New Short Story-Running Partner

Running Partner(c)

by Grant Miller

            When Michael met Jennifer, she loved to run.  She loved to run so much that if Michael ever wanted to talk to her, he had to run too.  Now Michael was in pretty good shape, but Jennifer was another breed.  She could sprint for days at a time, and if Michael ever spoke to her, it was with her back turned to him.  Nope, she didn’t have time to slow down.  One day, Michael asked her on a date, and she said:

“Sure, just as soon as you can catch up with me.”

So day after day, Michael ran after Jennifer.  Day after day, Jennifer ran without looking back.  He would ask her questions about her day and sometimes she would answer.  Other times, she just ignored it and kept running.  They ran for miles and miles and Michael’s legs started to go numb.  But Michael was obsessed with Jennifer.  He was obsessed with her long, flowing, strawberry blonde hair, her defined calves, her long legs.  He had long forgotten what her face looked like, but he assumed she was pretty.  When Michael’s friends asked if he wanted to run with them, he would turn them down.  When they mocked him and told him he was wasting his time, he didn’t listen.  Michael was obsessed with Jennifer, and one day, he would catch her and make her be his girlfriend.  All he had to do was satisfy her one request.  So he ran.  Even when he could no longer feel his legs, he ran.  When his shorts were so soaked with sweat that they smacked against his thighs like wet towels, he ran.  When his shoulders felt like they would dislocate at any moment, he ran.  Michael ran with a smile on his face because he ran for Jennifer.

As the days went by, Michael noticed that he wasn’t getting any closer.  In fact, Jennifer picked up speed.  When Michael did the same, she ran even faster.  No matter how fast Michael ran, his goal never looked within reach.  When he asked her questions about her day, she answered less and less.  When he got discouraged, he would stop talking and run with his head low.  Then, without looking behind her, Jennifer would say:

“Keep running.  You’re almost there!”

Then Michael would smile, pick his head up, and run some more.  It was like the slightest word of encouragement gave him all the energy he needed to keep running.  He believed that she wanted him to catch her; that she wanted Michael to succeed.  She just wasn’t going to make it easy for him.  Michael had to earn her attention, and by golly, Michael was going to do just that.  So, despite going days without food or water, Michael ran.

One day Michael panicked when he started to slow down.  His legs couldn’t carry him any further.  His breath got shorter and shorter.  As he looked up at Jennifer’s back, he pleaded with her to slow down.  All he wanted was a little bit of her time.  She could keep running after that if she wanted.  He could even buy her treadmill so she could run at the same time.  Jennifer shook her head.

“Nope, you have to catch me.”

When they reached a track, they ran on the track for another hour.  They ran in circles while Michael continued to slow down.  Jennifer, on the other hand, was relentless.  Her form was perfect.  Her speed never let up.  She had running down to a science.  Michael was on his last legs, but he was determined.  He was going to catch Jennifer.

Michael ran for another half hour until a brown-skinned girl with black hair, and small, brown eyes stepped in his path.  She smiled at him as she stood with her hands on her hips.   Michael tried to run around her, but she stepped in front of him.   When he tried to run the other way, she stepped in front of him again.  They did this three times until he finally stopped running and he bent over double to catch his breath.

“Could you…..please….move?” Michael asked.

“Where are you going?” the girl asked.

“Over…there.”

“Why?” the girl asked with a smile as she ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m standing right here.”

“Yeah, but I have to catch Jennifer,” Michael replied.

“Who?” the girl asked as she looked around. “I don’t see anyone else here but you and me.”

Michael looked up and noticed that Jennifer was on the other side of the track.

“Oh, you mean her?” the girl asked with her thumb pointed at Jennifer. “Yeah, so  I’ve been sitting in those bleachers over there for about an hour now, and I didn’t realize you two were running together.”

“We are,” Michael replied.

“Hm, I see,” the girl said with a roll of her eyes. “I think I know what’s going on here. What’s your name?”

“Michael.”

“Carla,” the girl said as she extended her hand. “Nice to meet you.  You’re cute.”

“Oh…um…thanks.”

“Yeah, you’re a pretty good runner too,” Carla said with a smile. “You work really hard.  Has that girl told you that? Ever? Even once?”

“No,” Michael muttered.

“I didn’t think so,” Carla replied. “Do you think I’m pretty?”

“Well…yeah, I do,” Michael said.  He wasn’t lying.  Carla had smooth skin, silky hair, and toned legs just like Jennifer.  Still, something was different about her.  Michael wanted to find out more.  Carla turned and walked toward the bleachers and Michael followed.  When he lagged behind, she stopped and waited.  When they finally reached the bleachers, they sat down.  Michael watched as Jennifer sprinted around the track.

“Has she even noticed that I’m over here?” Michael asked.

“Nope,” Carla said. “I don’t think I’ve seen her look back at you once.”

“Really?” Michael asked with a downcast expression. “She…doesn’t even care?”

“Yeah, enough about her,” Carla said with a wave of her hand as she reached for a cooler next to the bleachers. “You look thirsty.  Want some water?”

“Please,” Michael replied.

“Here you go,” Carla said as she tossed him a water bottle and opened her own.

“Thanks,” Michael said with a smile on his face before he guzzled the cold water.  His dry throat moistened.  His tongue loosened.  His body cooled down.  He drank until his throat was so cold he couldn’t take any more.  When he took a deep breath, Carla rubbed his shoulder.

“Take a breather,” Carla said. “You’ve worked hard.  You deserve a break.”

“I appreciate it,” Michael said before he swigged his water bottle again. “Why would you do this for me?”

“Didn’t you hear me say you were cute?” Carl replied.

“Yeah, but-”

“That’s all the reason I need for now,” Carla replied. “We’re just talking, right? What’s the big deal?”

“I….agree,” Michael said as a smile grew on his lips. “It’s not that big of a deal at all.”

“So here’s the thing,” Carla said as she leaned closer to Michael. “I just finished my run for the day, but I want a running partner.  From what I just saw, I think you can do it.”

“Well, I am willing to run,” Michael replied.

“Yeah, but we’re not going to do…that,” Carla said with a curled lip as she pointed at Jennifer, who was still running around the track. “I need someone to run with me, as in next to me.  Do you think you could handle that?”

“Sure,” said Michael. “I can definitely handle that.”

“Awesome!” Carla said with a wide smile. “So, we’ve both had a really good workout.  I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.  Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, man,” Michael groaned. “I’m starving.”

“I have some food at my place,” Carla replied. “There’s no way I can eat it all by myself.  Do you want some? It’s really good.”

“Well, I don’t want to impose,” Michael said.

“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Carla cooed. “And that’s exactly why you’re welcome to have some, but on one condition.”

“Do I have to chase you for it?” Michael asked.

“No,” Carla giggled. “But my house is a mile away. You’ll have to walk with me to get it.”

“That sounds good,” Michael replied as he looked down at his trembling legs. “I think I can handle walking.”

“Do you think Jennifer should come too?” Carla asked with a frown. “She might be hungry.”

“I’m sorry, who?” Michael asked with a blank stare.

“Never mind,” Carla laughed as she stood up and patted Michael’s shoulder. “Come on.”

Michael stood up, but his legs shook under his weight, and he fell to the ground.  Carla rushed to his side, but he stood up on his own.  Michael caught his breath dusted off his shorts and kept walking.  Carl walked next to him and hooked her arm under his.  She looked up at him with a frown and tugged his arm.

“Are you ok?” Carla asked. “Do you need my help?”

“No,” Michael said. “You’ve already made the food.  I think I can get it on my own.”

“Ah, ok,” Carla said before she patted his butt. “That’s what I like to hear.  Good man.”

As they walked down the street, Michael thought he heard the faintest voice calling his name from behind.  The voice wondered where he was and why he wasn’t running anymore.  Michael looked over his shoulder and didn’t see anyone.  Since he couldn’t recognize the voice, it must have been some kind of mistake.  He wrapped his arm around Carla’s shoulders as they strolled to her house.  He could smell the food from a mile away, and the aroma grew stronger as they got closer.  When they arrived, they ate and rested.  The next day, they got up with the sun and jogged together.  It was Michael’s best morning run in weeks.

I got requests for more, and I aim to please. Check out the new story everyone!

Bumps©

By G. Miller©

 Billy “Bumps” Vernon sat on the porch of his blue and white, two-story colonial home on Hill Street in Waterbury, Connecticut.  It took a long time before he could afford this home; a lot of hard work, a lot of saving, a lot of sacrifices.  Now he could proudly tell anyone who asks that he owned his home.  All of his bills were paid, and Bumps was debt-free as of two weeks ago.  Today, he sat in his wood chair and breathed in that debt-free air.  Life was always more relaxing when you no longer owed anyone anything.

Though he retired from his old profession, Bumps was too prideful to sit around the house and do nothing.  He cut hair at a barbershop Downtown, and he fixed cars and watches out of his house. All of that tax-free money combined with his Veteran’s pay, and Bumps was still rolling in dough.  All he had to do now was keeping making money, keep this house, and give it to his children when he died.  Everything was planned out.  Everything was going smooth.

Bumps flinched when he spotted a black woman with long, straight hair and green eyes walking down the sidewalk.  Bumps’ heart slammed into his rib cage just from looking at her.  She was like a tall Stacy Dash without the Hollywood flair.  She wore black jeans, and black Air Force ones with a black long-sleeved plain t-shirt.  She hid her face from the setting sun with her Atlanta Hawks, blackout, New Era fitted cap.  She dressed no different than Bumps’ twenty-year-old daughter, but something about her set her apart from the average young woman.  She strolled with a purpose, and for a moment Bumps felt like he was watching himself.  Of course that changed when she opened his gate and sauntered up to his porch with hypnotizing hips that swished back and forth.

“Hi, are you Bumps?” she asked as she pulled a red and blue Jacob Watch knock-off out of her back pocket. “I’m Denisha, nice to meet you. I need to fix this watch for my son, and I hear you charge a decent price.”

“Well,” Bumps said as he sat up in his chair. “I could help you best I can.  Of course, with those watches, things can get a little complicated.”

“Does that mean it’ll cost a lot?” Denisha asked with a pout. “We don’t have much, and I normally don’t spend money on stuff like this, but my son’s face just lit up when he saw it.  He doesn’t know it’s fake, but he might figure that out if it’s broken and-”

“I understand,” Bumps replied with a wave of his hand before reaching for the watch.  The second hand stopped working.  It was an easy fix.  No need to charge such a beautiful woman an arm and a leg.  Bumps nodded his head as he searched the watch for anything else and found nothing.  He then shrugged and set the watch on his lap.

“This is no big deal,” Bumps said. “For such a pretty woman, I’ll charge five dollars.”

“Are you sure?” Denisha asked as she smiled and ran her fingers through her hair. “That’s so cheap.”

“For you, it’s more than enough, baby girl,” Bumps said with a grin.

“Well,” Denisha replied as she stepped so close that her mid-section rested on his head. “There must be something you want.  I’ve never met a man who did favors for free.”

“Girl, normally I’d introduce you to my son,” Bumps said. “But I think I’ll have to keep you for myself.  Why don’t you come on inside?”

“After you, big daddy,” Denisha said as she looked Bumps up and down and puckered her lips.  Bumps’ heart jumped in his chest as he stood up from his chair and opened the front door into his house.  He wouldn’t even need his work station for such a simple fix.  He dropped the watch on the kitchen table and opened one of his drawers for a screwdriver.  After he finished this, he would get a taste of what Ms. Denisha had to offer.  It would make a great story for his son.

Before Bumps made it back to the kitchen table, Denisha stood in front of him with her hand on his chest.  Bumps shrugged and unbuttoned his shirt.  Denisha ran her hand up his chest until she caressed his face.  Her touch was soft and warm, and her eyes made his knees go weak.  She then kissed him full on the lips.  Bumps’ knees gave way and he held the kitchen counter for support.

Bumps had slept with numerous women.  None of them kissed like Denisha.  The watch could wait.  Bumps set his screwdriver down on the dresser and reached for Denisha’s shirt.   Denisha jumped back and shook her finger at him. Then she stepped forward and closed his eyes with her fingertips. A smile crept on Bumps when she stepped close enough for him to smell her tropical shampoo.

Bumps’ eyes snapped open when his head slammed against the wall on the other side of the kitchen.  Denisha’s white-gloved hand held him fast against the wall by his throat.  His mouth gaped open as he tried to grab her arm and free himself, but she held a vice grip on his neck.  As Bumps’ head still buzzed, his feet left the floor as those same green eyes glared at him from below.  Her stare was so cold and intense that all Bumps could think about was his impending death.  He wondered about his children.  Would his house be enough?  Would they still be able to finish school with the little bit of money he had left?  Bumps gagged when Denisha’s grip tightened and his feet swung back and forth.  How was it possible for a woman to be this strong?

“Your name is William Vernon,” Denisha said with the perfect grammar of a news reporter. “You’re a former drug dealer who used to employ kids to do his dirty work.”

How did she know that?  Bumps had been out of the game for two years now.  He always managed to keep his operation quiet by hiding his money.  He never allowed anyone who worked for him to wear fancy clothes or drive expensive cars.  They never sold in Waterbury; always out-of-town and usually out-of-state.  He also made sure that all of his children, were kept far away from his business.  He just sent them enough money to pay for school supplies and college applications.  How could this stranger know about his dealings?  Was she a cop? No.  Bumps always knew a cop when he saw one; even the corrupt officers he used to pay off.  Who was this woman, and who did she work for?

“Luckily you never used your own kids,” Denisha continued. “But other people’s children have died because of your actions.  One of your punks could’ve gone to jail for a long time.  Do you remember Sylvester?  He was one of your best sellers and almost your right hand man, but he got sloppy and sold to an informant.  The FBI’s been on to you, so you got paranoid.  You had him killed so he wouldn’t talk, didn’t you?”

Bumps’ vision started to fade as Denisha’s hand clamped around his jugular.  She finally let go, and he dropped to the kitchen floor.  Before he could get up, Bumps’ shoulder crunched when Denisha stomped it against the wall.  Bumps cried out when she ground his shoulder with the heel of her sneaker.  As he struggled to breath from the pain, Denisha held her foot on his shoulder and leaned forward.  When her eyes glared at him, he looked away.

“Look at me,” Denisha hissed as she pressed into his shoulder again.  Bumps grunted and turned his head back to her. Her eyes were the same color, but they were as different as night and day.   Bumps had been in gun fights as a youngster. Bumps had been jumped and stabbed numerous times.  Each time, he either came out on top or went down swinging only to hit them back harder later.  This was different.  For the first time in his entire life, Bumps looked into someone’s eyes and knew his death was near, and there was nothing he could do about it.  Every inclination to stand up and fight vanished as Denisha dug her heel into his shoulder until it throbbed and burned.

“Your next target was the special prosecutor in Sylvester’s case,” Denisha said. “Samuel Johnson; a young gun with so much talent, and so little fear, that you’re afraid he’ll expose all of your criminal activity-”

“No, you’ve got it wrong-”

“I’m never wrong,” Denisha yelled over Bumps’ voice. “Now shut-up and let me finish.  I didn’t expect you to call off the hit, so I took care of the guy you hired.  Now I’m here to visit you personally because I don’t like you very much. I don’t like anyone who threatens my brother.”

“Look, Denisha-”

“Oh, right, my name isn’t Denisha,” she said. “It’s Achilla.”

“Fine, Achilla then,” Bumps sobbed. “Look, I won’t bother your brother no more-”

“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t nice to hear, but it’s not that simple,” Achilla replied as she reached behind her black shirt. “Once I informed Sylvester’s very wealthy uncle up in Bunker Hill that his nephew was running drugs for you, he was very upset. When he heard that you had him killed, well, he was more than willing to pay me to do what I wanted to do anyway.  Now I’m emotionally and financially motivated to kill you.”

“What?” Bumps asked. “What uncle? What are you talking about?”

“I’m going to shoot you between the eyes with this gun,” Achilla said as she pulled out a .38 bodyguard pistol with a silencer attached to the barrel. “It’s not my cup of tea.  I prefer a firearm with a little more power, but this is the calling card of your boy Rico.  You know Rico, right?  Isn’t he the guy you hired to kill Sylvester?  Isn’t irony amazing?”

“How much did he pay you?” Bumps asked with a trembling voice. “I’ll give you double.”

“No thanks,” Achilla said as she aimed Rico’s gun. “I took a huge discount for this job.  This is primarily a matter of principle.”

“How you going to explain my shoulder?” Bumps stammered. “You broke my shoulder, and nobody else can do that like you just did.  I’m sure of it.  You’re not walking away from this. Look, let’s make a deal or some-”

“I’m much stronger than what I’m showing you right now,” Achilla said. “I only applied enough pressure to look like the sort of damage Rico would have done.  He’s about two hundred-sixty pounds of muscle.  Nobody doubts that he could crush your shoulder.  The best part is Rico has really small feet, and mine are quite big for a woman.  Our feet are the same size, and these are actually his shoes.  Don’t you just love when the circumstances fit in your favor like that? I do.”

“But what about my kids-”

“Ok, that’s enough talking from you,” Achilla snapped as she set the red laser sight on Bumps’ face. “Sylvester was somebody’s kid.  He had kids of his own.  You should’ve thought of that before you had him killed.  This is your last breath.  Make it a deep one.”

*

After Achilla shot Bumps between the eyes, she leaned him against the kitchen wall.  She then closed his eyes with her white-gloved fingers and set the pistol in his hand; making sure to wrap his finger around the trigger.  It was a lazy attempt at staging a suicide; the sort of lazy attempt that Rico would make.  Achilla picked up the Jacob Watch knock-off and strolled across the kitchen, grabbed Bumps’ flathead screwdriver from the kitchen counter, and opened the watch.  She then opened his drawer and found a Phillips screwdriver and tinkered with the inside.  After she finished, Achilla closed the watch and checked the time.  The second hand worked like new again; just like before she broke it.

Achilla strolled out of Bumps’ house as twilight fell over Hill Street.  She had half-an hour to make it to her rendezvous point at the Timexpo Timex Museum.  Achilla sighed and stretched her arms as she made her trip south on North Main Street toward Downtown; passing by colonial style homes and Honda Accords blasting rap music from their subwoofer speakers. When she reached the UConn campus on East Main Street, Achilla saw a homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of dark blue garbage bags.  As she walked past him, she tossed the watch on the cart before pulling off her gloves and stuffing them in her back pocket.

“Thanks, lady,” the homeless man called to Achilla’s back. “God blesses you when you do that.  He’s going to bless you for real.”

Achilla shook her head as she speed walked down the street.  She hid her face under the brim of her New Era cap as three police cars with blaring sirens passed by and drove up North Main Street.  As expected, they were too late and would never catch her.  As far as every law enforcement agency in the country was concerned, Achilla was a ghost.  Waterbury cops were no different.  There was only one person Achilla could never escape, and that thought made her hold herself in her arms as she walked down the sidewalk.

“There’s no way God would bless me now,” Achilla muttered to herself as she refused to glance up at the night sky. “I can’t remember the last time we spoke.”

New Short Story: Seaside Park

So this story introduces a character I’ve created named Achilla Johnson.  Since it doesn’t fit in the series I’ve written for her, I figured I could post it here.  Enjoy, and shout-out to all of my friends from Bridgeport!  I hope I did justice to your city.

Seaside Park ©

By G. Miller©

Achilla Johnson stepped out of her black Honda Civic wearing a gray petticoat, black slacks, and grey flat shoes.  Her curly black hair rested on her shoulders before she pulled it up into a bun and leaned against the side of her car as she looked out onto the water that churned under the late November sun.  Bridgeport’s Seaside Park always had a way of making the Long Island Sound look bigger than it actually was.  It was Connecticut’s answer to Lake Shore Drive with a walkway along the beach and a beautiful view of the sunrise at six in the morning that highlighted the brown leaves on the trees nearby.  Achilla’s green eyes watched her breath roll through the crisp fall air like a warm mist as she watched the waves lick the shore line.  She noticed a tall, black male in his fifties wearing jeans and a gray hoodie walking towards a park bench to her right.  Achilla laughed and locked her car before approaching the bench.  The man looked up at her and smiled.  As usual, Brendan Johnson was right on time.  He always taught Achilla to be punctual, and he always led by example.  When he tried to stand, Achilla held him down by his shoulders and kissed his forehead.

“Don’t get up,” Achilla said as she rubbed her hand across the waved hair on his head. “You’ve done enough for a lifetime.  The least I can do is let you have a seat.”

“I’m not crippled,” Brendan replied. “I can get up and hug my baby girl.”

“I know, Pops,” Achilla sighed. “So how was your week?”

“Busy,” Brendan said.

“Work kicking your ass?” Achilla asked.

“You know we don’t talk about work,” Brendan snapped. “And how many times have I told you to watch your language?”

“Sorry,” Achilla said before sitting next to her father. “You know I’ve never been much of a lady.”

“And you know I’ve never believed that,” Brendan replied as he wrapped his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “My baby girl is the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“That’s nice, but I’m not the Cinderella type,” Achilla chuckled. “You don’t have to tell me how pretty and delicate I am.”

“I didn’t say that,” Brendan said. “I said beautiful.  You’re beautiful in your own way.”

“What way is that?” Achilla snorted. “There’s a reason I agreed to never talk about work when we meet.  My job’s gruesome.  I’ve always been a walking weapon-”

“Stop it!” Brendan snapped. “I won’t allow you to talk like that.”

“But-”

“You’re strong,” Brendan said. “Maybe you’re too strong for the rest of the world to handle, but that doesn’t mean you’re evil.  You’re not like….her.”

Achilla lowered her head.  He was referring to Achilla’s biological mother; the woman from whom Achilla had inherited her Amazonian mind and body.  She was also the single greatest source of misery for Brendan, Achilla, and her two hundred victims.  She was dead now; killed by Achilla’s own hands.  Of course, Achilla couldn’t tell her father that.  He couldn’t know that his daughter was more than just a hot-tempered,high-ranking Marine. He couldn’t know that Achilla’s service in the military was just a cover for her days in the CIA; days that were long gone now.   He couldn’t know what Achilla really did for a living.  So she wore her secret close at all times like the bullet-proof vest under her cotton blouse.  Achilla leaned forward and rested her forearms on her knees as she watched the waves.

“Thanks, Pops,” Achilla said. “That’s good of you to say.  I won’t argue with you on that one.”

“You ever considered settling down?” Brendan asked.

“Oh God, Dad-”

“I know you’re a free spirit,” Brendan chuckled. “But it’s good to settle down and have kids; leave a legacy.”

“Leave that to Samuel.”

“Yes, your brother carries our name,” Brenda said, “but you carry the blood just like he does.  Some children might-”

“I have a child,” Achilla blurted. “By now she’s a five-year-old girl.”

Brendan turned and faced Achilla with his mouth open.  Achilla sighed and lowered her head again.  She was never good at easing into shocking news.  Her brother Samuel was always better with words.  He was a lawyer like his father and knew how to say things just the right way.  Judging by Brendan’s expression, she still had a lot to learn.

“When were you going to tell me?” Brendan asked.

“I wasn’t,” Achilla said. “I sent her away for adoption.  I’m not cut-out for parenting-”

“No one is cut out for parenting, Achilla-”

“I know that, but-”

“How can you have a child and not tell anyone?” Brendan asked. “Jesus, Achilla, it’s always something with you.”

“I know,” Achilla said. “I’m impossible to love.”

“You’re impossible not to love,” Brendan replied as he patted her shoulder. “Just difficult to understand sometimes, that’s all.  You just do things on a whim without thinking of anyone.  I would’ve loved to meet my granddaughter.  I could’ve given her some of my mother’s jewelry, and you know, spoiled her like grandparents are supposed to spoil their grandkids.  I would’ve loved that.”

“I know, Pops,” Achilla said as she looked away and blinked back her tears. “I know you would’ve.”

“I loved spoiling you when I got a chance,” Brendan said. “I would’ve liked to treat her as well as I treated you.  You know I would’ve done anything to make her smile; same as you.”

“I know you would’ve,” Achilla sobbed as she wiped her eyes. “And I took that from you.  I’m so sorry.”

“Well, hopefully I’ll meet her when she gets older,” Brendan said as he stood up from the bench.  “I have to go now.”

“Ok.”

“I love you,” Brendan said before he leaned forward and kissed Achilla on the cheek. “Don’t you ever forget it.”

“I love you too, Daddy,” Achilla said with a smile and a wavering voice. “I’m sorry I made things so hard for you.”

“Nonsense, girl,” Brendan said as he turned his back and walked away from the bench. “Nothing’s too hard for my baby girl.  Nothing.”

Achilla closed her eyes as more tears streamed down her face, and she listened as the waves crashed against the shoreline.  The sound of the waves hitting the Seaside rocks eased her tears and soothed her to sleep in her hands.  She jumped awake when she felt a hand on her shoulder.  Achilla looked for her father.  He was nowhere to be found.  Instead, she saw a tall, thin, black male in his twenties with a smile on his face and waved hair.  Samuel smiled just like Achilla’s father but with the youth and enthusiasm of a young lawyer who had not lost a case yet.  He wore a black suit with a white shirt and yellow tie; the same tie Achilla bought for him last year.  He sat next to Achilla and stared out at the waves with her.  They sat in silence for a few minutes and listened to the Long Island Sound before speaking.

“I figured I’d find you here,” Samuel said.

“How?” Achilla asked. “I’ve never been that predictable.  I make it a point not to be.”

“I didn’t make it through law school without learning to be observant,” Samuel said. “Plus, you’re more predictable than you think. We have a lot of good memories out here.  I’d be worried if you didn’t return.”

“Yeah,” Achilla said with a smile. “I guess you’re right.”

“Need more time?” Samuel asked. “I can wait in the car.”

“No, I’m good.”

“Ok,” Samuel said. “I need your help with Dad’s things.  He wouldn’t want us to just leave it around.  You know he was a stickler for structure and order.”

“I miss him,” Achilla said. “I wish he was still here.”

“Me too,” Samuel sighed. “It might be too soon to say this, but I really hope someone catches the bastard who killed him so he can get what’s coming to him.”

Achilla stared out into the water.  Her green eyes turned bloodshot, and she clenched her fists so hard that her nails dug into her palms.  Blood seeped between her fingers as she stood up from the bench and stalked toward the sidewalk.  Samuel followed and stood next to her.  He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, but she didn’t feel it.  She didn’t feel anything but her heart pounding in her chest and the blood pulsing through her veins like diesel fuel that boiled at the thought of making Samuel’s wish come true.

“I’m sorry,” Samuel said. “I feel terrible saying that.  Now isn’t the time-”

“Don’t,” Achilla snapped as she turned from the walkway and walked towards her car.

“Don’t what?” Samuel asked as Achilla unlocked her car door.

“Don’t feel bad,” Achilla replied over her shoulder. “He’ll get what he deserves; one way or another.”

Achilla looked out at the waves one last time.  She stared at her father’s bench; the same bench where he always sat  for over forty years.  It was on that bench where Achilla bounced on her father’s lap as a little girl.  On that bench, Achilla said bye to her father before she left for the CIA over twelve years ago.   Achilla watched Samuel drive-off in his car before stepping into her Honda and leaving Seaside Park for good.  Seaside Park was a fitting place for Achilla to say goodbye to her father.  Once she found his murderer, she would never be able to return to Bridgeport again.

Lunch with Jesus- a short story

I had lunch with Jesus today.  Yeah, we met at Pret Manger in Downtown Chicago.  I grabbed a ham sandwich and a fruit cup with some lemonade, he grabbed a tuna melt (go figure), and he ate like it was his job to practice eating.  Each bite looked like he had planned the exact amount of calories he would take in each time.  It was kind of creepy but amazing at the same time. Oh, and Jesus didn’t look like I had imagined.  He had tan skin with shoulder length brown hair and no beard.  Yeah, that’s right.  Jesus shaved.  Jesus also wore a plain white tee with true religion jeans and crisp, white Air Forces.  Of course none of this seemed to matter when I watched him eat like he was performing surgery on his sandwich.

“You don’t have to stare,” Jesus said as he looked up from his sandwich. “Even if I’m not looking, I know you’re doing that, and it’s rude.”

“Sorry, Jesus,” I said.

“And stop saying my name at the end of all your sentences,” Jesus replied. “You’re a grown man, and I’m not Santa Claus.”

“Ok.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“No, I’m not mad at you,” Jesus said through a mouth full of tuna while speaking with surprising clarity.

“But-”

Jesus waved his hand as if to bat away my next sentence long before it reached his ears.  He wiped his mouth with a napkin, even though he didn’t need it, and folded his hands on the table; staring at me with hazel eyes that forced me to stare back.

“I’m not mad at you,” Jesus said. “No matter what.”

“You never get angry?”

“I didn’t say that,” Jesus replied. “I get angry all the time.  Humans are a frustrating creation, much more frustrating than any of the animals.”

“But I thought we were in your image.”

“You are,” Jesus said. “And somehow you think that makes you entitled to speak for me.  Do you have any idea how many people have died because someone said I wanted them to die? It’s crazy.”

“People have done a lot of good things in your name too,” I replied before clasping my hand over my mouth.  Was I seriously arguing human history with Jesus?

“Yeah, and I get all the credit for that,” Jesus said. “I don’t send people to do good work so I can take the credit from them, and I certainly don’t send people to do bad things so I can take the blame.  I had one goal; to save you from your sins, man, that’s it.  I drop a few dimes of wisdom and now everyone’s a prophet.”

“So nobody speaks to you?” I asked before taking a sip of my lemonade.

“None of these clowns, “Jesus said with another wave of his hand.  “They just think what they want, do what they want, and then slap my name on it so nobody questions it without looking like a heathen.  It pisses me off.”

“So what should we do then?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you,” Jesus replied.

“Why not?”

“Because I already have.”

“Well, clearly we misunderstood,” I said through gritted teeth.  “Care to clarify?”

“Nope,” Jesus said. “Just because you got something wrong doesn’t mean I’m required to explain myself.”

“There has to be something you can clarify-”

“Oh, fine,” Jesus said. “If you insist.  I want you all to love each other.”

“You already said that.”

“Exactly!” Jesus snapped and shook his head. “You see why you humans are so frustrating?  You don’t know how to hold a conversation.  You have all this technology, and you still can’t communicate.  How many people do you think actually pray and listen for my answer?”

“People who hear your voice are probably schizo,” I said with a slight chuckle.

“Yeah,” Jesus replied with a snort. “Says the guy who’s having lunch with me.”

“Well, you just said yourself-”

“There you go again trying to tell me what I said,” Jesus laughed. “Look, love each other for real, and you’re ok in my book.  And I mean for real; not for personal gain, not for money, not out of loneliness.  I’m talking about a real love and appreciation for other people.  I’m talking about giving money to the homeless on the street-”

“But-”

“Shut up,” Jesus snapped as he slammed the table with his fist. “You humans always cut me off with your own issues and excuses, and then you get mad when you miss the point and ask me clarify.  As I was saying, I’m talking about doing something nice without expecting anything in return, not for approval.  I’m talking about some real altruism, and I rarely see it.  I see people taking advantage of what I did left and right.”

“You didn’t-”

“Yeah, I saw it coming, but that doesn’t make it less insulting,” Jesus said. “It would be ok if nobody got it right, but some of you do, which means all of you should, and I know you can.  You’re in my image, but you screw it up.  You make me look bad.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be,” Jesus said, “But forgiveness is what I do.  That’s why I’m not mad at you.  You know what gets to me the most?”

“What?”

Jesus shook his head as his eyes moistened.  He looked out the front door before returning his gaze to me.

“Every day, a child is born without knowing love,” Jesus said. “People throw religion and laws and all kinds of judgment in their face but show them no love, man.  It hurts me every time.   It really does.  When you have kids, do your job right. Show them real love.  Can you do that?”

“I can try,” I said.

Jesus shook his head and bit into the last of his sandwich.

“Yeah, well you’re human,” Jesus said. “A little effort is all I can expect.  That’ll do.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “That means a lot to me.”

“By the way, stop checking out the girl at the register behind me,” Jesus said as he stood up and crumpled his sandwich wrapping.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s rude.  I have the Messiah in front of me, and I’m looking at girls-”

“The girl two tables down is more your speed,” Jesus said. “Talk to her when I leave.”

“No kidding,” I replied as I spied a lady in a pink dress two tables down texting on her iPhone.  She looked up at me, smiled, and looked back at her phone.

“Thank me later,” Jesus said as he patted my shoulder and walked out of the Pret Manger. “And I mean actually thank me.”

“Maybe at our next lunch?” I asked the thin air.  Jesus was gone.  Even the crumbs from his sandwich had disappeared from the table.  I sat at the table by myself and looked around for any sign that we actually had lunch.  There were none.  All that was left was me and the lady in the pink dress two tables down.  I picked up my fruit cup and my lemonade, took a sip of the lemonade’s sour goodness, and walked the two table trip to introduce myself.  She batted her eyes and played with her brown hair as she looked up at me.

“Hey,” I said. “My name’s Adam.  Yours?”

“Eve,” she replied. “Do you always talk to yourself?”

“Nope,” I said. “I’d rather talk to you, unless you’re expecting somebody.”

She smiled and shook her head before she kicked out the chair across from her.  I grabbed the chair and sat down with my drink.  Before I could think of something charming to say, she grabbed the drink and fruit cup out of my hand.  She then rested her feet on my knee and leaned back in her seat.  I frowned as I watched her finish my drink and devour my fruit in just few dips of my spoon.  Eve then patted her stomach and tapped my knee with her heels before she handed me back the empty cups.  She threw her head back and laughed as I stared at the empty plastic.

“Now that was a fun date,” Eve laughed before sighing and resting her head between her hands. “When’s the next one?”

I shook my head and chuckled at myself as I sat back in my chair.  Even with all of that frustration with mankind, I should have known that Jesus liked to play Cupid.  I just wished he had warned me first.  I looked out the window next to us and saw Jesus across the street.  He pointed and laughed as he mimicked Eve eating my fruit.  Yeah, it turns out Jesus had a sense of humor too.  Well played, Messiah.  Well.  Played.

-G. Miller (c)