Week 43

He’d heard she was a fighter, but Michael wasn’t immediately convinced.
She didn’t look like much, but he knew that some of the best fighters used their opponents strength against them, rather than their own, for.
He first of all eavesdropped on her conversation with another man. She joked about how often she’d beaten him up. The man laughed but it was clear his pride was hurt which confirmed her standing.
Michael used the uncomfortable moment that followed to introduce himself into her circle.
She noticed the brace on his arm and seemed to smile – did she know why he was here?
The conversation moved to another man describing his workout routine, and Michael noticed her eyes glaze over. Now was his opportunity.
He stepped sideways and crossed behind her to the lounge. Michael could feel her eyes on him as he picked up one of the controls, and before he’d even got to the two-player option, she was by his side with the second controller.
Game on.

Week 42

They’d waited until after the wedding to combine their families into one home; Sheryl, with her two daughters, and Mark, with his one. The girls all knew each other from school, but it was clear from the beginning that they would never be the best of friends.
While a pretty girl, Sheryl considered Mark’s daughter to be spoiled and entitled. Cindy had lost her mother at a young age and therefore had been doted on more than the average child.
Her own children, Geraldine and Rachel, had never known their father. They imagined him to be a Prince from a far away land, and while she had indulged this fantasy, she had been strict with all other aspects of their lives.
She was tough on home work, encouraged them to get involved in extra curriculum activities, and had banned boys from their home. Sheryl was keen to raise Cindy the same way.
Shortly after the move to their new home she told them that they would need to each do chores in order to earn pocket money. Mark wasn’t keen to have the girls work, joking that it was “hard labour”, but Sheryl convinced him that it would earn them some life experience, and likely bring the girls closer together.
It didn’t.
Instead, her daughters thought Cindy only put in half the effort that they did, and Sheryl tended to agree. Once she even caught Mark finishing Cindy’s chores!
Cindy had the worst attitude of any teenager she knew.
And it only got worse after Mark passed away. Car crash. On their one year anniversary.
Understandably, Cindy was devastated. Sheryl held it together for the family, and tried to continue on, but she found it harder and harder to relate to this young girl who locked herself away in her room.
When, at the end of the year, she heard there was going to be a Royal Ball, Sheryl saw it as an opportunity to finally unite her broken family, and bring Cindy out of her shell.
“There is to be a Royal Ball this autumn,” she announced at dinner. Her own girls grinned and started bouncing in their seats. They chatted over the top of each other about the rumours, and what sort of dress they should wear, and how to do their hair…
“However,” Sheryl interrupted them, “I have some conditions before I allow anyone to go.”
She emphasised the word ‘anyone’ and let her words hang in the air.
The bouncing stopped, and Cindy, who had simply continued eating at first, finally paused to look up.
Sheryl caught her eye before continuing. “We are to create a full list of chores, to get this house looking its best. I expect each member of this family to complete their chores if they expect to go.”
“But mum!” Geraldine protested. “Everyone over 16 is invited. We have to be there. It’s unfair if we’re not, and-“
Sheryl held up on finger to stop her talking and nodded. “If all the chores are completed, then there will be no reason for you not to go.”
Sheryl looked around the table to see that they each received the message and when she was satisfied, she retired for the night, leaving the girls to collect their thoughts, and their plates.
The days rushed by quickly, and while Sheryl saw great enthusiasm from her daughters regarding the approaching autumn celebration, she saw no such interest from Cindy.
When the big day finally arrived, there was only one person that still had chores remaining. Sheryl saw her watching from the kitchen window as the rest of them climbed into the car, heading to the Royal Ball, while Cindy stayed behind.
Geraldine and Rachel looked beautiful in their gowns. They shone more radiant than most as they danced throughout the night. Sheryl was so pleased that even though she couldn’t do any more with Cindy, at least she had two wonderful daughters instead.
She was not so pleased, however, when she saw a girl who looked a lot like Cindy enter the Royal Ball, shortly before midnight.
The dress was like silver, her hair like silk ribbons. Sheryl was not sure where Cindy had obtained help to get her looking so… so… stunning… or how she had come to be at the Royal Ball, but rules are rules, and she was determined to send her home again.
As Sheryl attempted to cross the dance floor through twirling couples and giggling teenagers, someone else got to Cindy first.
Handsome, rich, and powerful, the young man had been nicknamed Charming, and Sheryl was not sure she liked the way the two flirted together so quickly.
They began to dance before Sheryl reached them, so she watched as closely as she could instead. Did Cindy know this Charming man before tonight? And just how did she get here?
Sheryl wanted to talk to this troubled step-daughter of hers tonight. She made a second attempt to cross the dance floor, but found the man without a dance partner when she saw him next. She scanned the room but could see no sign of Cindy.
Betrayed. Lied to. Disrespected. Sheryl felt these and more as she drove her loyal daughters home. She didn’t burden Geraldine or Rachel with the tale of Cindy’s deceit, instead she complimented them on her dancing and quizzed them on the boys they had danced with.
When they returned to the house she confirmed Cindy was in her bed and decided to deal with her in the morning. However, the opportunity never came.
The young man had knocked on their front door at first light, and it seemed Cindy, for a change, was attending to her morning chores, meaning that she was the only one up.
The two had chatted for some time before Sheryl awoke and found them cosy in the living room. Cindy already had her bags packed and stuck around only long enough to say her goodbyes to them all before running off into the sunset with her Charming.
While Sheryl had loved the girl’s father with all her heart, she felt she would always remember Cinderella as her wicked step-daughter.

Week 41

I can see his outline in the darkness by the front gate, and confirm his identity when his black and white fur catches the moonlight.
He knows he shouldn’t be here, but he’s come anyway.
I flick my tail twice and trust that Mojo has seen it from her guard at the top of the garage. A quick howl moments later gives me the go ahead to advance.
This cat lives two doors down and is well known for breaking into homes to steal food. This isn’t the first time he’s attempted to creep into ours, but we’re determined not to let him pass tonight.
I leave my post by the cat door and round the lemon tree on the left, planning to attack from the right, however a shadow behind me makes me hesitate. It won’t be Mojo, she knows not to sneak up on me. I wait a beat but see nothing else, so continue to hunt the black and white cat.
He hasn’t noticed me yet, and I break into a sprint, managing to swipe my claws across his back before he’s even realised he was being watched. His body jumps away from me, and a tuft of fur falls to the ground.
Another swipe, this time across his face but he comes right back at me. I duck and then shift my weight onto my back legs, as he does the same. We use our front paws to box, neither prepared to lose ground.
Mojo had taken over my original post, but seeing that I am losing strength, she rushes to help. She picks up speed quickly and head butts the cat in its side.
He’s taken by surprise and decides the reward in the house isn’t worth the fight, fleeing to the neighbours front yard.
We are just about to congratulate each other on a job well done, when I see the shadow near the lemon tree again. Mojo turns and races to the tree. I hear a short hiss and then silence before two shadows emerge.
It’s the Beagle. Our family’s dog, who is currently in cat territory. Mojo shakes her head, warning me not to attack. I sit and watch as she delicately leaps through the cat door, and I soon hear her sing to our people.
It takes a few minutes, but a light eventually comes on and Mojo returns outside, continuing her song.
A door unlocks, and swings open, followed by slippered feet and shouts of surprise.
“How did you get out here?” the older girl asks. A younger girl calls the Beagle’s name from inside, and he obediently trots in, the door closing behind him.
Mojo ends her song and with a quick nod to me, she climbs back to her position on the roof. The night is still young, and many more threats are out there. I return to my post and keep an eye on the front gate.
We are the night watch. I am Ninja.

Week 40

I was supposed to be picked up half an hour ago. Instead, I’m standing in the scorching heat, in an unfamiliar town in a country that before now I’d only seen on TV and in the movies.
He hasn’t forgotten me. Instead, he’ll be lost.
This is why we arranged a meeting spot before I left. But that meeting spot is at least a half hour drive from where I currently am, and I currently don’t know where I am.
Looking up and down the street again, I resign to the fact that he’s not coming. I’m on my own.
I decide to walk to the nearest police station in the hope that they’ll take pity on me and drive me to where I need to be. First mission: find a police station.
I walk north, not because I feel comfortable that this is the right direction, but because I can see there is a McDonalds on the way. I figure it’s as good a place as any to get directions. However, I soon discover that this McD’s is not like the ones at home.
“Excuse me, can you please tell me where the nearest police station is?”
“Lo siento…”
Not something I had anticipated. All Spanish speaking employees in an American McDonalds. I knew I should have paid more attention in Spanish class at school, but for now words escape me.
After a few attempts and less than successful hand gestures, I shrug and thank them, but decide to just continue in the direction I’d been travelling and hope for some luck. Surely I’m due for some good fortune?
And it appears to come. After walking less than five minutes I hear a car tooting as it pulls up beside me. Throwing my arms up in relief and with a big smile on my face I figure he’s finally found me! Finally, my ride is here!
Yet, when I approach the passenger side of the car, I notice the driver is a different shade to the man I’m waiting on, and a far greater height. This is a stranger.
I shake my head, and say I’m fine and not to worry, but he doesn’t buy it. So I reveal to him that I’m looking for the police station and he offers to drive me, saying it’s too far to walk.
I don’t argue, and while my instincts tell me I’m doing the right thing by getting in the car, there’s a flicker of “you idiot” that crosses my mind along with the picture of my corpse on the side of a deserted road.
The driver is friendly enough and apparently he saw me in McDonalds and decided to do a random act of kindness. I explain about my ride not showing up and how he gets lost easily, and my hopes of the police taking me to our meeting spot.
He laughs and tells me that the spot is on his way to work. He offers to drive me to where I need to be and explains that the police wouldn’t help me anyway as it’s out of their jurisdiction.
Alarm bells should probably be ringing by now, but he seems like a good guy, and I trust the part of myself that is both relaxed and relieved to have someone to talk to.
So we drive. We talk politics, hairdressing, and my home country. And after thirty minutes, I’m let out at my location with a handshake and a wave, before I’m left alone again.
And then there HE is, my ride who never came to get me, looking sheepish and apologetic, but also utterly perplexed at my being dropped off by a stranger.
And as we drive away and talk about my wait and the man who picked me up, we realise the risk and luck of life. We decide not to separate again, but to add a few random acts of kindness to our list of things to do while in America.