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Literary Fiction
(Fic)
When We Were Innocent: previously Of Birds and Men
by Shirley Holder Platt


Phoebe, the daughter of an ornithologist, has led a normal life until nightmares turn her world upside down. Has she buried a memory, or is it something else? "Sounds interesting!"

Chapter 1
Night Terrors

Some days I wished my therapist insisted that I lie on a couch like they do in the movies. This was one of those days. My body ached, my head throbbed, and I longed to close my eyes and block out the world. Sarah (she insisted we communicate on a first name basis) sat across a round, coffee table from me, in an overstuffed armchair identical to mine. She scribbled in a notebook, causing my curiosity to rise. How I longed to reach across that table to grab that notebook. What was she writing? Was she maki...



Chapter 2
Something to Relax Me

James was in the kitchen when I got home. The house smelled of simmering onions and tomato sauce. His specialty dish is spaghetti. When I walked into the kitchen, he was singing along to a Sonny and Cher song from the seventies. He wore one of my aprons over his jeans and t-shirt. It read, “Kiss the Cook,” so I did.

“Glad you’re home,” he said. He lowered the volume and turned back to the sauce. “How’d it go with Dr. Sarah?”

“OK, I guess. ...



Chapter 3
World’s Worst Girlfriend

The next day I was irritable and my head hurt. I had papers to grade and had a tough time concentrating. James brought a cup of tea into my office space. I took a sip. He made it just the way I like it.

Kissing me on the forehead, he said, “You had another one last night.”

Captain Obvious this morning. I wanted to smirk, but he was being nice. Instead, I lifted my face to his and smiled a thank you. “I don’t want to think about it.”

“It won&rsq...



Chapter 4
Subtlety is not her Strong Suit

James was on the phone with Wren when I came home from the grocery store the next day. He smiled and kissed my cheek as I unloaded my reusable bags into the pantry. He always smiled when he talked to Wren. Sometimes, I wondered if he would have been happier had he met her first. They’re so much alike. Homebodies, content to cook and keep the house clean. A perfect night consisted of microwave popcorn and watching a movie on a big-screen television from the comfort of a favorite recliner. They also ...



Chapter 5
Obligatory Dinner

I stood on my parent’s front porch and squeezed James’ hand hard enough that he grimaced. I wondered why I let myself get talked into attending this dinner.

“Let up, champ,” he said moments before my mother opened the door. She was smiling that smile she has that tells me she’s been drinking most of the day. Now, it was my turn to grimace. She reached for me and wrapped me in a hug that has us both about to topple over.

“Mom, you’re cutting off my br...



Chapter 6
Brotherly Love, or Not

The first person I saw coming into the kitchen was my brother. The lanky, emo brother I remembered had been replaced by a tall, dark man with broad shoulders, wavy dark brown hair, and a poker face. I was so angry I couldn’t speak. My mom trilled a hello and hugged Martin around the waist. She barely comes up to his shoulder. Dad walked in with boxes of pizza in his arms, trailing two four-year-old boys.

“Smells delicious,” Wren said. “Boys, go wash your hands.” The tw...



Chapter 7
In the Spotlight

Back in Dr. Sarah’s office, I sat on the floral chair I always occupied when I talking to her. She was filling out some paperwork at her desk with her back to me, so I used the time to look around her office. The walls were painted a calming, light blue. She had pictures of flower drawings that looked like antiques in gold frames. There was a calligraphy drawing of the Serenity Prayer with woodland creatures and plants around the edges. The window blinds were shut, so I couldn’t see the drear...



Chapter 8
Family Resemblance

A week passed since I’d last seen Dr. Sarah. School work kept me busy for several days, but I’d kept a notepad with me at all times, scribbling memories as they floated up for me. Martin occupied a lot of my thoughts. I didn’t understand why the rest of my family had so easily forgiven him. Wren said to give him a break, that he was just a kid when he left us. She talked to him often. They’d made some sort of peace that eluded me. James told me it was because I wouldn’t talk...



Chapter 9
A Recessive Gene

A few days later, I was early for lunch with my dad. I slipped into the auditorium where he was teaching. The lights were low and he was showing slides of whooping cranes. A memory arose, so I searched through my bag for the notepad and scribbled the basics down. When the slide show ended, the lights went up, and Dad wrapped up his lecture. He saw me and nodded as the students exited the auditorium. I walked down to the podium as he gathered his notes and slides and packed up.

“That reminded ...



Chapter 10
An Old Friend

The look on Dad’s face haunted me the next day, so I called my sister and invited myself over. She was happy for me to come, especially if I’d bring a couple of items from the store that she needed. As I picked up a box of sugary cereal someone called my name excitedly. I threw the box into my basket and ran to hug my best friend from high school days. She’d left for college years ago and I’d lost track of her.

“Rebel! Where have you been girl?” I asked as we ro...



Chapter 11
Columbian Soup

“Rebel, you’re like an hour late,” I said as I opened the door to my friend and she squeezed past me with her hands full of a hot pot of soup.

“Sorry, got caught up in a project. And, by the way, no one calls me Rebel anymore. I’m back to Rebecca. Business, you know.”

“I’ll try to remember that, but you’ll always be Rebel to me,” I said. She followed me into the kitchen, set the pot on the stove, and turned on the gas to warm the sou...



Chapter 12
Wait, what?

When I told Wren about my evening with Rebel, my sister wanted in on the fun and insisted the three of us get together for a girl’s night out. I agreed but put her off for a week until James had another late work night. I got to the bar and grill early and ordered a Shiner Bock to sip while I waited. Rebel came in shortly wearing another funky outfit that made me jealous. She had her hair in a long braid and wore a dress that looked like it came off the set of Mad Men. We hugged and she ordered a M...



Chapter 13
Old Rumors

The ringing of my cell phone woke us up at the crack of dawn the next morning. James rolled over and pulled a pillow over his head. He loves to sleep late when he can. I reached for the phone and fumbled around until I could answer and decipher who was calling.

“I can’t believe you girls left me last night!” Rebel yelled into my ear. I had to hold the phone away to keep from getting damage to my eardrum.

“You were ignoring us,” I said quietly as I pushed the cove...



Chapter 14
A Trip to the Library

Wren didn’t believe Rebel’s story about pretending to be interested in Martin to elicit information for us.

“She talked about how good-looking he is. Then she was totally obsessed with him at the bar. I don’t think she touched the food. And did you see how she kept touching her throat? That’s a dead giveaway of sexual arousal.”

I was leaning against her kitchen counter and nodding along, unable to slip a word in edgewise. While my sister ranted, I noticed ...



Chapter 15
A Head Full of Questions

After what seemed like years, Monday arrived. I kissed James goodbye at the door and padded to my computer for my morning classes. My mind was anywhere but on Algebra II, but I did the best I could under the circumstances. The kids couldn’t tell the difference. They were making faces and being their silly selves as I trudged through explanations and examples. At eleven, I shut off the computer and made my way down the hallway toward the shower. My phone buzzed with a message from James.

With ...



Chapter 16
Confessions

Dad started with, “Girls, you have to understand…”

I jumped in with both feet and told him, “No, we don’t have to understand anything.” I was about to tell him how angry I was, but Wren stopped me again.

“I can see that you’re angry,” he said. I wanted to throttle him. He’d taken enough psychology classes to know how to parrot. This was not what I needed right then. I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued.

“It was a diff...



Chapter 17
In Wren’s Nest

Wren’s home was built for comfort and children. She had nothing to knock off a table. The chairs and sofa were deliciously soft while somehow maintaining enough strength to keep you from sinking into their depths. She turned on soft jazz as soon as we walked in, filling the house with peaceful stirrings. We sat, arranged so that we could see one another without straining our necks, and no one spoke a word. It was a quiet to which we were accustomed. I didn’t want the spell we’d cast to ...



Chapter 18
Statistically Speaking

Unlike my dad, who claims to have known he wanted to study birds from the time he was five years old and found a stunned chickadee below his bedroom window, I have always loved numbers. I majored in mathematics with a minor in statistics. I would have majored in statistics, but the university didn’t offer it. Statistical analysis thrills my soul. Probability theory gives my heart wings. Gathering data, quantitative reasoning, extracting information from a sea of specific facts; this is what I am go...



Chapter 19
Relative Comfort

Tears filled my eyes and I had difficulty staying on the road. My body shook, and my grip on the steering wheel turned my knuckles white. I thought we were in love. I thought sex was still new and exciting. When did he start to think I was boring? How could Rebel? How could James? How could I have been so blind? Why did I invite her over? I knew she was an alley cat back in the day. Had James had other lovers? Do I need to get an AIDS test? Could I commit the perfect murder? I want to kill them, but ...



Chapter 20
Unburdening

While I slept, someone covered me with a soft blanket. I pushed it off my legs and shuffled down the hallway to the guest bathroom. The woman in the mirror stared at me with a blank expression. She appeared to have gone a round in the ring with life and been soundly defeated. My eyes were swollen and red-rimmed. I finger-combed my hair and it fell back into the same lank mess. I used the corner of the hand towel to clean my teeth and tongue and splashed cold water on my face in an attempt to feel alive. ...



Chapter 21
Heartsick

I knew that I was wallowing in self-pity, but I couldn’t find the energy to do more than lie in bed for the next couple of days. Wren came in on my third day of my staying in her guest room. She carried a steaming cup of tea.

“Morning, Phoebe. It’s chamomile.” She placed the cup on the table beside the bed. “It’s supposed to be calming. I put honey in, because I’m not crazy about the flavor. Let me know if you like it. I don’t want to push you, but I ...



Chapter 22
Shivers and Skunks

Before nightfall, my condition worsened. My head felt as if it would burst from the internal pounding, and my stomach rolled and had me dry heaving when I moved. I called to Wren, and she brought a thermometer in. My temperature was a little over one hundred and two degrees. I alternated between shivering and thinking I would burn to a crisp from the inside out. I had to face it. I had the flu. That’s what I got for lying to my boss. My eyes ached. Heck, my hair hurt. It was lucky that I was alread...



Chapter 23
Time to Go

Wren let me sleep until ten the next morning. She took a couple of steps into the room and said my name. When I opened my bleary eyes, she smiled and asked if I felt good enough for her to open the curtains and let some sunlight into the room. I nodded, and she strolled over to the window. Soon, sunshine spilled in and the room seemed normal and not the sick room it had been.

“I smell bad,” I said.

“You have the right,” she answered. “Go take a shower, if you&rs...



Chapter 24
No Place Like Home

My heart shattered when I walked into my home. I’d bought the bungalow a year before meeting James, but he’d been with me for the majority of the time I’d spent living in the place. He was everywhere I turned. Thankfully, Wren is a no-nonsense woman. She had done so much before we arrived that eased the pain. Unbeknownst to me, she’d packed up all of James’ clothes. On one of the calls he’d made, begging her to let him talk to me, she’d told him that his stuff wo...



Chapter 25
A Sober Surprise

Despondent, and desperate for company at the close of the day, I drove over to my parents’ house for dinner. Since I had a standing invitation from Dad but hadn’t told him I was on my way, I stopped and bought a rotisserie chicken, potato salad, and a bag of salad with all the fixings. Martin opened the door and snatched the food out of my hands, saying’ “Perfect. I’m starving.” I followed him to the kitchen and found Mom and Dad already there. They were taking items o...



Chapter 26
Not Now!

I had a nightmare that night, despite coming home feeling relaxed and happy for the first time since James broke my heart. None of the dream remained the next morning. I woke up feeling awful and throwing up my toenails as soon as I could get to the bathroom. I’ve never had regular periods, and this routine continued for weeks. The conversation I had with Wren kept running through my head until I broke down and bought an over-the-counter pregnancy test. It took me two days to build up the cour...



Chapter 27
A Meeting of the Minds

James stopped texting and calling eventually, and the next three months crawled by at the pace of a sloth on Valium. I continued to wake at night with a nightmare haunting me and no details. The baby grew slowly. Morning sickness progressed to all day sickness and one day left me, relieved and happy to be able to hold down solid food. My face broke out in pimples. My breasts were so sore I could barely stand to wear a tee-shirt. The semester ended and I had too much time to think. I researched SIDS and c...



28 - Six months down

My baby bump was obvious to the casual observer by the sixth month, no matter what I wore. I trudged through the grocery store on swollen ankles one afternoon with the urge to eat pickled beets. Beets were vegetables I’d hated until the pregnancy; now I gleefully loaded my cart with jars of the red deliciousness. I hummed a Bob Marley song as I shopped. Classes had started again, and my students were a good bunch. My mom was still sober. Dad seemed better after unburdening himself to Wren and me ab...




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