Love Hurts

John Parker stepped into his pants, glanced back at the woman sleeping in the bed he had just vacated. And the guilt hit him. Why did he do it? Why did he have to nail some bimbo he’d just met when he had a beautiful, willing wife at home?

He almost always questioned his actions after the fact. But never before. When he met a pretty young thing, every thought in his head was crowded out by the one imperative: get her in the sack. And since he fit all the prerequisites—tall, dark, handsome, successful—most A-list women had tucked away in their minds when eyeing a potential hookup, he seldom struck out. It was just so damn easy.

He left three hundred bucks—cab fare plus a little something extra—on the bedside table, and after looking around to see if he’d left anything behind, slipped quietly out the door. He hated goodbyes, some more than others. That’s how he’d ended up married to Liv: he couldn’t tell her goodbye.

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Raising Cain

The sun is just peeking over the horizon when I tell Maryanne it’s time.

She gives a quick nod of her head before taking a sip of coffee. “I know…gotta get the taters in that ground tomorrow.”

“It’s gonna be a good day for it,” I add. “Weatherman says it’s gonna be in the seventies with sun all day.” I head for the back door.

“I’ll be out soon as I finish my coffee,” Maryanne says.

I stop by the shed and get the shovel before heading to the garden. I’d just been digging a couple of minutes when Maryanne joins me. She’s carrying the hand spade for the fine work.

I dig down about a foot—that’s as far as I’d best go with the shovel—and lay it aside. Me and Maryanne drop to our knees and start digging more, me with my bare hands (I ain’t got a light touch with tools) and her with the little spade. And soon I feel something, push my fingers in a little more. “There he is,” I say.

Maryanne tosses her little spade a row over, and now we’re both using our hands. I hear her muttering under her breath, prayers, I reckon, ‘cause I hear “Lord” and “God” sprinkled in amongst her other fervorish words.

By the time we get him uncovered, Maryanne is laughing and crying at the same time. She tenderly brushes the dirt from around the closed eyes of our only child, Cain. “Ain’t rotted much, has he Tom?” she asks.

I work Cain’s shoulders free. “Don’t look like it.”

“That’s good,” she says. “Real good.”

“You want me to do it?”

“No, let me.” She begins working her arms under our boy’s body. “He’s so little, I can manage just fine.”

And she’s right. Cain was just three when he died last August. The hardest part of all this was getting him planted in dirt that hadn’t seen rain in pretnear a month.

When she has both arms under him, I take Cain’s hands and cross them over his chest and steady my wife as she rises to her feet.

“I’ll put him over there by the tulips,” Maryanne says. “Aunt Hassie said to make sure he got sun all day long, and a’fore dark, he’ll come back to us.”

I have no doubt the old witch is right, and tonight, Cain’ll be tearing through the house like he hadn’t spent the last seven months in the garden. After all, I seen it happen a’fore—with Maryanne. She’d died birthing Cain. And I’d planted her in the garden like Aunt Hassie had told me to, and come spring, I’d dug her up and laid her in the sun.

©️2023 jai

Image by Duccio Pasquinucci from Pixabay

He Said, She Said

He slid onto the bar stool beside her and flashed his most engaging grin, knowing the effect it had on women. Dazzling white teeth coupled with a tanned, handsome—but not too handsome—face, tall, muscular-but-lean body clothed in a perfectly-fitting Armani suit as black as sin, he was every woman’s dream.

She said, “Don’t get too close.”

He said, “Why…you don’t bite, do you?”

She sipped the strawberry daiquiri he’d had the waitress bring her. “I might.” Her cool, gray eyes met his over the rim of the glass, laughter dancing inside storm clouds. She licked her full, red lips.

“And I just might like it.” He bent his head and moved in close, letting her catch a hint of his expensive, musky aftershave.

She leaned away and their eyes made contact again. Swirls of darkness ebbed and flowed inside the gray. He’d never seen eyes like hers; they excited him even though no cuts, bruises, or blood marred her body.

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You Want More

People are looking at me funny, especially the ladies at the registers, ’cause I come here nearly every day. But I can only buy what I can carry home. Mama can’t come and we need food, and if anyone finds out Mama can’t come, me and Lizzy and Josh will have to go to one of those foster homes. And they ain’t good places to be.

I know ’cause I was put in one last year. Lizzy and Josh was put in them too.

My third-grade teacher, Miss Fincher, had seen my busted lip and had called someone and they’d picked me up at school and taken me to this place where a woman in white had looked at me all over, my privates too. I hadn’t liked that one bit. Then she’d told a big woman with red hair that I had been “physically abused.”

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Eye of the Beholder

Cassie drifted up and down aisles stocked with mess kits, ammunition boxes, helmets, and such inside Big Mike’s Army Surplus, waiting for the few customers to finish their shopping and leave. Then she’d make her purchase.

Dark head bent, she browsed the racks of clothing that bristled brown and green and beige. She pulled out a camo jacket and checked its size, fingered a faded black tee. She examined a row of scuffed boots that lined the back wall, looking for a pair in her size. No luck.

She wandered on.

At last, the door dinged behind the last customer. Cassie approached the counter and peered down into the glass case. There it was—her salvation.

“What’cha eyeballing, Cassie?” She glanced up at Big Mike. He grinned around the unlit cigar clamped between his teeth.

“Um…I was just wondering…what does that cost?”

Mike’s gaze followed her pointed finger. His brow furrowed. “That thing?” He gestured at the slim, wooden case that lay open beneath the glass, exposing its shiny insides.

“Yeah. How much you want for it?”

Mike scratched his ample stomach. “Now what in hell would a pretty young thing like you want with that?”

Cassie had known Mike for years. He knew things about her no one else in the entire world knew, including her mother—most especially, her mother—but this was none of his business.

She pulled a wad of cash from the front pocket of her baggy, black jeans and plopped the crumpled mess onto the counter. She dipped her head, a fall of purplish-black hair curtaining her face. “I just want it, that’s all.”

Shaking his shaved head, Mike picked up the cash. “Kids these days, spoiled rotten. Think they gotta have everything they want.” He smiled at Cassie, reached out and ruffled her hair as if she were six, not sixteen. Then he began to count.

Cassie’s hand came up to her mouth. She chewed on a blood-crusted thumbnail.

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