A Real Smile This Time

“I have seen alternate realities…” Megan believed it, too. As sure as shoot’in, she’d spout off the latest and greatest in how life could’ve been…fantasies…every one.

I wanted to shoot something myself. But it would have landed me in a reality I didn’t want. A small, windowless, jail cell reality. So I did the next best thing. I started humming a bizarre childhood tune. Couldn‘t for the life of me remember the words.

We both loved novels and sweet treats, so a Saturday browsing books shops and getting ice cream on the village square seemed like a prelude of heaven. If only…

The sky blazed in mid-summer blueness, the sun-scorched my already-tanned-to-a-crisp skin, and the humidity index was near a thousand, but Megan breezed along the quaint street, stopping only long enough to pat a Rottweiler tied to a fire hydrant on its ferocious head. How on earth she managed to get away with such antics, I’ll never know. When I sidled past a canine, even with my best smile plastered on, the quadruped sized me up as lunchmeat, and inevitably, the damn thing lunged.

I skirted the beast, returned to my humming, and tried valiantly to steer Megan’s brain away from fantasy towards something more profitable. “So, how are the kids?”

Megan pulled the shop door open, her delicate muscles bulging attractively with the effort. Somehow, she managed to stay slim yet develop an awesome physique. With me it was a straight forward choice: stay thin and weak or eat like a horse, pump iron, run marathons, and watch my body morph into a hulk-like structure, which caused my husband no end of unease.

I slipped past her fully aware that my plastered smile was still frozen in place. I mentally thwacked myself over the head. What was wrong with me? Jealous? Never. No.

Megan rushed to the last open booth and waved her hand to the empty seat, offering me the honor of sitting with her. Her smile, so sweet and sincere, Anne of Green Gables could’ve taken a lesson or two.

I mentally thwacked myself again. And then slid into place with the odd sound of hot, sticky legs skidding over hard plastic. I rubbed my forehead and wondered if an alternate reality might be a good idea at this point.

She browsed the menu for a nanosecond, tossed it aside, clasped her hands on the table and leaned in, staring deep into my eyes. “The kids are great. I’m doing wonderful. Jim is the light of my life. But you, Honey? How are you doing?”

What was this? I was the one who stuck to my daily duty, lived hardcore realism to the max, allowed myself only enough fiction to put me into a good night’s sleep, and nailed my friend’s feet to the ground every chance I got with apt advice. And she’s asking how I’m doing with a hint of concern in her eyes? Harrumph!

The fact that my parents, in a fit of complete idiocy and flower-power egoism, named me after a viscous food substance produced by bees fed my belief that life started out unfair and never got much better. I was named Honey at my birth, but I spent my life living it down. Becoming hard as a rock. Strong as iron. Solid as… You get the idea.

The waitress sashayed over, took our orders, and clumped away. Apparently one didn’t need to look as good going as coming.

I returned Megan’s stare. “I’m doing brilliantly. Exhausted but such is life. Carl is good. Usually. The kids all have jobs now. I hardly see them.” I twiddled my thumbs. Hmmm. This wasn’t sounding as wonderful as I intended, even to my ears.

Megan reached out and stilled my busy fingers. “You’re not happy. It’s clear as rainwater.”

I played with that image. Rainwater? Like in a creek?

Megan continued as if I wasn’t straying from the field. “You need help.”

Whoa! “Me? Help? Like a doctor? A therapy group?” My voice had risen to a squeak.

The waitress practically skipped over with our ice cream Sundays. Her eyes sparkled with the delight of a hound on a new scent. Gossip never failed to attract.

With the cool hand of a surgeon, Megan accepted her dessert, inserted the spoon just so, and took a modest bite.

I plunged my spoon to its depth and nearly cracked the glass dish.

After an appreciative, “Hmm, that’s so good,” Megan resumed her dissection of my imperfect life. “Actually, I was thinking that you might do well with a friendly counselor or a spiritual director. You know they have people available through the diocese.”

The idea that I’d rather skydive into Mount Doom sizzled across my brain. I slurped my chocolate chip ice cream savoring not a bite. It took every effort to swallow the gooey delight. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I sucked up a deep breath, dropped my spoon, squared my shoulders, and faced the boogeyman in the closet. “Why? What’s wrong with me?”

Pity and honesty poured from Megan’s eyes. Okay, not literally. But you know what I’m saying. Megan exhaled sorrow. “You’re so angry. All the time. Everyone knows how I like to fantasize about other worlds, make up scenarios, joke around with the kids and stuff. Well, it’s my break from reality. All the stuff that gets me down. Life is hard. So much duty that’s not fun…every day. Even the news depresses me. But I toss the bad over my shoulder every now and again and enjoy a change of scenery—even if it’s only in my imagination. Maybe it’s cheating, but it keeps me happy.”

I sat back and clasped my hands over my aching belly. “Your point?”

“You need to remember why you are a wife, a mother… a friend. You need to get away, take a break, and find your joy. Talk to someone who isn’t a part of it all.”

“You think I’m crazy? Or too weak to manage my life without running to a hippy-land like my parents?” I shoved the empty dish across the table; only somewhat glad it didn’t fall over the edge.

Megan rested her spoon inside her dish and nudged it to the side. “Listen, Honey, I love you for not saying the cruel things that run through your mind. Your eye-rolling, grimaces, and sarcastic tone speak more than your words. You are so fed up with life; I’m surprised you haven’t…”

Tears flooded my eyes. Honesty pervaded my being. The boogeyman stomped up, grabbed me by my shirtfront, and demanded that I listen.

“Your parents were messed up. But they weren’t all wrong. They wanted to be happy. That part was right. They just didn’t know how to balance their needs with others’ needs. That doesn’t mean you have to be the sacrificial goat here—”

Despite the ice cream, my insides boiled in fury. There was so much that I wanted to say, but my mind blanked. Which, in the end, was a very good thing. Once said, it’s impossible to put words back in the unsaid bottle. All I remember was sliding out of the seat, turning without a word, and walking out the door. I didn’t even offer to pay the tip.

It was months before Megan and I met up again. At the grocery store. Both our carts full to bursting. She flipped a stray lock of hair from her eyes and sighed as she nodded at my cart. “You’ve been busy.”

There was so much I needed to tell her, to explain, the stuff that I had unbottled and set free. But it was late afternoon, and I knew her husband and kids were waiting, as were mine. I just patted her shoulder and smiled. A real smile this time. I was so glad to see her. “We should get some ice cream this weekend.”

Megan met my gaze, her face a frozen mask. “It’s the middle of January.”

“Yeah. That’s when it tastes the best.”

A grin hovered on Megan’s lips. “In an alternate universe maybe.”

“Yep. Want to join me?”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Off-World Faith

church

Bala knelt on the hard, stone floor and folded his hands across the latticed-carved railing, his head bowed. As the priest approached, he stared straight ahead; his eyes fixed on the ornate altar under the stained glass window of Jesus embracing His Mother Mary. With precise steps, the robed figure bent and offered him a gift. The greatest gift Bala could imagine.

He accepted it, crossed himself, and stood.

When he returned to his pew, he knelt beside Kendra; her head bowed onto her hands clasped over the pew in front of her.

Final prayers and chants completed the liturgy, and Kendra sank back with a deep sigh. Her gaze floated up to the gorgeously painted ceiling.

Bala slid back on the pew and echoed her sigh. It had been so long. So much had happened. Six kids had happened. A new job, an attack on his family, and now a new threat. Bala sighed again.

Kendra reached over and clasped his hand. With a quick squeeze, she nudged him.

The procession had left, and only a few others remained behind, praying, crying, thanking God, adoring—Bala didn’t know; he didn’t need to know. He scooted out of the pew and Kendra followed.

Still clasping hands, they strolled through the enormous, carved doorway and stood on the top row of twenty, stone steps leading into the heart of a bustling city. Saint Francis, it was called. Bala chuckled at the incongruity of the sign across the street proclaiming itself the city’s finest Savings and Loan on the planet: “Saint Frances would keep his units here—if had any.” Bala pointed out the sign to Kendra.

She laughed. “Well, at least they have a sense of humor, even if they have no common sense to speak of.”

“Speaking of sense, I’m starving. Want to get something before we pick up the kids?”

“You mean to eat in peace and quiet?” Kendra’s eyes widened as if she were scandalized. “What would the kids say?”

“Let’s not tell them.” Bala dragged her along as he led her down the street toward a fancy establishment. “Besides, I’m sure that Sister Mary Rose will have stuffed them with enough breakfast to keep them happy for at least an hour or two.”

Kendra sniffed with a shrug. “If not her, then one of her fourteen sisters will see to it.” Kendra halted in mid-stride. “Lord, you don’t think our little darlings will end up with fifteen breakfasts, do you?”

Bala stared wide-eyed. “If they do, we’ll be able to stay out for the whole morning.” He nudged Kendra through the delicately carved glass doorway.

They followed a portly, smartly dressed waiter to a table laid with a white, linen cloth and real silverware. Bala’s eyes bugged. “It’s been so long!”

Kendra patted his hand. “Don’t go getting attached. We have to return tomorrow. This is our last fling with Oldworld comforts.”

Exhaling, Bala perused the menu, and they ordered two healthy breakfasts. The waiter retreated, and Kendra folded her hands in her lap. “So? What did he tell you?”

Bala tapped his water glass and frowned. “Confession is supposed to be private. You know what priests have gone through to keep—”

“Awe, come on. We always share. And besides, this was more like spiritual direction. You don’t have much to confess, I imagine.”

Bala shrugged. “Your imagination is lacking. Trust me, I had plenty to confess.” Bala shook his head. “Funny, but when I was a kid, I used to face the priest like a soldier going into battle. I was always scared to death, shook like a leaf. This time, I felt rather sorry for the poor man. The things he must have to listen to! Felt rather sorry for myself, too.”

Kendra nodded as the waiter placed two steaming cups in front of them and retreated. She returned her gaze to Bala’s face. “Any conclusions?”

Bala sipped the hot coffee and blinked. “Yeah. But you won’t like it. It seems that our sins make us who we are. And we forgive others and ourselves and move on, knowing all the while, we’ll have to forgive again later.”

Kendra sipped her coffee and then leaned across the table, clasping Bala’s hand. “And?”

Bala swallowed, his gaze fixed on the tablecloth. “And I have to go. Clare will chase after Omega, but someone has to locate Cosmos. It’s my duty. I can’t shrink from it, not even for you and the—” Bala swallowed back his last word.

The waiter returned with loaded trays of steaming food. He placed them silently on the table, and with a bow, retreated again.

Bala shuddered. “I have to go. If—”

Kendra squeezed his hand and nodded. “I know. Why do you think I insisted on this family trip? We needed to return to our home—to our roots. We needed to remember why we settled on Newearth in the first place.”

Bala lifted his gaze and stared into Kendra’s eyes. “I married you for two very good reasons.”

Kendra smiled. “My charm and money?”

Bala scratched his head with a grin. “Okay, four very good reasons. But it was your wisdom and love that won me over.”

Kendra picked up her fork, eyeing her food like a tiger about to pounce. “Yeah, same with me. I figured that no matter how many kids we had, you’d provide what we need. And probably not go insane in the process.”

Bala chuckled and speared his ham and eggs with gusto. “Cool-headed-logic, that’s my middle name!”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00