Author's Note & Table of Contents
The following is a collection of unrelated short stories I've written over the past few years. I've added a key word beside each title (chapter) to help you determine the genre/feeling of the story as well as a short one-sentence synopsis of each below. Trigger warnings (as well as explanations) have been added to any stories that I believe may be difficult for certain audiences. Happy reading! :)
Table of Contents
1. Blind - A young woman attempts to break away from a dangerous relationship and reclaim her freedom
2. Confession - A teenage boy orchestrates an extravagant show with his friends to confess his love for his pretty math tutor
3. Wolves in the Garden - An isolated young man grapples with reality after being sheltered away from society and danger for his entire life
4. Today - A young college student attempts to come to terms with the tragedy that befalls her best friends on her 21st birthday [Trigger Warning]
Written: Early 2016
She felt the word resonating in her bones, riding the vibrations down her body, burying itself in the tips of her toes and anchoring itself in the cold concrete below. Every cell in her body was with alive with the electric sensation that came with what she had just said out loud. Of course, she had imagined saying that exact word for many years, but when it came time for her to finally do it, every inch of her being was shocked.
The feeling—of all her senses being alive, reeling from the power that they didn’t know she had—was terrifying and completely intoxicating.
He blinked, a bewildered expression crossing his face. “What?”
Her fingers curled into fists at her sides, and she tried to feel all of the wild energy inside her, spurring her to not back down. “You heard me. No. I’m not coming with you.”
He stared at her, furrowing his brow as he thought. Surely this was completely unexpected for him; it was for her, too. After all, she had only said no to him a few brief times since they met, and her answer never stood a chance against his persuasion. Whenever she had worked up the courage to deny him in the past, it was whispered, and that was how he knew that he could turn her around without much effort.
The two met during her freshman year of high school, when she made it into a high-level math class that was occupied by primarily juniors. They sat next to each other on the first day of school, and despite him being a sophomore at the time and at no obligation to introduce himself, he did. He helped show her around the campus that day at lunch, and for the rest of the week, he helped explain all of the things she needed to know about high school.
As the first few weeks passed, they began to talk more and more during class—during work periods, during lessons, or even during tests. Her grade in the class began slowly slipping, but he assured her that it was simply because she was so young and in such a rigorous class. Their teacher couldn’t understand; her grades in past math classes didn’t add up to her performance this year. Gradually, as the year went on, her other classes followed a similar suit. She found herself texting him every chance she could get, or going out with him when she knew that there was work that she should do.
After just over a month, they started dating.
She let herself believe that she was completely in love. She adored being around him—the things he said, the way he carried himself, the way he always touched her to remind her that they were together. She was drunk on the way he made her feel.
He started asking her to blow off her friends or skip family dinners to see him. He asked her to stop speaking to her male friends because he didn’t trust them. He asked her to quit competitive swimming because it took up too much of her time. He asked her to fail science so that they could be in the same class. He asked her to dress differently because he didn’t like how other people looked at her.
She complied with his every request, because she loved him, and how could it be wrong to please the person you love?
The longer they dated, though, the more he wanted of her. She slowly began to realize this, and that he was no longer making her happy. She wondered whether it was possible that his happiness wasn’t enough to make her happy. The day before she graduated, she tried to break up with him for the first time.
“What are you talking about?” he’d asked.
“Are you really going to throw away everything that we’ve worked so hard for?”
“After everything I’ve done for you?”
“Do you really think you’re ready for college without me?”
“How are you going to handle the world if I’m not taking care of you?”
“What will your parents say?” he’d asked.
But most importantly…
“You need me,” he’d said.
And she believed him, because what more could she do? It was true that she didn’t know how to live without him. All of her high school years—the years when she grew and became her own person—had been devoted to him. She didn’t know where her own beliefs, desires, and passions ended and where his began. She was chained to him.
For six years, she let herself stay like this, attached to him. Too many times, she tried to break the chains that bound them together, but every time, his whirlwind of questions brought her to her knees, back to his front door, back into his bed. She was too afraid to face him, and too afraid to find out who she was without him.
But now, she’d said it. He asked her to come back home with him.
And she said no.
“You’re emotional. Okay? You shouldn’t make decisions when you’re not thinking clearly like this. Come home with me and we’ll talk about it in the morning,” he replied, brushing off her defiance without breaking a sweat.
He understood what was happening, though; he could see the change in her eyes and tone, and knew that something today was different.
She shook her head. “No.”
“Listen, don’t be rude. I’m just trying to keep you from doing something that you’ll regret tomorrow,” he insisted.
“No, no, you aren’t,” she said firmly. “You’re trying to make me stay quiet.”
“I’m just looking out for you,” he explained.
He took a step back, recoiling. He couldn’t bring himself to understand what she was saying or where she meant to take things.
“You’re right. I am emotional. But I’ve thought a lot about this when I’m not, and I always seem to come to the same decision. I don’t want to go home with you. I don’t want to go home with you ever again.”
He stared. “What are you trying to say?”
She swallowed. Squeezing her fists at her sides, she tried to remind herself of the electric shock that accompanied her defying him. She wanted to feel again the reckless exhilaration of saying what she needed to say and being properly heard. She needed to feel the strength to face the six years that she spent with him.
“I don’t want to see you anymore.”
He scowled. “We don’t say stuff like that. Remember? We say what we do want, and not what we don’t.”
“Fine,” she said, taking a step toward him. “I want to be alone. I want to find myself. I want to live in my own apartment. I want to see other people. I want to be free to do what I want.”
He scoffed. “After everything we’ve been through together? After all I’ve done for you? How can you be so selfish?”
“I want to have friends. I want to see boys again. I want to swim. I want to have dinner with my family. I want to take all of the classes I want, regardless of who else is taking them. I want to say don’t, and can’t, and won’t.”
His face hardened. “Are you blind? Can you not see how selfish you’re being? Can you not see everything I’ve done for you and for us? Why would you throw away the last six years?”
“I’m not blind,” she said quietly. She let her fists go, her hands falling slack against her sides as she released the anger that had been fueling her. She didn’t need rage to break free; she had everything she needed. “Actually, I feel like I’m seeing clearly for the first time in six years.”
A train rushed by next to them, casting bursts of light from the windows across their faces. Its roar sucked up all of the sound around them, so rather than yelling over it, they waited, suspended in time, uncertain of how the scene would continue as soon as it passed and someone pressed play. She felt the wind whipping by, pulling at her hair and sleeves and infusing in her the strength to stand her ground.
When it finally disappeared back into the tunnel, it thrust them back into an unnerving silence.
He stared at the ground. “So, you’re okay with this? Throwing us away? Throwing me away? Completely disrespecting all the time we’ve spent away?”
She nodded. “You’ve been like a ball and chain to me for years—holding me back from everything I want, and convincing me that it’s my own fault. Let me go. Just let me go now.”
His face contorted in anger. “What will your parents say? They love me. They trust me to take care of you. They want you to marry me.”
“I don’t need you to take care of me anymore. I’ll take care of me from now on. I’m sure my parents will realize that soon.”
His head snapped up to finally face her again, and his words burst from him in a yell that bounced off of the subway walls around them. “You don’t know what you want! You’re stupid and young and clueless! How could you possibly live without me?”
Another train went flying by them, eventually coming to a stop and opening its doors. Light streamed from inside, spilling out onto the cement boarding platform and bathing her in the golden glow. She pointed to the open doors as she spoke.
“I’m going to get on that train, and I’m going to ride it until I don’t want to anymore, and then I’m going to go where I want to from there. And you’re not going to follow me.”
He stared at her, his chest heaving as his mind reeled, searching for a reply. “I—”
“Let me go,” she said. “You’ve been holding me back for so long. Just let me go now.”
When he didn’t reply, she turned on her toes, stepping off of the cement and onto the trampled floor of the train. Reaching up slowly, she circled her fingers around the handle hanging from the ceiling, anchoring herself to the train and to the moment as she watched him, waiting for him to move. He stood silently, staring at the ground and moving his fingers as if physically searching for what to do. After a few moments, a metallic ding came over the subway intercom, and his head snapped up with startling speed, his eyes locking on her. Cued by the sound, the train doors began to slide closed, and he watched with wide eyes as she gradually disappeared behind them.
She watched him through the windows in the doors.
Then, there was a low rumble, and the train moaned as it took off, rushing into the tunnels and leaving one young man alone on the boarding platform in the dim light. As the train sped down the tracks, the lights mounted on the ceiling of the car flickered, occasionally bathing the space in darkness and then plunging it back into light. No one occupied the car but her, and all that could be heard was the ever-present whir of the train over the tracks below.
She closed her eyes, leaning her head back toward the ceiling.
He was behind her, and despite having her eyes closed to the world, she was positive that she could see more clearly at that moment than she ever had.
Written: December 2015
Matthew Harrison was terrified, and it wasn’t because he had neglected to do his math homework, or because he had called in sick to work when he wasn’t actually sick at all. In fact, the entire day had been a huge snowball effect of things that he was going to have to deal with tomorrow—things he would probably regret. He was absolutely positive that the list of reasons for him to be nervous went on for miles, yet somehow, none of them were truly why he was sweating profusely and holding a bouquet of crimson flowers in shaking hands.
Matthew was terrified, not because of all the responsibilities that he was neglecting, but because the doors to his school gymnasium were opening, and behind him was the source of his all of his anxiety for the past two years.
As Emma Peters entered the gym, Matthew suddenly thanked himself (for the millionth time) for deciding to wear a giant, obnoxious reindeer head that covered his own head. Of course, everyone had understood when Matt had asked his friends—who were helping him out by going to fetch Emma out of her sixth period class—to wear extremely oversized, holiday-themed mascot heads over their own heads so that they wouldn’t be recognized. Not only did he not want Emma to catch on immediately, but they hadn’t cleared the stunt with the school, so it was best for the culprits to not be easily identified when they crashed a class without warning.
But with Emma staring at him like she was, with those hazel eyes positively sparkling with curiosity, Matt was glad to have the mask to shield his blush.
As she approached him, her arms looped around the arms of Matt’s friends, Kevin and Dean, she took in the grand arrangement around her in between glances at Matt. Weeks of planning was finally coming to a climax for Matt and the huge part of the student body that had decided to help him. Perhaps it was the fact that it was their last period of school on the last day before their winter break, or maybe because everyone simply adored Matt and Emma, but the turnout of support for the event was overwhelming. With the sheer amount of work and man-power that had went into setting everything up, it was unbelievable that they’d gotten this far without the school staff catching on.
Or, maybe the teachers loved Matt and Emma just as much as everyone else.
They had started last night, when one of the arts students left a can in the door jam to keep it from locking after a late rehearsal for the play. Everyone arrived at the school at five A.M. (or, at least those who didn’t accidentally sleep in) and slipped into the gymnasium thankfully unnoticed. From there, they had gotten to work. Holiday colored streamers had been strung across the rafters, balloons had been let loose to collect at the vaulted ceiling, and fake snow (or stuffing from some unfortunate pillows) had been piled around the base of a huge Christmas tree. The tree had taken quite a lot of work; considering exactly how broke the group of high school students were, the band, choir, and a few miscellaneous extras all had to pool their money to afford one. After that, Matt had to struggle with Kevin and Emma’s best friend, Tara, to haul the tree off the lot and bring it to the school. While Tara drove, Matt and Kevin had been forced to hang half-out of the window to hold either side of the tree to ensure that it didn’t spring free and roll away.
It was all done now, though. The tree was decorated to perfection; Dean had collected Santa hats, sparklers, and confetti for each person; and the band and choir were ready in the back of the gym, along the bleachers. Altogether, between the twenty-piece choir, fifty-piece orchestra, and handful of other wanderers, Matt had gathered more than eighty people in the gym without the school’s knowledge.
All of the work—all of the weeks of planning—were about to be put to the test by the short Korean girl walking through the double doors. Everyone mingled quietly in the back of the gym as Emma entered, ushered by Kevin and Dean down the cheap red carpet that led to the tree—and to Matt. She looked alternately between everything that had been set up around the massive room and at Matt, who waited quietly with a bouquet of red flowers and huge reindeer’s head over his own.
For a few unspeakably anxious seconds, Matt could only watch through the mesh eye holes in a stuffy head as Kevin and Dean dragged Emma toward him. As soon as she reached him, the two boys parted ways, standing on either side of the tree and leaving Emma alone to face Matt. Suddenly, Matt hoped that he wasn’t a giveaway; he’d assumed that she wouldn’t recognize him because of the school uniform he was wearing, but could she know him just by his posture or body type?
Emma brought her hands nervously up toward her chest, playing with her fingers and looking around at all of the people who had (in)conspicuously gathered in the gym. When neither of them moved toward the other, Dean grabbed Matt’s hand and forced him to take Emma’s, snickering at his friend’s anxiety.
Just when Matt thought he was going to dissolve into puddle of teenage boy under Emma’s confused and slightly uncomfortable gaze, a commotion behind them stole her attention. Tara and Kevin (having lost his giant Santa head) were climbing up on large boxes decorated as Christmas presents, glancing at each other as the room fell silent. Kevin nodded downbeats toward her—1-2-3-4—and Tara matched his tempo with sleigh bells that she began hitting gently against her thigh. There were a few beats of rest before Kevin and Tara turned back to their respective groups, and Kevin cued the band at its entrance.
Emma’s eyes widened as the band began to play a song that Matt knew by heart, and he allowed himself to temporarily relax as she focused on the scene behind him. A few measures passed by as the band played the light, Christmas inspired piece that he and Kevin had composed together. Matt didn’t have to have eyes in the back of his head to know exactly what was happening behind him; they’d rehearsed so many times that he’d memorized everyone’s movements precisely. He counted the bars until Tara brought up her free hand that wasn’t occupied with the sleigh bells and cued the choir (which snapped from cute rhythmic bouncing to perfect—albeit enthusiastic—attention the moment Tara demanded it).
Matt couldn’t help but cringe as the choir began to sing the opening bars of the song that he’d written with Tara. It was cheesy, without a doubt. Was it too cheesy, though? Would Emma hate it? Was she even a fan of cheese?
Yes, she was. Emma Peters loved crappy romance movies and predictable love lines. She loved the cheese—every bit of it. And, what Matt didn’t know was that Emma was loving every bit of this song, too.
The lyrics spelled out falling for someone and writing letters, deleting texts, and spending many anxious months deciding how to confess. It explained the time that Matt had spent over the last two years since Emma had started tutoring him in math, pointlessly and pathetically pining after a girl would had no idea.
Emma covered her mouth with the hand that wasn’t holding Matt, but the crinkles along the corners of her eyes told him that she was smiling. She shuffled awkwardly in place, looking back and forth between Matt and the song ensuing behind him, nervous and uncomfortable but still loving every moment of whatever was happening.
The chorus of the song swept them up before they were ready. Tara suddenly set down the sleigh bells and took a microphone, turning away from the choir and toward Emma as she started to sing the comfortingly simple lyrics of the song’s climax.
“I love you! I— I love you! I do.”
Matt cringed again. Too simple? Too stupid? Too straightforward?
But Emma was in complete rapture, laughing into her hand, eyes sparkling as she watched her best friend serenading her from the top of a fake Christmas present. Tara was tearing it up, too; all the practice time had given her time to nail her vocals, and now that the time was here, she was singing Matt’s song perfectly, exactly the way he wanted it.
As the chorus was drawing to a close—Emma could undoubtedly feel it, being a member of the choir herself—Emma suddenly looked back at Matt, dropping her hand to her side. She bit her lip as she strained to see past the reindeer head, to see who was inside, to see who had orchestrated this outrageously cheesy confession song for her.
The chorus finally ended and the band and choir began to play the song out—slowly fading in volume, but continuing as a perfect background track as Emma’s attention was now on Matt, undivided and unfaltering. Sucking in a long, deep breath, Matt pushed the flowers into Emma’s hands, and she accepted them eagerly. Her eyes widened as he reached up and began to pull the giant reindeer head off of him, in a slow and painstaking process that seemed to take centuries for both parties. Finally, he was free from the shield that had protected him since she appeared, and the way her eyes settled on him made butterflies spring aggressively to life in his stomach.
He reached out to take her hand in his, avoiding her eyes as long as he could, unable to even put on a smile out of sheer terror. Noticing the choir and band behind him—circling back through the outro for another repeat, giving him time to steel himself—he finally forced himself to look up at the confused girl standing in front of him.
Matt had never held Emma’s hand before. Tutoring didn’t exactly lend itself to such physical contact, and even when they ended up in the closely adjoined band and choir, he’d never allowed himself to touch Emma’s hand. It was cold, so he let himself take a moment to wrap both of his around it, warming it between his clammy palms. The chill of her skin against him gave him an electric shock of nervousness and sudden confidence, somehow at the same time.
“Emma,” Matt said, meeting her eyes. When he paused, swallowing slowly, she gave him a small smile, encouraging him to continue.
“Emma Peters, I like you. A lot. I really like you, Emma.”
She bit her lip, trying to hold back the grin that completely took control of her features anyway, nodding eagerly.
“I know that you might leave after this, and you could never speak to me again. I know I might ruin everything we have by doing this. I know that this may make you so uncomfortable that you won’t even want to tutor me anymore. I’m really afraid of that. That’s why it’s taken me so long.”
Something in the way that she was standing there, nodding and spurring him on and looking so completely shocked but delighted at the same time, chased away the remaining nervousness from Matt and he took another deep breath, letting go of the tenseness in his body. He squeezed Emma’s hand in his, rubbing his own around them in an attempt to make it as warm as she made him feel.
“But you make me feel so cheesy, Em. I’m really not a guy for romantics, but meeting you made me want to make all these grand gestures. Writing songs and buying flowers and all this junk that I’ve seen a million times.” Emma smiled at the ground, and the shyness in the movement made Matt smile for the first time since she’d entered the room. “I love your smile. I love how good you are at math, and how good you make me feel at math.” She hid her face behind the flowers, and Matt was grinning now, spurred on by her and the intensity of the moment he’d been waiting for since the day they met. “I love the way you carry yourself. I love the way you always order the same exact thing when we get coffee. I love the way you wear scarves all the time, and how beautiful they make you look. I love the way you watch all these romantic, cheesy movies. And I really, seriously love the way you make me feel romantic and cheesy, too.”
The band and choir began to fade out at last, and we were left in silence as more than eighty people that had collected in the gym watched Matt and Emma.
“Emma, I love everything about you. It’s my senior year, and I don’t want to spend this Christmas alone. I want to spend this holiday with the person that I’ve been in love for the last two years.”
Dean stepped out from behind the tree, gently taking the flowers from Emma to free up her hand, and not so gently shoving Matt’s back so that he stumbled closer to her. She tried to hide the blush on her face, but Matt took her now free hand in his, making her face him properly.
“So?” Matt asked.
Emma opened her mouth to answer, but just as soon as she did, the doors to the gym swung open wide, and the principal followed by a handful of staff members came storming in. Of course, they had all expected this, Matt more than anyone; it had been a miracle that they weren’t discovered sooner.
Still, he had done everything that he wanted to do.
Dean, Kevin, and Tara ran to meet the principal at the door, doing their best to distract him and take the blame as the rest of the students in the gym had to decide whether to stick it out or make for the back door. Everyone began moving around them, voices rose to shatter the silence that had enveloped them only seconds before, and that lights in the gym abruptly turned on. Still, though, at the center of the chaos, Matt waited, warming Emma’s cold hands in his and watching her blush. He resolved to wait forever for her response, because just watching her shamelessly was more than he ever thought he’d be able to do.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to.
“Is that mistletoe?” Emma asked, nodding past him.
Matt furrowed his brow, glancing behind him at the Christmas tree. “No, Em. That’s a tree.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He sent one more quick look over his shoulder, then slowly turned back to face her. “I mean, no. You’re right. That’s mistletoe.”
She nodded. “Well, duh.”
For a second, they only watched each other, then broke out into the grins that neither one of them could hide any longer. Emma took a step closer to him, so their bodies were almost touching, and Matt’s hand left hers only to slip slowly around her waist. When he was taking longer than she wanted, though, Emma let go of his other hand, moving both of hers up to his neck. In only a moment, she pulled him sharply down to her level, and smirked at his shocked expression.
This time, Matt didn’t wait for Emma to make the move. Now that he was eye to eye with her, he took her by the waist and pulled her into a kiss.
No one paid them any attention. The other students were either leaving the gym, gathering the decorations, or talking with the principal, who seemed less than pleased. None of the group of kids who had worked to make the entire confession everything it was even noticed Matt and Emma, huddled at the end of the red carpet, in the glow of the Christmas tree.
And that was exactly the way Matt liked it—he would have been terrified otherwise.