Darren's pizza burger never tasted better. It was "cheat day", earlier that morning he had run twelve miles in just under two hours, a personal best. It was something he had been working at for the last month. Was Darren training for a marathon? No. Was he training for a triathlon? Absolutely not. Darren was just a black man in his early forties living the real American dream. Working for himself. He was a swim instructor of well-to-do children. All of his clients currently live in Beverly Hills and Bellaire. Darren is also an actor. He and his wife Chanda had made it out to Los Angeles in 2016 with their hopes of becoming movie stars. Though it hasn't happened quite yet. Maybe a co-star or two or a slight guest star appearance here, a commercial there, but not noticeable enough to be recognized on the street, or the Whole Foods store in which Darren is currently enjoying every succulent bite of his pepperoni and cheese pizza burger. With every bite, he relished with glee knowing his run earlier that morning would burn every calorie he's currently consuming. With every bite, Darren was compelled to hum his favorite video game song from Nintendo's Ghost 'n Goblins out loud but he didn't want to embarrass himself or have everyone in his presence think he was out of his mind.

There was something plaguing him though. Even though Darren had come to the end of his perfect pizza burger, he knew what awaited him in the hours to come. He thought of how hard he had worked to get to this point of contentment in his life. He often wondered about everyone who in his time of need, desperation, and self-pity had loved him harder than he had loved himself one year prior.

"If you want to build your self-esteem you need to do esteemable things," echoed in his brain. Even during his run earlier that morning this quote floated around in his head. He couldn't rid the thought. Maybe that's why he was able to break his record. Maybe he wondered if he ran himself to death he wouldn't have to show his face tonight. He'd have a good enough excuse not to make an appearance. The thought of, "I'd rather be dead" crossed his mind. "But that's crazy right?" would also enter almost immediately. Of course, it was crazy, and at the same time, she would enter his mind.

Keena, he couldn't shake her, nor at this moment could he shake the feeling. Keena, that beautiful 14-year-old girl who came out of nowhere the moment Darren dropped his juiced carrot drink onto the gear changer inside of his car one year ago today.

Keena was a straight-A student with the whole wide world ahead of her. Though never socially accepted by her peers, she managed to avoid being bullied. She had never kissed a boy but she was crushing on Randy Chatmon -the new kid-, and was thinking of shooting her shot today. Keena was the first person to speak to him when he took his seat on his first day.

Keena -in the past- use to like Jamie, and not only did she like him, she was head over heels in love with him for the last five years from middle school through junior high. What killed Keena the most was that Jamie knew and he still went out with Nadia. Nadia, Keena's worst nightmare. She'd have vivid dreams about Jamie and Nadia's wedding day. Forget prom, forget college, forget everything, she'll never have children, she'll never kiss a boy, life ceased to exist, and so her life was over, until Randy Chatmon or "RC" -what she preferred to call him-walked into her life.

Keena had awakened that fateful morning and had convinced herself that she was going to ask RC to take her to the Homecoming Dance. She knew he had just started attending the school one week ago and she had done her best to stay in his presence the entire time he had been there. Additionally, she had picked up on the signs that he must've liked her cause he walked her home yesterday, -so she felt- Randy's home was on the way but there was no way she was going to leave this to chance!

She wore her favorite necklace that her now-deceased mother had given to her two months before she succumbed to breast cancer. This necklace was a physical reminder that she'd always be with her and that she'll protect her wherever she went. She put on her best outfit, one that her entire class already knew was her favorite, except Randy. She wore her favorite perfume, Bvlgari, did her hair, and darted out of the door.

It was 7:15am, Keena knew that Randy would be headed in her direction soon, but he seemed to be running a little behind this morning and a terrible thought ran across Keena's mind, "Is he sick?" she wondered "oh no" she thought, she was going to waste this best outfit today and if Randy is sick, she can't wear the same clothes tomorrow! This thought terrified her so much that her stomach filled with acid which forced her to run back inside and grab a quick drink of water to set her mind at ease. Subconsciously she felt like she was pulling the ultimate magic trick. She thought that if she ran in the house and came back out he'd magically appear and all would be saved.

Keena filled her glass halfway and then decided that a full glass would be enough time for her to drink it down to give RC a chance to get down the street in a timely manner. Afterward, she would finally ask him to Homecoming. She drank the water so fast and swallowed so hard that it caused pain in her chest. She very quickly grabbed her bag and made way for the door. She peaked through the window and to her delight saw Randy's head. "It worked!" She thought. Her heart pounded one million miles a second, the lump in her throat grew so big that it forced her to breathe through her mouth. This was it, her moment of truth. She reached for the door handle and slowly opened the door. What was revealed was as earth-shattering as her worst nightmare. There she was with "her man", kissing him! Amber, from Freemont High. "That Bitch!" She thought. It never dawned on Keena that Randy Chatmon could be interested in other women from a different school. She stood there speechless not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The kiss that only lasted for a split second seemed like an eternity to Keena.

Off Amber went to Freemont High. Randy looked after his love giving her a final wave and when he was done turned to Keena and spoke,

"Hey, you ready to go back to the Hellhole?" Heartbroken and floored she spoke,

"I'll catch up with you a lil later, I have to wait for my little brother- who was sleep-but I'll see you there." Randy was disappointed but resigned and replied,

"Ok I'll see you there." and off he went.

Further and further Randy walked until she could no longer see him. Keena's sadness turned into a blind rage. "Oh I could just kick something!" she thought. She spotted her brother's giant red ball that laid on their front lawn. Keena approached it and with all of her rage and blindness kicked the ball so hard and fast that it almost hit Mrs. Noorwood their next-door neighbor. Luckily her reflexes were alive and well that she was able to move out of the way and allow the ball to land in the middle of the street.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry Mrs. Noorwood!" Keena pleaded.

"Oh dear, it's fine," Noorwood uttered.

"Oh my god that was totally not like me I'm sorry." Mrs. Noorwood grinned, and with her all-knowing sense countered,

"I used to be the same way when I didn't get the guy I wanted. But then I just thought, eh their loss." Mrs. Noorwood laughed and went on her way. Keena paused and thought, "She's right." No longer defeated she still had to get her brother's ball. Keena walked towards the other side of the street but her journey was interrupted by an out-of-control 2015 Toyota Rav 4.

The force of the Rav 4 hit Keena so hard all she felt was a pinch, her body was flung like a ragdoll, her head was smashed on a neighbor's car-a 2019 BMW- her arm was fractured in five places, her leg was snapped like a twig, and when she landed, she bounced off the ground the same way her brother's ball did when she kicked it. Mrs. Noorwood would only stand in shock as she witnessed the horrific event. Powerlessness is what she felt as tears continuously fell from her eyes. There she lied, there was no more breath for Keena, no heartbeat, no first kiss, no life, and no love, no earthly love. Her soul would leave her body and Keena was now reunited with her mother.

Darren suffered a bruised sternum and a slight concussion, but he was blessed/cursed with the opportunity to live. But it wasn't easy. Darren suffered the PTSD of accidentally killing what was a promising young woman, on her birthday. He lost his job, his sense of self-respect self-worth, fervor for life, and ultimately tried to kill himself. He was unwilling to forgive himself until everyone -even Keena's father and extended family- came to visit him in the hospital. He would undergo grief counseling, life counseling, and he would soon learn what God's love truly is.

It wasn't too long ago that he received a letter in the mail from Robert, -Keena's father- that came in the form of an invitation. It read:

Dear Darren,

I really appreciate you inviting me and my family to your grief counseling meeting. I was surprised when they said you were going to be speaking that night and telling your story of what you suffered. And I couldn't help but think of how different we must be because you are still living, and my angel is gone. But after hearing you speak I realized that we are actually the same. When Keena passed, I felt and thought the exact same things you did, and when you mentioned that you felt you had nothing to live for, I felt that way too. But when you talked about you having so many people and so many things to live for, I got that too, cause I couldn't imagine leaving my son here to fend for himself. So I just want to thank you. I still forgive you. I would like to invite you to Keena's birthday party. It's not going to be anything big, just a small something with the people that cared about her and some of her classmates and family. I'd like to think of you as like family and I'd be happy if you came.



When Darren read this he cried until there were no tears left.

He knew his presence was requested and he learned through his sessions that when he's asked to show up somewhere, he should be there. This didn't mean Darren wasn't nervous, or apprehensive, or reluctant at first but after he came to his senses, he obliged.

Hours later Darren would arrive at Rob's home. With Keena's birthday card in hand, each step he took closer and closer to the house sent a knot tho=at would grow tighter in his stomach. Adrenaline filled his body all the way down to his knees. His heart pounded. If there was ever an indicator that he was alive, this was the moment. The lump in his throat grew with every step. Darren had finally made it to the door. Paralyzed with fear Darren wiped the sweat from his brow, controlled his breathing, and worked up enough courage to knock on the door. When he did so, he was finally greeted with a smile.

May 14, 2021 08:06

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08:19 May 18, 2021

Quite a story of redemption! You’ve created some very likable characters here. As for a critique — show, don’t tell. The narrator does a lot of over explaining when dialogue or description could do it better. Break up large paragraphs to increase readability. Watch comma splices. This short story covers a lot of ground. Maybe focus on one plot point and expand on it—really bring us into the scene. You’ve got a talent for this! Please keep writing!


12:06 May 18, 2021

I agree with every point except one. I really like that it has a lot of plot points and I feel like they all come together nicely in the end in this case.


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Ethan Henry
12:45 May 18, 2021

Thank you for your feedback ill keep plugging away.


14:04 May 18, 2021

Daniella makes a good point in that writing is so subjective. I think the most important thing is to write like yourself. You have a great style and I look forward to reading more from you. :)


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12:02 May 18, 2021

You’re an incredible storyteller. This made me cry. Well done. 😊👍


Ethan Henry
12:46 May 18, 2021

Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I'll keep at it.


23:12 May 18, 2021

Please do. 😊


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