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Today is the first of a three-part tip of the week series. Intrigued? Listen in for more!
And now, your section of fiction critique goodness:
Miguel dug the spatula into the pan, and laid a mass of fluffy scrambled eggs onto a plate. He added two pieces of bacon from the other pan, and then gave the plate to Maria. They sat down at the breakfast table, and Miguel opened the Cholula. “Hot sauce?” he said.
She shook her head. “Thanks for breakfast,” she said. “I’ve been eating too much instant oatmeal lately. This looks delicious.” When she spoke, she didn’t look Miguel in the eye, rather kept her gaze on the eggs. Miguel watched her eat in silence for a minute, and she never lifted her face from her food.
Miguel doused his own breakfast with hot sauce. “What’s going on? Is there something bothering you?”
Maria tucked her chin, a move that Miguel knew to mean that she was trying to hide something. “It’s nothing,” she said.
“Come on, Maria, I know when something’s bothering you. I know how you you’re your face away from me like I can’t see it. Please just say what’s on your mind.”
“I saw the strangest thing the other day,” she said. “Promise you won’t get mad.”
Miguel set his fork on the table. “Whatever it is, you can tell me. I won’t be mad.”
“I was at the liquor store the other day, just picking up some wine for the Book Club meeting that I go to on Thursdays, and I saw that friend of yours. The one always wears those dark jeans, you know? I think his name is Derek.”
“What did he say to you?”
“Nothing,” she said. “He didn’t say anything to me. I was on one side of the store and he was on the other side, in the checkout line.”
“Okay,” Miguel said, “Then what was so strange about it?”
“Well, he got into an argument with the checkout girl. Big fight, like everyone in the store stopped what they were doing to watch it. I didn’t hear the first part, but they were fighting about the price of a bottle of something, and he started yelling, and the manager asked him to leave. They even had a security guard come over. Big guy, as big as you. I thought they were going to start punching each other, but the manager was saying he was going to call the cops, and then Derek just left.”
“Yeah, this sounds like him. What else happened?”
“When he was walking out, he turned towards me and winked. I wasn’t sure he was winking at me, but seemed like it. I didn’t even known he had seen me in the store. I was going to go say hello to him– since he’s your friend– but he got in his car and he was gone before I could.”
Miguel thought about how to best phrase his response. Maria, for some reason, felt guilty about all this. He spoke softly. “He’s not my friend, and he’s not even a good guy. He’s the kind of guy who would use you and not think twice about it. He’s not a guy you should be messing around with.”
Maria dipped her head down, and shoveled a forkful of eggs into her mouth. “I’m sorry. I know I should have told you sooner,” she said.
A note of paranoia hit Miguel. Would Wiles hurt Maria to get to me?
Miguel reached his hand across the table, and placed it on top of Maria’s. “Hey, it’s okay, You don’t need to be sorry because you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not mad at you. Just make me a promise. Just stay away from him, please.”
“Okay, Miguel. I stay away from him.”
Thoughts raced through Miguel’s head, and a realization came to him that he needed to set a plan in motion. He thought back to the conversation he’d had outside the Larimer Lounge, before he went inside to find Carl. Theo had been so upset about the likelihood that someone might hurt Maria. Maybe Miguel needed a backup plan in case somehow he was unable to care for Maria any longer. “What do you think of Theo?” he said.
Maria averted her eyes, hiding the blush on her cheeks. “Oh, I don’t know. He’s nice,” she said.
After returning from Bear Peak, Megan said goodbye to Becca and spent some time sobbing in the Chautauqua parking lot. After a few minutes, she realized she had tracked mud into her car, and went outside to eradicate the brown paste. She got some strange looks at the trailhead parking lot, crying while scraping a utility knife along the sole of her hiking boots.
During the drive home, her prior conversation with Brian played on a loop inside her brain. What he said, what she said, what she should have said. Megan compared the analyses from her sister Hayden as well as from Becca. Two diametrically opposite ways of looking at the situation. Old Megan defenses began to kick in as she tried to justify and rationalize the situation, which lent to Hayden’s viewpoint beginning to feel more appealing. The moment of clarity she experienced on the mountain top faded away. Get angry and let the endorphins and adrenaline bury the pain.
Yes, I’m married, but that’s my business, not his, and for him to become so righteous about it, well, that’s just narrow-minded. In the end, for a short-term obsession, why should he care so much? Did he actually think that there would be some love connection? Or is he just mad that I’m unavailable, and he didn’t know about that beforehand?
The more Megan thought about it, the angrier she allowed herself to become. By the time she arrived at her house, she had worked herself into a fury. Her hands ached when she released the steering wheel, and now she just wanted to fight with someone. When she opened the front door to her house, and there inside sat Wiles and strung-out minion Alex with a pile of methamphetamine on the mirrored coffee table in between them, she had found her victims. She walked right up to the table, and dropped her purse on it, sending a fine mist of powder into the air.
“Goddamnit, woman,” Wiles said. “Watch out. This is serious shit here.”
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t want that crank shit in here? Talking to you is like trying to talk to a cat. Do you understand English?”
“This is my house, you stupid little slut.”
“Screw you it is. This is my house. But it won’t be anybody’s after the cops raid it because of your stupid macho gangster crap. What do think Chris will say about all this when he gets home? How do think Chris is going to feel about all these drugs and all these ghetto people you’re always having over?” She turned to Alex, seething. “You, you’re Brian Connelly’s roommate, right?”
“Yeah,” Alex said, hunching his shoulders, trying to make himself a smaller target. Did not work.
“You can tell that judgmental, self-righteous asshole that his concept of morality and his Buddhist interconnectivity horseshit isn’t the only view that matters. Just because he believes something, doesn’t make it so.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Wiles said.
“Perception isn’t reality, it’s fucking perception!” Megan snatched her purse, creating another meth cloud in the wake. She stormed off to her room and slammed the door behind her.
Inside, alone, she dropped to her knees and pulled the lockbox out from under her bed. Vibrating with resentment, she entered the four-digit combination to open it and took out the card with Walker’s number. She ran her fingers over the top of the soft white business card.
It would be so easy. One phone call and he’s done. One phone call about the weed in the basement and they’ll take him away, and I won’t have to deal with this anymore. One phone call and then the house is mine again.
On her phone, she dialed the first few digits of the number. Then she remembered the arraignment, the jury trial, and the witness protection. Nothing about it would be simple, or easy as she had pictured. Her finger grew heavy; she could not continue.
What am I supposed to do?
Through the door, the sound of Wiles shouting. A crash. More shouting. Something like a struggle out in the living room, and then, pounding at her bedroom door.