! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Megan!Brothers! ENG!391! Final!Portfolio! !

Self Interview Megan, you’ve just published your first collection of stories, how does that make you feel? —Frustrated, not relieved. As a writer, I never feel that my writing is completely “done;” there is always room for improvement. I could continue writing, tweaking, and re-writing these stories for months—maybe years, and probably will. That does sound frustrating, but also rewarding. In your short stories, I noticed that you often explore the topic of love. Why love? —I think love is a topic that has presented itself to me in many different ways over the years. My best friend is engaged, my roommate has been through numerous guys and is just now figuring out that she was in love with her best friend from the beginning, my other roommate is obsessive about the failures of relationships, I lost my dad to cancer almost four years ago, and I’ve watched my mom struggle with relationships and feeling that desire to be needed, and I have been dating my boyfriend since I was a junior in high school. Love has always been an interesting subject to me because it is so abstract and differs in meaning for every single person. So I enjoy investigating the different forms of love and what it can do—and means—to a person. So since love is such an interesting subject in your life, do you use your own personal experiences as inspiration? Your stories seem autobiographical at times. — “The Girl in the Mirror,” came from a low point during my sophomore year where I met this guy who lived in the same dorm as me. We would spend hours talking and hanging out, watching movies, etc. Meanwhile, my boyfriend of three years went to college three hours away. To make a long story short, the relationship I developed with

this guy progressed and it really put a strain on my romantic relationship. Though I never actually cheated on my boyfriend like Ally—and no, I’m not saying that just to make myself look good—I did experience the temptations of almost crossing the line and I guess in a sense, I wanted to explore how having an indiscretion would have felt, had that happened to me. Maybe that’s too much information, but regardless, it was great inspiration for my story. —As for “Happiness,” it sort of came from a personal experience as well, but not nearly as much as “The Girl in the Mirror.” Since elementary school, my parents were friends with this family in our neighborhood and their son was my age; we did everything together. However, once high school hit, I realized how much I actually liked him, but never really did anything about it, for fear of “ruining the friendship” or whatever it was that I was afraid of. That feeling directly relates to the main character, Daniel, as he realizes his feelings for Riley, as it’s too late. However, in tying back to the topic of love, I really wanted to convey this concept of “unconditional love”—even though Riley was with someone else, Daniel was ok with it because she was happy. I never experienced that feeling—more just the rage and jealousy of seeing my guy friend with another girl— but, again, I guess I enjoyed exploring those emotions through different characters. —So while my stories may seem autobiographical on the surface, it was merely the feelings—or lack of feelings I guess—that I experienced in those situations that inspired me to write them, not the actions. In “Happiness,” you write from the perspective of a young man, was that difficult for you as a woman?

—As I expected, it was tough at first. When I first started writing, I found that Daniel sounded a little gay because I put too much of myself, as a woman, into his character, but as I started to learn about Daniel and Riley, I realized that love is a universal and sexless language. A man can stare at a woman and watch her hair blow, just as a woman can enjoy watching a man doing something like potting plants; its beautiful regardless of what sex you are. So now when I read it, I don’t find him flamboyant, I find him romantic—a hopeless romantic at that. You changed the titles for both stories, why? —I think it all came down to really getting to know my characters—what made them tick, how they would behave in certain situations, etc. While “The Promise”—now “The Girl in the Mirror”—was powerful and liked by my classmates, many people complained that it lacked characterization. By adding the part towards the end about Ally feeling naked, looking at herself in the mirror, but not really thinking it was her, it shows a deep internal struggle that is relatable to the audience. As for “Happiness,” the entire story changed when I did my revisions. “Juggling Desires” had no direction and no story, but “Happiness” transformed into a way I wasn’t expecting, which always excites me. What was the writing process like for “The Girl in the Mirror?” —When I was writing “The Girl in the Mirror,” I really liked the setting of having Ally on a plane. We did a writing exercise in class that explored that setting and it sparked a story in me—I literally wrote the entire story in one sitting, within like two hours—it was pouring out of me like lava. What about the writing process for “Happiness?”

—“Happiness” gave me so much trouble. When I sat down to write it the first time, I had no direction and no real inspiration, and as I started writing, found too many similarities between the two stories. So after having the class evaluate it, I started to work on it again and literally canned the first draft and started over. Mind you, it took me three days and five new documents to finally get a story nailed down. I was relieved to get past even the first two pages and have a real sense of direction for my story. Overall, what is the most important thing that you learned from writing these stories? —I have had so many professors and teachers tell me that you have to just write and let the story go, where the story wants to go. I thought that was bullshit—how can you write about something and not have a clear path in mind? It’s like wandering into the woods without a GPS. However, through this writing process, I really learned to contradict my skepticisms. With the first drafts of both stories, I did way too much thinking and parts of the story seemed forced or unnatural. However, once I let my mind wander with the pen in my hand, and really allowed myself to almost lose control of the story in a sense, I was really surprised at where they ended—which is a defining characteristic of life; we don’t know where we’re going, or how we’re getting there, we just end up there. Thank you for sharing these answers with me. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future. Thank you!

Megan&Brothers&Exercise&#3& She&stared&at&the&coat&in&her&closet,&hanging&lifeless&next&to&her&bright&pink& ballerina&tu<tu&from&when&she&was&younger.&The&coat&was&100%&authentic&fur,&and& had&the&perfect&balance&of&black&and&white.&She&reached&out&to&touch&it,&her&fingers& seemingly&sinking&into&the&black&spot&closest&to&her&hand.&It&felt&soft&between&her& fingers,&smooth&like&silk.&But&as&she&touched&it,&she&suddenly&wasn’t&45&years&old,& touching&an&old&coat&made&of&Dalmatian&fur;&she&was&six&years&old&in&her&parent’s& house&on&Christmas&morning.&&& She&sat&anxiously&by&the&overly&decorated&Christmas&tree,&counting&all&the& gifts&that&were&hers.&There&was&a&tall&box,&which&ended&up&revealing&a&golf&club,&a&gift& from&her&father&in&attempt&to&get&her&more&involved&with&sports.&There&were&a&few& small&ones&that&revealed&earrings&from&her&mother&and&a&necklace&from&her&father.& Just&as&she&was&almost&completely&buried&in&Santa&Clause&wrapping&paper,&her& parents&brought&in&another&box.&It&was&shiny&and&red,&and&covered&in&the&kind&of& material&you&can&see&your&reflection&in.&It&had&a&big&gold&bow&on&top;&she&could&tell& this&one&was&going&to&be&special.&She&tore&into&the&box&with&more&enthusiasm&than&all& the&others&combined.&Inside&was&something&she&had&never&expected,&but&had&always& wanted:&a&Dalmatian&puppy.&The&puppy&jumped&from&the&box&and&licked&her&face& with&aggression.&& Over&the&years,&her&and&the&dog,&which&she&later&named&Patch&because&of&the& patch&of&black&over&his&left&eye,&grew&close,&as&many&only<children&do&with&their&pets.& Her&parents&were&gone&most&of&the&time&during&the&day.&She&wasn’t&sure&what&they&

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But&what&if&you&want&more.&What&if&you&want&to&break&from&the&traditional& “you”&and&embody&someone&completely&different&for&a&night?&What&if&you&want&to& turn&heads&and&show&people&that&you’re&not&that&geek&from&high&school&anymore,& with&braces&that&played&the&tuba&in&the&marching&band?&What&if&you&want&to&find&a& hook&up,&a&fling,&experience&a&onePnight&stand?&You’ve&got&the&perfect&friend.&She’s& the&one&who’s&always&got&the&stories.&Stories&from&high&school&where&she&went&all& the&way&in&her&parent’s&car,&or&the&first&time&she&really%kissed&a&girl,&or&that&time&last& semester&where&she&was&so&drunk&and&woke&up&with&three&guys&in&her&bed.&She’ll& pick&out&a&dress&to&impress,&that’s&for&sure.&It’ll&be&red,&or&maybe&gold;&gold&with& silver&sequins,&something&that&is&bound&to&stand&out&against&the&conservatives&and& the&blenders.&It’ll&be&strapless&and&tight,&accentuating&your&every&beautiful&curve.&It’ll& be&low&cut,&showing&just&enough&cleavage&to&keep&the&boys&guessing.&It’ll&be&short.& The&kind&of&short&where&bending&over&is&not&an&option,&there&won’t&be&much&left&to& the&imagination&in&this&dress.&& You&love&the&way&this&dress&makes&you&feel&like&you’re&an&angel&in&a&demon’s& body,&or&an&innocent&girl&sneaking&out&of&her&parent’s&house&to&go&out&with&your& college&boyfriend&who&smokes&weed&and&drinks&tequila.&You&get&a&rush&of&rebellion& from&just&putting&it&on&your&body.&You&have&a&strong&urge&to&shop&lift&or&steal&a&car.& You&touch&your&body,&rubbing&your&hands&all&over&the&curves&you&never&thought& could&look&so&good.&You&touch&your&breasts&and&close&your&eyes&and&imagine&for&a& second&that&your&hands&are&someone&else’s.&You&outline&your&hourglass&figure,& turning&around&and&looking&in&the&mirror&one&last&time&at&your&ass&in&the&dress.&You& smile&with&a&devilish&grin;&this&is&the&dress.&&

Megan Brothers- Short Exercise #5 Dialogue from my fist short story (and then some) 1. Aiden: “Hey! Lets go get your bags! How was your flight?!” They walked hand in hand from the gate to the baggage claim area and waited for her suitcase. 2. Aiden: “You’re quite.” 3. Ally: “I’m tired. It was a long flight.” They spotted her suitcase and both reached for it. Aiden looked down at Ally’s hand. 4. Aiden: “Where’s your promise ring?” 5. Ally: “I took it off going through security, I didn’t want them to hassle me about it. You know how security is now a days.” 6. Aiden: “Wearing a ring isn’t going to set off the security alarms, but alright, if you say so.” 7. Ally: “Can we not fight already? I just got here.” 8. Aiden: “Ally, I’m not fighting with you, I just want to know where your ring is and why you aren’t wearing it.” 9. Ally: “Its not a big deal, I take it off all the time to shower and make my bed, so why is this such a huge deal?” 10. Aiden: “It’s a big deal because it’s a promise ring, a promise to be faithful and committed, and you’re not wearing it. What am I supposed to think?” 11. Ally: “Aiden, I just forgot to put it back on. Can we please get out of here and catch up? It’s been forever since we were in the same place together.” 12. Aiden: “Yeah, come on, you’re right. I’m probably just overreacting.”

Translated dialogue: 1. Aiden: “Hey! It’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you! Lets get your bags so we can get out of here” They walked hand in hand from the gate to the baggage claim area and waited for her suitcase. 2. Aiden: “Something is wrong. What’s the matter? 3. Ally: “I slept with Nathan a month ago and I can’t even look at you; I’m so ashamed.” They spotted her suitcase and both reached for it. Aiden looked down at Ally’s hand. 4. Aiden: “Is there a reason you aren’t wearing your promise ring? Did something happen that I need to know about?” 5. Ally: “I’m just making an excuse so I don’t have to tell you why I’m not wearing it.” 6. Aiden: “That’s not really a valid excuse. You’re lying to me.” 7. Ally: “Here we go again. I’m not even in town for 5 minutes and we’re fighting.” 8. Aiden: “Why are you getting so defensive? I just want to know where your ring is. Now I’m worried that something did happen.” 9. Ally: “I don’t wear it every second of every day. That doesn’t mean I’m unfaithful to you…even though that is the truth.” 10. Aiden: “It’s great to know that you don’t think it’s a big deal, but that ring is a symbol of our love and you took it off. Now I know something is going on. What did you do…why aren’t you telling me?” 11. Ally: “I’m making one last attempt to make this situation seem less severe than it really is. I’m changing the subject.”

12. Aiden: “There is definitely a reason you took that ring off, and it wasn’t to get through security, or to take a shower. You’ve been unfaithful. But for the sake of this conversation, I’m going to let it go for now. Dialogue from “We Didn’t” 1. Gin: “She was pregnant. I mean, I don’t want to sound morbid, but I can’t help thinking how the whole time we were, we almost- you know- there was this poor dead woman and her unborn child washing in and out behind us.” 2. Narrator: “Its not like we could have done anything for her even if we had known she was there.” 3. Gin: “But what if we had found her? What if after we had- you know, what if after we did it, we went for a night swim and found her in the water? 4. Narrator: “But Gin, we didn’t.”

Translation 1. Gin: “We were about to have sex. I was worried about getting pregnant. That could have easily been me if we had actually had sex-dead, drowning in the water with my unborn child.” 2. Narrator: “We didn’t have sex anyway. Why are you so freaked out about this woman? This stuff happens all the time? 3. Gin: “Yeah, but this happened to us. This is a sign or something from a higher power telling us not to do this or we’ll end up dead and washed up in the ocean.” 4. Narrator: “You are nuts.”

The Girl in the Mirror Sitting on the plane, in the middle seat as always, I started getting anxious for the flight to take off. I felt the little redheaded girl sitting next to me staring, so I finally turned and asked what her name was. Excited, she responded with Briana, and continued talking. She told me that she was nine, and that she was flying by herself for the first time to meet her daddy in Virginia, that he was going to take her to the White House, and then they were going to go to dinner. She told me she didn’t get to see her dad a lot because her parents were divorced but said that her favorite part about being away from him—if there was one—was the moment in the airport where they first see each other. I smiled at the incredibly genuine statement. Finally, the flight attendants came on the intercom and announced that the doors were closing. My anxiety increased. I immediately felt trapped. My heart started to flutter and I adjusted the air above my head so it would blow harder. I wasn’t nervous to fly, never had been. I had been flying since I was two years old, but this was the first time I was ever genuinely afraid of my destination. As the plane roared on the runway, tipped back for takeoff, and lifted into the air, I felt Briana grab my hand and squeeze. Like a leech, she didn’t let go until we hit cruising altitude. “What’s that noise? “Why does my head feel so heavy?” “Are we going to flip over?” she asked as she dug her hand into mine. I told her to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth, to slow her breathing—something that always helped me when I was scared. After she finally let go

of me and had stopped talking long enough for me to get a word in, I grabbed my ear buds and iPod and told her I needed to relax. She understood and turned on The Wild Thornberry’s Movie on her portable DVD player. I concentrated on my breathing. My heart rate slowed and I put a blanket over my now-cooled body. I closed my eyes, but didn’t dare to sleep. My mind wouldn’t allow it. Something had been troubling me for a couple weeks—two weeks and five days to be exact. But it was one of those things that I couldn’t bare to think of in my mind, let alone speak it out loud, because as soon as it formed into a definable image in my head, there was no escaping the reality of it. In an attempt to distract myself from the thoughts roaring in my head, I listened to some calming rainforest sounds on my iPod—I started daydreaming, my mind drifting to thoughts of Aiden. He had “mystery eyes” as I called them because they were sometimes brown and sometimes green. His smile beamed, white teeth, and mostly straight, except for one stubborn tooth that wouldn’t correct itself with braces—he hated it, I thought it was endearing. We had been dating since junior year in high school. We had math together and he always sat next to me—which I thought was because he wanted to cheat off me— but later learned it was because I smelled like peaches and could always be my partner if he sat right next to me. One day, he left a note in my math binder after I went to the bathroom. It just said “call me”— no number. The next day, he came into class with a green button down shirt, a tie, khakis, and boat shoes—different from his usual athletic shorts and a t-shirt—and smelled strongly of Joop! cologne, something my dad often wore. After a week of the weirdness, he came into class with shorts, a t-shirt, and no cologne again. When I finally asked him what was up he said, embarrassed,

“I did all that stuff to get you to notice me. And it didn’t work!” I smiled at him, which made him mad. “WHY ARE YOU SMILING?” I realized all along that I liked him too. I kissed him on the cheek as the bell rang and said, “I like you the way you are.” When we applied to colleges the next year, I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew my name; he wanted the exact opposite. He went to George Washington University and I to University of Denver. College put a massive strain on our relationship. Where we used to talk on the phone every night for hours, he would forget to call, or fall asleep without saying goodnight. He got involved in a fraternity and was too busy with that and his school work to Skype me during the day. We still talked, but it wasn’t significant— I told myself it was just because of the distance. As we talked less, I became lonely, desiring a companion, a male. A few weeks into our freshman year, I met a guy named Nathan who lived just down the hall from me. Nathan was on the shorter side, with dirty blonde hair that fell right above his eyes and had a crooked smile that I couldn’t help but swoon over during the day. We met at an “ice breaker” social event during the first month of school where I accidently shot him in the nuts with a high-powered water gun. After making sure he was ok, we went back to the dorm and changed into dry clothes. We ended up talking for hours— about the pink rubber bracelet he never took off in memory of his mom who died of breast cancer, my battles with depression when my brother got sick, my relationship with Aiden, and Nathan’s lack of lasting relationships with girls.

Our relationship grew stronger throughout the year, to the point where I often found myself thinking about his crooked smile, or the way he said my name with his slightly southern accent. I would often miss phone calls from Aiden because I was “doing homework”—really, I was with Nathan. After a few months of white lies and a growing wedge in our relationship, I told Aiden about Nathan. It didn’t go well. He was jealous of Nathan, and told me that the only reason he was nice to me was because he was trying to “get in my pants.” The plane hit turbulence as we flew over Nebraska. Briana grabbed my hand again. I smiled at her and told her to breathe. Unfortunately my coping method was not helping me anymore. I tried to find shapes in the cotton-ball clouds, but they were too dispersed to make anything of them. I tried switching the songs on my iPod, but nothing was helping. The more I thought about Aiden and Nathan, the more the one thing I had been trying to avoid for weeks was coming back to the surface. It was impossible to escape. I couldn’t evade it any longer.

I had had an affair, two weeks and five days ago.

Some friends of mine and I rented a cabin for the weekend in Aspen for our “winter break.” Me, my best friend Kelly, our friend Jess, their boyfriends, and Nathan hopped in the cars and drove to Aspen. We spent all day barreling down the freshly covered mountains at The Blue Fox, drinking hot cocoa in the lodge, and building snowmen with obscene extremities on the bunny slope. After spending the entire day on the slopes, we all headed back to the cabin

and unloaded our things. Nathan came into my room as I was unpacking and lay spread eagle on my bed. I put the last of my sweatshirts in the closet and sat down next to him. He looked at me and asked how Aiden and I were doing. I looked into his eyes, then immediately at my hands, and played with the ring on my finger. “I don’t know,” I said. “Things are weird right now…and ever since I told him about us, he’s just been tense. I really don’t want to lose him though…I wish he could just meet you, then maybe he’d lighten up.” “I don’t think meeting the guy who’s trying to ‘steal his girlfriend’ is at the top of his list…unless he wants to beat the shit out of him. I am trying to get in your pants though, so he might be on to something there,” Nathan said, smirking, laughing. Later that night, the boys had gone out to the grocery store and bought some beer for the night. Us girls started dancing in the center of the room to the thunderous music, trying to get the guys to join us. Nathan gave in and immediately grabbed me by the hand and twirled me into him, putting his hands on my hips. After dancing for a while, “Lollipop” came on; his hands moved from my hips to below my belt, pulling me closer to his lower body. His face was in my hair. I could feel him breathing in my ears and on my neck. When the chorus came on, he whispered the lyrics in my ear. My body tingled. I spun around, pressing my chest to his. His hands were now on the small of my back, his mouth not even centimeters from my own. Our breathing was heavy and smelled of Bud Light from the few beers we had from earlier. I pushed him against the wall, my hand between his pecks, our lower bodies smashed together. He looked at me, his eyes undressing me slowly. I moved my hands from his pecks, up around his neck and got close to his face

again. I stared at him, watching his lips. He mouthed the words “kiss me,” and bit his lip. My body pulsated. Standing on my tippy toes, I pressed my parted lips to his ear and whispered, “Follow me.” I took his hand, crept to my bedroom, and locked the door behind me. When I turned around, he took my face in his hands, putting stray pieces of hair back where they belonged. His face was close to mine. He leaned in and closed his eyes. Without thinking, I lunged towards him, our lips meeting in the center. His kisses were soft. He slid his tongue along my bottom lip, my top lip, teasing me. He moved from my lips, to my cheek, to my neck—the sweet spot. He pulled me towards the bed, lay me down, and started unbuttoning my shirt, revealing my breasts, dressed in black and pink lace. I pulled his shirt off and reached for his pants. He pulled away and looked at me. “Ally, what are we doing? You’re with Aiden. We can’t do this.” “Nathan…Ugh…I know…I know…but you know how sick I am of all the shit he’s putting me through…” “Then dump him, Ally. I don’t know why you’re still with him anyway. Call him right now and break up with him. I’m not going to help you cheat on your boyfriend.” “Nathan, I can’t. He’s on a camping trip; I’m not going to be able to get a hold of him… I’m so sick of being put on the back burner. I need someone to hold me. I need to feel important…I want this and it didn’t hit me until you asked me why I was still with Aiden a few weeks ago. I’m so sick of him hurting me. I’m done…you’re right, I am only hanging on because we’ve been together for so

long…I’ve had feelings for you since the first day we met…and my feelings for him are nothing compared to what I have for you now…Nathan…please…” A long silence followed, his eyes boring holes in my own. Eventually, he forced a grin out of the side of his mouth. I smiled back and licked my lips, undressing the rest of his half-naked body with my eyes. He pulled me closer, stared at me for a second, then gave in. He kissed my lips—subtly at first, barely touching them, but gradually more—his tongue playing with mine in my mouth. His hands grazed my body, hovering over my chest, as if asking for permission to touch. I grabbed his hands, placing them on my breasts. He opened his eyes for a second, staring at me. I smiled. He unbuttoned my pants, slid them off my narrow things, and threw them across the room. The next morning I woke up in Nathan’s arms with my pajamas on, but suddenly I felt completely naked. The guilt I felt when Nathan and I first started getting close was tripled in that moment as I stared at the sleeping body of my affair. I looked around the room and caught a glimpse of a mirror on the other side of the room, my pants hanging from it. I saw a girl who resembled me, staring back, but there was no way she was actually me. That girl wouldn’t have slept with a man who wasn’t her boyfriend. Nathan stirred in his sleep. Tears trickled from my eyes as I stared at the girl in the mirror. Nathan heard my whimpering and woke up immediately. Without asking, he grabbed me and pulled me close to his warm, bare chest. It felt comfortable and safe, which made me even more confused. After I stopped crying, I told him I felt weird about what happened the night before, that I was really confused— I had intoxicating feelings for him, but had something left for Aiden too. Nathan apologized for making things confusing, but told me that he wanted it to happen, not how it did obviously, but he

wanted me. He said that when I told Aiden that he wanted to be there too, to take some of the blame. I stared at him, falling deeper in love with him at every word that fled from his crooked mouth. The wheels of the plane touched down on the runway, throwing me in my seat. Briana looked at me and we immediately resumed chatting. When we parked at the gate, I grabbed my backpack, hugged Briana, and got off the plane. As I stood in the waiting area, I saw a family welcoming a student home from a study abroad trip with balloons, Briana’s father picking her up and swinging her around, a couple kissing—I felt sick. Just as I was sure my lunch from the flight was going to come hurdling out of my body, I heard Aiden’s voice from across the terminal. He was waving and running towards me smiling, exposing his white mouth and crooked tooth. I couldn’t help but smile back. “HEY!” Aiden screamed when he finally put me down after picking me up and squeezing me. “Hey yourself!” I said, smiling. We walked to baggage claim, talking about the flight, his hand in mine. After hoisting my bag off the carousel, he picked me up squeezed me again. After letting go, he took me by the shoulders, his firm hands holding me tight. He looked in my eyes and said, “Look, I know things have been rough between us lately, really rough. But I want to make it up to you; I don’t care how long it takes. In the mean time though, as I make up for all of my screw ups, I need your help with a big decision.” I had no idea what he was talking about until I turned around to see that he had stopped walking. He was next to the baggage claim sign, down on one knee, a shinny, diamond, engagement ring in his hand.

“Happiness” The summer before our senior year at UNC, me and a bunch of my good friends rented a beach house for the week to celebrate surviving our junior years, landing internships, and managing to still have a social life. Noah, Braden, and me invited three of the girls that we had all become pretty close with over the years. On the morning that we were leaving, Riley, Addison, and Chloe brought down two duffle bags each, backpacks, snacks, water bottles, and beach gear—we just stared at them, trying to figure out where the hell all of their stuff was going to go. I got behind the wheel of my burntorange Wrangler; Riley and Noah hopped in too, fighting over shot gun as usual—Riley won after sitting on his lap and shoving him out of the seat. Defeated, Noah packed up all the duffle bags and squeezed in next to them in the back seat, propping his feet up on the coolers of snacks and water bottles. I waved to Braden and the other girls as we pulled out of the apartment complex. With the top down, the sun baked our already tan bodies and the summer breeze pumped through the Jeep, warming our bodies like the heat in our old dorm rooms. Riley grabbed control of the music, plugging her iPod into the auxiliary jack. She turned on a song from Rise Against, my favorite band, and started belting out the lyrics. Riley and I had known each other since high school—she moved in the summer before freshman year. Her house was right across the street from mine. However, hers, having been just recently built, was in much better condition than my 20-year old house. Mine was peeling at the paint with a few missing bricks and a hanging shutter that no one bothered to fix because it was at the back of the house where no one could see. When we saw the moving trucks in the front yard, my mom immediately started baking a lemon

pie, her specialty, and was shoving it in my hands to take over to the new neighbors before I even had a chance to process what was happening. I went up to the house— which was originally lived in by an old (more like ancient) couple from Germany who only came out of their house to check their mail—and rang the doorbell. A girl who looked to be about my age opened the door. “Hey, my name’s Daniel. I live across the street and my mom baked this pie as a house-warming gift for your family. Looks like we’re going to be neighbors.” “Hi! I’m Riley. Thanks for the pie; it looks wonderful. Do you wanna come in? It would be nice to get to know someone before school starts in a couple weeks,” she said, with a smile that made the sunny, August day seem even brighter. I walked into the house and went straight to the back yard. We sat on her back porch on some flimsy lawn chairs and she poured me a glass of freshly made lemonade. We made small talk about the weather and her dad’s job. She told me that she was going to be a freshman in high school, and moved to North Carolina, from California, because her dad was retiring from the Army— she secretly wanted to move there because she had always wanted to go to UNC. For whatever reason, talking to Riley was so easy; we instantly clicked. She told me about her dreams of becoming a marine biologist—she wanted to work with dolphins in the wild, not in captivity—of her relationship with her father and how she wished he had been there during her younger years, her dog, Chester, who died a couple months ago, and her nervousness for starting high school at yet another new school. The air started to cool and the sun was setting behind the tall trees on the horizon. I heard my mom yelling my name from across the street to come set the table for dinner. I

stood up and stretched—the lawn chair wreaked havoc with my back—and held out my hand to tell her goodbye. Instead, she pushed my hand away and gave me a tight hug. I walked around her house, waved goodbye one last time, and felt a smile creep onto my face as I walked away. Something about her made her special. After driving for a couple of hours, we stopped to get gas and go to the bathroom at Sheetz. Riley hopped out of the Jeep, her legs jiggly from sitting down for so long, and grabbed my hand for balance. “How is it that you’re always there to catch me if I’m falling? She asked. “I don’t know I said, I guess I’m just that good.” I said and laughed. She was right though; somehow I was always there to catch her, metaphorically or not. In high school, a bunch of jocks made fun of her for being an Army brat—their dad’s were in the Marine’s. Without thinking, I stood up to them—all 150 lanky pounds of me—and got the shit knocked out of me. I had a black eye for two and half weeks and had to go to the emergency room for a broken nose. Even in college, one night after apparently drinking too much Cuervo, I heard her in the hallway stumbling for her keys to her dorm room, followed a puking sound, and then sobbing. I threw my door open to find her lying on the floor with her face in her purse. I picked her up and took her to my room and laid her on my bed, sponged the vomit off her face, and gave her a big t-shirt of mine to wear for the night; I slept on the floor so she could have my bed. We finally pulled up to the beach house just as the blue sky had started to bleed red and orange—and in good time too, Riley had started nagging Noah about his music choice; Noah about his lack of space in the back seat. We unpacked the Jeeps and headed

into the house. The walls of the living room were painted shades of blue, like the waves, and the suede couches were khaki colored. Each room had a different theme—one was a sunset and had pastels painted on the walls, another was underwater life and had sea turtles and dolphins as murals on the walls, another had lighthouses, and the kitchen was decorated with all kinds of shells. Around the back of the house was a white balcony with chips in the paint from the sea breeze. After claiming the underwater life-themed bedroom and unpacking all her things, Riley went out back and stood on the balcony, looking out at the ocean, the pastel sky. I saw her from my window—her long hair, the color of vanilla and strawberries, was blowing in the nighttime gusts, swishing against her bare, tanned back. Her white dress was flowing. She stood with her legs crossed, her hands cupped together over the balcony. I had every urge to run up behind her and put my hands over her eyes, making her “guess who,” or to walk up behind her and hold her around the waist, sticking my nose in her soft, flowing hair, and whisper tender words in her ear. I didn’t understand why. Over the next few days, we relaxed on the beach, tanning our nearly naked bodies and playing in the freezing Atlantic water. We built sandcastles near the water’s edge, making moats to protect them from the treacherous waves. We drank beer from the coolers and snacked on corn dogs and Slurpee’s. As the week went on, some of the friends ended up pairing up as couples and going off and doing their own things. Noah, Addison, Riley, and me went down to the pier on the fifth day we were there to watch a guy catch sharks off the pier. I wanted to teach the girls how to fish, so we went back to the house in search of our tackle boxes—Addison went with me, Riley

with Noah. While I was digging through my Wrangler, trying to remember where my other fishing pole was, I heard the faint sound of Riley’s distinct laugh. I poked my head up, looking for her. By the other Jeep, I caught a glimpse of Noah standing with her. She was leaning up against his Jeep, one leg bent behind her, placed on the tire. Her hair was damp from the ocean, ratty from the salt. She was wearing her orange bikini with pink flowers on the boobs. She was twisting her hair around her finger and biting her lip, smiling at Noah. He had one hand above her head, placed on the Jeep, and the other was playing with the diamond necklace Riley always wore around her neck. “Daniel, what exactly are you doing?” Addison said with impatience in her voice. I bumped my head on the top of my Jeep and jumped down, remembering that the other pole was probably in Noah’s Jeep. I told Addison to take the tackle box and my fishing pole down to the pier and that I would be back in a minute with the other one. I crept over to the Jeep, listening to the conversation they were having—I heard her mention her growing relationship with her dad, and how her classes at UNC were really helping her get into marine biology. I stopped, remembering the conversation we had when she first moved into my neighborhood. I thought I was the only one that she talked to about that stuff; I thought I was special. Ignoring their conversation and the fact that they were standing there, I started digging through his Jeep, searching for the other pole. “Daniel, dude, what are you doing?” “Do you know where the other fishing pole is? I was going to teach Riles and Addison how to fish off the pier.”

“Uh, actually, me and Riley were gonna go downtown to this awesome seafood restaurant tonight for dinner, we were just talking about what time we wanted to go. But, uh, I think the other pole is in the house…by the cooler in the living room I think.” I felt my face getting progressively warmer; my jaw clinched as the words left his mouth. I didn’t understand the escalating feelings of rage and aggression that were bubbling inside of me like an active volcano. I ran in the house and grabbed the other fishing pole, went to the pier, and set them up. I found myself getting frustrated with Addison when she was too grossed out to put the worm on the hook, or too weak to actually reel in the fish when she hooked it. I tried to be romantic, holding her from behind and reeling the fish in, her hand under mine, but all I could think about was Riley’s string bikini, the way she bit her lip and smiled at Noah, the way he fingered the necklace that fell perfectly between her cleavage. After one last, failed, attempt to catch a fish, I stormed back to the house and jumped in the shower in an attempt to calm myself down. The hot water beat my naked body and I felt my rage boil up and out. Thankfully, the rest of the night played out better than expected. Braden and me grilled salmon for the girls and ended up playing Frisbee on the beach until the sun set below the tranquil waves. Addison, Chloe, and Braden went back to the house to shower and watch a movie; I stayed on the beach, walking back and forth, watching my footprints disappear in the damp sand. I heard the faint sound of Noah’s Jeep pulling up the gravel driveway— contagious laugh pierced through the still air. I started back towards the house and saw Riley coming down to the beach. She waved and ran over to me, tripping slightly in the

sand. She asked how my night was and said that her dinner was phenomenal—I bragged about my marvelous grilled salmon. She giggled. We were walking towards the water talking about classes and how she liked them and how her relationship with her dad had progressed since he was retired now. In a quiet moment, I felt a surge of confidence pulsating through my veins. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with sea breeze and infatuation. “Riles, there’s something I gotta tell you, something that’s been becoming more apparent to me in these last couple days that I’ve spent with you…I really…” Before I could finish my sentence, Noah came barreling towards her, picked her up from behind, spun her around, and fell to the sand— her tone, muscular body lying limp on his tan, shirtless chest. Her dress had flown up upon impact with the ground, but she giggled and touched Noah’s face with her hand, tracing his few freckles and pushing his bangs out of his eyes. I stood there awkwardly watching them touch each other and laugh, appalled at the fact that the one moment I had gathered the confidence to say something to her, got ruined. I pulled her dress down over her exposed ass, and walked up the hill back to the house. In that moment, I wondered what was wrong—why I was jealous of Noah; did I have feelings for Riley? How long had I had them? If I had feelings for her, why didn’t I do anything sooner? I sat in the dark on Riley’s bed in the underwater room, staring at the dolphin mural that was barely visible from the light of the moon. I knew everything about her, or so I thought I did. When did someone else come in and steal that away? I pulled out my wallet and the picture of Riley and me at graduation that I kept with me all the time. I had

picked her up and was holding her in my arms. Our noses were pressed together and we smiled big, toothy grins at each other. I guess I kind of always felt something for her, I just always thought it was because we were good friends. I stood up and went to the window. The moon was full and shining bright in the violet sky. On the beach, I could see Riley and Noah walking barefoot on the sand, her hand in his, her head resting on his shoulder as they walked; the smile on her face was as bright as the moon above. I closed my eyes and turned around, taking slow, deep, breaths. I pulled back the covers of her bed and fluffed the pillows twice. I filled a glass of water and put it on the dresser and turned on the lamp on her nightstand. I looked one last time at the picture in my wallet, then at the two walking hand in hand on the beach. She was happy, and that was all that mattered.

Megan Brothers (Exercise #6) Subquatico is your typical suburban neighborhood. Homes are similar in design, cut out of the shame shell if you will. They all have paste colored exterior walls, exactly six windows, and each plot of land boasts the same kind of landscaping, abundant and green. The sun shines dimly on the town 365 days of the year, resembling that of a flashlight with a nearly dead battery. Our town is different from other suburban neighborhoods. Not in its design, obviously, but in something else. We happen to live 50,000 feet under the sea. We drive vehicles, just like the people on land do, but here, we have completely eliminated the need for gasoline or oil—we have transformed the carcasses of whales and sharks into public transportation vehicles, complete with seat belts, headlights, and air-conditioning. The most exciting part of our colony however, is that it is almost completely secret. We fly under the radar of all CIA and FBI transmitters and are far too deep to de discovered by Nat Geo or Discovery. However, being that we are the only colony living down here, we have to travel to the surface to work and go to school—keeping our secret is no easy task. One day after school, I was walking to the parking lot to be picked up by my dad to go home, when Collin, my boyfriend of only a couple weeks, stopped me in the hall and asked if we could grab dinner after baseball practice. I nodded and walked with him to the field and sat on the uncomfortable, cold, metal benches, cuddling beneath his letterman jacket. I watched him in his tight pants, playing in the dirt, waiting for him to get done. Every time I looked at my watch, I had the feeling than an anvil was being dropped in my stomach. I had never stayed on land longer than a normal school day, and

though I had heard stories of things that happened to our neighbors when they got stuck at work for longer than expected, I found them hard to be true. When baseball practice was finally done we headed to the local seafood restaurant. The restaurant was a typical, misconstrued picture of what the ocean actually looks like beneath a certain depth—angler fish with light bulbs on their heads, plants with no colors—it was all false, but I rest my case. We sat at the table, his hand laced in mine, and we talked about the plans we had for college the next year. Collin wanted to be a professional baseball player—I laughed to myself as I remembered him missing numerous ground balls at shortstop during practice earlier. I told him I wanted to be an oceanographer—for reasons he would never know. Collin ran to the bathroom and our food was delivered; I immediately dug into my lobster and crab cake dinner. But something strange occurred as I dipped by fresh lobster into the steaming, liquid butter. I felt a prickling sensation starting at my feet and then moving up my entire body, resembling what falling into a cactus probably feels like. My hands were turning green, pink, and purple, and my arms started to mirror the paintings of the deep-sea fish on the walls. My legs went numb; I felt like I was stuck in a giant Chinese finger trap. In an attempt to calm myself down, I tried to take a deep breath in, but my lungs didn’t seem to want to cooperate. A searing sensation occurred in my neck. Along my carotid artery, I felt something bumpy, gills. I looked under the table to figure out why my legs were numb; fins had replaced my feet and legs. I was turning into a mermaid. Collin came back from the restroom and stared at me, baffled and mortified. The waitress, unfazed by my appearance, came to our table to fill our drinks—she complemented me on my outstanding Halloween costume.