for sari by cathleen cohen philadelphia stories
For Sari by Cathleen Cohen

Her daughter was in trouble. That’s all they’d tell her. Milena hadn’t received a call from the school since the time Kasey was in second grade when she’d accidentally mushed the class tadpole trying to “watch” metamorphosis. Now, as Milena and her husband Doug approached the high school office grumbling about hysterical teachers, uninformative phone calls, and dramatic power displays, she thought surely the news would be the tenth grade equivalent of the tadpole.

Kasey slouched just outside the office on a worn oak bench, incongruous within the school’s gleaming hallway. A sepia-tinged photograph of the school’s founder hung above her head, the founder’s expression slightly displeased, hard eyes glaring above a Hitler-esque mustache. Wells of wet mascara folded under Kasey’s blue eyes and she studied the wall beyond her, her expression resigned.

The bell buzzed. Classroom doors scraped open and students shuffled into the hallway. They traveled in packs, globs of spilling cleavage and exposed skin, shrieking as they poked and slapped at each other, clouds of hormones floating over their heads.

“What happened?” Milena asked Kasey.

Her daughter retreated into her sheath of shoulder-length blonde hair, her fingers pressed to her forehead and her jaw rigid. The tadpole theory wasn’t holding up well.

When the Principal’s door opened, Milena kissed Kasey’s forehead, reluctant to leave her there, but she clasped Doug’s hand nonetheless and entered the office. The decor screamed: Welcome to the inner sanctum of one of the most elite private schools in the country. Bathed in natural light. Rounded wood furniture. Stained a warm honey color. Dotted with brushed nickel hardware.

Mr. Frazier greeted them with a practiced smile, his breath tinged with coffee and the courtesy mint he used to conceal it. He leaned back in his ergonomic chair. “Would you like a drink? Juice, tea, water?”

Doug squeezed Milena’s hand. “We can just get to it,” he said, youthful despite the grey flecking his temples. His eyes swelled with purpose, like he still thought he could fix anything.

“We had an incident this morning,” Mr. Frazier said. “Kasey was discovered being intimate on school property with two seniors.”

And there it was, Milena’s worst fear. She picked at a hangnail, wishing she could grip it with her teeth and yank. Mr. Frazier had peered into Milena’s soul and extracted its ugliest secret, that Milena had been a sex addict since high school, and that this fact, which had pulverized her own existence, had spread to Kasey, even though she knew nothing of Milena’s past.

Doug rocked forward in his chair. “Excuse me?”

Milena kicked over her purse, spewing sunglasses and packages of sanitizing wipes onto the floor. She scooped the mess back into her bag, apologizing for no reason. She hated when she apologized for no reason.

“Define intimate,” Doug said.

“I’m afraid she was having sex on school property,” Mr. Frazier said.

Milena hadn’t even known Kasey was sexually active, so non-standard sex in a public place seemed impossible. But she couldn’t bring herself to protest, to offer explanations to this man about her daughter’s body.

Doug laughed. “How does that even happen? Wasn’t someone…watching her?”

Mr. Frazier cocked his head as if he hadn’t heard correctly. “We don’t run our school like a detention center. She was absent from Biology class and discovered under a stairwell shortly thereafter.”

“What happened?” Doug asked

Mr. Frazier tapped a pen against his desk. “According to your daughter and the two other parties, it was consensual. In fact, Kasey insists it was her idea.”

Doug eased back into his chair, as though lowering himself into a boiling hot bathtub. “Using viruses to cure cancer is an idea. A threesome on school property is an administrative fuck-up.”

“Is she okay?” Milena asked. “Is she in trouble?”

Doug pinched between his eyebrows. “Which seniors?”

“I’m afraid it’s illegal for me to disclose names.” Mr. Frazier delivered the statement fluidly, as if practiced before a mirror. Or a lawyer.

“It isn’t illegal for older boys to take advantage of a young girl?” Doug asked.

Mr. Frazier folded his hands. “Certainly, you can speak to an attorney, but there’s a Romeo and Juliet exemption to the age of consent in New York. Typically, if the defendants can prove the victim’s age is at least 14 and the age difference is less than five years, it’s considered legal.”

Milena touched Doug’s arm. “We don’t intend to sue.”

Doug snorted. “The fuck we don’t.”

“What’s her punishment?” Milena asked.

“In public schools, the police are usually summoned and the parties are charged for indecent exposure. Being a private school, we have some leeway and I chose not to take that path. They’re all good kids. I’d prefer to do what’s best for them, not worsen a bad situation. I’d recommend a two week suspension.” He straightened his tie and held Doug’s gaze. He never uttered the word scandal, although it seemed clear to Milena that he didn’t intend to suffer one.

“I’m sure Kasey has an explanation,” Doug said.

Mr. Frazier rocked in his chair. “Nevertheless. It’s behavior we can’t encourage.”

Milena’s heart thrummed in her chest hard enough to pulse her shirt.

Mr. Frazier suggested guidance counselor sessions as well as outside therapy. He shook their hands and smiled encouragingly. “I’m sure with the right support at home, Kasey will rebound from this in no time.”


Outside, Doug trudged along beside them, his hair blown back from the late autumn breeze. “Wow, Kase. I wasn’t expecting that.” He spoke without inflection, though his voice caught on the last word.

Over the past half hour, Doug’s understanding of their daughter seemed to have broken off and drifted far enough away that he couldn’t retrieve it. Kasey sniffled.

He leaned in and hugged her, his arms stiff and his hands floating just above her skin, as if touching her had become problematic. “Come on, now. No need to cry. Just tell me you’re okay.”

Kasey wiped her eyes and nodded.

“Great. Now tell me their names.”

“Enough!” Milena shot him a dirty look and hooked her arm around Kasey, steering her toward their loft in Riverdale, just a few blocks away.

“What? Am I the only one who thinks this is pertinent information?”

“It was consensual,” Kasey said.

Doug sunk his hands into his pockets. “So I’ve been told.”

They turned down a tree-lined street and Milena squeezed Kasey’s shoulder. “It’s going to take your father time to process.”

On this block of the Bronx, the old maples formed a tunnel overrun with birds. The caws, cheeps and trills rivaled any “Relaxing Sounds of the Rainforest” compilation. Milena always imagined herself somewhere tropical as she passed through.

Kasey pounded her head with her fists. “Fuck!”

A jogger veered to the other side of the street. Milena eyed the throngs of passersby, as though the women pushing strollers cared about anything beyond Kasey’s profanity in front of their newborns.

She yanked Kasey’s arms down to her sides. “What’s done is done.”

“I’m so stupid.”

Milena shook her head. “You’re 16, you’re supposed to be stupid. Within reason.”

“No, Milena,” Doug said. “She’s not supposed to be stupid. She goes to the best school in the country. Let’s not forget who we’re talking to, here.”

Milena’s face flushed. It was the first time Doug had referenced her problem since they’d married. They met shortly after she’d finished her degree in music production, and was enmeshed in the kind of recovery that entailed consistent and predictable fuck-ups. She’d convinced him her rehabilitation had transpired, even though she still didn’t even own a computer for fear of what she’d do with it. Still, she was honest about her past. “I attend SLAA meetings,” she’d said. “I have a sponsor.” She told him she no longer drank or did drugs or even shopped because an addict’s addictions could change. He dismissed it all as harmless promiscuity. He never even asked how many men she’d slept with. He saw her the way she wanted to be seen. The “new and improved” Milena with the yoga mat slung over one shoulder, armed with a cold-pressed juice and a purse filled with organic protein bars.

Kasey sighed and looked out over the filtered skyline. “I guess I never thought I’d be able to do it. I didn’t think they’d want to.”

Milena remembered thinking certain guys were out of her league. It didn’t take her long to learn that impossible unions happened all the time when it came to sex. Such achievements were unremarkable.

“Did you use protection?” Milena asked.

Kasey rolled her eyes. “Of course.”

“Maybe we should go to the hospital to get you checked out,” Doug said.

“Dad. Stop.”


Life of the Party by Constance Culpepper
Life of the Party by Constance Culpepper

At home, Milena changed into a belly shirt and harem pants while Doug finished some work and Kasey called friends. “Damage control,” she’d said. Milena perched atop a pillow to meditate. She visualized herself as a tree in an ancient forest, roots stretching down into the damp earth, leaves unfurling toward the sky and pushing through the open door of her cranium. The wind rippled her leaves and the sun melted her body into the tree’s trunk. She tasted the brown of her bark. Then, a vision of Kasey leaving for her Spring Formal last year; skintight strapless blue dress, the rounds of her boobs squeezed and protruding, small braids interspersed through her hair, a confusing mix of innocence and brazen sexuality, a lovechild of Marcia Brady and Paris Hilton. When Kasey came home at three a.m., Milena hadn’t questioned her daughter. She’d told herself she didn’t want to be a hysterical parent. That she was proud to be “on the level.” That it was a conscious choice, not a survival tactic. Either way, she’d blinded herself to the possibility of their current predicament.

What if her daughter had inherited her promiscuity like it was encoded in her DNA? Milena pictured two strands coiled together, a twisting staircase stretching to infinity, repeating the same mistakes and unfortunate tendencies ad infinitum. Milena had been adopted and never knew her birth parents, or whether her addiction was inherited. And now she wanted to know whether the addiction gene was real and if she’d passed it on, or if Kasey was just experimenting the way, say, an All-American Girl with an edge might.

For Milena, it had started as a healthy appetite, then moved to her best friend’s dad when she was 16. Later, in her NYU dorm room, AIDS hysteria in full swing, unable to study, sneaking out to Washington Square Park, finding a stringy-haired boy in the dark, his jeans smeared with dirt, and wondering as she blew him if he was just skinny or a drug addict or actually infected, and whether it even mattered because she’d do it again anyway, countless times, whether she’d live long enough to expect anything different from herself, for her life. And then there was Ben Lumas, whom she’d loved, and whom she managed to live with for four whole months before she got caught. The consequences were never high enough.

Yet, she never parsed her motivations, other than sometimes she used sex as a weapon and sometimes as a shield and sometimes as a confidence boost and often as a knife to her jugular. She was more certain of all that came after: the meetings, her sponsor, the program, a shrink. The nagging suspicion that her addiction had simply morphed to meditation, yoga, smoothies, a healthier existence.

The doorbell rang. She’d forgotten that Sean, the film director for whom she was compiling a soundtrack, had promised to deliver the dailies so she could study the scenes she was to set to music. It was the standard indie fare – part drama, part comedy, limited release, film festival bound, probably direct-to-video.

Sean wore a silk scarf tied in knots around his neck. He loved vintage suits and accessories, each piece chosen for its ironic reference to someone or something else. But he could never pull off these wardrobe choices with the ease of a John Huston or a Fritz Lang. He smiled at Milena, his receding hair inexplicably parted in the middle.

He handed her the DVD, holding onto it a moment too long. “Come to the set. I can’t stand you watching this bullshit.”

The tapes were boring; the same scenes shot again and again, sometimes over 20 times. Milena bit back an apology. “Things are hectic. I’ll get there.”

Sean peered into the emptiness beyond Milena and raised his eyebrows, unconvinced. He took her in, his eyes drooping with sensuality. He twisted a lock of her hair around his finger and inhaled. She pulled back from him, but he seemed unfazed, smiling as the hair dropped from his fingers, misinterpreting her disinterest as reluctance. A family member rustled, footsteps and a creaking door, and Sean retreated, leaving just the ghost of his smirk.

Later, in her home office, she ran her hands over papers, speakers, wires, a lifetime in music and she felt the old restlessness. The fidgeting, uncomfortable twisting of her body. Without thinking, she palmed her phone and dialed her sponsor. Straight to voicemail and appropriately so; it had been at least five years since she’d called. Almost as long since she attended a meeting. She’d made the mistake every addict makes, the mistake of thinking her problem had shrunk to a manageable size.


Later that night, Doug relayed his conversation with their lawyer, who didn’t agree with Mr. Frazier’s conclusions, but believed the boys could get some jail time, or at least fines and a lifetime listed on the sex offender’s registry. He grinned when he told her.

Milena’s heart beat in her throat. “You act like you never had underage sex.”

“You of all people should understand. How would your life have changed if that pedophile that preyed on you had been locked up?”

“This doesn’t say what you think it says. It’s something else. Low self-esteem, Daddy issues, I can’t be sure, but whatever it was, I promise you it had nothing to do with those boys.”

“So it’s my fault.”

Doug slid his veined feet into slippers and stalked out of the room. She wondered if he’d changed his opinion about her past, if she were now to blame.

When Milena retrieved Kasey for dinner, the girl’s eyes were swollen to slits. Blotches of pink surrounding her lips stretched her mouth into a thing with no borders. Kasey’s room felt foreign to Milena, like she hadn’t seen it in months. A bookshelf scattered with fiction mostly assigned by school. Animal Farm, The Things They Carried, Native Son. Heavily doodled notebooks. A pair of Converse (also doodled, resembling a yearbook page more than a shoe), a pair of platform heels, thigh-high boots. Lace underwear she didn’t recognize wadded into a ball. A Justin Bieber poster with a penis drawn in. She should’ve seen this coming.

“What did your friends say?” Milena asked.

Kasey sighed and pushed past her.

They’d ordered Thai and, seated at the dinner table, Kasey reconfigured her food, tucking her chicken into her rice and disemboweling her spring roll. Doug took Kasey’s hand and she climbed into his lap the way she had when she was little. Then she lost it.

He lifted her chin to meet her eyes. “I wanna help, but I don’t know how.”

Beautifully chosen words, and as Milena smiled, Doug reached for her, and a murmur of hope swished inside her.

Kasey swiped the back of her hand along her nose and sniffed. She looked away, probably wondering how a father might help with such a thing.

Milena scooted closer to them and ran her fingers through Kasey’s matted hair. She wanted to confess her past, to apologize for her role in this, but when Kasey turned those big, watery eyes on her, she froze. What if their shared transgressions didn’t console Kasey, but sent her over the edge? What if she didn’t want to hear about it or, worse, what if she did?

Milena struggled to keep her voice even, the discourse flowing. “Let’s focus on why this happened. How well did you know those boys?”

“Not well.” Kasey slid off her father’s lap and dropped back into her seat. She trained her eyes on the wall.

Doug made a triangle with his hands and rested his forehead against it. “Did they talk you into it?” His voice sounded high and stretched, like a man reaching for things outside his grasp.

Kasey’s eyes darted to her mother and she stilled, an animal sensing danger.

Milena steered the conversation. “Think about what you were trying to gain. Did you want to feel prettier? More accepted? Were you feeling rebellious?”

“Sometimes boys can hurt a girl,” Doug said. “And at first it may not seem like it.”

“They didn’t fucking force me, Dad.”

Doug pressed his fingertips into the table. “It can be hard to understand when you’ve been hurt.”

Kasey sprung up from the table, nearly toppling her chair. “It was all me, okay? ALL. ME.” She seemed to reconsider a dramatic exit and instead leaned on the table and hung her head.

“And how do you feel now?” Milena asked.

Kasey bit her lip and closed her eyes. “Gross.”


In their bedroom, Doug leafed through his closet, laying out a suit for the next morning. “What reason does she have to act out?”

“I don’t know.”

“What if there’s a baby or an STD?”

“Then we’ll deal with it. But she used protection.”

“I just hope this doesn’t screw up her life.”

“It’s a short-term screwing. She’ll graduate and never hear about it again.”

“But there’s social media. And the Internet. Those things don’t go away.”

Milena considered this. “I’m not saying it’ll be easy.”

Doug clicked on the TV and settled in to watch his favorite show.

Milena turned her back to the TV. “I’m thinking about telling Kasey. Maybe it would help her confide in me.”

Doug squinted at her. He left the TV on. “I don’t think you want to do that.”


He stole a quick glance at the screen, then patted the bed beside him. She crawled next to him.

“Don’t you think it would upset her?”

Milena swallowed raggedly, her mouth dry. “Our mistakes don’t define us forever,” she said softly.

He turned off the TV and tossed the remote onto his bedside table. Gathering the soft folds of her into his hands, he kissed her. “Of course not.”


Milena and Doug ate breakfast at the kitchen table. Milena, cross-legged in her chair, sipped a green smoothie and looked at the sunlight glinting from the forehead of a small jade Buddha in the middle in of the table. Like it was having an epiphany that might someday rub off on her.

Dressed in his suit for a day of futures trading, Doug shoveled cereal into his mouth and scrolled through his laptop. “You’re still not on Facebook?”

Milena shuddered at the thought. “Nope.”

“Kasey’s profile is private.”

“I don’t even think they use Facebook anymore. It’s something else now.”

“Do you remember what?”

“You’re not back to the names again, are you?”

Doug drank the milk from his bowl and placed it in the sink. “I’d feel better knowing who these kids are. I bet their parents know. I bet everybody knows.”

“You can’t cyber-stalk her.”

“She’s not telling us shit.”

“You could be making her a therapist appointment. You could be reading books or articles. You could be talking to her right now. And instead, it’s this.” Milena slammed her glass down with more force than she meant to use.

“I’m gathering information.”

“The wrong information.”

“Now you’re schooling me on appropriate behavior?”

Instead of hurling her glass against the wall or, say, Doug’s face, Milena rinsed it, attempting to steady her hands as she watched a whirl of residue gag the drain. “Turning on each other isn’t going to solve this.”

“But you let her do whatever she wants,” he said. “I don’t even think you see a problem with any of this.”

“Why don’t you just say it’s my fault.” She strode back to her chair but was too angry to sit. Doug continued to scroll and tap and before she could stop herself, she snapped his laptop screen shut. “Don’t fucking ignore me.”

He stood. “Grow up.” A moment later the front door slammed.

She was still staring at the door when Kasey shuffled in wearing a t-shirt that read, “Feed me and tell me I’m pretty.”

Milena didn’t greet her. “I’d like to know when you lost your virginity.”

Kasey groaned, plopping herself into a chair. “You don’t need to try to be my friend, you know. I have friends.”

“I can help.”

“What? Psychoanalyze me?”

Milena plucked an apple from the fruit bowl and sliced it thinly. “Sex isn’t love. It’s not respect, either. It won’t give you what you need.”

“Stop lecturing me. Can’t you just be my mom?”

Sixteen years of supposedly filling the role of mom, and she’d never even read the job description. Her throat tightened.

“Maybe it’s time for a curfew, then.”

“I’ve never had a curfew my whole life.”

“Things change when you get caught having sex with strangers.”

Kasey poured herself a bowl of cereal. Milena couldn’t see her face, but could tell she’d started crying.

Kasey slammed the refrigerator door. “Fine. I won’t have anyone to go out with anyway.”

Milena’s phone buzzed. A text from Sean: “Come to the set or you’re fired,” punctuated by a winking emoticon.

“A mistake is a mistake. But was it just a one-time thing?”

Kasey nodded and stirred her cereal.

“You don’t want to ruin your life,” Milena said.

“Does anyone ever want to ruin their life?”


Milena opened Doug’s computer to check the weather, but his browser showed a list of articles about a senior from Kasey’s school, Gallagher Astor. This is one of them, she thought. She squinted at the face beneath the caged Lacrosse helmet and tried to interpret it. Dark eyes, nice skin, Roman nose. Athletic and popular. Probably the kind of guy who partied hard, who hosted people at his penthouse every time his parents stole a long weekend in the Hamptons or Nantucket. The kind of guy who ignored a girl until the bottles were drained and the rooms began to empty. The kind Milena would’ve slept with once, searching for something in the encounter she knew she wouldn’t get. She snapped the cover shut, cursing Doug.

An hour later she exited a cab in Coney Island where Sean greeted her wearing a ridiculous plaid bowtie. The place was like something trapped in another era when carny kitsch was an attraction, when seaside resort areas were marked by Ferris wheels and vaudeville theaters rather than McMansions.

Sean squeezed Milena’s shoulder and winked. “I thought I’d never get you here.” A nearby cooler contained several airplane-sized bottles of champagne. Sean handed her one.

“I don’t drink.”

He crimped his face at her like she was insane. “You’re going to have an aneurism if you don’t lighten up. It’s just life, Lena. Enjoy it, would you?”

She tried to hand it back, but Sean refused. One by one, the crewmembers turned to watch. She was making a scene, when she only wanted to feel invisible for a few hours. To leave her house, transcend her brain, and hone in on something she was good at.

Sean sighed and shifted his stance. He was impatient, annoyed, possibly embarrassed. The idea that she’d systematically eliminated all pleasure from her life bloomed within her like an ancient truth. She hesitated, then popped the cork.

She hadn’t had a drink since she met Doug and became tipsy immediately. She tripped over a microphone and giggled like an idiot afterwards. Her shoulders loosened. Her nerves and muscles seemed to unfurl, a delicious sensation that almost tickled.

Sean introduced her to the leads. The actress chewed gum with her mouth open, hair pulled back in a ponytail, barely older than Kasey, and chattered on about music and how in high school she listened to Pop but was into EDM now. Last year she’d met David Guetta when she was “tripping balls” at Coachella and “hung with him” at a “fucking off the hook” after party. The actor tried to interrupt, but only managed a word or two. He smoked a cigarette, his mouth wetting the filter and tongue curling against the smoke. Milena laughed, pausing each time she glanced at the actor, whose face she’d transposed to Gallagher’s obscured visage beneath his Lacrosse helmet.

hollyhocks from the seed packet series by robert stickloon
Hollyhocks From The Seed Packet Series By Robert Stickloon

When filming resumed, Milena watched from a plastic chair close by. Each time the clapperboard snapped, the man and the woman changed everything about themselves; their posture, mannerisms, expressions. As if they’d received an electrical jolt, the man became more assertive, and the actress morphed from a gum-chewing child to a woman, seductive, her movements languid, her lips parted. She practically shimmered. If only real change was that easy.

The performance unsettled Milena, as if some delicate membrane separating fantasy from reality had been compromised and she no longer understood her own struggle. She got herself another bottle of champagne, knowing she shouldn’t, but no longer convinced it mattered.

Afterwards, Sean offered to drive her home.

“It’ll take you half the night this time of day,” she said.

“I insist.” He nodded toward a white trailer. “Let’s grab my keys.”

Milena knew why he wanted her inside the trailer. His keys were probably in his pocket. Still, she followed him.

He motioned for her to enter first. Her fingers danced above the door handle, toying with the feeling, the old sensations, being swept up in something larger than her, a gust of irresponsibility. She was conscious of the remorse then, conscious it would grow, conscious of its crippling power, and yet, she opened the door anyway. She did it all anyway.

During, he kept his eyes open, scanning her face, searching for hers, which were trained on the fluorescent lights overhead. The sofa, rough like burlap, chafed her back. The sound of water sloshing back and forth in a dispenser with each thrust, gave it the whiff of comedy, though Milena no longer laughed. Afterwards, he kissed her wrist and told her she was beautiful.


Milena walked Kasey to school for her guidance counselor appointment. It was the last day of her suspension.

“Maybe we should talk about next week,” Milena said.

Kasey pulled a leaf off of a tree and shredded it. “I just go back and take the abuse and try not to kill myself. I mean, I already know what people have been saying. They’ll just say the same shit to my face.”

“It’s all over social media.”

Kasey snorted. “Are you kidding me?”

“Can I see?”

Kasey crossed her arms. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

Her pace quickened. She was walling herself off, the iron latches of her defenses locked tight. It opened Milena’s heart in a way she hadn’t expected. With the imprint of Sean affixed to her, a film on her skin she couldn’t wash away, she felt the same impulse. Hide. Deflect. Run.

Milena blinked back tears. “People are called sluts all the time. They’re called sluts because they have big boobs or because they flirt or while they’re being raped. It’s not who you are.”

“Maybe it is. I got passed back and forth between two guys.”

“We are more than our mistakes.”

The school came into sight and Kasey took a deep breath, facing the entrance.

She yanked her off-the-shoulder shirtsleeves farther off-the-shoulder. “Let’s just do this. Okay?”

Milena waited on the worn oak bench beneath the founder’s picture. She didn’t want to stifle Kasey, or align herself with the mothers who were too much of a good thing. Who wouldn’t let up. Who weaseled their way into the places they were least wanted. And yet. She had to be there for her. There had to be a way her experiences could help.

Doug, who’d agreed to meet them, slid onto the bench next to her. They’d been avoiding one another since the fight.

He touched her knee lightly. “Sorry about how things have been.”

“Don’t be.”

He hitched her closer, his leg touching her leg, his eyes searching hers. “I shouldn’t have made you feel like it was your fault.”

“Please. Don’t.”

“I’m her parent, too.”

“Doug.” It was a prelude to so much more, yet saying what followed felt like too great a distance to traverse. And then Kasey emerged from the counselor’s office and Doug had jumped up, peppering her with questions. How was it? What did she say? Are there things we should be doing? Does she want to speak with us? How can I help? They’d gone from lovers to parents, from people to ideas. Or maybe they’d always been ideas to each other.

Kasey took a deep breath. “Can I just get a hamburger?”

They entered a burger joint around the corner and ordered milkshakes. Kasey talked about summer break. About how they’d go to their house in Maine again this summer, where she had different friends, a different identity.

Milena bit her cheek as she listened. She rung her hands, cracked her knuckles and cleared her throat. She had to tell them everything and refuse to let them dismiss the problem that didn’t go away no matter how she dressed or colored her hair or carried her yoga mat.

“I have to speak and I need you to listen.”

Kasey and Doug stopped talking mid-sentence and stared at her as though she was a stranger, as if they had no idea what she’d say next.

Kasey reached out to her, resting a hand on her shoulder and squinting with concern. “Mom, what is it?”

And Milena thought she saw a spark of recognition in her daughter’s eyes.




Michele Lombardo is a Pennsylvania-based writer of fiction and screenplays, as well as Co-Founder of Write Now Lancaster. Her work has appeared in Permafrost Magazine, Youth Imagination Magazine, The Journal of Crime, Law and Social Change, and others. She is a graduate of UCR Palm Desert’s MFA Program and is married with one daughter.
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