Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: INSOUCIANT (06/02/16)
By Sara Harricharan
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A clear, quiet voice recited in even tones.
“U-L-U-L-A-T-E, definition, to howl or wail. Think of it as a wolf. Howling to the moon at night. Or a banshee, wailing for a coming death.”
Grandma Lily blinked. Spelling bees seemed to have changed since she last remembered them. She nudged the door open with one elbow, hiding a smile at her granddaughter practicing her smiles in front of her wall mirror.
Spelling bees weren’t exactly Abby’s forte, but for the sake of her late mother—she tried. Smiling was also a bit difficult, so while she spelled, Abby also practiced her smiling.
Today, it didn’t seem to be going as well as it could be—at least from the way it looked more like a grimace than a smile to Grandma Lily.
"Definition, I-N-S-O-U-C-I-A-N-T,” Abby dutifully recited into the handheld pocket recorder. “Definition, showing a causal lack of concern, being—indifferent.”
“Muffin, Abby?” Grandma prompted. She held up the lemonade as well.
Abby glanced over her shoulder, taking in the after-school snack. She checked her watch and then nodded. “I guess.”
“Have you made it through the whole list?” Grandma Lily tore the muffin in half and offered the larger side.
Abby almost smiled—a faint, barely-there twitch of her lips, even as her blue eyes shone bright. “Gramps made muffins?”
“He said he was feeling useless,” Grandma Lily whispered. “I think he just didn’t want me to try baking again.”
They shared a giggle.
Abby drank half of the lemonade.
“How are you feeling, sweetie?”
Abby’s shoulders squared, her chin lifted. “I don’t,” she said, calmly. “But that’s alright. Thanks for the snack, Grandma.” She kissed that wrinkled cheek and flashed a stage smile.
Grandma Lily held the empty plate and half-drunk lemonade. She watched, silvery brows knitted together as Abby approached the mirror and smiled.
It was a better act now. More deliberate. More forceful. More show. Less Abby.
She wasn’t sure she liked that. Not her precious little cinnamon roll—Abby was sweet and kind.
Not that level of fierce and superiority.
“N-E-S-C-I-E-N-C-E, definition, a lack of knowledge or awareness,” Abby rattled off.
Grandma Lily frowned. She slipped out of the room and retreated to the kitchen where her son waited with hopeful eyes.
“She’s—practicing, Jordan. She—when you didn’t come—it was difficult.”
Lieutenant Jordan Carson closed his eyes, one hand going to his forehead. He rubbed at the furrows for a good long minute. It was four hours since he’d arrived home and two weeks since his wife’s death.
Two weeks since he’d tried and failed to return.
Three, since he’d seen his baby girl. His darling Abby, who apparently wanted nothing to do with him now.
Grandpa thumped over to the table, scowling. “You two—always with your scheming,” he grumbled. “Take her another muffin. Stand outside the door until she opens it! You think her mother would’ve given up after one try?”
Grandma Lily gave him a Look. “It’s been-“
“No, Mom, he’s right.” Jordan rose from the table. The shadows on his face seemed to have settled on his shoulders as he bent to kiss her cheek. “Thanks for trying.”
He slipped out of the kitchen, accepting the second muffin and two napkins. He tapped on the door and waited.
He listened to her recital and shook his head. Just like her mother—another smart cookie. He pushed the door open, watching for the moment when she realized he was actually there.
Her voice wobbled—once—before she continued on, hands clenched tight around the recorder.
“W-E-L-T-E-R,” he spelled, softly. “Definition, to be in turmoil, to wallow to—“
“I’m not weltering! You didn’t come,” her voice cracked. “You didn’t come and now she’s gone!”
A fierce ache stabbed through his chest. He tossed the muffin away. “I tried,” he said, hoarsely. “I’m here now.”
She turned to face him, angry tears turning to pained rivers. “Daddy-!”
He caught her in a hug, sinking to the bedroom floor, curled protectively over her sobbing form.
“I’m sorry, baby girl.”
She cried harder, clinging to him. He held her tight as his own tears came.
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