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Shannon Schuren lives in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, with her husband and three children. She works at a child care center and finds writing in her spare time both emotionally rewarding and a great way to avoid cleaning her house. Her short stories have appeared in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, The Chick-Lit Review, and will appear in the upcoming Ultra-Short edition of The Binnacle. Her first novel, How to Host a Ghost, is available through major online bookstores.


Shannon Schuren

            There was a knock at the door and I raised my head over the side of the couch to observe the man on the other side of the screen. He was cute. Taller than I’d expected, his hair blonder, longer. Dressed in pressed khakis and a polo shirt, he looked like he was going to a barbecue, or maybe a soccer game. He certainly didn’t belong here. But then again, neither did I.

            I waved him in and sat up, tugging at my halter top.  The coarse twill fabric had pressed faint lines into the moist skin of my belly as well as my cheek. I knew because my fingertips brushed the unfamiliar ridges as I pushed the hair back out of my eyes.

            “You must be Fish.”

            He grimaced. “Actually, it’s just Allen now. And you must know Chelsea.”

            “She’s my roommate. I’m Paige.”        

            “I smell pizza.”

            The house smelled like unwashed bodies and stale beer, but as a man he maybe wasn’t capable of such a fine distinction. I shoved the half-empty pizza box toward him with my foot.

            He slid out a lukewarm slice of pepperoni and ate it while standing, the flickering Budweiser sign above his head casting a neon halo.

            “This can’t be your place,” he said, after swallowing and wiping his chin with the napkin I offered.

            “Our lease was up today. And our new one doesn’t start until tomorrow. So we had no place to go, until a friend of Chelsea’s cousin offered us his couch.”

            Allen eyed the ratty piece of furniture. “Nice guy.”

            I shrugged a shoulder. “It beats sleeping on the street. Almost.”

            His smile crinkled the corners of his eyes.

            “So, you and Chelsea used to date?” I’d known Chelsea for almost a year, and I’d interpreted ‘date’ to mean that Allen had bought her food, either before or after they’d wrestled naked on the futon in his dorm room.

            The smile faded to a flush, but he didn’t answer. “Where is she, anyway?”

            I snagged the remote and turned my attention back to the television. “They’re at the Library. She wants you to meet her.”

            “And you graciously agreed to stay behind just to give me the message?”

            “She was going to leave you a note, but we couldn’t find a pen.” My gaze raked the pile of beer cans, overflowing ashtrays, crumpled napkins, and empty CD sleeves for emphasis.

            “Seriously, why aren’t you at the bar?”

            “The bouncer and I have an understanding. I don’t come in, he doesn’t have me arrested.” I felt his gaze but refused to look up, keeping my eyes glued to Paula Abdul as she bounced across the set.

            “How old are you, anyway?”


            “Ah, nineteen.” His smile was dreamy, as if remembering fond years long past.

            “I suppose that makes you much older and wiser.”

            “Wiser, maybe. At least according to my diploma. Older . . .yes.”

            “You graduated?” I glanced at him with renewed interest. After one year of college, my own freedom was still so far in the future that his made him even more appealing. “Chelsea didn’t tell me that.”

            “Tonight is my last night in town.”

            “Well, then you’d better get going. You don’t want to miss her.”

            And I didn’t want to have to think about the two of them together.

            “How about one drink? To toast my new career.”

            I wavered. Chelsea had been so excited about seeing him that she had been practically vibrating with anticipation. But that hadn’t kept her from going to the bar, and leaving me alone in some stranger’s roach-infested apartment to wait for her date. Again.

             I pulled the half-empty bottle from underneath the couch.

            “I’ve got schnapps.” I poured two warm shots into plastic beer cups, which we clicked together.

            “To new beginnings,” I offered.

            “And new friends.”

            “That remains to be seen.” I downed the shot, the warmth of the peppermint burning a trail from my lips to my belly.

            “Why are you still here?”

            Allen grasped the bottle by the neck, swirling the liquid slowly around as he watched it undulate within the glass. “You’re not missing anything. The bars, I mean. Trust me.”

            “I know,” I lied, watching his slender fingers rotate the bottle.

            He hesitated, and the liquor splashed up the sides as he broke his momentum. “Drinking until you’re stupid so that you can go home with some stranger, only to wake up and vomit the next morning. Half the time it’s not even the booze, it’s the desperation.”

            He met my gaze and then looked away, setting the bottle onto the table with a sticky clunk. “Most everyone’s gone home for the summer. Besides, what kind of a degenerate would I be if I ditched you for some cheap shots and loud music?”

            “The usual kind,” I muttered.

            I cranked up the volume on the television and poured another shot. “But I can do loud music, and the liquor’s free.”

            “My kind of party.”

            “So, tell me about you and Chelsea. Are you guys getting back together?”

            He shook his head. “Chelsea is . . .uncomplicated. And I’m leaving in the morning.”

            “So you said. Just what is Allen Fish going to do to make his mark on the world?”

            “I’ve got a job offer from an investment bank in Milwaukee.”

            I raised my eyebrows and poured him another. “Impressive. I’m pre-law,” I added, holding his gaze as I handed over the shot.

            When he downed it, I pulled him to his feet.

           “I love this song.”

            We swayed to “More Than Words,” his body pressed against me. I tossed my hair and let it fall around him, confident that it was at least the cleanest thing in the room. As I rested my chin on his shoulder, inhaling the sweet scent of peppermint and musk, I could feel his scruff against my forehead as he mouthed the words.  When he reached the chorus, I pulled back and belted out the words along with him, not caring that I was off-key.

           His laugh caught me off guard. So did the kiss. Lips brushing, tentative then purposeful, searching, exploring, wondering. He tasted like peppermint and pepperoni, freshness and spice, newness and heat.

          “If only,” the kiss seemed to whisper.

          Entranced, I barely registered the slam of the screen door, almost didn’t have time to push him backward. As he stared in puzzled astonishment, I mouthed a single word.


          And then she was there, laughing and breathless, hurling herself into his arms. "Fish!"

          I moved aside, eyes riveted to the matted carpet as Chelsea began kissing him with drunken abandon.

            "Let's go upstairs," I heard her whisper. "Derrick said we could use his room.” She pulled Allen forward, tossing a careless "Thanks for keeping him warm for me," over her shoulder.

          I locked eyes with him, my face carefully blank. I had tasted promises in that kiss, an invitation for the future, a hint of secrets still undiscovered.

          That kiss had been worth much more than words.

          “Come get your graduation present, Fish.”

           Allen’s smile was blurred by my unshed tears as he turned and followed Chelsea up the stairs.

            But the song had it wrong. Sometimes words were all it took.






More Than Words