Condolences

by Rachel Woe (2017, All Rights Reserved)

I slip the butterscotch drop onto my tongue and lick the residual powdered sugar from my fingers. As I swirl the candy from cheek to cheek, the saccharine bauble dissolves and my saliva takes on the flavors of heavy cream and hard liquor. If not for the watchful eyes of my family, I would skip the butter and opt for plain scotch.

Seated upon the arm of the beige couch, I filch candy and people watch. Most of the guests are either family or friends-of-family, their sympathetic faces blending together amid the black shirts, coats, shoes, pants, dresses. I glance at my own black footwear: scuffed Mary Janes, soles weathered from trekking across campus.

“Lauren, don’t sit there. You’ll break my couch.” High heels click-clack across the hardwood. Aunt Liza has spotted me.

I drop to the cushion. “Sorry.”

“Have you seen your father?”

“Not since we got back from the service.”

“Typical.” She eyes the half-empty bowl of butterscotch drops. “Did you eat all that candy?”

I smile. “Nope.”

“Good. You look like you’ve already succumbed to the Freshman Fifteen, and the semester’s not even over.”

“Thanks.”

She sighs heavily, her hair frizzy on account of the morning rain. “If you see your father, tell him the lawyers need to speak with him.”

“Now? The man’s been in the ground less than an hour.”

“Just tell him to find me.”

She rushes off to join a group of elderly men, who fold her fake-tanned fingers between their graying palms, so sorry for her loss. Our loss, I suppose, though I barely knew my grandfather. When Mom called last week and asked me to come home for the funeral service, I almost refused.

“What about my classes?” I said, though it would hardly be the first time I’d skipped, and for far less legitimate reasons.

“Your family needs you,” Mom said. “I need you.”

I glance around at the sterile, monochromatic furnishings, at the people I hardly know mingling with those I wish I’d never met. The few framed pictures in Aunt Liza’s family room are either black-and-white or sepia cityscapes. Dust-caked photographs of my grandparents and their children line the mantelpiece in mismatched frames, as though they’d been scavenged from neglected areas of the house and assembled to infuse the room with a semblance of filial tenderness.

The doorbell sends Aunt Liza clicking into the hall. I nab another candy and accidentally drop a few specks of powdered sugar on my dress.

“Shit.” I swipe them away.

“Thank you so much for coming!” Aunt Liza’s shrill welcome resounds from the foyer. She escorts the new arrivals into the living room. The older man looks familiar, the deep grooves in his face a testament to his years.

“Of course, Liz,” he says, “Your father was a good man and a shrewd business partner, once upon a time.”

Behind the man trails an elderly woman, a stoic middle-aged couple, and a younger man, around my age, with a pointed face crowned by thick brown curls.

I know those curls.

“Lauren.” My aunt waves me over. I stand and saunter over to them, my hands clasped behind me. “You remember Mr. Fowler, from the paper company.”

I nod. “Good to see you, sir.”

“Yes, Miss Harrington,” he says. “Though, I wish it were under better circumstances.”

My aunt points to the young man. “And you must remember Oakley.”

I give him a quick once-over and smile curtly. “Hi.”

Oakley extends his hand. “I’m sorry for your loss, Lauren.”

We shake.

“Thanks. If you’ll excuse me, I need to find my father.” I turn and stride into the kitchen.

Oakley. Ugh. I frown at the beverage offerings spread across the stone countertop: Generic cola, orange soda, cranberry juice cocktail, an ice bucket and those red plastic cups more often associated with frat parties. I pour myself a cup of orange soda and then make my way to the backyard. The trees point their naked arms toward the gray November sky. It’s too cold to be wearing a knee-length dress outside, but I bear the chill, preferring it to the cult-like scene indoors: everyone wearing similar uniforms, the same dismal expressions.

I walk to the wooden swing set my aunt and uncle had installed for their kids before the divorce. Settling onto the narrow swing, I sip my crappy soda. The wooden beam above my head groans. I push myself forward and back, eyes closed, hypnotized by the swaying. Faint conversation drifts from the house. I concentrate on the whoosh of the wind through the chattering branches.

“It’s been a while, Lauren.”

My eyes snap open. I turn toward the intrusion to find Oakley leaning against one of the swing set’s support beams.

“Not really,” I say.

He nods at the empty swing. “Mind if I sit?”

“Do what you want. It’s not my playground.”

The structure creaks as Oakley lowers himself onto the swing beside me. I glare at my feet.

“I’m sorry about your grandfather,” he says.

“You already said that.”

“I know.” He pauses. “Were you close? I mean, I know you used to come into work with your dad, but I don’t remember seeing you with your grandfather all that much.”

“No. I hardly knew him. I was one of twelve grandchildren and he never liked kids to begin with, so . . .” I shrug.

Oakley nods. He looks like a giant on the low-slung swing, his thighs at acute angles to his abdomen. “God, it’s been, what, six years since our grandfathers worked together?”

I don’t respond. A few moments of awkward silence pass between us. I wish he’d go back into the house.

“You look good, Lauren.” His voice is low.

“I look pretty much the same as I did in August.”

“You looked good then, too.”

“Are you seriously hitting on me at my grandfather’s wake?”

“Depends. Is it working?”

“Nope.”

“Then, no, absolutely not. That would be unspeakably rude.”

I roll my eyes, then tip my face into my cup but don’t drink.

“Is it working now?” he whispers.

“You are ridiculous.”

“Look, I’m just hurt that you haven’t accepted my Facebook friend request.”

“I hate social media.”

“Or responded to any of my texts.”

“I hate…phones.”

“Is there anything you don’t hate?”

“Not right now, no.”

He smirks. I want to wipe the smug look from his face like ketchup. “How’s college—”

“Listen, Oakley.” I push up from the swing and stand before him. “You can cut the small talk, all right? I appreciate the feigned interest in my personal life but my threshold for bullshit is a bit lower than usual today.”

“What ‘feigned interest?’” His brow knits. “I’m genuinely curious.”

“No, you’re not. Quite frankly, you have no reason to be. You barely know me.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true.”

“What happened last summer was a mistake.”

“If I remember correctly, you initiated things.” He grins.

“Don’t mistake a drunken lapse in judgment for forgiveness. You can’t just show up at my grandfather’s wake and act like we’re friends.”

“We’re not exactly strangers, Lauren.”

“Fucking me doesn’t make you my friend.”

“Maybe it should. At the very least, it should carry more weight than . . . whatever ancient history you’re still pissed about.”

“You know what? I don’t have time for this. My parents are probably looking for me.”

I turn to go.

“Hey, wait a second.”

The swing set creaks and a hand clamps onto my shoulder. I shrug him off.

“We’re done, Oakley.”

My shoes sink into the damp earth as I head back toward the house. Inside, I toss my empty cup and wander into the den, which is pleasantly devoid of grievers. I slump onto a leather chair and scowl at the intricate patterns on the rug.

Oakley. My first and worst post-high-school mistake. You would think, considering the amount of time we’ve spent hating each other, he’d be able to chalk half a sweaty hour in the backseat of his dad’s Lexus up to a one-off. An aberration never to be repeated nor referred to—especially in public

I’m pulled from my thoughts by a gentle rapping on the door frame. My mother peers into the room, dark circles showing through the hastily applied concealer beneath her eyes.

“Hey, honey,” she says. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah. Just peachy. How’s Dad?”

“You know how he is. I think it’ll hit him in a week or two, when he realizes he can’t call your grandfather for tax advice.”

“Aunt Liza says the lawyers want to talk to him.”

“Of course they do.” She massages her temple. “Vultures.”

“The lawyers or Aunt Liza?”

“Both.”

I snicker and rest my head in my hand, leaning heavily upon the armrest. “When can we leave?”

“Not for a while. We’re still waiting for Josh and Caroline to get back from their dad’s. Their flight was delayed.”

“Lucky little shits.”

“Language.”

“Sorry.”

“I don’t think anyone’s in the basement. You could hide out down there for a bit if you need to.”

“Surrounded by Josh’s toy cars and Caroline’s creepy dolls?” I rub my dry eyes. “No, thanks.”

Mom shakes hear head. “You know, Lauren, it wouldn’t kill you to act like you give a damn.”

“Language,” I say.

“I’m serious. Your grandfather is dead. That should mean something to you.”

“The man barely knew me.”

“He loved you.”

“Bullshit.”

“Lauren!”

“What? It’s true. And don’t be surprised when you hear the same thing at Dad’s wake. Apathy runs in this family like blue eyes and Chrohn’s disease—especially among the Y-chromosome-carrying members.”

She scoffs. “How convenient.”

“What?”

“It’s easy to hold grudges against dead men. That chip on your shoulder gets a lot heavier when the live ones start asking for forgiveness.”

“Oh, yeah? Does Dad get down on his knees every morning and beg for your forgiveness?”

“You’re too young to be this bitter.” Mom crosses her arms.

“Bitterness is another Harrington family trait.”

“Then don’t be surprised when your kids inherit it.”

We glare at one another, until my mother concedes and turns from the doorway, her footsteps receding into the hall.

Two of my grandfather’s former secretaries wander into the den and attempt to make small talk. I smile and nod, then stare out the bay window, the cloying sweetness from the candies and orange soda turning to syrup on my tongue. I want to be gone. I want to jump into an Uber and take next flight back to Atlanta, or anywhere else. My mother would never forgive me. So, for now, I settle for finding some peace and quiet. I head for the kitchen where I slip an open bottle of white wine under my arm, then make a beeline for the basement. Closing the door behind me, I pad down the carpeted staircase, surprised to find the lights on.

I halt on the bottom step.

Oakley smiles at me, looking mildly embarrassed to be sitting on the floor next to my younger cousin Josh’s miniature racetrack.

“Hey,” he says. I purse my lips. Of all the places he had to skulk off to . . . Oakley releases a toy car from the tallest point on the track. It fails to complete the following loop, rolling back up the slope a few times before coming to a stop. “What’ve you got there?”

I glance down at the bottle. “Pinot Gris. 2013.”

“Not bad. Feel like sharing?”

Not really. “Fine,” I say.

I kick my shoes off and cross the beige carpet, then settle onto the floor with my back against the couch. Oakley watches as I take a swig of wine. It bites my throat.

“Cheap shit,” I say, handing it over.

He chuckles. “Should’ve grabbed the Merlot my parents brought.”

“I prefer white.”

He sips and winces. “It’ll do.”

We pass the bottle back and forth. I eye the pile of dolls beside the big screen TV, some sporting frizzy, chopped hairdos and others with no hair at all. Stacked bins filled with toy blocks and fashion dolls line the entertainment center next to the collection of G- and PG-rated DVDs.

“It’s like my childhood threw up down here,” I say.

Oakley laughs. “I know what you mean. I’ve been having a little too much fun playing with these.”

I pick up a red car with the number 45 scrawled across it in yellow paint. “I was never really into cars, though. I liked to build things. Houses, mostly. I’d spend hours constructing these elaborate homes for little plastic people, but when the time came to actually play with them, I’d lose interest.”

“I know,” he says, and of course he’s right. We practically grew up together.

 

A stray memory niggles at the back of my mind. I scowl. “Why did you always have to break my shit? I remember this one time, at the paper company, when I thought I’d found the perfect hiding spot under my dad’s desk. I went to use the bathroom and when I came back, you’d stomped everything to pieces. I cried for over an hour but my dad couldn’t say or do anything because you were the boss’s kid.”

Oakley doesn’t move or say a word, his gaze fixed on the plastic track between us.

“And then, when I was twelve and you were, what, thirteen?” I say “You stole my sketchbook and my gel pens and dropped them all in the toilet. When I confronted you about it, you told me I was a nasty little bitch who couldn’t draw for shit.”

He swallows thickly, his Adam’s apple shifting over his jacket collar.

“It was like I couldn’t build anything without you making it your mission to destroy it,” I say.

“It wasn’t just you,” he says. “I broke most of my own toys, too.” He says the words so quietly I have to hold my breath to hear him. “My dad was kind of a dick back then. He still is. My earliest memory is of him yelling in my mom’s face one night when she forgot to buy pate for a stupid party they were throwing. Every night he would launch into her for one reason or another, and sometimes no reason at all. Eventually, he started doing the same to me.”

I take a sip of wine. My stomach curdles.  “Oh.”

“He never hit me, but there were a couple of times when I could tell he wanted to. Especially when I wet the bed, which made me more likely to do it again the next night.”

I glance down at my hands, wrapped around the bottle in my lap. “Oakley, that’s awful.”

He shrugs. “My parents went to couple’s counseling and things got better. I stopped wetting the bed and breaking shit but by that time, you’d moved away.”

“I didn’t know.” I hand him the wine.

“Few people did.” His eyes meet mine as he raises the bottle. “I’m sorry, Lauren.”

“No, I’m sorry. We were just kids. It was silly of me to even bring it up.”

He shakes his head. “No, I hurt your feelings. You didn’t deserve it.” He gives the bottle back. “I’m surprised you were willing to talk to me that night at the restaurant.”

“Righ,” I say, thinking back to the time we spent together last August. To my going way-dinner at the Italian restaurant, and how my cheeks had burned with residual anger and mortification at the realization that the cute guy sidling up to my table was Oakley, my childhood tormenter.

“I wasn’t sure it was you at first,” he says. “You looked so different, so grown-up. But you had the same hair color, and those same full cheeks.”

I snort. “Thanks.”

“Hey, stop. They’re adorable.” He smiles. “I know it might be hard to believe but underneath all the anger and lashing out, I liked you. It wasn’t right by any means, but I always got a kick out of how you’d just keep building things even after I ruined them—knowing I would ruin them.”

“I had no idea.” I gulp the wine and pass the bottle.

“I didn’t plan on sticking around that night. I’d just finished having dinner with my family when I came over to talk to you and then your friends asked if I wanted to hang out.”

“Yeah.” I chuckle. “They were determined to get me laid before I left for college.”

He blinks twice. “You’re not saying—”

“What?”

“That wasn’t your first time, right?”

“Oh, God, no.” I wave my hand. “But it had been a while.”

“Okay, phew.” He shakes his head. “You know, you were nothing like I expected.”

“What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know. But whatever my expectations were, you surpassed them.”

“Then they must’ve been set pretty low because I’m kind of an asshole.”

“Yeah, but I like that about you. You don’t take shit from anyone.”

“Except my family.”

“That comes with the territory.”

I nod. Oakley hands me the bottle and our fingers touch. Heat rushes to my face.

“You’re still quick to blush,” he says. “That hasn’t changed.”

“Shut up.”

He laughs. “And I’ll admit to being, shall we say, taken aback by your boldness.”

“You mean when I grabbed your junk on the ride home?”

“Yeah, that.” He grins, and the combined powers of the wine and Oakley’s smile warms my belly and softens my mood. The longer I look at him, the further I’m coaxed back toward that night, into the backseat: our breath fogging the car windows; his sinewy fingers sliding into the front of my shorts; the smell of sweat and sex permeating the cramped space as we crashed into each other.

My pussy tightens. I whisper his name.

Oakley sets the almost empty wine bottle on the floor and crawls around the racetrack to be closer to me. He stares at my mouth, his breathing heavier than before. I lift myself onto the overstuffed couch, and he follows.

“Hey,” he says.

I lick my lips. “Hey.”

My eyes tease closed as we linger in this brief period of sweetness, before lips and tongues and tender parts collide. I lay my hand on his knee and slide it toward his groin. Oakley’s breath catches in his throat. Our lips graze and then fuse. He’s cautious at first, as though each slight brush were a question. But as my palm settles over his cock, a low rumble escapes his throat. His mouth becomes insistent. He slides his tongue into my mouth, inviting my tongue to come out and make friends.

I massage Oakley’s cock through his black dress pants. He groans, low and guttural. With my free hand, I tug my skirt up above my thighs and grasp his wrist, guiding his hand to my underwear. His fingers touch the damp fabric. He hums. I spread my legs wide, letting him massage my pussy through the thin material.

My clit aches, and I push myself against his palm. “I need your fingers.”

Oakley slips his hand inside the waistband. I moan around our writhing tongues as he slides a finger along my slit, teasing me. He parts my labia, settling his fingertips over my sensitive bud, stroking slowly, with agonizing control. I find his belt buckle and start tugging. Oakley helps me loosen it, unbuttoning his slacks as I yank the zipper down over his erection. I reach my hand into his pants, noting how hot and firm he is through his boxers. Pushing past his fly, I take his cock into my hand.

“Fuck, Lauren.” He rubs me faster. I free him from his clothes and run my fingers from base to tip.

His mouth devours mine as I grip his tightly-stretched foreskin and draw it back and forth along his shaft. Breaking from our kiss, I glance down at his erection, smearing the droplet of precome over the tip. Gently pulling the foreskin down, I focus on the exposed head and frenulum, as more clear liquid seeps from the small opening. I lick my lips. Oakley’s mouth recaptures mine. He circles my clit harder, faster, until I can feel the muscles in my pussy clenching, the pressure building. His cock pulsates in my hand.

The ceiling creaks as footsteps click and clack overhead. We halt, listening for the door, our fingers locked in place.

After a moment, Oakley whispers, “I need you,” into my ear. He kisses my cheek, trailing delicate pecks along my jaw and down my neck. He slides his hand out of my panties and cups my breast, thrusting it upward and kissing the mound of flesh above my neckline. I suppress a whimper. He wraps an arm around my waist, easing me onto the couch lengthwise and positioning himself over me. I continue to stroke him, his precome dripping onto my skirt. Oakley tugs the crotch of my panties aside and resumes stroking my clit.

My entire pelvis throbs, and I’m so close to coming I could burst. “Please tell me you have a condom.”

He freezes. “Shit.”

I push him up and off me. He tumbles onto the carpet with a confused, distraught expression, his cock practically glowing against his black shirt and pants. I climb down off the sofa and reach beneath my skirt to slide my panties down my legs.

“I’m going to sit on your face,” I say.

He grins.”Yes, please.”

I kneel astride his head, facing his torso, with my dress bunched above my waist. Oakley grips my thighs, positioning me over his mouth. I settle my weight onto his chest and grasp the base of his cock as he swirls his tongue over my clit.

“Oh, fuck.” I bite back a squeal. My mouth hangs open as he tongues my pussy, drawing a finger around the opening.

Regaining focus, I gently guide the foreskin back and take the head of his cock into my mouth. Oakley groans, his hips lifting off the floor. I slide further down, taking as much of him as I can manage from this angle. His skin tastes briny and the familiar masculine scent of him makes my pussy clench.

Oakley’s tongue ripples over my clit, sending jolts of pleasure coursing throughout my body. I bob my head up and down his length, stroking his shaft with my hand in time with my movements. He thrusts two fingers inside me and I arch my back, crying out, distracted. I feel his cock pulse in my hand.

“Why didn’t you go down on me that night in August?” I ask.

“Not enough room in the car.”

“Well, you know, if you had, I might’ve accepted your friend request—oh!

Oakley’s tongue flutters across my clit. I squirm at the feather-light touch.

“Okay.” I pant. “I can’t do this.”

He stops. “Huh?”

“Multitasking. I’ve never been good at it. It’s not my thing.”

“That’s okay.” He breathes hot air over me. “Let me make you come.”

I slump onto his torso with his cock resting by my face. He undulates his tongue over my clitoris as his slick fingers thrust in and out of my pussy. I close my eyes and breathe him in, petting his erection with my hand every now and then. It’s nice, sometimes, I think, just holding or looking at a man’s cock, without the  pressure of making it do anything.

Oakley withdraws his fingers and slides his tongue up to the entrance of my pussy. I gasp as he snakes inside, teasing and exploring. Groping his cock absently, I glide the tip of my tongue across his small opening. He moans, and the sound reverberates throughout my groin.

“Oh my god,” I say. “Do that again.”

He hums, drawing it out over a few seconds.

“Do it to my clit.”

Oakley fixes his mouth over my clitoris. He moans and my entire lower body quakes. I press my face into his thigh crease and cry out, the sound muffled by his clothing. He continues to hum and lick and suck and flick. My knees threaten to give out and, for a second, I am genuinely concerned about suffocating him with my vagina. He holds my hips firmly, his tongue unrelenting. I cling to his jacket as the throbbing behind my clit deepens and grows. Clenching my jaw, I push myself against his mouth as every muscle in my body tightens and releases, tightens and releases, in quick succession.

Breathless, I shudder as Oakley kisses my clitoris.

“Wow.” My fingers ache as I release his jacket.

Rising onto my forearms, I grasp the base of his cock, taking him as far back into my throat as I can manage.

“Shit,” he rasps. “Oh, shit, Lauren. That feels fucking amazing.” His fingertips bite into my hips.

Slowly, I draw my lips and tongue along his length, salivating over him and spreading it evenly along the shaft. His foreskin peels back easily and I take a few moments to focus on the extra-sensitive head, swirling my tongue over the salty tip and under the ridge.

Oakley’s breath is hot on my pussy. “Fuck, I want to watch you.”

Releasing his cock, I shift off of his torso and position myself between his legs. Stroking his length with one hand, I lift and fondle his balls with the other. Oakley moans. “Oh my God. You’re so hot.”

He touches the back of my head. I glance up at him. He’s watching me with half-lidded eyes, and lips glossy from eating me out. I run my tongue along his cock from bottom to top and then back again, alternating between swift licks and long, lavish strokes. His head lolls back as I gently slap the head of his cock against my flattened tongue.

“I forgot what a nice cock you have,” I say. “It’s a real shame neither of us brought rubbers.”

“Next time one of our relatives dies, we’ll know to come prepared.”

I chuckle. He grins, his chest heaving. Without warm-up or warning, I devour his cock, bobbing my head and toying with his balls. Oakley cries out, clapping a hand over his mouth and then biting his forefinger. I concentrate on breathing through my nose while maintaining my rhythm, grateful for the soft carpet beneath us.

His cock pulses. He’s close.

With the head grazing the back of my throat, I let out a low hum. Oakley grabs my hand and arches up from the floor, gasping. “Where do you want me to come?”

I kiss the tip of his cock and say, “In my mouth,” before diving back down.

Oakley groans, his whole body going taut, as his cock spasms and spurts into the back of my throat. I taste salt and wait until he’s finished before I swallow. He slips from my mouth and I wipe my wet lips on the back of my hand.

Oakley breathes deeply, still staring at the ceiling, dazed. “You know, this morning, I didn’t want to come here. But I am really glad that I did.”

“I’m glad you came, too,” I say. We laugh softly.

Smoothing my dress back over my thighs, I come to sit beside him. He tucks his cock back into his pants with languid fingers before rolling over and resting his head in my lap.

“You mean it?” he asks.

I pet his unruly curls. “I do,” I say.

Oakley smiles, closes his eyes, and wraps his arms around my legs. I stroke his jaw. Glancing around the room, I am only mildly unnerved by the notion that the creepy dolls are watching us.

“As nice as it would be to take a nap,” I say, “we should go back upstairs.”

He whines, tightening his grip on my thighs. “A nap sounds so much better.”

“I know. But there’s food upstairs and all I’ve had today is sugar and booze.”

“Well, technically, that’s not all you’ve had.”

I swat his cheek. He opens his eyes and grins. “Come here,” I say.

Oakley rises to his knees. I take his face between my hands and kiss him. He pulls me close, burying his hands in my hair.

“Okay,” he says. “Let’s go upstairs.”

We stand and stretch. Oakley finds my underwear on the floor and hands them to me. I thank him and slip them on. Crouching at the basement door, we listen for conversation and footsteps. When the coast sounds clear, we venture out. Just as I’m about to step into the hall, Oakley seizes my arm and pulls me back for a final kiss.

“Stop,” I whisper, though I can’t stop smiling. “It’s inappropriate.”

He enters the living room before me and claims a seat on the sofa. I follow a few seconds later, casually sauntering over to sit beside him.

“Smooth,” he says.

“Fuck you.”

“My Nana’s on her last leg. I give her six months, tops.”

I pinch his arm, reining in another smile. He massages his bicep. I glance at the side table: two butterscotch drops remain in the candy bowl. I take one and offer the other to Oakley. He pops the candy into his mouth and mutters a quiet, “Fuck,” at the dusting of powdered sugar on his lapel. I lay the last of the drops on my tongue, savoring the union of cream, sugar, alcohol and Oakley.

The front door squeals open in the foyer. The din of Aunt Liza’s voice cuts through the quiet, accompanied by an even higher-pitched voice.

“Mommy, the plane took forever!” Caroline, my young cousin, clomps into the living room in pink rubber boots.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. Here, wait don’t track mud into the house.”

My mom and my other cousin, Josh, are the last to enter, their arms heavy with suitcases. I go to them, taking one of the heavier bags, and flash my mom an apologetic smile, which she returns.

“My God,” says Aunt Liza, “considering the incompetency of the airline industry, I’m surprised they can even get those things off the ground.”

“I’m hungry.” Josh stares at his handheld gaming device. “Is there any food left?”

“In the kitchen. Use paper plates. I don’t want a mountain of dishes when this is all over.”

“Lauren!” Caroline shrieks and bounces up to me.

“Hey, Carebear.” I smooth her dark hair. “How was your trip?”

“Bad! We sat on the runway for hours.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Who’s that?” she asks. Oakley has come to stand beside me. She eyes him with suspicion.

“This is Oakley. He’s an . . . old friend.”

Aunt Liza turns to us. “Yeah, where have you two been?”

“Uh . . .” I think fast. “Mourning. In the den.”

“This whole time? I haven’t seen you for over an hour.”

“We did go outside for a bit,” says Oakley. “You have a lovely swing set.”

“Thank you, dear. Caroline’s the only one who really uses it.”

“Well, it definitely brought us back.” Oakley reaches for my hand in full view of my family. I tense, but let him take it.

“Aw, look at you two,” my aunt gushes. “Now wouldn’t that be the sweetest thing, childhood friends reuniting after all these years!”

I glare at Oakley in my peripheral vision. He smiles.

“Mommy,” says Caroline. “Can Lauren babysit for us?”

Aunt Liza’s face lights up. “That’s a fantastic idea, honey. Lauren, are you available?”

“I’m only here until the end of the week, but—”

“Oh, that’s perfect! I have a PTA meeting Thursday night. However, Oakley, as lovely as it is having here, I’m afraid it’s no boyfriends allowed.”

He chuckles, wrapping an arm around my shoulder. “I understand.”

I want to kill him. I want to shove butterscotch drops down his throat until he suffocates.

My aunt claps her hands. “Well, that’s a load off my mind. Oh, and since you’re family, Lauren, I’ll be sure to disable the Nanny Cam downstairs.”

“The Nanny what?” I ask.

“The Nanny Cam, in the basement. Caroline never plays with her baby dolls, so I installed one of those little surveillance cameras into one of their heads to make sure the babysitters aren’t falling asleep or watching inappropriate television while the children are awake. It’s motion-sensitive—very efficient. Come to think of it, I think the darn thing is still active. Anyway, you’d be surprised by what some people try and get away with.”

Oakley’s hand grips my shoulder like a vice.

I force a smile. “Yes,” I say, “I’m sure we would.”

16 thoughts on “Condolences

  1. Rachel, this is a fantastic piece of writing. As for the “show, don’t tell,” I think you pretty well nailed it. There’s a ton of backstory here, and it pretty much all came out in the dialogue and Lauren’s inner voice and angst. This is one of the better short pieces I’ve read in a long time. It’s perhaps possible that Lauren moved from thinking Oakley’s a jerk (that she mistakenly slept with the previous August) to full on sex after just a few lines of why he was such a brat as a kid, but it didn’t really draw me out of the story much, and it is a short piece, after all. Stuff needs to happen fairly quickly. It still flowed naturally for me. His interest in her is pretty well established from the beginning, and while it’s a bit of a mystery at first, later it’s very well explained why he has always liked her, though she didn’t know about it.

    Then there’s the twist at the end. I have to admit, I did not see that coming! Even though you foreshadowed it nicely with Lauren’s thoughts about the dolls’ eyes watching them. That was perfect, and now of course I can’t help but wonder what hijinks Lauren and Oakley will get up to in an attempt to erase that footage. Where’s chapter two? 🙂

    I’m so glad I ran across your blog. I’m very much inspired by your writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!

      I agree, Lauren and Oakley do move pretty quickly from “Ugh, Oakley.” to “Oh, Oakley!” and when/if I decide to send the piece through another round of edits, that’s the first thing I’ll address. As you stated, the brevity of the piece requires a faster pace. However, even a few more lines of dialogue in that scene might help to make the sex feel a bit more organic.

      I, too, am glad that you’ve stumbled upon me and hope you’ll continue to offer your thoughtful feedback on future work. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll be watching with interest to see what you do next. If you do decide to revamp “Condolences,” would you consider expanding it, perhaps to a short novella? I think there’s real possibility with the characters, and you’ve already setup a plot line that could easily be expanded upon, ending with something of a cliffhanger. “Rather tenuous” HFN, eh? 🙂

        Like

        1. Well, it looks like Frisky Feminist has pushed their deadline for the coffee romance anth call to December (which I didn’t notice until I read your blog a few minutes ago), so it looks like I’m going to have a little extra time! That said, I have one big and then a handful of smaller projects lined up, and this story pretty much fell from my brain over the course of two days and then one day of editing, so I don’t really have any expectations surrounding it at this point. That could change 🙂

          Like

          1. Right, I actually wrote to them to confirm that deadline change, as they had both dates mentioned on the call when I looked at it. They said yes, it’s December.

            That javachatter.com thing is funny; I guess they’ll be picking up a lot more erotic coffee posts as people start gearing up for the anthology! Might surprise a few people. 😈

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed it. I think placing the sex in the basement surrounded by toys from their childhood was a clever move, it allows a level of detachment which the ending can then completely undermine.

    I like that you write about real-life situations, it makes it so much easier to relate to as a reader and so much more fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you thought that was clever. Skimming this piece, I find myself thinking it might be a bit too simplistic. I was going for curt and direct because Lauren is curt and direct, but some of the sex reads a little too blow-by-blow for my general liking. I’m curious as to whether or not you agree.

      Like

      1. I can see why you might be concerned but it definitely fits with the style and the characters. I think that getting too involved in the emotional side of the sex, or drawing it out too much, would make the rest of the story weaker. As it is, the sex suits the story perfectly.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many erotic romances 😛 It’s funny, most instructional books and articles re: fiction tend to tout the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.” But then you read romance of any flavor and it’s 40% action alongside 60% reflection/inner conflict. I suppose it makes sense for the genre, but I like to try and strike a nice balance, regardless. Anyway, that’s just a long-winded way of saying, thanks, I’ll stop over-thinking things.

          Like

          1. OK confession time: I never understood the “show, don’t tell” thing. I think you can only reread and edit so much in terms if how writing ‘should’ be done before you have to ask yourself if the piece is still truly your own writing.

            I’m always happy to offer an opinion. The day you stop over-thinking things will be the day your credentials as a writer take a serious knock, self-doubt comes with the territory, you just need to know when to tell it to shut up.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I think you’re spot-on about self-doubt. Unfortunately 😛

            The “show, don’t tell” thing has saved my work on numerous occasions. I’m actually reading a Lit story right now that has me thinking, “Dude, you could convey all of this information via dialogue and it would make me care SO much more about your characters.”

            I think it’s the difference between letting the narrator tell the story and allowing it to unfold through the action and character interactions. Some exposition is nice, especially in first person when dealing with complex emotional issues, but if you’re describing two people sitting side-by-side on a train, I’d rather learn about their professions, ages, mannerisms, etc. via dialogue than a block of text. It’s “Once upon a time two lawyers met on a train,” vs. “My client tried to off himself before paying me. The nerve!”

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Fair point, letting the story tell itself through dialogue and action sounds more natural. I’ve often found that when I write stories with a lot of dialogue it tends to lead the plot more, maybe I’m afraid of that happening too much. Damn characters acting like they own the story.

            Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.