime.  And the producers for their support of this project we loved so much!  The rest of my cast!  Oh, wow!  Joaquin, my partner, my guiding light in this film.  Thank you.  You are amazing!”

Joaquin smiles that awkward half smile I find so very endearing.  How I loved our work together!  I begin to tear up.

“And finally, I want to thank my parents for their unconditional support.  My husband Finnian for his undying love and patience and for picking up the slack at home while I work.  And my kids, Jocy, Vivy, and Jake…  Thanks for sharing Mommy with the movies.  I got a prize, guys!  Now go to bed…”

The music is just starting to play me off when the bathroom door opens and Finn appears, sleepily rubbing his eyes.

“Babe?” He mumbles and shuffles over to me by the sink.  He puts his arms around me, looks at our reflections in the mirror.  He kisses my bare shoulder.

“Hey, babe.  I thought you were asleep?”  I turn to face him, and nuzzle my face into his stubbly jawline.  I take a big deep breath of the smell of him.

“Not anymore.”  He pulls away and looks at me, raising an eyebrow, questioningly.

“Funkytown?”  I guess, referencing one of our favorite TV shows, and meaning, well…

“Awww, yeah.” Finn smiles and pulls me with him to bed.