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The following is the story I submitted for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition, round 1.  I haven’t posted it thus far, mostly because I’ve been sorely disappointed in it.  I wrote this within 24 hours while in the midst of a pretty serious life crisis, that of losing my father.  I couldn’t get my head around the prompts, and I couldn’t access anything inside me that wasn’t trite.

Anyway, here is my offering.

Prompts

Genre: Drama
Setting: A marathon finish line
Object: A box of chocolate

****

Tapering

 All I own are the strides I spend to the finish line, and I’ll give you those.

–Neko Case

Christine and I left Huntington Beach for the East coast work ethic and corporate culture shortly after my graduation. Christine was accepted to the grad program at Tufts. Boston was great during the summer, if a little muggy by comparison. The locals seemed manic in their attempts to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of the sunshine and the outdoors. They simply shook their heads knowingly at us when we begged off to sleep in or lounge at home.

Southern Californians are major wimps. Once removed from our sunshine and our moderate temperatures, our coping mechanisms crumble. Even Northern Californians with their chillier winters and regular rainfall mock us for this weakness. Boston’s winter brought us up short. Suddenly, beach fleece was not sufficient to warm us. We discovered why people wear boots, and that scarves are not about fashion, but necessity. It was too cold to breathe. Christine, usually the first up to play volleyball or to surf, was practically scratching at herself from inside her skin at the forced inactivity. Exercise was indoors, or it was the ceaseless shoveling of the snowy path.

That first winter, she curled into a despondent ball and fell into herself.

***

“I’ve signed up for the Tufts running club”, she told me one snowed-in afternoon. I was perfectly content under the blankets, wrapped around her in bed.

“You’ve never run a day in your life.”

“No, but I’m relatively fit. I’ve downloaded a couch to 5k app to use until I get good enough to run with the club.”

“You’ll run in this?” I gestured out the window at the snow piled up on the sidewalk, streaked with black and gray from dirty roads and snowplows.

“Mark leads the group. He’ll teach me. I’ll buy the clothes and shoes to do it right.”

So it began. I lost her that winter to week after week of training. I began to hear phrases I’d never heard before. Building and tapering. Hydration stations. Kick and Flex. Carb Loading. Christmas became a time for gifting more running gear: Cool-Tec hoodies, moisture wicking thermal fleece, performance and compression socks. Also, all the way from Christine’s mom in Southern California, a box of See’s Chocolates.

“Are you going to carb load with chocolate for the marathon?”

“No. It’s going to be my reward. 26.2 miles earns me as much of the best chocolate in the world as I want.”

Running eased the ache of cold for her. She’d return from a training run, sweat glistening on her forehead, tickling the hollow of her throat and rolling over her collarbones. Her muscles, previously lean from water sports, became more firm. The striations of intense exercise marked her thighs. She’d touch the box of chocolate, running her fingertips over the raised lettering on the white box. It was as if she were touching a bit of home; the memory of sun on her skin and licking melting chocolate off of her fingers.

“I never see you anymore.” I complained. “It’s work, study, or running. You spend more time with Mark and the running club than with me.”

“That’s not true! You get me every evening. Besides, you could join us, you know.”

“No, thanks. I’ve seen the results of snot freezing while it’s still in your nose.”

***

Christine crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon a few months later. I met her there holding the open box of chocolate. Immediately, she reached for her favorite: molasses chip. The candy touched her tongue and her eyes closed in glorious bliss. The spring sun lit her face, and when I closed my own eyes, her glow was still there.

This began her tradition; two more Christmases, two more boxes of See’s Chocolate, two more marathons with the sweet reward at the end. Two more years until the leukemia came, and the striations in her thighs slowly turned concave. The last bit of chocolate I held to her lips was at the end of a different finish line.

The clock stopped for me. Winter was endless.

***

Christmas came, and with it one pound of chocolate from Christine’s mom. The snow once again piled in dark masses on the sidewalks outside. In the lonely apartment, the white rectangular reminder was luminous. I ran my fingertips over the dark brown embossed script, just as she used to do.

The silver back of her iPod beckoned to me. I picked it up, but my breath caught in my throat and I was still for several minutes. Eventually, I swiped my thumb across. On the first screen was the Couch to 5k app. I opened it, and stared at the weekly summaries, her running journal. Our journey.

I’m not sure how long I sat there, but when I shook myself out of my daze, I picked up the phone.

“Hey, Mark. I was thinking…”

***

I crossed the finish line, having lost every ounce of breath I had somewhere along the trail. The number pinned to the front of my shirt was crumpled and damp, and the dedication pin on my back said ‘Christine’ in streaky red ink. Amid the crowd of well-wishers and cheering supporters, I somehow managed to find Mark. He approached me, an open box of See’s Chocolate in his hands.

I reached for my favorite, the lemon cream. Biting into it felt right, like experiencing heaven drip directly onto my tongue.

“I’m glad I did this.” I said to him as we walked toward the car.

“You should be proud, Dan. She would have been, too.”

“Not really,” I smiled wistfully, then laughed outright. “She would have pointed out that it’s only a 10k.”

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I made it into the final round of NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge.  I was very happy to do so, as many very worthy writers and stories did not make it this far.  I may have panicked a bit, to be honest, as it is my first time in this competition and I definitely did not feel practiced or good enough to make it this far.  However, I determined to give it my best go.

The final round is a 24 hour deadline, based on three random prompts.  The prompts for this round were:

Genre: Open
Character: A fisherman
subject: Jealousy

From that, this is the story I came up with.  I hope you like it.

***

The Loaves and the Fish

During a time of grief, loneliness, and regret, Camille gives up a life of abundance to join a Community that cares for her.

*

 

 

The interview room was warm and inviting.  Soft, deep cushions adorned the two large sofas.  A round wooden table with four chairs stood in one corner.  The walls, soothing greys and blues, held landscapes signed by a serene, if inscrutable, hand. Camille sat at the table, waiting for her questioning to begin.

 

“Tell me about yourself, Camille.” Martin tucked himself into the chair opposite Camille at the table, folding his hands properly in front of him.  His navy suit was tailored and subtle.   Gold cuff links in the shapes of crosses held the French cuffs of his crisp white shirt snug, and he wore a simple gold band on his left ring finger.  Camille gazed at these trappings briefly, then blinked and looked away.

 

“I grew up here, but moved to the city for college.” She paused, but Martin cleared his throat impatiently.  “I only moved back to Albany eight months ago. I…came back for a funeral.”

*

The casket was halfway lowered to its final resting place when Camille stepped to the edge.  Onto the casket, she dropped not flowers, but brightly colored, shining bass-fishing lures.  A little blue fish with a triple hook at its head, a rubbery frog with two legs that flopped and made a faint thud as it hit the highly polished wood, an imitation water plant that looked like a wig for a miniature Cousin It.  That one was the one that made her cry.  One of the few times she went out fishing with Dad and Adam, her brother had put the rubbery weed on top of the blue fish’s head, creating a pantomime for her.  She smiled at the rare memory of laughing Adam, who was too old to play with and too different to befriend. Only minutes later, bored with the slow sequence of cast and reel, Camille had snuck off to lie under a tree, gazing at cloud-shapes and losing herself in one of her countless books.

*

“You were close with your brother, then? And your parents?” Martin shuffled some of the papers in front of him, and then looked at her with a stern expression.  Camille lowered her eyes to the table, and pinched the flowers on her simple calico skirt between her fingers.

“I – wasn’t like them.  They loved me, but didn’t understand me. I felt the futility; I could be successful at everything the rest of the world deemed important, but I could never be Adam.”

*

The gulf between Adam and Camille seemed to grow with the years.  Camille was interested in academics, in the study of ancient worlds, in travel and in exploration.  Adam and her parents were content with their rural lifestyle, running their small bait and tackle store at the edge of Rensselaer Lake.  Returning from University on weekends, Camille watched her father and her brother sort their tackle boxes. They would peek inside the picnic lunches that Mom packed for them. They were easy in the way they talked and laughed together. Worst of all were Mom’s bright eyes whenever she gazed at Adam. The favoritism was apparent, and Camille’s resentment grew.  Mom passed away during Camille’s senior year, and Camille was left with Dad and Adam’s gruff, short phrases and held-back tears.

 

They looked confused, if cluelessly proud, when Camille landed her dream job at an internationally acclaimed museum in the City.  After that, weekend visits became fewer and the silences longer.  The last visit was after Dad had followed Mom to Albany Rural Cemetery.  Adam and Camille spent two silent days, Adam in his comfortable bedroom and Camille in the ‘guest room’, entirely cleared of her childhood toys and books. They ate together, meals brought to them by Adam’s neighbors. Adam attempted to break the ice by showing Camille his new Loomis fishing rod.  Camille realized that the rod cost the same as a pair of her Christian Louboutin shoes. Ridiculously, that made the divide between them seem endless.  When she left that day, it was the last time she ever hugged her stranger-brother, 10 years older and centuries removed.

*

“And how did you become acquainted with our little community, Camille?”  At that question, Camille perked up, smiling broadly.  “Oh! It was at Adam’s funeral.  Everyone had left, besides me.  And then Jenny just walked right up to me and wrapped me up in the most loving hug.  I knew her, back in grade school, you know.”

*

Jenny and Camille were friends when they were very young.  Theirs was the kind of friendship that was close for a brief time, and then dissipated as they matured.  Jenny was slight and droop-shouldered. She liked picking flowers and talking.  Camille was too caught up in the worlds of her books for much conversation, and eased away from Jenny’s loquacious overtures.  Camille was therefore surprised and grateful at the show of compassion Jenny gave at Adam’s funeral.  Over the course of the next several weeks, Jenny became Camille’s backbone; she began by helping run the bait and tackle store. She stayed a few nights a week at the small house Camille’s parents, and subsequently Adam, had left to her. She did most of the cooking and all of the cleaning.

Jenny was very religious, and spent a great deal of time reading her Bible and books of poetry, which she left lying around the house.  As Adam had not read much and neither had Camille’s parents, they were the only books present. Camille, wandering aimlessly through the house, first fingered the gilt covers of the bibles as she walked by them.  She began to pick up the books, reading snippets here and there. One day, Camille found a slip of paper tucked into a bible. On it was written a poem by Cristina Rossetti, which brought her to tears;

 

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

Of labour you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

Yea, beds for all who come.

After that, Jenny and Camille spoke every evening about Jenny’s church.  Within weeks, Jenny had shown Camille how to pray, and eventually they did so together.  Jenny introduced Camille to the Community, and showed her the growing farm where they all lived and worked together.  Camille found herself letting go of old resentments.  She felt at peace for the first time in her life.

*

“The six month waiting period is standard for all new members of our Community.  I know that Jenny has spoken to you of the conditions for Community membership.  I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.” Martin’s pen tapped, slowly but forcefully, against his notepad.

“Yes, I understand.” Camille replied carefully. “I believe in our Lord and Savior with all my heart.  I believe he sent me to the Community to save my life, to bring me home.  I realize how superficial life in New York is.  Even the hipsters are materialistic, though they feign disdain. I want to be here now.  I want to make a home, have chance again…a family.”

 

Martin looked Camille in the eyes for several long breaths.  Nodding, he pushed a paper toward her.  “Very well.  This document gives the Community all rights to the bait and tackle store.” He placed another next to the first.  “This one to Adam’s house. And this one,” he moved a third paper toward her, “to your apartment in the city and all assets within it.  Including any artwork, jewelry, and …your shoe collection.”

Camille smiled again.  “All shoes and fishing rods, yes.” Camille signed all of the forms in front of her. She stood to leave and Martin came to embrace her warmly.  “Welcome home, Camille.  Let us pray…”

*

Jenny waited until Camille left the interview room, and then approached Martin with a broad smile on her face. Martin had returned to his chair, and leaned back when he saw Jenny enter.  Jenny’s face shone as he praised her.

“Well done, Jenny.  Camille is lovely, and makes a great addition to the Community.  She has faith, because you brought her to a new home when she was hurting and vulnerable.  She will always associate you, and the Community, with the Savior’s peace and redemption.’

“Thank you, Martin! I am happy that my old friend has found the path with us.”

“As you should be.  Friendship is nearly as important as family. Family, second only to the Lord.” Martin stood, and then placed his hands on Jenny’s shoulders. “And now that you have a friend here with us, perhaps you’ll have a care about trying to leave us again?” His fingers tightened against her thin collarbones. The ring on his left hand – matched to Jenny’s own – dug into her skin.

Jenny held her breath, lowered her eyes and nodded her head.

“‘And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Martin laughed softly.  “And you didn’t even need a net.”

 

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I am participating in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.  It is my first time, and this is my first story.

The idea is that you write a story, based on specific prompts, in a specific word count, in a specific time frame.  I am enamored of the word specific today.

I’m not pleased with my story entirely.  This is what was submitted to the judges by deadline, but I have been working on it and it may re-appear, revised and enhanced, at a later date.

———-

Prompts:

Genre – Suspense
Subject – Online Dating

Character – A Taxi Driver
Word count limit – 2500
———-

VirtuaLife

Most people look for love online, but sometimes love comes hunting for you.

*

I pull against the bindings around my wrists. At least my hands are bound in front of me, rather than behind.  I need to have a plan, but the only thing I can think of is Jaz. She’ll be worried, but if it were not for her, I wouldn’t be bound in the basement of a psychopath.

*

I met Jaz the first week of my job at VirtuaLife (originally VirtuaLove), the company that had taken online dating from its original form into a completely immersive social environment. Jaz rescued me from the dusty Archives division, where I was sorting ancient documents. She showed me where the canteen was, and where I could find freshly filtered air.

Three months later, my position was made permanent, and Jaz took me under her tiny wing. Although Jaz came up to my shoulder and weighed less than my shoes, her spark had brought me out of my shell.  We sat in my apartment, an empty bottle of wine between us.

“Come on, Sarah! You already have a dermachip. It’s really easy to link you up”.

“My chip is only for banking and identity verification.”

“No.  Well, it could be, if you want to be BORING. Here, I’ll show you mine.”

Jaz sat in front of the Household Terminal and directed it to engage with her chip. Jaz’s holofigure appeared in front of us.  I laughed.

“Not exactly true to life, is it?”

Jaz giggled and shook her hips. Her voluptuous holofigure mimicked her every move.  Not a bit of subtlety was wasted on this avatar.  Long, fuchsia hair curled down her back. Large breasts, a microscopic waist, and the longest legs I had ever seen graced my living room.

“Do you secretly want to be tall?” I asked Jaz.

“Shut it, you.  That’s the luxury of VirtuaLife. You can be whatever you want to be. You should see some of the others!”

“I’m not sure I want to!”

“It’s freeing, like wearing a mask.”

I brought my hands to my face, running fingers over the broken bones of my nose, and exploring my jutting cheekbones.  “I don’t want to wear anymore masks.”

Jaz raised her eyebrow at me. “Well, you’re a ‘Tural, then.  I should have guessed.”

Jaz spoke command prompts into the display.  Within 15 minutes, a near replica stood before me.  I walked slowly up to it, until my face was only inches away from…my face.  Brown, mid-length hair framed pale skin.  A slightly more crooked nose sat above lips just a touch thinner and less lush. Almond-shaped brown eyes with arresting flecks of yellow stared back at me.

“Your dermachip and its peripherals direct her.  It picks up every change in your biometric – knows what you want to do before you do.  You’ll feel cold through her skin.  When she eats something, you’ll taste it. When someone touches you,” Jaz grinned broadly, “You will definitely feel that. Any avatar you create attached to your chip will learn what you like and how you respond all on its own. Come on, I’ll show you a mingle center.”

Jaz spoke more commands into the system, and soon we stood in a room full of outrageous people.  I stared in awe at a man covered entirely in tiger fur.  Jaz yanked me away.

“You’re older than me, and you’re like a kid on their first trip to the zoo.”

“Zoo seems the correct term for this.  Maybe circus!”

“We need to set your preferences.  I already input your vitals. You’re entirely ‘Tural, you could easily run off to some commune in the woods.  So, what are you interested in?”

“Interested in?” I asked.

“What are you looking for in a relationship? Men, women, multiples, experimentals?”

“Oh.” I paused.  “Men. Only men.  Serious, monogamous relationships only.”

Jaz stopped in her tracks.  “Monogamy? NO ONE does monogamy any more.  Are you serious?”  Jaz sat on a couch nearby, stunned.  “I know you’re a ‘Tural, Sarah.  But are you also Trad?”

I sat next to Jaz, covered my face in my hands, and nodded.

“I was married.” I dropped my hands from my face and looked at Jaz.  “I moved here and started working at VirtuaLife when I left Sam.”

“You were married?  Whoa. I’ve never met someone who was Trad, and I definitely never met anyone who was married.  But Trads don’t get divorced, do they?”

I looked back at the array of characters mingling near the bar.  “Sam was never mentally stable.  And then my Dad…died.  Sam was over the edge. Awful, abusive, controlling. I had to get away or I would have died there, too.”

Jaz’s green eyes filled with tears.  She looked away, studying the carpet. “You know if I put that you’re interested in men only, for a serious, monogamous relationship, you will get absolutely no hits. Ever.  Right?”

“Hah.  That’s the idea.”
*

We woke in my living room, surrounded by empty wine bottles.  I pulled a wet strand of hair out of my mouth, and stumbled to the kitchen.  Coffee and fried eggs revived us enough to have a quiet conversation.

“I don’t think I like VirtuaLife.”

Jaz snorted. “Well, it’s not suited to you.  At least THAT part of it.  Still, you can use it for all sorts of things.  It’s not just dating, like in the Old Days.  Back then most people were traditionals, and everyone wanted to get married.”

I tossed a cushion at Jaz’s head.  “Seriously, what else can I do there?”

“Well, you can take courses.  You can learn another language, or how to fly an airplane.  Or you can do all of your fitness courses – cycling, Tai Chi, Pilates, karate, basketball…”

My eyes perked a bit, then squinted again as the light of day hit wine-sensitive nerves.  “Really? I can learn those things?”

“Sure! I’ll show you.”

*

Two days later, I saw Sam.  Or thought I saw Sam.  Wiry, lean shoulders brushed with longish hair only a car-length ahead of me on the train into work.  I rushed off at the next stop. I ducked into a quiet doorway to calm myself and fumbled with my anxiety pills.  I could hear my pulse thrumming in my throat.   I noticed a City Cab parked across the road and rather than returning to the station, I placed my wrist under its scanner. The voice said “Welcome, Sarah.  You are a new user.  Please set your driver preferences and speak your destination.”

Creating my Cabatar™ took almost no time at all. I described my driver unconsciously, and gave the address for all my regular destinations. When the preferences were loaded and the Cabatar™ appeared in the driving seat, I sat back against my own seat, breathless; as if a great weight pressed me.

“Hello, Sarah.”

“Hi. It’s good to see you, Da…Charles.”

“Please state your preferred destination.”

*

I shake myself out of the reverie, focusing instead on sounds in the house above.  No footsteps, all quiet. I hadn’t seen anything before, and attributed my pounding headache to the lump originating from the back of my skull.  I know who gave me that.

I worry my hands on the bracelet of mirrors around my wrist. I count them, from the first one to the left of the clasp to the fifth.  Grasping one rounded edge of the mirror’s circle, I press the other edge, hard, into the floor.  The mirror snaps satisfyingly into two pieces, leaving a semi-circle with a sharp cutting edge.  Levering the edge between two strands of the twine is simple enough. I cut my hands free.  My eyes have already adjusted to the dim light shining through the thin basement windows near the ceiling, so I creep toward the stairs and climb to the landing.  The door is locked.  I run my hands over the frame, looking for a weak point.  Of course not.  Sam is not stupid, but…

Sam thinks that I am.

*

The night I knew Sam found me, I called Jaz.  She came straight away to my apartment, and looked at the words on my message terminal.

– Hello, my love.  You always knew I’d find you.

– Do you have a new lover already?

– Did you tell your lover how much you like the taste of me on your tongue?

– Where are you? Why aren’t you answering your messages?

– This is never going to end.

“Holy shinola, Sarah.  This is bad.   We need to take these files to the police.”

“It won’t help.  Trust me.”

Jaz pressed her lips together and bit them.  “Well, I’m not leaving you alone tonight.  I’ll stay here. In the morning, go straight to the office.  Talk to Natalie in HR – she’ll know some resources for handling this. I’m at the Jersey campus in the morning, but should be back in time to have lunch with you and discuss what she says.”

“I’ve been with VirtuaLife for 3 years now.  Do you think the system is vulnerable? Sam’s always been good at hacking into systems.”

Jaz shrugged.  “VirtuaLife is one of the largest online communities in the world.  The security is really strong.”

“Strong like those documents in Archives? VirtuaLife and this damned dermachip – that’s how Sam found me.”

*

I think that was last night.  I’m not sure how long I’ve been here.  I’m not sure where here is. What I am sure of is when I hugged Jaz goodbye this morning and slipped into my City Cab, nothing went as planned.

“Good morning, Charles!” I said, as my Cabatar™ formed in the driver’s seat.  “Destination 1, please.”

Charles’ eyes met mine, and he gave me a pained smile.  The car moved away from the curb. Charles’ usual banter was missing, but I was preoccupied anyway.  After 15 minutes, I noticed we were on a completely unfamiliar road heading out of the city.

“Charles! Destination 1!”

Charles met my eyes in the mirror.  “Destination and user preferences have been changed.”

“What do you mean? Why aren’t you going to the office?”

“I’m sorry, Sarah.  Your dermachip has been over-ridden.  I cannot disclose the new destination.”

“Charles! Stop the car! Let me out!”

“I am not authorized to stop the vehicle or change course until I have reached the programmed destination.”

Panicking, I attempted to open the door.  It was locked.  I flung my shoulder against the door again and again, but it would not budge.

“Please remain seated, Sarah.  The doors will not open until the vehicle has come to a full and complete stop.”

Charles’ words sounded forced even to my ears.  My wide eyes met his anxiously, and I could see the fear in my own eyes reflected in his.

*

The car pulled up to a house at the end of a tree-lined drive with a fountain in the middle of a curving circle.  The house was large but unassuming, old but not ramshackle.  I heard the lock in the door click, and stepped out.  A footstep sounded on the gravel behind me, and everything went black.

*

I sit down in the place Sam left me, my back against the wall.  I’ve wrapped the twine back around my wrists and pinched the loose ends between my thumb and forefinger to make them look tight.  I hear heavy footsteps from the thick-soled work boots Sam likes to wear.  I hear the door click and open. I keep my head down, eyes to the floor.  All I see are rubber soles and double-knots in the laces.

Sam whispers softly.  “Welcome back, Ruth.  Or is it Sarah now? No, it will never be Sarah.  You’ll always be my Ruth.”

Kneeling down, Sam grasps my chin firmly and lifts my face up.  I try to keep my eyes closed, but give in to temptation. I open them and am staring into Sam’s eyes.  Sam’s eyes – wide and clear and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen.  Short, dark lashes frame them.  Four freckles high on the left cheekbone, just brushed by lower lashes. Sam’s clear, focused gaze.

“Your eyes give you away. You changed your face.  But you forgot to change how you live.  There aren’t many Trad ‘Turals in the cities.” Sam’s low, hypnotic voice brushes feathers against my ear.

“You killed my Dad.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“No.  But you did.”

“But I did.”

Sam’s arms are on either side of my head, hands caging me to the wall. We stare into each other’s eyes for a few breathless seconds.  I am fighting – panic and passion and fear and love. I have been naïve all my life, but I have never been stupid.  I can learn new things.  I did learn new things. I am a new thing.

Not breaking eye contact, I bring my arms between Sam’s wrists, knocking them aside.  As Sam tries to correct for balance, I cup both palms and bring my hands in, hard, against Sam’s ears.  A cry of pain echoes in my own ears. I watch in slow motion as arms move defensively to cover pained eardrums.  Just like the sim.  Just like the class.  I pull my arm back, aim for the soft indentation on the left temple, and put every bit of power in my hips and torso behind the punch.  Sam falls to the floor.
I can hear nothing but my own breathing.  I bend down and check Sam’s pulse.  Removing the remnants of twine from my own wrists, I tie Sam’s wrists around the back.

Then I pause.  I trace Sam’s soot-black eyebrow with my fingertips, and I feel that ache of longing – not in my heart, where the storybooks say it should be.  Behind my belly-button, where everything that feeds me goes.  I trail my fingers down Sam’s soft cheek, over Sam’s shoulder, barely brushing the outline of her breast.  Sam, my Sam.

This is why people do not love any more.  Not because it’s better to have more than one lover, but because we want what we love, even if it harms us.  Because being without it makes us want to die.

*

Surprisingly, a City Cab waits out front.  Opening the door, I don’t get in.  Scanning my dermachip, I wait for Charles to appear.

“Sarah! It is good to see you! Hurry, I’ll take you home.”

I glance back at the house, knowing what is in the basement.

“Charles, can she make you tell her where we’ve gone?”

Charles’ eyes soften. He nods.

“Do you have to tell her whether I was in the car?”

Charles hesitates. A small smile illuminates his face.  “No, I don’t have to tell her that.”

“Good.  Drive to the airport, please.  And Charles?”

“Yes?”

“I’ll miss you.”

I close the door.  Charles starts the engine.  Looking back at me one last time, he moves off.  I wait until he has turned onto the main road, and then jog toward the woods.

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