Short Story. The Individualist. (Enneagram 4)

Steve stepped back from the canvas, eyebrows furrowed as he examined his most recent markings.
Bright strokes of chalk were layered over delicate lines of paint. An odd combination for an odd man, but the contrast in textures had always struck him in ways that other mediums hadn’t.
He glanced up at the clock before switching pieces of chalk. He still had thirty minutes until Hannah left work. Another twenty after that until she should arrive home.
He wanted to be done with his current piece before she got back. He was painting it for her as a surprise. It was part of a collection he’d begun when he proposed to her. And he’d given her one every year since, a painting for every year of marriage, each depicting a significant moment in their relationship.
She claimed they were the best presents she ever received outside of their children. He hoped that was true.
He always spent more time on these paintings than any of his other works. They are more than presents to him. His love for Hannah wasn’t something he could express with words. But with art… with the time and care he put into his work… they were truly a part of him. The most beautiful part of him. And Hannah deserved the most beautiful parts of him.
He found himself humming as he put the finishing touches on his painting, enjoying the quiet of his home while Hannah and Chris were away.
He always felt guilty for enjoying their absence, but he couldn’t help that he felt at peace in the silence. Chris would be home soon, anyway, back from a quick weekend trip with a couple of his friends. There was no need to feel guilty about having fun by himself while his full-grown adult son was away from the house.
His humming grew louder, reverberating throughout the garage as he became further engrossed in his gift. A tear fell from his eye as he finished it, prompting a surprised chuckle. He often shed a tear or two over his work, yet it caught him by surprise every time.
He was so focused that he didn’t hear his phone at first, letting it vibrate atop his workbench. Then it rang again, dragging him out of his creative bubble. He almost didn’t answer it when he saw it was an unknown number, but if they called twice…
“Hello?” He said into his phone, putting it on speakerphone so he could focus on his painting.
“Mr. Garrafino?”
Steve hesitated, his breath caught with fear. “This is he,” he said.
“Mr. Garrafino, your wife was in a car accident and she is currently on her way to St. Joseph’s Hospital.”
Steve’s heart raced, his ears ringing with alarm, filled with pressure as he fought against the weight of his anxiety.
“Mr. Garrafino?” Said the lady on the other end of the phone. “Can you meet us at St. Joseph’s Hospital?”
“Yes,” was all he could manage to say, having to blink back the spots in his vision.
In a daze, he ran inside and grabbed a set of keys from the kitchen table. With tunnel vision, he ran out his front door, not bothering to lock it as he ran to his car.
Three times he tried the handle of his car before realizing he grabbed Hannah’s keys instead of his. Keeping her keys just in case, he ran back inside and grabbed his own.
He might have run some stop signs. If he did, he didn’t notice. Though he definitely ran some red lights, ignoring the blaring car horns.
Once inside the hospital, he slowing to a complete stop, immobilized by fear. He didn’t know how badly she was hurt, but it had to have been serious. She was taken by an ambulance. And if she was okay, they would have said she was okay. The fact that the lady didn’t say Hannah was okay, was confirmation enough that she wasn’t.
“Sir, can I help you?” Asked the desk attendant.
Steve nodded, stumbling over his name. Her name. But he eventually received directions to her room.
He was already in tears as he entered her room, his imagination painting fearful images of the pain she might be in.
Then he saw her, smiling at him with a spoon full of pudding in her hands. “Hello, dear,” she said cheerfully.
Steve collapsed in on himself, falling to his knees with relief. “Thank God,” was all he could think to say as he grabbed her hands, kissing them repeatedly.
“I’m okay,” Hannah said, “but the car is pretty beat up, and I’m not sure it’s still under warranty.”
Steve wiped his tears on his sleeve, not willing to let go of her hands. “What happened?”
“I honestly don’t know,” she said, shrugging, and then immediately wincing in pain. “I apparently ran into a car. My head was throbbing, but they gave me some pain medicine for it. My neck still hurts if I move it though.”
“You don’t remember the crash?” He asked, moving closer to examine her head. He couldn’t see it before, but underneath her dark hair was a swollen wound that had already been cleaned.
“I remember flashes,” she said, closing her eyes. “But nothing coherent. The doctor had some guesses as to what happened, but she’s waiting for the tests results to come back before saying anything for sure.”
Steve smiled down at her, amazed at her resiliency. He wasn’t sure how she could smile after such a traumatic event. He supposed the drugs helped.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” he whispered, bending down to give her a gentle kiss. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
She smiled back before shoveling down a spoonful of chocolate pudding. “Of course I’m okay,” she said with her mouth full. “I’m the strongest woman you know.”
Steve couldn’t help but chuckle at that. “The strongest,” he agreed, nodding emphatically. It wasn’t until that moment that he finally thought about their children. “Chris and Beth!” He said suddenly, straightening up. “We need to let them know.”
Hannah grabbed his arm, instilling a sense of peace. “The hospital already called them. They left a message for Beth, and Chris is on his way here.”
Steve let out a sigh of relief as the door suddenly opened, revealing a young doctor. “Good evening,” she said, adjusting her glasses as she nodded in Steve’s direction. “Mr. Garrafino, I presume?”
Steve nodded. “Thank you for taking care of my wife.”
“No thanks necessary,” she said, smiling at Hannah. “Now, the test results from our brain scans have come back, and they confirm what I suspected.”
Hannah placed the empty pudding cup on the table next to her bed, looking much more serious than before.
Steve watched her face, suddenly anxious. “What kind of results were they?”
The doctor let out a small sigh as she looked down at her notes. “You suffered a severe seizure,” she said, making eye-contact with Hannah.
“From hitting her head?” Steve asked, feeling completely out of his depth. He knew nothing about seizures.
“Unfortunately not,” the doctor replied. “The seizure is what caused the crash in the first place. Based off of our scan, it looks like you have severe Epilepsy.”
Hannah looked just as lost as Steve felt. “What does that mean?” She asked, her voice shaking.
The doctor moved to Hannah’s side opposite of Steve and placed a hand on her shoulder. “It means you’re at risk for more seizures. Potentially ones just as severe as the one today, but your condition is treatable.”
Steve held his breath, attempting to process the doctor’s news. “What does that mean? Treatable?”
“Like with medicine?” Hannah asked. “Will that make the seizures go away?”
The doctor smiled understandingly, lifting her hand from Hannah’s shoulder. “In eighty percent of patients, yes. The medicine should keep the seizures at bay.”
With that, Steve finally allowed himself to breathe, relief plain on both his and Hannah’s face.
“But there is still a chance the medicine won’t take,” the doctor cautioned, “and seizures can still be triggered by high-stress situations.”
Steve and Hannah looked at each other, each processing what the news meant.
“So what does that mean, exactly?” Hannah asked. “That I have to stay calm at all times?”
The doctor smiled again. “Not exactly. It means that until we see sustained evidence that the medicine is working, you’re not allowed to drive or operate a vehicle. Nor should you attend work.”
Hannah grimaced.
“Thank you, doctor,” Steve said, attuned to his wife’s frustration. “We appreciate your help.”
“You’re very welcome. I’ll be back with your prescription and to answer any other questions you have,” she said before leaving them alone in the room.
“I don’t want to leave work,” Hannah said as soon as the doctor left. “I’ll go crazy with nothing to do. And we don’t have enough saved for us both to be out of work.”
“We’ll be fine,” Steve said, stroking her hair in the soothing way she liked. “I’ll find something.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” she said, on the verge of tears for the first time.
“Hey,” he said, kneeling down to her level. “Look at me.” She looked over, her lips still turned down in frustration.
“I’m going to take care of you,” he said. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.”
With her eyes still locked on his, she let out a small smile. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve said, smiling back. “Because I’m the strongest guy you know.”
Hannah’s smile widened. “The strongest.”

Short Story. The Achiever (Enneagram 3)

Pam ripped the hospital band off her wrist, tossing it to ground as she walked through the lobby of her apartment.
“I’ll take care of that, Miss Ricks,” the young bellhop said, rushing to pick up her trash.
“Thank you, Eli,” Pam said, not bothering to look back as she waited for the elevator.
That might have bothered her once. That she could care so little about other people. She used to pride herself on her compassion, having managed to work her way up to the highest floor of her firm without making a single enemy. Not so much anymore.
It took her a moment to recognize the song playing inside the elevator. A jazz song, the name of which she didn’t know.
Theo used to dance whenever he heard it, shaking his hips back and forth until she couldn’t help but smile. She grimaced at the memory, pulling her phone out in order to distract herself until the elevator re-opened.
Her apartment was dimly lit. Too large and too clean for her. It didn’t look like anyone lived there, which she supposed was true.
She stopped in the foyer, her face frowning back at her in the mirror. Her lip was split, swollen to a comical size.
As gently as she could muster, she peeled back the bandage on her forehead, revealing her stitches. The wounds looked oddly appropriate to her. Finishing touches on a withering face.
Theo would have been mad at her for thinking such a thing. He always insisted she was beautiful. That he wouldn’t change a thing about her. And maybe that was true when they were younger, but she was old now. Cracked and worn. And Theo wasn’t around to insist otherwise.
Pam clenched the bandage in her fist, her lips beginning to tremble. “Calm,” she whispered. “Stay composed.”
Suddenly, the mirror shattered, shards of it falling around her fist.
Startled, she yanked her fist backward, bandage still in hand. She didn’t remember deciding to punch the mirror, but it was all she could to do to keep from hitting herself instead.
“Keep. It. Together!” She screamed, a part of her all too aware that she was losing it. “Don’t yell,” she said, her voice falling to a whisper, fighting the urge to laugh at the absurdity of her outburst. “Stay composed.”
Something dripped down her forehead as she eyed her kitchen counter. Her pills sat atop the marble finish, organized by the days of the week. “I don’t need you,” she said, her eyes flaring. “I don’t need you!” She yelled again as she contemplated taking them all at once.
Knock, knock, knock. Someone rapped against her door. “Pam?” A voice followed, loud enough to snap her attention away from the pills.
“What?” She yelled back, not moving toward the door.
“Are you okay?” Her neighbor asked, his voice concerned. “I heard screams. And did something shatter?”
“I’m fine! Leave me alone!” Pam said, her voice cracking under the strain of the lie. She used to be able to lie so well.
“I’m coming in to check on you. Okay?”
Pam stiffened, glancing at the broken glass scattered on the floor. “I’m fine, Louis.” She said again more convincingly.
“You’ll understand if I need to check after last time,” Louis said as he worked the lock with her spare key.
“I don’t need to be checked on!” She yelled, scrambling to pick up the glass with her bare hands. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
Pam pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the blood dripping from her hands as Louis opened the door.
Louis stood frozen at the door, his wife and a staff member stuck looking over his shoulder as they took in the bloody scene.
“Pam,” Louis said, his voice gentle as if afraid to startle her. “I think we need to bring you back to the hospital.”

——

Beth looked over at her brother, wondering for the hundredth time why he refused to leave her side.
“There’s probably a smoking area outside somewhere if you need a break,” she offered, watching his itchy eyes struggle to stay open.
Chris snorted, pinching his cheek as he sat up straighter in his chair. “You okay with me smoking now? What happened to your disapproving stare?”
Beth looked away uncomfortably, pretending to study the room. They were in a large hospital room, a single curtain dividing them from an empty bed. “We all have our struggles,” she said eventually, still not daring to meet his eyes.
Chris ignored her comment, yawning as he stood from his chair. Then, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, he began to stretch next to her bed, spreading his legs to a near split while reaching to his toes.
“What are you doing?” Beth asked incredulously.
Chris looked up from the floor mid-stretch. “Yoga,” he said succinctly. “It’s good for you.”
Beth shook her head. “You do yoga now?”
Chris shrugged. “It helps with anxiety. I usually smoke during. There’s nothing quite like smoking during yoga, but house rules and all.”
Beth smiled ruefully. “You’re just trying to impress our nurse.”
Chris winked at her before breaking out into a fit of laughter. Chris was still bent in half when their nurse walked into the room.
“What are you doing?” Deb asked, staring down at Chris.
Chris rolled his back up straight, smiling as he brushed off his hands. “Sorry. Just doing some yoga.”
Deb frowned at him disapprovingly, though Beth caught a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips. “Hospitals are not made for yoga.”
“I’ll say,” Chris replied with a mischievous grin. “You don’t even allow smoking.”
Deb paused for a moment, obviously unsure as to how to respond before deciding to ignore Chris altogether. “Anyway, I apologize, Beth, but you’re going to have to share the room. We’re filled to capacity at the moment.”
Just then, a woman rolled into the room in a wheelchair, a baffled attendant behind her. “Ma’m, at least let me get the…“
“I told you I can do this myself!” The woman barked as she kicked the door the rest of the way open and rolled herself to the spare bed. “Forcing me to be in the wheelchair,” she muttered, waving a hand at Deb. “I’m fine!”
“I’m sure you are,” Deb said, plastering a smile on her face. “But we should still help you…”
“Nope,” Pam said, cutting her off as she lifted herself into bed. “Just check me out and tell me I can go. I’m only here because of my stupid over-protective neighbor.”
“Your appropriately-protective neighbor told us what happened,” Deb said, drawing the curtain between Pam and Beth. “We’re going to have to run some tests this time.”
Pam’s jaw worked furiously as she fought to restrain herself.
“Don’t worry,” Deb said with a half-hearted smile. “My shift will be over soon so you won’t have to deal with me much longer.”
Pam grunted in response, hiding her trembling arms underneath the hospital blanket. She knew she was breaking down, and was furious about it, but she refused to break in front of others. She would be seen as strong. Remembered as strong.
Deb never noticed Pam’s arms as she moved to the other side of the curtain. “Beth,” she said, pointedly ignoring Chris smiling at her from his chair. “We should be getting your results in soon. Hopefully before I leave.”
“It was just an anxiety attack,” Beth said, eyeing her brother. “I promise I’m fine.”
“Yeah!” Pam yelled through the curtain, pulling it back for enough to reveal her face. “Listen to the girl. We’re both fine!”
Deb couldn’t help but roll her eyes, eliciting a chuckle from Chris. “We’ll know more once the bloodwork comes back,” she said, ignoring Pam. “For now, let me know if I can do anything to help.”
“Thank you,” Beth said, glancing between Pam and Deb. “Actually, can you tell me how much this is costing? Would it be possible to leave right now? Is that cheaper?”
Deb stifled a laugh, realizing from the concerned look on Beth’s face that she was serious. “You can’t leave until we’re done,” she said. “As for the cost, you’ll have to talk to the front desk about that on your way out.”
At the girl’s crestfallen look, Deb had to fight the urge to offer to pay her bills for her, reminding herself that is wasn’t her place. She couldn’t pay for every concerned girl in the hospital. She could hardly afford to take care of her own.
“Don’t you worry about that though,” Deb added, eager to comfort Beth. “The cost isn’t what is important. Your health is.”
Beth looked to Chris as Deb left to check on her other patients. “I don’t have insurance,” she said, her voice worried.
Chris shrugged. “I figured that. I told them you were still on mom’s. You’re twenty-five, right?”
“Twenty-six,” Beth answered, letting her head fall against the pillow in frustration.
“Whelp, we’ll figure it out,” Chris said with a reassuring smile.
“I don’t want to be a burden,” Beth whispered, feeling guilty even voicing the thought. “I’ll figure it out.”
“We,” Chris corrected. “We’ll figure it out. Me, you, and dad… who is on his way, FYI.”
Beth frowned. “You didn’t wake him up, did you? He needs his sleep.”
“I don’t know,” Chris said, throwing his hands in the air, “but he replied to my text saying he’s on his way. He would have wanted to be woken up for this, you know.”
“It wasn’t worth waking him up,” Beth argued. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t know that,” Chris said, his voice hardening. “Mom thought she was fine. She insisted nothing was wrong.”
“Epilepsy isn’t hereditary,” Beth said meekly.
“You sure about that?” Chris asked, sitting forward in his chair. “How much research have you done? Because I’ve read all about it and there are hereditary links, Beth. You could have it, and seizures are one of the primary signs.”
“Symptoms,” Pam chimed in, her face peeking out from the behind the curtain. “Primary symptoms.”
Beth cocked her head, baffled by the audacity of the older woman. “Um, sorry, we were having a kind of private conversation.”
“There’s nothing private about a flimsy sheet, child,” Pam replied, unfazed. “And he’s right, your dad would have wanted to be here.”
“Maybe if there was something wrong,” Beth said, “but I promise there’s not. I don’t have seizures, I have panic attacks.”
Pam arched an eyebrow, a smile forming on her lips. “What’s your story, girl?”
“I have panic attacks, is all,” Beth said, not sure what to make of her neighbor.
“Not what’s wrong with you,” Pam said, rolling her eyes. “Your story. What do you do for a living?”
Beth glanced at Chris for help, but he just watched, obviously bemused. “I live in California,” she said eventually. “I’m a… waitress.”
“And what are you trying to be?” Pam asked pointedly.
Beth’s cheeks flooded with color. “A musician,” she said, feeling foolish about sharing her dream with a stranger, but Pam merely nodded in understanding.
“What’s your story?” Chris asked, smiling confidently at Pam.
“I’m a partner at a law firm,” she said proudly, but found herself shaking once more as she remembered what happened. She had control when she focused on the kids, but on herself… she wasn’t sure she could do it.
She forced her hands underneath her legs, willing them to stabilize as she corrected herself. “Well I was, anyway. I’m on leave.”
“Why?” Beth asked, obviously concerned.
Pam took a deep breath, considering how much to share. “I decided to take a break,” she lied. “I lost my husband.”
Both the youngsters frowned at her with pity, unaware of how much worse that made her feel, but there really wasn’t any other way to respond. She didn’t want to talk about Theo. All she wanted to do was work. She needed to keep moving.
“We lost our mom,” Beth shared, shaking Pam from her reverie.
“I heard,” Pam said, trying to keep the pity from reaching her eyes. “From epilepsy?”
Both Beth and Chris nodded, clearly just as plagued my memories as Pam.
“That’s a hard thing,” she said, unsure of what else to say. When neither of them responded, she continued. “I didn’t spend enough time with my husband.”
She wasn’t sure why she shared it, but both Beth and Chris straightened, attentive, sensing she had more to say. The shaking in her arms lessened just the tiniest bit as she continued. “I worked so hard. Put so many hours in at work that I was never around. He never blamed me for it, or made me feel guilty, which I loved him for. But I wish he had. I wish he had forced me to spend time with him.”
A tear fell down Beth’s cheek as she fought to keep composed. She couldn’t bare to look at Chris, her skin alight with shame. Still, she had to say it. “I left my family behind,” she said, her voice cracking. “They wanted me to stay, but I put my dreams before them. And when my mom got sick…”
Chris moved to her bed, sitting beside her as she stroked her arm. “It’s okay,” he whispered.
“I didn’t think,” Beth managed to say before breaking out into tears, her body racked with sobs, unable to say a word.
“It’s okay,” Chris whispered soothingly. “She loved you, Beth, and she wanted you to pursue your dreams. She wanted you to be happy.”
“I hurt her,” she choked through the sobs.
“We’re family,” Chris said, smiling down at her.
“You’re human,” Pam said enthusiastically. “You’re going to hurt each other.”
Chris laughed. “Exactly, but we love you anyway. Mom loves you anyway.”
Just then, the door flew open as their dad rushed to her bed, Deb right behind him. “Beth. My Beth. Are you okay?”
Beth nodded, tears still on her cheeks. “I’m okay, daddy.”
Deb smiled as she watched Beth cry in the arms of her father. It was for moments like those that she became a nurse. She was at the end of her shift, sleepless and with nothing else to give, but she couldn’t be happier.
“Nurse!” Pam yelled through the curtain.
Deb sighed, leaving the scene behind. “It’s Deborah,” she said, her voice politely strained. “How may I help?”
Pam arched an eyebrow, but her shoulders were clearly more relaxed, less defensive. “I want to help with their bill,” she whispered, pointing through the curtain.
Deb took a step backward, her mouth hanging open. “Oh… really? That’s great!”
“Also,” Pam added, “I may have left some things off my paperwork.”
Deb squinted at her in confusion. “Why?”
“Also,” Pam said, ignoring the question as she raised her arms. “My hands won’t stop shaking.”
Deb shook her head in bewilderment, but didn’t have a chance to respond before Pam continued. “You think the doctor can help with that?”
“Of course,” Deb said, quickly scribbling notes down on her paper.
“Good,” Pam said, “now go tell somebody and go home. Surely your shift is up by now.”
“I’ll be done soon enough,” Deb said, all too aware that her shift had finished half an hour earlier.
“No, girl, you need to rest. Take care of yourself for once,” Pam said, smiling to soften the blow. “Go.”
Deb couldn’t help but chuckle. “Okay, I’ll go soon,” she said, somehow feeling lighter than she had in quite some time.

Short Story. The Helper. (Enneagram 2)

“Okay,” Debra muttered. “Okay, okay, you got this. Just smile.”
Her face looked back at her, unsmiling in her locker mirror. “Smile, dang it.”
And with a deep exhale, she listened, smiling into the mirror.
She wore her best scrubs, blue to bring out her eyes. “Yeah, that’s about as good as it’s going to get,” she said, resigning herself to the formlessness that was her outfit.
Then with one last sigh, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and walked out of the locker room.
“Deb, you’re looking way too good for the night shift,” Katie said, handing Debra a stack of clipboards.
Debra flashed her most winning smile, ever-so-slightly tilting her head. “Oh, it’s only the beginning of the shift. It’ll be a different story in twelve hours, believe me.”
“Please,” Katie said, rolling her eyes. “Five nights a week, and I’ve never seen your hair out of place.”
Debra’s heart fluttered with satisfaction, immediately followed by guilt. Say something nice! She thought, her smile becoming strained. Make her feel good, dang it!
“I love your… hair,” she said, hoping the compliment sounded more genuine than it felt. “I love the curls,” she continued more convincingly.
“Oh, thanks, girl,” Katie said, stroking her hair with genuine pleasure. “It’s a pain, but what are you gonna do?”
“Right?” Debra said, re-applying her smile to match Katie’s. “So we have any winners tonight?”
“Some tough ones actually,” Katie said, her smile fading. “But I gave you the easiest.”
Because she thinks I’m lazy? No, she just implied I wasn’t. Right?
“Actually, I’ll take the harder ones if you don’t mind.” She said. “I have a lot of energy tonight.” And… lie number one of the night.
“Oh,” Katie said, her eye widening appreciatively as she switched out Debra’s clipboards. “Alright then. Good luck.”
“Thanks, Kate,” she said, spinning lightly on her heel for good measure.
Her first patient was at the end of the hall. Debra stopped just outside the door, pretending to check the chart as she composed herself.
“I’m fine!” Someone yelled through the door.
Debra nearly dropped her clipboards, startled. “Excuse me?” She said meekly, poking her head through the door.
“I said I’m fine,” the patient yelled again, though slightly softer. “Just get me out of here.”
Debra removed her head, taking a moment to suppress her anger.
“Hey!” The lady yelled again, her voice carrying down the hall. “Get back here and get me out!”
Debra reappeared with a smile on her face, holding the clipboard in front of her as a safety net. “I’m right here, Miss…,” she said checking her records.
“Pam,” the patient said impatiently. “And I’m doing quite alright if you wouldn’t mind releasing me…”
“It says here your name is Miss Ricks,” Debra said, careful to keep her voice pleasant.
“And Miss Ricks says her name is Pam,” Pam replied, her voice dripping with condescension. “I would know, wouldn’t I? Straight from the horse’s mouth, so-to-speak.”
“I suppose so,” Debra said. “I’ve never spoken to one before.”
Pam cocked her head, squinting up at Debra. “Did you just imply I was a horse?”
Whoops. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Lie number two.
“Yes you did,” Pam said, chuckling. “But I’ll take sass over shy any day. More likely to get things done. So what do you say, am I released?”
At least she likes me. “No, not yet, Miss… Pam.”
“No? Then I’ll take a different nurse,” Pam said, arching an eyebrow.
Debra’s heart began to race. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” She asked, deciding to ignore the comment.
“It’s on the chart,” Pam said, gesturing to my clipboard.
“It’s helpful to hear it from the horse,” Debra said with a smile, holding her breath.
Pam didn’t smile. Too far, she thought. Definitely too far.
“So… can you tell me what happened?” Debra continued, nervous sweat dripping down her back.
“I fell,” Pam said, staring back at Debra defiantly.
“How?” Debra asked. Smile, she reminded herself. She’ll warm up.
“The hell you mean, how?” Pam asked. “I tripped. Does that amuse you?”
Debra immediately wiped the smile from her face. “No, of course not. I was just trying to be friendly.”
“You have many friends?” Pam asked, smiling maliciously.
Debra bit her tongue before reapplying her smile. “Must have been a pretty big fall. That’s a lot of bruises.”
Pam didn’t reply.
“It’s rare to see bruises on a face from a fall,” Debra said, inspecting the wounds. “Especially ones so deep. Were your hands full at the time?”
Pam looked down at her hands as she quietly fidgeted with her wedding ring. “No, just didn’t react fast enough is all.”
“To catch yourself?” Debra clarified.
Pam looked up, her breathing slightly ragged. “Yes, obviously.”
Debra held Pam’s gaze, locked in a battle of wills.
“Can I go now?” She asked, raising her chin in defiance.
Debra hesitated. “No.”
“No?” Pam said incredulously. “Why the hell not?
“Because… tests,” Debra said, backing away. “We have to run some tests.”
“They’re just bruises!” Pam yelled as Debra opened the door. “I don’t need any tests! I want a new nurse. Immediately.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Debra said as she closed the door. Lie number three.
As soon as she stepped into the hallway, Katie rushed over. “What was that?”
Debra took a moment to compose herself before responding. “She didn’t get those bruises from falling.”
Katie squinted at her incredulously. “Okay… and she’s yelling across the entire hospital because… you told her that?”
Debra let out a frustrated sigh. “Pretty much.”
“Look, I’m re-assigning her,” Katie said, snatching Pam’s clipboard.
“I think her husband is abusing her,” Debra whispered, the words falling out of her mouth. “I can’t let her go home like this.”
“Her husband is dead,” Katie said, slapping the clipboard. “Read the chart, girl.”
“Well then someone else is abusing her.” Debra stuttered. “Who does she live with?”
“No one,” Katie said, shaking her head. “She lives alone, Deb. She fell. That’s all there is to it.”
Debra cast her eyes around the hallway, trying to giver herself time to think. She trusted her gut, and her gut said Pam’s wounds were anything but innocent, but there was no way to prove it.
“Keep me on her,” Debra pleaded, “I need to make sure she’s okay.”
“What you need to do is help all of these other people on your list,” Katie said. “Miss Ricks will be fine without you.”
“Pam,” Debra said, accepting defeat. “She goes by Pam.” And with that left to check on the rest of her patients.
They were nothing remarkable. Just deteriorating bodies making messes for her to clean. She hated cleaning bedpans and vomit, but it was in those moments that she felt most worth-while.
They were usually so thankful, as if she was some sort of angel for doing her job. It’s why she became a nurse in the first place. To help people. She had made it her identity. So much so that helping people was all she had time for.
“She’s getting discharged,” Katie told her eventually, clearly watching her for a reaction.
Debra smiled disinterestedly. “Okay,” was all she said as she moved to her next patient.
“Dr. Quin checked, there weren’t any signs of foul play.”
“Okay,” Debra said again, “thank you.”
Katie eyed her suspiciously. “You’re not convinced are you?”
“I trust you, Katie,” Debra said, laying a hand on her shoulder. Lie number four.
Katie’s face softened. “Good. I know you’re aware… but it’s easy to project our own pasts onto our patients.”
“I know,” Debra snapped, pulling her hand away. “I wasn’t projecting.”
Katie nodded. “Okay, well thank you for trusting me.”
Debra forced a smile, not trusting herself to speak as she brushed past Katie toward her next patient. But with every step, her heart beat faster, pulling her toward Pam.
“Deb?” Katie called as Debra picked up her pace, passing her patient’s door.
Debra ignored her as she rushed to Pam’s room and threw the door open. “Tell me what really happened,” she demanded.
Debra nearly toppled Pam, who was standing just inside the door. She might have fallen all over again if she hadn’t managed to catch herself on the bed frame.
“What the?” Pam said incredulously. “You nearly injured me!”
“I don’t believe you,” Debra said, her heart racing. “You didn’t get those wounds from a fall.”
“Deb,” Katie said, arriving behind me. “Leave the poor woman alone.”
“I fell, Miss Sass. And now I’m going home.” Pam said, pushing her way past Debra.
“You didn’t fall just now,” Debra insisted. “You were startled and injured and you still caught yourself. Just tell me what happened!”
Pam stopped at the door, silent. Katie looked on, looking unsure as to how to proceed.
When no one said anything, Debra pressed on. “I know what it’s like to be abused. To feel scared not only of the person you love, but of losing them. To feel like there’s nothing you can possibly do to please them. No way to end the suffering… but you can end the suffering right now. Tell me who’s abusing you.”
Pam looked back, a tear in her eye. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then she walked away.
Katie didn’t say a word, frozen in the hallway as she searched for the right thing to say.
“On to the next patient,” Debra said eventually, her voice cracking under the strain of emotion. And with that, she shrugged her way into the next room. In it was a guy hovering over a girl.
“I’m fine, Chris,” the girl said, rolling her eyes. “I’ve felt fine since we were in the car.”
“No offense, Beth, but you’re fine when the doctor tells me you’re fine,” Chris said, looking up at Debra appreciatively. “Or a nurse. A nurse works too.”


Helpers. They love helping others, so much so that they often neglect themselves, which makes for good internal conflict.

Too many stories rely primarily on external conflict, neglecting the actual character. Story should always be about the character, done by making sure external conflict is the direct result of internal conflict. That’s what I’m striving to do here.

The story continues across the other Enneagrams! I hope you enjoy them!

Disclaimer: The enneagram doesn’t determine who a person is, nor what they’ll do. It is merely a tool that can help you better understand yourself and other people. (Which makes it pretty darn neat to apply to fake people, but dangerous if taken too far in real life)

Short Story: The Bench

I met my wife on this bench.
I was daydreaming, watching ducks float in the lake when I first saw her. She was running along the bike path, her face full of determination. I expected her to run right past, but she stopped right in front of me instead, kneeling to re-tie her shoes.
She shot me a quick glance as she knelt in front of me, her curly hair tied back in a bun, sweat dampening her shirt. Yet, despite her obvious exhaustion, she seemed… alive.
Nervous and suddenly sweating even more than her, I tried to think of something clever to say…
“I like your shoes,” I said, mentally kicking myself.
She gave me a quizzical look as she finished tying her pink running shoes and took out her earphones. “What?”
Supremely embarrassed, I looked into her eyes and managed a stutter. “Um, I said that I… like your shoes.”
She gave me a weird look, obviously unsure of what to make of me. I didn’t blame her.
“I mean… they look good on you, is all,” I said, giving her a tentative smile in an attempt to seem less creepy.
“Thanks,” she said, returning the smile, “your uniform looks good on you.”
My heart leaped. “Thanks. I iron it myself,” I said, smiling like an idiot.
She nodded sagely, a grin forming on her lips. “Isn’t that mandatory?”
I shrugged, declining to answer.
Her grin broke into a full-out smile. “So when do you ship out?” she asked.
I frowned. “Two days, actually. That’s why I came out here. To re-evaluate my life choices.”
She let out a full-throated laugh, her eyes sparkling as they looked back at me. It was the first time I’d ever made her laugh, and it’s still one of my fondest memories.
“Then we better make this time count then,” she said, holding her hand out. “I’m Sarah.”
I wiped the sweat off on my pants before taking her hand. “Andrew.”

“Then what happened?” Grant asked, taking notes in his little moleskin notebook.
I sighed, wiping away a tear from my eye as I looked out over the lake.
We were sitting on the wooden bench, still damp from the rain that morning. I didn’t mind, running my hand down the arm of the bench, dragging my fingers against the grain as I drug up memories long past.
“What was your project about, again?” I asked, eyeing the young boy.
“To ask a stranger their life story.” He said casually, his pen poised over the notebook.
I eyed him distrustfully for a moment. “It’s not a very happy story.”
Grant shrugged, looking at me expectantly.
“Alright then,” I relented.

I fell in love with Sarah over those next two days. She thought I was foolish for believing that, but it’s true.
She was smart. Smarter than anyone gave her credit for. And she never failed to make me laugh, even in my darkest moods. In a world full of so much suffering, she shined. A lone spark of hope.
But that third morning I left for war… It’s not something I like to talk about. And to tell you the truth, I’ve blocked much of it out. If I start dredging through memories… well, I’d rather not.
Suffice it to say that I was deployed for two years, but only about a third of that time was spent fighting. The rest of those two years were spent thinking about Sarah.
I didn’t send her any letters. She told me not to. But I wrote them anyway and held on to each and every one of them.
But before I could come back to Sarah, I got injured.

Grant stopped writing just long enough to look down at Andrew’s arm, his eyes alight with curiosity.
“And then I came home early,” I said lightly, eyeing Grant.
“But…” Grant said, still staring at my arm.
“But what?” I prompted.
“But, how did it happen?” Grant asked nervously.
I shook my head at the boy. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about the war.”
Grant nodded, his face fallen in disappointment as he readied his pen for more notes.
I rolled my eyes. “My arm was blown clean off,” I said, raising what was left of my right arm.
Grant’s eyes widened, taken aback.
“And that’s all there is to it,” I said, lowering my arm.
Grant nodded vigorously, his eyes still focused on the stub sticking out from my sleeve.
“So,” I continued, “I went home early.”

I was embarrassed to see her again. I didn’t even want my mother to see me the way I was then. I felt half a man.
Still, I looked for her, hoping that when I found her she would look past my injury.
I had built up this image of her while I was away. I imagined her just as she was when I first saw her. I thought about what I would do when I saw her again. What I would say.
We had arranged to meet at this same bench. I arrived early, dressed in my military uniform and sweating with nerves. I was close to bursting with anticipation when I saw her walking down the bike path, just like that very first day.
When I saw her, all other thoughts escaped my mind. The only thing I could think about was how lucky I was to see her again.
She wore a flower dress with sandals, her hair loose around her shoulders. Her eyes lit up when she saw me, a smile breaking out on her face.
I stood, fidgeting with my hand as she walked toward me, unsure of what to do. I wanted to run to her, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself.
I knew the exact moment she noticed my missing arm, her smile faltering, her eyes squinting in concern.
“Didn’t you have two of those before?” she said, her eyes twinkling.
I smiled, feeling a weight lift from me. “They were pretty strict,” I said playfully. “I couldn’t leave early unless I left a part of me behind.”
She came to a stop right in front of me, smiling as if no time had passed at all.
Blindingly nervous, I gave her half a hug before taking a seat.
“How are you?” I asked, nervously fiddling with my jacket.
She sat on the bench next to me and took my hand in hers. “I’m good,” she said… “A lot has happened.”
I nodded, focused on the warmth of her hands. “For me too, obviously.”
“Was it terrible?” she asked, her eyes full of concern.
“The war? Not really. Not most of it anyway.”
“And… losing your arm?”
I shrugged. “It wasn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve ever experienced, but it brought me back to you.”
She smiled sweetly, stroking my hand.
“What about you?” I asked. “Was it terrible… being here without me?”
She scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Not so terrible as losing an arm, I would think.”
I shrugged again, smiling back at her. That was when I noticed the ring on her finger.
For a few moments I just stared at it, trying to process what it meant.
“Are you engaged?” I choked.
Her face wilted. “Married,” she admitted.
I pulled my hand away, trying to hide the fact that I was shaking.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” she whispered.
I shook my head, not knowing how to respond.
“I told you not to wait for me,” she said, a single tear falling down her face.
I couldn’t look at her, running my hand through my hair. I was shaking with anger. At her for moving on, but more so at myself for expecting anything else. She didn’t owe me anything.
I looked at her one last time, forcing the barest hint of a smile onto my face before walking away. I felt broken and lost, but I never looked back.

“But you got married,” Grant said, frowning at me.
I chuckled. “Yes, years later.”
“Can we skip ahead, then?”
I sighed, taking a swig from my bottle, watching the sun begin to set over the lake. “Might as well.”

Three years later, Sarah divorced her husband. I didn’t realize it at first. I wasn’t really in a place to keep tabs on anyone, seeing as I was dealing with my own things.
During those three years, my mother died suddenly. She had lung cancer. I spent all the money I had trying to treat her, but she died anyway.
We only had each other at the end, and then I had no one. She asked me to decide where to spread her ashes. I chose this lake. Not long after, I lost the house along with most everything else. Still, I never loved anyone else.
It was sometime after that when I found out Sarah was divorced. She had apparently tried to reach me for a long time before she finally succeeded. She found me at this very bench, watching over my mother.
I almost didn’t recognize her when she walked up to my bench. She had aged so much over those five years, but she was more beautiful than ever.
As soon as I recognized her, I pulled her into an embrace, overjoyed at the sight of someone I cared about.
She hugged me back, holding me even tighter when I eventually tried to pull away.
I don’t know how much time passed before we let go.
As soon as we sat down on the bench, I couldn’t help but look at her hands. There was no ring.
I proposed to her sixth months later. We were at this bench, and I read to her every letter I’d ever written to her over the years. We both cried. A lot. And it was the happiest day of my life.

“And you both lived happily ever after,” Grant said hesitantly.
I shook my head, gesturing around me with my hand. The park was empty except for my box full of letters and the ducks floating in the lake. “If we lived happily ever after, then where’s Sarah? I told you this wasn’t a happy story.”
Grant shifted uncomfortably. “Well, for a while then, at least, right?”
I nodded, already lost in my memories. “For a while.”

We were happy for a time, but like all things on this earth, it didn’t last. It turns out, Sarah wasn’t perfect, and neither was I.
I still loved her. More than she ever knew. But marriage was hard. Even harder than war.
I hated myself for thinking this, but I began to understand why my father left us when I was little. It didn’t make what he did any better, but at least I understood. He was weak, and so was I.
I eventually turned to alcohol. It became my crutch. My escape from the stresses of marriage and the memories of war.
It was reasonable at first, but then it got worse and worse until it had taken over my life. Alcohol had enslaved me, and it had enslaved our marriage.

“So you got divorced?” Grant asked, strangely somber.
“Not divorced,” I said, “but separated. She was right to leave me. She deserved better.”
Grant’s hands shook, for once not taking notes. “I’m sorry.”
I shrugged. “It’s not your fault. The blame was entirely on me. Anyway, before she left me, we had a child. A little boy named Bryan. He was fourteen months old when she left with him.”
“And you never saw them again?”
I kept my gaze on the lake, trying to hold myself together. “No. That was about twenty years ago.”
Grant hesitated before closing his notebook and setting it inside his backpack. “How long have you been homeless?”
I gave him a look before taking another swig from my bottle. “I’d say nineteen years or so. There aren’t a lot of jobs for amputated veterans without a degree. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m fond of this bench. Better times and all that.”
Grant wiped away a tear as he looked into my eyes. “And you get to be with your mother.”
“Exactly,” I said, smiling as I placed the bottle next to my box.
“But you never tried to reach out to her?” Grant asked. “To see your son?”
I frowned at him. “Of course I did, but she wanted nothing to do with me. They moved out of town and on with their lives.”
“And you stayed here,” Grant said, a hint of accusation in his voice.
“Here is home,” I said defensively. “If they ever want to see me again, this is the only place she’ll know where to find me. So it’s here that I stay.”
“But you’re still drinking,” said Grant.
I stopped mid-swig, looking Grant in the eyes. “Like I said, I’m weak.”
Grant stood, sighing as he pulled his backpack over his shoulders.
“Thanks for your time,” he said as he dropped a dollar in my box and walked away.
I grunted, taking another swig from my almost empty bottle. It felt good to talk to another person, but it came with a price. My memories better forgotten were more vivid; more painful.
Then I noticed the markings on Grant’s dollar. In pen were the words when you’re ready, followed by an address.
I snatched the dollar up, staring at it blankly, suddenly realizing who Grant really was. My heart leaped as I threw the bottle at the ground, shattering it into pieces.
Clutching the dollar to my chest, I tried to run after my boy, but I was out of shape and he was nowhere to be seen.
I stumbled around the lake a couple of times, hoping to spot him somewhere in the distance, but he was gone.
Both heartbroken and hopeful, I made my way back to the bench and picked up my letters. “By, mama,” I whispered, as I walked away from the bench.
My boy wanted me sober, so that’s what I was going to be.


When I sat down to write this piece, I liked the idea of writing an entire story in one location. But it is incredibly difficult to write an engaging story without significant movement.

So instead of telling a story in space, I tried to tell a story through time. The same location over years of time. Pretty neat in theory, but that brings a whole other issue of consistency.

To start at the beginning of the story and then jump through time in chronological order would be jarring for readers. Therefore, we need a narrator, someone to guide us (hopefully seamlessly) through time.

Hence, this story all centering around a single bench. I hope you enjoyed it!

Allie. Chapter 46. Catharsis.

Allie knelt beside Miguel’s body, her hand wavering over his head. His eyes rolled around unfocused as if unaware of his surroundings, only to connect with hers for the briefest of moments.
He was alive in there somewhere, changed forever. And yet he was responsible for Draco’s death.
Allie’s hand shook over his head as she struggled with what she was about to do.
Frank knelt gently beside her, digging into the sand that lined the stadium floor. “Draco wanted to bring him to his sister. We can still honor that.”
Serenity stood behind them both, her eyes fixed on the sand she dared not look at Miguel’s body. It was all she could do to refrain from attacking him, no matter how helpless.
Patty’s eyes were distant, absently petting Jade as she watched Allie making her decision. Miguel had done more than take Draco from her. He’d taken her entire village. Her mother. There would be no mercy for him if it was up to her, but that’s not what Draco wanted.
Sensing her pain, Jade purred reassurance, nuzzling Patty’s hand.
Finally summoning the nerve, Allie placed her hand on Miguel’s forehead. His eyes continued to wander, unseeing, but his body stilled at her touch.
She felt the tension leave him as she closed her eyes. She focused on his breathing, ragged and uneven.
Reaching out was natural, as instinctive as Claiming, only there was no response.
Broken images flashed through Allie’s mind, unintelligible and disorienting. “Your sister,” she whispered, frustrated. “Where’s your sister?”
The images continued. They may have been people or places for all she knew, but none of them were discernible.
“Miguel,” Allie whispered again, refused to give up. “Show me your sister.”
Miguel stiffened at his name, his eyes meeting hers just long enough to be on purpose, and an image appeared in her mind. Or, rather, a series of images, all of the same person.
A baby on his arms. A little girl with bows in her hair. A teenager scowling at him. A middle-aged woman with sadness in her eyes. An old woman with a cane in an alley, turning her back. And it turned out Allie recognized the street. Then the images became scrambled once again.
With a sigh, Allie removed her hand, rising to her feet as Frank did the same.
“Well I know where to start,” she said, meeting the gaze of her companions one by one.
Frank nodded firmly. The others had no response.
“It’s what he wanted,” Allie continued, raising her chin.
Patty pressed her lips together into a thin line, but eventually nodded as well.
Serenity remained unmoved, her mind on other things. Past things.
Allie let her shoulder slink a little as she glanced at Claire, Shean’s body draped on her back next to Draco’s.
“We should bury them both first,” Allie said, breaking the silence. “Before I go searching.”
“I’ll bury Drumond,” Serenity said, standing up straighter.
“We’ll help you,” Frank said, his chin wavering as he held back his emotions.
“No,” Serenity said, “I need to bury him alone.”
Allie nodded. “And I need to bury Shean,” she said. “Also alone.”
Allie and Serenity made eye-contact, each nodding to the other.
“When I’m done, I’m leaving,” Serenity added, her voice breaking ever so slightly.
“To chase down the others?” Patty asked, a hint of eagerness in her voice.
Serenity shook her head. “No. I’m going alone, and for no other purpose than to be alone. I need time… space.”
Patty scrunched her eyebrows in confusion. “You’re leaving us? What about family?”
Serenity smiled. “You have your family,” she said, nodding to Allie and Frank.
“And the city?” Allie asked, eyeing the townspeople peaking down into the stadium. “Aren’t you their Queen?”
Serenity sighed. “Let them rule themselves… unless you want to rule them?” She offered Allie. “You do have two dragons now. More powerful, even, than me at the moment.”
Allie frowned at the idea, unable to comprehend the full meaning of Serenity’s words. The idea of more power than she’d ever dreamed… didn’t feel right. She had no desire to be Queen.
“No,” she found herself saying. “I may have been born in the city, but I don’t belong here. I don’t want to belong here. I want to go back to the farm.”
Frank smiled, looking back and forth between Serenity and Allie. “Would you have any room for a stable-hand on this farm?”
Allie smiled back. “I should think so. I may even have room for a little sister if she’ll have us…” she said as she looked to Patty.
Patty’s lips trembled as she held back her tears, her face contorting in the effort. “I’m not going anywhere near the pigs,” she finally managed, nearly choking with emotion.
“Oh come on,” Allie said, beaming. “They’re really quite majestic animals.”

——

Lots of topics to cover here at the end…

First off, I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this story. I realize it can be quite frustrating to wait this long to finish a book, but it also gives a good indication of just how long it takes to write a story.

I wrote each chapter the week it was published without exception, and did no editing. I’m sure that was obvious at times, but, again, it gives a good indication of how a first draft looks. It’s messy and a grind, which I hope gives any aspiring writers the freedom to proceed. It’s not going to be perfect the first time. Keep working at it.

I intend to self-publish this book for anyone who doesn’t want to read it in blog form, but only after it’s gone through a round of editing. This can also give an idea of how different a chapter can be after a round of editing for anyone interested in that.

I will continue the blog primarily through short stories self-contained in each individual blog, so I hope you enjoy them! And I’ll continue to tackle writing principles after each short story.

Now for the breakdown of the actual chapter:

The last chapter. The very end. Should be about catharsis.

I spent the entire book attempting to build up your emotions, and now, at the end, this is my attempt to allow you to release them. A sigh of relief. A spark of hope. Whatever you want to call it, it’s supposed to be satisfying.

In the very beginning, I had no idea what this story would be about, but it eventually became clear that it was about justice and mercy. Absolute freedom vs. Rigid judgement vs. Mercy. Draco, through all his faults, stood for mercy.
And even though he died. He also won, because mercy won. And in that way, he truly has become Immortal. He lives on through his friends (and wife) who are forever changed because of his actions.

This in of itself should be good enough to bring a sigh of relief, whether consciously done or not. But as I’ve already implied, it’s not a self-contained character arc. All of the characters are tied to each other.

Draco’s mercy is the catalyst to Serenity’s character arc. Not completed within the story, but hinted at.

Simultaneously, Allie has been shown how to wield her new power. For her, it wasn’t just about taking control of her life, but what to do with that control.

And then there’s Patty, her family taken from her, and a new one given; the beginning of a whole new story, and a representation of Allie at the beginning of her arc.

All of these arcs tied together and represented by the one decision to show what little mercy they could to the person they hate. I didn’t plan that ahead of time. It’s merely the natural conclusion to the story of these characters.

Now, I’ll end this chapter with one last topic: sequels.

I do not intend to write a sequel to this story. But it is written in such a way that there could be a sequel, or there could not. I could end the story right here. Or I could continue it. Both are completely viable. And if you’re a new writer, I highly recommend you approach your story in this way. Allow me to explain.

If you go into a story intending for it to be a trilogy, that’s cool. More power to you. But that becomes a problem if you’re also trying to sell that story to an agent or publisher.
Publishers do not typically trust new writers to deliver on trilogies. They might give you a chance for one book, maybe. And that one book cannot end with a cliffhanger, because you just don’t know if you’re ever going to get to write the next book or not.

What does this mean? That if you’re a new writer, you have to prove yourself by writing a great satisfying story in a single novel. You don’t have multiple books to prove it to them. Just one. So you better know how to end a story right. How to provide that catharsis necessary for the reader.

This is why you read so many trilogies where the first book reads like its own story. Because the writers didn’t know if they’d get another two books to finish it. So when they do, they tack on the other books to the original story. They still had a plan in place in hopes that they’d get more books, but they needed to write a satisfying story in the first place. So how do you do that?

Don’t hold back. Give them everything you have in the first book. End the story in a satisfying way. And if, in the process, you’ve given the readers a world that captures their imagination and characters they want to spend more time with, you’ll get your chance to tell more of the story.