A Suit Jacket and a Flower (Fiction)

“Britney, what’s this I hear about you not going to the prom with Marty?” I asked, as I hurried into the kitchen with an armload of groceries. I set the bags on the counter and turned to glare at my daughter. She sat at the kitchen table with her best friend Samantha, a bag of potato chips between them. Raucous music blared from nearby Bluetooth speakers. I reached over and switched them off. “Samantha, I need to have a talk with Britney now. Would you please go home?”

“Mom, she and I were going to look at magazines to find a hairstyle for me for Saturday,” said Britney.

“Saturday is just what we need to talk about,” I said.

Samantha, looking embarrassed, rose and hurried out the back door, calling, “See you later.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” asked Britney, turning to face me, a look of hatred in her eyes.

“I should ask you the same question. Imagine my surprise when Diane cornered me, as I was getting the groceries out of the car, and told me you’d just turned Marty down as a prom date after you’d already promised you’d go with him. How could you do such a thing? Marty’s deeply hurt.”

“So what,” said Britney, retrieving a potato chip from the bag and popping it into her mouth. After crunching for a few seconds, she said, “I changed my mind. I found another boy I like better. There are plenty of girls who don’t have dates yet. With three days until the prom, Marty will find someone else.”

“Who is this other boy? Is it some punk who wears a nose ring and greased hair and rides a motorcycle?”

“T.J. is not a punk. Yes, he wears a nose ring and rides a motorcycle, but he’s one of the coolest kids in school. It’s an honor to be asked out by him. I couldn’t pass it up.”

“Honey, you’ve been friends with Marty since you were in first grade. How long have you known T.J.?”

“Oh, about a couple of months,” Britney answered, grabbing another chip.

“You’ve known him for a couple of months. Why haven’t you invited him over?”

“You wouldn’t like him. He lives with his brother who owns Jake’s Burger Joint, and he doesn’t want to go to college. He can’t afford to go, anyway.”

“Jake’s Burger Joint, that sleazy diner on Fifteenth Street?”

“It’s not a sleazy diner. A lot of kids hang out there after school. Jake serves hamburgers, French fries, and milk shakes. Oh, I meant to tell you. I’ve decided not to go to college.”

“What?”

“After graduation, T.J. is going to work with his brother at the restaurant. I thought I’d stay home and find a job. Maybe Samantha and I will get an apartment.”

“Wait a minute. You’ve only known Samantha a couple of months, and you’re talking about moving in together. I thought she had a good head on her shoulders.”

“She does. She lives with her sister who runs The Hair Factory. That’s where I’m getting my hair done. She gave us some magazines to look at so we could choose what styles we want.”

“The Hair Factory. What kind of a name is that for a beauty shop? What happened to Alicia and Claire? Why don’t they come around anymore? They’re nice girls.”

“Nice girls who plan to go to college and get good jobs.” My daughter’s mocking tone made me want to slap her. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you right now,” she said, getting to her feet and picking up a nearby pile of magazines. “I’m going upstairs to look through these myself and find a hairstyle for Saturday.” She hurried out of the room, and a minute later, I heard her bedroom door slam.

I collapsed into a nearby chair and buried my head in my hands. Since I’d been promoted to junior partner in my law firm, I’d been too busy to notice any changes in Britney except for the fact that she no longer hung out with Marty, Alicia, or Claire. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her report card. Had her grades suffered, hampering her chances of winning a scholarship to the university for the following year? Had she already been denied?

I didn’t know how, but things were going to change. For starters, Britney would go to the prom with Marty. I formulated a plan in my mind, as I marched to the phone to call Diane. When she answered, I told her everything I’d heard from Britney, including her unwillingness to go to college.

“I’m not surprised, Carol. Marty says he’s seen her hanging out with a bunch of kids he doesn’t recognize down by the creek after school. Maybe I should have said something sooner.”

“No, it’s my fault. I’ve been working too many hours and not paying enough attention to Britney, but that’s going to change. I’m going to figure out a way to cut back my hours. If I have to, I’ll quit the firm and open my own practice. In the meantime, I think I can fix it so Britney will go to the prom with Marty. He hasn’t asked another girl, has he?”

“I doubt it. Britney just gave him the bad news today. He’s still pretty depressed.”

After I got off the phone and put the groceries away, I sat at the kitchen table with paper and pencil. My daughter’s handwriting was easy to imitate. “Dear Marty, I’ve changed my mind again. The guy who asked me to the prom isn’t really my type. I didn’t realize this until after he’d asked me and I said yes to him and no to you. I hope you’ll forgive me. I’d really like to go with you to the prom. If you’re still free, you don’t need to reply. Just pick me up at eight. I’ll be waiting. Yours truly, Britney.”

I put the letter in an envelope, sealed it, and addressed it to Marty. As I walked next door in the gathering dusk, I saw lights on in the living room. Hoping no one could see me, I crouched, inching towards the mailbox at the bottom of the front steps. After the deed was done, I slunk home.

The next evening when I arrived home after another long day at the office, Britney and Samantha were in the living room watching television. They sat on the couch, the bag of chips between them and magazines scattered everywhere. “Britney, what time is this boy picking you up Saturday?” I asked.

“Mom, his name is T.J.,” said Britney, as Samantha giggled. “He’s picking me up at seven.”

“I thought the prom didn’t start until eight,” I said.

“It doesn’t,” said Britney. “We’re going to a party at his friend’s house first.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I suppose you’re going to ask me if his parents are going to be there. Get real, Mom. I’m almost eighteen. I can take care of myself.”

“You’re right,” I said. “If you want to ruin your life, that’s up to you.” It was my turn to exit.

When I reached my room upstairs, I flopped onto the bed and breathed a sigh of relief. When Diane answered the phone, I said, “The other boy is planning to pick up Britney at seven. In the note, I told Marty to pick her up at eight. If I can keep her in her room until Marty arrives, this should work.”

“When Marty found your letter today, he was thrilled. I don’t think I’ve seen him this happy in weeks.”

Saturday dawned bright and clear. I was pleasantly surprised when Britney returned from the beauty shop. Her long blonde hair was arranged in simple curls. “It looks very nice, honey,” I said.

Britney was sulking. “I wanted purple hair. Samantha came to school yesterday with purple hair. She said Doreen did it. Purple is T.J.’s favorite color, but Doreen said it wouldn’t be fashionable for me.”

“Who’s Doreen?”

“She’s Samantha’s sister who runs The Hair Factory. What could I say?” I was relieved that Marty wouldn’t have to be embarrassed at the prospect of taking a girl with purple hair to the prom.

At a quarter of seven that evening, I knocked on Britney’s door. “Come in,” she said with a note of disgust in her voice.

She wore the long white dress with a high neck and long sleeves I bought her a couple of weeks earlier. She wanted something strapless, but since I was paying for it, what could she say? “Honey, you look beautiful,” I said, tears brimming in my eyes.

“Whatever,” said Britney, jamming her feet into the white sandals I also bought her.

“Here’s a flower to pin on your dress,” I said, producing it from my pocket. Realizing I’d forgotten to order her corsage, I’d called the florist and requested one purple violet. It wouldn’t match the pink carnation Marty would wear, but maybe it would cheer her up. She’d been gloomy ever since her return from The Hair Factory.

Britney’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, as she gazed at the violet. “It’s purple! You brought me a purple flower! Mom, I love you!” She flung her arms around my neck for the first time in weeks. I held her, as we laughed and cried. “I didn’t think you liked T.J.”

“I haven’t met him yet. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought. I may have over-reacted the other day. If you stay in your room until I call you, that will give me a chance to get to know him.”

Britney wrinkled her nose. “You won’t like him.”

“Maybe I will. It’s hard to formulate an opinion without meeting him. Besides, this will give you an opportunity to make an entrance.”

“Make an entrance?” she said, giving me a look of incredulity.

“Remember last year when you wanted to be Miss Teen-aged America after seeing the pageant on TV? Pretend you’re in the competition. Walk as gracefully as you can down the stairs and into the living room, as if you were walking on stage at the pageant, and T.J. were one of the judges. Boys like to see girls make entrances. He’ll be awestruck when he sees you in your white prom gown with your purple flower and your white sandals.”

“If he were the judge, he’d pick me, wouldn’t he?” said Britney with a dreamy look in her eye.

“Yes, he would,” I said, as I pinned the flower to her dress and hugged her.

At ten minutes after seven, the doorbell rang, and I was there to answer it. I wasn’t surprised to see the young man who wore a blue blazer over a white t-shirt and black slacks. What stunned me was the sight of Samantha standing next to him. She wore a purple sleeveless dress that showed too much cleavage, purple sandals, purple earrings, and yes, her hair was purple. She said, “Hi, T.J. and I came by to pick up Britney for the prom.”

“Mom, is that T.J.?” called Britney from the top of the stairs.

I turned and said, “Yes, I think you’d better come down.”

T.J. put an arm around Samantha’s waist, and she giggled. Britney, not bothering with a graceful entrance, hurried down the stairs and stopped short. Her eyes widened, and her face grew pale, as she gaped at the couple in the front hall. “What’s going on?” she asked in a quavering voice. “I thought T.J. was taking me to the prom.”

“Not anymore,” said Samantha with a grin. “He asked me yesterday.”

“That’s why Doreen wouldn’t give me purple hair,” said Britney. “She said it wasn’t fashionable.”

“No, it’s not for you,” said Samantha. “but it sure looks good on me, doesn’t it?”

“No dear,” I said. “It makes you look like trash.”

Samantha gasped, and Britney said, “Mom’s right. You’re a slut. I thought you were my best friend.”

“I am,” said Samantha, looking abashed. “T.J. was all for standing you up, but I told him the least we could do was offer you a ride.”

“Well, you can take your ride and shove it,” said Britney. “and you can take this, too.” She ripped the purple violet from her dress and flung it at T.J. It hit him in the nose before landing on the floor at his feet. “Get out of my house.” She gestured towards the open door.

As they turned to leave, Samantha said, “Who needs you, anyway? You’re nothing but a snob.”

I closed and locked the door behind them, turned, and took my weeping daughter into my arms. “You’re right,” she said through her tears. “T.J.’s a punk, and Samantha is trash. I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school, and I’m not going to this stupid prom.”

“Oh yes you are. You’re going with Marty.”

“What?”

“Honey, let’s sit down.”

Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang. “Hello Marty,” I said to the young man standing on the threshold. “Don’t you look handsome, and you brought Britney a corsage.”

“Yes,” said Marty, sporting a grin from ear to ear. “Mom wasn’t sure if Britney had one, so I brought this over.”

“How sweet. Come on in. She’ll be down in a minute.” Marty followed me into the living room, as Britney made her entrance. Smiling, she approached Marty and extended her hand. Marty took it and said, “Hi Britney. I’m glad you changed your mind again. I’m really looking forward to tonight, aren’t you?”

***

Note: the above story appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. Click below to hear me sing the song that inspired it.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

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Dream Closet (Fiction)

Monique let herself into David’s apartment with the key she still had, although they broke up the week before. She patted her stomach, as a wave of doubt hit her. Yes, she was doing the right thing, she told herself. David was the father of her child, but he was too down to earth. An accountant who made a lot of money, he would probably expect her to be a stay at home wife and mother.

On the other hand, Mike was cool, a singer/songwriter with a band who hoped to reach the top of the bestseller list one day. If she married him, he wouldn’t care what she did as long as she made him happy in bed. If he recorded an album and went on tour, she could travel with him, and that would be fun for her and the baby. Now, all she needed to do was collect the picture David refused to return and leave the key, and she would be done with him.

The photo still sat on the mantle. It was taken several months earlier while David and Monique were on the beach. Monique gave her cell phone to a passing tourist who agreed to snap the shot. As a surprise for David’s birthday, she had it printed and framed.

She picked it up and studied it one last time, her in her purple bikini with long dark hair cascading in waves down her back, and him in his black swimming trunks, as they embraced on the sand. She was about to put it in her purse and replace it with the key when she was startled to hear David’s voice in the hall outside the apartment followed by a woman’s voice she thought she recognized. She set the photo back on the mantle, made a mad dash for the living room closet, and stepped inside, closing the door behind her just as the key turned in the lock on the apartment door.

Enveloped by coats in the closet’s dark interior, she heard the unmistakable voice of her best friend Lynne. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. All I wanted was to tell you the truth about Monique and the baby.”

Monique couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Lynne was supportive the week before when Monique told her what she planned to do. “Oh, that’s so hard for you,” Lynne said. That was what she always said when Monique was going through tough times.

“Don’t think about that now,” said David. “Sit down. Take a load off. I’ll fix you a drink. What would you like?”

“Oh, just a Scotch and soda is fine, and don’t mind if I do take off these shoes. My feet are killing me.”

Monique heard ice clinking in glasses and other sounds that told her David was making drinks in the kitchen. “You really ought to get rid of that picture,” said Lynne.

“You mean the one on the mantle of me and Monique? I think I’ll hold onto it for a while.”

“David, she lied to you about your child. I don’t know why I’ve been friends with her for so long. All she wants to do is have a good time. She has no sense of responsibility whatsoever.”

Monique strained in an attempt to see more through the keyhole and barely made out David coming into the living room with two glasses. “You’re right,” he said, as he set them on the coffee table. “Now, come here, you silly goofball.”

“Not with her smiling down on us from your mantle,” said Lynne. Monique heard a resounding crash.

“Oh well, I didn’t like that picture, anyway,” said David.

Tears filled Monique’s eyes, as she heard the sound of the frame’s pieces being swept into a dust pan. “How about some music?” he said a minute later.

“Great idea,” said Lynne.

The strains of “Only Time” by Enya soon filled the room. It was playing on the stereo the night David proposed to Monique a month earlier. David knew that and so did Lynne. She couldn’t see them through the keyhole and assumed they were snuggled on the couch with their drinks.

“So how did such a sensible woman like you end up being friends with a worldly girl like Monique?” asked David.

“I’m not that unworldly,” said Lynne with a laugh. “I like to go to clubs once in a while. Remember? Monique introduced us at The Jaybird where Mike Evans and his band were playing.”

“That’s right,” said David with a chuckle. “What was I thinking?”

“Monique and I have been friends since childhood. She’s changed over the years, and I didn’t see that until last week when she told me she wanted to marry Mike even though you’re her baby’s father. She says you’re too conservative, and Mike’s in the moment. I guess I can’t blame her. She had a rough childhood. Her dad left without a word when she was about five or six, and her mother’s an alcoholic.”

“Monique told me all that. You’d think she would want her kid to have a more stable family. What kind of life is this kid going to have with neither parent holding a steady job, waiting for that big recording contract that might never come?”

“I don’t know,” said Lynne with a sigh.

“Well, I’m not about to stand by and let that happen, especially if the kid is mine. I have an appointment with a lawyer tomorrow morning. I don’t know what I can do legally, but I’m sure as hell gonna find out.”

Monique gasped, then clamped a hand over her mouth, hoping she hadn’t been heard. ”There should be a way you can force her to have a blood test to determine if the baby is yours,” said Lynne. “Who knows? It could be Mike’s. Perish the thought.”

“Let’s not talk about it anymore,” said David. “Dance with me.”

The couple came into view through the keyhole. Monique gazed in fascination, as their bodies swayed to the music. Lynne said, “Oh David, I’ve always loved you since the night Monique introduced us. I didn’t want to steal you away from her until now.”

“I love you, too, but I’m probably on the rebound from Monique.”

“That doesn’t matter now. Ummmm!” Monique felt sick, as she heard David and Lynne kissing just inches from the closet door.

“Good morning,” said the radio announcer. “It’s thirty-one minutes after six on a sunny Monday, fifty-five degrees, looking for a high near eighty.”

Monique leaped out of bed and dashed to the bathroom where she hung over the toilet and let it all out. “Damn this morning sickness.”

David was there, placing a cool hand on her forehead. “Hey babe, I’m sorry,” he said.

“I’ll be okay,” she said, leaning into him, feeling the reassuring warmth of his body and pressing her face against his. “I wish we didn’t have to go to work today.”

“You have a good reason to stay home,” he said, kissing her. “and I don’t have anything at the office that can’t wait till tomorrow.”

“You mean that?”

“Sure,” said David. “Come on, let’s go back to bed.”

***

The above story appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems