librate broken hearts
trapped in adolescence
fertile mourning fields
divine cooling light
deliver them to Freya”
The rhythmic sound of my cell phone buzzing on my nightstand wakes me. I try to cling to the warmth of my dream, an image of a roaring fireplace in a cozy log cabin, but it fades away. The buzzing continues. I roll onto my side, unplug my phone and see Carly’s smiling face. It’s 3 a.m.
For a few seconds, she doesn’t say anything and it’s enough to allow my brain to flash through an assortment of macabre images of blood and death. I haven’t heard from her in over 6 months and a lot could have happened.
Fully awake now, I sit up in the dark room listening hard. My body feels fidgety and strange.
Carly’s breathing heavy and I have a new terrible thought—maybe she didn’t mean to call me at all. Music plays in the background, a deep pulsing bass, and my heart matches it. When she finally speaks it’s in a small, distant voice I barely recognize.
“Do you remember how you always wanted emerald shoes?”
Of course I do. When I was small my mother read the story of the Wizard of Oz to me and I pictured Dorothy’s shoes as sparkling green and wanted an exact pair. I cried when I saw they were red in the movie. Carly’s the only person I told the story to—the only one I trust with embarrassing details of my childhood.
Why is Carly calling me? Our last conversation was strange and filled with too many pauses—too many things unsaid. Now, she’s calling in the middle of the night with a question I can’t help but read more into. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My body tenses as I lean over and switch on the lamp. I keep my voice as neutral as I can, but I know it sounds shaky. I grab a handful of blankets and twist them in my left hand.
“Are you okay?”
Carly laughs. It’s a lousy attempt at sounding casual. If Jonas hurt her, I’ll kill him. I shouldn’t have let her go.
I don’t believe her. The last time I saw her was over a year ago, the day before she moved. Jonas had spent months chipping away at my best friend, carving out pieces of her he didn’t like and replacing them with religious doctrine. When she left I barely recognized her anymore, and I wonder how much of her is left.
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Vegas and I saw them—the emerald shoes. A dancer had a shiny pair and I thought…exactly like Harriet dreamed…exactly…”
Her voice fades out. None of this makes sense. Jonas controls everything she does and its way out of character for him to take her to Vegas. The alarm bells turn into sirens and I feel my body shiver at the thought of Carly alone in such a big city. I can’t come up with a single scenario in my head to make sense of any of this.
“Vegas! Why are you in Vegas? Where’s Jonas? Are you sure you’re okay?”
She ignores my questions and speaks in the same distant voice.
“The shoes are so pretty, Harriet. You’d love them.”
Jumping out of bed I pace across my faded yellow rug. Carly, my Carly, is calling me and talking about emerald shoes. The wall built around my heart to protect myself cracks slightly and I reinforce it immediately by reminding myself she’s gone. She chose Jonas. She left.
Vegas. The world of casinos, excessive drinking, Elvis impersonators, and drive-up wedding chapels. Wedding chapels. I fall onto the bed and close my eyes. Hardening my voice, I speak again.
“Why are you calling me Carly? It’s the middle of the night and you haven’t called me in a long, long time. What are you doing in Vegas?”
She sniffles and I realize she’s crying. Why is my Carly crying? I want to run to her and save her…but no.
“The shoes, Harriet. I saw them and I…well…I thought of you. I always wanted to find a pair for you, but I never did.”
I’m crying now, scared for her. All the old feelings I thought I’d cleared away bubble inside me. The more I talk to her the greater the intensity. My voice floats to the ceiling and circles above me like a ghostly shadow. Carly speaks again and I picture her face. I don’t want to. It’s too painful.
“I…I just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.”
I think about you all the time, but you left me, Carly! You left me! The words dart and stab at me long after she hangs up. I try to call her back but it goes to voicemail. I roll into a ball and cry until my alarm goes off.
On the drive to work, everything is Carly and I slam my fists into the steering wheel in frustration. I’d finally stopped looking at her photos and had started healing. Now one phone call and our history waves at me from every car and window. Everything is Carly.
We met freshman year in English class and bonded over our love of Edgar Allen Poe. She drew a raven on my hand and I couldn’t stop staring at her green eyes. By the end of the first day, I knew how to make her laugh and did it as much as possible. My world became wrapped up in all things Carly.
It wasn’t until our junior year I realized my feelings were more than they should be for a friend, but it felt too late. I watched her date an assortment of guys, each eventually breaking her heart. I’d run my fingers through her coppery curls as she lay across my lap until the pain of the loss wasn’t so big.
At some point, it felt like a betrayal to tell her how I really felt. I wondered if she’d think I was only being nice to her because I wanted her for myself, like all the guys she dated. So, I stayed quiet. Even after we graduated and she met Jonas. Even when she told me she was moving away. I couldn’t tell her. I just couldn’t.
Pulling into the parking lot at work, I wipe my eyes and blow my nose. I tuck my thick brown hair back in a bun and apply some mascara and lip gloss. It’s the best I can do today.
I still can’t believe I get to work at the independent bookstore in town. It’s my dream job and I love everything about it. Walking in the door the smell of the books distracts me and by the time I reach the back counter my heart isn’t screaming Carly anymore. It’s more like a whisper.
Trudi’s standing beside the espresso machine, smiling at me. Her curly blonde hair is braided today so it looks like a crown on the top of her head. Her lips are glossy and pink.
My legs freeze up for a moment, and a traffic jam inside my brain slows everything until I’m stiff and awkward. I’m smiling too big. I’m blushing. Her eyes are green and gold—sunset filtered through sweeping willow tree branches. I get so weird around her. I don’t know what to do with my hands.
“Would you like a peppermint tea?”
I nod, insecurity reducing me to a caveman. Don’t grunt or scratch yourself, Harriet. Take a deep breath. She likes you.
For months we’ve been flirting with each other, but I don’t trust it. What if she isn’t really into me, but just friendly? I don’t want to chase another Carly for years only to end up heartbroken and alone. I wish I could be sure.
Trudi fills one of the white mugs with hot water and adds two tea bags and a bit of honey. She’s wearing a silver ring on her right index finger with an oval piece of labradorite. I pull my necklace out of my sweater and wonder if she’s noticed we wear the same stone.
“Hey, I want to ask you something.”
Her voice is light and airy—no hint of nerves. She places the steaming mug on the counter in front of me and leans on her elbows. I try to look casual, but I’m shaking. I grab the mug with both hands and stare intently at the light brown water.
“My brother and some friends are throwing a ‘Save the Environment’ party on the rooftop of their apartment tonight and I wondered if you wanted to come with me?”
Carly. It’s the first thing I think and I hate myself for it. If Trudi would have asked me out yesterday I’d have jumped for joy, but now I feel torn. What if Carly calls? I hate how much hold she still has on me. Trudi places her left hand over mine so we are cupping the mug together.
“I don’t want any confusion here. I like you, Harriet, and this would be a date. Not a friend thing.”
I let my hand fall from the mug and Trudi grabs it. We smile at each other for a long time until a customer walks up to the counter beside me. She gives my hand a gentle squeeze before letting go.
“No pressure. Let me know.”
She turns to the customer and politely takes their order. For a few minutes, I can’t walk. I’m upset I didn’t say yes right away. I’m confused about last night. If Carly had a family who cared I’d text them to check on her, but she doesn’t. All she has is me and Jonas. I don’t know what to do.
My boss comes over and I try to listen to what he says but my mind isn’t here anymore. It’s still on my ceiling at home. After a few hours of messing things up and fumbling around, he tells me to take the rest of the day off. I can’t find Trudi so I text her an apology.
“I’m not feeling well. Let’s try again. I like you too.”
I don’t go home right away, but instead, drive to a spot along the river Carly and I used to go when we were upset. I park my car beside the boat ramp, take off my shoes, and sit so my feet dangle in the cold water. I say, fuck it, and call Carly. It goes right to voicemail again. I cry so loud I scare away the ducks who yell at me as they fly to the other side of the river.
“That’s right! I chase everyone away!”
Gathering up a pile of rocks, I throw them as hard as I can at the water. It doesn’t help, so I grab larger rocks and toss them. I scream and scream until a couple in a kayak pass and ask me if I’m okay. I tell them I will be. They offer to paddle over and sit with me but it makes me feel worse.
Driving home I consider changing and still meeting Trudi for the party, but the truth is I’m not over Carly. She’s my person. I know it deep in my bones and I can’t shake it. I can’t be wrong about this. I just can’t.
I stop at the liquor store and grab a bottle of wine, a huge bag of Hershey kisses, and a frozen pizza. Tonight I’ll feel sorry for myself and maybe tomorrow it will be easier. I need a good, long cry.
Holding the paper bag in my arms so the flimsy handles don’t break, I walk across the parking lot and down the sidewalk toward my apartment. As I get closer I see a woman sitting crosslegged on my welcome mat. Holding a box in her arms, she stands and takes a step forward. It’s Carly.
The world around me slows and sharpens. A blue jay on the fence ruffles its feathers and hops sideways. My neighbor shuffles his feet as he walks by carrying a stack of mail. A calico cat peeks out from behind the bushes and twitches it tail. I’m on high alert. Alarm bells ring in my ears and I almost drop my bag.
Carly’s cheeks are flushed bright red. She stares at a spot above my head. Neither of us seem capable of making eye contact.
Although I’ve dreamed of this moment, I remind myself it might not be what I think it is. The wall. She chose Jonas. She left. I take a step back and speak as loud as I can but it comes out in a shaky whisper.
“What are you doing here?”
She’s wearing a white sundress covered with tiny black ravens. Her curls are longer and they frame a slightly chubbier face. The redness of her cheeks spreads to her chest. She’s scared. I am too. She looks at the box in her arms and her voice is as shaky as mine.
“I left Jonas…”
The walls crack and the ground below me shifts. I reinforce it by taking another step back. I can’t have her in my life again. No. It’s not fair to assume I’d forget everything we went through and just let her back in. What does she want? A place to stay? A refuge from her life until she falls into the arms of the next man who tells her she’s pretty?
I take another step back. The bag in my hands feels suddenly too heavy and I set it on the ground. I wish the wine was twist-off so I could take a huge swig. I don’t know how to tell her to leave, but I’m not going to be used again. I deserve to be loved. She speaks louder and faster, the words tumbling into a pile on the sidewalk between us.
“I’m sorry, Harriet. I know I don’t have any right showing up here and I don’t expect anything. I promise. I…I just brought you something…”
Our eyes meet for the first time and I feel the walls crumble. I try and hold onto the pieces but they fall through my fingers onto the sidewalk as dust. She walks closer and closer. Run away! Yell at her! Do something! Her eyes are bright and clear—sparkling emeralds in a sea of golden stars. She’s close enough I smell her familiar scent—mint tea and lavender.
“I really am sorry…”
Ocean waves. Rain falling on the roof. Christmas carols. She’s all the happy things and I’m falling.
She flips open the lid of the box and I see a shiny pair of emerald green shoes. My dream shoes. Nothing about this moment feels real and we both stand frozen in time—statues in a garden where life isn’t so complicated and weird.
We are both crying but I don’t know if it’s for the same reason. I touch the shoes lightly and I’m surprised they don’t evaporate into smoke. They are real. She’s really here.
The words squeak out as a million questions race through my mind. I don’t want to leap, but my heart already has. As if waking from a dream, she quickly pulls me to her, squishing the shoes between us. Her mouth finds mine and all my questions are answered. Carly, my Carly, has found her way home to me.
Author’s note: I hope you enjoyed this sweet little story inspired by my true desire for everyone to find love. It’s a small nod to the Respect for Marriage Act signed this week and my commitment to supporting everyone in the LGBTQ community. Love is love. Let me know what you think in the comments below and have a wonderful week.
Short Story Challenge | Week 50
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story taking place when the phone rings at 3 a.m. We had to include the words supreme, emerald, careless, traffic, liberate, adolescence, lousy, wave, environment, and oval.
Write With Us
Prompt: Magic interferes in New Orleans
Include: matriarch, throat, impossible, vinegar, apology, snare, choose, raspberry, microwave, and slice
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child
- Week 21: The Carrot
- Week 22: Apple Stars
- Week 23: Something in the Water
- Week 24: Midnight Wedding Vows
- Week 25: Chocolate Kisses
- Week 26: The Island
- Week 27: Take Me By the Hand
- Week 28: When the Snow Falls
- Week 29: Stitches in the Woods
- Week 30: The Peacock Effect
- Week 31: New Experiences
- Week 32: Blood Moon Messenger
- Week 33: The Masterpiece
- Week 34: The Blackberry Quest
- Week 35: The Broken Shell
- Week 36: The Octopus in the Room
- Week 37: With a Touch of the Tapestry
- Week 38: Meet Me at the Elephant Ears
- Week 39: The Wheels on the Bus
- Week 40: Room 313
- Week 41: The Cornfield
- Week 42: Afraid of the Dark
- Week 43: The Abandoned Church
- Week 44: Let’s Go to the Ocean
- Week 45: A Night at the Carnival
- Week 46: Late Night Visitor
- Week 47: Chalky Hands
- Week 48: Under the Sign
- Weel 49: Full Moon Harvest