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An only child, Tracy Broemmer grew up with a wild imagination. An avid reader from a young age, she spent a lot of time with her nose buried in books and a lot of time making up her own stories. She penned her first book in grade school and hasn’t stopped writing since then.

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Short Fiction

Mariana Fruit Bats & Manhattans

Manhattans on 38th St.

 Part Four

Bryn Douglas propped herself on the slider doorframe and watched the rain come down in buckets. Mother Nature had delivered a few unseasonably warm days, but she’d thrown in some torrential rain, too. Bryn wasn’t sure which was worse: the blustery cold or the worry over the backyard washing out and the creeks and river flooding. The campsite on the riverfront was in a sorry state as it was; they didn’t need flood waters making things worse.

Lost in thought, she folded her arms over her chest and then lifted her right hand to bite at her thumbnail. Drove Monty nuts when she did that, but he wasn’t around at the moment to nag at her to stop. They needed to sell the camp, but they couldn’t since it technically wasn’t theirs. The property belonged to her parents, and though her mom had been battling ovarian cancer for a long time now—and to Bryn it was clear that she was losing the fight—her dad refused to consider selling.

A hot knot of emotion expanded in her throat. Up until earlier this week, her mom had been adamant that they weren’t ready to sell. Tuesday, the first day the rains had thundered down and rattled against the vinyl-sided bungalow her parents lived in, her mom—shrunken and tiny, pasty white skin with huge, gray circles under her eyes—had given Bryn a curt nod and mumbled that it was time to get the camp out from under them.

It wasn’t like they were in debt; Bryn’s parents had been retired for several years, and with the small house and the sedan in the garage at the far end of the paved drive paid for, they weren’t hurting for money. But they had a lot of irons in the fire—the river camp being only one of them—and apparently even her mom had noticed that her dad was killing himself trying to keep the flames burning.

Her mom didn’t believe he could do it alone. Bryn didn’t either, but something inside her had deflated when her mom had shared her doubts. Giving in and agreeing that it was time to make changes to their lifestyle was code for accepting the inevitable.

Bryn heard a light tap at the front door. Assuming one of the kids would get it, she waited by the slider in the kitchen. When there were no tell tale footsteps and no shouting—as if to call another outfielder off a fly ball—Bryn padded sock footed through the open living area. She heard the tap on the door again. Glancing through the sidelights around the door, she was surprised to see Gabryel’s car in the drive.

“Hey!” She pulled the door open and offered Gabe a smile. “Out for a swim?”

Gabe rolled her lips inward and then managed a weak smile. Water droplets fell from her spikey hair to her shoulders, where the rain had already soaked her thermal tee.

“Right? I think we might float away.”

Though she was under the porch cover now and out of the rain, Bryn reached for her, grabbed her by the wrist, and yanked her inside the house. Gabe shivered and hopped from foot to foot as she tugged her black booties off.

“C’mere.” Bryn again took Gabe by the hand and led her across the open living area to the bedroom she shared with Monty.

“What are we doing?” Gabe asked as Bryn led her to the walk-in closet on the east wall of the room.

“You look cold,” Bryn mumbled absently. She shoved hangers aside until she found a gray Cubs sweatshirt and tugged it from the hanger. “Change your shirt. I’ll put yours in the dryer.”

Gabe stared at the sweatshirt Bryn shoved into her hands as if she didn’t know what it was or what to do with it.

“Gabryel. You’re gonna get sick.”

“Actually, you can’t get sick from being cold or wet. You get sick from germs—”

“Seriously?” Bryn rolled her eyes.

“You hang your sweatshirts up?” Gabe looked up at Bryn with a frown. She tucked the sweatshirt between her knees and then quickly whipped her own shirt off.

“Damn, Gabe, you might have warned me.” Bryn snorted softly. Gabe handed her shirt to Bryn and flashed her a grin.

“I haven’t worn a bra since I was twenty.” Gabe shrugged. “As you can see, I don’t need one.” She tugged Bryn’s sweatshirt on quickly and shivered again.

“I think I’m scarred.” Bryn blinked and then squeezed her eyes closed.

“Nothing you haven’t seen before,” Gabe reminded her.

“Well, I mean, I see a lot more than that, because as you pointed out—”

“How about a Manhattan?”

“Okay.” Bryn grinned and led Gabe back to the kitchen. “Do guys like that?”

“I dunno.” Gabe perched on a barstool at the counter and watched Bryn as she grabbed glasses for their drinks. “Haven’t had any occasion to take my shirt off for a guy lately.”

“Thought you said you got plenty of sex.” Bryn glanced at her as she reached to open the cabinet with the liquor bottles.

“I find it when I want to.”

“Still not into Harrison, huh?”

Gabe laughed softly and propped her chin in her hand. “Well—”

Bryn whirled around to stare at her curiously. “What?”

“What?”

“What was that? You laughed…and you didn’t say you weren’t into him.”

“I didn’t say I was, either.”

“But you said well. You started a sentence with well…like you were going to say maybe you…like him.”

Gabe chewed on her lip and sighed. “You know, I used to feel really grown up coming over here or going to Elise’s house. Hanging with the adults—”

“Thanks for not calling us old people,” Bryn mumbled as she turned back to the cabinet.

“You’re welcome,” Gabe nodded, “but it kind of depends on the day.”

“Shut up.”

They both laughed, but Gabe continued, “Now I feel like I’m a young girl again. With friends trying to push me to crush on someone.”

“It’s not like that.” Bryn pursed her lips as she considered what Gabe said. “Stakes are higher than when you were a kid.”

“I don’t want high stakes!” Gabe yelped. “I keep trying to tell you that!”

“But.” Bryn shrugged as she leaned over to study the whiskey as she poured. “You just said well…like you had more to say. Like you had a confession to make.”

“God, I forgot that you mix drinks at a turtle’s pace.” Gabe groaned. “I should’ve asked for a beer.”

Bryn laughed. “And you’re still avoiding the question.”

“We went bowling on St. Patrick’s Day.”

“I’m sorry?” Bryn straightened and turned sideways at the counter. “Because for a second, I thought you said you went out with Harrison.”

“Nope.” Gabe shrugged. “Didn’t say that.”

“Gabryel.” Bryn tossed her hands up helplessly. “What? C’mon. Spill. Entertain me.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

Bryn took a deep breath and sighed. She slumped against the counter, the bourbon still in her hand.

“Talk and mix at the same time.” Gabe waved her hand in circles as if to start her up. Bryn laughed softly and turned back to the drinks.

“My mom’s not doing well,” she mumbled. She felt Gabe’s eyes on her as she set the bourbon down and picked up the vermouth. “I was just watching the rain and thinking about her. Their camp down by the river is gonna be flooded. Dad doesn’t want to sell it. But we need to. Mom agreed with me this week.”

When her words were met with silence, she peeked at Gabe to find her watching her with a pensive, sad expression.

“I mean, it’s not like the biggest thing we need to worry about right now. Ya know? The chemo’s not doing anything. And maybe we should be talking about…funeral stuff…” Bryn’s throat was thick with emotion. She stood for a moment and struggled to get control of herself.

“It’s just easier to focus on the other stuff,” Gabe whispered. “I get it.”

“I guess.” Bryn nodded and tuned into the drinks again.

“Elise called earlier,” Gabe announced. “Jimmy filed for divorce. Diane locked him out of the house. He brought a cop home with him.”

Bryn—the jar of bitters in her hand now—froze and looked at Gabe sharply.

“She didn’t call me.”

“She did. Your line was busy. When she and I were on the phone, she was on her way to get Paulie and take him home with her.”

“Maybe you’re the smart one.” Bryn chewed on her lip and turned back to the glasses. She finished mixing the drinks and then carried one across the kitchen to Gabe.

“Thank you,” Gabe said softly. “Dying of thirst.”

Bryn hid her grin behind her glass as she sipped.

“And does that mean you thought I was dumb?”

“No, just wrong.” Bryn snorted at the frown on Gabe’s face.

“Explain?”

“Staying away from commitments and family.”

“You’re depressed about your mom. Elise is worried about her nephew. Neither has anything to do with love or sex.”

Slowly, eyes on Gabe, Bryn lowered her glass to the counter. She worked her lower lip again with her teeth.

“Maybe I did mean dumb,” she finally mumbled.

Gabe snorted and reached over the counter to swat at her.

“Why dumb?”

“Because you’re trying to tell Elise and me that you don’t want love, and that families aren’t worth it, but you just set me up to remind you again that having a love like that can help you deal with all that other stuff.”

“I need a cigarette.”

“You don’t.” Bryn shook her head. “You really don’t.”

“I do.” Gabe swallowed a mouthful of her drink and rubbed her eyes. “And I left my purse in the car.”

Bryn waited for Gabe to look up and meet her eyes before saying anything.

“Not sacrificing any more clothes to you so you can smoke.” She arched her eyebrows. “Not to mention I don’t really need to see you topless again. Once a day is enough.”

“You want me to come back tomorrow?”

Bryn rolled her eyes. “I forgot to put your shirt in the dryer. Where’d I put it?”

“Behind you on the counter.” Gabe nodded her head in that direction.

“So. Way back before you distracted me.” Bryn picked Gabe’s drenched shirt up from the counter and carried it to the mudroom. She put it in the dryer on low heat and then returned to the kitchen to find Gabe picking at a hangnail.

“Wasn’t distracting you,” she mumbled. “I was being compassionate and asking what was wrong.”

“Let’s sit outside,” Bryn suggested.

“Yeah? In the rain?”

“On the patio.” Bryn picked her drink up. “It’s covered.”

Rather than argue, Gabe grabbed her glass and slid off the stool to follow Bryn out to the patio. Bryn checked the chairs—Monty had just put them out over the weekend—and when she found them dry, she plopped into one with an exaggerated sigh.

“I love to listen to rain.”

“Me, too.”

“Do you ever…” Bryn cleared her throat. Wondered if she should bring up past confessions, past truths, or if once spilled, that stuff was back to being off-limits. She glanced at Gabe to find her younger friend’s big eyes on her.

“Play in mud puddles? Wade barefoot in a creek? Eat cereal for dinner?”

“Well, do you?”

“Yes, yes, and yes.” Gabe held her fingers up one at a time as she ticked off her yeses.

“Talk to your family?”

“As a matter of fact, I talked to my sister last night.”

“Really?” Bryn’s hope bubbled out of her before she could catch it.

Gabe rolled her eyes and sipped her drink. “She called to tell me that our brother got some girl pregnant. Jerad stepped up and proposed, so now Cass thinks we need to have a shower for them.”

“And?”

“I told Cass to have fun with that, but I’m busy.”

“Drinking Manhattans.”

Gabe shrugged, seemingly mesmerized by the splatter of raindrops on the concrete at the edge of the patio.

“Gotta do what I gotta do.”

“Do you see him often?”

“My brother? No. We don’t get along that well when we do see each other. He’s kind of a dick, and I’ll give this marriage a week, which is why I won’t lift a finger to help plan a shower or wedding.”

“Harrison.”

Gabe leaned forward in her chair and held her breath. Bryn watched her curiously, but when Gabe remained quiet, she looked away and drank from her glass.

They would need to call a real estate agent. To list the camp. Might need to bring in a cleaning crew to get the house in shape. Her parents were heavily involved in church activities. Maybe Bryn should start calling all of the committees and discreetly ask that they lessen the load as her mom simply couldn’t do anything—whether it be cooking for funeral dinners or cleaning the church for holidays—and her dad was steeped so deeply in denial, that he was going to be mentally and emotionally blindsided one day very soon and that pain would render him useless to them for a while.

“Don’t make a big deal of it.” Gabe’s whisper cut through the heavy thoughts. Bryn looked back at her only to find that she had her face hidden behind her hands, and her glass was on the ground between her feet. “Please.”

Bryn bit her tongue. Her first instinct was to ask. To blurt it out. Because she assumed from what Gabe had just said that she’d slept with Harrison. She forced herself to take several deep, calming breaths before she even opened her mouth.

“Okay.” She sounded calm. No way Gabe could know her heart was banging recklessly in her chest. That her fingers were itching to pick up a phone and call Elise. That she was already worried about figuring out the invites to the fun nights they’d all been spending together. If Gabe and Harrison had slept together, they couldn’t have them both over at the same time anymore.

“We have.” Gabe shrugged. She dropped her hands and let them hang between her knees, elbows resting on her thighs. “Spent a lot of time together lately.”

Bryn was still a wild mix of stunned and curious, but Gabe wasn’t happy about what she’d admitted, so again, she waited for more information.

“We went bowling. Went out one night to grab burgers.” Gabe licked her lips and shook her head. “We’ve been to the grocery store three times together now.”

When she shot Bryn a quick glance, Bryn only nodded to keep her talking.

“He came by one night last week after work. Said he’d had a bad day. Nothing terrible, just one of those days when you drop everything and kick it trying to pick it up, and you drip ketchup on your shirt, and your phone rings off the hook, and you don’t get anything done.”

“Very familiar with those days,” Bryn agreed quietly.

“He hung out.” Gabe cleared her throat.

Here it comes, Bryn thought. One thing led to another. He stayed over…

“I—we made brownies.”

Gabe darted another quick look at Bryn and shied away from the eye contact.

“You made brownies?” Bryn shook her head. “What’s wrong with that?”

“We made them together. It was after ten at night. And we were in my kitchen. My tiny little kitchen. Music playing. We were laughing and sort of…dancing…and I tasted the brownie batter…had some on my lip.”

“He kissed you?”

“No, but he touched me. He dabbed at my lip with his finger, and then we just stood there for a second. Staring at each other.”

“And then he kissed you.”

“He didn’t kiss me.” Gabe shook her head. “There was no kiss, but it was worse, Bryn.”

“What do you mean?”

She knew what Gabe meant. There wasn’t a kiss, but there was a second of eye contact when they were both thinking about a kiss, and sometimes that moment is more intimate than physical contact. Bryn had been there. She knew that fluttery feeling in the pit of the stomach, the soft tingle in the fingertips, the way your heart raced so hard inside you, it hurt to breathe.

“It felt like he could see right through me.”

Bryn nodded. There were a million things she wanted to say—Gabe, that means something. That MEANS something. But she didn’t. She waited.

“It was awkward. He backed away. Washed the dishes. I cleaned the countertop off. We ate a brownie when they were done—”

“So. You had a…He touched your face. You had…an intimate…look. That felt awkward. But he stuck round to eat a brownie and help you clean up.”

Gabe nodded silently.

“That means—”

“Don’t.” Gabe shook her head. “Don’t make a big deal of it.”

Bryn rolled her lips inward.

“There’s more,” Gabe mumbled after a few moments of silence.

“‘Kay.” Bryn took another drink and relaxed back in her chair. Or at least she hoped she appeared relaxed to Gabe. Her heart was about to jump out of her chest; she could just imagine what Gabe felt the night she and Harrison shared that look.

“I couldn’t sleep last night. After talking to Cass.”

She did it again, that quick look at Bryn and the rush to break the eye contact as quick as it happened.

“Why not?”

“Because it hit me last night that Cass is happy.”

“And?”

“My sister is happily married. Yes, my niece is a horrible rotten child right now, but Cassie and Pete are happy.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?”

“No.” Gabe swiped at her eye and blew out a big huff as she shook her head. “No. Because I thought…the way we grew up…It was so bad, Bryn. We never really even had each other. But I thought we all agreed that it sucked, and so we’d never go looking for any of it when we were older. I thought it was an unspoken agreement between us.”

“And she’s happy, and now your brother’s gonna get married, and you’re…not.”

Gabe shrugged, but Bryn caught her quick nod.

“Maybe.”

“Gabe?”

“What?”

“Elise and I don’t mean to push. We don’t mean anything by what we’ve said to you. You know that, right?”

“I know.”

“I mean, we love you. We’d love to see you…happy. But you asked us to stay out of it. We will.”

Gabe nodded and dabbed at her eyes again.

“I texted him.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“Yeah.”

“You could’ve called me. Or Elise.”

“I know.”

“Okay.”

“But I texted him.”

Bryn arched her eyebrows, but she was careful to relax them when Gabe glanced her way again.

“That means something.” Gabe cleared her throat. “Doesn’t it?”

Bryn took a deep breath. “Um. Maybe.”

“I asked if he was awake. He called me.”

“And?”

“Stayed on the phone with me until I felt okay.”

“What’d you talk about?”

“The Gettysburg Address,” Gabe said with a laugh. “The 1987 World Series. Jack Klugman as Quincy. Mariana fruit bats.”

Bryn blinked at Gabe and then narrowed her eyes at her. “And talking about bats helped you go to sleep?”

“It was his voice,” she admitted in a gruff whisper. She cleared her throat.

“Oh, Gabe.” Bryn winced.

“Don’t.” Gabe shook her head. “Please.”

“Okay.” Bryn nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes. “Wanna stay for dinner?”

“Monty doesn’t want to come home from work and share his wife and kids with me.”

“Monty would love to see you.”

Gabe took a deep breath and turned to look at Bryn.

“I’m a little bit afraid of being alone,” she said with a nod. “Afraid of what I might do.”

“We’re having chicken parm.” Bryn stood. She rubbed her hand over Gabe’s shoulders. “Want another Manhattan?”

“Yes. I do.”

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