How is it June already? Usually I’m counting the days until summer vacation. This year…it’s flying by. So much to do. So much happening. And the first of the month means it’s another — A picture’s worth a 1000 words flash fiction post. This month, it’s an interesting photo. Where on earth do I go with a paper heart? Well, here goes. Might be another cop out month, lol. (that’s my way of saying I use it more as a prop that the characters have, lol.) And yup, it’s official. This month’s story… felt nothing folks. Zip. Zero. Nada. The big enchilada. Buttkiss. NOTHING. So I went back to Graeme and Ryan from January. I tried, people. I tried.
“Bloody time you got here. I fucking called you damn near an hour ago.”
Graeme James ran his fingers through his hair, doing his best not to yank Ryan inside by his damn shirt. Despite the fact his buddy always seemed to pull his ass out of the fire, Graeme wasn’t sure there was any escape this time.
Ryan cocked his eyebrow. “Bro. You need to relax. Seriously.” He pointed to Graeme’s head. “Your muscle’s popping out of your damn temple.”
“Relax? Bailey’s going to kill me, let alone walk out the damn door.”
Finally, the man walked into the foyer, chuckling as he went.
Graeme dragged in a deep breath and held it before slowly pushing it out. “Not sure why you think me losing Bailey is funny, but—”
“What’s funny is that you think anything you did here is going to drive Bailey away. She’s so in love with you, you could burn the damn house down and she’d sit beside you roasting marshmallows.”
Graeme frowned. “It’s not the house I’m concerned about.”
Ryan grinned, but it faded. He stepped closer, snagging Graeme’s arm. “Graeme? Bro, you okay? I was just joking…”
Graeme clenched his jaw. Shit just thinking about what had happened…what he’d done…
Ryan snapped his fingers in front of Graeme’s face. “Hey! You’re starting to actually scare me. What the fuck’s wrong?”
Bile burned Graeme’s gut. God, where did he even start? He exhaled, motioning to the adjoining hallway. Ryan furrowed his brow, following Graeme through the main floor.
Ryan whistled as he walked through the rooms. “Wow. This is some place. Going to be quite the catch once you two finish renovating it. In about ten years. But it’s got good bones. That’s really all that matters.” He nudged Graeme. “Is that what this is about? You two fight over what kind of flooring to put down? Is she having second thoughts about moving in when you haven’t…” He waved between them. “Made a firmer commitment?”
“No. We didn’t fight, and we already moved all her shit in last week. You know that.”
“Then why do you look like someone just ran over your dog?”
“Because when she finds out what the fuck happened…” He couldn’t say it. Couldn’t think about his future without her in it. Not after finally realizing she was more than just a girl he’d fallen in love with. She was his girl.
He stumbled over toward the fireplace, practically falling into one of the chairs placed in front. The legs creaked, the old wood giving slightly against his weight. Maybe she really would just kill him, and he wouldn’t have to worry about living without her.
Ryan padded across the floor, stopping in front of him. “Did you sleep with someone else?”
“What? God, no! Why would I sleep with another woman when I have Bailey in my bed? Fuck. I’m not stupid or blind.” Graeme shook his head. “I’d never hurt her like that. Shit, I barely realize there are other women. I’m the one who’s lovesick to the point of it being obnoxious. Don’t think I don’t know that.”
“Did you kill someone? Are you going to jail?” Ryan kicked at Graeme’s feet. “Did you finally punch her douche of a brother in the face?”
Graeme merely glared at his friend. This wasn’t funny.
Ryan sighed. “If it’s none of those, I’m pretty damn sure it can be fixed.”
“That’s because you’re a guy. We always think things can be fixed. But girls… Damn, they don’t think like us. It’s all about feelings and deciphering what they really want.”
“Just tell me. We’ll go from there.”
Graeme bowed his head, pointing at the fireplace. “That. That’s what I did, God…”
Ryan moved over to the wall, crouching in front of the smooth stone mantle. He grabbed a poker then shifted through the ashes in the bottom. “You lit a fire without her?”
“No, jackass. It’s what I put in the fire. By accident. It got caught up with some old drawings I was getting rid of. Shit, I didn’t even realize it was in there until it was too late.”
Ryan glanced at him over his shoulder. “You do know I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about, right? What did you burn that’s going to have Bailey packing her bags?”
Ryan coughed. “Her…thesis?”
Graeme could only nod before cradling his head in his hands.
Ryan cleared his throat. “Okay. So you ruined some papers. She’d already been graded, though, right? I mean, essentially, she doesn’t really need it anymore.”
“You do know how long she worked on that! I’d promised to frame the last page. She was going to put in her office.”
“It’s shitty, but…bro. She won’t leave you over that.”
“It’s worse.” He shook his head. “It was the last thing her mother saw before she died last month. She even wrote Bailey a message on it…telling her how proud she was. How she’d always known her little girl would go places. And I fucking burnt it.”
“By accident, Graeme. These things happen.”
“No. They don’t. Not if you’re careful. Considerate. But, Christ, between work, the renovations…I’m so tired I didn’t stop to check what was on the desk just grabbed all the papers and tossed them in.”
Ryan shuffled over to him. “Maybe we can salvage something. Did you check?”
“First thing I did.” He held up a small chunk of paper. “This is all that’s left.”
Footsteps sounded behind them before a voice wavered through the room. “What’s all that’s left?”
Graeme’s breath hitched as he twisted toward the doorway. Bailey stood in the threshold, bag slung over one shoulder, her pretty face watching him. She’d taken her hair out of the fancy braid she’d had it in when she’d left, the thick auburn tresses cascading over her shoulders and down her back. It must have started raining, drops of water still clinging to her gray jacket.
She moved toward them, stopping a few feet away as her gaze swung between them. The easy smile she’d had slowly faded as her focus dropped to the tattered offering in his hand. “Babe? Everything okay? You look…upset.”
Graeme pushed out of the chair, closing the scant distance as he took her in his arms, holding her close. The sweet scent of her perfume mixed with the fresh aroma of the rain, the combination making his head spin. She’d always felt so right in his arms, and he’d never questioned that she belonged there.
He buried his face against the side of her head, breathing her in until she pushed at him, forcing him back. His gaze fell to hers, the hint of fear in her eyes impossible to miss.
She ran her thumb along his jaw, brow pulled into a vee. “Graeme? What’s wrong? Why is Ryan poking around in the ashes?”
Graeme swallowed past the lump in his throat, certain he’d gag at any second. “Because he’s my best friend and he’s trying to help.”
“Help with what?” She raised his chin when he tried to look down. “Babe. Just talk to me.”
He firmed his jaw, not quite sure what to say when Ryan moved over to them.
“He burned your thesis.” Ryan held up his hands. “By accident. It got caught up with some other papers, and he called me because he doesn’t want to lose you.”
Some of the color drained from her face as she took a step back, her attention shifting from them over to the fireplace and back. “You burned my thesis?”
Graeme stepped forward. “I know. But I swear…I didn’t mean to. It’s like Ryan said. It was an accident and…” He sighed. “And…it doesn’t matter because it’s irreplaceable. I know that. I lost that message from your mom. Your handwritten words of recommendation. Everything.” He held out his palm. “This was all that I could save. But the words are just indiscernible lines, now.” He toed at the floor. “I’m so sorry. If you want me to leave…”
Bailey looked down, worrying her bottom lip as she took the small piece of paper out of his hand. Shit, it wasn’t anything remotely important. Not even a single word on the scrap. Just a charred chunk of her treasured masterpiece. She studied it, glancing at Ryan before finally meeting his gaze.
Her face seemed void of any emotion until a small grin lifted the corner of her mouth. It flourished into a stunning smile as she shook her head. “Did you really think I’d end everything we have over this?”
Confusion swam through his brain, making his vision dim slightly. “But…it meant the world to you. It was a connection to your mom—all that hard work…”
She sighed. “Men. Yes, in a perfect world, I would have framed the important pages of it. Kept the rest as a reminder of what I did to get where I am. As a symbol of my mom, but… Jesus, Graeme. You’re my future. My life. This is the past. And my mom’s memory is more than some words scribbled on a page.” She tapped her chest. “She’s here. All those times she picked me up from school, or kissed a scraped knee. How she used to check under the bed for monsters, or find a way to get me that special dress I wanted, even though my dad had said no.” She inched forward. “The kiss she gave me the last time I saw her.”
“But…” He stared at her. Fuck if he knew what to say.
“Besides, you saved the best part.”
“Best part? Sweetheart, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s just a charred piece of paper. It doesn’t even have any words on it.”
“It’s not what it says, it’s how it’s shaped.” She held it up. “I’d say it’s perfect. Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed that it’s a heart.”
He looked at it. “Um…”
She laughed, placing the item back in his hand. “I can put this in with my certificate. As a keepsake. Now, how about we order pizza? I assume Ryan’s staying.”
Graeme gaped after her as she pulled out her phone, turning away once it’d connected. She rattled off an order, smiling back at him. He turned to Ryan, but his buddy merely shrugged. Graeme stared down at the paper then smiled. Yup, he’d never quite understand women, but damn if he was going to question it.
That’s the best I got. Just didn’t feel this month, but…college try and all that. Now check out the other lovely ladies and their amazing interpretation of the photo.
Jessica Jarman | Bronwyn Green | Jessica De La Rosa
Kellie St. James | Kayleigh Jones