Today’s Story a Day prompt was to write a story that begins with the ending, then immediately jumps back in time.
Well, this isn’t quite the actual ending. But, it will look like it(and not a happy one), to the characters. I rewrote part of Text Conversations for this one.
I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to going to that dinner. Nothing would have gone wrong if I’d just told Michelle we couldn’t make it that night. And now everything was wrong.
Three Weeks Ago
I glanced in the rearview mirror and smoothed down that one lock of hair that never wanted to cooperate. This was the longest I’d ever let it grow so far, and I had it pulled up in a knot near the top of the back of my head. But, that one lock never stayed down.
“Dad, your hair looks fine,” my daughter, Rina, said from the backseat. “Can we just go inside?”
I let out a little laugh and opened my door. “All right, all right. We’ll go inside. Come in.”
She let herself out of her seatbelt and opened the door. Damn, my little girl was growing up too fast. It wasn’t too long ago that I had to do all that for her. When her mother let me see her. I took a deep breath to keep the bitter thoughts away.
I took Rina’s hand in his and headed up to the house, knocking briskly on the door. Michelle usually answered right away. There were only a few times she hadn’t, and those hadn’t been good times. But, she’d seemed fine when I saw her earlier. But, a minute passed then another.
I started to worry, but then the door opened, revealing…not Michelle.
The younger woman started to open her mouth, but then it seemed to freeze in place. Her eyes narrowed then she snapped her mouth closed and shook her head. “Who are you?”
“Are you Ms. Michelle’s daughter?” Rina asked from just behind my leg. “She’s told me about you.”
The woman’s gaze dropped down to Rina, then a friendly smile spread over her face. “I wish I could say the same. Yes, I’m Natalie. Who are you?” It was the same question she’d asked me, but not nearly in the same tone of voice.
“Rina Price,” she answered brightly. “This is my daddy, Marshall. He and Ms. Michelle are friends. So, she invited us for dinner. Are you joining us, too.”
The woman glanced over her shoulder, and I heard her huff out a breath. Then, a muttered, “Dam it, Mom.”
I couldn’t help it. I grinned.
Later that night
“You are NuttyHippo?” I was having a hard time believing this. On the Nightborne chat, where I was known as CoachMage, NuttyHippo’s avatar was a knight in armor. And on the Global Friend Messenger, I’d approached her as MarshImp, the personality where I felt more me, the only place it seemed I could be my true self. There, her avatar was a hippopotamus, holding a large peanut. I hadn’t even been sure what gender NuttyHippo was. It didn’t really matter to me.
But, I had to keep both of mine separate. It was too important not to.
I certainly had never expected to actually meet the one person who seemed to accept me no matter how I presented. It seemed too good to be true. It had to be.
“I am. I was called both those things in school, so I took the leverage away from my tormentors and started calling myself that.”
That made my chest ache for her, and I glanced to the living room where Michelle had taken Rina to keep her entertained while Natalie and I talked. I knew what it was to be bullied through school and hoped it was something my own little girl would never have to deal with.
“And I can still contact you? Through the Global Friends account.” I’d just have to make sure I remembered which profile I was logged in under. It shouldn’t be too hard. I’d been keeping the two balanced and separate since my ex had first tried to keep Rina from me.
I couldn’t believe the way she smiled at me. Then said, “Of course. We already know we get along. You know when I’m not succeeding at killing you.”
I burst out with a laugh at that. “Yes, that’s the best time.”
I was really hoping I could have more of them with her.
11 Days Later
I stared into my closet, hating the way my hands were shaking. Natalie and I hadn’t been able to work things out so we could see each other again. If I wasn’t working late, she was. And she’d already had plans with some girl friends the weekend before. I’d have Rina again this weekend, so if we didn’t get together tonight, I didn’t know when we’d be able to.
But, I just couldn’t do it. Every time I tried to reach for the dress shirt, I thought I’d be sick.
I still had my hair down, brushing over my shoulders. Today it felt good that way. I wanted to leave it like that. And there were clothes I wanted to wear in the back of the closet. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t let Natalie see that side of me. Not yet. I could converse with her online as MarshImp. She could see me as a woman that way. But, if she knew the truth, would she be as disgusted as Rina’s mother had been?
I wasn’t sure I could live with that. It was better hoping that wouldn’t be the case.
Some days, when I felt like I fit in with my own skin, I could wear these clothes hanging right in front of me. But, there was just no way I could do it tonight.
I had to cancel, as much as I really didn’t want to.
“I’m sorry,” I said when Natalie answered. “I can’t make it for dinner.”
“What? Why not?”
“I just can’t. Something came up. Maybe we can get together next week. But, I can’t do it tonight.”
“Fine. I guess I’ll see you around in the dungeons.”
“Natalie, wait…” But, she’d hung up already.
Fuck. Sometimes I really hated myself.
I jumped in the shower, hoping it would help wash away some of the frustration and disgust. It didn’t work. And when I came back out in my robe, a notification flashed on my computer from Global Friends. I couldn’t remember the profile I’d been logged in as last, so I held my breath as I approached and brought up the window.
NuttyHippo: You there? My plans changed for tonight.
I glanced at the time stamp next to the message. Almost ten minutes ago. Shit. She was going to think I didn’t want to talk to her at all. And I was logged into my MarshImp profile. So, she would think there were two people letting her down tonight.
Before I could send a message, another one from her came through.
NuttyHippo: Marsh? It says you’re online. If you don’t want to talk, I get it.
I could not let her think that. I typed as quickly as I could.
MarshImp: No. I’m here. What’s going on?
As if I didn’t know.
NuttyHippo: Nothing, I guess. I thought this guy liked me. My mom introduced us, and we realized we already knew each other online. We couldn’t seem to get the same time off in the last couple weeks, and then we did, but he canceled on me. I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
Every word I read made me feel just a little sicker. I wanted to tell her that wasn’t it. That I liked her too much, and I was afraid she wouldn’t still feel that way if she knew the real me. I started typing before I could think better of it.
NuttyHippo: Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe he just got all caught up in his own head. I bet he’s regretting it now, though.
I certainly was.
NuttyHippo: Ha! Yeah, sure. I doubt that. I seem to turn people off as soon as they meet me in person. It’s probably best we’ve kept our friendship online only. I wouldn’t want to lose you, too.
I squeezed my eyes shut and slid my hands into my hair. What was wrong with me? I’d hurt her, and now I didn’t know how to make it better. I couldn’t let her know how much I wanted to see her. I couldn’t explain why I’d suddenly canceled. Not without telling her more than I was prepared to at the moment. And if I said more, I’d give myself away and not even be safe under this name.
I opened my eyes when my computer dinged again.
NuttyHippo: Shit. You went silent again. I said something wrong again. I’m sorry.
I was totally screwing all of this up. I needed to try to untangle at least some of these lines.
MarshImp: No. It’s fine. I just got busy. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry about that.
If only I could figure out how to make sure she wasn’t the one who ended up wanting to leave me.
The next morning
CoachMage: Sorry I had to cancel dinner last night. I really did want to see you.
It was the truth. For a moment, I wished I could tell her more of that. She was online now. I just hoped she’d still speak to me.
NuttyHippo: Maybe it’s best if we just keep our relationship to the Nightborne chats.
My stomach flipped. She already didn’t want anything more to do with me. And I hadn’t even told her anything yet. I needed to figure out how to fix this.
CoachMage: That’s not what I want. I want to see you again.
NuttyHippo: Well, I think it’s all I can handle right now. I’m sorry.
I dug my fingers into my hair, pulling some of it out of the knot. Shit, shit, shit. I couldn’t stand this. I needed to figure out a way to fix it. But when I looked up again, she’d gone offline. And I needed to finish getting ready for work. I’d have to come up with something later.
6 Days Later
I booted up my computer and sank into the chair. I’d hated dropping Rina off at her mother’s tonight. I’d gotten an extra day with her, but it just wasn’t enough. I hadn’t been able to talk to Natalie in almost a week, even as MarshImp. It seemed she was ignoring any possibility of contact with me.
But, Rina had distracted me for the time she’d been here at least. Now, I wouldn’t see her for almost two weeks. I had to find a way to get through that if no one in my life was talking to me. Michelle hadn’t even been at the library this week. It was apparently another bad week. She had them at least once a month. Hopefully she’d get through it soon and be back, so I’d at least have someone to talk to.
Though with it being her daughter I was so torn up over, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good thing.
I signed in to Nightborne. Maybe fighting my way through hordes of enemy knights would help clear my mind. But, I saw right away Natalie was already there. I knew I should just leave her alone. But, I clicked on her name in the chat anyway.
CoachMage: I’m seriously sorry if I screwed everything up.
I didn’t think she’d respond. But, finally it showed her typing.
NuttyHippo: The only thing you’re screwing up is your character’s experience points. You better start actually playing.
I couldn’t help but let out a laugh, even as my eyes, throat, and chest burned.
CoachMage: Hard to play when my head is all screwed up.
NuttyHippo: Then I guess you’d better get it straightened out. I’m no help with that.
NuttyHippo has left the game.
I wanted throw my mouse, and possibly the keyboard, across the room. But, I’d spent too much time teaching Rina not to throw a tantrum when she was upset to give in to that urge. I just had to keep trying and hope I hadn’t screwed everything up yet.
3 days later/Present Day
I saw her come online. This almost felt like stalking. Every minute I wasn’t at work or sleeping, I was sitting here, just waiting. But not as CoachMage. I hadn’t logged back into that profile on Global Friend since she’d told me she wanted to stick to us being on Nightborne. I had to hope she’d still talk to MarshImp, though.
I was just getting ready to send her a message when one from her popped up.
NuttyHippo: I am so tired. Tired of everything. I don’t think there’s enough sleep in the world to make up for this tired.
That sent my heart skittering a bit. Tired of everything. I’d had that thought before, and it was never when I was in a good place. I didn’t want to think Natalie had those thoughts as well. I knew she took care of her mother during her own darker moments. But, who took care of Natalie when she needed it?
MarshImp: Are you okay?
No answer. I walked out to the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed back to the computer. There was still no response for her. I couldn’t help but worry.
MarshImp: Talk to me.
Still nothing. I tried drinking from the bottle, but it stuck in my throat. Why wasn’t she responding? I hoped that message wasn’t going to be the last one I ever got from her.
Nutty Hippo: I’m fine. Sorry. My head’s just a mess. Dealing with…family. Stuff. It’s complicated.
So, Michelle had been having a bad week then. I couldn’t blame her. She’d seen her husband, Natalie’s step-father, gunned down nearly on their doorstep not quite a decade before. I wouldn’t be surprised if she never fully got over the trauma of that.
MarshImp: I know dealing with your mom can get difficult. But, she’s handling things the best she can.
As soon as the words came up on the screen, I felt sick. She’d told me about her mom, even though I’d already known a good bit of it. But, never on here, with me logged in to this profile.
NuttyHippo: I never told you about my mom. I don’t discuss it with people I’ve never met.
MarshImp: I’m sure you have.
Shit, shit, shit. No, she really hadn’t. I had to find a way to fix this.
NuttyHippo: No, I’ve only ever discussed it with…Marshall. Damn it.
Fuck. I clicked the sign off button as fast as I could. I needed to find a way to fix this. Even if it meant finally telling her the whole truth. It might be the only chance I had.