Flash Fiction Friday: A Second Chance

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Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Trish walked down the hallway, gripping her books to her chest, her lunch bag dangling from the fingertips of one hand, her head down, eyes on the floor. She felt the stares, heard the whispers and giggles, and saw the pointing fingers from the corners of her eyes.

At the end of the hall she bolted through the doors into the courtyard. She strode to a bench half-hidden by a couple large bushes and sat down. She placed her books on the bench beside her and sighed, then removed the baggie holding her peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her brown bag.

A shadow fell across her face and a hand set a can of Coke Zero on the bench next to her. Trish looked up into the face of an average-looking young man with light brow hair streaked with gold where the sun’s rays touched it—Brian Douglas, her church pastor’s son. He smiled at her.

“Coke Zero. Your drink of choice?”

She nodded. How did he know that?

“I noticed your brown bag and thought you might need something to wash your food down.”

“Thank you,” Trish mumbled between bites of her sandwich.

“Mind if I join you?”

Trish frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Brian plopped down on the grass in front of the empty half of the bench. “Don’t worry, they won’t suspect anything with me talking to you. They all know where I stand on that subject.”

“That’s what I used to think.” Trish finished her sandwich and pulled out a baggie of celery and carrot sticks. She took one of each and offered the bag to Brian. It made her uncomfortable to eat in front of someone.

He took the baggie, helped himself to one of each, and passed it back to her. “So the rumors are true?”

She studied his face, his eyes, for any signs of judgment, but all she saw was compassion. She nodded as tears pooled in her eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Trish popped open her Coke and took a long drink. What was up with this guy? He had always tried to talk with her at church, was always polite, but she hadn’t paid much attention to him. “Why do you care?”

There was a long pause as he looked at her. She shifted her position on the bench, his gaze making her uncomfortable.

Brian took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I’ve been interested in you for a long time. That’s why I always make an effort to talk to you at church.”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “How come you’ve never made an effort here at school?”

“Well, you didn’t seem real interested when I approached you at church, and here, you’re part of a crowd that has no interest in me. I guess I thought I’d have a better chance getting through to you at church.”

Trish wrinkled her brow. Was he still interested in her after hearing the rumors? She’d just admitted the rumors are true. “What do you want from me?”

He leaned forward. “I’d like to be your friend, get to know you better, and see where that leads.”

“Did you miss my nod? The rumors are true. I … gave myself to Randall McQuade in the back seat of his car Friday night.” She choked back a sob.

“Trish, I understand you made a mistake and that Randall McQuade is the biggest jerk in the school to make such a fool of you.”

Tears spilled from Trish’s eyes and slipped down her cheeks. “My parents don’t know, but I’m sure it won’t be long. They’re going to be so disappointed in me. How can you, the pastor’s son, still have an interest in someone like me?”

Brian rose from the ground and sat on the bench next to her. “Trish, we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a second chance. And you sure seem like you could use a friend right now.”

She sniffed and nodded. “Just so you know, he used protection, so there shouldn’t be any more … complications.” She hung her head.

Brian put an arm around her. “You’re going to be okay. And you should tell your parents. It’ll be better coming from you than if someone else tells them and adds to the story.”

“I know you’re right, but I’m scared.”

“Call me afterward.”

He stood to go.

“Brian, why are you so interested in me?”

“Because I think you’re smart and pretty, and you seem like someone I would enjoy spending time with.”

“I’m going to need some time. And when we start spending time together … we’re going to have to take it slow.”

“Not a problem.” He smiled. “I’m a patient man.”

Flash Fiction Friday: Love and Writing

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Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

 

Julie rushed through the library clasping her folder to her chest, tears stinging the backs of her eyes. As she burst out the library doors, she gulped the warm fresh air, relieved to be rid of the feeling of suffocation. She fast-walked toward home, longing for the safety and solitude of her bedroom.

As she walked, the dam broke, and tears gushed forth. Why are people so mean? Why are they so critical and judgmental? Hadn’t anyone ever taught them that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”—words Grandma Rose had drilled into her head?

Julie’s family’s house came into view, and Toby Jefferson, her best friend for the past three years, sat on the top step of the large front porch. She slowed her pace and scrubbed her tears away with one hand, while retaining her tight grip on her folder. She hoped her eyes didn’t look too red and puffy.

Julie turned onto the gray stone walkway leading to her house. Her eyes met Toby’s, and he grinned. She offered a small smile.

She stopped before him, and he patted the porch floor next to him. “Have a seat.”

When Julie was seated, Toby turned to look at her. “So, how’d it go? What did they say?”

One look into his kind, encouraging, chocolate brown eyes and she came undone. Sobs shook her slight frame.

Toby wrapped an arm around her and stroked her long black hair. He just held her until her sobs subsided, then she sat up, looked at him through watery blue eyes, and sniffed. “Oh Toby, I don’t think I can do this. Apparently my writing isn’t any good. They hated it—said the characters aren’t developed enough for them to like them, let alone care about them. They said I have no idea how to write a story people will want to read, and I shouldn’t waste my time.” Another tear spilled from her eye.

Toby, one arm still around her, rubbed her shoulder. “Didn’t they offer suggestions on how to do the things they think are missing?”

Julie shook her head and sighed. “Don’t ever suggest another writers’ group to me again. The people in those groups are mean and cruel. First, it was the two groups you suggested online that said I shouldn’t write again until I take a college creative writing class, and now this. Maybe I’m not really cut out to be a writer after all.” She laid her head on Toby’s shoulder and leaned into him.

May I see the piece you shared?” Toby spoke into her hair.

Julie sat up and looked at him, tears, once again, pooling in her eyes. She shook her head and wrapped both arms around the folder.

Come on, Jules. You’ve let me read your stuff before. You know I’d never be like those other people.” He gently brushed a few strands of hair from her face.

She lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry. I can’t. Not today.” She rose to her feet. “I’m going to my room. I’ll talk to you later.” She turned toward the house.

Toby got to his feet. “Jules…”

His pet name for her always made her breath catch in her throat. She wondered if he knew, that six months ago when he became the champion for her writing, she’d fallen in love with him. She turned to look at him.

Aw, never mind. I’ll talk to you later.” He turned and walked down the porch steps.

The next day, Toby met Julie at her locker at lunchtime like he did everyday. She greeted him with a large smile.

He quirked an eyebrow at her. “Didn’t expect to see such a bright smile on your face.”

Oh Toby, you’ll never guess what’s happened!”

Well, don’t hold me in suspense … tell me.”

Do you remember I told you, Miss Wilson, my English teacher convinced me to enter one of my short stories in a contest a few months ago?”

Toby nodded.

Well, today she informed the whole class that my story won first place!”

Toby wrapped her in a hug, lifted her from the floor, and spun her around. Then he set her down and looked into her eyes. “That’s great, Jules! One day you’ll have a bestseller.”

Heat crept into her cheeks, as he still had his arms around her, and other students stared. She nodded, looking up at him, his face so near to hers. “Miss Wilson also said she’s part of a very good writers’ group, and she wants me to go to the next meeting with her … this Saturday.” She bit her lower lip.

Are you going?”

She nodded.

Toby grinned and they walked to the lunchroom, his arm around her lower back.

Flash Fiction Friday: “Love Can Wait”

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Clara listened for noises in the house—silence. She tiptoed to her bedroom door, opened it a crack, and placed her ear to the crack. The only sound came from her parents’ bedroom—the sound of her father’s snoring. Now was the time to make her move.

She gathered the sheets she had tied together and took them to her bedroom window. She opened the window. She tied one end of the sheets to her bedpost, yanking on it to be sure it was secure. She slid the bed closer to the window, flinching at the scraping noise it made on the hardwood floor. She crept to the door and listened. Her father was still snoring. She padded back to the window and tossed the sheets out, then leaned out to be sure they reached the ground—just about three feet shy. No problem, she could make that jump without injury.

Clara sat on the windowsill, her legs outside. She managed to turn over so that her stomach rested on the windowsill, and she clasped sheet between her feet as well as in her hands. She began her descent from one knot to the next.

Halfway down, a noise to her left caught her attention. She turned toward the sound and made eye contact with Gilpin, the tailor’s son. He was climbing from a window in the house next door. Why was Gilpin climbing out a window? She didn’t have time to worry about that now. She needed to be as far away as possible before her parents discovered her missing in the morning.

Clara reached the end of her sheet rope and dropped to the ground below. She turned and ran but soon heard someone behind her.

“Clara! Clara, wait!”

She stopped, turned to face Gilpin, who wasn’t an ugly young man, but she wouldn’t call him handsome either. His dark brown, almost black eyes, were intense and held her eyes captive whenever he looked at her.

“Clara, where are you going?”

“I’m running away, if you must know. My father is forcing me to marry tomorrow, I know not whom, and I refuse to marry a stranger.” She raised her chin. “And what are you doing climbing from a window in the middle of the night?”

Gilpin’s brow wrinkled, and he tapped a finger on his chin, then he shook his head. “No, it couldn’t be … could it?”

“Gilpin, really, what are you mumbling about? I don’t have time to waste.” Clara glared at him.

“I am running away because I, too, am to marry tomorrow to I know not whom.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “You don’t suppose…”

Clara’s lower jaw went slack.

“Clara, you don’t suppose our fathers have in mind that you and I are to marry tomorrow, do you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! If that was their plan, why wouldn’t they have told either of us? We’ve known each other for years! Do you think they thought we would refuse?” Clara’s eyes searched Gilpin’s face. Would she refuse if she were to marry Gilpin?

“What if your father had told you he expects you to marry me tomorrow? Would you still be running away?”

Would she be running away? Surely she knew Gilpin, but she certainly had no romantic aspirations toward him. His eyes bored into hers, waiting for her answer.

“What about you? Would you be running away if you knew you were supposed to marry me tomorrow?” She challenged him.

He ran the backs of his fingers down the side of her face. “Clara, you know I’ve been in love with you for years … but you’ve never shown any special fondness for me. I would consider it an honor to marry you … if I were a knight. That is why I am running off. I am going to Sir Tobyn’s castle to beg him to train me so that I may be worthy to marry a lady like you.”

“Hmph! Lady? I am a peasant, same as you!”

“Clara, answer the question—would you be running away if you were to marry me tomorrow?”

She broke eye contact. “I don’t know.” She met his eyes again. “We both aspire to rise above our positions in life.”

Gilpin kissed her. “May we both rise and one day meet again!” He ran toward Sir Tobyn’s castle.

Clara’s fingers brushed her lips. Gilpin’s kiss had been sweet. But neither he nor she were ready to marry and continue in a life of drudgery like the one they had grown up in. They would each go their own way in hopes of becoming more. Were they destined to meet again, to marry as a knight and a lady? With the memory of Gilpin’s kiss so fresh on her lips, she almost hoped so.

Flash Fiction Friday: “Through the Love of Books”

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Janet perused the book spines on the library shelves. She searched for a suspense novel she hadn’t yet read.

Someone entered the aisle from the opposite end. From the corner of her eye, Janet  examined the tall young man. His snug-fitting green t-shirt displayed his sculpted chest muscles as his biceps bulged beneath the short sleeves. His sandy-brown hair waved over the top of his head but was clipped close around his ears. Several waves rested on the top of his crew collar.

Janet turned her attention back to the books.

A few minutes later, she reached for a suspense novel on the shelf above her head. Another set of fingers touched her own, sending a jolt of electricity through her. She looked up into sapphire blue eyes. “Oh, excuse me.”

A dimpled smile spread across the young man’s lips. “Are you a Dean Koontz fan too?”

“I’ve read just about everything he’s written. His books are real nail-biters, but I love most suspense novels.” Heat crept into her cheeks at their close proximity.

He pulled down the book, they had both reached for, and handed it to her. “Have you read this one?”

She studied read the first paragraph on the back cover. “No.”

“Then you check it out first. I’ll wait until you finish it.” His eyes locked on hers. “After we’ve both read it, maybe we can get together and discuss it?”

Janet smiled. “That sounds like fun. I should be able to finish it within a week.”

He took a step back but kept his eyes on hers. “Maybe we could discuss other suspense novels we’ve read over coffee?”

“I suppose we could do that, but I’m not a coffee drinker. When were you thinking?”

He grinned, his dimples like too deep finger indentations in his cheeks. “How about as soon as we finish here?”

She nodded and moved toward the check-out desk.

The young man stepped up behind her in line. He held a suspense novel by Lisa Scottoline.

After checking out their books, they walked toward the exit together. “By the way, my name’s Matthew Stevens. You can call me Matt.”

“I’m Janet Brady.”

“Well, Janet Brady, it’s a pleasure to meet you. There’s a coffee shop around the corner. Shall we walk?”

She nodded.

They entered the coffee shop, and Matt turned toward her. “So, what is your drink of choice?”

“A chai latte topped with whipped cream.”

“Coming right up. Why don’t you grab us a table and I’ll get our drinks?”

Janet found a table for two by the window. She sat down, placed her hands in her lap, and, using thumb and forefinger of one hand, pinched her other arm just above the wrist. She flinched. No, she wasn’t dreaming.

Matt joined her, and they discussed their favorite suspense novels while enjoying their beverages. When their cups were empty, Matt looked at her for a few minutes. “Janet, I know we just met, but are you available to go out for dinner this evening? I’d like to talk with you about more substantial things.”

When her eyes grew wide, Matt hit his forehead with the heel of his palm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound quite like that.” This made them both laugh. “It’s just … I think you’re beautiful, and I’d like to get to know more about you.”

Janet relaxed. “Yes, I’m available for dinner.”

They agreed on a time and place to meet.

After placing their orders, Matt said, “I work in construction. What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

Matt leaned forward. “Really? I’d like to read something you’ve written.”

The waiter set their food before them.

“Janet, what do you like to do for fun?”

“I like to take walks, go dancing, go to the movies or the theater.”

“Do walks include hikes in the woods?” Matt raised an eyebrow.

“Of course.”

Dinner ended and Janet shared her address and phone number with Matt and agreed to see him again soon.

The next day, Janet couldn’t focus on writing. She couldn’t stop thinking about Matt. She took a break, and her doorbell rang. The postman handed a box to her. She placed it on the table and opened it. A hardcover copy of The Watchers, the book she and Matt had agreed was their favorite Dean Koontz novel lay open with several pages from either side curled inward and tucked into the seam, forming a heart. A note in the box read: I had a wonderful time last night. I look forward to spending more time with you. You’ve already captured my heart. Matt

She clasped the note to her chest. Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of him. She smiled, hoping Matt would prove to be her lifelong love.

Flash Fiction Friday: “A Common Bond”

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“A Common Bond”

by Kelly F. Barr

Mia prepared to release the falcon she had nursed back to health. The falcon stepped onto the arm guard. “Take care of yourself and have a good life.” She held her breath as she watched the falcon rise, then circle back and descend toward her. She stood firm, not raising her arm, until the bird was too close to stop. She raised her arm and the falcon landed.

“Now listen. You’re completely healed. You need to go and not come back. Be free.” She released the bird once more and again held her breath. This time the falcon circled but did not descend, then it flew away. Mia watched until it was out of sight, tears slipping down her cheeks.

Dusty put a hand on her shoulder. “You have such a tender heart for all God’s creatures.”

Mia swiped at her tears and grinned. “Not all God’s creatures. Animals are easy. It’s people that are a challenge.”

“Does that mean you don’t have a tender heart for me?” Dusty raised an eyebrow.

The corners of Mia’s lips twitched. “Maybe.”

Dusty ran a hand through his blond curls. “I’ve worked with you for almost two years, watching you love and nurture so many animals then release them back to their natural environments. My interest in you has grown beyond mere physical attraction. Will you let me take you to dinner?”

She’d seen Dusty run his hand through those curls often. She now recognized it as a sign of nervousness in relation to her. She liked that she made him nervous. It showed vulnerability. She liked that there was a mutual vulnerability between them. Dusty had become a valuable asset to her wildlife preserve and she liked working with him. Would it ruin their working relationship if things became personal? What if they tried dating and it didn’t work? It could very well end their working relationship. She definitely found him attractive with his dark brown eyes and those golden locks, and he was polite and intelligent.

She shrugged. “I suppose one dinner wouldn’t hurt.”

Dusty’s lower jaw hung open.

“Better be careful. Something might fly in there.” She winked at him.

He closed his mouth, then said, “Oh right. Wait, did you just agree to have dinner with me?”

She nodded as a smile slid over her lips.

“When?”

“Well today’s Friday. How about tonight?”

“Tonight, yeah, that’d be great. After work, I’ll go home and come back for you around, say 6:30?” He ran a hand through those curls again, something Mia had thought about doing more than once.

“See ya then.” She smiled and started to walk away.

“Wait, you mean…” He looked at his watch, and Mia laughed out loud when he shouted, “It’s quitting time! I’ll see you in an hour and a half.”

Mia laughed again as he dashed to his pickup truck.

Dusty took her to the nicest steak house in town. They were taken to a booth in a back corner. After they placed their orders, Dusty looked at her across the table. He leaned back in his seat, his arms on the table. “Thank you for agreeing to have dinner with me. I’ve dreamt of this moment for months.”

“And what is it you want out of a relationship?”

“Wow, you don’t beat around the bush, do you?” He ran his hand through his hair. “I want to get to know you better, on a personal level. I want to see if we can become more than coworkers. What about you?”

“I think those are the right places to start. At first I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to go out with you. If things don’t work out, it could ruin our working relationship.” She studied him.

“Yeah, I know.”

Their food came. Mia bowed her head. Dusty reached over to clasp her hands. She raised her eyes to his.

“I’d like to pray, if that’s all right.”

She nodded.

Dusty prayed for their food, for their time together, and for wisdom and guidance from the Lord.

During dinner, they talked of their childhoods and they shared thoughts on what makes a good relationship.

After dinner, as they drove, Dusty looked over at Mia. “It’s a beautiful night. Would you like to go to the lake?”

Mia nodded.

They walked by the lake. Dusty reached to take her hand, and she liked how her hand fit into his. As they stood looking at the reflection of the moon on the water, Mia leaned into Dusty and tilted her head against his shoulder. Dusty put his arm around her shoulder. They were a perfect fit, and at that moment Mia knew she belonged in Dusty’s arms. Their mutual love of animals had already bonded them together. It could only grow stronger.

Flash Fiction Friday: “Answered Prayers”

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Christy stood, back pressed against the wall, hoping no one would notice her, just like during the slow dances back in high school—a long time ago—where she always filled the role of wallflower.

“Hello, my name is Roman. Would you be my dance partner?”

Christy looked up into emerald green eyes. A tall man, broad-shouldered with waves of chocolate brown hair spilling onto his collar, smiled at her.

He extended his hand toward Christy. She hesitated, then placed her hand in his. A jolt of electricity shot through her fingertips. Had he felt it too?

After a half-hour practicing three swing dances, Roman, his hand on the middle of Christy’s back, led her to the refreshment table. He poured two cups of punch and handed one to her.

Christy took a long swallow in an attempt to relieve the dryness gripping her throat. She focused on the cup in her hands.

“You did very well with the lessons. Try to relax and have fun.”

Her arms pimpled as his smooth voice rolled over her. She offered a small smile, still suspicious of his interest in her. You know you’d be really pretty if you’d just lose some weight. Words from her past still haunted her.

They finished their punch, and Roman’s green eyes bored into her brown ones. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

“What do you mean?” She chewed a corner of her lower lip.

“You know my name but still haven’t told me yours.” He leaned closer and whispered. “And if you continue to chew that lip, I may be tempted to taste your lips for myself.”

Christy’s lower jaw dropped.

Music began and Roman placed a hand on the middle of her back once again. He lowered his head and spoke softly in her ear. “Shall we dance?”

Her heart thumped in her chest. Did he find her attractive or was he only flirting? As they approached the dance floor, she looked up at him. “My name is Christy.”

He winked at her, and they began to dance.

With each turn around the floor, Christy relaxed a little more, and by the finalnumber, Roman had narrowed the space between them until they were mere inches apart.

When the music ended, Roman clasped her hand. “It’s still early. May I take you for coffee or ice cream?”

“The evening has been delightful, but I think I should go home.”

Disappointment evident in his eyes, he held fast to her hand. “May I see you tomorrow?”

“Why are you so interested in me?” She searched his eyes.

He ran his thumb over the back of her hand. “What is it that you think should dispel my interest?”

She lowered her head. “I … I’m fat.”

“Oh sweet Christy.” He placed a finger under her chin and pulled her head up to meet his gaze. “Don’t you know beauty is in the eye of the beholder? And I see before me a beautiful woman. You are a delightful armful, and I prefer your soft curves to those of less stature.”

In an instant, he drew her into his embrace and placed his lips on hers, offering a brief tender kiss.

As the kiss ended, Christy could barely breathe. Did she dare take a chance on falling in love with this man? Her head said “no”, but her heart reached for his.

His arms still encircling her, his face remained close to hers. “You sure I can’t take you for coffee or something?”

“I guess it would be okay, for a little while.” She took a step back trying to catch her breath.

They exited the dance studio and the humidity of the summer evening pressed in on them.

“Seems like a good evening for ice cream. What do you think?” Roman smiled down at her.

She nodded.

“There’s a local ice cream shop just down the street. Shall we walk?” He still held her hand in his.

“Okay.”

They talked as they ate their scoops. Roman made Christy laugh, and she found him quite charming. Her head sent warnings not to let her guard down, but she had prayed for God to send her a special man for so long. As they walked back to the dance studio parking lot, Christy whispered a silent prayer and took a deep breath. “Roman, do you believe in God?”

“Yes, I most certainly do.”

“You sound very sure of yourself.” They reached his car, and she looked up at him.

“That’s because God has answered many of my prayers over the years, and you, my dear Christy, are the most recent one.”

Christy’s heart leaped! “And I believe you are an answer to my long-time prayer. I didn’t know why I came to this swing dance tonight … until now.”

Flash Fiction Friday: “Lost in the Woods”

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Photo by Efren Barahona on Unsplash

“Lost in the Woods”

by Kelly F. Barr

Many people find peace in the silence of falling snow, but peace was far from Cassie’s mind as she stood in the woods shivering. She wrapped her arms around her middle and rubbed her upper arms, trying to stay warm; trying to focus on something other than the thought that she was lost.

She desperately tried to read the compass she carried. She’d never been good at woodland survival skills. Which way would get her back to civilization—back to her car? This is what anger did to her. Whenever she got extremely angry, she ran away from whomever or whatever she believed was causing her anger, but this time she’d driven to the woods on the edge of town, parked her car, and fled with nothing but a sweater and a compass she couldn’t read.

“Come on, Cassie. You ran into the woods heading north, so you need to head south to get back to your car.”

She looked up and halted. She blinked. A man in a tuxedo stood a couple yards from her. He couldn’t be real, could he?

“Hello.”

The saddest cerulean eyes Cassie had ever seen looked at her above a narrow nose, and a small attempt at a smile revealed deep dimples. He looked harmless—attractive and inviting—the words flitted through her mind.

She took a step backward, her eyes never leaving the stranger.

“Please, don’t go. I won’t hurt you. I’m not a madman or anything, although I suppose it is rather odd to find a man wearing a tuxedo in the middle of the woods in a snowstorm.”

Cassie nodded.

“I can explain … I think. You see…” He looked at his watch, then back at her. “I was supposed to get married two hours ago, but my bride never showed up. Seems she had a change of mind or heart or something. As I stood at the front of the church, everyone looking at me with pity in their eyes and the whispers of ‘poor man, what’s he going to do now’, I couldn’t breathe. The initial shock sent a stab of pain to my heart. After a few minutes, the pain became an unbearable ache. I had to run. I couldn’t stay with those pitying stares one more minute. So I ran back the aisle, out the church door, down the steps, across the parking lot. And I just kept running. I didn’t know where I was going, and I didn’t care. I just had to escape. When I finally stopped, I was standing right here where you found me. I don’t know where I am or how to get out of here. I’m not even sure I want to.” He hung his head.

Pain radiated from him and created an ache in Cassie’s heart. Her anger disappeared as she shared this man’s pain. She stepped up beside him and touched his arm. “I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

When he raised his eyes to hers, they brimmed with tears.

“Can you find your way with a compass?” She held her compass out to him.

He reached to take it from her hand. “Are you lost too?”

She nodded.

“Then it would seem you were meant to find me. I was an Eagle Scout. I can certainly use this compass to get us out of these woods.” He smiled, took her hand, and began walking back in the direction Cassie had come from, but on more of a diagonal.

“I’m Cassie Reynolds, and my intense anger is what brought me into these woods today.”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m Blake Johnson. Seems like intense emotions have taken their toll on both of us today.”

After walking for about an hour, Cassie breathed a sigh of relief when they stepped out of the woods, and she saw her red Honda CR-V waiting for her. She turned to face Blake, who still held her hand in his. “Can I give you a ride?”

After a long pause, Blake shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose so, but I’m not ready to go back to my apartment yet. I’m sure my parents and brother are either sitting there waiting for me or calling nonstop. I’m sure they’re worried about me, but I’m not ready to deal with that yet.”

“We could go get some coffee … if you want.”

He nodded and they climbed into her CR-V.

After two hours of light conversation punctuated by periods of uncomfortable silence and three cups of coffee, Cassie drove Blake to the nicest apartment complex in town.

His eyes met hers. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

After a brief pause, Blake slid from her car, and she drove away wondering if she’d ever see him again.