Nine

“And you never put down the toilet!” Michael heard from behind the bathroom door. He quickly ran down the hall and knocked.  Jen was slamming cabinets inside.

“Excuse me?” he yelled. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to calm down. “What did you say?”

“I said,” the door opened suddenly, revealing a red-faced Jen, “you never put down the damn toilet!” She grabbed a tub of lotion from the bathroom counter and proceeded to angrily rub the pink cream on her face. Michael inhaled a heavy breath and said, “What does that have to do with any of this?”

“It has everything to do with this!” she stormed past him and into the bedroom. He stood in the doorframe and rolled his eyes. “Jen…” he groaned. “Please help me out here.”

He was so sick of this back-and-forth nonsense they were doing. Nine years together and now it seemed like all they did was fight.  This is not to say that they hadn’t fought in the past.  But lately their fights had been lasting days. It all started when Jen’s best friend got engaged. Jen was starting to think about marriage more and it was evident that she was getting frustrated with him.  Five years ago they moved in together and everything was great. She understood that he was against marriage and agreed that they were just as committed to each other now without the piece of paper. His parents divorced. Two out of his three siblings divorced. He knew the odds.

Jen said something he didn’t catch.  He snapped to and his eyes focused on her face. Tears were forming in her eyes and she choked, “Oh great, what are you, just spacing out now? My God, Mike.”

“What, babe? What do you want from me?” He sighed.

“Why won’t you marry me?” she replied with a stern voice. He knew this had been coming. This had been the topic of every fight for the past three months.

“Jen, you know how I feel about marriage. It’s nothing against you.”

“But it is though,” she pleaded. “What is different about what we’re doing right now if we are married?”

He threw his hands up. “Right!” He yelled. “What is different? It’s a little piece of paper. Don’t you believe that I love you?”

“Of course I do, Mike,” she sobbed. “But commitment is about wanting to make each other happy. Can’t you try to see that?”

“I’m sorry that I can’t give you what you want, Jen.” Tears began to soak her face which made him unclench his fists. He walked towards her and reached with a gentle hand for her waist, but she pushed past him and whispered, “Please not right now.” He eased onto the bed as he heard the front door slam.

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Domino

There was a thick morning fog forming over what was once the Thames. Harris sat on the pavement; his grey eyes matched the storm clouds flowing from the horizon.  He fiddled with a small domino, the white paint on the dots nearly worn off. The piece belonged to a set that was long forgotten, but he always kept this one in his pocket. It reminded him of a time ages ago, long before The Fall, when he would line them up in extravagant designs with his son Jared. Jared would giggle with joy when Harris tipped the first domino. That small moment of time before his finger pushed it felt suspended and all was still, a moment of peace before everything collapsed.

Harris was interrupted from his memory by the marching of city guards down the street. He moved back into the shadows of a nearby building.  It was not smart to be out at this time of day, especially on the morning of inspections. But on this particular day Harris needed the fresh air.  He woke up with new aches that only this anniversary could bring.  It seemed like only yesterday that Jared died.

There was something different in the air exactly one year ago. Being a fairly compliant man, Harris was angry when he discovered Jared’s involvement in the Rebel movement, but Jared had agreed to let go of his illusions of revolution. When Harris heard the gunshots and shouts that early morning, he knew something was wrong.  Call it fatherly instinct, but something drove Harris to run out into the street.

“Stand down, Rebels!” an order erupted from the block of city guards. With their large silver guns, they looked significantly stronger than the small group of rebels.  Harris felt a drop in his stomach when he saw Jared standing in the front, his eyes shining bright despite the dark marks on soot on his face.

“My fellow British people!” He yelled to the groups of commoners now lining the sides of the street. “We must not let this harsh government control us! We may not have the power of machines, but there is strength in numbers! Together we can overcome this oppression!”

“Stand down, or we will be forced to fire.” A guard yelled, his demeanor frighteningly calm.

“Jared!” Harris heard himself yell. His eyes met Jared’s, who then looked away with a vigor that told Harris standing down was the last thing he would do.

In a second that now seemed like a lifetime, Harris watched the actions unfold in slow motion. Just one slip of a finger led to a chain of catastrophe. A shot in the crowd from a nervous Rebel rang out and in the next moment, gunfire and Jared lay on the ground, gasping in a pool of his own blood.

Harris breathed deeply in the shadows, still holding tight to the worn domino piece.  He pulled himself up from the ground and knew his role in this game. Their roles had reversed; Jared was the first piece—the moment of silence was over. Harris slowly walked out of the shadows: a new man, a Rebel.