PHOENIX

A few years ago (I just looked and it’s SHOCKINGLY 4 years ago. WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE?) I posted a short scene that I wrote using a prompt. You know I love me some writing prompts because they often get the creativity flowing before I sit down to work on my active WIP. I liked how that one came out so I posted part of it right here to the website.

At the time, I didn’t post the entire short. I decided to just go with a small portion. There’s likely a lot of reasons for that. Namely:

  • I wasn’t sure if I would ever use these characters again (I have since decided I will not)
  • It leans toward romance, which I don’t usually (ahem … EVER) write
  • I literally could not answer further questions about where this goes from here if anyone asked
  • I wasn’t sure I loved it

Today, I found the full one again and I’ve decided to throw all the excuses out the window and share it with you. Why not, right?

Enjoy … just remember that this is a fully unedited rough draft that I through together four years ago just because I liked a writing prompt. You can totally critique just be kind (and avoid critiquing the grammar we all know is rough).


Have you ever opened the oven when you were standing a little too close? Been greeted by that fresh steam wafting up into your face, making you feel as though you could be burning alive? 

Stepping off the cool air of the 747 from Boston, Logan Airport into Sky Harbor in Phoenix, Arizona on the first day of July is worse than that. When you step off the plane into that little metal tube that brings you to Terminal 3, your entire body is engulfed. It’s not the friendly, delicious smelling, face-only blast like your oven. No, no. It’s a body encompassing, I-wish-I-could-sweat-but-it-evaporated, skin on fire, whole body conflagration. 

So why would someone smart enough to know better voluntarily suffer this? Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tasha. I’m a teacher from Massachusetts. I’ve been living there, on my own, as an adult, for over a decade. 

Now I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. 

In my parents house. 

Sleeping in the bedroom I fled from years ago, before college. 

Why? Is it because the summers here are so refreshing? God no. The summers here suck. It’s because I’m recently divorced. Solo. Alone. Lonely. What better place to be that than Phoenix, Arizona? At least here I don’t risk running into the ex at Dunkin’.

July 2, 5:45 AM and I’m awake. Would you like to venture a guess why I’m awake? Because the god-forsaken city of Phoenix is plagued in the summer months by the oldest antagonist in the world; the sun. It rises before 6 AM, evidently not caring at all for the fact that it’s summer and my one time of year to sleep in. It is barrelling oppressively into my eastern facing bedroom window. The shades, even one ironically named room-darkening, have been pulled tight. Yet the sun continues to win the battle and cast the room in an eerie grey light.

The room has changed drastically since I lived here. My parents, likely glad that I had married and moved out, have embraced their lack of children. They have a small black futon, like the one I had in college, which I’m using as a bed. There is a closet, which my mother has gracefully turned over approximately one eighth of for my summer use. Then there’s the large computer, laughably small desk, and dual monitors. Evidently since I left my father has gotten heavily into photography and editing. He has a whole set up in here for just such a purpose. It’s all a harsh reminder that my life is supposed to be taking place three thousand miles away from here; that they have already moved on and I’m intruding.

Giving in to the tyrannical sun, I force myself out of bed. My bones ache, something that never used to be true when I was living here the first time. As I stretch my hands straight over my head, attempting to find my inner relaxation and peace core, I notice shadows of feet below the door. Photography waits for no one to fully awaken. My father is literally pacing in front of the room. 

“Tasha, you’re awake!”  My mother’s slipper clad feet jump off the tiled floor in excitement. She throws her arms around my neck. I want to be angry, after all I hate that I’m here. But it’s so hard to not give in to the smell of your childhood. The feel of her soft bathrobe on my cheek takes me right back to my youth. I want to get lost in those memories. It never hurt back then. Even when I thought it hurt, it was nothing compared to the weight on my chest now.
The hug ends too soon and my mother is back to frying bacon in her hot pan. “I am so glad you are spending the summer with us, honey. This will be so good for you. What are you planning today?” 

I grab a cup of coffee, an apple from the bowl on the table, and point to the sunglasses on my head. “When in Rome, sunbathe.” I smile.

“You’ll probably be red as a lobster before noon if you start now.” My mother’s adorable worry creases deepen as she frowns at me.

“Then I’ll just have to find a way to cool off.”

“Why don’t you plan on needing to cool off? You could sun yourself at the community pool. They have the best lawn chairs there.” Mom expertly flips the bacon without even a flash of hot grease landing on her exposed wrist. “Besides, what is the point of being single if you aren’t planning on getting out there and mingling?” 

This is what drives me crazy about my mother, right here in one interaction. She has managed to make me feel welcomed and loved, illustrate the perfect housewife, and then made me feel like I’m not good enough all in one expert moment. If you can flip bacon like that, without having to dance back away from the flying grease, maybe you would keep a gorgeous man. Maybe you’ll find one who can cook the bacon himself down at the community pool. I do not feel like arguing. Community pool it is.

There are approximately twenty people, besides me, hanging at the community pool when I arrive. There is a small group of teens with their feet in the shallow end of the pool, too cool to care that they are baking. Three mothers gossip from the aforementioned ‘best lawn chairs’ as six children splash and thrash about in the middle of the pool. The lifeguard perched near the deep end and diving board, tanned and yummy, draws my attention for a minute. Just one minute. Then I remember that I’m thirty and he’s probably young enough to have been in my first fifth grade class ten years ago. Ick.

I drop myself into the deep end, self conscious about the decision to wear a two piece to the pool. I land in the path of the take-himself-too-seriously guy who looks like he’s practicing laps for the Olympics. “Oh, excuse me,” I mumble. At least I think that’s what I mumbled. He doesn’t notice, just expertly maneuvers around me. Invisibility level one reached.

I go under the lukewarm water enough to make my skin feel enlivened again. It’s like rehydrating beans, something I once read about for a recipe. Being in Phoenix, even for 24 hours, dries out your skin completely. You have to allow your epidermis to soak up the water for at least ten minutes, it must return to its previous level of hydration.  I didn’t make that recipe, in case you’re wondering.

I’m lounging in the chair, thinking ‘damn she was right, they are great’, with my sunglasses down ten minutes later. I’ve firmly attached my bitch face to ensure the teenagers will not mess with me. I’m contemplating napping underneath my shades and I’m feeling the skin sizzle under the sun. Hopefully sizzle equals bronze goddess glow. I guess we’ll find out.

“Ma’am, does this belong to you?” Sunglasses are not enough.  I have to put my hand over my eyes and squint to make the lighting look like something other than bright white. Olympic man is standing, holding the pink towel I snagged from my parents.

“Oh, yes. I’m sorry. Where did I leave it?”

“Just on this chair. Mind if I take it?” He gestures to the empty comfy lawn chair beside me.
“Please do. I’m Tasha.” I offer him my hand, which he shakes firmly.

“Steven. Are you from around here?” The line makes me cringe. Be original, Steven.

“Not anymore. I’m visiting my parents for the summer.”

“Oh, I’m betting you are from the East now. I picked up the accent.”

“I have an accent?” The shock is genuine. Here I’ve been living in Massachusetts for ten years but I legitimately thought I had no accent. 

“No, of course not. It’s always been pronounced summah.” Steven laughs. The sound is nice; strong and authentic. It makes me smile.

“I honestly hadn’t noticed,” I admit.

“I suppose we never really know what we sound like to other people.”
“I suppose.” I follow Steven’s lead and lay back on the chair again. For a second I feel almost rude, stopping the conversation on such an odd note. Then I remember that I don’t know this guy, I’m here to sunbathe, and he did it first. Three very good reasons to be rude.

But now I can’t relax because I’m thinking about my ex. He was an athlete in college, he played football. By the time I met him that was in his past. He was a football coach at the high school he taught at in Boston, but he was also a teacher and a great guy. He was fit. He made a decent living. He had no family ties in the area. He loved me. One of those things is still true.

His brother moved into town and everything changed. Mike went from Mr. Dependable to Mr. Asshole in one weekend. He started drinking too much. He started talking about the ‘glory days’ of college football constantly, the way other people talk about real life. He gained a beer gut, I didn’t judge, but then he hated himself for the way he looked. The last straw was the other woman. In a disgustingly typical display of marriage ending disasters, my husband had sex with another teacher from his school. In his classroom. Thankfully, it was after hours. So at least he’s not that dumb. He was fired and I left him. So college football is literally the only thing that was true about him then and still is. How can I miss him when it’s not him anymore?

“What do you do for a living, Tasha?” Steven’s deep voice breaks through my wandering walk down misery lane.
“I’m a teacher.” Here it comes; people react one of two ways to this statement. Either the ‘oh I’m sorry’ head tilt or the wide eyed ‘oh really you don’t seem like a bitch’ shock. Steven went with a head nod. I’m betting underneath those sunglasses there were wide eyes too. So file Steven under the ‘had bad teachers’ category. 

“What’s that like?” he asks.

“Like herding cats.” The answer earns a chuckle. “It’s hard, but rewarding.”

“If you like cats,” Steven points out. “Otherwise there’s really no rewarding moment.”

“Do you like cats?” I realize, after the words are tumbling out of my mouth, that this can be taken two ways. Plus I actually don’t care at all if he likes cats or not. I was only making polite conversation. “Real cats,” I clarify.

“Not the figurative cats you herd all day?” I hear the teasing note enter his voice. “I don’t particularly care about felines one way or another,” he answers. “Kids are cool though.”

“Do you have any of your own?” 

“Cats, no. Kids, no.” He smiles. “You?”

“No.” I’m not sure how to play this game anymore, at my age. I feel a blurt coming on. You know, the truthful statements that you can’t hold back. The ones that bubble up from your gut through your esophagus and out of your mouth before you can swallow them back down. “I’m divorced.” 

This earns a nod like a bobblehead. “As am I.” I risk a full-on glance at Steven. Tone chest, exposed abs glistening from his swim, and his relaxed pose on the chair. His body looks like it belongs to someone in their twenties. 

I, on the other hand, have the little muffin top over my bikini bottoms that shows my age. It’s that comfortable waist line you associate with happily married women. My body is a traitor to the lie I lived. I don’t know what to say to Steven’s revelation. All I know is my renegade mind is drooling over his external packaging.

“I should put some hours in at the office today,” Steven says, breaking my reverie. He stands up and looks down in my direction. The tilt of his head gives away the full body scan he conducts. Then he pushes his sunglasses up on his head so I can see him wink. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Tasha.”

“You as well.” My blush must be deep. I’m still holding in my gut from that scan of his, internally dying to know how I measured up.

“Would it be too forward of me to ask for your number? I’d enjoy taking you out to a nice dinner.”

In response, I pull my cell phone out from the wrappings of the shorts beside me on the ground. “I’ll put your number in my phone if you’ll share it with me.” I punch the digits into the screen, which is hard because it’s backlit glow is competing with the Arizona sun. Then I ramble off my own long distance number and watch as Steven repeats the actions.

“I’ll call you.” He smiles as he drops the sunglasses back onto his face. Despite my desire to hate everything about this city, I’m suddenly hopeful. Maybe, just maybe, this summer may turn out alright.


Original post, in case you’re interested, can be found here.

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