The Tourist Trap

Four hours and 250 miles of barren, desolate country without so much as a pine tree to look at to break up the monotony. It was all plains and dead grass and other cars. Theresa leaned back in the passenger seat and tried to stretch, but the cramped foot space under the dashboard didn’t allow her much opportunity to ease her aching joints.

“How much longer?” seven-year-old Jimmy whined from the back seat. He’d been listening to music on his iPod for the last couple of hours, but the battery had run out thirty minutes ago, and he’d been restless and agitated ever since.

Mandy, his ten-year-old sister, dropped the book she’d been reading and looked up at Theresa. “Yeah. How much longer? I need to go to the bathroom.”

Theresa sighed. This was supposed to be a fun family road trip. A chance to drive across the country and see places none of them had ever been. But so far, other than a less-than-scinitillating stop at the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, the trip had turned out to be nothing more than a chance for everyone to get on each other’s nerves.

“How about there?” Theresa’s husband, Mike asked, pointing at a crudely made sign that appeared to be made out of an old pallet.  “HUGE CAVE! 2 MILES AHEAD” it proclaimed in shaky letters.

“I don’t know,” Theresa said. She was as desperate to get out of the car as the kids were, but something about the sign gave her the heebie jeebies. She checked the map she’d been using to navigate thanks to a total lack of cell phone signal anywhere in the last two hundred miles. “There should be another rest stop about fifty miles ahead.”

“I can’t wait fifty miles,” Jimmy said, doing the best “I’ve-gotta-pee” dance that his seat belt would allow. “I need to go now. I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Another sign loomed on the horizon. This one was just as shoddily put together as the first. “BATHROOMS, SNACKS, AND A WORLD CLASS MUSEUM INCLUDED WITH ADMISSION.”

“Come on,” Mike urged. “It can’t be that far off the interstate. Besides, what good is a road trip if all we do is drive?”

Theresa glanced at the map and sighed. They still had another hundred and fifty miles to go before they reached their destination for the night. “I guess it won’t hurt to get out for a few minutes,” she said.

Jimmy let out an excited whoop and Mandy grinned as Mike steered the car off the interstate.

The small road that took off to the north was so overgrown with weeds that they almost missed it. If it hadn’t been for another sign – this one was smaller, and simply said cave, with an arrow pointing the direction they needed to go – they would have missed it entirely.

Theresa’s stomach churned, and she looked at Mike. “Are you sure about this? It doesn’t look like anyone’s been out here in forever.”

Mike smiled. “Where’s your sense of adventure? When we first met you would’ve jumped at the chance to do something like this.”

Theresa frowned and sank into her seat. She’d lost her sense of adventure ten years ago when Mandy had been born. Sure, she’d once been that carefree girl that loved skydiving and rock climbing. The girl that would jump off the cliff into the water without thinking twice. That didn’t mind going for mystery drives that might mean getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Now, she had two kids to worry about keeping safe.

Mike nudged her elbow gently. “I’m just kidding. I’m sure everything will be fine. I just want everyone to have fun.”

“I know,” Theresa said. “I just have a bad feeling about this.”

“That’s probably the chicken salad you had for lunch,” he said with a laugh. And maybe he was right. That diner they’d stopped at didn’t look like it would pass any sort of food safety inspection, but it was the only place to eat for miles, and the kids were “starving.” Mike slid his hand forward, wrapping his fingers through hers. “It’s going to be okay.”

They bumped down the road for another mile and a half before the ramshackle building came into sight. COME SEE THE STATE’S TWELFTH LARGEST CAVE was painted directly on the side.

“That doesn’t seem like much of a claim,” Mandy said, twisting her lips.

“Come on,” Jimmy said, bouncing out of his seat. “It’ll be awesome.”

The smell hit Theresa as soon as she opened the car door. It was overwhelming, but somehow familiar. “What is that?” she asked, looking around for the source of the awful aroma permeating the air. But other than the shack, a couple of vehicles that looked like they’d been broken down since the 1970’s, and endless miles of knee-high dead grass, there was nothing.

Mike gingerly sniffed the air. “I don’t smell anything,” he said. “It’s probably nothing.”

Of course he didn’t smell anything. Mike suffered from chronic allergies, and lived in a constant state of congestion. He hadn’t smelled the rice he’d burned last week either, even after it had set off the smoke alarms. But Mandy and Jimmy had already climbed out of the car, and they were running around laughing. The smell didn’t seem to bother them at all. And since they had driven all the way out here, they should at least use the bathroom.

Suddenly, a loud scream broke through the silence. Theresa dashed over to the kids and grabbed them by the hands. “Come on,” she said. “We’re leaving.”

The shriek pierced the air again, followed by the rustling of wings. A peacock strutted out from the grass next to the car, its tail feathers held high. It shrieked again.

“It’s just a peacock, Mom,” Jimmy said, laughing. “I don’t think it’s going to eat us.”

“It’s so pretty,” Mandy said, dropping into a crouch and offering her hand to the bird. It stuck its head in the air and walked right past her, like it didn’t even see her.

Mike moved next to Theresa and squeezed her gently. “Are you okay?”

She smiled and nodded as she watched the peacock head toward the building. “Yeah. I’m sorry. It just scared me.”

Mike narrowed his eyes and tried to look mean. “You don’t need to worry about anything. You know I won’t let anything hurt you.”

A broken cobblestone path lined the way from the parking area to the building. The kids walked along, gathering fallen peacock feathers along the way and babbling excitedly about what they thought they cave would be like. Mike kept a firm grip on Theresa’s hand. “We won’t stay long,” he promised.

She leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked. “Just promise me we’ll get the hell out of here if we hear banjos start playing.”

“Cross my heart,” he replied.

They stepped inside the building to find a pleasant looking woman sitting on a couch, watching a TV. She looked up at them and smiled. “Here to see the cave?”

Mike nodded. “We thought it sounded fun. Can you tell us a little bit about it?”

“Sure thing.” She stood up and made her way to a small counter covered with pamphlets. She grabbed one, shook the dust off of it, and handed it to Mike. “The cave you’re about to enter is an old lava tube. The entire thing runs about a mile long, but for safety reasons, we’ve got it roped off about half a mile in.”

“What kind of safety reasons?” Theresa asked, swallowing hard as she pictured the entire cave collapsing on top of them.

The woman giggled and waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing serious as long as you stay on the path. At it’s deepest point, the cave’s about seventy-feet high. I’ve got some propane lanterns you can take down with you.” She eyed the family in their shorts and flip-flops. “I’ve got a couple extra coats you can borrow too. It keeps pretty chilly down there.”

Mike shook his head and extracted a handful of bills from his wallet. “I think we’ll be okay.”

Ignoring him, the woman rummaged around under the counter and pulled out of a box of coats. “Trust me. You’ll be wantin’ these.”

Theresa stared at the bright colors and variety of fabrics. “Where do you get all those?” she asked.

“Here and there,” the woman replied with a shrug. She extracted four coats and thrust them across the counter. “There ya go,” she said, smiling. “Let me get those lanterns for you.”

She lit two lanterns and led the family to a small door on the back of the building. “Have fun,” she said, handing Theresa and Mike the lanterns as the family filed through the door. “But whatever you do, don’t stray from the path.” Her voice was low and ominous, but when Theresa turned to ask her what she meant, the woman just smiled and closed the door.

The twisting feeling hadn’t left Theresa’s gut, and another strange smell she couldn’t place seemed to be coming off the jacket she was wearing, but before she could say anything to Mike, the kids took off down the pathway, excitedly pointing out the wide array of animals that called the place home: llamas, emus, a shaggy miniature donkey, and even a potbellied pig.

They finally reached the cave entrance, and Mike offered to go first, holding his lantern high to light the way as they made their way down the steep stone path. It wasn’t long before the long cavern twisted away from the cave opening, leaving their lanterns the only source of light. Water dripped down the stone walls, and it was at least thirty degrees colder than the seventy it had been outside.

“This is so cool,” Jimmy said, from somewhere near Theresa’s hip, the thick stone walls deadening the sound of his voice.

“Check that out,” Mandy said, rushing forward and pointing to a panel of cave drawings. A small hand-painted sign identified them as being left by early Native American inhabitants. She glanced back at Theresa, smiling. “Can you believe that Native Americans once stood here?”

“Let me see,” Jimmy said, pushing forward. He leaned against the cable that was strung across the pathway, preventing people from touching the rock art. “Eww, that one guy looks like he’s being eaten by a monster.”

Theresa squinted. It was hard to make it out in the dim light of the propane lantern. “I’m sure that’s not what’s happening,” she said. But even as the words thudded against the stone walls of the cave, the image came into focus. A monster that looked like a giant bear hovered over a drawing of a man that looked like he’d been split in two.

“Gross,” Mandy said, sticking her tongue out. “Let’s keep going.”

“Maybe we should just go back to the car,” Theresa suggested. “We’ve seen the cave. I’m sure it doesn’t look much different down there than it does up here.”

Mike turned toward her, the light of the lantern casting an eerie glow on his features. “It’s not much farther,” he said. “We already paid our money. We might as well see what all the fuss is about.”

Theresa hoisted her lantern and set her jaw. She was being ridiculous. It was just a cave. So what if it smelled bad and there were terrifyingly graphic ancient paintings on the wall? Someone had come down here and installed the ropes and cables to keep paying customers on the path. And it wasn’t like she really thought monsters existed. But the woman’s words of warning came back to her, echoing in her ears. There had been something about the way she’d told them to stay on the path that had bothered Theresa.

“Whoa!”

Theresa’s thoughts were interrupted by the rest of the family gushing excitedly over reaching the end of the trail. A very large – and admittedly impressive – cavern opened up in front of them. Even the light from the lanterns couldn’t reach all of the walls at once. “This is so cool,” Mandy said.

Mike looped his arm around Theresa’s waist and gave her a quick kiss. “See? This was totally worth coming down here for, right?”

“It’s pretty awesome,” Theresa agreed, snuggling against him.

“Hey, what’s that?” Jimmy asked. Before Theresa could stop him, he’d ducked under the single length of rope that marked the end of the trail and darted into the shadows.

“Jimmy, stop!” Theresa ran after him, the heel of her flip-flop clipping one of the lanterns as she went. The lantern fell on its side, the light flickering out. Theresa darted under the rope and grabbed Jimmy. “What are you doing?”

“I thought I saw someone,” he said, his eyes wide and fixed on a shape that was too dark to make out. “A little kid.”

“No one is down here but us,” Theresa said, soothingly. She put an arm around his shoulder and guided him back under the tope to Mandy and Mike, and the comforting light of the lantern.

Mike gave Jimmy a stern look. “That wasn’t safe,” he scolded. “You know better than that. There’s a reason that part of the cave is roped off. It might not be stable.”

Jimmy hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he said, sniffling slightly. “I thought it was a kid. And he was lost.”

Theresa looked back over her shoulder. The shape that Jimmy had pointed out was gone. She shook her head, trying to will away the goose bumps that had prickled up all over. It was just a trick of the light. No one else was down here. “Let’s get out of here,” she said, stooping to pick up the dead lantern.

As they turned to leave, the light in Mike’s lantern flickered. Then it went out completely, plunging the cave into darkness. Mandy and Jimmy both shrieked. Theresa wanted to scream too, but she knew it would only scare the kids more. “Follow my voice,” she said. “I’m right here.”

“Mom, I’m scared,” Mandy said, her voice shaking.

“We’re okay,” Theresa said. “There’s only one way out of this cave. We’ll be fine.” She kept talking until both kids had their arms wrapped around her. “Mike, you have your cell phone, right?” she asked.

He didn’t respond.

“Mike?”

The smell from outside was back. Only now it was stronger. And Theresa suddenly remembered why the scent was so familiar. She’d only smelled it once before. When she and her grandfather had come across a decaying deer in the woods. It was the stench of death. Decay.

Then something screamed, and Theresa knew deep down, in the very marrow of her bones, that it wasn’t a peacock.

 

*Disclaimer- This short story is my first attempt at writing horror. It’s not a genre I’m overly familiar with, but after visiting a cave very similar to this one while on a road trip with my family, I felt compelled to write something. I hope you enjoyed reading it. And if you did, please share. 🙂

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Need to get away?

Sometimes in life, we need to escape. Hit CTRL, ALT, DEL. Reboot. Whatever. But that’s not always easy. Life can make it difficult to hide from all of its problems, so we find our own ways to escape within the confines of daily life. Some people use music. Others turn to drugs and alcohol. Me? I write.

When I sat down to write my first novel-length piece, I had no intentions of writing a novel. It was just a story. A story about my future. A story that gave me hope. I was in middle school, and I was miserable. Now, to be fair, middle school is a rough time for most kids. Changing hormones, acne, trying to fit in . . . I don’t know a single person who wishes they could go back.

Middle school was extremely rough for me. I was bullied routinely. Because I cut my hair short. Because I listened to country music. Because I preferred soccer over makeup. It was non-stop noise, constantly buzzing in my ears, making me question everything about who I was, and who I was going to be. Add to that a healthy dose of family drama and a falling out with my best friend, and some days I was pretty sure the light at the end of the tunnel had been snuffed out.

Then I started to write Rosewater Creek. It was silly, really. A story about my life on a ranch on a horse ranch in Texas. All of my friends played lead roles. I had a jockey who eventually quit to take a job riding wildebeests, a sassy stablehand who was always yelling at me, and even a trashcan prophet.

Though the story was awful and will never see the light of day, it was not a waste of time. I didn’t write Rosewater Creek dreaming of fame and fortune (though I did ask a famous country singer to come star in the film adaptation my friends and I had planned. I’m still waiting to hear back on that request. I’m sure he’s just busy.) I wrote Rosewater Creek to remind myself that life could get better. That middle school wouldn’t last forever.

I don’t live in Texas. I don’t even own a horse. And I certainly didn’t raise a Kentucky Derby winner. My life isn’t anything like I pictured it to be during those bleak days, but that’s okay. Because by picturing that life . . . by writing it down, I gave myself hope. Enough hope to struggle through the daily grind that was middle school. And I came out the other side. A little bruised and battered, and definitely a different person than I was going in. But I made it.

Rosewater Creek isn’t my only novel that is destined to never see the bright lights of publication. I’ve written several novel-length pieces that are likely to reside in obscurity, but they’ve all served a purpose. One helped me realize that I wanted to pursue the dream of being a writer. Another helped me handle the ups and downs of an unexpected pregnancy. And every single word I wrote brought me closer to a reality where I can call myself a writer.

When you write, there will be naysayers. People who think you are wasting your time. And chances are, in their opinion, you will waste a lot of it. But you know what? It’s not a waste. Because if you’re anything like me, even if you never achieve your dream of being traditionally published, you love writing. And doing something you love can never be a waste of time.

Pitcharama

Title: PLAN B

Author: Laura Haley

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Word Count: 80,000

A mid-summer party, the perfect red sundress, and the attention of a college football hottie. Eighteen-year-old Sadie Howell has all the ingredients for a truly memorable night. But when she wakes up in a strange bed the next morning, she can’t remember most of it. Forced to put the pieces together, Sadie realizes that football demigod Derek Owens drugged and raped her. His pseudo-celebrity status is just one of the reasons Sadie decides not to tell anyone. Instead, she tries to pretend like nothing happened. Three weeks later, a positive pregnancy test makes her reconsider, and she reports the incident to the police. As word of her accusations spreads, the town that she grew up in turns their backs on her. Officer Sean Prescott soon becomes one of her only allies, and the two quickly become friends. Sadie is faced with criticism, harassment and all of the aches and pains that go along with a pregnancy she never asked for. When Derek decides to pursue custody of the baby conceived that night, Sadie is forced to ask herself how much she’s willing to risk to protect a baby she doesn’t even want.

Victory!

I did it. I have won the epic battle. It’s taken me seven years, more hours than I am willing to admit, and literal blood sweat and tears, but I finally accomplished a feat I once thought was impossible. A feat that an estimated less than one percent of the US population can lay claim to. I have slaved. I have toiled. And I have triumphed. I am unicyclist. Hear me roar.

Wait! You’re probably asking yourself if you read that right. Well, you did. I can finally say, without an ounce of trepidation, that I can ride a unicycle. Now to some of you, that may not be as exciting as say . . . getting a publishing contract. And maybe it’s not. But there is a lesson to be learned, and it’s all about perseverance.

I started falling off the unicycle around seven years ago when my husband got it into his head that he was going to learn to ride one. (I’m still not entirely sure of the thought process there.) He ordered one, and promptly left a grey streak of rubber across the living room carpet as he wobbled his way through our house (because naturally he decided to learn this skill in the winter.) It wasn’t long before we were making excursions to the park. He was riding further and further every day. It wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted me to learn with him.

So I indulged him. I grabbed a stepladder and started falling off the unicycle. Repeatedly. Again. And again. And again. And eventually I started to make some progress. But before long, life got in the way. Or I lost motivation. Either way, I quit trying.

That became a constant cycle over the next seven years. I would decide I wanted to try again. I’d work at it for an hour. I would make progress. Then it would get put away, and I wouldn’t try again for another six months. Or a year.

This year, the Moab Munifest (mountain unicycle festival) returned to Moab after a five year hiatus. My husband was thrilled and eagerly signed up to go ride some trails. I took their return as a sign that I finally needed to get my ass in the saddle (literally) and make it happen. So I did. I spent night after night outside, falling off the unicycle. Making progress and falling off again. And you know what? All that hard work paid off. I’m not a great rider. I still fall off more times than I don’t. And I can’t ride more than a couple hundred yards before my legs get tired, and I need a break. But I can ride a unicycle dammit! And that’s more than a lot of people can say.

Now what does this have to do with writing? You probably already figured it out, but I’m going to indulge myself and spell it out for you anyway. When you’re a writer, you’re going to fall. A lot. And there are going to be times where you’re going to walk away from it all because you’re tired of it. That’s okay. If you need a break, take it. But keep coming back. Keep fighting. When you fall off, dust yourself off and climb back on. You may not get it this time. Hell, you may not get it the next sixty-two times. But if you keep trying, eventually you will make it. 

Or you can give up writing, and learn to ride a unicycle with me.

 

Adopt a Writer

All across the world, millions of writers are struggling to put one word after the other. Many of those writers won’t make it past their first draft. Others will never make it past the editing process For those who manage to complete a novel, they are still faced with a world of uncertainty. When will they find an agent? Will they ever make a sale? How do I turn the damn computer on?

I’ve been asked if you ever get used to it. How could a human ever get used to the pain? The tweet of a writer receiving their first rejection. The status update of the writer who has just lost their entire novel due to hardware failure. Or the low moaning of someone who realizes the plot they’ve been slaving over for years has already been done . . . to death.

No. I can’t get used to this anymore than you can. But you can help. Yes you can!

For as little as a few supportive comments a month, you can support a writer. You can validate their latest plot. Breathe life into one of their characters. They may even name a character after you. All you have to do is let them know that you care. Take five minutes to comment on their blog. They’ll probably even write you a personalized comment back. Tell them that you believe in them. Even if you don’t. Read their stuff and share it.

Can you think of a better time to support the writer in your life? Don’t let them be dragged down by their own self-doubt. Find it in your heart to adopt a writer, and there’s only a small chance you’ll regret it.

My Writing Process- Blog Tour

Fellow writer Suzie Hunt tagged me to participate in a blog tour. Suzie’s blog is located at http://suziehunt.co.uk/blog . She’s currently working on her second book in the Smokey Days series. Her first, THE RISING WIND, is available for sale on Amazon. The series is about a world where humans are caught in a war between two supernatural races. In an effort to save themselves, the humans sacrifice the very things that make them human.

As part of the tour, I was asked to answer the following questions.

1. What am I working on?

Right now, the answer is a hodgepodge of everything. I’ve written a couple of short stories recently. I’ve been spending a lot of time polishing query letters and a synopsis of my finished manuscript PLAN B, and I have a couple works-in-progress that I’m in the process of rewriting. One of them is a romance, and the other is a New Adult contemporary. I’m also toying with a couple of ideas for new novels, so I’ll just have to see where I end up going from here.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Because it’s mine. Seriously though, New Adult is a relatively new genre, so in itself it’s covering a lot of new ground. The trend tends to be toward romance, and though PLAN B has a love story, it’s background noise compared to the rest of the story. I also like to take characters that people wouldn’t generally sympathize with and make them lovable.

3. Why do I write what I do?

That’s a hard question. I write what inspires me, no matter what the genre. So far the stories that have come to mind have all fallen into the New Adult category. It’s probably largely due to the fact that I went through a lot of major life changes during the period of my life that would fall into the New Adult genre: college, moving out, getting married, my first baby. Though many of those subjects might seem mundane, there’s a lot to work with when it comes to writing a novel.

4. How does your writing process work?

I’m going to out myself as a pantser right now. I’ve tried sitting down and mapping out what is going to happen from one chapter to the next, but I just can’t feel it. For me, the easiest way to write a story is to sit down and write. I usually know where I’m going to start, and where I want to end up, but the journey in between is somewhat of a mystery.

I try to get as much writing done as I can during the beginning of the week. Being a stay-at-home mom, I only get a few precious hours while my youngest is at preschool. The rest of my time for really dedicating myself to writing comes in stolen moments here and there. Twenty minutes while they watch a TV show, an hour in the afternoon when they’re supposed to be upstairs playing quietly, and as long as I can stay awake after they go to bed.

The last two years I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo, which made a huge difference in my writing. I had written a couple of novels, but I was stuck in a rut. Participating in NaNo forced me to write. And now I’m addicted. I usually start with a scene or a character, and I just start to write what hits me. Later, I’ll go back and rewrite. Then probably rewrite again. After a few rounds of edits, I’ll send out to beta readers. Depending on what they say, I may do another rewrite, or I may just change a few scenes around here and there.

Other awesome blogs to check out:

Misa Yny writes over at http://www.nolongervulcan.com . She has a lot of great book reviews as well as really great links to articles with publishing advice. Check her out.

Robert Emmett is the mastermind behind Flip Top Headgear which you can find at http://irobert.me . His book MEOWING ON THE ANSWERING MACHINE is available for purchase. And if the short stories in it are anything like his short story “Sparks”, it is a hilarious read. The blog has tons of fun art in addition to writing.

Colleen Halverson has just taken up blogging for the same reason I started this blog. She only has a few posts so far, but she talks a lot about what it’s like to be a writer. You can read her posts at http://colleenbhalverson.wordpress.com .

Black and White

I have a new short story for everyone today. Check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

Black and White

The dress. It was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. The dress that my sister and mom had picked out for me. The one they’d spent hours squabbling over. I didn’t care. I would have shown up to the church in rags if they’d let me, but they wouldn’t have that. So that overpriced dress had been hanging in my bedroom for the last two days waiting for its turn.

There was nothing wrong with the dress in theory. It was beautiful. Maybe even elegant. But I had a feeling that once I put it on, I would never truly take it off. It would graft itself to my skin. My life. It would become part of who I was, and who I always would be. And I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

When the shriek of the alarm filled my quiet bedroom, I rolled over and willed it into silence with the press of a button. I hadn’t been sleeping. Wasn’t sure I’d slept at all. How could I? My stomach was a writhing mass of nerves. A live electric wire.

I crawled out of bed and headed into the kitchen. My mom and sister were already there. The smell of coffee permeated the house. But it wasn’t Brian’s. Mom had brought her own. She smiled at me, her eyes shining. She tried to convince me to eat, but I just shook my head. Not now. Maybe later. She furrowed her brow, but didn’t argue.

My mom and sister insisted on doing my hair and makeup. They wanted to pamper me. I wanted to escape. But I let them. While they tried to tease my matted rats nest into something beautiful, I closed my eyes and started checking items off the list. Flowers: check. Music: check. Priest: check.

I tried to picture Brian in the suit I’d picked out for him. I’d chosen black. He looked amazing in black. With a royal blue tie that he loved because it brought out his eyes. I wondered if he was already wearing it.

Then it was time. I headed back to my bedroom where my mom and sister helped me pull down the dress and climb into it. Their incessant chatter was giving me a headache. I could have done this alone, but they’d flown a thousand miles to be there with me. So I kept my mouth shut and let myself disappear into the deep folds of fabric.

We headed out front to wait for the car to pick us up. It pulled up to the driveway, and my dad opened the door. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready. I knew everyone expected me to be there, but it was too much. That damn dress was making it hard to breathe. I bent over, trying to catch my breath, the electric wire in my stomach shocking everything it touched.

My parents crouched beside me whispering encouragement, but I couldn’t move. What if I just didn’t go? What if I tore the dress off and ran away? Never looked back? People would understand, wouldn’t they? 

But Brian deserved better than that.

“We’re going to be late,” Mom whispered, her voice urgent. She didn’t want to push. Didn’t want to scare me away. But we couldn’t be late.

I finally stood up, carefully wiping tears from my eyes, and Dad helped me climb into the back of the long, black car.

The church was already full when we arrived. Brian was at the front. Waiting. But the tie was wrong. Where was the one I had picked? Where was the royal blue tie? I took a deep shuddering breath. It didn’t matter what tie he had on. The blue one wasn’t going to make this any easier.

Dad took one of my arms; his touch soft and comforting. He offered a small smile, that flitted across his lips so quickly I wondered if I’d imagined it. Unrecognized tears sparkled in his eyes. I’d never seen my father cry.

He opened his mouth to say something, and my breath caught. It hung open for a moment, the words hiding inside a cavernous abyss. Then he snapped it shut and patted my hand. Sometimes silence was better than words.

He walked me through the door into the church. Everyone fell silent, twisting in their pews to get a glimpse of me. Women were already dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs. The familiar strains of a string quartet followed my halting steps to the spot where Brian was waiting.

The priest smiled gently at me, but Brian’s face was fixed. As still as stone. I placed the single rose I’d brought beside him in the casket. “Til death do us part,” I whispered, a tear tracing its way down my cheek.