All these stories were written LIVE by J. R. Nichols in fifteen minutes or less, and were read on the air and published here without editing.
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Today’s Prompt: A Holiday Surprise
In spite of the fact that Millicent’s favorite pair of jeans were in the laundry, she knew it was going to be a remarkable day. It was, after all, the day that she was going to become a big sister.
Her particularly favorite Levi’s being made unavailable to her, she wondered what she was going to wear.
“I don’t know the baby’s favorite color,” she considered, “so I will wear mine.” Her blue velvet dress with the puffy sleeves trimmed with lace would fit the bill, she decided, and selected a pair of maryjanes and white frilly socks to complete the outfit.
“Daddy, will you put this in my hair, please?” she said, extending a brush and an enormous navy blue bow in the direction of her father, who was working hard to wrangle Millie’s little brother, JJ, into a pair of toughskins.
“Yes, sweetheart, but you’ll have to give ma a minute. Ow!” JJ had managed to pull the fly up on his own and, in a moment of exuberant celebration, had thrown his head back and connected squarely with Millie’s father’s nose.
Millie wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what her father would say next, so she scampered from the room, worried that she wouldn’t be able to catch Daddy’s attention again before it was time to head over to the hospital to see Mom – and the new baby.
A new baby.
She hadn’t allowed herself to say the word aloud, yet. It still seemed somehow like a phrase that did not belong to her, like it was someone else’s dress she was trying to put on.
Lots of grown ups had tried to make her try that outfit on already, asking her, “how do you feel,” and things like that, whenever they talked to Mom about the baby in front of her.
She wondered, what was she supposed to feel? What would it mean to have a sister? She could not know, only that it would be different than having JJ – which was alright enough, and hopefully, just as good as having him around was, for the most part.
“Need a hand?” Her Father’s face appeared over her head in the mirror and she grinned with relief. She watched as Daddy carefully picked through the tangles and knew that she would have to tell her sister he was the preferred parent for that job – Mom was the type to brush right through those tangles and encourage you to ‘be tough about it.’
His face had never been so red. Mel wondered crazily if she should open a window. She twisted her left ankle, her foot slipping sloppily out the side of her pump. Jack’s own anxious and jittery movements weren’t helping, either.
“I want to know,” Merriweather raged on. “And, ALL I want to know, is who – what human being, I mean – was unfortunate enough to be born with the burden of bearing my wrath for this calamity?”
She found it impossible to swallow – much less open her mouth to inform the boss that it had been his very own pride and joy – his beloved son – who had caused the mishap.
Just as Mel was questioning for the millionth time her decision to get on that bus out of Otisville, Jack stepped forwar and slammed his fists to his sides. “I did it,” he said, taking a step forward and slamming his fists to his sides. Mel’s mouth fell open.
“You?” Merriweather seemed incapable of saying another word. His face went the color of pastry dough so quickly, Mel again thought about taking impulsive action, this time reaching across the desk to slap her boss.
He was in shock, after all – here was his right hand man, the confidant to end all confidants, admitting a mistake so colossal, it was in danger of ending the company.
“Get out,” Merriweather said to Mel, in a voice low and sinister. She slipped her foot hurriedly back into her shoe and scuttled toward the door. As it closed behind her she sighed against it, then pressed her hand to it and whispered a prayer for Jack.
It would be so much better for him if Mr. Merriweather started yelling again.
Today’s Prompt: “The icy chill that ran up her back wasn’t just from the wind.”
The wind sweeping across the river made the city lights dance. Veronica leaned a bit further over the edge and took a satisfying peek at the bridge – only visible on clear bright nights, such as this one.
This was it – the view she had worked so hard to earn.
She shivered, but the icy chill that ran up her back wasn’t just from the wind; an emaciated claw, cold as porcelain had been perched above the swell of her left hip.
“You are enchanting,” he had sidled up beside her while she’d been distracted by the view. She turned now to face those watery grey eyes – so familiar – sunken within this caricature of the face she’d grown first to love and then to despise.
His skeletal form pressed against her and she shuddered, moving away to hide her disgust.
“You’re cold,” he said, and made as if to remove his jacket.
“No,” she protested, “I was heading in, anyway. You should come.”
He looked at her for a long moment.
She wasn’t expecting an, “I love you,” or even an, “I’m sorry,” but there were so many things he could have said.
Instead, the silence that stretched between them was all the permission she needed to let him go – for good.
She turned and went inside, alone.
Today’s Prompt: She was so thankful that…
“I got here as soon as I could,” Darrel said, rubbing his hands together adn leaning down to kiss the top of her head. “Had to take it easy on 69 – black ice is bad today.” He huffed warm breath between his steepled fingers, but it did little to ease the ache of his freezing bones.
“You ain’t tellin’ me nothin’,” she said, grinning and gesturing broadly at her current situation.
Darrel grimaced. “They treating you alright, at least?”
“When it comes down to it, I’ve really got nothing to complain about.”
“Really?” Darrel lifted a brow in the direction of the IV pole and then looked pointedly at the untouched tray of hospital food. “I think I could get you off to a pretty good start.”
“That’s because you’re nothing but an old fuddy-duddy.” She smiled, and warmth suddenly flooded Darrel’s chest, as if that smile were stirring up some long buried embers there. He’d felt that sensation many times since Daisy had come to stay with him – the first time being mistaken for a case of indigestion – and found it remedied many an ailment, including the anxiety he’d felt from the moment he’d received the news that there had been an accident.
“The car’s totaled,” she said, biting her lip. “Sorry.” In an instant, Darrel was 32 again, and his Sarah was still at home, and she was looking up at him from her spot on her pound puppy bedspread wearing frilly pink strawberry shortcake pajamas and telling him how very sorry she was she had done some nonsensical thing or another, and he was trying very, very hard to stay angry.
Why fight it? His now much older and much, much wiser mind advised.
“I have already been to see the car.” He said. This somehow seemed to miss the mark of an intimate and loving grandfatherly encounter, so he cleared his throat and added, “so long as you and the baby’s okay, I reckon that’s all that matters.”
“You mean, you ain’t mad?” Daisy had her mother’s eyes, that was certain, as Darrel saw that same look of gratified relief flood into them as he’d seen on that night so many long years ago.
“I ain’t mad.”
The girl’s eyes filled with tears and Darrel’s heart sank in dismay. “Now what you want to go and start cryin’ for?”
Today’s Prompt: The stage was set for a perfect event
Every detail had been thought of, Gregory saw, as he fingered the lilac ribbon that fell so elegantly against the smooth polished mahogany.
Only the best for you, Marjorie, he whispered. He moved on to the posterboard displays – quite out of fashion in this digital age, but the Oldest of the three daughters had insisted – saying her displays for each of her children’s graduation parties had always been the talk of each event.
The digital homage was there as well, digital images of the same ones Gregory had just walked past zoomed at him from distant scenes of pastures or seascapes as “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “I’ll fly away” played continually on a loop.
Gary stood quite near the vast array of greens and succulents that had been sent and waited. He knew if he stood there long enough a relative of Marjories – a second cousin in from out of town, for example, would make conversation and he would be well on his way of getting an introduction to someone of real importance.
“Is this a ficus?” Gregory turned to see a wide-eyed brunette in a dress too short for mourning but long enough to at least be called a dress, and at least in a dark color and worn over a pair of black and white striped leggings.
“I don’t know what a ficus is,” answered Gregory. He stuck with honesty as often as possible – it was safer that way.
“I’m Janine,” the girl said, shoving a flat palm toward him.
Gregory, who hung around a decidedly more comfortable-with-fist-bumping sort of crowd nevertheless took the fingers and squeezed them lightly.
“Gregory. Nice to meet you.”
“I’d never believe it based on that handshake, Gregory,” she winked, “if that is, indeed, your real name.”
“Why wouldn’t that be my real name?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I say stuff like that sometimes. Especially at events like this. They’re so boring.”
“I take it you didn’t know the decedent?”
“Marjory?” The girl huffed and waved a hand. “Course I knew her. Me and her was like this.” she held up two crossed fingers. “Too bad the old bat had to bite it when she did. I was just getting used to hanging with her on wednesdays for bingo and stickybuns.”
“You don’t have to be sarcastic. I mean, you’re at the woman’s service, I simply expected you to know her.”
“Why? I mean, it’s obvious that you never did.”
“How? I mean, it is?” Gregory flushed at having given himself away so easily. “So, never mind me. What’s your angle? … don’t think for one minute I’m going to believe some story about plant history or species or studies or something.”
“That’s good,” the girl said, tapping her chin, “I’m going to remember that for next time.”
“So, if it wasn’t the plant angle, what was your next move?” Gregory followed the girl to an abandoned row of seats near the back of the room and slid into one next to her.
Today’s Prompt: “A road trip was just the thing for me and my friends.”
“A road trip was just the thing for me and my friends,” the story began. Kathy sighed and let the novel fall to her lap. Nothing seemed to hold her interest anymore – not even the latest installment of “Molly Miggleston, girl detective.”
“What’s the matter, angel?” Her dad asked, catching her eye in the rearview. Kathy sighed again and looked up at the white brick facade of the Haus of Hair, a kitschy little salon in the heart of (town name) her mother insisted on patronizing, even though Kathy had looked up several times on line how to do the highlights her mother always spent hours acquiring from the psuedo-germans inside the Haus of hair.
“You want a bubble tea?” Her father asked now. Kathy squirmed in her seat and shook her head. She intentionally did not look up, could not meet the eyes in the rearview mirror as she knew they would appear – worry lines around them, glistening with concern.
“I don’t want anything,” she wanted to scream. “I want to be left alone.” but how could she make him understand? He was trying to be kind, after all – it was a warm day and bubble tea was one of her favorite treats, but this was a dark day, and Daddy didn’t understand the dark days.
“Daddy, I’m fine,” she said, in the practiced way she had learned to get the concerned eyes to look at something else. It worked, and Daddy’s eyes flicked back down, likely to the phone he kept in his lap.
“Well, that’s good. Dr. Cartwright tells me things have been better.”
“What else did Dr. Cartwright tell you?” The words were out before she could stop them. She spotted her mistake right away, when she saw the momentary lightning flash in those shining eyes. “I’m sorry,” she added, almost immediately, but it wasn’t soon enough. The lecture began.
“Dr. Cartwright is only trying to help…”
As her father droned on about appreciation and obligation, Kathy opened her book and stared at the pages. This was a trick she had learned when she was quite young. First, she stared at a capital letter “S” on the page and tried to remember the last time she had seen a snake – at the zoo, not-impressive. Then, she set to re-arranging all the letters in the word, “ Miggleston,” into other words, altogether (Is iggle a word? She silently wondered).
As she’d hoped, her father’s impotent railing faded away and eventually stopped – he’s finally gotten a text from her to distract him – she thought, bitterly, and closed her book again, her eyes returning to the white brick facade, her mind an absolute blank.
Today’s Prompt: What if someone who can’t forgive needs forgiveness?
Here he was, in the waiting area of Cantonese House, for the last time it seemed. There was no reason to come back to
this side of town, except for special dinners on occasions like this, and Tommy had no desire to ever endure another occasion like this one.
He’d really blown it this time – and the scene needed to be set just right.
What did she expect, though, he mused, traveling as much as she did for business, leaving him to fend for himself. There was no one there to greet him when he got home, the kids having left for college and all the dogs having long since gone to their eternal resting spots in the backyard. There wasn’t even the happy chatter of a canary available to keep him company.
Tommy brought his mind back to the restaurant and noticed for the first time the hostess was just a bit taller than his own daughter. He got up and meandered over to the corner of a room near the hostess stand where a fish performed idle circles in a dirty tank as the children waiting for tables distracted themselves tapping by on the glass. It was a thinly veiled attempt to get a better look at the girl in a non-creepy way – she just reminded him of his daughter, is all. Millie had reached five seven and a half the last time he’d measured, and then had stopped asking – volleyball and debate club friends having long since replaced any curiosity about whether or not she had “finally caught up to Daddy.”
“Some day she’ll be sorry she’s not around to hear my good advice,” Tommy whispered to the fish.
“Burke, party of two,” the hostess said. Tommy walked to their table with his head held high, the same way he’d done on the evening of their proposal. As he passed the same sea of anonymous faces, all of course turning in his direction to see the handsome and obviously very important man who had just entered the room he remembered the ridiculous sensation, so many years ago, of the the ring literally vibrating as though it were desirous itself to leap from its hiding place in his jacket pocket and onto Toni’s finger. He’d wanted so badly to capture her, he realized now.
“But she’s not a woman you can keep, not that way, at least,” he mused, as the waiter blathered on about the specials. Tommy allowed himself to be talked into a decent red and then glanced over at a fidgeting sap in a suitcoat that obviously belonged to his father, working desperately to impress a young girl in a cheap dress who looked astonished at even being able to afford to go to a place as fancy as Cantonese House.
“That’s what I should have done,” Tommy mused, “found myself a girl willing to accept this as fancy.” He chuckled and bit into one of the crispy breadsticks the restaurant offered, decoratively placed in tall glass vases in the center of every table. He munched it in haste, taking big greedy bites.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to put this together,” I agreed, glad nothing more was required of me, as I sat happily assembling the Lego dollhouse I’d purchased for the girls.
“Well, this is ridiculous and unnecessary,” he grouses.
You were the one who insisted JJ would want a unicycle,” I say, sorting through the tray for another white one-by.
“At least my gift is for him,” Jerry says, and I remove and set down my readers.
“What, exactly, is that supposed to mean?”
“It means, you don’t seem to be ‘struggling’ so much to get your gift put together. I don’t even remember seeing “dollhouse” on the girls’ list, much less, “lego dollhouse,” though I do seem to remember your childhood tales of folding down the corner of every page featuring the lego building kit back when your Mom still got the Sears Roebuck.”
“Look, just because you drew the short straw and had to deal with JJ’s gift this year-”
“We did not draw straws.”
“We’ll, you’re the man, you should be the one to buy the boy’s gifts.”
“But you’re the one who actually shares his interests! You should be the one buying for him.”
“Jerry, if I got him a lego kit, he’d want to put it together himself.”
“Wait, what are we even arguing about?” I say, after a diffusing moment behind my glass of iced tea.
“I’m just frustrated,” Jerry says, and I have to cover my laugh with another sip of tea. My poor husband is ankle deep in chrome and rubber and gaskets and bing crosby is ridiculously singing “silver bells” in the background.
“What’s so funny,” Jerry asks, noticing my laugh, after all, I guess.
“Nothing. I say. I stand and move to where he is and slip my arms around his waist. I lay my head on his chest. “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole comes on and we stand quietly for a moment. I am glad to hear Jerry’s heart settle into a gentle rhythm alongside the music.
I am enveloped in the love and light so celebrated during this season of hope, and think about our many blessings and trials since the last time we were in this room together, doing this very thing. I become overwhelmed with love.
Just as I’m beginning to wonder if things might turn romantic, the disc jockey picks that moment to spin “Dominic the Donkey.” Jerry of course starts moving his knee in a bobbing motion along to the song, and I know exactly what needs to happen.
“He-haw, he-haw”, I sing along, and jerry starts galloping around the room as thought riding a horse.
Laughing, I pick up an allen-wrench and retrieve the directions.
“Now, let’s see if we can tackle this together.
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