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Coming Fall 2018

Snippet from In the Details

Unedited and subject to change.

May, 21 AGC

Jackhammers and the beeping of dump trucks blended with the purring of car engines in rush-hour gridlock. Marching down the sidewalk, oblivious to all the noise, thanks to the mighty-and-all-that voice in her head was a girl—no, a woman, dammit!—carrying an empty cash purse in a tattered Texas State University tote bag. She frowned meanly at the world, partially to warn those passing her against engaging her in conversation, but also because her Father was being especially chatty, and it was the last thing she needed after a long day of work that wasn’t yet over. 

I ought to report him to … whoever regulates banks.

FOR WHAT, HONESTY?

No! You were there. You saw it. You honestly see nothing wrong with him withholding my receipt until I smiled for him?

HE WAS RIGHT, THOUGH. YOU ARE MUCH PRETTIER WHEN YOU SMILE. IT IS A UNIVERSAL LAW.

That’s not the point! Ugh! Why do I even try with you?

BECAUSE I CREATED YOU THAT WAY.

A car horn honked right next to her on the congested street. She knew that honk. It wasn’t a you-changed-lanes-without-signaling honk or a the-light-is-green-you-fucking-idiot honk or even an I’m-so-angry-I-just-need-to-be-loud honk. No, the precise duration of this one told Jessica McCloud it was directed at her. She knew that instinctually. However, the driver clearly hadn’t thought it through, and now, as she glared at him in stand-still traffic where his anonymity was blown, he looked away from her quickly and slunk down in his seat slightly. 

See? I don’t need to smile to draw the attention of creeps. 

The exchange with the bank teller was especially infuriating because, in the moment, her incredulity levels had been so extreme, she couldn’t properly yell at him when he’d held the receipt for her It is Risen deposit just out of her reach, cocked his head coyly to the side and said, “Uh-uh-uh…” playfully like this was a game they regularly enjoyed together. In her surprise, she’d resorted to her feminine default of placating the other person, of not rocking the boat. She’d even giggled! And when he’d named his price—a smile for the receipt—she’d actually done it. Because she needed the damn receipt so she could get on with her exhausting day and make it back to It is Risen in time for the meeting. 

I could just smite him.

SEEMS A LITTLE EXTREME.

I don’t literally mean it. It’s just that …

YOU’RE MAD AT YOURSELF. THAT IS CLEAR. 

You’re right. And that’s so stupid! He’s the one that was being a jerk. 

IT’S NOT STUPID. IT WAS YOUR FAULT YOU SMILED. 

Um. I think I’m done talking to you. 

“Change, miss?” hollered a homeless man crouched on a narrow, partially shaded stoop, wearing way too many layers in the Texas summer. 

Shit. She’d forgotten to bring a handful of change from the bakery with her. Or rather, she had, but she’d deposited it all without leaving anything for the walk back. Wendy Peterman wouldn’t like that if she found out. 

Jessica grimaced apologetically. “Sorry. I got nothing on me.”

“Thanks anyway,” said the man, and Jessica paused in her progress, one foot hovering above the ovenlike cement. She stared at him, observing the deep wrinkles of his sun-damaged skin. 

“You’re welcome.” And now she really did feel sorry she couldn’t help. There was no “you stupid whore” tacked on the end of the gratitude. And if she wasn’t mistaken, this was the most polite interaction she’d had all day. She wanted to stop and speak with the man more, but she didn’t for a couple of reasons. First, she didn’t want to push her luck with the niceties. But mostly, she didn’t have the time to spare. Not today, when Wendy was driving all the way from Dallas to chat. 

The publicist had been kind enough to allow Jessica some time to get the bakery up and running before requesting another strategy session. Not that Jessica’s overwhelm wasn’t still at a ten out of ten. Running a business was so hard, it might actually be one giant mistake, though she wasn’t ready to admit that yet. Instead, she told anyone who asked that it was “deeply gratifying.”

Maybe it was for the best that Chris was—

Another car honked, and she flipped the driver the bird and kept walking.

Maybe it was for the best that Chris was all the way across the country. From their conversations, neither had much time for anything other than their new job and the bare minimum hours of sleep each night to remain lucid. 

Granted, in the month and a half since her party at the bakery, her definition of lucidity had grown rather relaxed. Just the other day she’d sworn her miracled image on a sugar cookie had winked at her. She was so sure of it that she’d yelled at God for screwing with her when she was already on the edge. He’d denied the whole thing, of course, but for once, His denial sounded genuine. 

The large metallic sign for It is Risen came into view down the block. A flash of pride in seeing her creation was quickly bludgeoned into the fetal position by her fear of failure, the never-ending list of responsibilities, and, somewhere in the fray, getting its fair share of licks, was the knot of guilt in her stomach every time she remembered Miranda marching out of the party after discovering Quentin’s secret and the part Jessica played in the deception. 

She still wasn’t sure what the right course of action would have been. Should she have outed Quentin as an angel? 

IT’S ALMOST LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO DECIDE WHICH PATH YOU SHOULD HAVE TAKEN.

No. That’s definitely not it. I’m done with paths. There are no paths. Life is just a random assortment of an infinite number of decisions that are in no way predetermined. Every moment determines the next, but none are set.

DID YOU JUST GET A LITTLE NAUSEATED THINKING OF ALL THAT RESPONSIBILITY?

No. She was lying.

AS THE LORD AND CREATOR OF ALL THINGS—EXCLUDING, YOU KNOW, THE REALLY AWFUL STUFF—I DO FEEL IT IS MY DUTY TO INFORM YOU THAT WHAT YOU JUST SAID MAKES NO SENSE. 

That was because she’d made it up on the spot. She still wasn’t sure how it might work philosophically to refuse to follow a path set out for her; she only knew that she was firmly anti-paths. Maybe if she ever got to take a weekend off, she’d give it some serious thought.

Opening the front door, and meeting the blast of air conditioning with an appreciative moan, Jessica allowed herself a moment. 

“There you are,” came a nasally voice to her left. 

She groaned, recognizing the speaker immediately. It was Dennis. Or maybe Darius? No, what was his name … He’d dropped it into their overlong exchanges enough times that she should remember it. 

He grinned at her from his cafe table as she stepped inside and let the door shut behind her. His notably small hands clutched his coffee mug that he would probably refill two more times before they closed in two hours. 

“Hi,” she said, trying not to grow annoyed with how greasy he kept his stringy hair.

“I was wondering if I’d missed you today. What’s a day without Jessica? Heh.”

She forced herself to grin at him and promised that would be her last for the day, then she marched over to the register to tuck away the empty cash purse. 

Destinee McCloud, who was perched on a tall stool behind the counter, indulging in a chocolate chip muffin while no customers needed her assistance, nodded at her daughter and spoke around a mouthful of mush. “Have a good walk?”

“Yep,” said Jessica. “It was deeply gratifying.”