Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Weekly Story #12: With Sprinkles

  • Airport Lounge - Author/Editor - Ice Cream
If there's anything I get wrong here about the process of accepting a short story for professional publication, I invite any editors to request a submission so I can learn☺.


There were five people in line ahead of her, but Lora knew it would be worth the wait. She still had an hour before her flight boarded. Once she got her waffle bowl of mint chocolate and Oreo ice cream covered with Cool Whip and sprinkles, that hour was going to be exquisite. It was her reward for hard work that had finally paid off.

She brought up her email on her phone and again read the editor's reply. We'd love to publish your story. Just looking at those words made her shiver. She'd written the story in January, subjected it to her creative writing class in February, then spent March torturing it into a manuscript ready for submission. The night before her flight home for the summer, she received the email from Mr. Monroe Cort offering her $240 for her story. She had danced a waltz with her roommate when she first saw the news.

The line shrank in no time, and the payment was barely a drop of syrup. Lora slurped her first heavenly spoonful of cold, sweet delight. Her first dessert as an author. Not just a student, not just a writer, but an author. A few more credits like this, and maybe she could sell somebody on that novel she'd been tinkering with.

A few sprinkles spilled onto the floor of Terminal A as she headed back to her gate. But they weren't going to bother anybody, especially not her. All she had to do now was sit, relax with her ebook reader, and enjoy her ice cream.

She bit the cherry off its stem. It was so sweet, she could hardly believe it was really fruit.

She started to sit down, but something seemed off. She could have sworn the plane had been sitting at the gate, yet it wasn't there. She could see clear to the tarmac from here. Had she missed something?

She checked her ticket. Yep. This was the wrong gate. The gate for Lora's flight was still a short walk ahead. Her excitement had made it feel shorter than it actually was.

Lora scooped some more ice cream into her mouth, then rushed from the chair past the phone-charging kiosk. A young man with a beard picked up his laptop and scooted out of his chair. When Lora thought he would go left, he went right, and crashed right into her.

The freshly-baked waffle cone flipped over her hand. She made a grab at it, but it was too late. Two flavors of ice cream, a swirl of whipped cream, and hundreds of rainbow-colored sprinkles splattered over the shoulder of a middle-aged man in a button-down shirt, who had been reading his tablet before disaster struck. A scoop of Oreo ice cream rolled onto his screen.

Lora screamed.

The man jumped out of his chair, cursing loudly. Creams both iced and whipped smeared down his shirt and pants. Sprinkles scattered onto the floor. The scoop dropped off his screen. He cursed again. "Why don't you watch where you're going?"

"I'm sorry! It's not my fault! This guy over here—" She pointed next to her, but the man with the beard was long gone. "What? No! Get back here, you coward!"

"Look at this!" the older man said. "These clothes were expensive! Just look! I have to go through a whole flight like this!"

"It was just an accident. I—I—please. How can I make it up to you?"

"I just can't believe this. Is anything going to go right today?"

"Hang on! I'll be right back!" Lora made a mad dash for the ladies' room for some paper towels. She had to wave at the dispenser several times to get enough. Each towel cranked out slowly like a term paper from her inkjet printer. She brought them back to the older man. "Here. I know it's not much." She plucked the cherry stem off his shoulder.

The man grumbled and rubbed the paper towels over himself. It took care of the frozen sludge, but the stains would remain through his whole flight. He used the last few paper towels to wipe the screen of his tablet. He never looked at Lora.

She didn't know what to say to him. She couldn't afford a new outfit for him. She couldn't wash it—there weren't exactly any laundry rooms around here. She could only endure the angry glances he occasionally sent her. At least she didn't have to share a plane with him.

He turned the tablet's screen on. "At least that's working."

And at least she didn't have to pay for a new tablet. That one looked more expensive than her laptop.

On the screen was a text document, double-spaced, in Times New Roman font, with words and sentences crossed out and new ones typed in. From here she could just barely read the header—the author's name, the story title, and the page number.

Her name. Her story title.

"Er... what's that you're working on?" she said. "If, uh, you don't mind me asking."

The man rolled his eyes and shook his head as if he couldn't believe she was still there. "If you must know, I'm an editor, and I was just going over this short story for the journal I work for."

"No kidding." Lora knew she recognized him from somewhere! This was Monroe Cort! The exact editor who had bought her story! She'd seen his picture on the journal's website! But did he have any idea who she was? "You know, I'm a writer."

"Do tell." He still didn't look at her. "Have I seen your work anywhere?"

"I only just sold my first story."

"Oh? Where to?"

She halted the words in her throat. Any further, and she might give herself away. "Somewhere obscure. You wouldn't have heard of it."

"I see. This author here's something of a newcomer herself. Her style's a little flat, but her characters are quite rich. I look forward to meeting her one day."

"Aha." Her gut ached where his words bit her. Style's a little flat?! Nobody in Creative Writing 304 thought so. "Maybe that'll happen pretty soon." She definitely couldn't afford to anger him any further. Maybe he couldn't un-accept her story, but if he realized who she was, his editorial comments could go from harsh to downright murderous.

He wadded the paper towels into a single ball. "Look, let's just forget this ever happened."

"I still want to make it up to you somehow." Lora checked the time on her phone. Still plenty of time before boarding. "I'm getting myself some more ice cream. You want some? My treat."

Monroe Cort sighed. "I'm not exactly in the mood for ice cream."

"I'll get you anything! Candy bar! Chips! Beer!"

"Ah, beer. Now you're talking."

She walked with him to the nearest bar. He requested a craft IPA with an $8 price tag. Lora paid with her credit card, wrote down the tip, and signed the receipt. She hardly drank, so this was the first alcohol she'd bought since she turned 21 in December. Really the least she could do considering what she'd done to Cort's outfit.

"Again, I'm really sorry," Lora said on her way out of the bar. Now she could go get another bowl of ice cream, and this time, she was going to eat it in the food court. Nowhere near a crowded gate or any splatterable editors. "All things considered, have a nice flight."

"And you as well." He glanced at the receipt. "Lora."

Cold, bitter death coursed through her veins. That's right, her name was on that receipt, wasn't it? Her real name. First and last.

Her editor waved at her. "I'll have the comments ready in a few days. See you next issue."

Lora ran off, and hardly looked up from her feet until she stepped off the plane. She only had one thought on her mind the entire flight: I should've used a pseudonym.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Weekly Story #11: Eight Hundred

And now we come to the final story of the first wave. Technically there was one more, but the whole thing fit in the space of a single tweet. From now on, every story will be written after July 2018. This one here was somewhat hard to write, mainly because I couldn't really get my heart into it. The ending changed completely in preparing it for the blog, so maybe it'll turn out better than I thought. The prompt went like this:

  • Sauna - Hostage/Robber - Murder



From what Chris could recall, it had been almost six months since he'd last been to the gym. He'd been thinking of canceling his membership, but decided to give it one more shot. He changed in the locker room and headed toward the treadmill, thinking he'd start off with a night of light jogging. No sense jumping into the deep end first.

Just as he laid his foot on the treadmill, someone tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me."

Chris turned around to find a handgun pointed at his face.

"You're coming with me," the man said, grabbing him by the shoulder. His chin was covered with stubble, his hair ragged, his skin dry and leathery, even though he couldn't have been older than thirty. He had the same manic, ghostly eyes of the addict who had lived in Chris's old apartment complex. The gunman jerked Chris around and shoved him through the aisles of exercise machines. Men and women screamed at the sight of the man's pistol.

"Nothing funny or I blow his brains out!"

"Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God." Chris's arms and legs became rubber. Any false move, any resistance could snuff him right out, and get a lot of people hurt in the process. It might not even matter what he did. All he could do was let this unshaven maniac drag him across the gym.

They passed through the weight room into a tiled corridor, past the restrooms. The air warmed up.

The gunman threw the door open and shoved Chris into the sauna. He fumbled onto a bench, keeping his eye on the gunman, and the gun itself. The other men, mostly middle-aged, tightened their towels and ran like hell through the door.

"All right!" The gunman shoved Chris onto a bench. "You ain't leaving until I get what I want!" He pulled out a cellphone. Keeping his pistol pointed at Chris, he dialed a number and listened. Chris couldn't hear anything from the other end.

"Hey, Denny. Guess what? It's Marko. You know that gym you own?

"Well, guess where I am.

"It's too late, Denny. I got some turd customer of yours here in the sauna, I got a Ruger in my other hand, and if you don't get me my money in one hour, this guy is gonna get wasted. After that, I don't know what I'm gonna do."

He closed the call and spun around to lock the sauna door. The gun stayed pointed, but not necessarily at Chris.

Sweat was building up under Chris's clothes, as if he'd been running uphill on the hottest day in summer. His terror plateaued into dread. His heart still raced, but without any obvious way out, he couldn't see what difference any particular action would make. He decided to talk. "How much does he owe you?"

And the gun pointed straight at him again. Chris flung his hands up. "That asswipe owes me eight hundred," Marko said. "I need that eight hundred!"

Only eight hundred? Didn't seem like much for a ransom demand. "What's it for?"

"Shut up!"

"Just a question."

The gunman stiffened his lip. "I need my fix."

Chris pulled his collar to air out his shirt. "Was this... you know, a drug deal?"

"Drug de--" The gunman started laughing. The gun stayed raised and aimed. "Oh man, you're a riot. You think I'm some kind of tweaked-out junkie, right?"

Chris dug himself further back on the bench.

"I mean, you're right," the gunman chuckled, scratching his neck. "But no, that's the problem. That Denny guy, he's too stiff to ever get near any junk. I painted his house."

"Painted his--" Was it some kind of awkward metaphor?

"I'm a house painter! And I did a god dam good job on his house, too! Didn't miss one spot! But I need that money, you know? I got rent, and electricity, and, and... well, and a problem."

"And he stiffed you on your pay?"

Marko's gun trembled. He nodded. "That stupid piece of shit. Like, I know I need help. I want rehab, but I can't afford it, you know? I ain't above working for a little charity. But Denny? He thinks he can get a free paint job from some druggie. Well, not this druggie!"

"Okay, for what it's worth," Chris said, "whoever this guy is, he sounds like a jerk. But you're not doing yourself any favors."

"Screw favors. I just gotta do something."

"And do you really think you're leaving here without either a pair of handcuffs or a bullet in your chest?"

A new burst of sweat gushed out. That was a lot more than Chris had meant to say.

But Marko said nothing. Beads of sweat trailed down his face, which relaxed to something almost wistful. Every possibility seemed equally likely, and equally acceptable to him.

He took his phone back out and checked the screen. It wasn't ringing or rumbling--he must have had it on silent--but he swiped it to answer. "Yo. Oh, a negotiator, eh? Well, maybe you can talk some sense into that Denny Warner bastard. All I want is the eight hundred dollars he owes me. It oughta be pocket change for him!

"Yeah? Well, let him know, when I'm done with the hostage, I'm coming for him.

"What, you think I'm bluffing?" Marko pointed his gun in the air and fired.

Chris curled up and wrapped his arms over his head. Dust and shattered fell by Marko's feet. "Next time it'll be for real. Yo, hostage! Tell 'em you're okay."

Marko thrust his phone at Chris. "I--" But as soon as he saw Marko's screen, he no longer knew what to say. It still showed all the icons from the main screen. No call timer or anything. There was no one on the line.

"Well?" Marko said.

"I--I'm fine."

Marko shook the phone. "Well? Give 'em your name!"

"I--My name is Chris Reymond. I'm unharmed."

Marko held the phone up to his ear. "Yeah. Yeah.


"All right. Now we're talking. Yeah, eight hundred. Drop it in front of the men's locker room.

"Proof, huh? Okay, fine. But I am staying put until you deliver the cash. If you don't bring it, then I... Whatever. I'll end it, right here." Marko lowered his phone. "Yo, you can go."

"Whoa, hang on. You don't have to--"

Marko lowered his gun. "I'm telling you, get outta here."

Chris staggered to the door and unlatched the lock and stumbled out to the hallway.

Two armed police officers lurked at the corner. They both trained their guns on him. Chris shot his arms in the air. "Don't shoot! I'm the hostage!"

One of the cops, a middle-aged woman, relaxed her arms, and nudged her partner so he would as well. They waved Chris forward. When he joined up with them, the woman asked, "Are there any other hostages?"

"No," Chris said. "He's alone. No accomplices, either."

"But he is armed?"

"Yeah, had a gun on me the whole time. Listen, he's a drug addict, and I think he's suicidal, and he thinks he's been talking to a negotiator. He needs help."

"Well, we know he ain't exactly playing with a full deck. We've been tracking Marko Darren for a murder on the other side of town. You're lucky to get out of there."

Chris stood with a deathly chill inside him while the woman crept toward the sauna. The other officer took his arm and led him out to the entrance. The entire building was surrounded by police cars, ambulances, and a few news vans, as well as some pedestrians and gym regulars. Another officer pulled Chris into the crowd and took him to an ambulance, where an EMT gave him a bottle of water. He was thirsty as hell, and he poured the water straight down his throat.

A plainclothes detective came up to him, peppering him with questions about the gunman.

"Hey, hey, hey," Chris said, "Before I say anything, I just wanna know, who did Marko kill?"

"As it happens," the detective said, "it was the owner of this gym. Denny Warner. Damn shame, too. Seems like it was just a house painting job that went wrong."

Chris took a large gulp of his water. He'd come close to death, all as part of a drama inside another man's head. Somewhere in there, Marko was demanding ransom from someone he'd already killed. For all anyone knew, Denny had intended to pay the eight hundred after all.

"Is there anything you can tell us?" the detective said.

Chris gazed over at the gym. "He's suicidal, and I think he's hallucinating. Is he going to get any help?"

Before the detective could give any answer, an officer up in front gave a signal, and SWAT officers stormed into the building.

The detective said, "I guess we're about to find out."

Monday, September 10, 2018

Weekly Story #10: A Mighty Squeak

  • Convention booth - Bear/Cub - Experiment

This one was kind of a fun goof. I took as an opportunity to try writing something like a silent protagonist. Normally I only see that in video games (Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger), and I did have to give the main character one line, but it was an interesting experiment.



There was one booth at the tech convention that especially caused a stir. To the left of the people that scan your face to 3-D print a sculpture stood a man in a ringmaster's costume. He stood behind an aquarium he had filled with soil, grass, and small plants. A sign hung off the front of the table proclaiming "THE WORLD'S SMALLEST BEARS." I left the table promoting some new aerial drones and walked up for a better look. Two children, a boy and a girl, were gazing inside the aquarium.

"Look, I see it," the boy said.

"Oh wow, there it is!" the girl said. "It looks so real."

The ringmaster leaned forward with a grin that lifted up his carefully sculpted mustache. "Thats because it is." He saw me and a few other passersby. "Come one come all." He spoke with more of a leisurely lilt than I expected from someone in his outfit. "I'm sure you've seen some incredible scientific marvels today, but none as spectacular as this."

"Can I hold it?" the girl said, ignoring me.

"Why certainly, my dear." The ringmaster reached into the aquarium, and picked up a small bundle of black fur. Considering the convention I was at, my first thought was that this was supposed to be a toy tribble. But then he lowered the bundle into the little girl's hands, and the head of a bear stretched out of the bundle and looked up at her face.

"Wow." The girl held it closer. The bear paced on all fours across her palms. She adjusted her hands to support it.

The boy ran a finger down the bear's back. The bear stood up and hollered, but its voice came out as only a squeak. Then it plopped back on its bottom.

"It's so cute," the girl said. "How did you do it?"

"It's something I've been experimenting with for a while," the ringmaster said. He lifted a black case onto the table to the left of the aquarium and opened it up. It contained a device with a sleek, smooth shape with rings around the conical barrel, like the kind of toy ray gun you might have seen in the 50's. "The first ever real-life, functioning shrink ray."

He had to be putting us on... and yet, that was a bear.

"Can I hold it?" the boy said.

"Oh, this is no toy," the ringmaster said. And I think it's time to put Mama Bear back. The cubs get antsy if she's away too long." The ringmaster pointed to a pair of tiny fuzzballs wrestling each other under one of the plants.

"Oh my gosh!" The girl was holding the mama bear as if it were a hamster. "Those are your babies? Here you go. Back to your family." She stood on her tiptoes, reached over the top edge of the aquarium, and placed the mother bear next to her cubs.

The bear wandered over to the cubs and started lying down close to them. The cubs noticed her and resumed their wrestling.

The boy pointed at the ray gun. "You really shrank them down using that?"

"Of course." The ringmaster picked the gun up out of the case. "And I'll be happy to offer a live demonstration." He turned around, pointed the gun at the chair behind him, and fired. A hazy beam emanated from the tip of the barrel. As soon as it touched the seat, the entire chair began to slowly shrink. He picked it up in one hand, and once it was small enough, set it on the table to the right of the aquarium. Soon it was so small it could only support a Barbie doll. Then, a G.I. Joe. Then, a Lego man.

The girl plucked the chair off the table. She and her brother both went "Whoa."

Finally I had a question. "Where did you get the bears?"

"They're on loan." The ringmaster's grin flattened a little. "From the Louisville Zoo."

"Interesting." I watched a fly hover down into the aquarium, and land a short distance from the cubs. The mama bear launched herself toward the fly, which zipped right out and fled over the crowd to some other part of the convention hall. I couldn't believe a zoo would let anyone do something like this.

Come to think of it, hadn't I heard something in the news about bears at a zoo recently?

"How do you feed them?" the boy said.

"I drop in a bite of fish every day," the ringmaster said. "A little bit of salmon can go a long way with three of them."

I brought up the news app on my phone. Hadn't there been some story involving bears recently? Nobody had died, but something had happened.

"How long have they been in there?" the boy said.

"A few weeks," the ringmaster said. "They love their new environment."

I kept scrolling through headlines. Not the one about the new polar bear exhibit... Not the almost-mauling out west...

"What happened to the extra mass?" the girl said, still holding the miniature chair. "If all you did was change the density, shouldn't they still be the same weight?"

The ringmaster's mustache twiched. "That's a very big question from such a small girl."

"Excuse me?"

"Hoo boy," the boy said. "Better be careful. She won the blue ribbon at the state elementary science fair. And she reads all the time."

"That's right." The girl nodded with each word.

"Ah, haha, forgive my presumption." The ringmaster propped one hand on the table, his other hand still holding the ray gun. "Where are your parents, anyway?"

I found it. Exactly the headline I was looking for. From a Louisville newspaper, to boot.


Police Baffled.

The article described the animals as black bears that originally came from a preserve in British Columbia. Investigators found a hole in the zoo's main fence, but it was only big enough for a person—definitely not a fully-grown bear.

I looked at the black fur on the bears in the aquarium, then the oleaginous grin on the ringmaster's face. Something told me these bears were not really "on loan."

The girl was still trying to get a straight answer from the ringmaster about the bears' molecular density.

I coughed to get the ringmaster's attention and then showed him my screen.

His oily grin became an oily frown. "You're not suggesting what I think you are. Are you?"

"What is it? Lemme see." The girl grabbed my arm and twisted the phone toward her. "Mama bear and cubs..." She gasped.

"You stole them?" the boy said.

"No, no, this was all coordinated with the zoo," the ringmaster said. "One of the zookeepers must not have been told, and wound up kicking up a fuss over nothing. I'm sure our friend here must have missed the article that clarifies matters."

"I knew you were up to something." The girl jabbed her finger toward the ringmaster. "You crook! You thief!"

"Why are you shrinking bears, anyway?" the boy said. "What do you really want to do with that shrink ray?"

"Hey everybody!" the girl yelled. "This guy's using stolen bears for some mad science experiment!"

The ringmaster growled in frustration. "Well, if you won't recognize my invention's potential..." He pointed the ray gun at the girl. "Try it for yourself!"

Before any thought could cross my mind, I rammed into the little girl, knocking her into her brother. The hazy beam struck my right hip. At first it only felt like the heat of a hair dryer, but soon my whole body began to tingle. Heavy smoke filled my head. I couldn't seem to keep my legs under me.

The children both screamed, "SECURITY!" as I toppled toward the boy. He'd become a head taller than me.

The ringmaster shot out of the booth, shoving the table aside. The ray gun fell from the ringmaster's hand and clattered on the floor.

The boy hoisted me into his arms. His hands smelled like peanut butter.

The aquarium teetered on the edge, and began to tilt. The bears inside tried to run against the slope. The girl stooped down and managed to catch the aquarium.

The boy—who could now hold me in his hands—set me on the tabletop. There I sat and watched the giant boy help his giant little sister lift the aquarium back onto stable ground. The entire table trembled under me like an earthquake, and I fell onto my back.

I tried to lift myself up, still feeling like the world was tilt-a-whirling around me. The bears were only a short distance away, on top of what seemed to be a ledge just a little above me. The mama shook some dirt off and checked on her cubs. None of them seemed to have been harmed.

The mama bear looked at me. I tried to push myself away, to lift myself up, anything to get me out of her sight, but my whole body had locked up. She barreled forward, ready to launch herself off the ledge—

—and her head thudded against the glass.

The mama bear stumbled back as I finally got to my feet. She belted out a mighty squeak at me. The glass was thick enough that she couldn't possibly bust through.

"Are you okay?" The girl's voice pounded down from above. I couldn't tell if she was talking to me or the bears.

"We really owe you one," the boy said. Listening to him was like standing in the middle of a monster truck rally. "Don't worry, security's after that carnival guy. Hopefully they'll figure out how to get the bears back to Louisville. And check it out—I managed to get this!"

He held up the ray gun, its rings still glowing.

"We'll get you back to normal, lickety-split!" the girl said.

"Now let's see..." The boy turned a knob on the side, then pointed the barrel of the ray gun directly at me. I think he spoke for everyone when he said, "I hope I know what I'm doing."

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Weekly Story #9: A Keeper Worth Keeping

  • Mancave - Sailor/Lighthouse Keeper - Dejected

Not really sure I have much to say about this one. I wasn't aware until I started writing that most lighthouses are fully automated now, and don't even have keepers. 


The lighthouse stood at a ten-minute walk from the beach, and a half-hour walk from the harbor where Kyle had landed. He'd planned on going on a bar crawl with his fellow sailors tonight, then coming back here to crash with Daniel. Most of the lighthouse's operations were automated, and most of the building surrounding it was unused. Daniel mostly served as a tour guide; with his experience as an electrician, he performed some of the maintenance. But Daniel needed Kyle tonight. He'd just been dumped.

Kyle strolled toward the lighthouse with his knapsack slung over his shoulder. Daniel was smoking on a deck overlooking the beach. "Door's open." He spoke as if he were lifting a refrigerator. Yeah, he was miserable, all right.

Kyle carried his bag in and laid it by the door. To his right, a staircase spiraled up the tower. To his left, the main building stretched out with the original keeper's quarters, kitchen, and bathroom. Staying here was going to save him some good money for a hotel room.

Daniel came down from the deck, his shoulders slumped.

"How you holding up?" Kyle said.

"Oh, you know, could be better. The room's this way."

Kyle followed him down a hall past the kitchen. Dishes and pots and pans were piled up in the sink. Not that Kyle was much better about that, but Daniel usual took care of himself a little better than this. The room Kyle was sleeping in had once been the lighthouse workers' break room, and now was basically Daniel's mancave. Daniel opened the door. "Oh no. I knew I forgot something."

Kyle peeked in. And he thought the kitchen was a mess.

"Sorry," Daniel said. "Real sorry. Make yourself at home. I still need to pick up in here." Daniel went in and shut the door behind him, leaving Kyle out in the hall.

All this for a woman Daniel met, dated, and broke up with in the whole time Kyle had been out at sea.

Kyle leaned on the wall, waiting for Daniel to finish. Daniel always had a tendency to get overly invested in women, even to the point of self-destruction. When he dated a stoner, he was high about 90% of the time. When he dated a mountain climber, he wore himself out on rock faces. This latest one—Daniel never bothered to learn her name—seemed fairly average. Their Facebook posts were mostly dinners and walks on the beach.

Kyle knocked on the door. "Need any help in there?"

"I've got it. Just another minute."

Kyle didn't hear much going on. Was Daniel trying to stall or something? Kyle opened the door.

Papers, wrappers, and old pizza boxes lay scattered across the floor, on top of the sofa, over the coffee table. Movie posters hung loose on the walls—they were the same movies Daniel bragged about seeing with her on Facebook.

And Daniel, he was kneeling on the floor, as if in prayer, gazing at a framed photo of her. He set it down on its back. "Everything here reminds me of her. I meant to clear it all out, but..."

"But it would be like admitting she's gone, right?" Kyle knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You'll get through it, buddy. You always do."

"You must think I'm pathetic."

Kyle wouldn't have said it, but he couldn't deny what he saw. "There's always next time. I'll help you clean up. We'll toss out whatever we have to."

"All right." Daniel got up and went to the kitchen and came back with a box of garbage bags. They picked up every empty chip bag and every pizza box and stuffed it in. There were receipts everywhere. Daniel laid them on the shelf below the TV.

And Kyle pulled down the movie posters. "Did you even like these movies in the first place?"

"I liked the one with Keanu Reeves in it. The rest were eh."

"Thought so." Kyle left the Keanu movie alone, but wadded the rest up and threw them in the bag.

With all that done, he pulled the foldaway bed from the couch and got the sheets from the closet. "All right, I think we're all set. You hungry?"

"I could eat," Daniel said. "I was just about to cook some pasta."

"Forget it. I'm taking you out. There's this new club a few blocks away by the beach I've been wanting to check out."

"The Palm Grove? I went there for lunch once."

"With her?"

"No, solo. It wasn't half bad."

"Then it's perfect," Kyle said. "By the time we're done, you'll forget all about her." As they headed out the front door of the lighthouse, Kyle looked up at the tower. "It'll probably be dark by the time we get back. You think it'll be okay?"

"It'll be fine," Daniel said. "It's on a timer." He'd stumbled into this job during college, and had never managed to snag a new one. And it was clearly not doing him any good.

"So I've been wondering," Kyle said. "Have you worked on your resume lately?"

"Not lately," Daniel said. "Why do you ask?"

Because Kyle had a bad feeling that as long as Daniel worked in that lighthouse, he'd always be looking for himself through someone else. And as long as he used women to define himself, he'd never become a man worth keeping. "Just crossed my mind." He could help Daniel work on a new one later on. For now, though, it was time for some fun. "Onward to the Palm Grove."