Wow! I actually made it into the short story contest’s second round. I am going to post the story here so as to share it more effectively.
Running With Safety Scissors.
The car was going nowhere. Mary sighed and climbed stiffly out of the driver’s seat, grateful that Nico was already at school, and the high school hadn’t called her called in to sub that day. She had stopped in downtown Derry to run to the post office, and when she came out, the stupid engine wouldn’t even turn over. The starter again. The car was old, she commiserated with herself. Sometimes she felt that old cars did things like this just to be spiteful for their years of long, unappreciated service. At least, it seemed that way on early Tuesday mornings like this one.
A large black greyhound, Corsi by name, panted at her from the backseat, and thrust his long, graceful nose out of the half open window. Marry scratched his head absently with one hand while flipping through her wallet for her AAA card with the other. The dog groaned and leaned against her hand with obvious pleasure.
Finding the card, she reached for her phone and dialed the number. Fifty minutes, the operator told her. Glancing around, Mary spied the little coffee house she sometimes visited, and decided that it would be as good a place as any to wait for the tow truck. The spring air wasn’t cold, exactly, but a cup of coffee and a warm place to hang out that allowed Corsi wouldn’t be bad either. This was not to mention that their muffins were gluten-free and totally worth the price they charged for them.
Securing the car, she let Corsi out and walked down the street towards the Daily Grind. Two motorcycles suddenly roared by, and Mary flinched. Big men on bikes terrified her like no other. Shaking, she entered the coffee shop and settled down to wait. It wasn’t too long before the tow truck showed up, and her guess of a dead starter was confirmed. Giving the driver the name of her usual mechanic, Mary then made a two more calls and went back to the Grind to wait. Ten minutes later, a blue HHR pulled into the parking lot, and her friend Margo stepped out of the car. Spying Mary, she walked into the shop.
“Kiddo, I don’t know when you were planning to get a new car, but now might be a good time.”
“You know I can’t. I haven’t saved that much, and with David out of work, his child support checks have dwindled to almost nil.”
“I’m not sure which is worse,” laughed Margo. “Being married to him and having him in and out of jobs or being divorced and having to deal with the excuses.”
“At least I don’t have to listen to him every day,” said Mary.
“Come on, let’s get this furry lug home,” said Margo, stooping to pat Corsi’s head. “You can tell me all about your date last night on the way.”
On the ride, Mary related her latest failure in online dating. Margo rolled her eyes when Mary mentioned the gluten-free dating site, but admitted that there were worse ways to meet men – not many, she amended quickly, but some. They pulled into Mary’s mother’s driveway where Mary and Nico lived, and Margo turned, looking Mary in the eyes.
“You,” said Margo, “have never taken any chances. You’ve been that way your whole life…with everything! Most people try something dangerous occasionally – skiing, acting, even underwater volleyball, for Christ’s sake – something that could get them hurt emotionally or even physically, but not you. You always take the safe way out, even when you try something new. It’s like running with safety scissors, hon. Even if you fall, you are not likely to get hurt.”
“I take it what you’re saying is that I should date a serial killer?” said Mary dryly.
“What I’m saying,” said Margo, “is that you should stretch your limits. I know Nico has Celiac’s and you like the gluten-free foods, but that doesn’t mean every guy you date has to. A lot of the guys on those dating sites are just plain weird.”
“So I should go to Gluten-Free Anonymous meetings and find someone that way?”
“That is so ten minutes ago,” said Margo, flipping her hair over her shoulder in mock distain. “No, I mean go out and meet people. Single dads at the PTA or guys at the dog park are too tame, too easy, too bland. Live a little.”
“Don’t ask me that, hon. It’s your life. Go live it.”
They dropped Corsi off, and Margo drove Mary over to the garage. As she got ready to go, she looked at Mary thoughtfully.
“Don’t close yourself off to possibilities, or you’ll never find out what is truly out there,” she said. “Come out with me tonight to the Shaskeen. There’s a new band in town I want to check out and who knows? Leave the safety scissors at home for once and come out.”
“I’ll think about it,” said Mary. “If Mom can watch Nico, maybe I will.”
“Great, I’ll see you at seven,” laughed Margo and drove away.
Mary’s car was at the shop almost until their closing time of seven, and Mary had told Margo to go along without her. Mary’s mother had picked up Nico at school and was completely sympathetic to her daughter’s desire to have a little adult time once the car was fixed. It was Mary who almost backed out by mentally coming up with excuses not to go. She was subbing tomorrow, it was getting late, Nico would need her… In the end, she gave in to Margo’s repeated phone calls and drove up to Manchester. Her mechanic warned her not to drive too fast as the engine was held together with “duct tape and some chewing gum” as it was. She took the back way to Manchester, onto South Willow St, and into the heart of the city.
The Shaskeen was well known for its food and propensity to attract good bands. Whoever was playing that night must have been popular as Mary couldn’t find anywhere to park on the main street and was forced to park on one of the side streets that felt too much like a dark alley for her nervous imagination. She locked the door and walked quickly to cheerfully lit Elm Street. On the main street, she slowed down and made her way to the pub.
The dark wood and solid furniture gave off the aura of an Irish Pub inside the Shaskeen, and the brazen sound of rock music assaulted her ears from the back room. A poster near the door advertised that Stepping on Emma was playing that night, and Mary smiled to herself at the oddness of the name. She headed towards the back where Margo would be waiting, and Mary lost no time threading her way to her friend’s table. Margo was drinking a hard cider and swaying to the band, but when she saw Mary, she waved her over and ordered a round of cider for them both.
“Don’t worry; it’s gluten-free,” she laughed.
Mary laughed back and gratefully accepted the drink when the waitress came back a few minutes later.
“See anything you like?” asked Margo, waving her hand at the crowd.
“I am not bar-trolling,” said Mary, although she did look around the crowd and admire a few men in the crowd. They all seemed to have girlfriends, however, and she soon returned to talking – or yelling rather – to Margo over the sound of the band.
The band took a break a few numbers later, and Margo wandered off to talk to a girl friend she had seen come through the door. When she returned, she had three people in tow: her friend and two cute guys who worked with her. They all sat down at the table with Mary, and by the time the band had started up again, they were all embroiled in a conversation about recent films they had liked.
One of the guys, John, stood up and held his hand out to Mary, pulling her up and onto the dance floor where a several other couples were dancing. Mary smiled and danced with him for a few songs, then returned to the table to sit with Margo and her friend Sally to giggle for a few minutes at the other man, Billy, who got up and waltzed with John across the floor. The men returned to the table, and the conversation resumed. It was fun, Mary reflected, and she realized how much she missed being able to get out of the house and enjoy herself.
Eventually, several ciders later, Mary checked the time and discovered that it was after eleven. With work at seven the next morning, she decided it was more than time to go home. She rose, waved goodbye to the others, and left. Several bikers were parked near the side street as she drew near it. They were all large men, most with tattoos, and all of them wearing black leather vests embroidered with Harley-Davidson and other bike logos on the back. She hurried down the dark street, hoping that she didn’t look as nervous as she felt. Footsteps sounded behind her as she neared her car, and she turned to see John hurrying up behind her. With a wave of relief, she relaxed and waited for him to catch up.
“I was worried it was someone else,” she said, reaching her car. “Those bikers back there…”
He pushed her against her car and roughly turned her around. She looked up in surprise as he grabbed at her wrists and forced her away from the car into an actual alley between two of the buildings. It began to dawn on her what he intended, and she screamed, only to have him clamp his hand across her mouth, muffling the sound. He shoved her up against the brick wall of one of the buildings and held her there by sheer force.
Seconds later, he was roughly shoved away from her. She fell to the ground, seeing a huge shape bearing down on her attacker. John stumbled to his feet, and her savior punched him full in the face, knocking him out. The man then turned and looked to where she stood shrinking against the wall, too numb to move. It was one of the bikers.
“Are you alright?” he asked gently. Mary shook her head, and after taking one last disgusted look at the fallen would-be rapist, the biker motioned Mary to proceed him out of the alleyway while he made a phone call.
“The police are on their way,” he said after a moment. “They need you to make a statement. Are you up for that?”
Mary nodded, and the biker stood guard over her assailant until the police arrived. To her surprise, they greeted the biker with warmly and took a statement from both him and Mary. His name, it turned out, was Sean, and he was the cousin of one of the officers who had arrived on the scene. Everyone treated Mary with a great deal of respect, and once she gave her statement and agreed that she would press charges, they gave her a card and told her to come into the station in the morning to make a formal statement.
When they finally left with John revived and handcuffed in the back of the patrol car, Sean turned to Mary and smiled.
“Are you going to be alright?” he asked.
“I think so,” said Mary. “Can I…buy you a cup of coffee or something? As thanks?”
“I would like that. The Red Arrow is still open and is only a few blocks from here. Know where it is?” At her nod, he added, “I’ll meet you there.”
Mary drove over to the Arrow and found that Sean was already there, his bike parked near the entrance. Inside, they found a booth and for the next hour, Mary told Sean more about herself than she had to anyone in a long time. She told him about Nico and his gluten allergy, about her ex, about Margo’s failed attempt to save her from her fears, and about the safety scissors comment that had led to the near-disaster that night.
When she was done, Sean looked at her with respect.
“It’s got to be hard,” he said, “raising a kid with little income and no support from your ex.”
“I have my mom,” said Mary, defensively. “She supports me and helps out with Nico.”
“It’s not the same,” said Sean softly.
“It’s the best I can do,” said Mary, looking up and seeing the sympathy in Sean’s eyes.
The conversation faltered then. Mary paid the bill, and they walked out again into the chill spring air. Sean walked Mary to her car and turned to go as Mary got into her car and turned the key. The car was dead.
“Damn it!” exclaimed Mary, and hopped out of the car. “Sean!”
He had reached his bike, but left it and came back. Mary smiled and nervously eyed the bike.
“Can you give me a ride home?”
Nico ran into the room at six the following morning, bouncing on the bed, and startling Mary awake.
“Mommy, why is there a biker in the driveway?”
“A what? Oh!”
Mary slipped out of bed and got dressed in the clothes she had laid out the night before. She quickly called the school, and then ran outside to greet Sean who had promised her a ride to the station. Her mother had offered to take Nico to school that day, and Mary had gratefully accepted.
The big biker was on one knee in the driveway talking to her son with Corsi, tail wagging, next to them. They seemed to be having a conversation about toy cars, and Nico looked solemnly up at his mother, daring her to understand the serious topic of Matchboxes and Hot Wheels. When he had gone back inside to his grandmother, Mary accepted the spare helmet from Sean, and they drove back up to the Manchester Police Station.
The statement didn’t take long to give, and Mary went back to where Sean waited for her. He looked up at her smiled at her with such warmth that Mary felt taken aback by the sudden emotion.
“What shall we do now?” he said. “Sky’s the limit.”
“Are you asking me on a date?”
“Well, yes, I guess I am, actually,” said Sean, sounding a little surprised. “Is that okay?”
Mary reflected back over the previous night. It had been so terrible, but now, in front of her, there was something she had never looked for, something unconventional, but something real. Her fears melted away, and Mary returned Sean’s smile, tentatively at first, and then with more conviction.
“It is better than okay,” she said. “Safety scissors be damned. Adventure awaits!”
Sean laughed, and they went arm-in-arm out into the warm spring day.