Mini-Story

Broken Bones, Broken Promises

newyorkcity

By Veronica Forand

Note to self: first thing in the morning, send Jordan some flowers to make up for the long hours spent away from her. She deserved at least two dozen red roses arriving at their house to brighten her afternoon. The image of his sexy wife and her long legs and beautiful smile melted away some of the stress Max had felt while dealing with his latest case.

His eyes strained to read the words on the computer screen. Two quick motions to draft and he’d be done and able to curl up with Jordan in their bed. A faint thumping sound echoed outside his office door. Probably the cleaning service. A few seconds later, the noise transformed from footsteps to shuffling.

Max stood and stretched. He needed to ask them to wait to vacuum. He couldn’t concentrate with the roar of their industrial monster of a machine. Before he reached the door, it flung open and the shadows of three men pushed their way into his office too fast for him to react.

They, the mysterious bastards who broke into his office, shoved him into a wall, nose first. Pain shot from his forehead through his cheeks and into his inner ear. He snorted up blood as he tried to maintain his breath. The coppery tang coated his mouth until he spit it out. He wanted to aim the bloody sputum at his tormentors, but they stood behind him out of his line of vision. He wouldn’t have seen them even if they had turned him around. Max couldn’t open his eyes. The nose must be broken at some screwed-up angle.

Someone restrained his arms behind him. He could feel heavy cord being wound around his wrists. He tried to pull free, but each pull on his side, caused his arm to be torqued in the opposite direction by his captors. The angle they twisted his shoulders could cause serious damage if he fought too much against them. Surprise, panic, and fear merged in his gut. And his eyes stung like acid poured into his cornea.

“Who are you?” He tried to spit out the words through the stream of blood flowing down his throat. He gurgled and finally managed to say something akin to the question.

The response was immediate. Two, maybe three, men punched and kicked his torso, his legs, and his face until he no longer could sit on his own. The stabbing pain in his gut must be a broken rib. Max choked in as much air as he could tolerate, but each inhalation ached. Would it feel better to just stop breathing?

The final kick in the face across the already broken nose knocked him cold.

A throbbing throughout his body woke him and reminded him of his place in hell. Feeling drugged, he lay on his back, his arms tied behind him. His shoulders no longer had feeling. Someone had tied a cloth around his eyes. The pressure of the tight material over the bridge of his nose made the pain constant and unrelenting. He turned to a fetal position, only to land on a dislocated shoulder. The van or truck he was in made enough movement to remind him of every injury he’d received from the bastards who tied him up. Probably a disgruntled client. He couldn’t keep everyone from going to prison, but he usually managed to reduce the time to a minimum.

At least his captors found him in his office and not at home. Jordan would be safe there. His wife of five years had enough problems growing up in Brooklyn with a low-level crime boss for a father. She didn’t need to be involved in her husband’s problems. Images of her exotic beauty with olive skin and deep brown eyes cooled his nerves. He needed more time with her. He craved more time with her.

The vehicle pulled over to the side of the road. From the constant buzz of traffic sounds and the planes overhead, he must still be in the city. He tried to take a deep breath, but his throat was swollen and his nose stopped functioning after the last kick in the face. A chill crept over him and his body reacted by shivering uncontrollably. A door opened and light filtered in through the edges of his blindfold. Cars honked and sped by in the distance. Noises seemed muffled, perhaps by buildings. Was he in an alley?

Two men, strong like gorillas only not as articulate, picked him up with unnecessarily rough force. One ape grabbed him under his arms and dragged him to the edge of the van floor.  The aching pull on his twisted arms caused him to moan. The other guy lifted his legs and they yanked him up off the ground. He heard the door slam behind him. That would make guy number three. Max braced himself for his descent to the ground, yet they continued to carry him up onto a sidewalk.

He knew when they’d arrived at a building, because they used his head to push a door open. His breathing became more strained with the inability of his lungs to fully function behind a broken rib and a blocked windpipe. Each step down what felt like a never-ending hallway hurt. Arriving at another door, they shoved his head into it again. The force of the blow added to the disorientation and numbness of his defeated body.

If they were going to kill him, he wished they’d just get it over with, but they continued to hold him in place for a few minutes in a room that echoed as though encased in concrete. The thugs situated his body upright in a wooden chair with his arms draped behind him.

A chair? Maybe an interrogation?

Someone lifted his face up by yanking on his hair. Another pulled off the cloth covering his eyes. White light blinded him and he squinted through the pain. The outline of a person in front of a window barely registered. He shut his eyes and rested them from the onslaught of the sun’s rays. Opening them slowly, the outline became more clear. A woman. A beautiful woman. His beautiful woman.

Panic roiled through him. He couldn’t deal with her getting hurt, because of him.

“Jordan? Are you okay?” His voice strained through a broken jaw.

The tilt of her chin, the placement of her hands on her hips, and the solid stance of her legs told him not to worry about her.

“Max, darling. I really care about you, but it’s not working. Your long hours, the stingy allowance you give me each week.” She picked up some papers from the small table next to her and a pen. Strolling over to him with the confidence of a mafia daughter, she wiped some blood off his face with the back of her hand. “I wanna divorce.”

DANIEL AND ALICE

by Veronica Forand

morning-coffee

Daniel wanted only one seat in the dining room. The seat next to the pretty woman in the green dress. Damn, her blue eyes could knock the socks off every guy within a ten-mile vicinity. Probably the rest of their clothes as well. He’d finally worked up enough pluck to sit with her.

He tried to meander up to her with the debonair style of a man about town, but his actions resembled more of a stop and go action. Not smooth, but he made it to the table without falling and breaking a hip.

He slid into the chair next to her and her eyes flashed in his direction. “Hello. I’m Alice.” Could a smile be soft, sweet, and sexy? Absolutely. Her pink lips proved it.

“Nice to meet you, Alice.” He rocked his chair a little closer toward her.

In response, she leaned slightly toward him. “Nice night.”

He nodded. “A little chilly, but manageable.” The nerves tightening his stomach relaxed and he eased into the comfort zone he’d known most of his life.

The waiter came over and served them each a turkey dinner, mashed potatoes, and broccoli. Daniel sent him away to get them both some coffee.

“Do you mind me sitting with you?” Daniel asked, after taking a few bites of his meal.

She laughed with a low throaty sound that curled his toes and sent shivers up his spine. “Mind? I was hoping you had the nerve to come over and keep me company.”

The waiter returned with their coffee. Daniel preferred black. Alice liked cream and sugar in hers. Smooth and sweet.

She took a tentative sip of her drink, and then placed the mug on the table. She tilted her head, perhaps contemplating her next words. They came out in a breathy invitation. “I don’t understand why my heart skips past my arrhythmia and almost into a full blown coronary when you’re nearby, but your companionship feels as comfortable as my favorite sweater.”

“You sure say the sweetest things.” He reached for her hand and enjoyed the warmth of her skin against his.

She squeezed his hand. “It’s true. And you’re also the best dressed man here.”

“How else to attract your attention?”

“It succeeded. An argyle sweater and a beige turtleneck? You could be Cary Grant.”

“Only if you’d be my Ingrid Bergman.”

They both laughed. Their hands never parted. Their eyes remained fixed on each other, highlighting the familiarity of each other’s face among the thousands they’d seen in their lives.

The evening carried on like a dream. They laughed about their first cars, their first kisses, and the first time they’d struck out on their own. She’d lived a life of adventure and he was a willing audience to hear her stories.

An hour later, the dream dissipated like fog in the sun. A woman dressed like Gumby arrived and reached toward Daniel’s dinner companion.

“Mrs. McClare, it’s time to go back to your room.”

Alice held up her hand to the woman, halting her steps. “Just a minute, dear.” She turned back to Daniel. “Agree to have breakfast with me tomorrow.”

Daniel smiled. Not a crazy teenager in love smile, but a smile that told the woman to his left that he appreciated her flirtations and reciprocated the interest. “Same table. Eight o’clock. I’ll be waiting.”

“I’m glad.”

Gumby pulled Alice’s chair away from the table and from Daniel.

“Until breakfast, my sweet.” He touched her chair before it rolled completely out of reach.

“I can’t wait.” She waved and departed with her nurse.

Daniel beckoned over his orderly.

“Mike, I need some help out of my chair.”

“No problem, Mr. McClare.” He grasped Daniel’s arm and lifted him, moving his walker over within arm’s length. “There you go. Did you have a nice dinner?”

“The prettiest girl in the place just agreed to have breakfast with me. I had a perfect dinner.”

Mike’s booming laugh followed Daniel out of the room, but Daniel ignored it. He needed to get back to his room and pick out an outfit. He had a date first thing in the morning.

Finding a Princeton Spouse Between Black Holes and Planetary Nebula

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by Veronica Forand

Mary Ellen Thompson sat down at an empty table at the Chemistry CaFe in the Frick Chemistry Building on Princeton’s campus. As she began to inhale a ham and cheese on rye with a small Diet Coke, a tall, dark and amazing guy asked if he could sit down.  She would have answered “yes” if her mouth had enough saliva to swallow the sandwich. It didn’t. Forced to raise her hand for him to wait, she took a quick chug of the soda and then exhaled forcefully.

“Sure,” she finally answered. She twirled her copper braid and batted her eyelashes as her mother had instructed her to do when confronted with a potential spouse.

Mr. Amazing nodded and sat next to her. His lunch consisted of a large salad with grilled chicken and a glass of milk.  He didn’t touch his meal though. Instead, he stared into her eyes. A total cliché of a moment, but what the hell, she hadn’t dated a hunk like him since her freshman year when she’d tutored a blond, buff running back in Calculus. She deserved a romantic cliché on her life.

“Are you a student here?” he asked.

“Yes. Are you?” she continued their dry and otherwise predictable conversation.

“Yeah. I’m a history major and I play on the soccer team.” A slight smirk lifted the corner of his mouth. He was intelligent. He had to be in order to garner an exclusive spot at an exclusive school. He also had toned muscles that stretched the sleeves of his polo shirt. He could be the future father of her children. He could be the one. “What’s your major?”

She smirked back, sure that she’d found her equal. Her match. “I study astrophysics and am a member of the robotics team. I’m focusing my thesis on the long established problem of cosmic ray confinement in the Galaxy.”

His brown eyes, still staring intently at her, began to gloss over. “Cool.” Those baby browns turned toward the door, the cashier, the blonde with her breasts hanging out of her tank top, anywhere but toward Mary Ellen. “I’ve got to go. I’m late for class.” He stood with his untouched salad and milk and hightailed it away from her.

Her mother’s advice about finding a husband was proving more difficult as she moved closer to graduation. Should she stick with math or science majors and give up her dream to be held in the arms of a rock solid athlete? Or switch majors to something less intimidating. Maybe neuropsychology or microeconomics. A husband, after all, would be the most important decision of her life.


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