Tag Archives: Romance


By Don E. Noel

Jennie and the orchestra were belting out Cole Porter. Quick-quick, slow: When they beginthe beguineit brings back a night

“He has a pigeon,” Sasha whispered as she passed Rita at the swinging kitchen doors. “Same woman, three numbers now. On the far side, where I’m serving.”

Sasha was Rita’s best friend at the Paradise Inn. She’d helped her get the job and more recently volunteered to help manage Roberto, Rita’s boyfriend. Manage, meaning get him back into line.

From the tables Rita was serving, he stood out: a young man dancing with an older woman. A few open steps, in perfect time with the music, then wheel. Nice variations. She knew Roberto was a great dancer; they’d met in a dance hall. Medium-tall, guapo handsome, hair ebony. A weightlifter’s chest, emphasized by his short brocaded tuxedo, almost like a toreador’s chaquetilla jacket, that he’d found in a second-hand store when all this began.

What mattered was how close they were dancing.

Rita cleared the dinner dishes, left the tray on a rack and threaded through the tables to the dance floor. Roberto’s back was to her. This was an older crowd: the Unionville Class of 1983 Reunion. The woman hadn’t lost her figure or at least wore enough Spandex to still look good. She had shoulder-length coppery hair, which was surely a dye job. Her eyes were closed; his right hand was not at her waist but in the small of her back.

Very close.

Finally, they turned. Roberto’s eyes were open, watching for other dancers. He saw Rita, gave her a smile and wink. She glared, he wheeled away. She shouldered the tray back to the kitchen.

On the carving counter was a short boning blade, thin and razor-sharp. On impulse, she grabbed it with a dishtowel and put it on a tray of dessert puddings. Hoisting the tray, she paused at the full-length mirror just inside the outbound door. Management encouraged them to look good. More than good, she thought. A Columbiana, she was built at least as well as that ageing Spandexed fake redhead on the floor; she danced better too. Her black hair was as long, although tucked into a net when she worked. She frowned at her reflection, making fierce black eyes.

Sasha, coming in the other door, caught her. “Pretty good, babe!”

A compliment from Sasha meant something because she was, herself, a blonde bombshell. Ukrainian by birth, but a citizen now, lucky lady, with a husband and two kids. She thought everyone should enjoy domestic bliss.

“Thanks.”  Rita tried to smile at her in the mirror.

“Enough woman for any man,” Sasha persisted.

“Wouldn’t you think?” Rita said, heading out to serve the pudding.

Sasha hadn’t noticed the knife.

Rita had been a waitress for three years. Although a motel, The Paradise was mostly a banquet hall: The wait staff brought course after course to crowded tables and cleared the rubble.

If the group was male with an open bar, it could become a gauntlet of gropes as the evening wore on. High school reunions, on the other hand, high school reunions were a joy. The women often dressed in school colours matched by crepe-paper streamers; older, not rowdy, only a few drinking too much. Many said ‘thank you’ when you set a plate down— most men with wives. Always a surplus of women, though, divorced or widowed.

This Class of ’83 had wine for happy hour. Rita and Sasha and all the waitresses carried hors d’oeuvres as people renewed acquaintances, talked about how far they’d come, showed off pictures of grandchildren. Their name tags had yearbook photos, which prompted polite lies about how little they’d changed.

In fact, the men were gray-haired, if not bald, and most had varying protrusions of paunch. The women – thanks to hairdressers, facials, yoga, uplifting bras, maybe a facelift or lipo – didn’t show their age as much.

They took a class picture while rolls and salads were put on the tables. Tony James and His Orchestra began; people table-hopped and danced between courses. Most of Tony’s players were as old as the reunion people, so oldies came naturally. Some guests sang along, or mouthed words, or asked each other who recorded that song. The dancing was mostly shuffling back and forth to the music. Even the men who could lead were a bit age-stooped.

So Roberto stood out. A man should dance head back and chest out, playing with his partner how a toreador plays a bull, first at a distance with the big cape, admiring, then closer in with the muleta.

Rita was ready to teach him about the short sword hidden in that little cape.

She set the tray on the rack again and slipped out to the lobby where Tommy, the desk clerk, played computer solitaire. “There’s a redhead in a long black dress, Tommy. Stacked well enough that you would have noticed her. Is she staying here tonight?”

“A single on the second floor. You want me to ring her? Let you leave a voicemail?”

“No thanks,” she said. “My message isn’t for her. But thanks.” She hurried back to work, biding her time.

“You were late again.”

Roberto had discovered these reunions two years ago. He arrived early to pick her up after work one night and saw those single women looking lonely. He was dressed plainly but asked one to dance, then another, then a third before Tony played Good Night Ladies.

Rita waited until they got back to their third-floor walk-up so he wouldn’t miss the fire in her eye. “What was all that dancing about?”

“That was amateur night, chica. I can make money doing that.”


“Tips, baby. I’ll bet some of those women will pay to dance with me.”

“I’m not enough for you?”

“You’re plenty for me,” he said, patting her culo. “I’m talking about just dancing. We can put the money away to start our family.”

He, of course, knew that would soften her up, but she didn’t let him off the hook. “I don’t want my boyfriend to be a . . . isn’t there a word?”

Roberto was a boricuatwo-century but had left Puerto Rico young enough to get a good New York education. “Gigolo,” he said.

“You don’t just jiggle when you dance.”

“No, no. Gigoló. A dancing partner. Perfectly respectable. I’ll dance with reunion ladies, and we’ll put the money in our nest egg.”

She relented. Still, she went to the library to look it up. Male dancer, yes. But also ‘a younger man supported by an older woman in return for his sexual attentions.’

His new sideline was at first as squeaky-clean as he promised. He took Rita to The Paradise, and if he found it was a reunion crowd, he went home for a shower and shave, dressed up and came back to stroll among the tables. After a time, he’d start inviting single women to dance. Rita never heard the invitation, of course, but he bragged about his technique as he drove her home.

“Hello there,” was his line, “I wonder if you can help me?  My name is Roberto. I’m a ballet student, but just now can’t afford to keep up classes. I need to keep practicing, though. I wonder if you would do me the honour of taking a turn on the dance floor?”

He wasn’t a ballet student; he drove a bus. But with his looks, they believed him and loved how he helped them cut a fine figure their classmates would admire. When he escorted them back to their tables, they invariably slipped him some cash to help resume his supposed ballet classes.

He bragged about his performance on the way home but always handed over the money, more than a hundred dollars most nights.

She let the money stifle her jealousy. She opened a savings account at a neighbourhood bank, and their start-a-family savings began to grow.

Then one night, Roberto sought out Sasha. He told her he had to leave early and asked her to give Rita a lift home. He was dragged into their apartment at four in the morning.

She was still awake. “Qué diablos! Where have you been?”

“I gave a guy a ride home.”

“Sure. A guy. In your bus, I suppose.”

“No, really; he was too drunk to drive himself. He offered me $200 to take him home.”  He pulled two century notes out of his shirt pocket. “Here, for our family fund.”

Too tired to argue, she went to sleep, turning her back, so she barely felt him crawl into bed.

She felt him next morning, though, hard as a rock at ten o’clock, wanting to make love. “You’re supposed to be at work!”

“I called the dispatcher. Said I was sick. I want to be sure we’re still okay, you and me.”

Roberto wasn’t only a good dancer; he was a wonderful lover. She wanted to believe him. He promised she’d never need a ride home from Sasha again. They made love without a condom.

When her period didn’t come the next week, Rita got a test kit at the drugstore. Pregnant. Which made a difference the next time he had “a man who needed a ride home.”

In Sasha’s car, she cried most of the way to the apartment. Sasha turned the engine off. “You don’t have to put up with this,” she said. “There are other men. Throw the bastard out.”

“I can’t; I’m pregnant.”

“Oh, God! Does he know?”

“Not yet.”

“Rita, you gotta tell him. He’s going to be a father; he’s got to be responsible. I’ll have Ted find him at the depot, talk to him.” Ted was her husband.

“Thank you.”

“And tell him I’m keeping an eye on him. I do the tables nearest the dance floor.”

“Thank you, Sasha.”

Rita didn’t tell him right away, though, and Ted may not have spoken to him before it happened again.

“Does he know yet about the baby?” Sasha asked as Rita wept again on the way home.”


“You’ve got to tell him. And tell him you don’t believe his giving-rides-home stuff. Don’t tell him tonight, though, in the morning. Be all sweetness and light, and then lay it on him over breakfast when he’s not expecting it. When he’s vulnerable.”

So Rita didn’t wait up and pretended not to hear him tiptoe in. In the morning, she woke him without a kiss and got breakfast. They couldn’t afford eggs often, but Roberto always wanted them after they had sex – “restored his resources,” he said – and she put eggs over-easy in front of him.

If he got the signal, he didn’t show it. She pressed the point.

“You were late again.”

“Another guy who’d had too much.”

“And where did he live?”

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He took just a moment too long. “West Newbury.” He embroidered it. “Someday, we’ll live in a town like that. Nice neighbourhood, two-car garages. His wife hadn’t come last night. She’ll bring him this morning to get his car.”

Maybe I should write down the numbers from the car’s speedometer to get the truth out of him, Rita thought. No, hardly necessary. She ignored the lie and did what Sasha urged. “We’re going to have a baby,” she dropped on him.

There was no joy on his face. “Oh, my.”

“Yes,” she said.



“That’s sooner than we’d planned,” he said and managed to add, “but it’s wonderful! We should get married.”

Be tough, Sasha had urged. “I’m only interested in a faithful husband,” Rita said.

He got it and gave her a lengthy apology. “I don’t mean these things to happen. The devil puts temptations in my path.”

“So I should give you five Hail Marys, and all is forgiven?” Rita said. “Go see a priest.”

He actually wept; it would never happen again.

“You’ll give up the dancing?”

“We’ll need the money for the baby.”

She relented, he promised, they made love.

“Never mind that. Where the hell have you been?”

Two months went by; more dancing, more money in the bank, no funny stuff. Until this night with the Spandexed redhead.

“Did he see you watching?” Sasha asked.


“And he didn’t right away take her back to her table? Bad sign.”

“I’ve had it,” Rita said. She let Sasha see the knife. “It’s time this toreador got gored.”

“Oh my God! You can’t do that. You’ll go to prison and then get deported. Your baby will be put up for adoption. Why ruin your life?”

“I don’t care; he’s already ruined my life.”

“Let me think,” she said. “Go tend your tables. And give me that knife.”

Rita let her take it.

Ten minutes later, in the kitchen, Sasha had another plan. “You’re barely showing. Picking up a man for the night is entirely credible.”


She explained her plan: Turn the tables on him. It was time to teach him his lesson.

And then throw him out, Sasha insisted. It wouldn’t be easy, living alone on waitress earnings. But the new baby bank account was in her name, so she had a cushion. She could find a smaller apartment. Maybe think about abortion; she’d be unlikely to find a new man willing to disregard a swelling belly left by another man. In any case, show him the door.

Okay, Rita said, let’s do it. So she told the kitchen boss she was sick and took a taxi home. Sasha would catch Roberto toward the end of the evening, between dances. “Have you seen Rita?” she would ask. “She said not to wait for her tonight. One of the guests is drunk and needs her to drive him home.” And, she would add naively: “Does that make any sense to you?”

Roberto dropped the redhead like a bomb and stormed out to the lobby to ask Tommy if he’d seen Rita. “No,” Tommy said truthfully. Rita got all this later, of course. Roberto strode out to ask Vincenzo, the doorman if she’d left with anyone. He hung around until the guests had gone home and staff had cleaned up. Sasha waved goodnight to him.

Meanwhile, at home, Rita packed his belongings. Everything. They only owned one suitcase each, and she didn’t want to lose hers, so most of his stuff went into plastic garbage bags.  Then she took a bath and went to bed. Maybe he dozed but was quickly wide awake when he came home at two.

“You’re late again,” she said, playing innocent. “Someone else needed a ride home?”

“Never mind that. Where the hell have you been?”

“Right here, sweetheart. Didn’t Sasha tell you I came home early because I wasn’t feeling well?”

“That’s not what she told me.”

“Maybe you misunderstood. I had morning sickness.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“The doctor said it could come at any time.” She was cool. “What did you think?”

That stopped him. He didn’t want to say what he’d been worrying about all evening.

She let him stew for a minute before asking the question that was the punch line of Sasha’s plan. “How did you feel about our marriage the last few hours?”

It was a pleasure to watch him; she told Sasha later. He frowned, trying to figure out what she meant. Then his eyes opened wide as he got it. He started to scowl, angry at being duped. Finally, his face softened into a smile, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I deserved that.” He looked around and saw all his stuff on the floor. “Are those things mine? What’s that about?”

This was the moment. Pick ‘em up, you gigoló deceiver, she was ready to say, and get out!

But first, be sure he knew what he was going to miss. Let him spend the rest of his life regretting what he’d let slip away, wishing he was still with her, helping bring up a man-child.

“If you put your ear on my stomach, you can hear the heartbeat,” she said. “The doctor says it’s a boy.”

Don Noel is retired from four decades’ prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford, CT. He took his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. You can visit Don at www.doneonoel.com.

Song of Mammon

By Matthew J. Andrews

When he shows up at my door – 

face smeared into a devilish grin,

one hand gripping a wine bottle,

the other hand pushing his way inside – 

his spirit fills the room like incense

and I take him into my nostrils.

When it gets dark, he puts his hands

around my neck and kisses me

until I shrivel on his acidic lips.

He takes me down into the bed,

where his restless hands melt 

and reshape me like a skilled potter,

and where he advances inside me

like a tumor until I whisper his name

into the empty corners of the room.

Matthew J. Andrews is a private investigator and writer whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Orange Blossom Review, Funicular Magazine, and EcoTheo Review. His debut chapbook, I Close My Eyes, and I Almost Remember, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He can be contacted at matthewjandrews.com.

Up in Smoke

By William Cass

Rosa felt flattered and appreciative when Jenny invited her to join a few other housekeepers and resort staff for a TGIF. She’d only been working there a couple of weeks and hadn’t yet made any friends. The truth was Rosa had no one she was close to outside of work either; she passed this off as due to her being overweight, acne-scarred, and the shy, reserved nature that had been a restraint for her for as long as she could remember. 

Their group met at an outdoor bar on the boardwalk not far from the resort and included three other housekeepers, a grounds guy, and a well-built bellhop. They’d each changed out of their work uniforms and were all in their early to mid-twenties. They sat at a table away from the Calypso band playing in a corner, ordered Happy Hour drinks and appetizers, and conversed over the sound of the music and the soft tumble of waves beyond the boardwalk. It was early spring, pleasantly cool, and as the late afternoon fell, the sky took on the color of a bruise. 

Rosa was last to arrive. Jenny gestured her over to the empty seat next to her, made introductions, then engaged her in conversation. Jenny was twenty-four, two years older than Rosa, and had been working at the resort since shortly after she graduated high school, had a baby girl and got married. She told Rosa she had taken sporadic online courses through a technical college but was having a hard time finding meaningful time for that. 

Rosa asked, “What does your husband do?” 

Jenny’s lips pursed and she rolled her eyes. “Warehouse security guard. Overnight shift.” 

“How do you handle things with your daughter?” 

“Well, he mostly sleeps while she’s at school and I’m at work, then takes care of her until I get back. We have dinner, and he catches another quick nap before he heads to the warehouse.” She shrugged, “We manage, How about you?” 

“I need a favor,” she said.

Rosa mimicked her shrug. “I live with my grandfather. He and my grandmother raised me before she died when I was in high school. Now I kind of care for him…he’s pretty frail, forgetful.” She smiled, “I call him ‘mi abuelito’.” 

Jenny nodded. “That’s nice. Then you probably can’t stay too long this evening, either.” 

Rosa shook her head. 

Phillip, the bellhop, raised his glass and called for a toast. Rosa regarded his tanned skin, his flop of bleach-blonde hair, his self-assured surfer vibe; in spite of the stereotype, she felt a tickle of attraction. He toasted Happy Hours, he toasted poorly paid workers everywhere, he toasted beauty. As he uttered those last words, he gestured at the setting around them, the ocean, the sky, the music, but when he finished, his eyes rested on Jenny. 

 Jenny began joining Rosa often for lunch in the staff room, which Rosa also appreciated. Unlike most pretty girls she’d known, Jenny didn’t appear smug or aloof, and Rosa didn’t mind that Jenny did most of the talking while they ate. Rosa learned that Jenny’s marriage had been one born mostly of obligation, that her husband’s name was Carl and her daughter was Audrey, and that the little girl loved glitter, ponies, the color pink, and preferred dressing in tutus and plastic tiaras. When she spoke about Audrey, Jenny’s eyes softened as much as they went dull when the talk turned to Carl. He wasn’t a bad guy, Jenny told Rosa, just kind of a doofus; a high school jock gone to seed. He worked weekends, and she didn’t, so with their schedules, they saw little of each other. Jenny gave a kind of smirk when she said that was fine with her. Rosa watched her grow silent afterward, gazing at something, it seemed, on the opposite wall. 

The two of them had the same shifts during the week, so when Jenny told her their car had broken down and would take several days to be repaired, Rosa offered to pick her up and drop her off until it was ready. Their apartment was in a low, cinder-block building on a busy street in a rundown section of town. When she arrived that first morning, Rosa knocked on an open door with a tattered screen, and a man’s voice called for her to come in. Rosa entered a small living room that was separated from an equally cramped kitchen by a Formica table and chairs. Carl stood at the kitchen counter arranging items in a lunch box that had a unicorn on its lid. He was a big man with a soft belly and prematurely thinning hair, but kind eyes. 

He gave her a sheepish grin and said, “Jen will be right out, sit if you want.” 

“Jenny would simply call Rosa’s name softly”

Rosa lowered herself into a chair across the table from Audrey who didn’t look up from the coloring book she was scribbling in. Both rooms were cluttered with toys, piles of laundry, dishes, and strewn papers. A television played an animated children’s program against one wall of the living room. The smell of fried bacon and toasted waffles lingered in the air; a partially eaten plate of both was pushed aside next to Audrey, a puddle of syrup ringing its edge. A red ribbon perched next to the crooked tiara on her curly head.

During the next few moments, Rosa watched Carl write what appeared to a note with a heart at the bottom and fold it into the lunch box before closing the lid. Then Jenny burst into the room buttoning her uniform top. She quickly gathered her purse and pecked Audrey’s cheek. 

“Hey, there,” she said to Rosa. “We better go or we’ll be late.”

As Rosa followed her to the door, Carl called, “See you later. Love you, babe.” 

“You, too,” Jenny muttered, pushing through the door, the tear in it flapping behind her. 

They each had different morning and afternoon breaks, and Rosa often saw Jenny spending hers down behind the resort’s dumpsters smoking cigarettes with Phillip; sometimes another staff member or two was with them. When the two of them were alone, they sat close together on a makeshift bench there. Rosa felt her eyebrows knit the first time she saw them exchange a quick kiss when they parted. Each time that happened afterward, she stood very still and tried to chase away thoughts of crooked tiaras, love notes in unicorn lunch boxes, and farewell calls of endearment. 

At the TGIF’s that continued every month or so, Rosa only saw Jenny and Phillip chance occasional furtive glances. But on the one occasion that a group of them met on a lark later at a club, she did see them push their way into the crowd on the dance floor during a slow song and stroke each other’s backs while they moved closer together. Jenny’s eyes met hers through the throng, and Rosa looked quickly away. When she glanced back, Jenny’s eyes remained on Rosa’s, and she did not attempt to hide the fingertips that continued to caress Phillip’s back. 

So, Rosa was startled, but not entirely surprised, when Jenny appeared beside her cart in an upstairs hallway during one of her breaks shortly afterward cradling a set of clean sheets and pillowcases. Jenny fixed her with a gaze that held a combination of things, yearning, and determination among them. 

“I need a favor,” she said. “I need to use one of your rooms. Just for a little bit, but I need you to keep an eye out for the supervisor. Knock if she comes by.” 

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Rosa felt herself blinking, but Jenny’s gaze remained steady and unyielding until she said, “I checked the registry, and there’s no one in 402. We’ll change the bed when we’re done.” 

Rosa watched her march quickly down to the end of the hall and nod into the stairwell there. Phillip came out of its cavity, waited while Jenny used her pass key to open the guest room door closest to them, then followed her inside it. Rosa winced as the door clicked quietly behind them. She set the towel she was holding on top of the cart and didn’t reach down to pick it up when it fell to the floor. It was early afternoon, the hours between the end of guest check out and the beginning of check-in, so no one else was around. The only sounds were the screech of seagulls outside mingling with laughter and splashing from the pool four stories below. 

At home, Rosa’s grandfather had begun to fade further. Even though she measured his meds out into clearly labeled sections in a plastic dispenser, he often forgot to take them when she wasn’t there. Rosa started calling him during her breaks and at lunch to remind him and to check upon him. When she got home to their bungalow, he was often still dressed in his pajamas sitting where she’d left him that morning and staring at the same channel on the television that was usually muted. She tried getting him outside for some exercise before dinner, but he could barely make it to the end of their block with his walker. She brought out old photo albums and flipped through the pages with him to jog his memory, but he sometimes struggled to even recognize his wife. Rosa lingered over the photographs of her grandparents alone together in which they always held hands, even while blowing out the candles on the cake she’d baked them for their forty-eighth anniversary just before her grandmother’s death. 

The brief afternoon trysts between Jenny and Phillip continued at work every week or two. But unlike the first time, Jenny would simply call Rosa’s name softly from the end of the hall, and when their eyes met, gesture with her head towards the guest room in front of her. Rosa gave no acknowledgment, but a moment later, Jenny would juggle the change of bedding in her arms, make the same gesture into the stairwell, and Phillip would appear and follow her into the room. He never glanced Rosa’s way, and Rosa always made certain to leave her cart in the hallway, but not be there herself when they dropped bedding into its dirty-laundry sack and returned to the stairwell. 

Rosa normally had her grandfather sponge-bathed, diapered, and in bed by eight each night. She usually channel-surfed on the television afterward but began spending time on her laptop looking at online dating websites. She felt a sheepish excitement as she did. She concentrated on those that advertised matching potential couples by personality and valued characteristics. It took her nearly a month to gather the nerve to join one. She kept her personal description brief, using words and phrases like, “Loyal, enjoys simple things, quiet, and giving.” When prompted to describe the sorts of traits she was looking for in a match, she used similar descriptions, but included, “Integrity, honesty, and faithful.” She posted only three photos, all profiles in shadows from the waist up which she’d staged awkwardly with the self-timer on her grandmother’s old camera. Rosa hesitated for a long time, her finger poised over, “Enter,” on the keyboard, before finally blowing out a breath and finalizing her membership on the site. 

As soon as she did, her grandfather groaned from his bedroom. She hurried into the room and knew immediately by the smell that he’d soiled himself. He stayed asleep while she cleaned him up and changed his diaper. Her eyes widened when she returned to her laptop because a flashing icon on it indicated that she already had her first potential match. Her heart hammered as she skimmed through his profile and photos. He was a few years older than her, appeared a bit overweight, too, and his personal descriptions seemed to be reasonably close to her own: nothing to dissuade her from pursuing the match. 

“Silently, Rosa set the bag of trash down…”

Rosa looked at the framed black-and-white photo of her grandparents on the desk next to the laptop. In it, they were about her age, newlyweds, and had just immigrated to the United States from Cuba. They’d grown up there in the same village and had been childhood sweethearts. A sudden flush spread through her. Rosa shook her head, looked back to the laptop where her photo smiled back at her in a blouse Jenny had told her was, “Slimming,” and with a couple of quick taps, deleted her membership on the dating site. She closed the lid, sat back in the hard chair, and listened to her grandfather’s soft snores from the next room. 

Several mornings later, she carried her cart’s full plastic bag of trash to the dumpsters. She smelled cigarette smoke as she approached them and stopped still in her tracks when she heard Jenny’s voice from the other side say, “You mean Rosa? Are you kidding me? We’ve got nothing to worry about there.” 

Phillip’s voice followed. “How can you be so sure?” 

“All that cow cares about is fitting in somewhere,” Jenny said. “We keep asking her to a TG every now and then, and we’re good as gold.” 

Rosa heard Phillip guffaw, then two clouds of exhaled smoke rose above the dumpsters. She felt her throat tighten and burning behind her eyes. Children shouted happily to one another in the nearby pool, and dishes clattered into a sink in the restaurant’s kitchen a handful of yards away. Silently, Rosa set the bag of trash down in front of the dumpsters and somehow found her way back to where she’d left her cart. 

Rosa didn’t sleep much that night. For a long time, she just lay thinking, vaguely aware of her grandfather’s snores and the occasional vehicle passing in the street. She allowed her feelings to tumble over themselves. She thought about her loneliness and what her life would be like when her grandfather was gone. She thought about how safe and cared for her grandparents had always made her feel. She thought about Jenny’s gaze beside her cart before the first tryst with Phillip and realized the look in her eyes held something beyond yearning and determination: it held to scorn. Rosa felt her eyes narrow, and a small snort escaped her. An image of cigarette smoke drifting over the dumpster kept invading her attempts to quiet her mind. She finally dozed briefly as the first birds began tittering, woke up at full dawn, and immediately called in sick at the resort. 

“Shouldn’t you be at work?”

She lingered over breakfast with her grandfather, then took him for a long walk in his wheelchair through their neighborhood with her jaw set hard. She eventually got him settled in his recliner in front of the television at about nine and drove off. She’d waited until then to be sure that Audrey would be at school. When she got to their apartment, she turned off the engine and sat staring at their screen door for a long time before heaving another snort, climbing out, and knocking on it. 

Rosa rubbed her damp palms together as she waited. It took three more knocks and before Carl emerged rubbing sleep from his eyes on the other side of the torn screen. He wore plaid sleeping pants with a ratty T-shirt that rode up over his stomach. They regarded each other until his eyebrows knit into a frown. 

He asked, “Shouldn’t you be at work?” 

Rosa cleared her throat. “There’s something I need to tell you.” The same breakfast smells came from inside. “Something you need to know.” 

She watched him rub his disheveled hair, his frown deepening. “All right,” he said. “Tell me.” 

William Cass has had over 200 short stories accepted for publication in a variety of literary magazines such as J Journal, December, Briar Cliff Review, and Zone 3. He was a finalist in short fiction and novella competitions at Glimmer Train and Black Hill Press. He received three Pushcart nominations and won writing contests at Terrain.org and The Examined Life Journal. His short story collection, Something Like Hope & Other Stories, is scheduled for release by Wising Up Press in late 2020.