Broken Toys

I never understood how children could be so rough. When I was younger I knew the delicacy and permanence of my toys. But in parks or playgrounds or daycare, kids around me would smash and stomp and even chew on whatever poor unsuspecting train or teddy bear that was around. It horrified me, and I will neither confirm nor deny the multitude of fights I had started with classmates. And won. Easily.

I’m much older now, with my temper mostly at bay, in my own little toy shop. Well, it’s my mother’s shop, but I am tasked with the most important job: fixing them. I pound away in the back room of the store, mending together broken toys found in dumps and cheap thrift stores. My workshop consisted of miles of technicolor thread on posts, two or three sewing machines, and a dozen or so bags of tan and white stuffing. The most abundant thing, however, was a full wall packed with boxes of toy parts. Mismatched wheels, robot arms, legs of felt dolls, cabooses of trains, and button eyes popped off.

My mother was out one day, leaving me in my spot as usual, sewing into a stuffed bunny’s tail, keeping the door open so I don’t get high off fumes from my collection of Krazy Glue. I didn’t hear the front door chime. But as someone knocked on the workshop door I jumped out of my seat.

“Sorry! Sorry! I thought you-you heard me uh…sorry.” I turned around to face my favorite dumpster diver, Toby. He found most of the toys I needed to fix, along with any parts or pieces. I chuckled.

“It’s fine. My perception of reality is so clouded I’m surprised I haven’t hurt myself already.” I stood and leaned on my desk.

“What’s up?” I asked. He gave me the goofiest, dumb grin his face could stretch.

“Who is your favorite person in the whole wide world?” I furrowed my brows.

“My mom,” I replied without hesitation.

“You sure?” He stepped closer.

“Yes, I am sure.”

“No, she’s not.” He stepped even closer. Before I could snap at how annoying he was he beat me to it.

“Close your eyes.” I crossed my arms.

“Why?” I pressed myself more into the desk, trying to get away from him. He smelled like garbage.

“Just close your eyes.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“Will you just close them?” He kept his smile which made me hesitant. But I sighed and shut them, arms still crossed. I heard him pull something small from his pocket.

“Ok…open,” He said in a quiet tone.

“I swear to all that is holy if this is like a dead bug…” I opened my eyes and to my surprise, relief, and overwhelming joy what sat in his hand was a small piece of jagged porcelain, a bright blue eye painted with orange faded cheek. I gasped.

“You found it!?” I screeched making him flinch. A part of a doll I had long giving up on trying to complete. I pulled him into a deep hug, not caring about the scuffs of dirt and grime on his shirt and sneakers.

“Thank you thank you thank you!” I practically pushed him away, snatching the porcelain face. I plopped down at my seat, grabbing the busted doll from a drawer. After a few minutes, the glue set, and the doll was once again whole after so many years. I dabbed paint onto a brush, blending the crack.

“How did you even manage to find it?” I asked as I brushed small strokes onto her.

“It took a lot of digging at centuries old landfills, but it was nothing, really.” He put on his grin again.

“So, am I your favorite person now?” He asked. I side eyed him.

“Not a chance.”

Waiting Out the Storm

It’s going to rain soon. The clouds billowed and expanded in the sky as gray drips between the fluffy white. A storm was predicted to come to Brookwell, apparently a large one. Might be why The Milky Way was packed more the usual. People hunkered down in plastic booths and squeaky stools, chatting away or keeping their eye on the weather station. It’s easier to wait out a storm then trying to drive through it.

How I was able to grab a booth is a miracle; and all to myself without sitting shoulder to shoulder with a stranger too. I got the classic, slice of greasy pizza and a milkshake that was just sugar and chocolate packed into a cup. I took my first bite when she walked in.

No one liked Katlyn. It was just a fact. An unspoken rule between classmates. You ignored her at school. You didn’t talk to her at school. Not after everything she’s done. The broken hearts, the diseases spread like wildfire, the cheating, all of it. So, no one liked Katlyn.

I avoided staring, pretending to get lost in the carbs and cheese on the plate in front of me. The first tapping of raindrops on the large glass front fluttered down as she glanced around the room, her own to go milkshake in hand. She’s looking for a spot.

And she’s just noticed my empty booth.

I didn’t want her near me. The way she talked about people was disgusting and hypocritical to say the least. Every bad thing she’s ever said could be made straight back at her. And people told her that. It’s died down since senior year, where everyone is close to leaving and never having to see her again. Now though, I might have to wait out a storm with her.

“Is this seat taken?” She gestured to the booth across from me. What was I supposed to say? That I was saving it for a friend who she’ll watch never showing up? I need room for the stuff I don’t have? Just a flat-out rejection? Politeness and awkwardness sunk into my system and I muttered out a “no.”

Katlyn slung the bag off her shoulder and slid into the confined space. I scooted my feet in close to me, not even crossing my legs. Don’t want to accidentally hit her leg as she cries assault like last year with poor Tommy Seatman. A date turned sour where she didn’t get what she wanted and started pointing fingers.

There was a beat. A steady stream of silence where neither of us really looked at the other. She kept her gaze out the window to the rain. I kept to my pizza. But she, of course, wanted to talk.

“Any plans for after high school?” Her fingers played with the straw of her drink. I shrugged, still avoiding eye contact

“College.”

“Oh, cool. What college?” Can we please not do this?

“Fairmount State. Up in West Virginia.”

“Cool…cool…” There was more silence. She played more with the straw. I’m surprised she’s not talking about herself right now. Going on and on about all the scholarships she has and how she’s going to do so great in whatever Ivy League she had. Still, I was curious.

“What about you?” I asked. Katlyn also shrugged.

“Well you know how it can be sometimes. You try for Brown or Harvard, but you end up on Plan B. No big deal. My fault really.” I finally shift my head up, looking at her as I crease my brows.

“Your fault?” She didn’t admit fault. Everything was out to get her. She bitched at the world, not at herself.

“Well when you start flunking just before you send in transcripts that puts a dent in things, doesn’t it?” Katlyn chuckles, but she didn’t sound all there. Like she was sitting twenty feet away from me, not three.

The storm was picking up, the sounds of distant thunder. The rain fell harder.

“It’s not all bad,” she continues, “I got accepted into the University of Miami. Fun stuff.”

“Right…” This was weird. Katlyn wasn’t acting like, well, Katlyn. Not how she was supposed to be, anyway.

“Any ideas for majors?” I wanted to dig a bit, see what the hell is going on.

“I’m debating between if I want to mathematics or biology. Maybe botany, who knows. I definitely want to minor in something artsy though, oddly enough. Fashion or sculpting, 3D stuff. What about you?” There was a softness to her voice. A light, airy trill, like a fairy or something. Not what I expected. She blinked and it hit me that she asked a question.

“I uh, um, nothing yet. Something with computers or like…tech I guess.” Katlyn nods.

“Well good luck with that. Hopefully neither of us mess up finals.” She smiles. There was something off about her smile. I needed to ask her. Push past the awkwardness and ask.

“Why were flunking?” If I could cut the sudden change in atmosphere. Her whole body seemed tense. She bent the straw in her drink. I could see she was trying to find the right words.

“I had to step out of a school for a bit. There were…issues with…peers.” Her gaze moved to the window again. Lightening flashed suddenly, thunder following a few moments behind.

“They called it a mental breakdown. Isn’t that dark? Stress was too much, a lot of noise, I went to places I regret.” She smiled again. It was empty, a mask keeping whatever demons she was obviously hiding.

Who is this? Who is this girl sitting across from me?

“Sorry,” She said out of the blue.

“For what?”

“Bringing all this up. It’s not me to just dump some sob story. But it’s fine. It’s all fine now. I’m better.” Katlyn faced me, the same empty grin placed on her face.

She smiles like she’s about to cry.

“It’s alright. It’s probably good to get it all out of your system,” I finally responded. A laugh forces itself out of her throat.

“You have no idea.” She was right. I had no idea. And I never did. The words, the whispers, Tommy…

The rain let up.

“I need to get going. My parents expected me to get home after the storm.” Katlyn stood, grabbing her bag. I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything.

“See you around.” And with that, he was gone.

She never even touched her milkshake.

 

Oliver

One month, six days, and four hours. I have been listening to Kate chatter on and on about this Oliver guy. Ever since we got back from winter break, two desks behind me in public speaking class it has been the same sentences over and over and over.

“Oliver has such soft hair. I love running my hands through it.”

“Oliver’s eyes are such a pretty black color. They’re so shiny!”

“Oliver is getting stronger every day. He’s a real help with chores.”

It would then follow with her little cronies sighing like ditzy fangirls. I had enough. After class that day I walked straight up to her.

“I want to see this Oliver dude.” Kate raised an eyebrow at me.

“Oliver dude?” She asked.

“Don’t play dumb. That stupid boyfriend you keep drooling about! I want to see him!” I shoved a finger into her chest, keeping my stance firm and demanding. She smiled at me.

“Yeah I can introduce you two. He’s a bit shy, but he warms up to people quickly.”

Soon we were both riding shoulder to shoulder on the city bus. I waited for her to sit up or pull the stop cord soon. But we kept going. And going. And going some more. An hour later the bustling metropolis I was used to was fading behind us, turning into small suburbs.

“You two live in a house?” I turned to her confused. Kate looked out the window, checking where we are.

“Oh, no. I can’t afford it. Plus, Oliver needs special housing.” She turned back to her book without another word.

“What do you mean special-“ before I could finish the bus took a sharp turn down a dirt and gravel road. Street signs and grocery stores were replaced with thick foliage closing in on both sides. A canopy of branches and vines arched over us, letting only speckles of light reach down. But even the literal sun couldn’t brighten the cold and dark forest on the edge of town.

“You uh…you live out here?” I squeaked out.

“Yep. My grandfather built a small cabin in it years ago. And it’s perfect for Oliver. Cool, secluded, surrounded by trees, and not too many people.” She smiled at me nonchalantly, as I screamed curses at myself inside my head. Oliver was no longer just some boy toy she was head over heels with. He was some black eyed antisocial weirdo who lived in isolating woods.

Or possibly someone much, much worse.

We finally got off, swallowing my gut instinct as I watched my only quick way of escape drive away from us. Kate kept walking, cutting off into a small trail away from the main road. I followed reluctantly.

“So, um, what’s Oliver like exactly?” I asked to fill the dreading silence as we walked farther and farther into the dense woods.

“Well besides being shy he’s stoic, quiet, a bit on the bigger sized, very rugged, and is loyal and devoted to me as much as I am to him.” She stopped in front of a one story run down cabin. The only thing keeping me and Oliver separate is a small chipped door, scratched and clawed to pieces. I swallowed thickly.

“What do you mean…de-uh-devoted?” I asked. She pulled out her keys.

“He protects me, he loves me, he would make sure I’m safe before himself…” Kate opened the door, beckoning to go first. I stepped inside, my eyes darting to the first thing I noticed. A kitchen counter. Covered in blood.

“He would kill for me.” The door slammed shut. My brain stopped working. Flight or faster flight kicked in. I ran chest first into the door screaming my head off.

“Let me out! Let me out! I don’t want to die by your cannibal boyfriend!” I twisted at the doorknob but stopped myself when I heard it. Panting. A steady, deep panting. I turned around faced with sharp teeth, those dark soulless eyes that pierced me, and…paws.

“Oliver is a fucking DOG!?” I yelled. Kate kneeled to scratch at his light tan fur striped gray.

“He is not just a dog. He’s a dire wolf. I found him by the cabin with a hurt leg and took him in.”

“But…but the blood and the kill comment…” I mumbled.

“He hunts down rodents and squirrels that infest the place. I skin them and cook them up for him. I haven’t had a chance to clean. So no, I do not have an axe wielding maniac for a boyfriend.” She crossed her arms.

“Does…everyone know this?” I stepped back still a nervous about the huge dog wolf thing.

“Yes, because the speech I had to give a month ago was about my experience nursing an animal back to health and the precautions of doing so. Do you not remember that?”

“I uh guess not.” I darted my eyes away not wanting to admit I slept through all of it. She rolled her eyes.

“Well congratulations. You’ve met him. Now are you going to hang out and help me play catch with him in the back?” She asked pointing towards a rear door.

“Do I have a choice?” I retorted.

“The bus doesn’t come back for another two hours so not really.” I sighed.

“Sure, I’ll hang out with your…dog.”

“Dire wolf.”

“It’s a huge dog will you just take the yes?”

“Don’t get all snippy!” She smirked at me.

“I wasn’t the one who almost headed for the hills over a wounded pet.”

The Tea Party

“The people there,” my mother told me before I left, “Are high class. Educated. Good people. You need to be on your best behavior.” Best Behavior. That phrase was tarnished, empty, like a forgotten kettle. Best behavior meant being as good as the people around you. My mother said they were good people. Perfect people. “Educated”. But as I sat there, waist cinched in lace and metal, cheeks rouged, and hands wrapped in white silk, I saw the good people were not good. They weren’t monsters per say, or outwardly so. They didn’t scream or curse or spit dirty words. They didn’t eat like pigs or fought like scoundrels. Sins were hard to bury, however, and I noticed little things.

The woman who took one too many glasses of wine when people were looking, and about four more when no one was. The young man, two years my senior, who gushed about his lovely fiancé, but licked his lips whenever he glanced my way.

The father who gripped the back of his daughter’s neck, the way she jumped at it each time.

Not all sins were self-inflicted. I talked to the soldier who was home for good, but the battlefield was trapped in his shaking hands.

The woman on my left who sent longing gazes to the girl in the funny hat across the room. This is the best I need my behavior to be.

Cheats and drunks and perverts. The broken. The doomed. The lambs set up to slaughter. The souls that dread the day of God’s judgment.

Good people.

And I was left in a costume. A mask. A sheep pretending to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The butler poured me another cup of tea. I looked down at the brown liquid, sugar cubes bubbling to the surface as they slowly dissolved. ‘If I ever had a tea party’ I thought to myself ‘My only rule is that everyone is honest. Including me.’