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Olivia reached out of bed to wipe back her daughter’s sweaty hair. Crocodile tears streaked Becca’s face. One small hand clutched a crumpled yellow blankie, the other held fast to Olivia’s arm in what was quickly becoming her favorite get-out-of-bed trick. Four times tonight Becca had woken her parents up with fears of a monster. Four times she’d been sent back to bed with strict orders not to return. But here she was again, clambering up the side of the bed like a scared little monkey.

Olivia deftly pried the comforter out of her daughter’s fingers with a practiced motion. “No, Becca. Big girls have to sleep in bed themselves. …

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Granny Anne’s sterling silver teaspoon clinked around the rim of her china cup. What had once been a ring of blue footed songbirds circling the rim of her cup had been reduced to a thin blue smear from repeated stirs. Twenty one. Twenty two, she counted each stir. The secret to a good cup of tea in the morning was a single sugar cube and exactly forty-seven stirs. Too little and the tea didn’t have time to breath. Too much and you would beat all of the passion out of it.

Around her, the kitchen sparkled from her early Saturday morning cleaning efforts. Sunlight from the window reflected off her freshly mopped yellow linoleum floors. The only thing she hadn’t been able to figure out was the wobbly kitchen table. Grant had always had that knack of knowing the exact amount of matchbooks to put under the table leg to make it even stable, but he hadn’t been around in years. …

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Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

Howard used the back of his leather glove to wipe the sweat dripping off his face. The breeze that had kept him cool all afternoon had dried up sometime before, leaving him to bake alone in the heat of the setting sun. He grunted and another shovelful of dirt flew through the air. Duke had tried to help him dig when he’d first started. Now, hours later, the dog stretched out lazily on the grass nearby. His eyes were closed, but his ears darted towards the sound of every shovel strike. Howard didn’t need the help. …

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Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Michael took another sip of his drink, fighting to swallow the sickeningly sweet fruit cocktail. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop glancing at the black leather stool beside him. Everything else about Sam’s felt exactly the same. The wooden bar top still had the same sloppy initials carved into it. Drunken sports fans chattered through the final minutes of the Sounders game playing on the TVs mounted above the bar. A few couples danced to a fast paced pop song blaring from the digital jukebox a few feet behind him. He took another deep sip of his drink and rubbed his temples between his fingers. The stool looked exactly the same as it had every other time he’d been here. …

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Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

My muscles ache with the strain of patience. I lean back against the machinery behind me, and slowly massage warmth back into my legs. We’ve been crouched here on the rooftop long enough that a few of the newer hopefuls have already left. Only the loud thrum of heavy machinery powering the building below covers the grumbling of those remaining. Searchlights sweep the street below, alert for anyone breaking curfew this late. Like anyone would be stupid enough to get caught.

An hour has already passed since I’ve gotten here and Saint still hasn’t said a word. He paces in front of us with heavy footsteps, a lumbering colossus of a man who takes left turns in stages. Buried under his stained parka and heavy footsteps lies fists of iron and pearls of wisdom. My back still remembers the lessons he’d taught in his quest to force the magic out of us. One by one, he stares into our eyes, waiting to see the spark that tells him our training is finished. The others cower under his gaze, anxious to avoid fighting tonight at all costs. My heart beats fast with the thought he might not, that I might be forced to spend another month training with nothing to show for it. …

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Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

“Are you sure I’m not on the list?”

The sharp faced PTA member checking IDs at the foldout table gave a sigh, but made a show of flipping through her clipboard of names anyway. “Darian, Daniel, Darshaun… No David’s I’m afraid.” Her tongue clucked disapprovingly. “Unfortunately, a reservation is required to attend. Strict guidelines from the state this year.”

Dave’s stomach tightened. Of all the places he’d not been on the list, his own high school reunion had to rank among the most depressing. “I’m sure I registered. You guys sent out the messages…” He coughed to clear the sudden tightness in his throat. …

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Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Rick slumped alone in a booth at his local dive bar, tracing the small figures carved into the wooden table with a finger. Over at the bar a group of twenty-somethings in knock off jerseys cheered as the Heat sunk a desperation three point shot. Rick buried his head in his hoodie and did his best to ignore them. At his apartment he wouldn’t have to deal with the steadily growing Saturday night crowd. He also wouldn’t have had any beer.

A bright green purse flew into the other side of the booth, followed quickly by Katy sliding in after it. Her blue work uniform bore the words “ALLEY CAT LANES” stenciled in block yellow letters. Ever since Rick had been barred from entering the Alley Cat, the two had taken to hanging out outside of the bowling alley. Over the last week they’d watched most of Tarantino’s full discography on a couch in his apartment. …

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Photo by Jorik Kleen on Unsplash

Rick drew in the scent of fresh lane wax mixed with greasy pizza slices and shoe deodorizer, and then exhaled, casting out the last of his pre-tournament jitters. Or at least he tried. A few warm-up frames were usually enough to calm his nerves, but today he’d already bowled a full game and his feet still refused to stop tapping out a nervous beat against the wooden boards. After months of practice and dozens of missed dinners with friends, everything came down to how he bowled over the next few hours. No pressure.

The restless energy carried throughout the crowd packed into the normally quiet bowling alley. Other anxious bowlers went through their own warm up routines or got last minute advice from friends and coaches. Among them Rick spotted Tom, his own former coach, holding court in a small group of other bowlers. Despite the early afternoon start time, one of Tom’s hands balanced a half empty can of Budweiser on top of his broad stomach. A week ago Rick would have been standing there with him, swapping stories that never happened and making side bets on who would roll what. Now the sight made his chest tighten and his stomach churn. …

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Photo by Jorik Kleen on Unsplash

Rick took a deep breath, holding it at the top for a single beat like he had done a hundred times before. Consistency was the key to being a good bowler. He stepped off with his left, right, left, his right foot kicking out behind him as he felt the smooth release of the bowling ball as it flew down the lane. The center pin was all that remained standing after his first shot. His shot was off-center, barely nicking the pin as it sped passed. The pin wobbled back and forth slightly on it’s narrow base, twisting and turning in place. Rick couldn’t resist jumping up and down in the hope that the tiniest vibration from his landing would help force the pin over. …

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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Tom stabbed his index finger on his phone hard enough that the screen flexed underneath. Bright sunshine, a rare occurrence in the dreary winter months, shone down on the wooden bench he sat on. Children yelled happily and ran around bronze statues showcasing heroic firemen. Patios from nearby restaurants echoed with the laughter of worker drones having a cheeky lunch-time drink. None of could brighten his mood today. Tom looked back down at his phone with a scowl. Two whole weeks waiting for that email and it had lasted all of fifteen seconds in his inbox. Maybe he’d misread it. Maybe? …

Daniel Kirschner

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