YeahWrite #353 — Thank You

Requirements:

  • A character who’s a gas station clerk
  • “Something’s always missing.”

Thank You

Cherry comes out of the back holding up a dry mop. With her graying dreadlocks, they could almost be twins. “Ben, what did you do with that bucket?” She asks, throwing her free hand on her hip.

Ben rolls his eyes as he counts change for the huffy mom at the register. “Should be back by the bathroom, just like always.”

“Well it’s not, and the bathroom’s a mess!” she complains, making Ben lose count of the 73 cents he’s trying to count out with shaking hands for the second time.

He manages to keep the smile on his face until the mom drags her son out of the gas station convenience store, not being shy about mentioning that they’ll be late for soccer practice now. As soon as they’re out the door, Ben’s head snaps to Cherry. “Veronica is the one who closed last night, so why don’t you ask her? I haven’t been on cleaning duty in months,” he points to his shiny “Assistant Manager” pin for emphasis. “Find the bucket yourself or get something else that works.”

She turns towards the bathroom and walks away, muttering about how “something’s always missing in this damn place” and that she was “the only competent person around here anymore.” Ben contemplates writing her up, but decides it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, Daniel, the manager, has a crush on Cherry, so all the work would probably be in vain, anyways.

Just as Cherry struggles into the bathroom with her mop and a sloshing storage container she managed to find in the back, the entry door flies open. There’s just enough time for Ben to find his happy face before he finds a gun leveled between his eyes. The man holding Ben’s life in his hands mirrors his smile in some kind of sick mockery that makes Ben want to punch his teeth out. “Don’t make me tell you what we want,” he says, pulling a white plastic bag with “THANK YOU”s outlined in red from his pocket and forcing Ben’s hands to take it. Somewhere, Ben finds the courage to look past the gun to see what he’s facing.

The man standing in front of him has a beard like Santa Claus and a worn-out leather jacket. His eyes hold just as steady as his unflinching gun. At the entrance, another man looks out at the pumps and changes the “open” sign to “closed.” Ben can’t see the third accomplice, but he knows someone else is there by the glass milk bottles shattering on the tile and bags of chips being popped open. The only thought that crosses his mind is how much this damage will cost and how much of it will come out of his paycheck.

“The fuck you smiling for, boy?” Santa growls, letting the gun inch closer to Ben’s temple. As much as Ben knew this was not the time to be smiling, it’s as if a glitch in his brain forces the fake grin to stare down the men he can see, both of whom are (much) bigger than him. The trembles in his hands turn to tremors, and he wonders if he’ll even be able to get the money out at all. Santa cocks the gun and jerks it to the register. “Get to work if you don’t want a bullet,” he grunts.

Ben stuffs twenties and tens and fives and ones into the bag until the register is empty. There’s only about $500 total, and when Ben looks up he sees the greed in Santa’s eyes, waiting for more to come. “Did you want the change, too?” He spits out.

The force of the gun against his forehead sends Ben’s head to the counter, blood taking his vision before he can even realize what’s happened. For a moment, he thinks he’s been shot, but when he hears a girl’s scream so shrill, so goddamn annoying that it could only belong to one person, he finds that he has no such luck. Ben lets his body slump to the ground and closes his eyes just enough that they’ll think he’s unconscious as the men turn their attention to Cherry. The plastic bag crinkles in Santa’s hand as his boots make a right-face. Ben watches the “THANK YOU”s turn into “TNKOU”s as the crack of a gun sends a thud to the floor.

 


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Book Review: The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

*NOTE: I’m trying to make this as spoiler-free as possible. Some plot points are mentioned, but nothing major is given away.*

Here we are. You, sitting with your device which somehow found its way to my page. Me, pretending I know the first thing about reviewing books and that I don’t think writing book reviews is slightly pretentious.

Then I remember I’m a creative writing major at a liberal arts university, and I realize I can’t possibly get more pretentious, so what the hell?

I have no idea how many of these will appear on my blog before I get tired of shouting into the void, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I thought it would be nice to get back into reading my TBR (to-be-read) pile, since it fills almost an entire bookshelf, and I thought it would also be nice to get some practice with reviewing books — which, considering I’m also majoring in publishing/editing, will probably help me at some point in the future. Also, the more books I read, the more books I can buy, and I’m always a sucker for buying books.

The first book I’m reviewing here is one I literally pulled off my bookshelf at random: Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary. Like most books on my shelf, I’ve had it for a little more than a year, yet have never made the time to pick it up and read it.

 

The pre-read cover/synopsis judge:

The main character, Dade, is gay, which is a plus in my book (no pun intended). However, after reading the synopsis, I feel like this story might be a bit melodramatic. The “tragic train of events” that follows Dade’s romance intrigues me, though, because I have no idea what to expect. I hope it doesn’t make me cry (it will probably make me cry).

The halfway point: (NOTE: I stopped to write this at the end of chapter 10.)

A little known fact about me: I’m a sucker for cheesy love stories. And as I reached the halfway point, it has started to veer into the cute couple-ness I live for. Dade himself is really starting to develop as a character as well, too. He started off as a pretty passive character, but it seems like he’s building a backbone for himself through the help of some of the new friends he’s made.

Going forward, I’m quite interested in seeing how the conflict arcs turn out. Right now, there’s two arcs that stick out to me. The first one, I’ll dub the “Popular Kids” arc. Throughout the book thus far, Dade has had many run-ins with the top-dog clique, and they seem hell-bent on messing with him whenever possible. This particular arc seemed a little exaggerated to me given that the majority of the characters have either graduated high school or are in the summer between their junior and senior year. In my experience, the taunting and bullying that I see present here has mostly ended. However, I’m trying to suspend my belief on that point because I guess it’s not totally unbelievable that Dade is still subjected to bullying, given that he’s gay and lives in an idyllic little town. The second arc I’m looking forward to being developed is the mystery of Jenny Moore. I’m not sure how she connects with the main plotline yet, but we know that she’s a missing child that everyone is looking for. I have to wonder if this is part of the “tragic chain of events” the synopsis foretells.

My end thoughts:

I can describe the ending in one word: anticlimactic. After reading the final pages of The Vast Fields of Ordinary, I found myself feeling like the last chapter was just tying up loose ends so that the book could end, or like the author couldn’t think of a way to finish the book in any other meaningful way. It didn’t feel like it had a lot of meaning beyond that, and the last two or three pages are pure summary, which felt like a weak way to end this story. Even though I love the idea of knowing what happens to characters after their “story” ends, I almost would have liked to have been kept in the dark about Dade’s future because I feel like the story would have ended in a better place.

Overall rating: 5/10.

Overall, the story was able to keep my attention through 309 pages, which certainly says something. I loved the characters and how they were written and developed. The ending really just didn’t do the rest of this book justice, in my opinion.

I’ve come to think this story was stronger in its characters than its plot. The characters were really what kept me reading past the plot points I didn’t really understand or felt to be unnecessary.  I think it comes down to there being too many plot arcs and not enough room for them to be completed.

YeahWrite #351 — Baked

UPDATE 1/6/18: This piece was included in YeahWrite’s top three of the fiction/poetry grid and also one of the week’s staff picks! Because of that, I get these snazzy badges:

 

(If you click the link above, it will take you to the blog post where you can see the other winners and the comments on the editor’s choices!) Now, back to the story!

Requirements:

  • A character who is a baker.
  • Use of the phrase “we closed our eyes.”

Baked

We always lit up on our breaks, Derek and I. There was a tiny alcove behind the dumpster that you couldn’t see from the back door of Burnham’s Bakery that was perfect for getting high and sharing heated kisses. Derek had been using the rancid smell of trash to keep his father (who was also our boss) from getting suspicious long before we ever met. We were only sixteen when I started baking bread with him, and within a month he had me rolling near-perfect joints and rolling my tongue even better. Now, nearly four years later, our practiced routine had become second nature: he would grind, I would roll. Then, he would light up with his lucky white lighter and take a hit before passing it to me, his lips not far behind.

When I pushed on his chest, desperate for air, he sat back on the pavement but kept his arm over mine. “You’re really pretty, Adam,” Derek giggled, his fingers tickling my wrist as he took another hit.

I rolled my eyes and took the blunt from him. “Tell me that when you’re sober.”

Derek attached his eyes to my lips as I took a hit. “I’m not drunk. I’m not even that high.”

I laughed, exhaling smoke in ragged puffs. “Sure you aren’t.”

“Really,” his fingers moved past my wrist and across my hand, capturing it in an embrace. The moment turned heavy and suddenly the smile I was wearing didn’t seem appropriate. “Let me take you out tonight.”

I tried to keep my jaw from dropping, but I knew he saw right through me when his eyes lit up. “Why?”

“Because I want to.” The hope in his eyes was killing every defense in my arsenal. I think that was the point that I realized I had never said “no” to Derek before and I had no idea how to start. It was amazing how easily he could break me down. I looked to my lap where our hands lay on my flour-streaked jeans. The muscle in his arm flexed as he held me tighter. “And I think you want me to.”

I tried to swallow the saliva gathered in my throat. “What makes you think that?”

Derek took the blunt out of my hand and smashed it out on the blacktop before sliding it into his pocket. He pulled himself up to his knees and placed the same hand in the crook of my neck. The way he smirked at me made my hands sweat, but excitement flushed away the nerves when his face leaned down to mine. “Because no one kisses like you do unless they’re in love.”

We closed our eyes at the same time, eyelashes falling into a butterfly kiss as we traded breath in the millimeters that separated our lips. “Will you let me take you out?” he whispered across my mouth.

“Yes.”

“Do you want to be my boyfriend?” The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as his fingers traced over them with a featherlight touch.

“Yes.”

The world went still and silent. “Do you love me?” his hesitant whisper bounced off the walls of our alcove. I took a deep breath and he shivered.

“Yes.”

He didn’t have to ask to kiss me.


YeahWrite Weekly Challenges.

Like I said in my new year’s resolution post, I want to write more this year. In attempts to keep to that, I’ve decided to participate in YeahWrite’s Weekly Writing Challenges. Posts for this purpose will have the tag “yeahwrite” and will include badges detailing what week of the challenge I’m participating in and the category I’m writing in (fiction/poetry or nonfiction). I’m making a separate post about this because any type of notes in the post for my submission counts towards the 750 word count.

My first submission will probably be up on Wednesday!

A New Year’s Accountability Post.

So, here are my 2018 aspirations and how I plan to put them into action.

  1. Carry a notebook everywhere I go and actually use it.
    • Anyone who knows me knows I always have a notebook and pen in my bag. This has been a goal of mine for a while, and it’s something nearly every writer I know suggests doing. Recently, I came across a video by Ariel Bissett discussing how she keeps notebooks and how she discovered what worked best for her. She talked about how keeping her notebook in her bag was an extra barrier for her that made it harder for her to use the notebook on a frequent basis, and that having a small notebook she was able to keep in her pocket served her better. It was then I had an epiphany.
    • The plan is to use a pocket-sized moleskine a friend gave me that I’ve been looking for a use for for months. By keeping my notebook in an easily accessible place, I should (hopefully) find it easier to pull it out and not forget about the beautiful sentence I constructed with standing in line at the grocery store — RIP, little buddies.
  2. Write 1k words every week.
    • In the past, I’ve given myself challenges like “write 500 words every day.” I didn’t want to, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that this generally isn’t a feasible goal for me. Still, I want to make time to be creative outside of the projects I create for my classes. I want to have projects I can work on and not have to worry about finishing them for a grade. I want something that I can take my time on and not feel pressured about.
    • I’ve got so many ideas to make this one work. For example, I just discovered YeahWrite, which I’m super excited to explore — which is another reason I’ve resuscitated this blog (aka keep watch out for some short pieces in the future)! I’ve got a backlog of writing prompts that I have stuffed into every crevice of my world. Not to mention I have two novel-sized works that I’ve had plans to write for YEARS, and I’m beginning to think that I need to take a “now or never” approach with them, which means making time to work on them whenever I can.
  3. Moderate my social media intake.
    • Years ago, I stopped watching so much TV because I could feel myself wasting time. I’m coming to the realization that I’ve replaced my time wasting with spending time on Facebook and Tumblr. I want to limit my time on social media to give myself more time to write and explore other interests.
    • I haven’t decided exactly how much time to limit my media to, but downloading an app that tracks my time and setting limits to the amount of time I spend mindlessly scrolling.

2018 is going to be different because I want it to be different, and I feel like I have all the tools necessary to do so.

Well, I have all the tools necessary to do so except for one, which some may even consider to be the most important tool to follow through on the dreaded, infamous “New Year’s Resolutions”: Motivation.

Which is why, internet, I am shouting into the WordPress void and hoping someone out there cares enough about my sanity to embarrass me into following through on these, if for nothing else but than to have an excuse to make fun of my failure.