The past two days on my lunch break I have been writing. It feels amazing! I do have some serious works that I started about 4 years ago and haven't touched yet, nor do I really want to at the moment. I haven't been writing in 4 years and I don't want to go back to my A-game material while I'm somewhere around the D-level. So this is just more of a practice piece to get back into the flow of writing and "warm up" again. Like all my works, it is largely character based and I have no idea where it will take me.
The box crashed against the concrete steps, the bottom breaking and spilling the books. Elenore didn’t feel the pain when the hard corners dug into her bare foot, leaving a bruise that would haunt her for weeks. She didn’t care as her prized possessions slithered down the concrete, landing on the wet grass. She didn’t care because she suddenly understood what people said when they felt like they had been hit in the gut with a sludge hammer.
Her eyes darted over the piece of note paper again. She knew the black ink scrawled over the paper formed words, but the words were too harsh and cruel to be true. “Elenore, I’m sorry but I have met someone else and have to leave. Keep the ring. I’ll call you tonight. – Craig.”
Three weeks, she thought, the timeline pounding in her head. Three weeks until they were supposed to be married. She took a shaky breath as the paper ripped in her tight grip.
“What the hell am I going to do?” She asked their house. Her house, now, she thought, and felt a sob rise in her throat. Just get inside before you fall apart, she told herself. The act of unlocking the door had never been difficult before, but now it took immense concentration to retrieve her keys from her purse, select the correct one, and insert it into the lock. She was trembling so badly it took four tries of turning it before the deadbolt gave way and she pushed her way into the small Victorian home she thought she shared with her fiancé.
In a daze, she looked around. All the signs of a hasty retreat marked the entrance, and all the other rooms on the main floor. Slowly approaching each room; the living room, dining room, small powder room and finally the kitchen, she saw items discarded and knocked over, drawers open and often at an odd angle, as though he jerked it open and tried to close it too quickly.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” she said, letting the note fall onto the table when she decided to take a seat at the kitchen table after righting one of the chairs that had been knocked over. “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” She screamed. “That fucking coward!” A seething rage consumed her and she had to close her eyes against the desire to become a hurricane of destruction. She didn’t simply want to smash something, she wanted to destroy all her in sight.
When the anger faded into a dull ache in her chest, she made her way to the powder room to wash her face with cold water. The chill cleared her mind. Elenore picked up a towel and dried her face then looked into the antique mirror that had come with the house, convinced her chocolate eyes would be red with anger like always happened to cartoon characters. But no, her large eyes remained their natural colour. The red had been reserved for her normally pale skin, now flushed a deep crimson. Her long black curls had frizzed with the humidity of the misty summer day and escaped the bun she had tried to wrestle them into this morning.
Frustrated, she left the room and decided to finish searching the house. As she expected, all his clothes were gone and their bedroom was a mess. Apparently someone could slice their life from a home, from a relationship, in less than three hours. And leave a jagged scar in the process.
“Well then,” she said once she had taken in the upstairs bathroom and office, all in the same state of disarray. She looked down at the diamond on her finger. Keep the ring. Elenore yanked the ring off her finger and was about to throw it down into the chaos when she realized why he had left it for her. She gasped at the cold logic that led him to that decision. Keep the ring, return the ring, because you’re going to need the money to cover the deposits. The rage threatened to consume her again but she swallowed it down.
Walked through the house once more she was hit with the most devastating thought yet. Why wasn’t she sad? There was no doubting the anger and frustration at his cowardly act, but she wasn’t ready to break down into tears. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when your fiancé dumps you three weeks before the wedding?
The sound of her phone ringing distracted her from answering the question. She looked at it and saw it was her mother. Knowing there was no way she could talk to her mom at the moment about what had just happened, she let it go to voice mail. But she knew her mother, and there would be another follow up call shortly. She decided she wasn’t go to wait around for Craig’s call, she was going to get the over with now.
The sound of his phone ringing went on longer than it ever had before, and she was about to hang up when a hurried voice picked up.
“Elenore.” When he said her name, a flurry of replies tickled her lips.
Hello asshole, hello coward, hello creep.
“Elenore, are you there?”
“Yes.” She said slowly, unsure of what to say next. She shouldn’t have given into the impulse; should have planned it out like she always planned everything.
“Look, Elenore, I’m so sorry. I just . . .”
“Met someone else.” She finished for him.
“Yes. I thought we were in love, but when I met her, well, then I knew what we had wasn’t the real thing.”
“How convenient for you, then. How long have you been cheating on me?”
“A few months. I’m sorry, I should have done this earlier.”
“Yes, you should have you –” she bit her tongue, knowing if she gave in the vitriol would burst like a damn and he would probably just hang up.
“I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?” That made her laugh. She could feel him cringe through the phone.
“Yes there is. You can call all the guests and tell them the wedding is over.”
“What about your family? Shouldn’t you be the one –”
“All the guests,” she said, ignoring him. “I’ll tell my parents and brother and sister, but you’re on the hook for everyone else.”
“Okay,” he said reluctantly. “I guess that’s fair.”
“I’ll cancel everything else. I have the wedding binder. Unless you took that too, or dumped it somewhere when you left the house a fucking mess.”
“I’m sorry about the way I left the house. I just thought it would be best if I was gone instead of doing this in person.”
“Of course, because it would have had to take some strength of character to do this in person. What about the house?”
“What about it?”
“What about it?”
“I mean payments. . .”
“It’s your house, remember? You bought it. It’s all in your name.”
“Well, consider it a parting gift. I don’t expect anything back. Once you graduate next year you’ll be pulling down PhD money, remember?” He asked lightly, but she only scowled.
“Because the world is eager to hire someone with a PhD in English.” She said bitterly. “About as eager to give me a decent man.” She could hear him open his mouth but pushed on. “So that’s it, then? This is all over?”
“I’m sorry, but yes. I’ll call all the guests. I have that information in my email.”
“Don’t forget to tell them why it’s cancelled. That you’re a lying fucking coward and a cheater!” She pressed the off button.
Trembling with a rage she had never experienced, Elenore leaned against the wall and slowly slid down to sitting on the floor. Her phone was flashing; one missed call from mom. Lowering her head onto her arms, she finally allowed herself time to cry.
Elenore placed her phone on the kitchen table and looked at the clock on the red accent wall. Half past three in the afternoon. She closed her wedding binder for what would be the last time. Everything was cancelled. Her ring finger was bare – the ring having been returned as soon as the mall opened. Thankfully Craig has purchased a return warranty and she received a full refund for the diamond, and a sad look from the saleswoman. “Such a beauty,” she had said. “I’m so sorry it didn’t work out.”
Elenore just nodded her thanks. But after a night of lonely self-pity, she was starting to realize that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. The ring had been a gold diamond, and she always preferred silver and rubies. Shouldn’t her fiancé have known that?
The rest of the morning and early afternoon had been dedicated to cancelling everything and avoiding her mother’s calls. But now that everything was sorted, she knew it was time to talk. And she didn’t have to wait long; her mother called her a few minutes after she closed the binder.
“Elenore! Where have you been? I’ve been trying to –”
“The wedding’s off, mom.”
“get a hold of you, I have some thoughts on your bouquet.”
“get a hold of you, I have some thoughts on your bouquet.”
“Mom. The wedding is cancelled.”
“What would you think of pink instead of red roses? Wait, what did you just say?”
“I said the wedding is cancelled.”
“Oh god, what did you do?”
Elenore decided to let that one pass. “Craig met someone else. He said what we had wasn’t real love. He left a note and the ring, which I returned this morning and used to pay off the deposits.”
“Oh honey, oh I’m so sorry. What a jerk!” The remark from her mother brought a small smile to her lips. She knew her mother would have to be really, really pissed to use such a bad word.
“But all that work for the wedding…”
“All that work is cancelled. He’s going to tell everyone it’s off too.”
“Well, damn right he should! I’m going to call him and give him a piece of my mind!”
“No, Mom, please. Just let it be.”
A bell rang through her house and it took her a second to realize it was the doorbell. Not expecting anything or anyone, Elenore pushed herself to her feet.
“Mom, sorry someone is here, I have to go. Please, don’t do anything about the wedding. Just tell the family, okay?”
“Of course honey. Call me later.
“I will. Bye.”
She pressed the off button and slid her phone into her jean pocket as she reached the door. Expecting something to do with the wedding cancellation, she was completely unprepared for the person who stood before her.
No more than fourteen, the young woman’s purple streaked black hair was pulled into a braid wrapped around her small shoulder. Her eyes matched her hair; black eye liner and violet shadow surrounded the chocolate brown, a colour very similar to Elenore’s own eyes. Her small frame donned a black and white stripped T-shirt style dress.
“Hi. Um, hello,” her small lips said as she took in Elenore. Her voice was softer than she expected a mini-goth girl to sound.
“Hi. . . can I help you?” Elenore asked, lightly holding the door open with her hand. She had had enough surprises and hoped this was just someone looking for directions.
“I’m looking for Eric Fletcher.”
“I’m his sister, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Does he live here? I saw this address was listed to ‘E. Fletcher.’”
“That’s me, I’m Elenore. Eric is . . . away at the moment,” she said, reluctant to give away her brother’s location to a stranger. Not that he could be tracked down anyway, unless this girl was an experienced mountain climber.
“Oh. Do you know where he lives?”
“I’m sorry, what is this about?” Elenore watched as the girl bit her lower lip, clearing waging some internal war about what to say next. It was then that she noticed the large frayed backpack resting on the porch.
“I’m pretty sure he’s my father.” The girl said.
They stood in silence for a moment. Assuming Elenore had nothing left to say, the girl shrugged. “Look, sorry if I bothered you. I’ll just go.”
“No!” Elenore cried. Though she knew nothing about this girl, clearly she was not well off and could use some support. “Please, come in. How about something to drink?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, please. Sorry, you just surprised me. I didn’t know Eric had a daughter. I think we have a lot to talk about.” Elenore led her to the kitchen table, where she took a hesitant seat. Allowing her visitor a moment to settle, Elenore made herself busy in the fridge.
“Iced tea ok?”
She took two cans from the fridge and filled up glasses, then moved them to the table and took a seat.
“This is a really nice home.”
Elenore shrugged. “It’s not much, I know. It’s a small Victorian, but I fell in love with it when I saw it. And I love the location. Big yard, old trees, garden, all that stuff.”
“Must be nice to be out of the city,” her visitor said.
“Can I get your name?” Elenore promoted.
“Oh sorry. It’s Magnolia. But everyone calls me Maggie. Apparently I was conceived under a Magnolia tree. That’s what mom always told me.”
The image of her parent’s pink Magnolia tree flashed into her mind.
“And your mother is?”
“Shelly Brockman.” The name was vaguely familiar to Elenore. “And was. She died about eight years ago.”
“Oh god, I’m so sorry.”
“It was her own fault. ODed on heroine.”
“Oh god, I do remember Shelly,” Elenore said. Though she was a few years older than Eric, she remembered when he went through his ‘bad girl’ phase and dated Shelly when he was seventeen. She always assumed it was just to irritate his parents, which it did to no end. Even in high school Shelly was rumored to have several vices, including alcohol and drugs. The family had always assumed she wanted Eric for his money and Eric wanted her to piss off his parents. She didn’t remember their courtship lasting that long.
“Yea. So when she died I went to live with my aunt and her revolving door of boyfriends. But Mom always told me who my dad was, she just didn’t want to do anything about letting him know about me. Said his parents would take me away from her. In the end it didn’t really matter, though. She loved the high more than me.”
Elenore’s eyes washed over the wedding binder she had just experienced such grief over, and felt ashamed at the misery she had allowed herself.
“Anyway,” Maggie rushed on, “my aunt is away for two weeks with a boyfriend. I thought I would come look for my . . . dad.”
“Where have you been living?” Elenore asked, trying to get an idea of how far Maggie had travelled to meet Eric.
“Not far, just Halifax. I took a bus here.”
“But the nearest bus stop is by the off ramp exit,” Elenore said, dreading the next response. The off ramp was about seven kilometres away from her house.
“I walked. It wasn’t too far and it’s warm out. Plus school is over for the summer. And it wasn’t a total waste. I got to meet my aunt.”
Aunt. She wasn’t supposed to be called an aunt for another four months, when her youngest sister had her baby. The baby everyone was looking forward to, that her mother was dotting on in the excitement of being a grandmother.
“Can I ask how old you are?”
“Fourteen.” Elenore took a sip of her drink and Maggie did the same. “Do you think you could tell me where my dad is?”
“I’d love to take you to Eric . . . er . . . your dad. But I can’t right now. He’s climbing the Andes.” The statement caused confusion. “It’s a huge mountain ridge in South America. He just started last month and has a few more months to go. Plus he lives in Vancouver. He didn’t plan to be back to Nova Scotia until Christmas anyway.”
Elenore could tell Maggie often wore a tough exterior; being the daughter of a drug addict mother would have left little option. But the girl looked clearly hurt by the realization that Eric was out of reach.
“Do you think you could give me a drive back to the bus stop?” She asked quickly, leaning down to pick up her bag.
For the second time in two days, Elenore reacted without thinking. “Maggie, listen. I’ve never been a mother, but I’m pretty sure fourteen year olds shouldn’t be left alone for two weeks. How about you stay with me?”
“You’ve come a long way to meet your other family, and right now that’s me. I’d love for you to stay and get to know my niece, really. Plus, well, my fiancé just left me yesterday, and –”
“Your fiancé dumped you?”
“Yea, three weeks before the wedding. Apparently we didn’t have the ‘real thing.’ But he was having the ‘real thing’ with someone else for about six months.”
“What an asshole.”
“Yea, total asshole.”
“That sucks,” Maggie said. “Then why would you want me around?”
“So I don’t spend the foreseeable future sitting around eating icecream and feeling sorry for myself.”
“Don’t you have a job?”
“Yes and no. I’m doing my PhD and I already finished my summer courses. I’m off for the next two months. You can stay as long as you want. We would just have to turn the office into a guest room. But there is already a futon in it. What do you say?”
Elenore watched Maggie closely. She could see the delight in the girl’s eyes and the twitches as she tried to fight an eager smile.
“That’s be great.”
“Okay then. So, that thing I said about eating icecream. I didn’t mean I wasn’t going to give into that cliché for at least one night. How about we fix up your room, then spend the night with pizza, junk food, and some movies?” She looked at the clock to see it was already half past four.
“That sounds really nice.”
“Then let’s go work up an appetite.”
Elenore sat in the darkness by her bedroom widow, watching the clouds scatter over the moon. She and Maggie had retired to bed over an hour ago, but she was unable to find comfort in sleep. Her stomach twisted slightly, telling her she was getting too old to spend three hours eating pizza, chips and icecream while drinking sugary iced tea. But she knew it wasn’t her stomach keeping her up. Craig gone, and enter Maggie.
After taking an hour to move the office around so the futon was made into a bed and Craig’s empty dresser pushed into the room, they had taken all the office equipment to the dining room for Elenore to set up there. It was a small room but the antique table would be a fine desk until . . . well, she wasn’t sure until when. Something about Maggie’s story of her aunt taking off for two weeks didn’t sit quite right with her. Though neither did a mother choosing heroine over a child. But the part about her own parents probably battling it out over child custody if they had known about Maggie sounded pretty damn accurate.
God, her parents. Her family. She wasn’t really sure how to break this to everyone. The best she could think of was their traditional Saturday evening dinner. Occasionally Eric has been able to Skype in, maybe he would in two days as well. She prayed to the travel and communication gods that he would.
In the meantime, she had to figure out what to do with a tragic teenager. Try as she might, Maggie couldn’t hide the excitement at having something like a room to herself for the first time in her life, an organized place to store her clothes, and the space of a house. Elenore had found out that Maggie grew up in a series of apartments in the less than desirable areas of Halifax, most of them one bedroom. She had confessed that her aunt’s place had a long narrow closet that she usually slept in whenever her aunt had a male visitor over and she didn’t want to sleep in the living room. The state of the girl’s affairs left Elenore feeling heartsick. And without realizing it, protective that her parents wouldn’t find out and try to uproot Maggie to their home.
Elenore returned to her bed, shifting herself into the middle now that there was no one taking up the other side. There was something about Maggie’s timing that seemed just right. She knew Craig wouldn’t have taken her in; having never been shy of voicing his opinions for the lower classes and the plight they endured, all of which he said was their own fault. She smiled, thinking of how much easier it was to just think negative thoughts about him than missing him, and gently drifted to sleep.
Elenore woke earlier than she would have liked after the trouble she had falling asleep. But being fortunate enough to never need much sleep, she moved out of bed quickly and into the bathroom. After a quick shower, she cracked Maggie’s door to ensure she was still there and hadn’t pulled a Jean Valjean on her, robbing her blind in the night. Her fears proved ungrounded as she looked at the teenager who had entered her life, breathing heavily on the bed.
After dressing into khaki shorts and a white blouse, she went downstairs to do . . . what? She thought. What would a troubled teen want when they first woke up? She figured it would either be solitude or food, and decided to provide both options. If Maggie wanted to sleep until noon, so be it. If she wanted to wake up to blueberry pancakes, well that would also be an option.
Elenore was glad it turned out to be the latter option. Hearing the doors opening and closing just as she was finishing with the pancakes, a freshly cleaned Maggie came downstairs wearing a black mid-thigh skirt and navy tanktop, her hair still damp from the shower. Elenore smiled at the curls.
“What?” Maggie asked, aware of her aunt’s gaze.
“Nothing, sorry. I like your hair.”
“You do?” Maggie seemed surprised as she tentatively sat at the table and looked at the plate of food.
“You have the same curls I do.”
“Oh yea. Did you make this for me?”
“For both of us. Blueberry pancakes are my favourite breakfast. But French Toast is a close second. Maybe we’ll do that tomorrow if you want.”
“That would be nice,” she said meekly, and started pouring syrup onto three pancakes. They ate in silence for a few minutes until Maggie spoke up. “These are really good. I’ve never had pancakes before.”
“What?” Elenore asked, before checking herself and thinking of Maggie’s situation growing up. “Sorry, I just assumed, but I shouldn’t have, that most people have pancakes.”
“Mom wasn’t really a cooking type, and Aunt Janine was even worse. Whenever there was breakfast it was usually stale cereal that she got at the foodbank.”
“Things must have been very difficult for you.”
She shrugged and finished her breakfast. “Dealing with the hand we’re given and all that crap.”
“Well like I said, you can stay as long as you want. If you like it here after two weeks, maybe I can talk to your aunt about you staying longer.”
Maggie avoided the topic. “Yea that sounds good. What are we doing today?” She asked quickly.
Elenore let the topic drop and moved on. “I noticed you didn’t have a lot of clothes when you were unpacking, and I need some new summer stuff. And groceries. How about we go to superstore. I can get us some clothes and you can help me pick out the food you like.” She looked at Maggie’s expression and frowned. “I’m sorry, I’m not used to entertaining teenagers.”
“No, it sounds really good. I just don’t have any money.”
“You’re my guest, don’t worry about that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. Besides, you’re doing be a favour. This way I won’t be pining over Craig for the next two weeks.”