One more

“One more.  One more, and then I’ll stop.”

James had been promising himself that for the past two hours, and he kept picking up more work.  He didn’t have a choice really – there was just so much that needed to be done.  But this time – this time – he really would take a break.  He would.

He was so sick of this project.  He’d gotten into this industry to be an innovator, to shake things up and make a different.  In the end though, he felt like he was turning into one more robot on the assembly line working his nine-to-five.  Not that those were his hours, by any stretch.  Even the least of his coworkers probably added ten hours a week to that kind of schedule.  He added more.

And they’d done great things, he couldn’t deny that.  He knew what they did made a difference, but at the same time…it didn’t feel like he was making a difference.  James felt like a zombie – he gave his 110%, and the caught what sleep he could before shambling back to work the next day.  He did what he could to keep himself going, but coffee and caffeine could only do so much.

He was tired.  More than that, he was probably burned out.  How embarrassing…

No!  He shook his head vigorously, trying to shake off his doldrums.  No, he was not going to turn into one of those people who whined about working too much, or too hard.  No!  He could do this.  He was going to do this!

The door opened, and James’ boss Sean walked in with a two-inch stack of papers under his arm.

“James!  How are you doing?  I can’t believe you’re still at it.”

“I’m doing well Sean.  I’m almost finished.  What do you have there with you?”

“Some more revisions.  The bosses want us to fit them into Friday’s release.”  Sean handed the stack to James.

“Sean, it’s…” James stopped and checked his watch.  “It’s 1:32am Wednesday morning.  I don’t think we can fit these into the release at the end of the week.  Wasn’t there a blackout period on revisions that went into effect two weeks ago?”

“Yes, but these are just some last-minute, emergency changes.”

“Sean, we’re barely going to make the release date as is.  How in the world are we supposed to fit in more ’emergency changes’ into it?”

“We’ll have to figure that out.  Consider it a testament to their faith in us and our ability to follow-through.”  Sean smiled.

“Sean…we can’t.  I’m sorry, but we just can’t.”

“Nonsense.  We’ve delivered on tighter schedules in the past.  And you’re our best and brightest – I have absolute faith you’ll be able to produce another miracle with this project.”

James leafed through the stack that Sean had delivered.  These weren’t last-minute, emergency changes – several of them would require that they rework sections of the project that had already been completed.  A couple of them even invalidated the work he’d done tonight.

“Sean…” James began.

“Now, now,” Sean tsked.  “You’d best get to work.  I’ll see you in the morning James,” Sean said, moving towards the door.

That was it.  That was IT.  He’d had enough.  James stood up.

“Sean, I’m need to take a break.”

Sean turned around, “What do you mean?  You need to get to work man!  They’ll be time and time a-plenty for breaks after the Friday release.”

“Sean, I’m taking a break,” James said moving out from behind his desk.

“James, you can’t.  We just got a new stack of updates.  We need everyone to give it their all if we’re going to make the release date.”

James looked at Sean.  He’d been with the company for five years, and worked under Sean for two of them.  They were friends – they’d even gone out for drinks on occasion.  He liked Sean.

He walked past Sean and stopped in the doorway.  Slow and deliberately, he unclipped his security badge from his collar and put in on the shelf next to the door.  Turning around one last time, James said, “Sean, I’m taking a break.”

And then he left.  It was the best damn decision he ever made.

A Christmas story

Mark wandered the streets of New York, neither knowing nor caring where he was or where he was going.

He’d flown in to see Lisa for Christmas, and planned to spend two weeks with her.  They’d done this every year for the four years they’d been together.  But within three hours of his flight landing, she’d broken up with him.

“I’m sorry, but things haven’t been feeling right for a while now.  I meant to say something earlier – I really did – but I couldn’t figure out how.  And even though you’ve come all the way out here…  I’m sorry, but…it’s over.”

It was an understatement to say he felt crushed.  They’re spent four years together…and to have that fall apart…  He knew things hadn’t been good, that they had things to work on.  But he always thought there’d be more time.

“I guess I have all the time in the world now,” Mark thought, “but I have no idea what to do with myself…”

What should he do? He couldn’t go home, not after spending all that money to fly out here. Plus, going home early felt like admitting he was a failure. He dealt with those feelings often enough, but as low as he felt right now, he refused to feel sorry for himself. But what in the world should he do? He needed to find a place to stay, at the very least.

He needed time to think. He looked up. He didn’t recognize where he was, but he recognized the feel of it: the crowds, the people, the energy… “OK, let’s do this,” he said, hefting up his luggage.

He’d brought two pieces of luggage with him. The first was his suitcase, filled with two weeks of clothes, a bathroom travel kit, a spare change of shoes, and anything else he thought he might need for the two-week trip. But in the second piece of luggage, he carried his heart and soul.

He’d loved Lisa – he really had. But neither she nor any lover before her could ever replace music in his life.  Many tried.  Lisa had tried, but she never understood why he preferred performing in front of a crowd, however small, over parties and other social gatherings.  They were alright, but they were nothing when compared to making music.

He rarely went anywhere without his instrument, and had it with him in New York.  So he looked around for a few minutes to find a good spot, and set up.  When he was ready, he removed his heart from its case and began tuning the strings.  And once the two of them – man and instrument – were in sync, he began to play and sing.

He played a song of Christmas snow – light and fluffy.  He played a song of Holiday gift-giving, bright but mysterious.  He played a song to the longest night of the year, full of cheer and merriment in the face of darkness.  He played a song to drive the night away.

Then Mark closed his eyes and played the song of his relationship with Lisa.  It was a song of heartbreak and regret.  It was a song of nostalgia and remembrance.  He played of the day the two of them met.  He played of the first time they made love.  He played of hundreds of memories, until the ache in his fingers bothered him more than the ache in his heart.  Then, he stopped playing and opened his eyes.

The crowd had stopped, and they were staring at him with bright, tear-stained eyes.  “I got dumped tonight,” Mark said, a bit choked up himself, “and I had to get that off my chest.  Thank you all for listening.”

And they cheered, and applauded, and hooted and hollered.  Some threw money into his open music case.  After he’d set his instrument aside, some of them came up and gave him hugs.  Some told him things like, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” “You’re so talented,” or things like that.  He listened to them, and thanked them all with an honest, if tired, smile.

And once the crowd had thinned down and died out, a woman about the same age as Mark approached him.

“That was amazing.  I’ve never heard anything like it,” she said.

“Thank you very much,” Mark replied with a smile.

“Was that true?  Did you really…get dumped tonight?”

“Yes,” Mark sighed.  “Yes, I did.  That’s why I came out here to play:  to get a few things out, and think about what I was going to do over the rest of my trip.”

“How long are you going to be in New York?”

“Two weeks.”

“Oh, nice.  The city’s great this time of the year.  Where are you staying?  Maybe I can make some recommendations on things to do while you’re here.”

“Right now, I don’t know.  I was supposed to be staying with my girl- with my ex, but that didn’t work out.”

“Oh God, I’m so sorry.  That sounds awful.”

“Yeah, but I’ll be OK.  Things have a way of working out,” Mark responded, beginning to pack up his things.

It was long, quiet couple of moments before she spoke again.  “Well, it’s not much, but I have a couch that’s free at my place.  I mean, if you’re interested.”

Mark stopped and turned around to look at her.  She seemed nervous, but in a way that felt safe – like she’d seen hard times herself, and wanted to do something when she saw a stranger going through them too.  He had a good feeling about her.

“Sure, thank you.  I’d like that,” he replied.  “I’m Mark.”

“I’m Hannah,” she said, offering a handshake.  “it’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too Hannah,” Mark said, shaking her hand.  “Thank you for being so kind.”

“Oh, not at all.”

Mark finished packing the last of his things and turned to face her.  “Lead the way.”

She smiled shyly, and started walking.

“Oh, wait,” Mark said.


“Merry Christmas Hannah,” Mark said, giving her his best smile.

She stared for a moment before responding in kind,

“Merry Christmas Mark.”


We’ll see each other again, right?  This isn’t goodbye forever…right?

Those words had haunted David for the last several years.

They were often the last thing on his mind before he crawled into bed at night.  They were usually his first thoughts of the morning.  They stayed with him through the nights when he didn’t sleep at all – whether because of impending deadlines or insomnia.

People always tell him, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” and he’d grown to hate that expression.  They weren’t wrong, but those words – and the people who spoke them – felt so callous to him.  It was like they expected him to suddenly wake up and stop loving her – like he could turn his feelings off just like that.  But he couldn’t, and he wholly, helplessly loved Laura.

He was obsessed, and he knew that too.  You don’t spend years haunted by a memory and call it anything but obsession.  But understanding what it was didn’t make it any easier to understand what he should do with those feelings.

He tried moving on – it didn’t work, but it did make him feel like an ass when he had to end relationships because he loved a memory more than his girlfriend.  He tried drinking – and that made it worse.  Drinking gave him a series of misadventures he was glad he didn’t remember, as well as a legion of headaches he wished he could forget.  He tried burying himself in his work, but it just made him feel dead inside.  Only Laura, or the memory of her, made him feel alive.

Pain was an interesting way to measure “feeling alive”, but it was all he had these days.

They had met in college, and spent more than a year a friends before spending two as lovers.  But when graduation came and they had to head out into the real world, life took them in two completely different directions.  Laura headed to Boston to work on her Master’s.  David had gone to the West Coast, where the corporate culture proved agreeable to him, and he made a name for himself.

He didn’t mean for them to drift apart.  He’d always planned to call, to text, to…something.  But there’d always been one reason, or another, and he put it off for another day.  He put it off time and time again until the delay became a question he was terrified to answer.  And he never heard from her – and his own doubts and insecurities filled that silence as well.

Believing she’d moved on, David tried to move on too, and failed miserably.  And in a moment of desperation, he sent her a message, expecting the worst.  But the unbelievable happened:  Laura replied.

Hey, I’ve missed you.  How have you been?

And slowly, their relationship picked up again.  She’d finished her Master’s and was teaching at the University of Vermont.  Her father had passed away, but her mother was still with her.  She’d never married.  Little by little, they bridged the distance of those years apart from one another.

And recently, they’d agreed to meet.  David was flying in to Burlington, and would stay the week.  His nerves were a mess the entire trip.

She’d told him she’d meet him at the baggage claim.  David made a bee line for it as soon as the plane touched down.  He waited impatiently for his luggage to arrive, and anxiously scanned the crowd for Laura.  He looked and looked, but he couldn’t find her.

I’ll wear blue.  You won’t miss me – unless I find you first.

He felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned around.

I lie for a reason 2

A writer friend of mine recently told me about a Reader’s Digest writing prompt to write a story that begins with the phrase, “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I found the idea inspiring, and below is my second story based on that prompt.


“The difference is, I lie for a reason.”

Jane sat there, a contented-looking smile on her face while she listened to her husband boast to his coworkers at a corporate dinner party. They’d had some hard times recently, a few lean years, but things were turning around for the two of them. And with the way things were at Tom’s law firm, the two of them weren’t in any danger of decline.

“Our clients do the most ridiculous things, and then they start mouthing off to the first person who will listen to them. But me – I lie to get them out of the messes they make for themselves. I say, ‘Your Honor, my client would never be so foolish,’ but in reality, they’re probably already digging themselves a deeper hole. I swear, some of them are probably making their next mistake before they ever even leave the courtroom.”

Tom’s coworkers laughed at this, and the closest of them gave him hearty slaps on the back. All but one of them were Partners – her husband’s peers. But they were joined by Robert Mullivan, Senior Partner and one of the members of the firm’s Leadership Committee, and it was his endorsement that catapulted Tom to his position ahead of more tenured employees. And with the way he was laughing along with the others, Jane’s husband still had Robert’s support.

“You crack me up Kid,” Robert said with a guffaw. “I had a hunch you had something significant to offer this firm, and I was right. Congratulations on your success!” Robert raised his glass, and the others joined him before swallowing their drinks in a toast.

After finishing his drink, Robert checked his watch. “And as much as I’d like to spend the rest of the night celebrating with you youngsters, my old bones and this watch are telling me I need to be on my way. If you’ll excuse me?”

“Of course Sir,” Tom said, shaking Robert’s hand in farewell. Robert turned to leave, and the remaining partners turned back to Tom to talk shop. As they closed ranks, Jane leaned in close to her husband.

“Honey,” Jane said, “I’m going to go powder my nose.”

“OK Jane – you’ll be back soon?”

“Of course Love,” Jane said, planting a peck on Tom’s cheek before walking away.

Jane heard her husband’s coworkers teasing him over that kiss as she walked away. She didn’t look back, but kept walking: past the buffet, the bar, the restroom, and out the front door. She kept a brisk pace, and caught up with Robert just as he was getting to his car.


He startled, but quickly recovered. “Jane – you surprised me. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for my husband,” Jane said with a smile on her face.

“Oh – oh, you’re quite welcome,” Robert replied, looking a little anxious.

“Do you have a few minutes to spare, before you have to leave,” Jane asked, lowering her head and looking at Robert through her lashes.

“No, I really have to go,” Robert said

“We won’t be long. I promise.”

“No Jane. Tom needs to make it on his own. If I intervene every time there’s an issue, it will get out and reflect badly on all of us.”

“But there won’t’ be any issues, will there Robert?” Jane asked in slow, measured words as she approached him.

“He’s a fucking idiot! Did you hear him in there: insulting his clients in the middle of a very public setting?! It’s a miracle he’s come this far! I refuse to be a part of this any longer!”

“Now Robert, we’re just so grateful for your support. I only want to thank you on behalf of the both of us,” she said, beginning to stroke him lightly.

“Jane – we can’t…”

“Shh. Don’t worry. Everything will be OK,” Jane said, as she lowered herself to her knees and reached for Robert’s fly.

“I promise you Robert: I’ll make everything OK.”


Fifteen minutes later, Jane returned to her husband – her makeup as immaculate as her smile.

I lie for a reason

A writer friend of mine recently told me about a Reader’s Digest writing prompt to write a story that begins with the phrase, “The difference is, I lie for a reason.” I found the idea inspiring, though I took some liberties with its execution. But below is my story based on that prompt.


People tell a lot of lies.  Some lie to others; others lie to themselves.  Some tell white lies, while others spread the darkest gossip.  I’m not like any of them though.

The difference is, I lie for a reason.

I lie for a man, a father, on his deathbed.  I tell him, “I love you.”  He smiles – I’m not sure if he knows I’m lying.

I lie for a woman, her hair streaked with grey.  I tell her, “You were a good wife, a good mother.”  She says nothing – I know she knows I’m lying, but I lie anyway and hope that I can convince her otherwise.

I lie to a girl who lied to me.  Once upon a time, she told me she loved me.  She didn’t.  Now, she tells me her boyfriend doesn’t beat her.  He does.  But I lie to her, and tell her that I don’t remember the last time I saw him.  I do.

The last time I saw him, the whites of his eyes shone like two full moons right after I told him a truth that left the night hushed like the twin kisses of a double-barrel shotgun.  The last time I saw him, he looked like a Jackson Pollock painting of the Invasion of Normandy.  The last time I saw him, he ran out of lies to tell me as I threw one last shovelful of dirt on an unmarked grave in the middle of nowhere.

“How could you do it?” you ask?  Maybe I’m just a stone-cold bastard.  Maybe not.  Anyway, that’s not the question you should be asking.

“Did you get the girl?”  No – but I keep an eye on her.  I listen to her lie to her acquaintances and say that she left him, and lie to her friends and say that he ran off with another woman.  Neither are true, and she knows that.  But she lies to them and to herself, out of habit or maybe just to make it through the day.  But that’s not the right question either.

“Do I think I’ll ever get caught?”  Of course not – most criminals don’t, not that I think I am one.  But for all the red this confession seems to paint on my hands, no one will ever find a body.  Even if the cops bring me into the station, they’ll never get the story out of me.  Nothing will come of it.  Anyway, that’s still not the right question.

“Why did you do it?”  Ah…now that’s a better question.  Maybe I did it for the girl; maybe I did it for myself.  Maybe I’m mad, or maybe I’m just the last righteous man in a world full of liars.  Maybe you’ll never know.

Because when I lie, I lie for a reason…

And what if I’m lying to you tonight?  That…that is the right question.  Because anything else…?  Well, how can you believe anything I’m saying?

After all, I am a liar.