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“The Federalists, Willing to Duel, Willing to Die” by Kris Lovesey

The Federalists, Willing to Duel, Willing to Die

Kris Lovesey

Maggie-Part 1

Maggie moved to Portland to leave Philly, because she killed Rob, a long time member of another motorcycle club. She felt bad for his family as Rob’s brother died in battle as an active duty Marine, just a year earlier. This sad reason was why Rob was drinking too much the night he himself died.

Rob made two passes at Maggie earlier that night, at Cookies Tavern. His third pass at Maggie involved pushing her up against the wall in the narrow hallway leading back to the bathroom.

“You just lit the wrong end of my fucking fuse, you, fucking shit covered dick.” Maggie pushed and bounced him off the opposite hallway wall. “If you want a piece of this, well then, come and get it!” Maggie yelled loud enough for half the bar to hear.

“I’ll fuck you!” was the reply she got from Rob.

She left Cookies, and came back in brandishing a 100cm braided bull-hide horse whip. And she looked bent on choking Rob with it. Rob was back to his can of Rolling Rock and his couple of friends, when Maggie stomped right up into his personal bubble.

“This is a chase game. You hit my bike and I’ll kill you. Whip me twice, and I am going to fuck your brains out on the side of the road.” Maggie spoke loud enough for Rob’s friends to hear the challenge. The two of them had bumped heads before. Rob was actually a big reason why Maggie joined The Federalists, and not the Pagans.

Poor Rob had been seeing red all night, and now Maggie had the same angry eyes. Rob wasn’t ten paces behind Maggie, when she threw in the key, and kicked her Frankencycle into a grunting smoke-coughing dragon. She was going to have a hard time outrunning Rob’s Triumph. Rob’s bike wasn’t the beautiful piece of machinery which rolled out of the famous English factory doors- as the cylinders had been bored out to make it sound loud like a Harley.

“Feel free to wear that to your grave.” She yelled over the noise of both the bikes, throwing her bra at Rob. Rob yelled some very terrible things. Maggie came back with some terrible predictions of what Satan would do to Rob, in Hell, before sunrise.

ISBN-Part 1

This is a public service announcement, by the ISBN:

We don’t watch you. We read you, All of you. And we answer your prayers.

Maggie-Part 2

Rob caught up with Maggie on the Walt Whitman Bridge. No one asked too many questions. Rob’s blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. He had also taken some pills. Rob’s bike had a chain until he spent too much money converting it to a belt system, and boring out the cylinders. Maggie wasn’t planning on letting Rob live without apologizing for what he did back in Cookies Tavern. Maggie never told anyone she threw her knife into his drive belt. That son-of-a-bitch should never have hit her seven years ago.

The Nepalese Gurkha’s all keep a knife called a khukuri. Every member of Maggie’s motorbike club had such a blade. The blades varied but all were once used in the initiation ceremony- and it is only unsheathed for blood. Hers was a PackLite Skinner, the handiest little American made Buck Knife. They are cheap and sharp. Luckily, she keeps a spare PackLite in her saddle bag because luckily- her knife was never found.

Before going to bed that night, she initiated her new knife by using it to open up the scar on the side of her belly, bleeding on a ten dollar bill.

She threw the bloody bill into the Delaware, wrapped around a rock with a rubber band.

The Federalists have a motto: Willing to duel, Willing to die.

Maggie had a good thing going on in Philly. She had a great boss and a shitty job, the best of a bad combo. She worked security for a shitty department store. She wore aviators all the time. When Maggie explained to her boss she had to quit and move, Ms. Breaker offered to fire her, so she could collect some unemployment, to help her settle into a new life outside of Philly. Ms. Breaker owned and operated Breaker’s Security. Maggie had been working for the company for five years now, slightly longer than she had been in the motorcycle club.

“Good luck.” Ms. Breaker lit a cigarette, something she never did in her office.

“I’ll let you know what happens, but I’m going to take a month off and disappear for a minute.” Maggie turned as she left the office to take another look at Ms. Breaker in front of all those familiar little T.V.s. “And, thanks for firing me. You didn’t have to do that.”

“I’d do a lot for you. Just let me know.” Ms. Breaker shut her door.

Luckily The Federalists never became rivals with The Pagans over Rob’s death. Maggie sold her frankencycle to a fellow club member, bought a pickup camper. She then drove the piece of shit pickup all the way to Portland, and got a job working with special needs adults. The Federalists had a Portland chapter. She fit right in, kind of, and she still wore her aviators to work.

ISBN-Part 2

Powell’s Books, in downtown Portland, is the North American H.Q. for the ISBN mafia.

ISBN assassins come from a lineage of half humans who trace their heritage back to St. Christopher, a half-human/half-dog giant made popular by the tales of early Christians. Besides being assassins for the ISBN mafia, they are still involved in protecting travelers and pilgrims. Not much has changed for this community of assassins and saints in the past five-hundred years, except more recently they have been enjoying illegally-registered muscle cars from the 70’s and 80’s.

Maggie-Part 3

Maggie registered her new 45 Beretta and her new ’67 Firebird Trans AM, in the same week. She had sold the pickup camper, and had been walking to and from work to save up cash.

The car had no previous accidents, only two previous owners, and two black racing stripes down it’s white body. It was quickly named the H.M.S. Alexander Hamilton, and everyone got to spit on it for a day. That’s the way the Federalists initiate new cars and bikes to the club. Some people gave up dipping long ago, but still dig up the dirty habit for a friends new bike- because some people are just assholes. It is also expected that the next time anyone sees the new vehicle, it’s spotless.

Two F.B.I. agents came to visit Maggie at her job, soon after she bought the car. They wanted to talk to her because the gun, the car, and her involvement in a well known [and extremely political] motorcycle club.

“You are aware of what’s been going on with the Republicans. Can you tell us what you know?”

The two F.B.I. agents and Maggie sat awkwardly in the front meeting room at Project Grow, the vocational center for special needs adults, where Maggie had just been working for three months now.

“I know the Republicans piss plenty of people off, so you two must be real busy.” Maggie replied, gazing out the window. “How many meetings like this you got today?”

The meeting went nowhere, and luckily didn’t last very long. Working in a vocational center like Port City gave Maggie a hundred and fifty alibis. She always parked the car out front, right there on Williams Ave, so there were plenty of alibis for the car as well.

As far as the case went, a light colored T-Bird with dark racing stripes, and a couple other crime-scene clues were all the F.B.I. were working with.

The murders all involved; heads of the Republican party, they had all been carried out in the cleanest of executions, and the only clues left have been copies of Steinbeck’s, To A God Unknown with homemade replicas of a Ray Johnson postcard tucked inside. The only writing on the postcards was:

From: the ISBN Mafia

To: FUCK YOU

ISBN-Part 3

“You see,” the old man said, “it must not cry. It doesn’t know. The time is nearly here, now.” He took a thick short-bladed knife from his pocket and tried its edge on his palm, and then his left hand stroked the pig’s side and he turned to face the sun. It was rushing downward toward the far-off rim of fog, and it seemed to roll in a sac of lymph. “I was just in time,” the old man said. “I like to be a little early.”

-Steinbeck, To A God Unknown

Jeb’s grip on the balcony railing loosened as he sliped quietly to the cool stone floor. A top ISBN assassin always does the job in less than two minutes. The assassin inserts a custom made oyster shucking knife between the seventh cervical and the first Thoracic vertebrae, severing the spinal chord. A round adhesive patch the size of a beer coaster laced with a neurotoxin gets placed over the incision.

The Prairie Chapel Ranch wasn’t known for it’s sunsets, but tonight it was a postcard from Heaven. Jeb wouldn’t die, but he wasn’t gong to do much living, and he was instantly retired from continuing on the campaign trail.

Maggie-Part 4

Maggie was saving up money to buy her own eighteen wheeler, and studying for a C.D.L. Project Grow wasn’t paying much, but she had a New York client interested in more of her illustrations. She was charging him a little extra, just to pad her bank account, but her illustrations were still worth every penny.

Maggie had a run in with her boss about making spanking paddles in their wood studio. Her boss was a hard case, and people either got along with Hillary, or they didn’t.

On her way home from work she came across a hiring sign in the window of a dispensary. The place was called Dab Star, and it was a newly opening pot shop, just five blocks from her place. A quick Google search only brought up a poorly written help wanted ad, posted on some obscure job board, written in all capital letters, with an exclamation point after every sentence.

WE ARE LOOKING FOR A WOMAN!

 

This phrase stood out like a thorn, but luckily instead of being assholes, Maggie met the three ladies who run Dab Star; Ms. Bechdel, Jay, and Kristie.

 

The four sat in the front waiting room, casually grilling each other. Ms. Bechdel asked the most questions. Maggie couldn’t help blushing a bit when Jay asked her stuff. Kristie just didn’t talk much.

 

“I don’t think I need you for the desk position, but we are getting a chocolate maker from Belgium. We could use you on the chocolate side, starting in three weeks.”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me? Howd’ you know I like chocolate more than weed.” Maggie replied. “What do I have to do?”

 

“You already passed the Bechdel Test so just call me B from now on.”

 

Maggie giggled. The interview was done- the job was in the bag.

 

Maggie put her two weeks notice in to Project Grow. She shaved her head and got her Oregon food handler card. Her going away party was on a Tuesday at Sloan’s Tavern.   She took a week off, and got her tattoos touched up. All her tattoos reference the artist Ray Johnson, people have always asked her about that.

 

ISBN-Part 4

The assassin on the Republican Job, his name was Thunder. He only listened to The Go! Team while working. Only ate strawberries while working. Notably, he saved more lost hikers in the past year than the U.S. Parks and Rec. had in the past ten years. He also swam from Japan to San Francisco during the summer of 2007. Thunder was an ideal ISBN assassin.

The Republican Party and the Nation was in crisis. The next day three more Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential Race were reduced to a vegetative state.

Thunder rolled all week long.

Maggie-Part 5

 

The Unknown God smiled on Maggie. She knew her life would be hard working in the weed-chocolate kitchen. She knew the Belgian chocolatier was a more-racist foreign version of the worst boyfriend Maggie ever had- one of dead Rob’s good buddies. The Unknown God had better plans for Maggie.

Maggie had just finished singing Show & Tell, by Al Wilson. The Unknown God decided it was a great time to pull her out of the realm of people, right in front of half the members of the Portland chapter of The Federalists. They were getting high and drunk, doing some D.I.Y.-Youtube karaoke.

Maggie started to glow. The glow became brighter, and brighter, until no one in the room could even face to see her expanding into a beam of cosmic energy. Maggie shot through the roof terrifying club members with falling timber debris. Ear-drums bled from the sonic boom. The cops came expecting the remains of a meth-lab.

The Republicans never won another Presidential election.

And Maggie started a new existence.

© 2015 Kris Lovesey

“The Back of the Store” by Donna Renee Anderson

The Back of the Store

Donna Renee Anderson

Clove-scented smoke floats from my mouth and rushes away from my face. My lips wrap around the Djarum Black filter and curve into a smile. The steel of the balcony rail cools my sweaty palms. I am a genius. If the party people of New York City and Chicago can host empty subway cars for moving parties why can’t I host roving warehouse parties? It was a fantastic idea requiring little overhead and not much upfront cash. All I had to do was find a discount department store with lots of warehouse space. The proceeds would contribute to the owner’s rent and we’d move the party to a new location the next month. Customers’ daytime shopping trips would morph into nighttime schlepping bottles of craft beers.

I look down on large floor space cluttered with naked and gaudy street-clothed mannequins strategically placed around the room mingled with clothes racks strewn with neighborhood cast offs. Glass display cases hold brown and clear alcoholic spirits as well as the kegs of craft beers. There’s no traditional bar with stools. There are old chairs from dressing rooms and benches and stools from make-up counters—good old warehouse décor.

I always wanted to open my own club—women only, fluid sexuality. It used to be called slummin’; hidden in late night adventures to lesbian bars. But now some women’s open experimentation brings them a soft gentleness unfulfilled with a man. No more hiding for them or any other woman for that matter. Girls night out has a new more free meaning—bi-curious I believe it’s called. I finger my cigarette, dropping ashes into my portable ashtray. I saw Hercule Poirot use one during my late night PBS binge watching.

“You better not be smoking up there!” came a blaring over the sound system.

Marybeth, my fiancé, didn’t like me smoking and I didn’t have the desire to quit. I’d decided I’d give it a go before our wedding. We were finally getting married. I found someone and someone found me.

“Come on sweetie.” I crooned. “You know a night club’s got to have the scent of cigarette smoke and alcohol to feel right.” I laughed.
“Put it out and get down here. We’ve got to test this karaoke system you said we just had to have.” She said and blew me a kiss through the air and my left hand caught it, placing it over my heart.

“It’s the best money can buy for what we want to do and sweetie I got it for you at a decent price.” I said.

Opening a late night roving club, bar, pub or whatever I wanted to call it became an entry on our joint bucket list and Marybeth wanted mandatory karaoke nights. She says every woman should experience the joy of singing karaoke, shouting her wild inner being to a song of her choosing. I call it primal scream therapy.

The view over the main room from the upper balcony is better than a camera. However, of the two balconies this one wasn’t ready for seating yet. Someone could get hurt. The other balcony had a balcony rail wider and thicker; great for a DJ box. Marybeth’s voice drew me from my mind-wander as she began singing K.D. Lang’s Once in a While in her full-heart voice. The sound system would not be bullied, withstanding the force and timbre of her voice. By the time she’d sung the line, I’ll drive you crazy, I was at her side and kissed her quiet.

“Beautiful babe, simply beautiful.” I whispered.

“Thank you honey.” She cooed.

A noise from the second floor balcony startled us and a woman walked from the shadows. She was tall and pale, thin sharp features with a severe ponytail; not attractive, just mean looking.

“Who is that?” Marybeth asked grabbing my arm.

Her applause of three slow beating hand claps preceded her, “You two should be proud of all this.” Spoken in a smoke-scratch voice.

“That’s the ex who took back her investment; the ex-business partner.” I spoke loud into the room.

“You girls…” she began and I didn’t let her finish.

“We’re not open yet and you don’t get an invitation. You might want to come down from that balcony.” I said and squinted at more moving shadows below the balcony.

“We don’t know how you got in here but we’ll escort you out.” Said a strong female voice from the shadows and two uniformed female police officers walked into the light.

“Our guardian angels.” Marybeth whispered.

The ex, hung her head, walked down from the balcony and one of the officers escorted her from the building.

“I’m Tango. Nice place you’ve got here. My partner Cassidy and I wanted to know if you could use the security we’d like to work for you.” A statement with a smile.

“That would be wonderful.” Marybeth said shaking the woman’s hand. “I’m Marybeth and this is Maggie, my fiancé.”

I gave Tango our business card with an invitation for dinner on their next off day to go through logistics and security protocols.

“You know we’ve not settled on a decent name for this place.” I said.

“I like what’s on our business license and we won’t need a sign. The Back of the Store.” Marybeth said matter of fact as she turned on the music.

We held hands and walked through the rough dressed mannequins, the liquor filled display cases to the dance floor singing karaoke to K.D. Lang.

© 2015 Donna Renee Anderson

“Temper” by Lauren Frantz

Temper

Lauren Frantz

Anna came home to a tiny, empty apartment. She threw her bags more than dropped them, and stalked into the empty kitchen. Crunch went the stiff refrigerator door as she wrenched it open, and she sighed, closing it carefully this time. She stepped over to the cabinet, and stubbed her toe on something with a clang. She swore and looked down. A black iron bar with pinched edges was lying on the floor of her kitchen, and the sight of it brought the memory back.

Anna stood squeezed into her tiny balcony, body pushing out over the edge toward the open air. The red and orange sky made the distant mountain show black and distinct against the colors, and the sea shone under the light of the sunset, but she could barely see it, her eyes running with furious tears. She had come here to do work that now felt impossible; there was no end to the assault, no point in lashing out, no words that meant anything or accomplished anything. Her lips compressed and her hands tightened on the railing as she thought of leaving these people to their own stupidity and selfishness and suffering. Her body jerked forward. The railing had come off in her hands, each end melted under her palms and the anger that had heated them. She threw it into the kitchen and stalked out of the house. If she was losing control severely enough to melt iron, she needed to expel some energy.

 

Now she was back in the house, tired but no less angry. She picked up the iron bar, thwacking it against her palm. Even without concentrating she could feel power gathering in the bar, focusing out of her hands. She looked down at it, and it began to glow slightly. A faint smile stole across her face. “Why not?” she murmured. For once, maybe she would be not careful, not cautious, maybe not even kind. She swung the bar in a circle, and it left tiny stars behind it in the air. She turned and strode out into the night.

Nicole downed a shot in the hopes that it would make her less aware of how people kept stepping on her feet and how godawful the current guy singing karaoke was. She was tired, bored, and in the mood for some real music, but she doubted she would get it in this packed bar.

“Thanks for coming,” Carrie shouted over the noise, a little ruefully.

“No problem,” Nicole answered, which was more or less a lie. Carrie hardly ever asked her for anything, so here she was, waiting for her friend to sing.

“I should get up there soon,” Carrie said, a little nervously. “Do you want to beat it to a club or someplace with live music after?”

“Maybe… let’s see how we feel,” she answered absentmindedly. She was watching Paul, who was hanging around over by the bar. She was fairly sure he hadn’t noticed her, which was probably a good thing. She didn’t mind running into him every now and then, but now was really not the time.

Carrie followed her gaze across the room. “…oh. I’m sorry, Nicole. Do you want me to get rid of him if he comes over here?”

“Nah… it’s no big deal… We talk sometimes and stuff. I’m not mad at him anymore.”

“Uh huh,” Carrie was looking at her skeptically, and Nicole let her gaze travel around the room. Her eyes fell on a woman sitting on the bar, one leg up on a barstool. Even though the room was crowded, there was a clear space around her, and no one seemed to notice her sitting up there, observing everything with a sardonic smile. Nor did anyone seem to notice the iron bar that she was swinging idly through the air.

Nicole stared at her fixedly, and the woman turned her head sharply and met Nicole’s eyes. Slowly, she smiled. Then, in a gesture that no one but Nicole appeared to notice, she raised the iron bar and pointed it directly at the speaker system. The music stuttered and stopped. The room filled with surprised voices and the singer onstage uncomfortably sidled away.

Nicole’s jaw dropped. The woman’s smile widened, and she jerked her head toward the stage. The speakers filled the room with static, and then began playing a new song.

“Hey, it’s your turn!” Carrie shouted cheerfully. Nicole looked at her in confusion, but in spite of the fact that her name was nowhere on the list, Carrie took her hand and started to propel her to the front of the room. Strangers joined her, people Nicole had never seen before—“It’s your turn!” “Get on the stage, girl!” “Come on!”—and then, when she stumbled, her body took over, and her mind froze in fear as she felt her legs walk her up onto the stage.

Her mouth opened. That woman on the bar was still smiling, now waving her iron bar like a conductor. Some distant part of Nicole’s shocked mind knew that she was singing, and knew that it was good. Paul had pushed to the front of the crowd, and was standing just below her, looking at her as he had not looked in months—like she was magical.

Anna saw the kid and her boy wander out into the night, wrapped in a dream, before she left the bar. The girl must have some kind of latent abilities, or she wouldn’t have noticed Anna in spite of her spells. Those abilities would likely be enough to keep the boy from realizing he’d been drawn in by magic. There was no reason for Anna to think about them more. She had more to do with her night of freedom than playing with teenagers.

Two hours later she strolled out of the now-empty zoo. As she walked down the street, power wreathed around her legs and sparked against the sidewalk. When she passed the city courthouse, a jet of sparks streamed up to coat every window and wriggle their way inside. And when she came to the discount department store where, earlier that day, she had undergone the last of the petty assaults that had finally made her crack, she strode inside with broken glass shimmering in her wake. Socks, T-shirts, sheets and underwear whirled through the air and fell like a blanket of soft, white snow. When she walked out, she looked up at the stars for the first time in what felt like a long, long time.

Anna turned the key to her building. She was tired. There was a reason she didn’t generally throw around her power this way. There would be a price; not only her personal exhaustion, but likely more work, new responsibilities that she had little energy to face. She slogged her way up the stairs and decided to worry about consequences tomorrow.

She opened the door to her apartment. The lights were blazing, and the smell of coffee was wafting from the little efficiency kitchen. Her eyes widened.

Nicole walked out of the kitchen. “Oh good, you’re home. I was getting tired of waiting.” She settled into Anna’s armchair and smiled wickedly.

“Who are you?” Anna choked out. “How did you get in here?”

“Well, I think I probably busted your lock.” Nicole looked thoughtful. “Once I knew there was magic available, it wasn’t that hard to use it, but I don’t have a lot of finesse.” She took a sip of coffee. “Yet.”

Anna’s shocked brain finally recognized the face she’d seen across a hazy bar. “You’re—the girl, from—the karaoke thing.” Her brow furrowed. “Didn’t you wander off with that boy? How did you find my house?”

Nicole raised her eyebrows. “After seeing somebody cast a spell or something for the first time in my life, I had better things to do than get back with my ex. You came on a motorcycle. I looked up your plates.”

Anna collapsed onto her tiny sofa. She hadn’t covered her tracks as well as she’d thought. Silently she began gathering the power she would need to erase herself from this woman’s memory.

“Stop it,” Nicole said sharply. Anna looked up in surprise. “You’re not going to do whatever you’re doing. You’re going to teach me.”

Anna’s jaw dropped. She had expected questions, demands—but not this. “What?”

“If I could figure out this much on my own, obviously I have some kind of talent. I’m assuming you don’t just use yours to mess around with people.” She stared at Anna over the rim of her mug. “I saw some of the other things you did tonight. I want to be a part of it.”

Anna hesitated—but she was sure, somehow, that the rest of her questions weren’t necessary. “Are you sure?” Nicole nodded.

Anna took a breath, then let it out in a deep sigh. The consequences—the new responsibilities—this was it. And somehow, now that it was staring her in the face, the weight didn’t seem so heavy anymore. Whatever she did, she wouldn’t be alone.

A faint smile passed across her face. “Well, then, welcome to the work, apprentice.” She held out her hand.

Nicole grinned, and took it. “Thank you. Now tell me where you sent all those animals when you busted them out of their tiny cages! And what, exactly, did you do to the mayor’s office? And all those huge, ugly mansions!”

“First I’m getting coffee.” The sun was starting to rise. It had been a long night, but today—today would be better.

© 2015 Lauren Frantz

“River Date” by Erica Korer

River Date

Erica Korer

Since all the the events that happened two years ago, Cory had become fearful. Suddenly all sorts of things she’d never given a second thought to–flying, skiing, passing strange dogs on the sidewalk–sent her into a terror spiral, suffocating in a flood of worst-case scenarios.

Or maybe, she thought, this was bound to happen regardless when she reached a certain age. She thought of her mother’s many anxieties, they way she clutched the steering wheel as she drove, always five miles below the speed limit, braking for nothing at all. “Be very, very, very careful,” she always said and still said when she talked to Cory on the phone.

But I’m just going to the supermarket, Cory used to think. Now, though, she wondered if her mother had a point. The world, if you really thought about it, was a terrifying place, a death trap around every corner.

When Miles suggested a kayaking date then, it took Cory a few moments, but she sighed and mustered some enthusiasm. After all, she had kayaked several times years ago and enjoyed it. And besides, she’d grown tired of sitting at bars and talking talking talking.

Miles was a good match for Cory, 90 percent if the algorithm was to be believed, and Cory felt you had to have faith in something. Like her he was tall and did environmental work, and they were both ex vegetarians. “Was bacon your gateway drug?” she wrote. “That was mine.”

“Bear, actually,” he wrote back. “My gateway drug was bear.”

She went to TJ Maxx to pick up some things she didn’t have and thought she might need–a towel that wasn’t clearly a bath towel, cheap athletic sandals, a sun hat. Cory’s family had a minor legend that took place in one of those stores. She was three and out shopping with her mother and father around the holidays. In a rare impulse, Cory’s father decided to scoop his daughter up and put her on his shoulders. The girl he lifted from behind, though, was not Cory but another small child who howled until Cory’s father realized what was happening and was completely mortified.

Cory had only shadowy recollections of the actual incident but was there for numerous retellings over the next few years, giddily standing by awaiting the twist. It was the wrong kid. The thing was, Cory couldn’t ever remember her father actually lifting her onto his shoulders, so with each re-telling of the story she felt the heartache of a missed opportunity. If only she’d been standing closer, she thought. TJ Maxx had become to her the spot where anything was possible, and so the few times she found herself back there with him, she stood in front of him and sent him telepathic messages. Now. Do it now. But he never did, and soon she was too big anyway.

They met at the harbor. Miles had his own kayak, but Cory had to rent one from the shop. She left her ID at the desk, put on a PFD, and sat down to sign their liability waiver. Risk of injury, including the potential for permanent paralysis and death. Across from her, Miles was saying something about his truck and his nephew, asking if she had any nieces or nephews, polite getting-to-know-you questions, but she was distracted. “Um, no, yeah, give me one second.”

His expression when she finally signed the paper was quizzical, but he said nothing.

“What a nice day we picked,” Cory said, getting back on track, and it was–windless and sunny, the water smooth as glass. Miles brought a six pack and suggested she take a few in her boat, but she declined, believing those few cans might throw her completely off balance, maybe throw the entire planet off its axis. It wasn’t impossible. She led the way out of the harbor, paddling side to side, pleased by her ability maneuver around the other small crafts. When she reached the open river, though, a vertigo descended. Which direction? She could go anywhere. Before she had a chance to decide, the current seemed to be choosing for her. She felt wildly untethered, like a released balloon that won’t ever make it back to Earth. She was relieved then when Miles pulled up next to her, and she allowed him to overtake her a bit before paddling again.

Cory began to take a good look at him. He had broad shoulders and bronzed arms that rippled as he paddled, which with his beard added up to a general rugged handsomeness. For the first time since leaving her apartment that morning, Cory was conscious of her own appearance. She smoothed her hair and tried to look friendly as she caught up.

“So you must do this a lot, huh?”

“Not too much,” he said.

“Well, I think I would if I had my own boat.” Was that true? She owned a lot of things she didn’t use, a dvd player, snowshoes, a food processor.

“Well, it’s not exactly my boat.” He cracked open a beer and held it out to her.

She was aware of their fingers touching as she took it from him. “Thanks.” She took a sip and thought about where she was going to put the can. There wasn’t a great spot for it, so she set it down between her legs. But that was a mistake, because they were suddenly passed on the right by a speed boat and caught in a field of its wake. Cory’s boat spun, and the beer tipped into her lap.

“Turn into it,” Miles shouted, and she did, focusing on keeping her bow above the ripples, ignoring the cold wet feeling until the water was still again. Then she picked up the can and chugged what was left.

“Look out. Another one’s coming.” This time it was a bigger boat.

She laughed, hoping it appeared she was having a good time, but she really just felt dread. Rationally, she knew that the worst thing to happen may be capsizing and getting wet, but she had her wallet and cell phone in a dry bag strapped to the kayak. What if that came loose and was lost. What if someone unknowingly steered a boat into her bobbing head. What if she was carried out to the ocean, the riverbanks already impossibly far away, spreading further and further apart, birthing her into a great lonely void. Or something.

Their two kayaks bobbed together and then, after a moment, stilled. Miles said he knew of a slough coming up. “Want to paddle over there where it’s less busy?”

“Yeah, okay.”

They didn’t go far, but it felt like another world entirely, the channel more narrow and shaded by canopy of trees. Instead of boat motors, they heard birds.

“Oh, hi!” Cory said

“Oh hi.”

“I’ll take another beer if that’s all right.”

“Yeah, definitely.” He handed her another can.

The water here was even more still, the trees mirrored on its surface. It made Cory think of one of the first art lessons she had in school, drawing a horizon line with stick figure trees, then turning the paper upside down and drawing them again, a neat trick she’d repeated all year on paper placemats and birthday cards.

“So, I have to ask,” she said, “what does bear meat taste like.”

Miles laughed. “I made that up,” he said.

“Oh.”

An eagle flapped its wings overhead.

“Sorry. Are you mad?”

“No.”

They drifted further east, paddling just enough to circumvent large rocks and tree branches. Each paddle stroke just a lazy scoop and drizzle of water.

Miles laid his paddle across the boat. “Hey, stop. Listen,” he said, and Cory did, motionless as a mountain. “It’s totally quiet. You can’t hear anyone.”

It was true. Cory locked eyes with Miles, who was grinning. A chill shot up her spine. “I think we should go,” she said and did a quick about-face before paddling hard the way they had come.

“Cory, wait,” Miles said, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Cory said, but didn’t let up speed, “I just think we should get back.”

Miles stopped paddling. “Okay. Clearly I said something that you took the wrong way. And even though I don’t think it’s reasonable at all, I’m going to stop here and let you paddle ahead.”

Since they hadn’t actually gone very far, she was back out in the main channel quickly and suddenly, in the bright sunshine surrounded by waterskiers, she felt foolish. “Hey,” she called back behind her. “Hey, I’m sorry. Miles, are you there?”

He glided out slowly, with his hands in the air. “Are we cool?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Cory said. “Sorry again. I guess I just freaked out for a second when you were talking about how quiet it was. I had this sudden thought like, and nobody can hear you scream. She laughed but knew it wasn’t funny.

“Jesus,” he said.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

Across the river was a large karaoke bar. On the second story was a balcony where people leaned over the rail and watched the boats. Cory felt like they were on display.

“If it helps, I’m really not even interested in you.”

This time she laughed for real. There was a lesson to be learned from all of this, but she didn’t know yet what it was. “Come on,” she said, “let’s go back.”

© 2015 Erica Korer

“Love on the Last Frontier” by Victoria Steik

Love on the Last Frontier

Victoria Steik

She stepped through the door into the low slung honky tonk on the edge of town. The stark change from brilliant sunshine to the smoky dark bar room forced her to stop and let her eyes adjust. As she stood there, she heard a loud wolf whistle and a male voice call out, “Hello, sweet thing. Step right over here. There’s a stool with your name on it right next to me.”

Amid hoots and catcalls, she looked around the crowded room and realized that the place was full of blue collar working men in plaid flannel shirts and Carhartt coveralls. A handful of women with heavy makeup, plunging necklines, and various degrees of inebriation were sprinkled among the rowdy good old boys. What she didn’t see was an empty seat.

“Come on, honey. Don’t be afraid. These boys might be hungry for what you got, but they definitely won’t bite unless invited.” It was the same voice as before, inciting another round of hoots, hollers and bawdy laughter. By now her eyes had adjusted and she could see the young man with black hair, dark eyes and a slyly crooked grin waving her over to what looked like the only vacant seat in the place. She stepped on toward him, trying to look cool and confident despite her shaky knees and wobbly ankles.

One glance let everyone know that she was new in town. She wore a flirty mini dress, just long enough to keep from looking slutty, and platform heels high enough to break an ankle walking across gravel parking lots in a town with no sidewalks and very few paved roads. Her thick brown hair hung nearly to her waist in perfect hippy fashion.

She perched herself on the barstool beside the young man with broad shoulders and an outdoorsy tan.

“So whatcha drinkin?” he asked.

“Black Russian,” she replied.

“Barkeep, a Black Russian for the little lady,” he called out.

“Now,” he said to her, “You need to tell me your name, because I make it a practice not to buy drinks for women I don’t know.”

“I’m Val,” she replied with a smile. “I never drink with strange men, so what do they call you?”

“These guys all call me Johnny Spark. I’m a welder by trade. Strike and arc, make a spark, that’s how I make my pay. I’m a journeyman with the Pipefitter’s Local. I have a travel card, so I can go anywhere in the country and get a job at any union local. I move around a lot. I’ve seen some beautiful places in the past few years, but none as beautiful as here. I guess that’s because this is my home. I was born and raised here. I’m an Aleut. So what’s a sweet young thing like you doing in the Last Frontier?”

“I wanted an adventure. I grew up in the West, in Utah, but there’s not much frontier life left there now. Then I started hearing more and more about Alaska. My dream is to get out somewhere remote, set up a log cabin and start living off the land. I want to have a big garden, a few chickens and commune with Mother Nature.”

“Whew, you are a hippy girl, aren’t you? Want to dance, hippy girl? Here’s some quarters, pick out something you like on the juke box.”

She went to the jukebox, but quickly returned. “All that’s on there is country music. I didn’t know what to pick.”

“Well, I guess it’s up to me then,” he said as he left her to go choose something suitable for dancing.

“You better beware of Johnny Spark, little lady,” said a man seated beside her. “All the women here call him ‘the Devil in a welder’s cap’. He can be a heartbreaker.”

Johnny returned, hand outstretched to her, just as the music began. It was a slow ballad. He held her close as they glided across the dance floor.

He softly sang to her, “Silver wings . . . They’re taking you away . . . leaving me lonely.”

From that moment on she was completely swept away by Johnny Spark. Within a few weeks they moved in together. They spent the summer together “playing house”. Johnny was attentive; he took her dancing, brought her flowers, and helped her make new friends. Toward fall, Johnny’s local job ended. So he went to work on the TransAlaska pipeline. The jobsites were very remote and he would often be gone for weeks at a time, but there were no local jobs available.

After one particularly long stretch alone, Val decided that she needed a change.

“Johnny, it’s so hard for me being alone so much. What’s the point of me sticking around here when you’re not here with me? This is not why I came to Alaska.”

“Aw, babe, you know I’d be here if I could,” he said. “Let Daddy give you some sugar and you’ll be just fine.”

“There’s only one thing on your mind and it’s not commitment,” she snapped, turning her back on him.

“Well, I told you from the beginning that I move around a lot for work. You’ll just have to get used to it,” he said coldly.

“I’m not going to get used to it,” she said. “I’m going to move on and find a life that makes me happy. It just doesn’t look like it will be with you.”

They parted ways and each went on with their own challenges and adventures.

Johnny traveled the country working in nearly every state here and there for nearly forty years until construction jobs became scarce and he was no longer strong enough to perform the hard physical labor required.

Val pursued her dream of a remote cabin in the woods. Eventually her cabin grew into a remote lodge where she welcomed guests from around the world to share her home, her table and her corner of the great Alaskan wilderness. Occasionally, she would reminisce about her “ex”, the only man she ever loved. She carried an emptiness inside and like Johnny, she never married. Eventually the rigors of life in the bush became more than Val could handle. She sold her lodge and settled in a home overlooking Kachemak Bay.

On a shopping trip with friends, Val was browsing in a discount department store seventy five miles from home looking for outdoor furniture for the balcony of her cabin by the bay. She noticed a man walking by she thought she recognized. He wore a plaid flannel shirt and Cahartt overalls. His hair was nearly all white, his eyes dark.

She walked up to the man for a closer look.

“Johnny?” she asked.

“You’re as beautiful as ever, little hippy girl,” he said, flashing his slyly crooked grin.

They embraced at once laughing and crying tears of joy. They sat on the furniture on display and caught up on their lives now.

“I have a little place about twenty miles south of here,” Johnny told her. “I stay busy keeping it up. I’ve done enough traveling. I’m glad to have a place to call home.”

“I have a nice cabin overlooking Kachemak Bay,” Val said. “I still raise a few chickens for fresh eggs and keep a small garden for fresh vegetables. Tell me you’ll come visit me some time.”

They sat together sharing the particulars of how to contact each other and directions to their homes. They even picked a day for Johnny to visit Val at her cabin.

On the chosen day, Val was excitedly preparing for her guest. She cooked a lovely meal, set a small table alongside her balcony rail so that they could enjoy the picturesque view while they ate. She was taking the homemade strawberry rhubarb pie from the oven when she heard a strange sound. She walked out to the balcony rail and looked down to the front yard. There was Johnny with a huge bouquet of flowers. Beside him was a small box. He pressed a button on the box, picked up the microphone and began singing karaoke just for her.

“Silver wings. . .”

© 2015 Victoria Steik

“My Trip to Canada” by Eva Sylwester

My Trip to Canada

Eva Sylwester

The first time in my life a balcony rail really stood out to me was when I went to Vancouver, Canada. Coming over the border from the United States, it’s jarring that the font on the road sign changes. More importantly, the speed limits are in kilometers rather than miles. Otherwise, you’re just on a highway for a while. When you get to the exit for Knight Street, though, you get your first view of a densely inhabited area. They have Chevron gas stations, but the font on the logo looks different, and the numbers on the signs don’t make any sense because they’re in liters rather than gallons. The row houses have these weird balconies where the bars bow outward toward the bottom. On the balconies I took for granted back home, I guess the bars were straight.

On South Park, the Canadians look obviously different from us, like their heads are split in half somehow. Of course, in real life, that’s not the case. Outwardly so many things are the same that the minor differences, like the traffic lights that flash rather than hold a solid green, stand out. At the Blaine, Washington, border crossing, there’s a monument claiming that the two countries are “Children of a Common Mother.” I had to think about that to get the reference, but wow, that’s actually true.

Who would want to be the sibling of the United States of America? We are in the middle of practically every big drama in the world. We are responsible for Walmart, the archetypal discount department store, and worse.

A lot of sibling pairs split like that – the loud one and the quiet one, the smart one and the athletic one, the good one and the bad one, and so on. Romantic couples or friends can do it too. I was surprised, though, to see that the military surplus store in downtown Vancouver was full of Fire Department New York and New York Police Department shirts, like the quiet one has not enough sense of its own identity apart from the loud one.

If the loud one were not around, would the quiet one, liberated from its role in the relationship, soon be singing karaoke?

I went to Canada so I could use my passport before it expired. I went to Canada to prove to myself I could do it. I went to Canada to prove to you, in my head at least, that I could do it. And I did, but that all seemed embarrassingly self-centered once I got there and discovered whoa, this may be another child of the same mother, but it’s its own distinct entity.

My cell phone didn’t work except for Wi-Fi. My Visa card worked, but I didn’t have coins for arcade games. I couldn’t understand the TV weather report because it wasn’t in Fahrenheit. I couldn’t make a phone call, supply myself a coin to play an arcade game, or understand the TV weather report. Being so thwarted in basic things, it was like being a child.

Like a child, I was learning, observing, taking everything in.

I started to see why I was the ex. The photos of you on Facebook singing karaoke with your new group of friends are so foreign to me. Who is this person, separate from me? You look so different, but it’s like I don’t even remember what you actually looked like. You were more a presence, more an idea that we were a unit.

I wish I could have met you like I met Canada, when I left the music off and the windows down after the border crossing to find out if anything sounded or smelled different. When I was walking around in a neighborhood that could have been Portland, I got out of myself enough to notice that the squirrels were black.

© 2015 Eva Sylwester

“#bestbargainever” by Holly Helscher

#bestbargainever

Holly Helscher

 

DiscountDepartmentStore@DiscountDepartmentStore

Grand Opening. Flea market prices. Upscale setting. Get your designer on. Or low-name brands. 528 Hitte, Cinti. Prizes. Food. #DDSrUs

Nancy’s insomnia woke her every three hours, and her primary sleep-inducer was to read Tweet drivel sent to her by her followers. Then she would create hashtags for them. She didn’t care if Cinda’s baby, whom she didn’t know, puked all day. #vomit. She didn’t care about another first date of someone named Zoey. #giveitup. Most tweets were like that. And they all adhered to some mythical metric of percentages about self-promotion versus self-disclosure. The formula claimed to improve sales of whatever blog or product the Tweeter publicized. #unicornsarerealtoo.

Nancy also followed Discount Department Store across the street from her apartment building. Six months ago they closed due to a change in ownership. #theyhavetobebetter. Nancy hadn’t been surprised at the sale since the original store was rat-dirty and roaches rode purchases home like people rode cars.

Her smart phone chirped an alarm. She snatched it off the bedside. At six o’clock in the morning it was going to be a long day. The July sun through the window lit up the dust particles jumping off the mini blind as she raised it. She thought about wiping it down, but housekeeping wasn’t her thing. A day off work was a day off work and cleaning was work. She did plenty of it at the restaurant where she and her best friend, Teresa, worked. Satisfied she had enough lazy scheduled into the day, she showered and dressed. #cleanfor24.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: Breakfast

Hey! Come over for breakfast. #notinbed. XXOO

To: Nancy

From Teresa

Re: Breakfast

No can do. Working a double. Saw your grand opening re-tweet. Keep me posted. Take pics. BFF

Fun would be lower key without Teresa, but virtual sharing was better than nothing at all. She’d virtually share the DDS event with all her followers, too. Time to see what pre-festivities DDS invented. She shoved the phone into her then she dashed out to her balcony and scooched into her neon pink camp chair. She set her phone on the petite table beside her. Propping her feet up onto the white balcony rail, she watched opening activities across the way.

DiscountDepartmentStore@DiscountDepartmentStore

Starts nine a.m. Games. Prizes. Sing Karaoke in the Street & win Discount Department Store Sweep. Opening until one. 528 Hitte, Cinti. #DDSrUs

She re-tweeted it. A few Instagram snapshots later people scuttled out the glittering double doors of DDS. Some carried shiny, Crayola-crayon-colored helium balloons. Others heaved tables through them and set them up on the sidewalk. A few mom-like employees, and maybe they were moms, flurried tartan plaid tablecloths in the air before flinging them on the tables in one swoosh. #impressive. In ten or fifteen minutes instead of three hours, the street had altered itself into a carnival of booth invitations. Each would draw its own niche of people to the Grand Opening of DDS. #comeonecomeall.

Just as Nancy thought every employee in the place must be outside, one final person strutted out. His five-foot sign said, “Me? Not for Sale. But Everything Else Is. DDS.com.” So DDS had hired a human arrow. Except this contemporary carnival barker seemed familiar. Nancy dropped her feet off the balcony rail and popped out of her chair. She leaned over the rail and squinted her eyes, as if doing so would improve her sight. #howsillyisthat.

The sign waver wore the DDS logo colors of lime green and turquoise. He sported a purple beret and even though the colors shouldn’t have blended, they did. #artistsnightmare. A mop of curly black hair peeked out beneath the beret and the man paraded down to the corner, twirling his sign the whole way. He could even throw it into the air and catch it as if its width were nothing more than a slim baton. As much as a magician as this guy was, his swag drew more of her attention. Where had she seen it? Then she fell back into her chair.

It was her ex. He was The Ex. The Ex of a Lifetime. They had broken up two years earlier after he stepped on a pair of fallen car keys. Was it her fault she’d spent an eternity in hell’s traffic on wretched I-75 due to orange barrel season? Was it her fault that when she burst through the door she had to get to the bathroom? Was it her fault the keys had skidded across the library table and buried themselves into the shag carpet? Okay, so she’d forgotten about them and never scooped them up. But if Wade hadn’t been so obsessed about removing his shoes at the door he wouldn’t have pierced his foot on them. She’d apologized, but her housekeeping skills, or lack of them, became a drone’s focus in a volcanic fight. He slammed out the door and never came back. But her feelings for him stayed behind. #nomovingon. She couldn’t get her thumbs jumping across the phone keys fast enough.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

You won’t believe it. Wade’s back. He’s the sign guy for DDS. What should I do? XO 😦

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

Wade? A sign guy? #eyecheckneeded XXOO

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

#myeyesare2020 You know how he walks. Hunky swagger. I’m going down. If it’s him, I’m telling him off. XXXOOO

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

You’re crazy. Let me know.

Nancy flew off the balcony. Dashing into the bathroom, she applied I’m Not Your Ruby Slippers lipstick and inched a comb through her own copper curls. She gritted her teeth and rubbed a spot of the lipstick off them then stood back for a final assessment. #goodisgoodenough.

PF Flyers wouldn’t have helped her race down the three flights of stairs any faster than she did. She got to the bottom and flung open the main door to the building. She stopped short at the bray of a paunchy gentleman singing Karaoke on the portable bandstand. The reverb of the speakers added static to his barnyard voice. She labeled #hesadonkey to an Instagram and sent it to her network. They might as well see the whole show. Maybe she’d include her investigation on Wade or his clone.

She didn’t flow through the crowd as much as she staggered. A full-on drunk couldn’t force a misstep more than the pushing and shoving of step-sale wives. Many had strollers doubling as weaponry. She crept to the block cattycornered to the one where the Wade-look-alike held court. Had there been enough room, a stadium-sized crowd would have surrounded him. All he needed was a top hat and people would have thrown money. #givetheguyadollar

Even with the human obstacles blocking a clear view, Nancy knew it was Wade. Her memories of him devoured and consumed her. The living being pitching the sign through the air matched those memories with precision. She couldn’t tell if her heart pounded in her ears or in her feet or everywhere in between. She inhaled the oxygen around her for courage.

Nancy Lagget@NancyLagget

DDS Sign Guy might be my ex. Will approach. #causeascene

She hit the Tweet icon and crossed the street. About two yards from Wade’s sideshow a mommy with a double stroller missile ran over her foot. Nancy collapsed, yelping. In the process, she knocked heads with one of the princess toddlers. The princess screamed with the force of a nuclear warhead while mommy morphed into Momzilla, launching her own rage onto Nancy. Flashbulbs weren’t erupting in her direction, but Nancy knew phones everywhere clicked or videoed the incident. It would go viral. #imsoscrewed.

Nancy squeezed her eyes preventing escapee tears. The crowd split but she was oblivious. Momzilla trekked onward. Nancy still crouched, massaging her foot. Would it turn black and blue? Probably. Instagram worthy? #uglygross.

She stood, head down, avoiding further videos and pictures. Her face had to be one of splotchy red humiliation. Her knees cracked as she straightened.

“Hurt your foot, did you?”

She glanced at her phone, then realized that was wrong. It was real voice. And it belonged to Wade Faringer. She snapped to attention.

“Hi.” Her two-year long vision of creating a tsunami-scene was at least that far out of reach. She’d practiced it a billion times. She was ready. He was here. There were witnesses. #putonbiggirlpants.

“Has your injury gone to your voice?” He was still speaking.

She swallowed and shook her head. Why wasn’t she yelling at him? He deserved it! But somehow he’d twirled away her anger like he did his sign.

“Can I help you to a bench?” He jutted his chin to one bolted into the sidewalk. He took her arm and draped it around his shoulder. His arm arm curved around her waist while the other held the giant DDS sign. After lowering her to the bench, he sat beside her and the sign leaned up against the bench like a flimsy surfboard.

“It seems fair,” he said.

“What seems fair?” she mumbled.

He touched his thumb to her chin and lifted her face toward him. “I leave over a foot injury and I’m back because of one. Did you come for the grand opening?”

Nancy heard his voice break mid-question. Uncertainty? She pointed up to her apartment. “Sort of. I live across from DDS. Third floor. I saw you from my balcony and ran down to see if it was really you.”

“It’s really me.” He whipped his beret off his head and held it to his heart. “I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t run over my foot.” She knew he wasn’t talking about her foot. But damn, she wanted him to admit he’d been a jerk. She wasn’t going to fall into his arms just because he happened to be here doing magic with signs. The crowd had forgotten about him, and her, and closed in on some sprout-thin lady singing an old Helen Reddy song, I Am Woman. Sprout had a good set of pipes. #hugemissedtalent. #singKaraokewell.

“For not coming back. But the longer I was gone, harder it was to call you. I’d like to explain, if you’ll let me. But not here.”

She didn’t respond. She didn’t know how to.

“I follow you.” He changed the topic like it was no more than changing a shirt.

“You follow me? Like on Twitter?”

“No, like on foot. Of course on Twitter. I love your hashtag spoofs.”

Had she ever spoofed something he’d tweeted? Crap. She would have. No one was exempt.

“I don’t think so. I would have recognized your name.”

“Doubtful. It’s silent barker@silentbarker. And yes, you zinged me once or twice. Most memorable was #evencourtjestershavetoeat. Speaking of which, I have to get back to my flying sign act. How about dinner?”

She gulped an ocean of saliva. #waterhose. “Sure. Mac and cheese? It’s all I’ve got.”

His grin seemed to pull him straighter. Could they be a real live throwback instead of an Instagram one? She returned the grin and mentally crossed her fingers.

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

It was Wade. No scene. #yellowspine. XXOO

To: Nancy

From: Teresa

Re: It’s Him

I never thought you could do it. BBF anyway. Move on, now. K? XOXOXO

To: Teresa

From: Nancy

Re: It’s Him

I will. Sort of. Cooking mac and cheese for him. Tonight. #meltedspine. BFF, too. XXXOOO 🙂

Once Nancy limped home, she resumed her third-floor balcony seat and let the DDS carnival entertain her the rest of the day. Once in a while Wade would take center-street and perform just for her. Or so she thought. Sprout won the Sing Karaoke in the Street contest and got a $5000 shopping spree at DDS. #prizesworthwinning.

Nancy Lagget@NancyLagget

Sign guy was my ex. No crime scene. He’s coming over for dinner tonight. #bestbargaintoday.

© 2015 Holly Helscher