Blood of Betrayal

(Wrote a short story with a 10 page limit. After forming more ideas throughout writing this, I think I may expand this and make it… more.)

***

Betrayal and death flash before my eyes. Images I wish to un-see, as I am forced to experience such a vivid nightmare. My father. A gun. Yelling and then a loud pop. Pain pierced me as I fell overboard into the raging black waves as they swallowed me whole.

            I woke with a jolt, gasping as drops of sweat dampen my skin. Instantly my eyes take in my surroundings as I turn all my senses into overdrive. All I hear is the chirping of the birds, the leaves that rustle as the wind swirls through them, and the waves lapping at the shore. I allow myself to calm only a little, knowing I am safe at this moment. The nightmare I had comes roaring back at me, and then reality settles in. Still a nightmare, but not a dream. All of that happened three months ago. The only difference is that I was not supposed to survive. My father underestimated me. His voice still ringing in my head, “Life is unexpected, Rosalyn. This is how it has to be. Say hi to your mom for me.”

            I wonder what my allies at the assassin’s guild think of my absence. Surely, they will be scouring every city to track me down since I have never been gone this long, at least without contact. Then again, with my father’s betrayal, who knows what kind of nonsense he is telling them. I mean, he is the leader of our guild in New York City, or as others call him, Chief. Everyone believes the words that come out of his mouth, and they have no reason not to. Until now. I just need to get off this godforsaken piece of land.

            The rumble and pain that curls my stomach over halts all of my thoughts. My father believes me to be dead; that is his mistake. I am not the top assassin at our guild because my father is the leader; I earned my place with my skills and ruthlessness. Amid his deceit, I could read his body language and the twitching of his left eye and index finger. As much as his actions create an emotion I am not used to, I knew he was going to pull the trigger. That is why at the last moment, I twisted mid-leap off the boat and allowed the bullet to just graze me instead of causing major damage. Still hurt like hell, though. I let the sea drag me under and away until he was out of sight, then began swimming for my survival. Which is precisely what I have been doing for the past three months. I found a deserted island that seems to be off any radar and not located on any maps. I’m just doing my best to survive, even though I can tell my muscles are shrinking and my now torn clothes have become loose.

            Slowly standing up since quick movements make my head spin, especially before I have had a chance to find and consume some much-needed food. I grab my makeshift spear that has been a blessing, and I thank the guild for having a class on making weapons. I scan around as I heave a sigh; this place is like a mini jungle. Dawn is on the horizon, splinters of light creeping through the towering trees. Dewdrops dripped off the leaves from the dense humidity. The sun is blistering hot here, and this island smells of earthiness and the perfume of flowers. Everything is overgrown and untouched. I try to catch my food, which consists primarily of fish, in the early morning, and evening when the sun is not trying to burn me alive. Subtle drops of moisture trail down my back as the heat intensifies. Twigs snapping underfoot as I venture through the dense undergrowth. Climbing over enormous roots, I approach the shoreline from my hut made of mud, sticks, and leaves.

            About ten feet before I near the clearing to the beach is when I hear what sounds like a grunt. My whole body seizes as I instinctively form into a low crouch. I keep my spear along my side for easy use and ease myself to lean back into the rough bark of a tree. Patting my thigh, making sure my knives are still sheathed that I always have on me. Another blessing to never take them off because it allowed me to have some sort of protection aside from my fighting skills when I first arrived here.

            I can smell the scent of rain as inky clouds begin to creep toward the island, the wind picking up its speed as gusts make the trees dance back and forth. There is a whistle to the wind, and the water becomes more aggressive as it attacks the shore. As stealthy as I can, I progress towards where I heard the sound. Staying hidden behind trees and bushes, I drop to my stomach and spread the leaves as I spare a glance. What the hell? A man is tugging his boat into the sand while roping it around one of the trees. My training and psyche scream internally at me. Trust no one! Rain starts pelting down and imploding the grains of sand ahead. Shooting my eyes to the man, taking note that he is distracted and unaware of my presence, I dart forward. Unsheathing the blade from my holster, I close the distance before he can register the threat in the air. As he stands, I wrap my arm around him and press the sharp blade against his vulnerable throat.

            His whole body tenses and brings his hands up in surrender, keeping still as I can feel his heartbeat quickening. “I m-mean no harm.”

            With the uneasiness in his deep voice, there is also an edge of confidence. I lean on my tiptoes from behind and put my mouth close to his ear. “Why are you here?”

            Still not moving a single muscle in his body, he said, “I’m just securing my boat up to wait through the storm.”

            I think his words over as my mind keeps repeating, trust no one. But maybe the words he speaks hold truth, instead of the thought of my father sending him. Then again, I am positive my father has no doubt that he did not complete his deed. I slowly walk around in front of him as I take him all in. Messy dark hair soaked from the rain, deep brown eyes that almost look black, golden skin, and definitely built. He is the opposite of me as I have blonde hair that is practically white and dark blue eyes with fair skin. I have no doubt that I cannot take him down, though. “What is your name?”

            He regards me with a cool stare as he seems to think I would not slice his throat right here. “Michael. Yours?”

            I ignore him and drop the knife and place it back on my thigh. The wind is whipping my hair around as the rain is creating a pounding melody around us. “You have two options. Either I kill you quickly here and take your boat, or you can take me to my destination on your boat.”

            His eyes widen a fraction before he masks his face again. “How do I know you won’t kill me if I take you to where you want to go?”

            I lift my eyes to his and stare deep into them. “You don’t.”

Nodding his head, he begins to head towards the tree where he knotted the rope, making sure it will not become loose. He glances back at me over his shoulder. “Okay. I’ll take you.”

            It took hours for the storm to pass through as we waited in silence under cover of the trees. I managed to spear two fish before the water became too frantic, and my attempts would be hopeless. Once the rain let up, I created a small fire under my hut and quickly cooked them. I ended up giving one to Michael even though one is not nearly enough for me. But, if he was going to help me sail, he would need a little energy.

            When it was time to set sail, he untied the rope, and we loaded ourselves in, readying for the journey. He looked up at me, waiting, but I simply stared at him. The vibration of his voice sent a tingling sensation down my spine when he spoke. “Where to?”

            Never breaking his stare, I told him, keeping my voice cold. “New York.”

            The look on his face became questioning as he looked me over. “How long have you been on that island?”

“Three months.”

He just started blinking at me, opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. Then, finally, he decided to speak as he choked out the single question. “How?”

Tilting my head, wondering how I want to respond. But, I feel the need to be honest, to see what his reaction will be. “My father shot me off his boat, and I survived by coming across that island.”

All color from his face drains as he begins to scan his eyes all over my body as if he will find a bullet hole gushing with blood. I roll my eyes and turn away, looking out in the distance. “I’m fine. But my father won’t be.”

We sit in silence as the boat rocks and glides along the waves. I feel Michael is too stunned to ask any more questions. Plus, I know I am not the most welcoming person. I prefer solitude. The sea air invading my senses as a sliver of peace settles over me that I have not felt in a long time. Not since before my mom passed away in a car crash. At the thought of my mom, guilt washes over me because I should not have survived. She should have. If I could replace her…

Michael’s voice cut through my heart-wrenching thoughts. “There it is.”

We were not as far as I anticipated from New York, and we were able to dock up on the first piece of land we spotted along Long Island. When we hit the ground, I hopped out of the boat and began walking away while throwing my hand up in thanks.

I heard footsteps getting louder behind me, and I swung around and with a high kick. Holding my foot in the air, a mere inch from Michael’s face. Raising his hands up, he takes a step back. “I was just curious if you needed help finding your way to where you need to go.”

Squinting my eyes as I lift my chin to look up at him, searching those near-black orbs. “I’m good. I’ll manage.”

His shoulders sag slightly before I turn away and walk up mounds of sand, making a beeline for the city. It will take some time to make my way back to my loft, especially with how deflated my body feels, but I have endured worse. Before I entirely disappear out of sight, I twist around and cage my mouth with both hands to yell. I do not know why I do, but I guess knowing I will not see him again is a probable cause. “By the way! My name! It’s Rosalyn!”

Michael’s head jerked up like the speed of light, and his eyes widened as if some sort of realization clicked in his mind. But I decided not to stick around to find out, needing to make my way home undetected and deal with the man who is supposed to be my father.

After hiding in shadows, scaling buildings, and ducking behind corners, I made it home. As soon as the door closes, I collapse to the cold wood surface. The soles of my feet pulsing in pain and knowing they are swollen. I take a deep breath in as the familiar scent of lavender consumes me. Opening my eyelids, taking in my escape from this cruel life, the plush cream furniture, the overflowing bookshelf, the specifically chosen pieces of art hanging on the walls, and the picture of my mom and I on the light wood entry table of a time when I was only six. Guilt lodges in my throat, and grief invades me. The only time I have felt true feelings is before my mom died and now, with her death hanging over my head. When she passed, my father treated me as a recruit. I never felt like his daughter since then, just his human-machine to be a cold-hearted killer. It seems he does not like that I am surpassing him, so he felt the need to handle it.

I scour my pantry for any food that would still be edible and devour it. Then make my way to the shower. There have been a handful of times I have been on the brink of death. Staring in the mirror now, I can hardly recognize myself. My cheeks have caved in, my pale hair appears duller, my soft skin has a tint of red from the sun and scratches all along it from trudging through that dreadful island. My eyes begin focusing on the scars from my past that decorate my body. Most I have earned from missions and various fights that my opponent got a lucky shot in, some from the interrogation classes I mastered, and many others were caused by punishments my father felt the need to extract on me. The thought of him boils my blood, and I clench my jaw as I internally promise I will be the one to take his last breath.

A month has passed since I have been gathering intel and remaining hidden. The best way to go about my plan is to make sure my father still believes me to be down under. I made contact the first week I was back with the one person I trust at the guild, Demetrius. We are both the same age and grew up together training within the guild. He is second best to me, and we both have an understanding that no matter what, we will have each other’s back. All the torment, pain, simulations, and some missions, we have conquered together. He met me at a hole-in-the-wall bar in the city’s outskirts and somewhere my father would never set foot in. I carefully explained everything once his initial shock of me being alive dispersed. When he first laid those familiar hazel eyes on me, his face looked like he saw a ghost. He told me my father said our mission we were on ended tragically when we were “attacked.” Said they got a tip we were crossing the sea to them and took advantage of the information to prevent us from reaching land. That one fighter shot his gun directly at my father, but that I dove in front of him to save him and ended up tumbling overboard in the process. Yeah, right, I’m not clumsy. From there, I guess that gave him time to kill the remaining few, but by that time, I was long gone. Apparently, Chief has been “heartbroken” ever since.

I filled Demetrius in on my plan and that I needed a little bit of his assistance. He agreed, which is how our alliance with the assassin’s guild in Delaware heard a little rumor about my father backing out of their treaty. Like I anticipated, their leader is requesting an in-person meeting with my father to feel him out and demand what the hell is going on. But, of course, knowing how my father operates, he will be requesting his travel by boat to avoid any issues and stay under the radar.

The next day Demetrius confirms when the boat will leave the dock, and I make sure to arrive an hour beforehand to scope it out and welcome myself aboard. I made sure to wear my black custom-designed full body suit with light armor to ensure flexibility, that allows me to blend in the darkness and stay protected. Strapping blades against my thigh, one is tucked into my left boot, and my sword is strapped along my back. Braiding my long hair, even though a few strands manage to escape. Making my way along the dock, scanning the area, I am able to hop up on the deck and back against the side. This boat is huge, more like a ship. I would not expect anything less for my father though, he prefers the finer things. I silently make my way along the walkway on the shiny boat floor; it looks like it was waxed and polished this morning. I memorized the layout Demetrius conjured up for me and crack open the first door I come across and sneak in. Keeping my body ready for attack, I make my footsteps nonexistent as I head down the darkened hallway to my father’s office. The heavy metal door creaks when I push it, the whole room smells faint of his favorite cigars. Bile threatens to crawl up my throat from it; his cigars always made me nauseous. His office is masked in darkness, only the moonlight shining through the small circular window by his desk.

Over an hour passes when I feel the shift of the boat, signaling we are heading towards Delaware. I prop my feet on my father’s desk as I sit in his oversized, cushioned chair. Picking my nails with my sharpened knife as I wait. I can hear the echo of a few voices out on the deck, the water slapping against the side of the ship as we trudge forward.

Another hour passes before footsteps become louder with each second, the door clicks as the handle turns and begins opening. As soon as a foot comes into view, I throw my knife straight into the door frame; it grazes by missing the side of their head by a hair. The man stares at the blade that is embedded in the wood and whips his head to me. I suck in a sharp breath, and my eyes bulge out of my head. “Michael…?”

His dark eyes sear into me with just as much shock. Silence ascends between us for a few moments. “Rosalyn?”

Shaking my head in disbelief at him and to myself, keeping my eyes tracking each of his movements as he closes the door. “Michael. I should have known. What are you doing here? Or should I simply put the next knife straight into your head?”

Taking a step forward, he puts his hands up while his eyes plead for me to listen. “I’m not against you. I infiltrated your guild the week after you went missing. Our leader heard the daughter of New York’s Chief died, leaving your father in a vulnerable state. Our guild took advantage, and I became one of the guards. I met you by coincidence. I was on my way back to New York after making a trip from my home in Cuba, just happened to find that island when I saw the storm brewing. I was sent to kill your father, hence me sneaking in his office.”

Interesting. I know Michael is not lying, no telling signs from his body language or expressions. He must have felt fine telling me his plans to assassinate my father from what I told him a month ago. “My father will die today, but not by you.”

In the next moment that followed, an all too familiar voice carried down the corridor. Michael glanced at me for a second before trusting I will stay true to my word and slid into the shadows aside the bookshelf. As soon as the door opens and my father’s face appears, I leap across the top of his desk and launch myself at him right as he noticed the knife hanging next to the door. Before my father can acknowledge me, I slam the door, knocking him to the floor. He stands up ungracefully, looking at me like I am the grim reaper sent from hell. Maybe I am. He does not need to figure out why I am here. He knows he had a lapse in judgment to believe I indeed died without making sure my heart stopped beating. His hands yank out the metallic pistol with his initials engraved on it, the same gun that he only uses golden bullets with and the weapon he tried to kill me with before. Pathetic.

Like slow motion, I can see his fingers tightening on the trigger. I race towards him in a zig-zag, whipping my sword out. The feel of the smooth handle in my grip ignites a sense of tranquility. The calm before the storm. He blasts a bullet out of the nose of the gun but misses as I spin out high, kicking it midair out of his hand. It slides across the floor with a scraping sound; my father’s eyes follow his trusty weapon. Stupid. I’m the threat. When his heartless eyes connect back with mine, I can see a sliver of fear in them. I bring my arm back, then forcing my fist forward, so it connects to his face. I felt the crack right before he lets out a loud groan. Staggering backward, I kick his chest with my boot, knocking him on his ass. As he meets the floor, I already have my sword against his pulsing neck.

He peers up at me with a big gulp as I put a little extra pressure on the sword. His hands come together as if he were to pray. “Please, Ros, don’t do this. I’m your father.”

I snort while heaving an exasperated sigh. “You never were a father.”

Something cold taps against my hand, and I steadily turn my head to see Michael holding out my father’s most precious gun. A smirk curls the side of my lips as I take it from him. “Kind of symbolic, Father. Don’t ya think?” Before he can say any last words, I cut him off. He does not deserve to have them. Pointing the gun at his head, my voice firm. “Life is unexpected. This is how it has to be. Say hi to mom for me.” Bang.

-A. Stuebbe

Final Catch

* Recently had to venture out and write a flash fiction piece in 250 words. Let me know what you think! As writers, our fingers itch to do just that write... so 250 words felt constricting. I was glad for the challenge though. *

***

Trying to suck in air as the humid Afghanistan heat is thick on our tongues. The background filled with hammering and blasts that reverberate from the attack. Just outside the city, we stay crouched on the edge of a dried up lake bed, waiting for the resupply helicopter. Eyes alert as we blend into the shadows of the night, with my buddies K9 in-between us.

 

Keeping my breathing steady and voice low, “The resupply should be here soon”.

 

I can see Sully nod out of my peripheral, his voice deep, but scratchy from lack of water. “We gotta make this quick. We need to get back in there.”

 

The hair on my neck stands to attention as chills run down my spine. Before I can voice my uneasiness, a shadow moves so quickly I almost missed it. Oh shit! A small, but violent object of a grenade comes into view. Adrenaline spikes through my system and I launch myself over Sully. I have to make sure he gets home to his wife and kids; the light is at the end of the tunnel for this mission. Covering every inch of him and forcing him into the sandy terrain, I brace for impact. I hear the bark of Sully’s dog and I glance over my shoulder, except he’s not there… Whipping my head up I see him racing towards the nuclear ball as he leaps into the air as if playing catch. Light flared and exploded, but no dog in sight.

- A.Stuebbe

Two Paths Collided

(A condensed story of how my husband and I met, but wanted to keep it within a certain word count. Hope you enjoy my internal dialogue with myself and how fate guided our two souls together.)

***

The heat radiating from the sun was being absorbed into my fair skin as I lay on my towel, digging my feet in the sand and enjoying its velvety caress. I have had this much-needed vacation planned a year in advance, with this being my second time enjoying the beauty of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. But I never anticipated that this trip would tear down the walls protecting my heart.

  Jolting upward, the burning sensation becoming unbearable as I decide to head towards the coastal blue ocean that crests into mini plumes of white as it hits the shore. The heat here is more potent than where I grew up, as I am more accustomed to winter and the mounds of snow that come with it. Each step forms a sensual thrill that runs through the soles of my feet as I walk across the light specs of powder; it has been way too long since I have been to the beach. The beach in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, does not compare. Lake Erie’s sand is rough between my toes, the water is murky, and let’s be honest, the bacteria in it is most likely thicker than a bowl of oatmeal. So, this endless vibrant water is welcomed as I dive in. Pure bliss. That is the only way to describe the feeling of the cool saltwater as my body glides through it under the waves.

Shooting up out of the water, I fling my hair back and look up at the beach where my sister and mother sit. How can people layout for hours? I mean, I can lay out for a little while if I have a good book, but I want to be active and have some fun. I booked this vacation with my older sister, saying she wanted to come, so we split the costs, and then last minute, our mom wanted to join, so here we are on a girl’s trip. The crazy thing, neither of them have ever been to the ocean, so I wanted to make sure they can experience as much as they could for the trip. Unfortunately, today is our last full day to soak it all up.

Leaving behind the alluring water, I jog up to my sister and grab the football I brought. “C’mon, sis, let’s go toss the ball.”

She peeks up at me from under her hand, acting as makeshift sunglasses, blocking the blinding rays. She sighs, knowing she is the only one I can play catch with. “Alright, let’s go.”

We stayed for a bit longer before we decided to head back to our rental for lunch. The rental I chose is my favorite place to stay because it looks like a treehouse, secluded with trees and the marsh in the distance. It has a small door at the bottom that is just big enough for laundry and the metal spiral staircase that leads you to the top, which is the main floor. The shape of the sea loft is a hexagon with floor-to-ceiling windows all around that make you feel like you are outside.

As we settle down for lunch, we brainstorm what we could do the rest of the day. I mindlessly doodle on my glass of ice water along with the condensation that formed. I suggest kayaking since we went jet skiing already and they do not want to go wakeboarding. Boo. Everything we have done is their first for it all, so I have let them decide our course of action. “Neither of you has been kayaking yet, and the best part is we can get out to swim, hook our legs on the front and just lay back in the water and chill.”

My mom spoke up after taking a sip of her water, “Oh no. I do not want to have my whole body in the water with who knows what swimming around. How about we go jet skiing again! Kayaking sounds fun if we stay out of the water, but I would love to go back to that jet ski place if there are any spots still open.”

I look over to my sister, who nods her head in agreement. I shrug and make the call. Luckily, they have an opening at 3:30pm, and I instantly booked us the spot; we just all three need to share one jet ski. Already my mind is wrapping around a brilliant yet mischievous idea.

Pulling up to Sea Monkey Watersports, I park the car and am excited to do this again. I am a thrill-seeker, but as long as I am outside, I am down for whatever. I wore my most secure bathing suit with an orange knotted top and black bottoms, tying my hair up in a tight bun. Long hair being whipped at fast speeds stings when it strikes against the skin and not pleasant for whoever sits behind me. I leave my shoes behind, preferring to just be barefoot on the rocky ground as we make our way over to the shack where we check-in. Only one other family is booked for this group which is surprising since it is tourist season. Being the introvert that I am, I do the typical smile and nod to the other family and then keep to myself. Except my mother is just like my grandmother, who can make friends anywhere and begins introducing herself.

“Hi, guys! I’m Rita, and these are my daughters Cori and Ali. Looks like it will be just our two groups jet skiing today, huh?”

A woman with short black hair, a petite, tall frame from the other family spoke, “Hi there, I’m Connie. This is my daughter Grace and son Casey. Over here is my nephew Chris and Ray, and then this is my mother Jenny and her husband, Frank. Just the boys and I and my two are going out. Where are you guys from?”

“We drove down from Ohio. How about you guys?”

Connie lit up the moment my mom said Ohio. “Really?! What part? I live in San Diego now because my husband is in the Navy, but everyone else here still lives in good ol’ Cleveland, Ohio.”

            That piqued my interest when she said Cleveland. Just enough for me to include myself in the conversation. “Wow, what a small world. We’re from Cleveland too, but outside of it in the Eastlake area.”

            Her eyes widened when I said Eastlake. Before she could speak, her nephew Chris spoke. “What! That is crazy, we are from Mentor. I graduated from Mentor High School last year”.

  Taking this all in for a moment as I let the shock of how insane this is dissolve. What is the coincidence that all of us live 15 minutes from each other and happen to be here on vacation, with the same time slot to go jet skiing at this particular place? If there was ever a moment where my mind was blown, this would be it.

Mindlessly, I looked down and trace a circle in the sand with my foot and brought my hand to rub the back of my head as nerves tingled through my body. Get it together and say something. Stop being awkward. “Cool. I graduated last year too but from North High School. I wonder if we know the same people.” Smooth.

He scrunched his face and pursed his luscious lips to the side in thought. Wait, what… why am I staring at his lips? Quickly shooting my gaze away from his mouth and back up to his eyes before he notices.

I knew the moment he thought of a name to ask by the way he displayed his full smile that could knock you off your feet. “Do you know Nick Romero?”

A small chuckle escaped my mouth in disbelief. “Yeah, I do, actually.”

Then it was his turn to laugh at how unreal this situation is, and the sound did something to me inside. Such a strange feeling since my mind and heart are safely guarded with walls and chains made of steel. Protecting myself from the pain of my past. I kept to myself and told myself a while ago that I do not need a man. I may be young still, but I am confident in who I am, strong from putting myself together when I was left in pieces. Therefore, I stopped “looking” for that special someone a long time ago.

I can feel the pounding of my heart as I truly take this man before me in. Short chestnut hair that is thick and looks like he just ran his hand through it. With his rosy lips that look feather soft and light scruff that seems he may have skipped a day shaving. He is wearing a cut-off that shows off his golden skin, toned arms, and tattoos on his side and bicep. I wonder if he has more ink… Easily I can see that he is active and in shape, the thought making my cheeks flush. But what really captures me are his searing green eyes. The sun is making them glisten, almost looking like sea glass as he holds my gaze, making it feel as if he can see every part of who I am.

Just now do I realize that he is taking me in, and man, do I wish I did not look like a beach bum. To also make matters worse, my hair is wrapped in such a tight bun on top of my head, making me look like Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda. Internally cursing at myself and the universe, that this is how I look in front of the first guy who caught my attention.

All conversations came to a stop when it was time to head out on the water. My mom and sister wanted me to be the first to drive the jet ski since part of it are following the guides out to where we can let loose. Instantly my body thrums with delight as my fingers curl around the level of the throttle. Before we know it, we take off soaring across the glimmering water that is twinkling under the sunlight. Racing through the wind and splitting the salty air like the red sea. Both my mom and sister have not been swimming in the ocean. The deepest they went was up to their knees. Well, that is about to change. My sly plan is to fling them off or tip the jet ski enough to make them fall in. What I did not anticipate is tipping the jet ski so intensely while zooming around to make a donut that not only did all three of us tumble ungracefully into the water, but the whole jet ski flipped upside down.

Our heads popped out of the water, making us look like a game of “Pop goes the weasel.” Right at that moment, awareness tingled down my spine as I spun around to find Chris racing past on his jet ski while giving us a thumbs up. I felt my face heating from him witnessing that whole show. Face, meet palm. I swear, the universe is against me today, and I damn well want to know why. But I turned to my mom and sister to see wide eyes and huge smiles directed towards me. Silence ascended between us before we all bobbled around in the waves erupting in a pit of laughter.

My muscles ached with the good kind of pain as we made our way back to the car. Chris had asked my last name before we departed, which makes me buzz with nervous excitement? Is he actually interested in me? Despite being a complete and utter hot mess? Nah.

The voice of my mom startling me as she draws me out of my internal mumbling. She nudged my shoulder,  “He was CUTEEE! You should have got his number!”

Sighing, I explain my stubborn thought process. “Mom, I’m not going to ask for his number. If he is interested, he will find a way to contact me.”

She rolled her eyes but seemed satisfied with my answer as we were driving away from the parking lot towards the main road. Casually waiting to find that perfect opening to join the other charade of cars, my phone dings. Glancing down at the screen, I freeze. All the airlocks up in my lungs, and my mind cannot seem to process what I am seeing. No. No way. I must be hallucinating. This guy searched for me and requested me on Facebook. We have not even left the parking lot yet, and already he hunted me down.

Humorously feeling a little smug, I swivel in my seat to face my mom. I’m displaying a little comedic smirk to play the part while raising my eyebrows up and down in a lazy manner. “See. If he is interested, he will find a way.”

I showed her my phone, and her eyebrows shot to the top of her head. My sister leaned between the front seats to take a peak, and her jaw dropped—all of us staring dumbfounded at my phone before giggling as we became speechless. 

The whole way back to our rental, my mind was churning with uncertainty. Am I ready to rip open my scars if the opportunity arises? To set free the pain coursing through my veins from months of abuse from the one who had shattered me to the core? Constant thoughts course through my psyche, wondering why I felt such a strong pull towards this man I hardly know. My past makes me want to jump ship and continue to sail alone out to sea, but my soul seems to have ignited the slightest flicker of a spark. Anchoring the boat and halting the path I carved for myself.

We ate dinner not long after we settled back down into the rental, and the remaining hours of the day and our time on vacation are ticking away. The only thing my sister and mom want to do is pack the rest of the evening and relax on the couch, but that is the last thing I want to do. A light bulb went off in my head, and an unexpected idea of messaging Chris shot through my brain. Do I take that step and make the first move? Do I want to? Before I can go back into a downward spiral, I already pressed accept and sent him a message. Staring at my phone as if I can will his reply to appear, not blinking. Not even a minute goes by before my phone dings with a notification from him. Holy shit. Gulping down air, I did not know I needed from unintentionally holding my breath. Daring to do something I have never done, I ask him out to see if he can hang tonight since I will be gone tomorrow. To my utter surprise, he says yes.

Wiping my clammy palms on my shorts as I pull up to his timeshare in my sisters’ car, waiting for him to approach. I offered to pick him up since I had a vehicle we could use at the ready, and now my heart is beating so fast I feel like it will run out of my chest. As I try to slow my breathing down, I glance across the road, and there he is. Oh, God. He’s wearing a maroon V-neck shirt with dark faded jeans, grey high-tops, and all of it conforming to his body, making him look like trouble with a capital T.  I’m fucked. What did I just get myself into? He slides into the passenger side, and his cologne hits me and floats around my senses. Sin. If sin and man could be a smell, this would be it. Creating butterflies fluttering in my stomach and forming a need to lean towards him, until his scent is cemented into my being.

My voice is raspy when I go to say hello, forcing me to clear my throat. Get it together. Praying Chris does not take notice of my cheeks which I am sure are flaming from ogling him. “H-hi.” Wow. Smooth Ali. I meet his gaze as I greet him.

His eyes lift at the corners as he gives me his heart throbbing smile. “Hey.”

The more we talk to each other, the less nervous I feel. My breathing soothes out, the tingles coursing through my body before as nerves have now turned into excitement. His voice vibrates through my core, and it calms me. What is it about him that has me drawing to him like a moth to a flame?

            We chose to walk the beach, and I am unsure how far we walked along the shore, shoes in my hand and sand between my toes. The water floating up with each wave, splashing our feet, the sun is setting, creating a reflective sheen on the wet sand. I keep greedily inhaling the fresh sea air as if I can engrave it to my memory. Side by side, we absorb the beauty of our moment in time as we talk about everything. For once, I do not feel shy and awkward. The way he looks at me makes me feel like the only one on the beach with him, as if the rest of the world does not exist. He is the fire to my ice, melting away fears of showing someone my true self. I find myself not wanting this moment to end.

            The sun disappeared as the sky turns an inky black, with the moon illuminating a dim glow all around. We decide to head back for the night with me having to be up early for the drive home and his grandma wanting him to head back. Once again, I find myself with sweaty palms and a fluttering heart as I park in front of his building. We both are quiet as we smile at one another, unsure of how to end the evening.

Before I can say a word, his smile drops, and his eyes form a blazing trail to my lips. “Can I kiss you?”

When I suck in a quick breath, my lips part when all I can do is nod as my eyes meet his. He leans towards me ever so slowly as a small smile tugs on his lips. His scent once again swirls around me, making my head buzz with pleasure. Bringing his warm hand to the side of my face that sparks goosebumps along my skin and pulls me towards him. Gently, I feel the soft brush of his lips on mine, pressing against me creating a tremor through my body. This kiss was patient but sure, as it broke the dam safeguarding my heart; the flow of emotions erupted and began swimming around and making me want to cling to him. The kiss was quick and left me wanting, as I try to keep myself steady. We both say goodnight, and I watch him walk to his door until he completely disappears. 

            Two weeks later, I buzz around my house and anxious as I keep peeking quick glances out the window. Since coming home from vacation, Chris and I have kept in touch and message each other every day. He traveled home a few days ago, and today is the day he asked if he could see me. I see a black car pull up along the curb, and as if in slow motion, I watch him get out to face my house. Don’t rush out there. That will make you look like you were staring out the window the whole time, even though I was… I don’t want him to know that. I give myself a minute as I see him approaching and then open the door. We both stop our movements as our eyes meet, gazes locked. At that moment, it felt as if our souls were attached to a magnetic pull, forcing us to become one. Call me crazy, but the universe may have collided me into the path of my twin flame.

-A. Stuebbe

My Shooting Star

Once again, I watch you walk out the door. Once again, your night has become my day.

When the sun hangs out overhead, the stars glisten your world instead.
But know they are the same distance in the sky to me as you. I see the same light and constellations that decorate life above. So even though the miles between us go on forever, I am able to close my eyes at night knowing I walk the same Earth as you do.

When you see a luminous orb gliding across the endless midnight sky, know I threw it for you to see with my wish clinging on ardently.

And I will be waiting for you…
I will be waiting for you to bring it back to me.

-A. Stuebbe

What do you want to change in your life?

What do you want to change in your life?

Seems like a straight forward question, right? Well, it is. 

The answers I have heard are similar from person to person. I WANT to change "this" or I WISH I could do "that". 

Okay... what I hear is that person wanting or wishing for things to change, but where is the WILL?

I WILL improve my mental health. 
I WILL  dedicate myself to getting more in shape. 
I WILL ______ (whatever you PLAN to change). 

I also find myself doing the same thing, but have been working on making myself aware. 

Put your goals into a plan and make it happen. A person cannot be motivated all the time, this is where dedication comes into play. You have to truly want to put forth the effort in order to will the change. There are many days that will be hard, but keep pushing through. 

Have faith in yourself and know that you are worth it. No matter what "change" may mean to you. 

- A. Stuebbe

Riding High

An addiction that can not be tamed
This high coursing through my veins is permanently ingrained. 

A rush that pushes me to the limits
And the ones who judge are seen as cynics. 

The control of my life is in my hands
A risk that not many truly understand.

Thrumming to life with the most seductive sound
Drowning out any noise in the background.

The throttle fits perfectly in my grip
Accelerating at high speeds down the strip.

Splitting through the wind like the red sea
Never looking back, I finally feel free. 

- A. Stuebbe