This week's prompt comes from the amazing Fiona Riplee: Flash fiction - Your hero & heroine are playing an "old-school" board game (one with an actual board or pieces old or new - just not a video game). The winner gets a special prize. 1000 words or less.
If you've joined me from Lia Fairchild's blog (smoking!), thanks for taking the time to stop by! Put up your feet and enjoy! (Oh, and I have to admit to going over about 40 words. Oops! And it's my heroine's 8-year-old daughter instead. More sweet, no sexy)
I used this prompt to jump start my inspiration on my ghost story. This is Catholic priest Nick Serafini's third week on the job. He's the third foreman on this renovation/reconstruction, helping out his family's ailing construction business. Secrets abound in this backwater county in Tidewater Virginia including that he's left the priesthood. Complicating his job is the owner: his first love who he never got over. And the haunted house she is obsessed with bringing back to its colonial glory.
His ritual coffee felt good on this atypically cool summer morning. Last night’s cold front created a magnificent light show with no moisture to settle the dust. Still, he’d take the cooler temperatures when he could get them.
As he consulted his meticulous list of jobs before his crew arrived, domestic noises from above reminded him of his youth. Muffled directives with their corresponding whining arguments. The occasional thump from a stomped foot punctuating a passionate statement. At age eight, everything was either a huge deal or no problem with little falling between.
“I don’t want to go! Why can’t I go to grandpa’s today?”
Ah, clearly Chloe was not winning the argument. As sweet as she was with him, obviously she was as stubborn with her mother. What was it his mother always said? Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Yep, Beth had been in her teens just as stubborn though tempered with a strong dose of common sense. Still was stubborn, but her common sense waned when it came to the money pit of this house.
“Grandpa has a doctor’s appointment, remember? And I have to go to the–” Frozen in place as she walked onto the porch, she bit her lip. “It doesn’t matter where I am going. There’s no one to watch you and besides, I said so.”
Every mother’s fall back line. I said so. And every child hated hearing that, or at least he had as a child, because the line had been crossed and no more arguments heard.
Chloe’s lip pouted and her eyes filled but no more words tumbled from her mouth. Sympathy for the adorable, normally effervescent girl filled him.
“She can stay with me.” Even as the words escaped his mouth, he regretted them. He didn’t even know how long she’d be gone. A few hours or all day? But he couldn’t take them back.
With a furrowed brow, Beth seemed to consider the offer. Whatever she was doing it must be important. Her daughter was her world and the house a close second. Saddling her foreman with her daughter for a day would certainly slow down a job or two.
“Are you sure?”
Huh, here was his out. But he’d made the offer and he was nothing if not a man of his word. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll put the pipsqueak to work.”
He ruffled her golden hair after she slammed into him with a bear hug. “Alright, ladybug, get some breakfast ‘cause you’re on my crew today!”
“Yay!” The girl edged around him to the refrigerator for the milk.
Beth caught his gaze and mouthed, “Are you really sure?”
Spending the day with Chloe would be fun. What working with his dad when he was kid should have been. “I’m sure.”
For a few minutes, he was free to observe Beth as she made her travel cup of coffee, plenty of Hawaiian sugar and fancy creamer. Dressed in a navy suit with draped neck shirt beneath, she could have been a lawyer or a businesswoman. He’d only seen her in high heels twice–once at homecoming and once at graduation–and her legs looked even better in the matching navy three inch pumps now.
He jolted when she spoke and hoped she hadn’t caught him staring.
“So, I’ll be back around lunch. There’s plenty in the fridge for you both to eat.” The cool air dropped a few degrees with her tone. Yep, he’d been caught.
“Seeing Chad again?”
Damn his jealousy. What happened to his filter? Was it leaving the priesthood where it was a necessity or Beth? Some of both, if he had to be honest, but more the latter. Feelings for Beth had never died and were making a miraculous recovery the more time he spent with her.
The previously cool temperature turned downright frosty. “Yes as if it’s any of your…” She took a deep breath. “It’s none of your business who I see and what I do.” Her jaw tightened and she ground out, “Thank you for taking care of Chloe.” Her tone softened with the mention of her daughter. “Please be careful. She’s all I have.”
Caught in the tractor beam of her gaze, all resentment drained. “Of course, Beth. As if she’s my own.”
A hitched inhalation spoke volumes. She understood he meant it. And she understood that if she hadn’t left for college things might’ve been different. They might have shared a daughter just like Chloe. Beth turned and walked back into the kitchen, the tapping of her heels a staccato echo of her previous exit from his life.
Hours later, Chloe and his mom smiled up at him. For a single joyous moment, the serenity of family filled him, claimed him. Chloe and Beth weren’t his but he could live in the fantasy for a minute or two, couldn’t he?
Ham and cheese sandwiches with kettle chips on the side wasn’t haute cuisine but it was a meal he’d enjoy as much as any big holiday shindig.
“Wanna play a game?”
The child possessed unlimited energy. When his mom had brought over rootings of her prized hydrangeas and separated bulbs of variegated hostas, Chloe pitched right in with the planting. To eat lunch, she had to change into a clean set of clothes. Hopefully all the spots and dirt would come out with Glenda’s special stain removal brew.
“Sure.” He could indulge in his fantasy a little longer. “What game?”
His mother flashed him a knowing smile which he ignored. Chloe ran out of the room and was blessedly gone but a few long uncomfortable seconds. His mother’s unspoken questions and observations barraged him until the game of Life was placed in front of him.
Ironic. Life has never been a game.
Soon he’d achieved goals in the game he’d missed in reality: a home, a rewarding career, a small family. It wasn’t lost on him that he drove around the board with a wife and daughter. Either God or the Devil had a twisted sense of humor but no matter how this game ended, he’d have this memory.
For the first time in weeks, the sinister voice slapped him with a cold hand of fear. “She is mine…”
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Time to head on over to J.J. Devine's blog. Always a fabulous read! See you there.
Shifters & Spice (e-book 99 cents!)
Romance writer. Paranormal and contemporary. Mother of two and wife of perfect husband. Love the environment, travel and reading.
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