Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for November 2013

Savage Writing: Tripping

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Theme for this week was “The Void.” Certain things in my mind came to a head. Sorry.


He was tripping, and tripped up to the void again. Last time he came to this place, there had been a coat-hook, on the lip of the abyss, and on that hook had hung a skinsuit of himself, facial and bodily features sagging down like a deflated balloon. When a breeze blew up from the void, it had flapped with a plastic-sounding slap, threatening to fly off the hook and into nothingness forever. That suit had been the “him” that he put on to face the world, the presentation of himself that he had grown into, and it was taken away from him when he came to the void. He’d hoped to never come here again.

But tripping pulls you into strange places, and the void yawned back at him like an old, hated relative.

Now bodiless, only a first-person awareness of existence, he looked down, and the gap looked back at him. As he stared into its colourless depths, he became acutely aware of how much was missing from his life and his soul. After all, he decided, there can’t be a void if a person is completely whole. There was some confidence, some knowledge, some security and satisfaction missing from him, and that gap had festered into this void in his mind.

It made sense. He’d always known there was something wrong with him, deep down. When he sat still in quiet moments, it loomed behind him like a childhood monster, hovering above his neck, ready to engulf him. And his life had been full of little reminders of those moments. Like that time that James Collins decided he wasn’t his friend any more, and ignored him completely. Like that time Hannah Amis said that asking him out had been a joke. Like when his father told him he wasn’t as smart as his brother. Like when Lucy said that he only ever thought about himself. Like the time James, and Chris, and Ben, and dad, and mum, and everyone else said “It’s not normal to…” and “Boys/Men aren’t meant to…” and “That, are you weird?”

Deeper now, deeper the void gaped in front of him, no colours, no stars, no swirls, no movement or sound. Just deeper. Lucy had said he only ever thought about himself. He walked past beggars on the street and in his head he justified giving them nothing when he had plenty of change in his pocket. He refused to do good because being selfish meant doing nothing uncomfortable. He didn’t really give a shit about what was on the news. He’d be dead before anything catastrophic ever affected him. The idea of being swindled and made a fool hurt him more than the idea of someone spending the night hungry on the street. When he went out, he called the girls he fancied “sluts” when they looked good and were up for fun, and “bitches” if any turned him down. He made remarks that Lucy should cook dinner because she was the woman, then told her she was being overemotional and should learn to take a joke, in order to shut her up. Any time his brother or friends made a remark that hurt him, he pretended it was true and joked back, because if he protested it would only get worse. If he bumped into a person of a different race on the street, he always checked to see if his wallet was still there. He laughed at mean jokes, purely because other people laughed at them.

Deep, deep down, he didn’t understand why people didn’t see him as important. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t get what he wanted all the time. He wished he was a spy. He wished he was an action hero. He never wanted to die. He couldn’t imagine a world without himself, and the idea that he was insignificant hurt him more than anything ever could, sent him spinning out into panic and nothingness. He did not want to die. He was a coward, a worthless man, but he was all he had, and he never, ever wanted to die.

The lips of the void changed shape into a grimacing mouth. With a growl, its pointed teeth gnashed together, and the void was gone.

The bedroom came into view again. The green carpet, the TV, the posters on the wall. Reality came into focus. Beside him, Chris sighed and lit a cigarette.

‘Weird one.’

He took one out of Chris’s packet, and lit it with shaking hands, pressing the memory of the void back into nonexistence, forgetting every awful revelation he’d seen and every half-baked resolution he had made.

‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘bad trip, man.’


Written by G.J.

28/11/2013 at 12:01 am

Savage Writing: 1967

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This week’s topic was Ancestral History.


Mary often touches her wedding ring for support, and is always surprised if she finds it is not there. The cleaning solutions at work have begun to tarnish it, so after neary twenty years she has started to leave it in her pocket when she cleans, and when she washes the dishes, and on her bedside table, next to the picture of him in his navy uniform. She’s sure Charles would have understood, if he knew how hard she worked. If he knew how hard it were.

It is Sunday lunch. She has made roast chicken, potatoes, and carrots – a palmful of each, spread out on the plates to look bigger. Given everything that has happened this week, it is the best she could do. Four places are set out on the six-person table, and only three of those places are taken. John has been given the largest portion of the chicken breast, and John’s seat is the one which is empty.

Mary’s two daughters sit, and glare at her, and do not touch their food.

Mary touches her left ring finger with her left thumb, and feels only skin and the ghostly sensation of loss. She has left the ring by the cooker again. It is tempting to go and fetch it, but she knows either of the girls might blow up if she moves. So she touches the space where her ring should be, and prays that Charles will understand, and prays that he or God will give her some comfort, some solace in her actions. He agree with me, if he were here, she thinks. It was the only right thing to do.

Alice has been crying all week. She is a hunched ball of red: red cheeks, red eyes, red hands, red underwear. Ever since she came back from hospital, she has not shared more than a glance with her mother, not when Mary gave her those new clothes, those pads for her leaking breasts, or any of the things which cost so much of their miniscule budget. Instead, Alice stares down at her plate with a pained frown that is sure to leave wrinkles.

Mary looks her over, worrying again about the fat on her daughter’s flesh, wondering if many people have figured out how Alice has suddenly gained such weight when everyone knows how stretched they are. That’s why Alice’s portion is smallest, she says to herself, and it’s good that she’s not even touching it. It wouldn’t do for her to stay that way, and never find a husband, not after they’ve gone to all this trouble to keep her name pure.

Alice has always refused tell her the name of the boy, or else Mary might have insisted she marry him. Well, perhaps. It’s not as if many people listen to widowed school cleaners. And sixteen is too young to marry, she thinks. She wants to keep her sweet eldest girl beside her for a little while longer – even if Alice doesn’t appreciate her right now. She’ll understand when she’s older, she thinks, touching her ring finger again.

Mary feels Helen’s eyes piercing her, and allows herself a glance at her youngest daughter. But she doesn’t like to do more than glance. If she ever expects trouble, she expects it from Helen, not Alice. The girl does nothing but complain – about John, about Mary working, about the teachers caning her at school. She spends half her days walking the neighbour’s dogs up the moors, often not coming home until dark. Mary is always quite relieved when Helen is out of sight. Charles had been excited by the idea of a third child, and he hadn’t shared her enthusiasm for another boy – either would be tops, he had said. Mary had looked forward to it herself, once upon a time. But then the old gunshot wounds in his back festered again, and Mary was left all alone, with a kicking girl in her belly and no-one to rely on but herself. She can’t disentangle the two events of death and birth. She wants to forget that time entirely.

Helen is upset for her sister, but Helen is upset at everything, because she’s a difficult child. And of course, she’s not eating her dinner, because food is another thing Helen complains about. She is sinewy as a hare, and she has combined Mary’s plain features and Charles’s good looks into her own form of small-eyed, sharp-cheeked beauty, and truly, Lord, she would have expected this from her in a couple of years, and not from her placid, embroidering Alice.

Mary looks at her plate, and feels no appetite. She wonders what punishment life will dole out to her next.

The door bangs open, and John walks in. Mary smiles at him, but he doesn’t look at her as he strides up to his place. He grabs a piece of chicken with his hands, and tears at it with his teeth.

‘Hi mum,’ he says, mouth full. ‘I’m going out to Jimmy’s the night, and I won’t be back til late.’

‘That’s fine, dear,’ Mary says, as he helps himself to another slice of meat. ‘Let yourself in whenever you want.’

‘Alright. Bye!’

He takes another slice of chicken and stuffs it in his mouth as he turns and leaves, as abruptly as he came.

Helen’s glare has grown stronger. Mary awaits the inevitable.

‘You’d never let me do that,’ she says, crossing her arms. ‘If I want to go out, you always tell me I have to sit down and eat everything on the plate.’

‘He’s a growing lad,’ Mary says. ‘He needs what he needs.’

‘And you never let me stay out late,’ Helen continues.

‘Well, for good reason! Look at what happens when I do!’ Mary snaps.

Alice starts sniffling.

‘It’s not fair,’ Helen says, standing up, her ridiculous long hair swaying over her plate. ‘You let him away with everything, just because he’s a boy. You’re still stuck in the Victorian age!’

She scrapes her chair in.

‘I’m going out.’

‘Don’t you dare, young lady, you have housework to do – Helen, come back here this instant!’

But Helen is gone. Probably out to one of those parties young folk are always having these days, with their long hair and loud music. They don’t know they’re born, she thinks. When Helen grows up, she’ll realise that life is easier for boys, and she’ll thank her mother for helping her understand that early. When war next breaks out, and she has to take care of a family on her own, she’ll appreciate everything I’ve done for her.

Alice is quietly crying. Mary touches her ring finger, prays to God to support her, and lifts her knife and fork. Mechanically, she spears every last bite until it is gone, though she tastes nothing. She tells herself she has earnt it.

Written by G.J.

14/11/2013 at 12:24 am


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Sorry for the silence. I’ve completed the first draft of a book as well as continuing with life in general. At the last Savage meet, instead of writing a new piece, I took the prologue to another book that’s about to undergo its fourth draft. I got some great constructive criticism and encouraging feedback. 🙂

Hopefully there will be another piece for this Wednesday’s meet up in a few days. I just decided it was time to write this since I’m not currently mired in novel-land.


Someone woke up one morning and frowned as she sipped her morning coffee.

‘What’s wrong?’ her partner asked.

After a moment, she replied:

‘Something’s gone missing…but I can’t remember what.’


The young woman hummed to herself as she walked along the street. She was all bright colours and quirk: short blonde hair, rainbow high-tops, thick mascara, shorts underneath a puffy skirt. It was a bright, early autumn day, with magpies in the trees and only a few crisp leaves resting on the pavement. The girl came by a church, where a funeral was in progress, and as she spotted one figure she stopped and frowned.

A man sat on the low church wall, one foot up on the rubbish bin in front. Everything he wore was a shade of olive green, except for his long black coat. He had wavy brown hair that reached down the back of his neck, and a peculiarly ageless face – he could have been anywhere from mid-twenties to early forties. And he had the specific expression that one gains when they are staring in front of them, but their mind is elsewhere around them.

It was a shot of instant recognition, tapping down to the bones, the same instant and upsetting recognition of seeing your own face in the mirror when you’ve forgotten your own ugliness. Still frowning, she approached him.

His eyes wandered up to her, and away, as his attention returned to its previous point.

‘Don’t you thinking people need their grief?’ she asked, hands on hips.

Again, his eyes wandered over her, then turned away.

‘I’m not here for that,’ he said. ‘I’m here for them.

He motioned with his head towards the hearse drivers, standing around in their dark suits, who were oblivious to the two strangers talking about them.

‘Oh,’ she said, because it made sense to eat away the perpetual stress of containing other people’s grief, day after day. It would give them comfort and sanity in this kind of work. It was a good deed, if there was one.

The two of them looked at each other again. She had trapped his attention this time.

‘Dream-eater,’ he said, quietly.

‘Yes?’ she said. ‘And?’

‘I’ve not met one of you before,’ he said.

‘I’ve not met one of you, either,’ she said.

In the pause that followed, three people burst into tears in the church, and a squirrel narrowly avoided being mowed down by a passing car.

Her curiosity was not to be denied.

‘Let’s go get some lunch,’ she said.

He did not assent, but he followed.


She ordered for them both. He was to have a toasted sandwich, and she was to have a burger and chips, and she ordered him black coffee, because he looked like a black coffee drinker. He was indifferent to her taking the lead.

‘So,’ she said, as the waitress went away. ‘Do you usually hang around funerals?’

‘The parlour workers are my main meal,’ he said. ‘They’re predictable. Regular.’

‘And depressing,’ she added.

‘No, no,’ the emotion eater said, crossing him arms and leaning against the cafe table. ‘Depression is entirely different. Depression…is like eating tar. It clog your throat, and weighs you down, and tastes awful. But a mild recognition of one’s own mortality, boredom mixed in with mild existential discomfort…that’s…nice. It’s like…eating a chicken pie, with a little bit of hot sauce on top. Filling, and interesting.’

She leaned forward, mimicking his body language and squeezing her breasts together with her arms as she did so. She had never had a chance to talk about food with another eater before, and questions bubbled in her mind as she considered what his meals must be like, in comparison to hers.

‘So, the mortality makes it spicy?’

He gave a little smile.

‘In a way, yes.’

‘What about grief, then? Is that like depression?’

‘Yes, except sharper. Sometimes too sharp. It can sting your cheeks.’

He often looked down at the table, or aside to the window, and she sensed a type of shyness, or reticence, coming from him. Maybe that was the difference between them – someone who always had to consider what effect his words and actions might have on others, and someone who could breeze through life in a daydream.

The drinks came. Coffee for him, banana milkshake for her. He asked the waitress for a glass of water as well, and she wondered if she should have anticipated his need, or indeed asked him what he wanted at all. She quickly put that thought aside.

‘So,’ she said, stirring the milkshake with her straw (it was thicker than she liked). ‘What would you say is your favourite emotion? To eat, I mean.’

‘I was going to say “happiness” until you added that,’ he said with another shy smirk. Then he considered it for a moment. She noted one lock of his hair that curled just under his ear, and saw there was no symmetrical lock on the other ear.

‘If I had to say,’ he said, ‘it would be…enthusiasm. As in, when people see a movie or read a book they really enjoy, and they tell other people about it, and they’re filled with enthusiasm. That’s my favourite.’

‘And what does that taste like?’ she asked, curling her hair between her fingers.


He took a swig of his coffee and smiled at the black water beneath him.

‘…like a chocolate mocaccino. Or a White Russian. It takes like caffeine and sugar and cream. It’s delicious.’

The dream-eater took a long slurp up her straw, noticing how the creamy, fruity taste spread over her tongue. She considered asking about his least favourite, but he had already mentioned depression and grief, and she didn’t want to depress the tone of conversation.

‘So,’ she said, not raising her head from straw-level, ‘are you always sensing other people’s feelings?’

‘Yes,’ he said, turning his eyes to the window. She made a sweeping gesture with her arms to draw him back again.

‘Even everyone here?’


‘Doesn’t that get tiring?’

He gave her a very tired smile.

‘I’m used to it. I don’t know much else.’

She tapped her feet together under the table, resisting the urge to have another gulp of drink.

‘So, when you’re in a place like this, do you sit there and look at everyone in turn, and eat all their feelings, or do you pick and choose?’

‘Obviously I choose,’ he said. ‘I’m not greedy. And people come here for different things. A place like this isn’t too interesting,’ he added, glancing at the other patrons: young couples, groups of friends, workers out for lunch. ‘Everyone wants to talk and have a good time. Fancy restaurants – they’re the best for interesting emotions.’

‘Really?’ she asked, beaming at him in the hope that he would give her another speech.

‘Absolutely. Say you go for dinner in an up-market place, you never know what mix there’ll be. Say a couple’s on a date – that could mean a hundred things. They could both be scared and happy and nervous and falling in love – that’s a kind of sweet and spicy flavour. Like cinnamon. Or one could be infatuated, and the other barely interested, and that’s like curry with boiled rice. If it’s an old couple, they could be relaxed and enjoying each other’s company and thinking about past times – that’s like drinking warm tea – or they could be bitter and resentful, like – like expired ham.’

‘Ew,’ dream-eater said, wrinkling her nose.

‘See? And that’s just the customers. Behind it all you have the bread-and-butter boiled-potato boredom of the staff – that’s so common it’s almost tasteless to me – but someone might be genuinely angry, someone else might be relaxed and in the flow, or happy from being complimented. And then there’s the chefs. Don’t get me started on chefs –’

The waitress arrived with their meals. He immediately shut up, and looked out the window as the plates were placed in front of them. The dream-eater cursed the timing. Just when it was getting good.

She ate a few chips before sprinkling salt and sauce all over them. In that time, she came up with another entry into conversation.

‘So,’ she said, gesturing at him with her fork, ‘do you know what everyone in this room is feeling right now?’

‘Yes,’ he said, picking up his chicken toastie with both hands.

‘Even me?’

His eyes flicked up to her, then down.

‘Yes,’ he said, before taking a huge, caveman bite of his meal.

The dream-eater felt a little thrill run up her legs. She asked nothing more for a few moments as they ate, but the need to know more about him overwhelmed her.

‘How big –’ she swallowed her mouthful and tried again. ‘How big is your range?’

‘About fifteen feet,’ he said. ‘Plus anyone I can see. It’s partly sight-based.’

‘Wow, walking down a main street must be really tiring for you.’

‘Mm-hm,’ he said, taking a gulp of his water.

They continued to eat, and she tried to think of more questions for him. Finally, she thought of the perfect one, and wiped her hands on her napkin in triumph.

‘Can you tell when people are horny?’

He laughed – a sudden, unexpectedly loud burst, dissolving into quieter chuckles.

‘Yes,’ he said, glancing around at the people on the other tables. She didn’t care if they were listening or not.

‘Is anyone in here horny right now?’

He only laughed in reply, looking away in embarrassment, hand covering his mouth.

‘So, are there any weird times when people are horny?’

‘There’s someone at every time of day, in every kind of place,’ he said, still smiling hard. ‘You have to be sympathetic – it’s not as if they can control it, right?’

‘So, do you know if they’re having sex fantasies?’

‘I – I suppose I could guess, if they were really aroused and there wasn’t anything obviously causing it around them, ha ha – but not really, no. Why,’ he said, raising his eyebrow, ‘can’t you?’

She sat back in her seat, rather pleased he had taken the initiative in the conversation at last.

‘Not really,’ she said. ‘Fantasies aren’t my domain. But sometimes, I catch a glimpse of them, if someone’s imagining something just as they fall asleep, and it becomes part of them dream.’

‘And sex dreams…?’

She gave him her cheekiest smile.

‘Are you interested?’

‘I’ve never met a dream-eater before,’ he said, finally turning his gaze and his body and his attention fully towards her. ‘And I’ve told you everything you wanted to know. I was hoping you’d return the favour.’

She leant her cheek on her hand.

‘The truth is,’ she said, in a lower, conspiratorial tone, ‘that I can’t usually handle sex dreams.’

‘Oh really?’ he said, leaning in a little closer.

‘They’re too rich.’


‘Like chocolate cake,’ she said. ‘They’re like a big, chocolate truffle gateau covered in ganache. Everything is so intense in sex dreams – every visual, every sensation – that I get overloaded after more than a few minutes. So, like cake – so flavoursome they make you feel sick.’

‘Interesting,’ he said, taking a quick sip of his coffee. ‘What about nightmares, then?’

‘Oh they have a huuuuge variety!’ she said, stretching her arms above her head. ‘I mean, some people count anxiety dreams as nightmares, and I have my own bread-and-butter, boiled-potato ones, you know – falling dreams, naked dreams, teeth-falling-out dreams. Then you have some nightmares that are so hilarious in their visuals that I can’t really take the overlying fear seriously. Like once,’ she said, leaning onto the table again, ‘I ate this dream that this girl was having, of a tractor chasing her all over her school. A common, mud-drenched tractor, smashing in through third-floor windows and rumbling down narrow corridors and knocking over beakers in the science lab – oh, I couldn’t take that seriously, even though she was terrified as she was having it. It was like trying to eat, I dunno, steak pie, while someone’s sprinkled icing sugar and jelly babies on top.’

‘And what about the actually frightening ones? What do they taste like?’

He was leaning in closer to her again. She liked the proximity.

‘Depends. Some people have these strange, sci-fi dreams of totalitarian regimes and scientific experiments. They’re strong and harsh and distinct, like…like aniseed, like sambuca. Other ones are dreams about family dying, and I hate them. They’re like eating mud. Probably like grief and depression for you.’

‘Mm,’ he said, nodding.

‘I think maybe the most interesting, and most horrible, ones are the dreams that really go for a person’s sense of self and security.’

She paused, not knowing if she had phrased herself well. When she glanced at the emotion-eater, there was deep interest in his eyes. He was hooked.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Like, the kind of dreams where a person’s mind works against all their weak points. Dreams where a father kills his children, that kind of thing. Horrible situations – like this one, this one boy had a dream where his girlfriend accused his father of raping her, and he didn’t know who to believe, who to stand by.’

She gave a little laugh, suddenly feeling vulnerable, as if she had said too much, opened up too many dark roads.

‘I couldn’t tell you what that tasted like,’ she added, looking at the table. ‘But it stuck with me, I tell you that.’

The conversation died away, and she wished the waitress would come take their plates.

‘What about happy dreams?’ the emotion-eater asked.

She looked up at him, and saw he was still interested. No, he had his head to one side, his eyes slightly narrowed, that little curl under his ear bouncing ever so slightly. He was still hooked.

Bucking herself up, she straightened.

‘They’re not as common. They’re just…sweet, though. Nothing much to say about them. We’ve always more to say about unhappy things, right?’

She took a long, noisy draw of her milkshake, right down to the dregs. He waited for her to finish before asking, ‘What about lucid dreams?’

‘Oh, don’t get me started on those!’ she cried, accidentally nudging her glass with her chin as she jerked her head up. It rocked noisily on its base as she continued. ‘They’re so confusing! One minute I think I’m having a normal anxiety dream, like an exam dream, then suddenly it turns into a flying dream, and then a sex dream, and I have no idea what’s going on! It’s like someone snatching your plates away as you eat!’

‘Oh,’ the waitress said, making her jump. ‘Would you prefer it if I left your plates, then?’

Her companion laughed and laughed. She felt her ears go red.

‘No, no, it’s fine! I…I was just talking…’

Once the waitress had left, the emotion-eater laughed for a moment more, and then they settled into silence. She wanted to get the bill and leave, but she also didn’t want this lunch to end.

‘You must be tired,’ he said, ‘if you’ve been eating all night.’

‘Yeah,’ she admitted. ‘It’s tough, hiding out in garages, and dorms, and trying to keep hidden. Especially now it’s getting cold and I can’t stay outside.’

‘Do you not have a home?’

‘Not so much,’ she said, her eyes drawn at last to the window, away from him. She saw nothing of what was out there. ‘I have a grandpa who’s a dream-eater, and he sends me money, but it’s never enough for a house. Honestly, I mainly get by with sticky-fingers…if you know what I mean.’

‘I’m a therapist,’ he said.

‘Oh,’ she said, wondering why she was surprised that a quasi-supernatural being like himself had a profession like a normal human.

‘It seemed appropriate, given that I’m so good at helping others overcome their unwanted emotions,’ he said, back to his corner-of-the-lip half-smiles. He took another sip of coffee, though it must have been ice cold by now.

‘I thought you hated the taste of depression?’ she said.

‘Confusion and anger are my staples,’ he said. ‘I told you, I like warm, spicy food. Besides, I like being able to do something good with my ability. Don’t you?’

She snorted.

‘No-one cares if they miss their dreams.’

‘One nightmare for you is one less for them.’

‘Maybe I should become anorexic,’ she muttered. ‘Let them have their own nightmares back.’

He smiled and turned towards the rest of the room, eyeing the waitress.

‘I’ll get the bill.’

So he paid for the meal she forced on him, and they both left a tip even though neither of their hungers had been sated by what had been on their plates. Once the bill was taken away, he looked her dead in the eye.

‘What’s the strangest dream you’ve ever eaten?’

She returned his look without hesitation.

‘What’s the worst feeling you’ve ever eaten?’

His eyelid twitched.

‘I won’t tell you that. Not here, anyway.’

‘Same,’ she said, the smile back on her lips. ‘Then I guess we’ll just have to go elsewhere.’

‘I was going to suggest that you could stay at mine tonight – since you’ve nowhere else to go.’

‘Great,’ she said, jumping up from her seat, patting down her skirt at the back as it bounced up with her. ‘I’d like to see what sort of things you like, outside of food.’

He stood up and she felt him look her up and down again, in a different way this time. She ran her hands through her hair and strode to the door, knowing that he was right behind her.

‘It’s a deal, then,’ he said, as they shut the door behind them and met the cold air. ‘Though I’d ask that you don’t spend all night eating my dreams. I rather like them, even when they’re nightmares.’

‘Fine,’ she said, bouncing along beside him, arms swinging at her side, a conscious opposite to how he kept his hands deep in his pockets. ‘As long as you don’t eat my emotions all day, too.’

‘I can’t promise that,’ he said, eyes on the ground, the air of shyness returning to him. ‘After all, I’ve been tasting them ever since I laid eyes on you.’

Neither spoke for a second, and then he raised his eyes to meet hers, worried, sincere, waiting for a response. To her surprise, her shock morphed into pleasure. It was quite nice, after a lifetime of hiding, to be an open book. To not have to say anything, and instead to just be, and know he would understand.

She didn’t speak. They continued the walk back to his home. They laughed.

Written by G.J.

10/11/2013 at 9:05 pm