Easy, breezy summer reading — three short stories, like mini-getaways for your brain.
⏳ IN DUE TIME ⏳
She spun in a field. Six years old with a lilac Easter dress, and not a care for the multitude of bees and dragonflies that hovered ever close. Her laugh floated with the afternoon and carried all the way to the deck.
“You need another?”
Tyler didn’t look away from his niece but sloshed his nearly full Michelob Ultra at his father. That was the only answer his father needed, leaving the porch to reenter the party. As he opened the sliding door, the drone of discordant voices trickled out, only to be silenced a moment later as it closed again.
Tyler knew he should probably head back inside, but he felt no rush. He took a big sip of his beer, continuing to watch Lacey twirl in the field below, giggling as Reptar, the elderly family beagle, tried to keep up with her. It was strangely melancholic and tranquil. Tyler wasn’t sure how he could feel so sad and so at peace all at once.
The sliding of the back door brought with it the sounds of the family party inside, only to be drowned out again with another click.
Tyler looked over, expecting his father, but instead being greeted by the smile of his younger brother, Alex.
“Figured you could use another?” he said, the foresight to bring a Michelob out with him.
Tyler went to slosh the beer like he had with his father, only to realize he was closer to a refill then he’d thought.
Alex sat next to him, placing the beer on the railing.
“When you’re ready,” he said with a sigh, as he plopped into the adjacent plastic chair.
Tyler was back to looking at his niece, who had now fallen to the ground, wrestling and rolling with Reptar. Her mother, Tyler’s sister-in-law Anna, would not be happy about the state of the dress.
“When did we lose that?” said Tyler, turning to his brother.
“Lose what? That?” said Alex, pointing to his daughter with a laugh, “We never had that.”
“We had that,” said Tyler, slightly offended, “You know what I mean. Just free; not a real care in the world.”
“You and I had many things going for us as kids, but not a care in the world, that wasn’t one of them.”
Alex took a sip, snorted with the bottle to his lips, and pulled it away.
“We,” he added, pointing back and forth between the two of them, “Would’ve been playing a game and been at each other’s throats. That, out there, is an innocence you and I never had.”
“You’re probably right,” said Tyler, “I guess I’m just in a weird place.”
“So is everyone,” said Alex, “Although I will say, kids give you a second chance at some things. But you have to recognize it. And you’re half-way there my brother.”
“You’re right,” laughed Tyler, taking another drink, “Now, all I need is the kid.”
“And the wife I suppose.”
“In due time, hermano” said Alex.
💘 ALL IN 💘
Rex stirred his whisky with a toothpick, the ice bobbing like a glacier in the Amazon. It was a worthwhile distraction for someone so uninterested in the hockey game that droned behind the bar, but this wasn’t what Rex was avoiding.
He took the toothpick out and rested it on a napkin.
“It’s got to be all water by now, Rex. I’ve never known you to drink so slow.”
John Jr. approached with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, refilling the glass to a reasonable level.
“On me,” said the prematurely balding bartender, “from my old man.”
He smiled, weakly, his thick black beard unable to hide the hurt that came with this statement. Rex knew it had been nearly six years since John Sr. had passed from cancer. He’d been at the funeral. John Jr. had inherited the bar that day along with a whole lot of hurt.
Rex took a sip. It was warmer than he’d have liked, but he drank it, only the twitch of his nose revealing the flicker of distaste. He was a pro.
It went down hot, finally rousing him to consider a move– a move he’d been working towards all afternoon.
“What if she says she ain’t interested John?”
“Who?” said John Jr., not looking up as he holstered the Jack.
Rex motioned down the bar a few times. John Jr. finally looked up and took notice. A true smile breached his beard.
“Ms. Mulaney? I thought you came here to chat with me. Don’t tell me you’ve just been wanting to get to know her all this time.”
Rex gave John Jr. a knowing look.
“You’re too much like your old man, John, you know that? There’s a reason I never played cards with him two days in a row.”
“Because he took all your money since you have a shit poker face?” said John Jr. with a laugh, wiping down the bar.
This made Rex laugh as well. He reached into his pocket to grab his wallet and pulled out a twenty.
“I’m all in,” said Rex, sliding the twenty across the bar.
He then scraped his stool out slowly, reaching for his cane and hat.
“So, you’re really going for it?” said John Jr., scooping the twenty and putting it into the register.
“I don’t have the time to wait,” replied Rex.
Out from behind the stool, Rex straightened his bow tie, adjusted his bowler hat and was preparing to introduce himself to the beautiful woman in the Sunday dress at the end of the bar when he stopped.
“Ya never answered me John,” said Rex, suddenly feeling like he was in high school again, “what if she don’t like me?”
John Jr. smiled.
“What if she does?”
Rex laughed, as if this thought hadn’t occurred to him. He took one final deep breath and then turned away from John Jr., his cane scraping along the sticky floor as he made his way across the bar.
🧠 THE MEETING OF THE MINDS 🧠
The meeting of the minds was an informal affair.
I, for one, hadn’t expected it to be quite so antiquated—full of introductions, posturing, and suffocating small talk.
The back room of the Hilton was quiet—silent even, if it weren’t for the fidgety tactics of who I only imagined were the more brilliant, albeit peculiar members of the society. It was frigid, with air pumping from high above, as if miniature ice caps lived within the mechanisms. Some shivered but none dared to turn it off. No one wished to mess with the order of things. Not here.
I hadn’t been invited so I was admittedly sweating—as if my body meant to betray me with each tiny, calculated, pinprick of perspiration. I waved my shirt, giving some circulation at the price of increased attention. But no one seemed to notice—too engrossed as they were in their own conversations.
I assumed they each held a shiny, golden, embossed business cards tucked deep within their coat jackets and Hollywood premiere-worthy purses. Or perhaps they had gotten in with a fancy and elegant password like Rhododendron or Rutabaga. Whatever had gained the men and women access to this Gala, I just hoped nobody asked me for it.
If there was anything worse than not getting invited to an event, it was being forcibly removed from one. A show for the more-esteemed guests. And I said removed rather than escorted because I knew myself too well to not know the distinction. My removal would be anything but quiet.
If anyone knew I was intruding upon this space though, they said nothing. Not yet at least. I was only approached by guests with tense smiles and truncated words—seemingly as eager for my approval as I was for theirs.
“Do tell me where you got those shoes!?”
They weren’t socialites. I didn’t think so at least. Or at least not most of them. They seemed more the doctor, lawyer, scientist, politician, artist-types. A broad paintbrush stroke of society—the kind that impacted it on a fundamental level without you even realizing. That all being said, it was astonishing to me that you could pack all these independent thinkers into a fancy ballroom and all they could remember to speak on was the state of their colleague’s clothes.
I didn’t voice any of this, of course.
Instead, I chose the path of least resistance. I chose to play along.
“Oh, these shoes?” I said, astonished, “they were gifted to me by my late grandfather actually.”
This sounded better than the truth which was that I bought them for myself, by myself, on clearance at Target. The older woman in her sparkling blue dress, one that made her look unquestionably like a fortuneteller, seemed to agree as she gave me an “aww” and patted my shoulder before continuing on to talk to a man in a denim suit.
I had begun to consider leaving, when I hear the twinkle of a bell. By whom and for whom seems unclear to me, but enough people seem to take it as a sign and begin milling into a new room that I decide to join in with the shuffle.
The new room consists primarily of a giant, sleek wooden table. It appears to have been hewn from a single, massive trunk, although its sheer size seems to make that impossible. Rings span out from the center, making the tree thousands, if not millions of years old when it had presumably met its demise at the ax of some gigantic, celestial lumberjack.
Chairs bordered its edge, so we all sat. There seemed to be no debate who belonged in each chair. I sat in one as well. No one complained. Not a single person was left standing.
The truest silence of the evening fell upon the room, any chatter chased away by the final echoes of squeaking chairs and a few throats being cleared. We were all attentive, although for what, I’m not sure any of us could be sure.
So we waited.
“Close your eyes! All of you!”
It was a booming, creaky voice—like a cello straining with a broken string or two. Its genesis was at the table, but somehow I couldn’t pinpoint it. It was as close to me as it was far away.
With a collective inhale, everyone at the table seemed to close their eyes at once. I could taste my heart as it tried to escape my throat like a frantic gerbil.
“It has come to our attention that there is an imposter in our midst,” said the same raspy voice, “a fraud!”
“A treacherous, treasonous, untalented, unwanted, nobody.”
He let this linger.
“If you open your eyes and walk out now, pest, I promise no ill will come of this. You happened upon this meeting by accident. It’s not your fault. All will be forgiven and forgotten. In that order.”
Well, I should have known I would be found out. Here was my chance to leave, without consequence. But as I got ready to move, something held me. It was the words.
Treacherous, treasonous, pest.
I was many things, but I wasn’t any of these.
Another several beats of my heart, my mind battling with itself. I don’t move.
A couple chairs seemed to squeak. Apparently, I hadn’t been the only one to wander into this exclusive get-together.
And yet, I remained at my seat.
More and more people seemed to be leaving.
And still I sat.
Finally, silence fell back upon the room.
“Open your eyes!”
I did as I was told.
The Gala had been reduced to a half-dozen or so.
“Welcome,” said the voice, which may or may not have been coming from the wooden table itself, “now that those not meant to be here have been weeded out.”
There was a pause. A raspy inhale.
“We may begin.”
I searched the eyes of the rest of the group, and to my shock they seemed to be doing the same.
We all seemed to be having the same simultaneous thought.
“Do they know I don’t belong?”
But, perhaps, that was the only true requisite for the Meeting of the Minds after all.