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A Faceless Man by Oliva Nettrouer (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)

Encounter with Krumpus by Orion Bohren (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)

Channel Eight by Layne Kirchoff (SEA selection)

Support Group by Sarah Deren (High School Creative Writing Contest winner)

A Faceless Man by Olivia Nettrouer

It is the next day. The man has voicemails and letters in his mailbox. A dog has no owner.

The man lays on his bathroom floor. All is silent. It is 3:03 AM. There are 0 pills in the bottle.

A faceless man is asleep. There is only the sound of breathing. It is 2:30 AM. There are 0 pills in the bottle.

A faceless man is falling asleep. There is a sound, a dog is barking outside the door, begging to come in. A faceless man ignores this. Sound isn’t sound anymore. Nothing can be done. It’s too late. It is 1:50 AM. There is 1 pill in the bottle.

A faceless man is awake. Sound comes from a record player. A faceless man has made up his mind. But a faceless man is scared. Or is a faceless man? A faceless man no longer knows. With nothing left to do, no decisions to be made, a faceless man lays on the bathroom floor. It is 12:20 AM. There are 10 pills in the bottle.

A faceless man is awake. A faceless man puts on a record to pass time. How long do these things take anyway? Was death too busy for a faceless man? Too busy, like everyone else? There no missed calls on a faceless man’s cellphone. It is then that a faceless man realizes that he wants death. Not so he can die, but so that his loneliness can. It is 11 PM. There are 20 pills in the bottle.

A faceless man is awake. A faceless man sits on a bed and pets a dog, The last thing that will see and feel a faceless man. Also, the first thing. Or so a faceless man think. A faceless man can’t stop thinking. A faceless man wants everything to stop. It is 10:30 PM. There is a bottle in a faceless man’s hand with 30 pills in it.

The man is awake. There is nothing. No one, he realizes. He realizes this every night. Tonight it hurts. Physically. A man goes to wipe his tears and wipes away his face. Alone. 10 PM.

Encounter with Krumpus by Orion Bohren

The late afternoon of early spring was gradually becoming a crisp evening as Samuel strolled through the intensifying darkness. He was a young man, and an average one, but with a certain energy emanating about his stature that was not evident in the way he moved. He did take long strides, however with a meaningful pace. His garb was as unimportant as that of any inconspicuous youth.

In sight was an empty and slightly decrepit-looking parking lot, dimly lit by a plethora of towering lamp-posts. Past the lot was the small and equally worn Kmart that it guarded. As Samuel approached, it became apparent that the store was almost completely vacant; its interior was dimly lit as well, showcasing the silhouettes of structural columns, with a few stray cleaning utensils strewn about. Even from outside, the mart appeared much more sprawling now that it was empty, and he had not seen it this way until now. This was because he had in fact not seen it at all for the past several weeks, as he had been occupied with tasks of higher priority than visiting his favorite miscellaneous marketplace. Now, he was sorry he had neglected to observe the clearance of inventory that had presumably taken place in those weeks.

Striding through the last of the dimness, Sam finally reached the main entrance. It was, of course, not open at this hour, or at all for that matter, but on a whim he checked the doors anyway-- locked. This was inconsequential to his plan, if you could even call it a plan. He had not been intending to enter the wasteland of aisles that had inevitably been replaced with dust. As such, he turned away and sat himself on the pavement, retrieving a mid-sized candle from the satchel he had been carrying. From his pocket he produced a lighter, which he carried with him at all times for no particular reason. He proceeded to ignite the candle.

The sky had become reasonably dark now, and the flickering flame burned bright in the dull dusk. Samuel sat hunched and stared at the candlelight for several minutes. It was vaguely mesmerizing, but his mind still held thoughts on why he had come here. The Kmart had been in the small town of his childhood for as long as he could remember, and it was finally closing down for reasons not entirely clear. These reasons likely had to do with the diminishing number of customers and profit, and the city hall making a decision to replace the store with an outlet that would be more nurturing to the local economy. Nonetheless, Sam was mournful of its departure. He had innumerable fond memories of visiting the store throughout his life. The fragrance of the candle permeated his nose as he fixed his gaze at the miniature inferno, virtually entranced. He began to lose all sense of time. How long had he been staring at it? A few minutes, an hour, a year? Millenia?

The waking dream ended abruptly when a wizened-sounding and slightly raspy voice interjected: "Extinguish that candle, son! You trying to fall asleep and get your eyebrows singed?" Sam quickly lifted his head to see the source of scorn-- and there stood an aging man in a ragged business suit, a little more than five or six feet away, and slightly craning his head to study the young lad. "Why are you loitering here, anyhow? This establishment is not publicly open at this hour- in fact, I believe it's not open it all. There are executive orders to demolish the building entirely and build several other shops." The man stopped and gave a curious expression, as if he had just discovered a stray cat in an empty garbage bin. "So, the question is… why're you anywhere near this doomed structure?"

At first, Sam didn't know how to respond. This elder of the ages had absolutely no threat to his demeanor. He was well-dressed enough and there were no warped intentions in his eyes. And yet, Samuel felt a certain ominous aura about him, an air of power more ancient than time immemorial. This was no ordinary tattered suit wearing a tattered man. So, when Sam finally mustered a response, there was a faint note of apprehension: "Well, sir, I was only... reminiscing."

His listener cackled with derision. "Reminiscing! Don't talk to me about reminiscing! Do you know who I am? Well, do you?" Sam was silent. "I suppose, then, I ought to introduce myself. In this incarnation, I am known by peers as Archibald Krumpet, although you may simply call me Mr. Krumpet… my subordinates, when they think I can't hear them, refer to me as 'Krampus'. Amusing, don't you think? I must admit it's not an inappropriate nickname, but a rather mean-spirited one nonetheless." He paused. "Enough about me! Elaborate on why you're here. Go on!" Strangely, he now seemed truly interested in Sam's anecdote.

Sam didn't seem to know where to begin."... It's... just that this store has been here my whole life, and now it's going away. There's so much sentiment for me here, it's as if part of myself is being cancelled forever. It's not the things I bought, or the service it provided, it's the people I've met and known. It's just been something I always took for granted, and I wanted to see if I could make up for it somehow. Just by spending a bit of time with it in its final days. A few hours, and that's it. I wasn't meaning to cause any trouble."

Mr. Krumpet seemed to understand, but there was no sympathy on his face. "Son, don't mistake me now, I can see your angle. But mourning over a store? A place of business, of capitalism? And when it's better off for local welfare if it were simply replaced? I find that foolish. Of course, you're young. I envy your naïveté. But you need a permit from city hall for any activity on privately owned area. You should leave while you still can, I've been told the demolition team is coming around dawn, and it's dreadfully late in the night."

Sam was somewhat indignant. "Now, sir, I respect my elders, but who are you to tell me what to do? I think I'm as free as anyone."

"Who am I, indeed?" replied Krumpet with a wry grin. "Listen, here. Let me tell you my story"

"Several decades ago, I was a younger man of simpler pleasures. I lived in a house with a lovely, green yard of grass. I loved looking out the window at all the people strolling by, and the few cars that would drive by back then. One day, things took a turn. City council people arrived at my door… they were going to build a store in front of my house; well, because the market was booming for chain supermarkets, and I was in an area with quite a few other shops already. I couldn't do anything to stop them, or so I thought at first. In the days of construction, then and there I resolved to heighten myself in power until it was within me to remove the wretched building from what was once my property. It took time, determination, and a handful of shameful workings, but I climbed the inevitably intertwined hierarchies of corporate and government interests. I became a master of the oligarchy. And now, the craziest thing is, I don't even want to fulfill the very goal that set me on the path. This exact store is the one that brought me where I am today, and simply from my wishes for its removal. In actuality, I only want to increase its size and its profitability. My old, rickety shack of a home is still back there. It's been empty for many years.

"But what do I know? At the end of the day, I'm just an old man looking for means to put bread on the table. So indeed, who am I? You don't know the half of it, boy."

There were no words for awhile. Then, Krumpet turned to leave. "You should wake up now, son."

Sam jarred awake. The candle had been blown out. The sky was beyond reasonably dark, and the lamp-posts seemed more illuminating in comparison. He checked the time: eleven. With the candle secured back in the diminutive satchel, Sam began to hurry home. He felt as if he had lost something.

Chanel Eight by Layne Kirchoff

An eight-year-old boy with red hair and too tight of a sweater stood from the enormous second balcony of his home, watching a parade of adults march into the vastness of the main level below. When he stood up just enough on his tip-toes, he could peer above the railing and see the multitude of cars filing into their long, circular driveway, filled with women whose heels clicked on the ground and were followed by a trail of perfume, escorted by their husbands who glanced more at their watches than the faces in front of them.

When peering down below again, his hands wrapped around the white stair railings on either side of his face, he had a clear view of the hosts for this evening: his mother and father. His father, Russell Fairchild, stood at six-foot-four and was known by every other businessman, bureaucrat, and man of power from this town to the next and to the one after that. Law and business were his specialties, just as his own father, whom he could thank for the beautiful home and fulfilling inheritance – although, oftentimes, he did not.

His wife of twelve years, Rosetta, stood a few inches back from her husband, second to greet the guests to their flawless residence. Born into an average home, family, and economic circumstance, marrying Russell Fairchild was the greatest thing she had ever done. He was fully supportive of her, taking care of her minor facial surgeries, adoration for fine wines, and providing the in- and out-of-home care needed for their most prized possession – their son, William.

“Only the best school for our son will do,” William had overheard his mother drone on to her dinner party guests many times before, her wine sloshing in its glass in her slightly trembling right hand. “School” in this case could typically be substituted for any normalcy of life: food, toys, clothing. Although he was fully aware of his parents’ provisions, he did not visibly see much of it. He was familiar with various nannies, cooks, and maids from over the years, but he had never truly gotten a good look at the colors of his parents’ eyes, or the size of his dad’s shoes. His mother hadn’t even seen his first steps.

 After much of the entrance commotion had died down, William decided to actually do something about the inevitable boredom these dinner parties gifted him with. For one of the very seldom times in his life, he decided to watch television.

 He slowly crept down the stairs, one khaki-covered leg after the other, and wiggled his way through the sea of adults in the kitchen and dining area. His blue eyes rested in between most adults’ hips and shoulders as he headed toward the opposite side of his home, to the only room on the floor with a TV: the great room.

 With a quick look over his shoulder, William crawled onto the firm couch, his feet not even reaching the ground in front of him. If you asked William what his favorite television show was, he would not be able to provide an answer, as he didn’t even know the shows typically watched by children his age.

 Regardless, he clicked the on button of the remote, and the entirely too large television on the wall came to life. The first image he saw was a man with skin darker than his and what looked to William like a shirt wrapped around his head. The man was with similar looking others, and they appeared angry with their dark, furrowed brows. There were guns in their hands – big guns, larger than the ones his father took trap shooting with his co-workers. At the bottom of the screen read a headline from Channel 8 News: TERRORIST FOOTAGE LEAKED FROM AFGHANISTAN. The noise of the adults’ dull and predictable conversations behind him had lowered to a dull roar, and he could hear the gun shots on the news tape. And for the very first time in the young boy’s life, he witnessed the inhumane, horrific, visual form of hatred.

“William?” a voice too sweet to be his mother’s sang behind him, and he immediately jumped. Wide-eyed, he watched the stranger walk forward to where he was sitting, grabbing the remote off the couch. She appeared to be about his mother’s age, but had a significantly greater amount of natural beauty: long, blonde hair, small wrinkles around her brown eyes, and a gait that expressed more reassurance than conceit.

“Let’s watch something else, alright?” she spoke to him as she kneeled down and changed the channel. He remained sitting with his hands folded, ashamed.

She turned to him once more, their eyes on the same level now that she was kneeling. “Hey, I know you. I have a son your age, and he’s in your class at school. Do you know who James is?”

William nodded. With the small class size at their prestigious elementary school, he knew all of his classmates by name.

“Well, maybe I’ll bring him over here sometime. Would you like that?” the lady smiled at him.

Once again, William nodded. “Yes, please,” he responded politely.

Before his classmate’s mother could say anything else, William’s actual mother appeared behind the couch.

“William, what are you doing down here? Shouldn’t you be upstairs, sweetheart?” she spoke, her eyes remaining skeptical and slightly threatening. His mother’s words would seem sweet on paper, but did not sound sweet coming out of her mouth. The word “sweetheart” did not sound like a term of endearment, but rather hung in the stale air between the three as a condescending expression. He slid himself off the couch and stood before her, as if at attention.

The third woman stood up, as well, and looked back and forth between the two with a slightly saddened expression. “I was just asking him about James, Rose. Want me to take him up to bed?” she offered in an attempt to diffuse the situation.

William’s mother took a long sip of wine. “Thanks, Christy, but he can head on up there himself. Can’t you, sweetie?”

He nodded and did an about-face, headed for the stairs. Behind him, he heard his mother’s final remark, “And if he can’t, the nanny will take care of it. You know how that is,” followed by a counterfeit chuckle. He glanced toward the couch as he climbed up the stairs and saw what appeared to be a brief flash of sadness wash across the other mother’s face.

After tucking himself into bed, William fell asleep to the usual hum of voices below him. In almost no time at all, the young boy was already dreaming in the vast emptiness of his bedroom. That was one thing about their house and all its enormity – it never failed to make him feel small.

Quicker than the usual onset of a dream, William found himself in a desert. Nothing was around him except the vastness of space stretching before him in all directions. He had an unlimited room to run, yet he had never felt so stifled.

Suddenly, he was closed in on all sides by tall, burly men with fabric wrapped around their heads. They all had dark skin and hair and were shouting things William could not understand. They carried heavy guns in their arms like newborn infants, and no matter how hard he tried to escape his spot in the sand, he could not move. His feet were sinking and their words grew louder and he could not breathe, not even for a second, as the strange predators closed in on him.

He awoke mid-scream. The endless darkness all around him in his room was too much to bear, so he did what most children do best: he ran.

He ran in his pajamas all the way down the long staircase and into the dining room with the never-ending ceilings to find his mother strolling in, tray in hand. Before she could even utter his name in what was a mix between alarm and annoyance, he fell onto the ground, clinging to her panty-hose covered legs, attempting to catch his breath between the terrified sobs that racked his small body.

Rosetta Fairchild’s wine nearly spilled as she yelled, “William! What on earth?” and set the food down on a table next to her. The room had grown far more quiet with many pairs of eyes on the nightmare-ridden child, huffing and puffing on the floor in front of them. She began to kneel down but could not, as her expensive dress would have most likely ripped its hem. Her husband rushed over from the end of the table, and in one quick motion, swept the boy off the ground, his strong hands gripping much too hard under the boy’s arms.

William continued crying the entire time Russell hurried him up the stairs and back to his room. He burst in the door, turned on the light, and sat the scared, mortified child upon his much too large bed. Gripping him firmly on the sides of his arms, Russell shook his son twice, telling him, “Stop that! Stop!” Finally, after a few more shakes and loud commands, William gained his regular breathing back, hot tears falling off his freckled cheeks onto his pajama pants below.

“Don’t you ever embarrass your mother like that again, you hear me? You are too old for this, William,” his father’s voice boomed. The young boy offered nothing in response; he could only stare downward at the tears breaking onto his pajama pants, his arms aching underneath his father’s strong hands.

“Now stay in here and go to sleep. I don’t want to see you downstairs again,” Russell commanded. There was another pause, and then, “Look at me, William!”

William bit his lip as he was forced to maintain eye contact for a few moments, finally getting a close look at his father’s eyes for the first time in all of his eight years. They were nearly jet black and fiercer than anything he had ever seen, and although he did not feel hatred coming from them, he felt a certain distance, one that could never be helped or mended.

He nodded slowly, his wide blue eyes resisting the urge to look away. “Good,” his father rumbled, and immediately walked out of the room, leaving his small son alone on his uncomfortable bed.

Days had gone by, which meant more schoolwork, meals with his nanny, and crawling into his bed alone. Life like this was very ordinary for the young child, and he learned at an early age something that takes most a lifetime to accomplish: to block out the loneliness.

The time came around once again for another one of his parents’ notorious dinner parties. As William assumed his usual viewing position on the balcony, he spotted a pleasant aberration arriving through the front door. He recognized the woman at first as the kind stranger who had changed the channel for him, and then secondly, noticed the small boy trailing behind her, his hand subtly yet firmly gripping the back of her skirt as he walked. It was his classmate, James.

William experienced a glimmer of something within himself, something he did not feel quite too often. He felt excited, like there would be something about this particular night that could finally be different. He immediately fled down the sizable staircase and stood a healthy distance behind his parents as they greeted James’s mother and father.

The hopeful boy looked past the four adults at James, who peaked his head shyly around his mother’s body. They made eye contact, their wide eyes immediately lighting up at the thought of having a playmate.

In the midst of their inaudible chatter, James’s mother reached behind and rested her hand on her son’s shoulder, gently bringing him forward.

“Rose, Russell, this is our son, James. He’s in William’s class at school,” she spoke with a smile.

“Oh, lovely! I’m sure William will be delighted to hear he’s joined you tonight. Let me call someone to find him,” William’s mother said, her wine splashing around in her glass. She turned around to notify one of their home staff members, looking up and forward for several long moments before realizing her son was but a few feet in front of her. He peered up at her slightly non-focusing eyes with his own blue ones.

“Oh, there you are, sweetie. Go ahead and play with James,” she commanded more so than she suggested.

James peered back at his smiling mother, and then forward at his classmate. The boys then seemed to disappear, out of sight for all members of the party and out of mind for Rosetta and Russell.

As the typical socialization carried on throughout the early evening, the two boys walked around the less crowded areas of the party.

“What do you want to do?” William asked. He assumed this was how most playdates were supposed to progress with children their age.

James, a boy with an evidently similar wardrobe to William and blonde hair that was almost white, took a moment to ponder the possibilities.

“We could play in your room?” he suggested.

William pictured his bedroom with its white walls and lack of toys. He shook his head and replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

“Oh,” responded the blonde boy, as he looked around at the immensely non-kid-friendly residence.

A few moments had passed until William noticed the bit of daylight remaining outside, past the tall windows and French doors leading to the backyard.

“Let’s go outside!” William exclaimed, a light igniting in his eyes. “I’ve got the perfect game.”

Indoors, the men of the party stood in the dining room with their whiskey and scotch, discussing the miserable, predictable business world that had quickly become their lives. Russell Fairchild did not know the exact moment money had taken over his conscious choices; it could have been the day he made (or rather, received) his first million, or it could have been the many nights he sat up waiting for his father to arrive home, only to fall asleep in the foyer each time.

Or maybe it pertained to being the honest man he believed himself to be, one who unconditionally supports his once gleaming wife who now stood in the kitchen with the other women, struggling to hold a conversation that did not somehow return back to her. Rosetta rather adored talking with her guests, her favorite topics including herself, her husband, and her son; although, they never failed to relate to the undeniable, most integral part of her life: her materialistic existence.

This night’s topic of choice was her son, William’s, beautifully blooming education. She boasted relentlessly to the half-listening women surrounding her around the kitchen’s granite island, her wine glass empty and begging for more.

“Yes, they say he’s already learning beginner’s geometry! Isn’t that just wonderful?” she rambled to no one in particular. The other women were either caught up in thoughts of their own despondent identities or devoting their energy to envying her every word.

“Rose?” a sudden voice spoke up from the living room, noticeably trying not to crack in urgency.

“And by next year, they say he should be able to name all fifty states with their capitals. It’s just grand.”

James’s mother quickly tore her eyes away from the back windows and clicked her heels across the hardwood floor, reaching the kitchen and pointing outside with a trembling hand. All eyes were now very much alert as they stared out past the planted flowers and watered grass. Right outside, in the quickly darkening air, an eight-year-old boy stood shirtless, a piece of clothing tied around his head and a pretend gun formed with his right hand. James lay on the ground, playing dead. The mothers stood at the kitchen counter in horror.

“Doesn’t he have such a beautiful imagination?” Rosetta said with a faraway look in her wine-drunken eyes, peering out the back window at her son with his hand against the orange sunset, head back and pulling the trigger.

Support Group by Sarah Deren

I open my eyes to see my room filling with smoke. Unable to process anything, I lay there for a few moments - still half asleep. Suddenly, I realize what's happening. I get out of my bed so quickly, I trip, falling to my knees. I scramble onto my feet and make my way to my bedroom door. As I grab my doorknob a searing pain travels through my hand and up my arm. Shocked, I pull my hand back and shake it as if that will make the pain go away. I take a deep breath and grab the doorknob again, ignoring the pain. When I open the door I'm met with unbearable heat and flames that rise all the way to my thighs. I start to panic, thinking that I'll never make it out of the house alive. I turn and look back into my room at the only window I have. I'm on the second story, meaning I would have to jump, but it was my only option. I haven't even taken a step towards the window when I hear a scream - my mom.
~ ~ ~
Jane jerks awake. She sits up, putting her head into her hands and sighs. Lifting her head up, Jane glances at her alarm clock - half an hour until her alarm goes off. She let's out an audible groan and throws her feet over the side of her bed. Her eyes sweep over her room. Although it's been almost two years since the fire and over a year since Jane and her father moved, every once and a while she swears she can smell smoke. Reminding herself that that's impossible, Jane hops off her bed and makes her way down to the kitchen, where her dad greets her with a tired smile. He sets his coffee mug on the kitchen counter and reaches for the coffee pot.

“You're up early again,” observes Jane's dad, “have another nightmare?” He takes a sip of coffee.

“Yup, same one as always,” Jane replies as she opens the refrigerator and desperately looked for something to eat.

“Jay, I really think you should reconsider going to that support group I found.”

Jane rolls her eyes. “You know what, Robert, you’re right. I should. Because taking turns talking with strangers is going to help me get over my dead mother.”

“Jane -”

“Robert,” Jane looks at her dad, who gives her a stern look in return. “Dad,” she corrects herself. “It’s too early to for this. I’ve told you multiple times I think it’s a stupid idea. Besides, I’m managing just fine on my own.”

Robert looks at his daughter for a few seconds, as though he was searching for something. “Yeah, fine. But I can’t promise I won’t bring it up again later.”

“Good enough,” she whispers to herself. She grabs an apple and makes her way upstairs so she can start getting ready for school.
~ ~ ~
May leans towards her mirror, carefully applying a second coat of mascara to her eyelashes. When she’s finished, she steps back and studies herself.

“May, honey, can you come here a minute?” May’s mom calls to her from their living room.

“Yeah, Mom! Just hold on a sec!” May looks in the mirror for a couple more seconds before giving herself a weak smile. She walks out of her room and makes her way down the hall to the living room. As she does, May tries to convince herself that she’d have a better day than yesterday - something she’d been trying to convince herself of for months.

May walks into the living room and finds her mom sitting on the couch with a computer in her lap and a somber look on her face. May approaches her mom with caution.

“Hey, Mom. What’d you want?”

“Oh, honey, I wanted to talk to you about something,” May’s mom replies without looking up from her computer. May sits down, looking at her mom questioningly.

“Okay. . . Is it -” May starts, but her mom cuts her off.

“I’m worried about you, May. You haven’t been your bubbly, outgoing self lately. You rarely hangout with your friends anymore. I understand you’ve dealt with a lot over the past couple of months, but it’s time to get over it,” She pauses, finally looking at her daughter.

May stares at her mom in shock. “You’re seriously telling me I need to get over the death of my father?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean - I meant you need to accept what’s happened in the past and stop dwelling on it. It’s time to move on, honey.”

“Mom it’s been seven months. Just because you got over it in a month, doesn’t mean I can.” May gets up and starts walking away, her eyes filling with tears.

“May, don’t you dare walk away.”

May stops, but doesn’t turn around. Instead she looks at a picture hanging on the wall right by the doorway. It’s an old picture, from when her parents were still together. May was only eight or nine. Although May’s mom and dad didn’t get along very well in the end, when May hung that family picture up, her mom didn’t take it down. Tears start falling down May’s cheeks, but she ignores them.

“I know you're father meant a lot to you, but you need to move on.” May winces as her mom tells her this. “Which is why I signed you up for a support group.”

May twists around. “You did what?”

“I signed you up for a support group. Meetings are every Thursday from six to eight at the Tacoma Health and Wellness Center downtown,” May’s mom sits back down on the couch and pull her laptop onto her lap. “Here I’ll-"

“No, Mom. This is not okay,” May looks at her mom with disbelief. “I don't need some group of strangers telling me how to deal with this. And I can't miss practice. You know how important track is to me.”

May’s mom shuts her laptop. “You need to talk to someone. You’re not talking to me and it's worrying me. This will help you. Track can wait.”

“No, Mom, it won't.” With that May storms back to her room and climbs into her bed, already deciding she was done with today. Back in the living room, May’s mom continues to sit on the couch, trying to convince herself this is for the best.
~ ~ ~
Jane sits with her eyes closed, ignoring the chatter from people around her. The last thing she wants to do on a Thursday after school was listen to strangers talk about their problems. Of course she sympathizes for them, but she feels uncomfortable hearing about something so personal from someone she’s only just met. She’d only talked to one person since she’d gotten there - the little old lady at the front desk. Jane couldn’t hold a conversation with people her age to save her life, but she had been blessed with the ability to do so with anyone over the age of fifty. This was true even when Jane was a child. Her mom used to always joke about none of her friends were born in this century. Jane smiles as she thinks about her mom and opens her eyes, having forgotten where she was. She quickly loses her smile and stares at the ground, her cheeks turning red, even though no one else in the room had noticed.

There were only a dozen or so people in the room. Some stood together talking, the others sat doing the same thing. Jane sat alone, clearly uninterested in what was going on. As she reaches into her pocket for her phone, a middle aged man claps his hands and walks toward the circle of chairs.

“Okay, everyone. Take a seat in the circle,” He says. He takes a seat himself and waits until everyone else is seated before talking again. “I notice there are some new faces today, so we’re going to go around and say our names and if you want, you can add a little fact about yourself. I’ll start us off. My name is Daniel and I’m just here to talk with all of you and help you in anyway I can,” He claps his hands together again and looks around. “Okay, who wants to go next?”

As the last person finishes introducing themself, the door opens. Everyone looks that way except for Jane. Her back is to the door and she doesn’t care enough to turn around. Instead she closes her eyes and leans back in her chair.

“Hello,” Daniel gestures to a pile of chairs by the door. “Please, pull up a chair and tell us your name.”

“Oh, alright,” The voice belongs to a girl. She pulls a chair over to the circle as the others make room for her to sit down. “Uh, my name is May. May Johnson.”

Jane’s eyes snap open. Directly across from her sits the last person she expected to see. May looks around and locks eyes with Jane. A look spreads across her face - one that let Jane know she was equally as shocked.

May and Jane have never spoken before, even though they had been going to the same school since kindergarten. May had always been popular; she was the star of the track team and the pitcher for their school softball team. Jane was the opposite; she was quiet, always working on her art or in the library studying. They knew of each others existences, but had never spoken, let alone acknowledged, each other before.

For the first hour and a half, Daniel had volunteers talk about how they were feeling and what they were dealing with and when someone felt like they could help, he asked them to chime in and help. Every once and awhile, as she half listens to the others, Jane glances at May. She knew May’s father had passed away a few months ago, but from what she had heard May was dealing just fine. But, then again, everyone thought Jane was dealing fine when she wasn’t.

“So, for the remainder of our meeting I want you guys to get into pairs,” He mentally counts the number of people in the circle, “Okay, yeah, there are sixteen of you, so I want you to look across the circle and pair up with that person and just talk. Talk about your fears, your interests, anything. Just get to know each other.” With that, everyone gets up and moves to sit next to their partners. May and Jane both remain seated - neither of them wanting to get up. Eventually, Jane gets up and walks over to the empty seat next to her and sits down.

Jane looks at May, who stares at the ground. “So. . . how’s senior year treating you?”

May turns to Jane with a look on her face that makes Jane want to shrink into a ball and disappear. Both of them stare at the floor in awkward silence while the pairs around them talk about various topics. May tries to block everything out. With every passing second, she’s getting more and more irritated. Jane goes to speak, but May beats her to it.

“Listen, Jane, I don't know you, nor do I want to get to know you. I'm not here to because I want to, or even need to, talk about my problems. And I'd prefer to just sit in silence until my mom agrees to stop making me come.” May looks over at Jane who stares at her, emotionless.

“Okay, everybody, it looks like our time is up. We had some good conversations today, but I hope to see more of you participate in next weeks meeting,” Daniel clasps his hands together and smiles. “If you could fold your chairs up and set them by the door, that’d be deeply appreciated. You guys are free to leave. Thank you.”

May is the first one out of the doors. She practically runs all the way to her mom, waiting in the parking lot. She gets into the car and ignores her mom when she asks how it went. Jane, who is just as eager to go home, waits a minute or two before getting up to leave. She walks out to her dad's car and gives him a small smile when she gets in.

As the weeks come and go, going to the support group becomes a lot easier for both Jane and May. Jane starts to share more and is more willing to do so. May realizes the feelings she’s been ignoring are normal and she starts to accept that they’re there. Although they wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to each other outside of the support group meetings, when Damiel instructs the group to get into pairs for an activity, Jane and May immediately partner up without saying a word. Though they still aren’t what someone would consider friends,

Jane and May shared a bond formed over the loss of their parents. They helped one another when they were feeling down and when one tackled an obstacle, the other shared her excitement.

“Okay, everyone, in the last few minutes of today’s meeting I want you all to think of one of the greatest regrets you have. After everyone has that regret in their mind, we’re going to share,” Daniel looks around at everyone. “We’ll share in a minute.”

For Jane, this isn’t difficult. She had a lot of regrets, but her biggest was, without a doubt, not staying with her mom in the house as it burned. Of course, that would have meant she wouldn’t have made it out either, but it also would have meant her mom wasn’t alone when she died.

May has trouble thinking of her biggest regret. At first, she thinks of times like when she didn’t go to her softball tournament because she had the flu, but as she listens to the others talk about their regrets, she starts to think about her father.

“May, would you like to share?” Daniel and the rest of the group are looking at her, waiting.

“Um, yeah. Like a lot of you said, I have quite a few regrets,” May pauses, “But I think my biggest regret has been not going to visit my father’s grave.” She looks up as Daniel and the other’s nod, understandingly.

They discuss their regrets for a few more moments until Daniel looks at his watch. “Looks like we’re out of time once again, guys. We’ll talk more about this next week. Thank you for coming.” Daniel gives the group a smile as they start to get up. Jane walks over to May, who has remained seated. She sits down, excited to share her news.

“Guess what. My dad said he’s noticed that I’ve been doing better and told me that I can stop coming after the next week or two. Isn’t that great?” Jane looks at May, expecting her to be just as excited, but May remains quiet. “May, what’s wrong?”

May looks at her, tears in her eyes. “I’m a terrible person. I haven’t visited my own father’s grave and it’s been months.”

“No, May, that’s okay. You shouldn’t go because you’re ready to, not because you feel like you have to. It’s better to do it when you know you’re ready. It took me months before I could visit my mom,” May looks up at Jane as she gets up. “Come on, you’re mom is probably waiting for you.”

May gets up and follows her. “Yeah, okay.”

May’s mom wasn’t waiting when they got outside. Jane had driven herself to the meeting, so she offers to wait with her until her mom comes.

“No, it’s fine. She should be here soon,” May take sher phone out of her pocket, turns it on, and sighs. “Nevermind, she had an emergency meeting I’ll have to wait awhile. You can leave.”

“Why don’t I just take you home?”

“No, really it’s fine. I can wait here.”

“Seriously, May, it’s no problem.”

May looks at her for a second before shrugging. “Ok, sure.” May says as Jane reaches into her purse for her keys.

Once Jane and May are in the car, not much is said. They had never talked outside of the meetings, in fact, the first conversation that happened outside of their group was just a couple minutes ago. The only time the awkward silence was broken was when Jane asks May what street to turn onto next. Until they pass the local cemetery.

“Wait, stop the car,” May says as she unbuckles her seatbelt. The car is barely stopped before May hops out, taking off.

“What the. . .” Jane turns off the car and gets out, running after May. After many minutes of frantic searching, Jane finds May sitting in front of a headstone. She quietly walks over and stands behind May.

After a while, Jane sits down next to May. She’s unaware of how much time has passed, but the sun has almost set, so she guesses probably half an hour. They sit in silence; Jane watches cars go by and May stares at her father’s grave, letting her mind wander. Eventually, when the sun has completely set, May stands up and walks away. Jane, who is too busy too busy picking dandelions to notice, sits for a minute longer before she looks over and realizes May has left. She quickly gets up and walks to her car, where May waits. They both get in and Jane starts the car, but before she pulls away, she turns to May.

“You good?” She asks.

May looks out the window. “Yeah, I’m good.”

Jane drives for a couple minutes before May speaks again.

“Do you wanna grab some food? I’m starving.”

Um, heck yeah. I was hoping you’d say something. I’m so hungry I was about to start eating those dandelions.”

May giggles. “We need to hangout sometime. You’re not as bad as I first thought.”

Jane snorts. “Wow, thanks. But yeah,” She looks at May.

“For sure.”