Posted in Character Stories

The Last Dance

Matthew secures the mask over my face and then steps back to look at me. “You’re divine, darling.”

I don’t bother to look in the mirror or offer my opinion. This doesn’t need to be a controversy between us. If he says I look better with my face covered, then so be it.

I take a deep breath and try to push down the juvenile need to rip off this entire outfit and hide in my room. Instead, I perform the twirl that Matthew is asking for as he claps and tosses praise my way. 

Maybe it will be a good night. He’s gone out of his way to make this an event for me. I flash him an awkward smile, the edges of my mask pressing into my lips. 

“You’re going to enjoy the carnival themes, darling,” Matthew continues talking, holding his arm out for me to grab as he sweeps us out of the room. “Everyone will be dressed well and have masks and then there’s all sorts of apple treats and I even got a pianist to come play.”

Lucy isn’t performing?

I jot the words onto my pocket notepad in a quick rush.

Matt shakes his head. “She had other plans.”

Oh. It’s fine. I try to breathe past the rock now settling in my chest. This is okay. I’m great. She’s allowed to have a life outside of me. A dark little whisper at the back of my mind whines that something is wrong, but I shake it off. I just thought she would have done something special for my birthday.

No worries. My husband hasn’t let me out of his sight today and I’m in for an evening of perfectly executed activities orchestrated by the great Matthew Krawlski. 

We enter the elevator together as I stuff away my pad of paper, Matt stepping in first as I follow a step behind before coming to stand at his side. He presses the button to plummet us to the bottom, keying in a special code to keep the doors for opening for anyone else in the hotel. I stare straight ahead, my eyes catching on the gold mask covering my face. It follows the curve of my cheekbones, arching over my nose and sealing itself to my features. There’s no embellishments or feathers or anything fun. Its solid gold form fitted to conceal my identity.

Matthew made a point of physically turning me into a trophy husband. 

Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t even wearing a mask. Matthew Krawlski isn’t the kind of man who hides his face when he can flash people his charming smile and get people to simply do anything he asks. 

It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother me. 

I don’t know why my head is such a mess today. 

I take a shuddering breath as the elevator eases down to the lowest level. Here we go. Time to be excited for a party I didn’t ask to have. 

The doors slide open. I wrinkle my nose. Sassafras. It’s not my favorite smell. Sweet and woodsy. The cloying quality of it makes me sick to my stomach. Matt takes a deep breath, though, so I don’t say anything as he leads me out into the dimly lit room. 

The party is already in full swing. There have to be over two hundred people milling about in the space below. Matthew clears his throat. I don’t need him to verbally lecture me right now. 

Eyes forward, shoulders straight, and for the life of me, I need to not trip down the stairs. 

The music is silenced. Our names are announced. People cheer as Matt waves and walks with me down the spiral staircase meant for these theatrics. 

When we reach the bottom, my too shiny shoes squeaking across the polished tiles, Matt clears his throat and looks out at the crowd that looks as excited to praise us as they would be to rip us to shreds. “Thank you all for being here. My husband’s birthday is a grand affair. I even got him out of his room.”

There’s chuckles through the surrounding group. To them, I’m a weird recluse, a nobody, a man who sunk my claws into Matt for his money and didn’t look back. Nobody knows the real reason Matthew so rarely drags me out to these affairs. They don’t know that I truly have claws and not enough self-control to always hide them. 

Deep breath. Again. My last therapist insisted that breathing was the key to everything.

I can’t tell if it’s working as Matt signals to someone in the crowd and the lights turn a moody red. Everyone is ushered to the sides. A piano is lifted up onto a stage and light music begins to play at the whim of the pianist. 

“I hired him just for you, darling. He plays all that classical shit you adore.”

If anybody else was nearby, Matt wouldn’t curse. He feels comfortable here. He thinks he’s done a good job. 

We walk by a large table filled with food. There’s chocolate fountains and mountains of meats and cheeses on gold platters that sparkle with the red lighting. Desserts tower everywhere else. Truffles and flaky cookies and a hundred other pastries line circular plates. At the end, there’s sweet caramel apples, some of them sliced open to show off the center. They’ve been there too long. Oxidation has settled in the core, turning them brown amongst the table of delicacies. 

It’s rare for Matt to allow an imperfection. 

I don’t mention it. Instead, I keep my fingers on the crook of his elbow and follow him to the front of the crowd. The dancefloor. He turns to face me as the pianist switches to a slow tune. 

“Will you allow me the first dance, darling?”

It’s not a choice. I don’t need to pull out my notepad to form an answer. I just put my hands into his and follow along to the steps of the waltz. 

The crowd cheers as we spin. I shut my eyes as the lighting changes from red to blue to pink to yellow. It’s a rainbow array meant to dizzy and disorient. 

I miss my footing. 

Matt catches me as I crumple, a curse under his breath. “Keep it together, Miles. We’re in front people,” he growls, no concern on his harsh features for what is likely a sprained ankle as I gingerly limp through the rest of the song. 

There’s applause. My whole leg is throbbing with it. Matt pulls me down into a bow before welcoming the rest of the people out onto the dance floor as the pianist begins a jaunty tune. 

“You should take a minute to recover.”

No pet name. Matthew’s mad. In his mind, I just embarrassed him in front of hundreds of people. 

Even if I wanted to complain, I don’t dare grab the notepad from my pocket. There’s no way I’m writing out my feelings to him in the middle of this elaborate affair. I’ll stay quiet. I’m plenty good at staying quiet. 

Matt tucks me into a booth to the side of the stage that’s mostly hidden from the party. “Take a few minutes. When you’re ready, I’ll be making arrangements with some of the big players in the city. There’s a private table at the back. The security knows to let you pass. Can you handle being alone?”

I excel at being alone. Matt grabs my chin, though, when I don’t answer quick enough. His hold is rough enough to bruise. A shuddering breath rushes through my clenched teeth as I stare up at him. 

I will not cry. I won’t make a sniffle. He’ll be distracted soon. 

“Behave yourself. Do you understand?”

There’s no hesitation this time. I nod. I nod too quickly into his hand and he drops it. Stepping away, he throws an unnecessary affectionate phrase over his shoulder to keep his image good with anybody nearby and then struts off to care for his precious business. 

God. I hate my birthday. 

If I could laugh, I would now. Not some mirthful sound, but a choked gasp at my situation. This is my life. This is the foreseeable course of my life. I have years if not decades or centuries going through these motions. 

Matthew Krawlski will never let me go. 

The piano music changes. I tilt my head to look over at the dark form walking away from the stage as the pianist gives a thumbs up for the requested song. It’s not a classical tune. 

Matt is going to be so upset if he realizes this guy is playing other songs. 

Yet… I don’t want it to stop. I think I can recognize it. 

It’s on the tip of my tongue. A warm wiggling at the base of my mind, the title just barely escapes my capture. It’s something that probably played on the radio once when I was walking through the hotel lobby.

Before I can come to any conclusion on its origin or importance in my life, the lights swivel to catch on a man in a mask similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera. He has a microphone in his hand. He’s…

He’s singing and looking straight over at this booth. 

That deep voice. The amusing swing of his hips. This guy must be a performer. He’s used to standing in front of people and making a fool of himself. 

But that voice. I could listen to it every day for the rest of my life. 

My fingers trail the scar on my own throat. My memories are jumbled. I think I used to like to sing, though. I would have liked the chance to sing with this man as he repeats the chorus and demands that the audience to his words saves the last dance for him. 

I’ve heard those words before, but I just can’t remember. 

Eventually, the song ends and the pianist continues onto another song. Someone else gets on stage to sing. She’s nowhere near as good as the last guy. 

I don’t have much time to ponder anything because I’m no longer alone. My shoulders stiffen. I try to paste on a bland smile to fend off Matt, but…it’s not him. The guy with the phantom mask. He unabashedly shows off half of his handsome face, daring anyone to identify him outside of this particular event. 

He holds his hand out to me. “I really would like that last dance if you wouldn’t mind.”

How do you know it’ll be the last? I want to ask. I want to know his name and why he has gone out of his way to make a spectacle in my husband’s hotel. 

But, I look into his deep brown eyes and forget to grab my writing pad. 

Is this what it feels like to know in your soul that you’ve met someone in a past lifetime and they’ve managed to make it back to you?

I don’t know. 

I want to find out. 

Knowing there will be consequences, I slip my fingers into his gloved hand and step out of the safety of the booth.

Author’s Note

Welcome back to Miles’ portion of this complex story. If you’re new or want to follow re-read his stories, check out: High School Nightmare, Three Little Words, and Artists as well as this week’s prompt.

There are some exciting twists coming in his story, so hang in there and keep checking back here for his intermittent additions.

If you’re following along with Lore, Matthew Krawlski just became a named character in the latest episode. Read it now by clicking here: Lore by Angelica Reece

As always, I would not make it every week without my amazing writing partner cheering me on. Please go see Bridgette’s rendition of this piano prompt! A Night at the Carnival

Thank you so much for coming here every week. We’ll see you next time!

Posted in Character Stories

Fate and Fortune

We’re eating Chinese food. Again. It seems to be Ashby’s absolute favorite. Take out boxes stick out of the top of the garbage can as I shove in the last few and then return to the fridge to put away the leftovers. 

“Come eat. I can take care of that.”

The silly man pops back into the kitchen from the living room, our plates of food balanced in his hands as he gives me a meaningful look that suggests saying no isn’t really an option. Sticking my tongue at him, I cross the space between us and accept my plate. We haven’t picked out a kitchen table yet. I’ve convinced him that we really should have it before the holidays, but he’s skeptical of online shopping and we haven’t decided on a day to visit the furniture warehouse. 

I settle onto my spot on the couch, my laptop already set up on a chair opposite our sitting space to give us something to watch. “What are you in the mood for tonight, Mr. Carter?”

Mouth already too full of orange chicken, he gives me a shrug and motions for me to click something. Rolling my eyes at his silly expression, I turn on the documentary I was in the middle of on my lunch break at work. A complex look into numerology and astrology and the way the two sciences might be able to help each other further find answers to the biggest questions of the world. 

“I didn’t know you were so interested in the stars, Lucy.”

I give him a shrug as I spin chow mein noodles around my fork. “I like to watch all sorts of things. The last one was about the ocean.”

He nods along to my words. “I remember. You didn’t like the giant squids.”

“The purpose of the video was to talk about recycling and cleaning up the ocean. They didn’t need to traumatize me with clips of the scariest aliens in the universe.”

Ashby throws his head back and chuckles like I’m the most hilarious person ever. I love his laugh. I love the way that he lets the sound vibrate from his chest to his mouth like he’s savoring every part of it. It reminds me that he hasn’t always had a happy life.

Rather than get into our crappy origin stories, I focus on the computer screen as dictionary definitions for different words flash across the video. Ashby munches next to me, the sound competing with the calm voice of the documentary. He’s an impeccable eater when anybody else is here, but an absolute gremlin when we’re alone. 

He trusts me enough to be himself. 

That thought settles like a brick in my stomach. It knocks the wind from my chest. I almost choke on my last bite of food.

He trusts me. 

Me?

I was a mess when we met. I’m still a giant mess. Ashby Carter flaunts our relationship. He shows me off and then stands back when it’s my turn to perform. I don’t know what to say other than he’s absolutely perfect. Even my mom liked him. 

I just don’t know if I’ll ever be enough. 

He’s had eighty years of life before running into me. There’s no way for me to bridge that kind of experience. I’m making shit up as I go. Whether at work where I challenge my boss for more hours and to give me creative freedom or out at any of the fancy restaurants Ashby wants to try after dressing me up in all sorts of colored fabrics, I always feel a bit out of my own depth. 

Everyone else has their shit figured out and I’m over here watching videos steeped in conspiracy theories. 

Real sexy, Lucy. That’s what gets a guy to stay. 

“Do you think any of this has real substance to it?” He asks next to me, his hand halfway raised to his mouth with a piece of broccoli while he arches an eyebrow at me. 

I knew he wasn’t going to like it. “We can watch something else.”

He drops his fork and grabs my wrist before I can click the laptop mouse and put myself out of this misery. “Why? I’m enjoying it.”

I shake my head. “You think it’s silly.”

Confusion clouds his dark eyes. “It’s not silly. I think it’s interesting. You’re interesting, Lucy, and I’ve never seen this topic discussed before. I just wanted to know if you think it’s real?”

It might be foolish of me to tell the truth, but I can’t lie to him, so I nod my head. “I hope so. I’d like to believe that there isn’t necessarily an omniscient spirit carving out our lives, but that the universe has a hand in crafting fate. How else would I have run into you and fallen in love?”

Pink colors his cheeks. “You don’t think my good looks and awkward tendencies had anything to do with falling in love?”

His hand is still on my wrist, those cool fingertips pressing against my pulse as I smile at him. “It might have done a little something. We’re basically opposite astrological signs, so I guess the universe didn’t technically set us up for success.”

Questions flit over his features. It’s not a night for questions. My scientist can’t focus on anything else until he thinks he has an entire problem solved. I tug him close and silence him with a kiss. 

Ashby melts against me, his immediate reaction to deepen our intimate touch as he carefully balances his plate in his other hand. This. I could do this every day and I believe that we were destined to stay together. 

Tears threaten to spill. I need a moment to myself. Just to gather my thoughts and compose myself. My emotions are sitting right under the surface of my skin. They’re pushing and pushing and going to spill over if I can’t go take a deep breath and calm down. 

“Where are you going?”

I barely manage to lean back and disentangle myself from the man. Off the couch. I have to move and get space and… and I don’t know what else, but I can’t draw a full breath and there’s tears already blurring my vision. 

Crap. I don’t want him to see me like this. 

I don’t have a way to answer. Shaking my head at Ashby’s next words, I leave at a slight jog, taking my entire plate with me to the bathroom as I close and lock the door behind me. I let the plate sit on the edge of the sink as I settle onto the ledge of the bathtub. There’s no stopping the tears. 

I bury my face in my hands, but it’ll never be enough to silence the sobs coming out of me. Ashby can hear. He can hear everything. Usually, it’s cute, but right now I don’t need him privy to my mental breakdown. 

As always, he’s there anyway, his voice low on the other side of the door. “Lucy? Did I say something wrong?”

No. 

He could never say anything wrong. That’s the problem. 

I’m the problem and I have no idea how to express that without him coming to the rescue like a vampire in shining armor. 

“I can’t help if you don’t talk to me, Lucy.”

My chest is so tight. I stagger to my feet and stare at my red face in the mirror. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to feel better. How’s a girl like me supposed to wake up every day next to someone like him and feel like the world isn’t going to tear us apart?

He’s too good to be true. 

There’s some crinkling on the other side of the door. Ashby must have brought his food, too. I listen to him rustle in the hallway as I grab a handful of toilet paper and attempt to fix the mess that is my face. 

“You believe in constellations bringing people together, right?”

It’s not exactly how I would usually phrase the concept of astrology, but I don’t bother correcting him as we continue to speak through the door. “Yeah,” my voice leaves me in a croak, the traitorous vocal cords doing nothing to mask the fact that I’m upset from the caring man waiting for me. 

There’s a snap and then Ashby’s voice filters through the wood once more. “So, do fortune cookies fall into the same category? Like fate has a way of making sure you get the right words at the right time?”

“I suppose.”

“I hope so, because mine says,” there’s a dramatic pause as he pulls the paper out from the cookie. “You will marry your lover.”

I let out a hiccup as I smile at myself in the mirror. “Marriage, Ashby? Is that something you’re already thinking about?”

“It’s something I would like to think about with you. You’re my everything, Lucy Lore.”

Here he goes again. Telling me that I’m amazing. He’ll confess to our empty hall that I bring magic into his life. The walls of this house have heard every way he can possibly phrase the words I love you. Ashby Carter loves loudly and on repeat. 

He deserves a girl who does the same.

“What if you find someone who is better?”

“That’s impossible. I want you, Lucy. I’m not going to change my mind.”

For a genius, Ashby can be so thick sometimes. I don’t want to spell out my insecurities to him. I don’t even know if I can find the words to do so, but we’re clearly not going to continue our evening until I can, so I try my best to get it out. 

“What if we get fifteen years down the line and you realize that I’m annoying or I just stop fitting into your life? You have a whole family that’s immortal. I haven’t even met your older brother. What if he hates me and you decide to take his side?”

I wish I could see him. He probably has his forehead on the door as he listens to each and every syllable of my ridiculous monologue. 

“Love isn’t something that just happens to people, Lucy. It’s a choice. I’ve made it every day since you patched me up after the carnival and I’ll continue to make it every day after that. I want everything you’ll give me and I’ll never think you’re boring or annoying or not enough.”

“But how do you know?” I’m yelling the words at my reflection, the stupid girl in the mirror pressing me to get to the bottom of this before we lose our heart completely to that man out there. 

“I just do, Lucy.”

Hot tears streak down my cheeks. It’s not enough. I can’t base my entire future on him just happening to think he knows something.

“I was born in 1926, Lucy Lore. Since then, I’ve survived war and been transformed into something more than human. I’ve loved one person before you and only stopped when he threw me out of his life.” There’s a short pause as he takes a shuddering breath on the other side of the door, the impact of those words rattling me to my bones. “I’m not asking you to be certain about this right now, but I’ve lived long enough to know when I want something, someone, and I will never give up on you. If you asked me to leave, Lucy, I would, but I wouldn’t stop loving you.”

That’s it. The right combination of words to thaw the icy hold my emotions have had on my heart. I leave the sink in a near sprint, fumbling with the lock and crashing out into the hall. 

Later, he’s going to lecture me about how hard it is to get fried rice off of the floor. Now, though, he doesn’t say anything about the plate of food on the floor, the sweet and sour sauce exploded over both of our ankles. I wrap my arms around him and bury my face in his shoulder.

“Just tell me if you ever start to resent me.”

He chuckles into my hair, promising that my worst fears will never come.

Author’s Note

This blog post was a special request from my number one fan and amazing spouse. She’s the entire reason behind my Lore series becoming a published sequence and I can’t so no when she begs for more Lucy and Ashby scenes.

Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this week’s story and be sure to check out Lore on kindle vella to catch up with these two characters: Lore

As always, please take an extra moment to read my writing partner’s story as well! Let’s go to the ocean by Bridgette White

Have a great night and we’ll see you next Saturday!

Posted in Character Stories

News

“Ashby!”

A hand towel thrown over my shoulder, I look down at the list of ingredients for this recipe again while Lucy bounds in from the other room. Cooking is still difficult. Baking is impossible. She wants me to make cherry blossom cookies from some handwritten recipe her mother gave her a lifetime ago. It, however, is not going well. 

Unconcerned with my baking implements or her personal safety, she hops up onto the counter. Flour coats the side of her leg. Her dazzling eyes snag on my boxers and then bare chest before meeting my gaze. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way she devours me without any hesitation. There’s no way to describe the way my chest begins to flutter at her mere presence. Lucy is magic and that’s all I truly know in this world. 

“Yes, Lucy?”

She flips her phone towards me, the bright screen jittery in her hold as I try to read the bold words: Archaeologists in Poland Just Unearthed the Remains of a 17th Century Vampire. My fingers wrapped around her wrist in order to steady the device, I read the heading twice while I try to suppress a smile. I think I already know what she’s going to say. 

“Did you know her?”

Yep. That’s it. Grabbing a pinch of flour off of the counter, I flick it onto her tank top while I shake my head. “How old do you think I am again, Lady Lore?”

She laughs, scooping up flour and sprinkling it into my hair. “Just old enough, Mr. Carter. Seriously, though, I know you couldn’t have known her while she was alive, but do you know about the vampires in Poland?”

I shrug. “Ivan supposedly comes from there. He might have known her.”

Turning the phone back to herself, she scrolls further down to show me details of how the poor woman was buried. A sickle over her throat and a padlock on her left toe. It makes for a great story, but would be effectively useless against an actual creature of the night. Not that I’m volunteering to test that theory. I think being buried alive is one of the worst punishments in this world. I’ve lived through it and I won’t do it again. 

“Apparently, she had large front teeth, so the community thought she was either a witch or a vampire.”

I work on putting all of my ingredients together as I shake my head at her. “You’ve likely met more than a few vampires in your life, Luc. We don’t walk around with our fangs showing.”

Waving my reply off, she continues to scroll. “This anthropologist down at the bottom says that the fear of vampirism has always been thought of as an outside issue in these old towns, but this woman seems to have been a wealthy occupant of the community. That’s so horrible! Her own people likely turned on her because she got sick.”

“People have died for less, love.”

She pushes my shoulder. “You’re so pessimistic today, Ashby!”

I pull myself away from the cookie dough long enough to give her a lopsided grin. “Death is something that has been put into artwork for centuries. Talking about it doesn’t stop it from existing. I didn’t know this woman. I just know that she’s likely not a vampire.”

The oven chimes to let me know it’s hot enough to start baking the cookies. Lucy pulls the mixing bowl closer to herself and starts spooning cookies out onto the already lined tray. She’s quiet. I don’t’ push her to say anything. Instead, I give her a moment to process what she’s read and come up with the questions I know she’ll want to ask next. 

There was a time in my life that I built a metaphorical wall between me and anything else. When I met Lucy it became a chain link fence, letting good moments filter through between us. Now, there’s nothing but comfortable silence as she scoops my poorly mixed dough onto the tray. 

“Do you think you’ll ever have to bury me?”

The words are so quiet, I would’ve thought they came from the back of my mind if I hadn’t seen her lips move. Panic swells through my chest. Yes. I’ve thought about death for months now. I know how it looms over the naive, more than willing to take a life before it’s ready to go. Death will not come for me. Try as I might, it seems to pull away every chance I give it, but it could definitely hurt me more by coming after this woman on the kitchen counter. 

“Why would you ask?” I finally make myself say, depositing the first tray of cookies into the oven and leaning against its warm front to give myself a way to stay grounded in this tumultuous conversation. 

She shrugs, eyes down as she starts dishing cookies onto the next tray. “I’m a syren. I have magic and I’m pretty cool, but I don’t know what my expected life span is supposed to be. My mom left so early, you know?”

I nod and cross the space between us. She spreads her legs to allow me to slip between them until I’m close enough to hold her warm body to mine. Her head on my shoulder, I hear her sniffle and my heart breaks. 

“I’m going to find a way to never have to leave you, Lucy Lore. I’ll do whatever it takes, okay? Vampires have been taking on mortal companions since the beginning of time. I’m different since I’m a man-made vampire rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon, but I know there’s an answer out there.” 

It’s the best I can give her. Research on this subject hasn’t been the easiest to find. There’s too many unaccounted variables for me to make any positive assumptions. All I know is that it’s possible and I’m the scientist that can figure it out. 

Nothing is going to take me from Lucy. 

She sniffs again and then leans back, giving me a chance to wipe the tears from her face. “Do you promise?”

My chest aches at the way her voice cracks and I immediately nod as I press my forehead to hers. “Yes. I promise that nothing will part us, Lucy Lore. Death can try, but I will always find my way back to you.”

She presses a kiss to my nose. “I promise, too.”

Author’s Note

This week is just a short and sweet scene between Ashby and Lucy since they’ve been on my mind. I completely stumbled across the article detailing the recently discovered vampire and thought it would be a fun conversation between these two. Obsessed with vampires, it was a fun week to dig into some different myths and legends surrounding the death and captures of these infamous creatures.

If you have been following these two in my Lore series on Kindle Vella, you’ll be excited to know that episode eleven will be available this afternoon!

If you haven’t check it out yet, use this link to follow Ashby and Lucy through the beginning of their romance: Lore by A. D. Reece

As always, Bridgette has a story for this week’s prompt and it would mean the world to us if you read that as well:

Have a great Saturday! I’ll be here next week 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

Artists

It looks like my silent visitor is back today. Tucked into a secluded booth usually reserved for V.I.P. guests during the shows, Miles slowly unpacks his art bag with a determined expression. I work through the rest of the steps to the dance I’ve been choreographing for the hotel’s latest show as I watch his gentle brushstrokes onto the canvas. 

Once more with music. 

I click the remote in my pocket. A popular pop song about pondering love blares through the speakers. Miles jolts in his seat, his wild eyes scanning the room. Sometimes I forget that he isn’t used to loud noises. 

Turning the volume down to a whisper, I step through the dance. My focus isn’t on the movements, though. It’s on the way Miles has switched from watercolor paints to a charcoal pencil as his gaze flicks back and forth between me and his work. I wonder what he sees up here. Probably a girl with her life together. At least, I hope I’m managing to pull that much off these days.

The last thing I need is my boss learning from his husband that I am not emotionally competent at the moment. I swear the last three years have shaved a decade off of my life. I’m still a dancer. I still sing. However, if anyone is looking close enough, they’ll notice I’m just going through the motions. 

I run through the dance twice more, sure that I can teach it to the weekend crew. Matthew Krawlski asked for better dances or he would change the entertainment deployment, throwing some of these hardworking dancers out of a job or back into the serving industry they are trying their best to escape. 

I’ve known a hero or two in my lifetime. Good people who gave their lives to better causes than themselves. That’s not who I am, but I think people deserve a chance to fight for their happiness and success, so I’m going to give all I can to these new shows opening at Matthew’s hotel lounge and bar. 

Sweat drips from my hairline as I step off of the stage on tired legs. Dabbing at my face and neck with some napkins, I toss them into a trash can on my way to Miles’ table. It’s not very often the mysterious man is left alone with me. It’s not very often he’s let out of his apartment. Matthew must be too busy to take him out on a proper date. Whether or not he’s attempting to make up for it by letting Miles linger down here isn’t really my business. I think I’ll just take a few minutes to keep Miles company before I head back home and start working on the dance routines for my own club. 

Sliding into the booth across from him, I give him a gentle wave and a big smile. “How are you today, my artist friend?”

His returned grin is a mixture of embarrassed and proud as he points to the canvas he started working on when he got here. The sketch is incredible. A large skull. The impressive shading makes it look like I could reach out and grab it. In each of the eye sockets, he’s carefully painting vivid depictions of the galaxy. It’s beautiful. 

“What does it mean?” 

He pulls out his notepad and jots down a quick note. Does it have to mean something?

I smile at him and shake my head. “Guess not. It’s pretty amazing, though. Has Matthew offered to get you a gallery yet? You must have so much art around your home.”

His nose scrunches. Not very many good pieces.

“Hey,” I tap his note. “Don’t talk about yourself like that. I love your art. You’re a real artist, Miles. The kind of tortured soul that sees more than he could ever say.”

Red brightens his cheeks. Embarrassed. Excited. Some combination of both? Either way, Matthew must not be paying him enough compliments on his work. I’ll just have to make up for it. 

“Can I see what else you were working on?”

That pink stain continues to mar his face as he shakes his head. Not finished.

I shrug. “That’s okay. I won’t judge you. Come on, artist, show me it.”

Biting the corner of his lip, he taps his pencil on the table. Some kind of internal battle is happening behind his brown eyes. I don’t say anything else to pressure him. This is his decision. I won’t take it personally if he’s not ready to share his sketches. 

He returns to writing his notes instead of uncovering the sketch. You’re an artist, Lucy.

I start to shake my head, but he taps his note as if to emphasize his point and then points to the stage. Tears prickle my eyelids. It’s been a long time since someone complimented me for doing more than just my job. 

Before I can come up with a response, he uncovers his sketch and flips it towards me. It’s…Well, it’s me. He has captured my round face and full hips. I’m in just a tank top and leggings today, but this sketch has me in a costume with a plunging neckline and criss-crossing tights. It’s what I wore the last time he came to my show. 

My fingertips flutter over my lips as I stare at the looping lines. He’s captured me with my arms above my head and my expression serious as I stare out at the audience. Not stare. I’m looking for something. For someone. 

Tears burn my eyelids. 

I blink them away to give him a wide smile. “You’re really good at this, Miles. I feel really beautiful in your art.”

His head tilts to the side and then his pencil is moving again across the notepad. You’re sad?

I wave him off. This is not the time and place to admit my own emotional shortcomings. “You’re just so good. I can’t believe someone would draw me.”

He reaches across the table and puts his hand over mine. Tilting his head again, he silently implores for me to say more. 

I almost do. 

The words are clawing at my throat. Vegas has been more than just a difficult transition and the last three years were more than I ever thought I could survive. I’ve had some small successes. I’ve had more failures. I lost everything I thought I needed and survived. 

I’m cut off from explaining myself by a shadow drifting over our table. Matthew Krawlski stops next to Miles, his dark gaze pinned to the spot our hands are connected. I should move. I should walk away. I can’t, though, because Miles tightens his hold on me and bids me to stay with a gentle smile. 

“Do I pay you to sit around, Miss Lore?”

I blow out a slow breath. Smile. Ignore the condescension. A boss is a boss whether I’m home near the Bay or out here in the desert. “I’m not actually on the clock, Mr. Krawlski.” I utter the words with as much polite energy as I can muster, daring him to reprimand me in front of his fragile husband. 

“Miles,” Matthew turns away from me to focus on the real artist at the table. “We have somewhere to be.”

I could have imagined it, but I swear Miles flinched. He pulls his hand away. Everything is happening quickly, but I know his fingertips trembled just slightly before he got his hand off of mine. 

Matthew Krawlski puts on the mask of a good husband. He shows off Miles, forcing him to stay on his arm during big events and make several appearances each month. They have been put on the covers of magazines and interviewed by several large news stations. Of course, the cover of a story isn’t always the truth. 

Miles isn’t really in a position to speak out. He might be good at playing his part as a compliant spouse, but there’s worry in his eyes. He fumbles with his pencil in front of me, ducking his face away from Matthew as he scrawls a signature into the corner of his notebook and rips out the sketch of me. 

“You don’t have to give this to me,” I murmur, gingerly accepting the paper from him as I set aside my worries to focus on this moment. 

He smiles and insists, taking his hands off and waving for me to leave. Ever so carefully, I slide out of the booth with his sketch and grin back at him. 

“This is going to hang in my office, Miles. I really love it.”

I watch as he lays his right hand over his heart and mouths two words: thank you.

It’s such a simple gesture. My chest warm, I step back a few more steps, my smile never leaving my cheeks. I need him to know that I appreciate this. 

What can I do for the husband of the richest man in Las Vegas?

I’ve got it. 

Directing my attention solely on Miles and not on Mr. Krawlski as he hovers over this moment, I hold up one finger to him. “I have something for you, too.”

I run to my bag near the edge of the stage before either of them can stop me and pull out the business card from my latest entrepreneurial venture. Crisp, black script cuts across the center of the card: Nabil’s Night Scene. My friend has had the business for a long time, letting it exist as a seedy bar for shady business dealings and mercenaries looking for a night off, but I’m working with her to retheme and make it better. I’ve already got her to agree to let me choreograph some dancers and to let me sing on the weekends. I think she wouldn’t mind letting me convince her to show off some art, too. 

“Whenever you’re ready for people to see your work, call this number. I think I’ve got the perfect spot for you.”

I hold the card out to Miles, but Matthew plucks it out of my hand and shoves it into his breast pocket. “Thank you, Miss Lore. I think that’s quite enough of you today. Please return for your business hours only.”

Matthew Krawlski has the exterior of a model. He’s got the charming smile with a dimple on his left cheek and dark hair to contrast against his blue eyes. On the outside, he’s everything that people look for in a businessman and potential crush. 

Inside, though, there’s something dark and twisted waiting to take an unsuspecting victim in the dead of night. His tone is polite and he smiles at me, but I know there’s ominous implications to his words. I can come back when I’m scheduled. Matthew doesn’t want me anywhere near Miles. Failure to comply will risk my job and possibly more. 

Ducking back towards the stage, I grab my things off of the ground and sling my bag over my shoulder while I continue to hold Miles’ sketch with all of the care it deserves. I’m out of the employee entrance a moment later. 

I don’t glance back to see Miles, but I hope someday he has a chance to reach out to me.

Author’s Note

Happy Saturday, guys! Thanks for reading this week’s prompt. I hope you all enjoyed a little Lucy and Miles scene. Come back next week to see what happens!

As always, please check out my partner’s blog as well!

Bridgette White: https://bridgettetales.com/2022/09/03/the-broken-shell-a-short-story/

Posted in Character Stories

Parent Problems

Lucy moved in three weeks ago. Between her boss being an ass and me having extra space, there was no reason for her to not. She showed up with two boxes and a handful of garments draped over her arms. I carried in the rest of her possessions from the taxi and set them down on the couch while she settled into my arms to make the official announcement. 

We live together. 

I don’t regret a single moment of it. 

There’s a thud in the other room. Scratch that other comment. 

I don’t regret Lucy being here. I could never get tired of her company and positive energy and the way her things have started to fill up my shelves and closet even though I gave her dedicated areas for it. We look together. My vintage records are interspersed with figurines she adores and little pictures from her time at various burlesque clubs. She’s managed to make the kitchen a more functional room and turned the guest room into a changing area for her costumes. Our toothbrushes share a cup in the bathroom and we share a bed. It’s really the best of everything I could wish. 

Another thud. Okay. I’m up. 

Lucy is sprawled across the mattress, somehow taking more than half of it as her arms and legs spread in opposite directions, my green comforter tucked around her while I’ve been freezing for most of the night. I could get a new blanket from the other room, but then I wouldn’t be sharing the one she’s under. I don’t mind being cold. I don’t think I’d be able to sleep if I couldn’t constantly feel the warmth of her sleeping body and listen to the light snores she would never admit to having. 

A rip sounds through the otherwise silent house. 

There’s one problem with Lucy moving in. 

I listen to paws scamper across the tiled floor of the kitchen, the damn thing moving like a rhinoceros on a rampage. I’m on my way. Coming. One slipper on my right foot, I slide my foot around the floor as I blindly search for the other. There’s another rip. 

Forget the other slipper. I can’t rush into this battle fully prepared. I just have to get out there and tear the tiny puppy teeth out of whatever he has managed to destroy now. 

“Dorian,” I whisper yell into the air, using the name we decided on because I’ve always been an Oscar Wilde fan and Lucy enjoys a more contemporary fantasy series with a prince who shares the same name. 

There’s more pitter pattering of tiny paws as the little monster realizes somebody else is in the house for him to terrorize. His head pops out from behind the corner of the wall that leads to the kitchen. A piece of my black slipper dangles from his mouth. 

“Dorian!” 

The puppy lets out a grumbling yap and then takes off as I step towards him. I stumble into a mess in the kitchen that would make an active werewolf proud. Feathers from one of the couch pillows are strewn through the room, some still floating in the air as the little dog bounces away from me. He’s managed to bump the table hard enough to spill the latest bouquet of flowers I brought home to Lucy, decorating the disaster in splashes of green and pink and yellow from the stems and petals. I don’t even want to think about the creature managing to get into a cupboard just to chew up apples and lemons. He didn’t eat the fruit. Just gnawed on it and left it on the floor for me to pick up. 

My heart hammers against my chest. This isn’t going to work. Lucy is amazing. She’s the love of my life, but this, this is far more than I signed up for. 

Red creeps into the edges of my vision as I watch the ball of fluff roll in his mess and then go back to chewing on my shoe. I knew I should have told Lucy no. She walked home from a job interview three days ago and found him in an abandoned box. They were both wet and shivering from the late hour. There was no way for me to be heartless and tell her the pup had to go. 

This is different, though. He is dry and fed and an absolute terror in the face of the kindness I’ve bestowed upon him. 

Light footsteps sound behind me, the only indication that Lucy is about to sneak up on me. I flinch as her fingers skate along my spine. Breathe, Ashby. Breathe and calm down. This is an irrational reaction to uncertain circumstances. 

Lucy doesn’t shy away from my red eyes and odd behavior. Instead, she loops an arm around my hips and pulls me towards her. “Hey. We can do this.”

All of my threats to throw the puppy back onto the street evaporate. Of course we can do this. She and I can do anything together. 

I wrap my arms around her and kiss her forehead. “I didn’t think parenting a dog would be so difficult.”

She laughs into my shoulder. “You’re doing better than my mom. She abandoned me the second things got hard. We can stick together and help him. He doesn’t know any better, Ashby.”

Yeah. Right. I survived a world war and the transition into a vampire, but Lucy had a far more fucked up childhood. This is important to her. I’ll do anything I can to help her if this is something she needs. 

“Do you want to sweep or start coffee?” I ask as the muddled colors of my vision finally clear. 

She takes the broom immediately, sweeping the pieces into a pile in the center of the room, her giggle filling the space as Dorian flounces in the shifting mess. He catches the end of the broom in his sharp teeth, shaking his head from side to side with a growl. Boiling water for our coffee, I watch the exchange. Lucy and Dorian on opposite ends of the black utensil, laughter and grumbles filling the room. 

This. She needs this. 

I watch the two of them for a moment. Dorian wobbles on his end, unsure of his feet and round body. Lucy lets him win, though. She puts on a big show of losing control of her end of the broom before lowering it to the ground. He pulls it several feet, his short tail blurring as he celebrates his success. Lucy chases after him, tucking her arms around his chubby body and hefting him into the air. 

Pure joy filters through Lucy’s green eyes. The pup yips and wriggles in her arms. The two of them together are the picture of a happy home. 

My happy home. 

I prepare the coffee and move to join them, tip-toeing around the mess until I’m on the other side of Lucy. I take a sip of my hot drink and then offer it to the beautiful woman in my kitchen. That’s not what she wants, though. 

Grabbing me by the back of my neck, she drags me down, kissing me like the lovestruck fool I am. Dorian joins in on the action, licking our chins and grumbling about his squished position. I laugh, patting the little monster on his head. 

.     .     .

I’ve slept less than five hours this week. Dorian is a whirlwind pup that needs to have constant supervision lest he destroy something else in my house. Most of the cupboards now have chew marks on the bottom of their doors. The couch is covered in his thick fur. There’s no correct placement for the furniture anymore. Already growing, Dorian bowls through everything in his way, a tornado ready to take out my home’s interior while I hastily put it back together. 

Lucy has a plan. She squeezes my hand before hefting Dorian into her arms. We’re going on a family walk. Just two lost adults trying to figure out how other people manage to train these feral creatures. 

It’s raining outside, the cold streets of the Bay filled with wind and water. My umbrella wavers in my hold as I try to keep it over Lucy and Dorian. It doesn’t matter if I’m wet. My tailor would yell at me for treating my vests this way, but I don’t care. They’re my priority.

It’s a short walk to the pet store, Dorian wriggling in Lucy’s arms the entire time as he attempts to nip the end of our black umbrella. Naughty pup. Mischievous mutt. He’s going to grow up to have Lucy’s total lack of fear in the face of the world, ready to take everything he can with his front paws and floppy ears. 

As if to give into my theory, the customer service members at the front of the little store completely fall over each other to get to Lucy first, all cooing words and pleas to pet the rambunctious creature that has overturned my life. Lucy lets the two women pet Dorian for a few moments before she starts to tell them about our predicament. In a matter of minutes, Lucy and Dorian are whisked away to the back of the store to talk about training instruments and other puppy needs. 

This is her thing. I let her go, her focus solely on giving this stray animal a good life as she happily takes all of the advice the team members can give her. Wandering on my own, I glance at pictures on the wall behind the service counter. There’s sketches of animals done by children: a cat in green crayon, three dogs in a rainbow selection, turtles, lizards, and several birds outlined by a thoughtful adult and then scribbled in by anxious toddlers. 

My chest tightens. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch Lucy kiss the top of Dorian’s head as he melts into her hold. I’ll never be able to give her this. Children aren’t really the point of genetically altered vampires. I’m a lab experiment gone right. There’s plenty of research on syrens and vampires, but none of them are exactly like me and her. 

We haven’t even had the sex talk. The woman showed up with her things, took over the spare room, and then begged to share my bed when she realized I only had a cot in the other room. I don’t regret a single moment of it, but there are hard things we’ll have to discuss if we want this to last for as long as we both live. 

Shaking off the sad thoughts, I watch her find a green collar with a bow tie and fit it to the puppy. It’s my favorite shade. Green like her eyes. She marks the pup as an official member of our family, accepting a small metal tag for his identification information. The team members have nothing better to do, so they find him a matching harness and leash set that’s meant to expand as he gets bigger. One of them leaves and brings back a cart full of supplies that they assure Lucy is all necessary for our little guy. 

So quickly, Lucy glances to me and bites the corner of her lip. It’s the most nervous I’ve ever seen her. For once, I get the chance to play Prince Charming and dash in to save my damsel in distress. 

“We’ll take it all,” I tell them as I step over. 

Lucy’s eyes widen, but she doesn’t contradict me until the two women have left for the counter. “I’m between jobs right now, Ashby. As much as I love this dog, I can’t exactly afford all of that right now.”

“I can.”

Resting Dorian on one hip, she puts her other hand on her opposite hip as she looks up at me with a look of absolute disbelief. “Way to rub it in my face that you’re super old and have made good investments.”

That’s not what I expected her to say. I can’t help the laugh bubbling up through my chest. “What if I actually worked for the money I have?”

“That’s so much worse. You already spoil me nonstop. I won’t let you spend your life savings on us.” She quirks an eyebrow at me, her bottom lip trembling. 

Oh. This is an important conversation. I was standing in the corner dreading how I would eventually get this woman to talk to me about our future and it’s already here for us to deal with. 

I reach out and pet Dorian’s nose, his chubby body gelatin in Lucy’s hold as he tries to sleep off the excitement of the last few moments. “What if I want to do that?”

She shakes her head. “I already have to replace your slippers and we both know I can’t really afford the stylist you employ. You can’t do this much for me.”

Tears glimmer in her bright eyes. I have to say the right thing. This is a big moment, a foundational conversation for us to move forward. 

Gently, so scared to look at her too hard but unable to keep from touching, I caress her cheek. “I won’t do something you don’t want, Lucy, but I want to take care of you. I want to take care of him. I,” there’s no stopping the words as they tumble out of my mouth, “want a life with you, a happily ever after with some version of a family, and I want to start that sooner rather than later. Today is as good a time as any.”

She sniffs, her lips quivering. “He ate all of your couch cushions.”

“He just has expensive tastes like me,” I smirk, begging her with my eyes to let herself give into my touch and my words and walk out of this place a stronger couple than when we walked in. 

That does it. She breathes out a shaky giggle, rustling the puppy who gives his own yowl of approval with a shake of his tail. 

“I think I want this, too,” she says, those emerald eyes threatening to drown me if I continue to meet her gaze. “I didn’t know that when I quit my job and showed up or when I brought him home, but I feel safe with you. I like to spend time with you. I don’t know what the future really holds for me, but I might like it more if you promised to do it with me.”

There’s no reason to stop and think this through. I stopped thinking rationally when she plucked my wallet out of my pocket all of those months ago. Lucy Lore has put a beating heart back into my cold chest and I will let the world burn around us if that’s what it takes to keep her in my life. 

“I promise.”

“Me too,” she whispers, lifting on her tip-toes in order to press a kiss to the corner of my lips. 

I steal the dog from her then, nuzzling my face into his thick hair and staring into his blue eyes. “Let’s go get you checked out, Dorian. We have plenty of puppy training for you to do this afternoon.”

Lucy hooks her fingers around my elbow and trails us to the counter. My heart could float from her sheer proximity. I thought this pup was a bucketful of problems. Rather, he’s the solution to so many bigger concerns. 

Lucy and I are going to be parents together. Her, me, and Dorian. 

It’s the best kind of family.

Author’s Note

Guys, I completely panicked when I first read this prompt! I did not know who or what I was going to write about. My wife gave me the idea of Lucy and Ashby adopting a puppy, so I‘m incredibly excited to now incorporate a dog into the general body of my novels. Ashby is such a fun and unique character to explore through these stories as he isn’t a major POV character in my novels and is generally viewed as a “bad guy” by the others.

I hope you all enjoyed reading this cute story as much as I did writing it!

Please be sure to check out my writing partner’s blog for Bridgette’s short story on an elderly couple dealing with the problem of booming bubbles: https://bridgettetales.com/2022/07/30/challenge-week30/