The Apple Thief’s Friend

The deer was not majestic.

Behind the chain link fence, the deer had his tongue out in a blep. He was scrawny and undignified. Lane eyeballed him and he stuck his tongue out at her before blinking. Lane, dressed in deer patterned leggings and an oversized sweater, held her white bucket tightly. It was loaded to the brim with gala apples.

“No,” she told him.

The deer tilted his head and licked the fence. Lane rolled her eyes at the deer. She pointed to the ‘no deer in the orchard sign.’ He was unimpressed and stomped a delicate hoofprint into the wet ground. Nose twitching, he tilted his head toward the gate.

Lane’s sister approached her with her own bucket brimming with Granny Smiths. “I’m going to make a pie and some turnovers before I let Mom turn the rest into apple butter or oooo jam! Whatcha doing?”

“Talking to this deer,” Lane told her sister.

Allison was in black leggings but her sweater was a smaller version of the one her sister wore. She did her hair in the same braids as Lane even though hers was cornsilk to Lane’s fawn-colored hair. They had the same green eyes but Allison was not one to talk to deer.

“Deer don’t have vocal cords,” she remarked.

It was just like Ally to be literal and factual and scientific. Lane ignored all of it and pointed to the deer who was still scrawny, still undignified, and still offering her an unobstructed view of his tongue. Lane huffed.

“He wants to get into the orchard,” Lane remarked as the deer bobbed his head as if in agreement. “I’ve told him deer aren’t allowed by indicating the sign.”

“Deer can’t read,” Allison countered.

“It’s a pictogram,” Lane argued. “See,” Lane said to the deer as she pointed to the cartoon version on the sign, “This is you, and this is no. Savvy?”

The deer stared. Blinked twice.

Allison shook her head. “I’m going to get some Winesaps too. You coming?”

“In a minute, I’m in the middle of something here,” Lane said.

Allison bounded away with her bucket of apples. Lane stared at the deer. The deer stared back.

“I’m not letting you in,” she told him.

He blepped.

“Seriously, you can’t come into the orchard, it’s not allowed,” Lane insisted.

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate and back again.

“No.”

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate and back again.

“No, stop.”

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate, paused, he pawed the ground, and looked back again.

Lane looked to the heavens. When she looked back, the deer was still there. The deer was still staring. He was still poking his tongue out at her adorably with his scrawny undignified person. Lane opened the gate, stepping back out of his way. He bowed.

“Yeah, you’re welcome. If anyone asks, I was never here.”

The deer slipped into the orchard and disappeared into the trees.

The End.

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Hay into Blood

At night DeShawn watched the stars. He could just about see them from his small room in the basement. There was only one of those half sized windows but he was lucky and it overlooked a grassy field. He loved to see them twinkle and slowly change positions as the seasons changed. The stars were his comfort, his company. He loved the night.

Mother didn’t let him keep the window open during the day, but at night he opened it and star gazed. The sun was so bright it would probably hurt his eyes. Mother said it was a ball of fire, high in the heavens and not to worry about it. He’d never see it. He sighed. Mother never let him leave the room. She said it was for his own protection. Mother said others would want him if they knew and she said he looked different from the other children.

Mother’s skin was warm and honeyed. That must be what normal people skin looked like. His skin was almost the same color as charred wood. His eyes were as green as new grass, Mother said. Tall and thin with elegant fingers that stretched long enough to do the delicate work Mother left for him. He wove straw into dolls. He made necklaces with the thinnest silver chains and fragile beads of glass. When she was pleased with the work, she gave him cakes decorated in rainbow sprinkles. When he broke a bead, or his hay doll wasn’t as pretty as she’d like, she left a dirty cup of water and the crusts from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was enough for him to smell the jelly, smell the peanut butter but never taste them.

DeShawn loved the delicate work and he tried to make his necklaces resemble the stars that he just felt knew him and loved him. The night was his true friend. When the moon was full, he would stand in the beam of light that blasted into his small basement and made his skin glitter and shimmer. He would bathe in moonlight all night long, feeling more awake and alive than on the moonless nights.

Tonight he was bathing in the silver light when it cut off suddenly. Worried, DeShawn raced to the window. If Mother had found out he opened the window at night and blocked it, he would die!  There was a shadow leaning against his window. It was probably a rabbit or a raccoon. He tapped. The shadow bounced away. In seconds it was back but the light bled in around it. The shadow backed off a bit and resolved itself into a face.  The face was rounder than his own, yet still sharp, and silvered by moonlight. She was scared but she tapped back. Grinning, he placed his long fingers on the window. The girl put her hand up to match and a wonderful sound escaped her, light and breathy.

“Open up!” she called through the glass. She mimed unlatching it.

He did and a blast of icy air hit his face. She made the sound again, her eyes crinkling pleasantly. He found his mouth turning up in the corners, the feeling making his face stretch pleasantly. She reached her fingers through and grabbed his hand and shook it up and down. Her skin was several shades lighter than his but still a wonderful rich brown and her skin was cool in the winter air.

“Tia,” she said.

“DeShawn,” he replied.

“Come out,” she ordered. “I’ll buy you a soda at the corner store. I found some quarters in the laundry room. We can share a bag of chips.”

“Why?”

“I’m lonely. I’m not the type of girl that can keep pets or friends. I was sitting here because it’s the best view. You have the best view,” Tia said, awestruck.

“What’s lonely?”

“You, you are lonely. You want to be my friend and eat chips with me,” Tia informed him.

Accepting that, DeShawn asked, “What are chips?”

Tia made the sound again and it felt different this time. It was at him instead of with him. He frowned. She reached a hand through and tapped him on the nose. He sneezed. She made the sound. He echoed her, feeling oddly light. “Potatoes sliced thin, fried and salty as all get out. You’ll love them. Come out.”

“The door is locked. Mother is afraid someone will steal me away in the night,” DeShawn confided.

“Of course she is,” Tia said, “She should be. Your mother sells magical necklaces and dolls that can control others. Papa says she must have a changeling in her basement. I told her it was stupid. But here you are in her basement. Do you make necklaces?”

DeShawn nodded. “What’s a changeling?”

“I don’t know. Papa is old and he says ‘old ways are the best ways.’ You seem too young for the old ways. Come on, do you want to eat chips with me or not?” Tia asked impatiently.

“Doesn’t anyone else want to eat chips with you?” DeShawn asked.

Tia’s eyes were full of tears. “No, I told you; no pets, no friends. They don’t like me here. Do you like me?”

DeShawn felt funny as if his eyes were stinging. He reached out to touch her hand. She gripped tightly. The skin of her hand was cool and smooth, and a bit spongy. It was interesting to touch someone. He turned his mouth up again. Mother never touched him. Would Mother’s hand feel like Tia’s? Was that what touch felt like? His own hands felt thinner, less spongy.

Tia had touched him. She wanted to feed him and she liked the view.

“I like you.”

“Can you come?” Tia asked wistfully.

“Will you take me to a place where I can see all the stars?” DeShawn asked.

“Sure, we can go anywhere you want,” Tia said. “We can go out on the ocean in a boat. We can climb a mountain. We can do anything as long as you take me with you. I don’t want to be lonely anymore.”

DeShawn felt funny. His face was wet. Was this lonely?

“I don’t know how to get out,” he said.

“Take my hands,” Tia said. “You’re skinny enough to slip right through if I help pull you.”

DeShawn stared around at the only home he had ever known. There wasn’t much to look at, it was a dark room with one frayed rug and a dirty old cot. He grabbed a few of his shirts and a pair of jeans and wrapped them in his blanket. He left the dolls but grabbed a necklace. Maybe Tia would like it. He handed the bundle to her. She took it.

He felt his nerves fray. “I’m scared.”

“Me too,” Tia said. “What if you don’t like me?”

“What if I promise to like you?” he asked. “Will you show me how to live outside my room?”

Tia nodded. “I’ll show you how to live under the stars. Promise to stay with me forever.”

“Okay, I promise.”

He piled boxes of beads and hay up. Standing on them, he reached for her hands. She gripped him and pulled. She was strong! He struggled through the small window and flopped onto the grass. Tia stayed with him, while he touched the grass and felt the cold wind on his skin.

She stared at him. “That was too easy,” she said and slapped a bracelet onto his hand. It burned against his skin. “I’ve always wanted to have my own faerie.”

DeShawn shivered. He stood to run as Tia’s eyes flashed blood red. “What are you?”

“A monster,” Tia said. “A vampire that you promised to stay with.”

“Is that why no one likes you?” DeShawn asked. He wanted to leave but felt compelled to stay. The need to stay was tingling in him, warring with the need to go back home where he was safe.

“People don’t like you if you kill and eat them,” Tia said.

“Are you going to kill me?”

Tia showed her mouth full of sharp teeth and made the sound again. “No. I really am lonely.”

DeShawn sighed, shoulders relaxing. Tia was still better than Mother. Tia grabbed his hand again and squeezed in a friendly manner. She let go, and stepped back, giving him space that he wasn’t sure he wanted. He liked the feeling of connection. Maybe it would be okay. He was still afraid.

“I think I was too.”

“Not anymore,” the vampire said. “Your promise protects me from your magic. So you can’t hurt me. And I did promise to show you the stars. I can formally promise not to eat you if it will make you feel better. It’s not as binding as a fae promise, but I am a monster of my word. Besides, you already loved and lived with a monster most of your life, what’s one more?”

DeShawn stared at the night sky. He could see so many more stars from this monster’s side. He reached for her hand.

The End.

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Espresso

           “Emily, your lover the professor is here,” Amy sang out.

Emily’s popped up from where she was focusing on restocking the teas to see the tall lanky frame of her favorite customer. Today he was in check slacks and brown jacket with actual leather elbow patches, adorable. His brown hair was messy and his briefcase had bits of paper sticking out of it.

“He looks frazzled,” Amy remarked, serving black coffee to grumpy customers.

Emily ignored her. She was busy making her professor a double espresso.

“Jake!” she called and held her breath.

Her professor’s eyes slowly came to life as he smiled brilliantly at her. He took the cup she placed on the counter. Their fingers grazed one another over the cup. Emily’s heart raced.  Normally the tips of his ears would turn pink, he would keep smiling and beat a hasty retreat without saying a word. Emily would hum happily for hours afterward. Brian and Amy would laugh at her insisting she had scared him off but not today.

He opened his mouth to speak. Emily stopped breathing. He worked his jaw a few times and managed a breathy, “Thanks, Emily.”

Emily let out her breath in a whoosh as he slipped out of the coffee shop.

“He spoke!” Amy shouted startling Mrs. Clayton who came in every morning for an English Breakfast. “Hey, Brian! The professor spoke!”

Brian popped out from the kitchen covered in flower. “Emily’s Professor?? What did he say?”

“Thanks, Emily,” Amy repeated.

“He knows her name? It’s only been a year?” Brian said as an alarm went off in the kitchen. “BREAKFAST SANDWICHES ARE UP!”

A ragged cheer came from the line. Emily turned back to Amy. “It’s been a year?”

Amy nodded. Emily sighed. “A whole year?”

 ❤ ❤ ❤

“I talked to her today,” Jake said.

Diane stopped organizing her boss to gawp at him. “Coffee Shop Girl?You did? Did you ask her out?”

Jake flopped into his leather chair. “She uh, called out my name and I ahem, I ah, thanked her for the espresso by her name.”

Diane sighed in desperation. Her boss was a certified genius but he was painfully shy. “At this rate, you’ll be married in one hundred years. How did she react?”

Jake turned a brilliant shade of red. “I sort of… I um…”

“You ran away?”

“Maybe.”

“I love working for you,” she muttered. “But I can’t take this anymore. You go there every day. She makes you a drink; you come here to tell me how much you love her, and then you NEVER ASK HER OUT.”

Jake sighed. “She’s beautiful.”

“Oh, I know,” Diane remarked. “But enough is enough. Either go ask her out after work or I go in the morning and tell her I’m your girlfriend.”

Jake blanched. “What? No, you wouldn’t do that to me.”

“Damn right, I would. I will. You have twenty-four hours.” It was cruel. It was necessary. Jake needed a push.

❤ ❤ ❤

Emily wiped the tables down, humming to herself. Amy had gone to lunch and Emily was glad for the reprieve. Amy hadn’t stopped teasing her about her professor since he had first walked into the coffee shop and ordered his first espresso. Emily had remembered him, his name, and his drink. He hadn’t ever needed to speak. His smiles had been enough. But he had a nice warm baritone and Emily would have loved to hear a full sentence.

Someone cleared their throat behind her. Emily spun to face the customer ready to explain the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino. Her professor stood there looking extra frazzled. His large dark chocolate eyes brimmed with emotion, although half those emotions seemed related to panic. He tried to speak for a few seconds before he started to retreat. Emily panicked and reached out to catch his arm. His eyes widened, flicking from her face to where she was touching him. He swallowed.

“Emily,” he began in a funny high pitched tone. He coughed and tried again. “Emily, I ah, don’t like espresso.”

“What?”

He grimaced. “No, I did that wrong. Emily, I don’t like espressos, I like you.”

Emily didn’t know what to say. Luckily, once started, her professorcouldn’t be stopped.    “I’ve been coming in here every morning for a year to get a drink from you that I don’t like because I can’t get enough of your smile. So if you don’t feel the need to call the police, wouldyouliketogetadrinkwithme?”

“Yes! She says yes,” Brian shouted from the kitchen.

Jake’s grin was blinding. “Tonight? I know it is short notice. Only I’ve wasted so much time being timid, I don’t know when I’ll get the courage to ask again.”

“Yes, I’m free after six,” Emily told him shyly, still holding onto his arm.

“Okay, great, okay,” Jake stammered. “Great.”

He moved away and right before he broke contact, she said his name softly. When he turned to face him, she reached up and pressed a kiss to his lips. He froze long enough for Emily to panic but before she could pull away his warm, strong arms had looped around her waist, securing her to him. The soft scent of his cologne surrounded her. His lips were warm against hers, as responded to the kiss. Pressing her luck, Emily deepened the kiss, exploring her professor’s mouth. Kissing him was like sinking slowly into a warm bath.

She broke the kiss to see his eyes slowly flutter open, his skin flushed and pupils were blown wide. Emily’s heart was racing. She glanced away. Embarrassed she had kissed him at work. Amy had reappeared and made it worse by clapping.

“So six?” he asked voice squeaky.

Emily nodded and he surged forward to kiss her again. His hands cradled her back and he kissed her with an intensity that sent shivers down her spine and left her fingers and toes tingling. Amy snorted. Emily pulled back, her face flushed.

“I’m sorry I made you drink all those espressos,” Emily told him.

He laughed. “I’m not.”

The End.

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