Today’s Story a Day prompt was to use the Hansel & Gretel story structure.
Start with a life-changing moment and lead your characters through the story to show us who they become.
I started with a moment that happened during Friday’s story, “Ruin It”. That was from Jeff’s POV but today’s is from Erik’s. It took a turn I hadn’t really expected, so I will warn that there’s some mention of suicide/suicidal thoughts.
Erik glanced out the window from the kitchen into the dining area for about the millionth time in the last hour. He should be focused on what he’s cooking, not what was going on out there.
“Why don’t you go out and talk to him?”
Erik glanced over at Anna. “What are you talking about?” he asked his boss.
She just lifted an eyebrow, and he laughed. “Is it that obvious?”
“To anyone with eyes in their head. Go out there and see what’s up with him. He’s been upset since he came in.”
Anna took over stirring his soup, and Erik headed out into the diner. Jeff did look really upset. What had happened to make him that way? Sure, he was usually outwardly angry. Erik got that. But, this was different. He wanted to make it better, no matter what had caused it.
Erik dropped into the chair across from Jeff, noting he had his walker with him today instead of the chair. He hoped that was a good sign.
Jeff’s head whipped up. “What are you doing here?” he asked Erik.
Erik figure that should be obvious, though, since he had an apron on over his clothes. “I was back in the kitchen. Anna mentioned you were out here, looking upset.” Okay, that wasn’t completely true. But, Jeff didn’t need to know just how much Erik noticed him. “What’s wrong?”
“Not a thing,” Jeff said.
“Come on, man,” Erik said, leaning a little closer over the table. “I know you better than that. Something’s eating away at you. Why don’t you tell me what it is?” It wouldn’t be the first time they’d talked through issues as they recovered from their own injuries.
Jeff looked away from him. “I said I’m fine. I don’t need you of all people to be coming down on me.”
Erik tried to come up with a joke to that to cover the hurt that slashed through him. But, he just couldn’t do it. So, he pushed up from the chair. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll just leave you here to wallow in whatever misery’s coating you. Have fun with it.”
Erik heard Jeff curse as he headed back toward the kitchen. He wanted to turn back, but what was the point? Jeff had been trying to make it clear he had no interest in Erik besides maybe being some kind of friends. It was probably time to start heeding those signs.
Erik walked into the house and threw his apron on the kitchen table. He should take it back and throw it in his hamper, but he wasn’t sure how much farther his legs would carry him. It hadn’t even been that busy of a day. This wasn’t a physical exhaustion.
It was emotional. He shouldn’t have let what Jeff said get to him. Usually he’d brush it off. But, maybe that confrontation at the store with his dad was still digging away at him.
What was his problem?
He dropped into a chair at the kitchen table and rested his head in his hands. He didn’t even lift it at the sound of footsteps coming into the room. “Erik?” his roommate asked. “What is it? Did something happen at the diner? Please tell me your father didn’t come in there and give you a hard time.”
Erik shook his head, still bent down. “I haven’t seen him since the store. It’s not him.”
“Then what is it? You worry me when you act like this. Anna didn’t fire you, did she?”
Erik let out a choked laugh. “No. She wants to give me a raise.” He finally looked up then pushed himself to his feet. Gabriel was standing so close, and Erik had all these…feelings rioting through him.
He was sure he could see some of them reflected in Gabriel’s eyes. Gabriel even lifted his good arm and brushed some of the hair away from Erik’s face. “What’s wrong?” he asked again softly.
Erik couldn’t stop himself. They’d used each other for comfort since Gabriel had offered Erik his spare room after Erik’s father kicked him out of the house. It had changed after Lora came into the picture, but not that much. And Gabriel was standing so damn close, was touching him, and he needed to feel something besides this ache piercing through his chest.
His lips brushed over Gabriel’s. For a moment, he thought the other man might pull back. Gabriel had a girlfriend now. What was he doing? It didn’t matter what they’d shared between the three of them that one night months ago. They’d agreed to that, not this.
But, Gabriel didn’t back away. If anything, he moved closer. His fingers slid up into his hair as their mouths stayed locked together for a full minute, maybe two. Finally, Gabriel pulled back, his grey eyes serious. “What’s wrong?” he asked softly.
And Erik realized there were tears running down his cheeks. He swallowed hard, but before he could figure out whether he’d answer truthfully or just lie, the door opened. “Hey, Gabe,” Lora said then trailed off as she saw them standing there together.
Erik spun away as fast as he could. The rod in his right leg pulled at the quick movement, but he didn’t let that stop him. He didn’t want to see whatever look was in her eyes from seeing the two of them together. Or when she realized he was crying. He slammed his bedroom door then collapsed on his bed.
Could this day seriously get any worse?
A knock sounded on Erik’s door some time after he had slammed it. He had no desire to get up off his bed and answer it, though. A closed door wouldn’t keep Gabriel out if he thought Erik was close to the edge. And he really hoped Lora would just walk away. If not, she could just scream at him through the door. At the second knock, he muttered, “Go ‘way.”
“Not a chance, Erik,” Lora said. “I hope you’re as decent as you possibly can be because I’m coming in anyway. Not like I haven’t seen you much less than decent.”
A sob broke out of him when he tried to laugh. “I’m never decent, Lora. Didn’t you know that?”
The door wasn’t locked, so she pushed it right open. And came to stand at the end of his bed. He was curled on his side, but he could see her there, her hands on her hips. “What is wrong with you?”
He let out a watery laugh. “That seems to be the question of the day. What’s the point in even trying to figure it out?”
She drew in a harsh breath, then she was sitting on the edge of his bed. “What’s the point? Do you really even has to ask that?”
“Apparently I do. What’s the point?” he asked again. “My family doesn’t want me. I’m a third wheel here. This town wouldn’t care if I was gone. There’s no one for me. No one who looks at me like Gabe does you.” He drew in a deep breath. “It would be better for everyone if I was just gone.”
She smacked her hand hard against his arm. He didn’t even both rubbing the sting away. He didn’t bother moving at all. “You know, that’s what Aaron thought, too. And trust me when I tell you, it didn’t help anyone at all when my brother took himself out of all our lives.”
“Lora,” he said, turning toward her. “I didn’t mean…” But, he couldn’t finish at the sight of the tears hanging on her lashes. It had been a few years since her brother’s death, but Erik knew it still hurt.
“Don’t say it, Erik. I’ve heard that brush off, too. You did mean it, and I’m telling you, you would be missed. You would be missed so damn much. That is the point. Your father’s an ass. We all know that. Neither Gabe nor I think of you as a third wheel. You’re the one who decided you didn’t want to continue what we started. If you did, both Gabe and I would be up for it. And I don’t blame you for kissing him today. When I’m upset, his lips make everything better.”
He let out a laugh at that. She squeezed her hand before continuing. “As for this town, they don’t know what they’re missing in judging you as you were as a teen boy.”
“I was a real asshole then, though.”
“Sometimes you still can be,” she said but smiled. “And I know there is one person in this town who doesn’t think of you that way.”
He looked up at her then. “You can’t be serious.”
“I saw him leaving the diner with his brother. And I went in and talked with Anna. He looked wrecked. Maybe you should go see what’s going on with him. You know, you’re not the only one who sometimes thinks there’s no point.”
“I don’t even know where he is.”
“Pretty sure his brother was taking him home. Maybe you should start there.”
“And if he doesn’t want me to ‘come down on him’?”
Lora’s lips twitched. “I thought that was exactly what you wanted to do to him.”
Erik burst out laughing at that. “You have been spending way too much time around me.”
“No such thing,” she murmured, brushing her lips over his cheek.
Erik stood outside the Holland’s house, wondering if he should just turn around and go home. Hadn’t he been planning to heed the signs Jeff kept throwing out? He wasn’t doing too good a job of that. No, he’d just had to listen to Lora’s advice. And it was going to get his heart crushed.
He was being an idiot. He just needed to go back home. He shouldn’t have brought over a dish of the soup he’d had cooking at home all day. He shouldn’t have come at all. Why had he listened to Lora and then Gabriel, who’d seconded her advice?
Jeff was just going to turn him away anyway, so why was he just standing there?
The front door swung open. “Are you going to come in or just stand there all day?” Doren asked, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Is Jeff home?” he asked. Doren had never intimidated him. They’d played on the football field together. But, now his hands were slicked with sweat, despite the still cool temperature.
Doren jerked his head toward the house then just turned and went inside. They might have played football together, but they’d never exactly been friends. He figured that was the most invitation he’d ever get from the man.
Erik followed him into the house and saw Jeff sitting at the kitchen table. His parents were there, looking concerned. Jeff had his face buried in his hands. Erik sat the dish of soup in front of him then took the next chair at the table. “I brought that for you,” he said softly. “I hoped we could talk.”
“Good luck,” Jeff’s father said. “He hasn’t spoken to any of us since he got home with Jarrett.”
To Erik’s surprise, they left the room, leaving him alone with Jeff. Erik reached over and took his hand, pulling it away from his face. “Will you talk to me?” he asked quietly.
“I can’t,” Jeff whispered hoarsely.
“Why not?” Erik asked. “We’ve talked before. Why can’t you tell me what’s going on now?”
“Because I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me? Why I can’t control these outbursts. Why I bother to even keep fighting.”
His words sounded way too close to the same words Erik had voiced to Lora earlier. He wasn’t sure he could say the same thing to Jeff that Lora had, though. “I wonder the same thing sometimes, too,” he admitted instead. “Sometimes ever day is a battle I’m not sure I want to fight any more. I thought I’d left war behind when I was discharged from the army. This enemy is even harder to fight, though, because it’s in my own head. But, I still have a unit that fights with me. You need to let yours help you fight, too.”
“I think they’re ready to give up on me.”
That wasn’t what he had seen when he’d walked in here. But, he thought it would take more time to convince Jeff of that. So for now, he just said, “I’m not going to give up on you.”