I have a new free read to share! Welcome to Phases of Moon, a new paranormal tale where I delve into my own version of werewolves that’s been sitting on the back burner for longer than I prefer to admit.
This story will be part of the flash fiction group, Wednesday Briefers. Every Wednesday, I’ll be posting a chapter with a maximum of 1000 words, giving you an ongoing taste of this serial. The short format keeps me committed to regular posting and continuous story telling. A win-win for everyone!
Wednesdays will be set for 1000 word installments, while the remainder of the chapter will post on Thursday.
And Jimmy’s struggles continue…
Part 15 – Chapter 7
continued from part 14…
The whole house had a presence, a byproduct of the woman who owned it. Two floor-to-ceiling glass doors took up one entire wall, letting daylight filter indoors. Maddie slid one doors open and stepped out into the all-season screen porch which she’d had converted into a space for her dogs.
A steamer trunk overloaded with dog toys sat in one corner, and food and water dishes lined the opposite wall. Six kennels neatly made up the perimeter, engraved name tags adorning each one. Zoomer, Beetle, Patch, Vice, Comet, and Rafael. Where did she come up with these names? Sawyer stopped in the middle of the room waiting for his mother.
Holding open the patio door to the yard, Maddie blew a shrill whistle into the air, loud enough to jar Sawyer’s spine. “Come on! Meal time!”
Only a few seconds passed before Sawyer could hear the coming wave. With a flurry of paws, six dogs scrambled inside, bouncing and circling around Maddie in a frenzy of excitement as she closed the door behind them, holding her bowl out of reach.
“Line up.” Maddie managed to raise her voice over the commotion.
All six dogs stopping vocalizing and immediately rushed into position and sat, forming a line, evenly spaced apart. For a moment, Sawyer had the urge to file in alongside them. Each one eagerly focused on Maddie, awaiting her next command like good little soldiers.
Sawyer didn’t recognize the German Sheppard on the end. He must have been a new acquisition. The other five had become part of Maddie’s home over the years after he went away to college, each one a different breed. He didn’t know which one was which, and he’d be damned if he would burn his time trying to remember the names of her substitute children. Maddie preferred homing rescues or strays, snubbing breeders as a general rule. Professional dog obedience circles may have been a niche, but his mother was well known as a savant expert. She watched that Cesar guy on tv once, and all she said was, “that’s cute” before she turned the channel. On rare occasions, she would help people with difficult animals, but since the people were the problem more often then not, she usually convinced them the dog would be better off with her than with their humans.
This approach didn’t win her any popularity contests within the community, because the point was to train the people and dogs to work together, but Maddie didn’t tolerate stupid. When questioned, she simply told them the dogs were smarter and needed a better environment.
This meant her own home.
Maddie waved Sawyer closer. Six big dogs, two bowls of meat bones. What could go wrong? Starting from Sawyer’s bowl, she gave a command, took out a bone, and put it in the mouth of one dog, who dutifully sat holding the bone in its jaws without moving. Then she went to the next dog who waited patiently. And repeated.
Once she’d finished distributing the bones, Maddie stepped in front of the line and paused briefly, giving them one word with a short nod. “Okay.”
The line broke and the dogs went into their kennels and began eating.
An easy smile filled with contentment graced Maddie’s lips. She left the enclosure, closing the sliding door behind them. She collected the empty bowls from Sawyer and headed back to the kitchen.
“When did you start feeding them bones?” Sawyer asked.
“I always have. You’ve just never been around to see it.”
“Isn’t that expensive?”
Maddie dumped both bowels into the left kitchen sink and ran the water while she dug out the dish washing liquid from underneath. She’d never trusted dishwashers. “The butcher gives me good prices. They’re carnivores. It’s what’s best for them.”
“How long have you had the new Sheppard?”
“Zoomer? About six months. Collected him from some inbred yokels the next town over. They bought him because they thought it would be cool. Idiots had no idea how to train him. Left him chained outside.” A unladylike growl rolled out of her as she scrubbed the bowls.
“They gave him to you?”
“I persuaded them to relinquish ownership. Best for everyone really.”
Sawyer wasn’t sure he wanted to know what lengths she would go to “persuade” someone to give up their dog. Getting her way tended to be the status quo and she had no tolerance for abusers. Thankfully, he was sure whatever method she used, it was legal.
Well, mostly sure.
“I can’t believe he’s only been here six months. It’s like he’s been part of the group from the start.”
“I knew he’d do well. He just needed a guiding hand.”
“And you’ve always had that.”
After rinsing both bowls in the right side sink, Maddie placed them into the strainer and dried her hands on the nearby towel.
“So, tell me what was so important you couldn’t tell me over the phone.”
Sawyer found himself mimicking Maddie, wringing his hands in a non-existent towel, wishing the clamminess in his palms would go away. It worsened the more he thought about which line his speech was supposed to start on. If he didn’t say something soon, he’d probably vomit all over the tile floor.
“Mom, Jada and I are getting a divorce.”
Maddie shook her head with a disapproving chuckle as she dropped the towel on the counter. “No, you’re not.”
“I’m pretty sure we are. Plus, I’m telling you, not asking for permission.”
Those dark eyes flashed. “Who’s idea was this?”
“It started with Jada—”
“Why am I not surprised…”
“And I agreed. She had good reason.”
Crossing her arms over her chest accentuated her natural curves and somehow amplified her power. “What possible good reason could there be to end a marriage?”
Sawyer cringed as he struggled to remember his script. “We’re not in love with each other. We both want different things in life.”
“And you can’t find those things together.”
The things they really wanted? Finding them together? “Oh no. Not going there.”
Maddie huffed. “You’re not making any sense.”
A horrible thought of explaining in detail how he and Jada were no longer sexually compatible—assuming they ever really were—raced through Sawyer’s head. He could tell her how the two of them sat up the other night comparing the type of men they found attractive. As if that hadn’t been incredibly weird, but somewhat freeing. Heat blossomed in his face instantly.
“God, Mom. I’m skipping ahead before this gets really awkward.” Sawyer gritted his teeth and took a harsh inhale. There had been a whole lead in to this part, but now he had no choice. Time to spill it. “This is my coming out speech.”
The firm line of Maddie’s shoulders sank as she dropped her arms to her sides. Her eyes drifted closed at the same speed as the long, audible exhale. Dramatic scenes were not Maddie’s forte, but no one would mistake the abject disappointment flooding every inch of her body. Without a word, she walked past Sawyer, who followed their earlier path back into the living room. Maddie took a seat in her favorite leather armchair which faced the fireplace. A grand silence stilled the air.
Sawyer kept quiet, unsure why to go from here. He glanced out the sliding doors, half expecting to find the dogs pressed against the glass, judging him. They weren’t. Was he doing the right thing? He saw the satisfaction on his mother’s face when she feed the dogs, none of them eating until given the word. Their loyalty and obedience were awe-inspiring, and here he was undermining his relationship, making her unhappy.
No, wait. Living his life to please his mother is what got him in this mess in the first place. His wishes needed to come before hers. In fact, this was her classic move to take control of an unplanned conversation: walking away until she could plan her next move and gain the upper hand.
The realization turned a portion of his doubts into annoyance. It was time to put the narrative into his own hands for a change.
Maddie beat him to the punch. “We’ve been through this before. You went through rehab—”
“I didn’t need rehab for being with men. I started using to deal with disappointing you.”
Sawyer ignored the dismissive wave, and focused on the words he’d practiced on the drive over. Hammering Maddie would get him nowhere. When backed in a corner, she ate people alive. Persuasion was the only way to keep her from getting defensive and make her understand. Thank you Jada for that insight.
“Mom, I’ve always done whatever you told me to. You picked out my clothes, approved my dates, and chose my college. I grew up having all my choices made for me or directed by you, and for most of that I was fine.
“But when I got to college, I met some of the men on campus, and things changed. I didn’t know how to handle it, because I knew you’d never approve. Since I was a little kid, you’ve always made it very clear I was getting married, having 2.3 children, and a house with a white picket fence. And by the time I’d finished my freshman year, I knew I couldn’t do it.
“So I pretended. And I let everything get out of hand.”
Sawyer wanted to explain in greater detail, but he remembered how the confessions during group therapy wrecked him. Admitting out loud how the occasional drug use at a party turned into multiple day benders, waking up naked with strange men, dirty and sore. Coming home with stained jeans from the floor of whatever mens room or other seedy place closeted men gathered.
The anonymous encounters left him aching for something more substantial, but since he didn’t know what that was or how to find it, he simply did more of the same until it escalated beyond his ability to cope. His world spun out of control as he tried to hide it all. If he hadn’t ended up on academic probation for regularly disappearing for days on end, his mother might not have found out until it was too late. Since she paid for it all, she’d arranged for copies of all university correspondence to be sent to her.
“I do not control your life.”
Control, direct, guide: pick any synonym.
“After I got out of rehab, you talked me into marrying Jada to keep me from having a relapse. You implied being straight would keep me sober, and I was so desperate to get well and win your approval back, I believed you.”
Maddie averted her eyes, giving the rare sign which erased his doubts. He was right and she knew it.
Standing on his own was a new experience. Walking away wasn’t an option. Whatever their past held, he still wanted her in his life. Having her as an adversary? No, he didn’t want that either, even if he was entitled. Being right didn’t make him happy or angry. It made him sad that he might have to choose between her and his happiness.
It wasn’t some grand epiphany. He’d always knew his mother had involved herself in his life and ushered things along. When he benefitted, why complain? But people grow up and things change. He stopped pretending he always agreed with her. Now, openly acknowledged her influence, Sawyer could see her methods, the subtle guidance when she didn’t outright manipulate him. While her motives may have been well-intentioned, it didn’t absolve her of taking advantage of his fragile state and moving him on the game board without rolling the dice first.
To her credit, Maddie didn’t simply roll over and concede. “I can’t believe you’re going to throw away a perfectly good marriage and the chance to have kids over… this. Why would you do such a foolish thing?”
Tenacity, thy name is Mother.
Maddie’s steadfast resolve lacked potency, but she dug in her heels regardless. Once again, Sawyer managed not to give in to mad frustration. Instead, he softened his tone to make his point.
“Jada told me she wanted to end things before she learned how to hate me.” His eyes watered as he laughed. “Joke’s on her. I already hated myself. I still kind of do, but it’s getting better.”
“I don’t understand. You liked Jada. You’re not a homosexual. You didn’t stay married this many years and not sleep together.”
Sawyer rubbed his eyes, refusing to cry. “Of course we did. That’s not the point. It’s not who I am. Look, I don’t know what word to use to describe me—just not straight. For now, we’ll go with queer until I figure it out.”
“Oh Sawyer. This is so… you don’t understand how dangerous it is out there for you. The world is not a kind place.”
For the first time in Sawyer’s life, he saw a glimpse of fear in his mother’s eyes. It slipped through the veneer of strength she wore like armor, something only he might see. He suspected there might be more to it, but if the worry had enough power to bypass her defenses, it was worth treating as valid, even if it might be misplaced or blown out of proportion.
With a hard sign, Sawyer dropped to his knees in front of her. “I’m not an idiot. I might have some idea. Would you rather I was safe or happy?”
“I want you to be both.”
“So do I. But I can’t be when I punish myself every day for lying to every person in my life. You always told me to be honest with myself. Here we are.”
Maddie rubbed her fingers together, the closest thing to fidgeting she was capable of. She wasn’t arguing form a position of authority, but it didn’t stop her from pitching a Hail Mary.
“Did she cheat on you?”
A growl rolled out of Sawyer. “No, and I didn’t cheat on her either.”
“Then it’s not too late. You go back and tell Jada you made a mistake—”
Sawyer snatched both her hands in his to get her full attention. “Mom. Stop. It’s too late. The papers are already signed. It’s done. I didn’t come here to discuss my options. I came to let you know. I thought this was too big to do by phone, but I seriously considered it anyway.” Taking a deep breath, he reined in the growing urge to yell. “Jada and I decided a few weeks ago to an amicable split. I know it’s the right choice. It makes me sad, but I don’t regret it. So this one time, just this once, I need you to accept what’s happening, not try to change my mind about the divorce or my preferences, and support me, because I still need you in my life.”
“But the wasted years…”
“They weren’t wasted. They helped us realize what we need. It’s just a new chapter.”
Maddie exhaled, her animosity seeming to evaporate with it. He wouldn’t say she caved, because there was just as much a change she was formulating new strategies, but for now, Sawyer was glad she regarded him with a faint smile, perhaps even a sense of pride.
“Your thoughts aren’t usually this well organized. How long have you been rehearsing that speech?”
Sawyer snorted and ducked his head. “Since before I signed the paperwork. I was afraid you’d shred my argument otherwise.”
“You’re damn right I would have. I also noticed you sprung this on me so I wouldn’t be prepared.”
“I’m not stupid. I’d like to think I know you as well as you know me. This isn’t about winning. It’s about being real with you, probably for the first time in my life. I love you, Mom, but right now, I need to learn to love me too.”
The tightness in his chest and stomach lost their grip, leaving the first hints of relief in their wake. A few tears trickled over his cheeks. Maddie reached up and wiped them away, lines darkening her face. She’d always hated to see him upset, and this time she didn’t seem to have an easy solution to solve the problem.
Sawyer felt so much better, yet his voice shuddered, giving away his continual insecurities. “Do you hate me? I know this isn’t what you wanted.”
“No, it’s not.” Honesty with a lack of manipulation. A good start. “I’m not happy, but I could never hate you. You’re my only son.”
Sawyer leaned forward and gripped his mother in a firm embrace which she promptly returned. “I’m glad to hear the dogs don’t qualify.”
“The competition is high. They do what they’re told.”
“Then they can make up where I fall short.”
A genuine titter escaped Maddie. The fight was over for now. Hopefully, the detente would last and Sawyer wouldn’t have to treat her as an adversary as he learned how to be… He knew the word. It just wouldn’t tie itself to him quite yet. He could see it coming. Soon. There was time to find peace in it.
The embrace broke and Maddie cupped his face. Her own reflected a mix of sadness and respect bound in her over for her child. Sawyer had learned to read her well over the years.
“So, what happens now?” she asked.
Sawyer shrugged. “I have no idea. Do you mind helping me figure some of it out?”
“Of course I will. Keep in mind, this isn’t the end of this conversation.”
Standing, Sawyer offered his mother a hand out of her chair.
“No, it isn’t.”
Stay tuned … Chapter 8 begins next Wednesday!