The Commuter

A short story by Meg Sorick.

There were five of them in the car as far as I could tell. Three squished in the back seat and two up front. I could hear the music blasting through the open windows. They all were singing along. Only teenagers could be that happy stuck in rush hour traffic. Lucky dogs.

We inched forward a little and I thought back to the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I had two jobs —both part time, both of them waitressing gigs— but it hadn’t prevented me from going out every night of the week. All my friends were doing the same kind of thing —working our summer jobs, sharing cheap apartments, surviving on Ramen noodles and thrift store clothes, so we had beer money instead. It might possibly have been the happiest time of my life.

In the car in front of me, the song changed and the kids sang louder. The old Chevy positively shook as they danced in their seats. I sighed. Where had the years gone?

Finally, thirty minutes later, the log jam broke and traffic started moving. I changed lanes and passed the concert on wheels. Stealing a glance over, I saw a snapshot of the past. Five carefree souls not worrying about a thing. Just you wait, my little darlings. Life is about to smack you in the face. Student loans, credit scores, mortgages, car payments, insurance, utilities, taxes…

I pulled in the driveway an hour and fifteen minutes after I left work. This commute was killing me. As I dropped my keys on the hall table and kicked off my shoes, I smelled the scent of tomatoes and garlic wafting from the kitchen. I followed my nose. My husband looked up from the stove when I entered. “Hey,” he said with a smile. “Kiss the cook?”

I kissed him, but I was distracted by the scene on the television in the corner. The news was on.

“Accident on the Schuylkill. Quite a mess,” my husband said.

The scene on TV was shot from a circling news helicopter. A crash. Two exits before mine.

“Lucky you were past it already,” he said. “Or you’d have been even later.”

I recognized the old Chevy. Life is about to smack you in the face…

(Header image thanks to Philly.com)

Suburban Station

Written in response to Angela’s photo prompt for Tell the Story Challenge. Her beautiful poetry can be found at Heartbreathings. As I’m in the midst of, and bogged down on both my works in progress, I was happy to attempt this piece of short fiction as an alternative. So based on the photo below, here is my story: Suburban Station.

I was a pop superstar. I had an agent and a stage name. I got discovered at age 16 when I made the cut for Next American Star and spent most of my twenties either in the studio or on the road. I was a household name. I had all the girls I could want but I never fell in love. I had a house in California and an apartment in New York. I owned three sports cars before I even got my driver’s license.

You know what comes with that kind of life. It’s a cliche, really. Late nights, parties, booze, drugs and then other drugs the next day just so you can get up to do it all over again. And of course, the inevitable hangers-on, the leeches that form your entourage, managing your affairs so you can concentrate on being creative while they suck away your fortunes. I still have some of mine. I guess I was lucky.

It’s been two years. I’m thirty-one now but I look a lot older than that. The drugs and the pills and everything else have taken a toll. One morning, I woke up and didn’t know where I was. A hotel, yes, but what city? I had stumbled to the bathroom and puked, only to find, when I pulled my head out of the toilet, some dude sleeping in the bathtub. I didn’t recognize him. Nor did I know any of the other partiers passed out in the room. Was it even my room? I checked the closet. Yeah, those were my clothes. I had to get out of here.

I left the hotel room, found out I was in Miami, and vaguely recalled playing Hard Rock Stadium the night before. I took a cab to the airport. Tour canceled, the star is unwell. That concert was my last. I fired my manager, I sold both my homes, all my cars and hoarded what was left of my wealth.

I went home to Philadelphia and bought a small townhouse. I go by my given name. At rush hour I take my guitar to Suburban Station and play for the passengers boarding the trains. Sometimes people look at me funny –like maybe I seem familiar or something. Nobody’s ever asked. The rest of the time I volunteer to teach music in after school programs for inner city kids. That’s where I met my girlfriend, Jill. She’s a teacher, too. And she’s the only one who knows my secret. I’m not sure how long my money will hold out, but for the first time in my life I am happy.

***

Roll the Bones – A Short Story

I had a ridiculous week and don’t have Small Cuts – Genevieve’s part ready yet, so in the meantime…. A repost of a short story from last year. I’ve been asked to contribute some of my fiction to a Pennsylvania authors’ anthology (exciting!) and this is one that I selected:

Roll the Bones

Gina wasn’t a gambler. She was a meticulous planner. Thus she was nearly sick with anxiety as she emerged from the airport shuttle in front of the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This was the last place on earth she would have chosen for this meeting. Actually, that she’d agreed to this meeting at all was unthinkable. Nevertheless, here she was. She told herself that it only made sense, since Las Vegas was halfway for both of them and the airfare and hotel room were more than reasonable.

Taking a deep calming breath, she lifted her rolling suitcase from the shuttle to the sidewalk. She had overpacked for a mere weekend getaway, but she wanted to be prepared for every possible scenario. Her heart skipped a beat when she imagined the inevitable outcome of any of those scenarios —it gave her such a thrill.

After collecting her key card at the reception desk, Gina took the elevator to the forty-second floor. Her hands were shaking as she swiped the key. He said he would leave word. She wasn’t sure what that meant. As nervous as she was, she was also excited. She wanted this badly. Very badly. It had been way too long…

The room faced east, away from the setting sun. It was cool and quiet —the only noise coming from the air conditioning unit beneath the window. She took a moment to marvel at the view, with the lights coming on all over the City of Sin —how appropriate. She turned and for the first time noticed the bouquet of red roses on the dresser. A small white envelope was attached. She opened the note and read, “Meet me in the casino at nine. I’ll be rolling the bones.”

Rolling the bones. A dice game. Gina knew she should’ve done more research on gambling. That would have been the logical thing to do. But nothing about this trip, this rendevouz, was logical. When she got to the casino she would have to ask about the dice games or else she’d be wandering aimlessly all night.

After showering and dressing in the simple but elegant dress she had bought especially for their first meeting, she applied perfume in strategic places, wound her glorious hair into a twist, added her diamond drop earrings and a swipe of burgundy lipstick. Then, with just a little liquid courage enabled by raiding the mini bar, she returned to the ground floor in the elevator.

When the doors opened, it was onto a carnival scene —the lights and sounds of slot machines and roulette wheels. Statuesque cocktail waitresses in impossibly high heels circulated with drinks for the gamblers. Gina spotted one with an empty tray and stopped her to ask about games played with dice. The waitress smiled benignly, amused at her apparent naivety, but directed her to the craps tables on the far side of the vast expanse.

As Gina wound her way through the throng of tipsy revelers, her eyes scanned the faces for one familiar. Familiar to her at least from viewing it in cyberspace. Eventually, she spotted her goal. The craps tables were equally populated with men and women taking their turns at throwing the bones. She knew this much about dice —that they were originally made of bone and possibly were used in some religious or mystical capacity in predicting the future. Seven or eleven. Seven or eleven. A winner, here. A loser, there. Roll again.

She felt him before she heard him. “Gina,” he murmured against her ear. Her spine tingled and she turned slowly to face him. She had to look up. Grey-blue eyes stared back at her. She knew him right away. Just what she’d been hoping for, dreaming of, all these months. He was dressed all in black —black suit, black shirt — no tie, black shoes. Black hair curling over his collar. She smiled and he relaxed. “You look beautiful. Just like your picture.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. Charming.

“The roses were beautiful,” she said. “Thank you for them.”

“Shall we go see them?” he asked, still nuzzling her fingers.

“I thought you were playing,” she said, gesturing to the tables.

“I’m not that kind of gambler,” he said with a grin. He ran his thumb over her full lower lip. “Besides, the tables aren’t the only place to roll the bones.”

She swallowed hard. This was going faster than she had anticipated. But no matter. She was ready. She gave him a confident smile. “All right. Follow me.”

He took her hand and let her lead him to the elevators. When the doors closed on them and they were alone, he took her in his arms and said, “You are just as I imagined.”

She braced her hands on his chest and replied, “As are you.”

When the doors opened onto the forty-second floor, he released her and gestured for her to lead the way. She opened her small black clutch and removed the key card from it. Then swiping the lock open, she allowed him to enter before her. Keeping her eyes on his back, she followed him into the darkened room. The door swung shut behind her as she drew a second item from her bag. When he whirled around to face her, the hand holding the gun wavered just a little. The blade of the knife he held glinted in the moonlight shining through the uncovered window. His laugh was low and genuinely mirthful. She gave small chuckle herself.

“What are the odds?” he asked, lowering the knife. “Of two killers finding each other online?”

She kept the gun trained on him as he took one step back. “Apparently they are higher than you would think.”