Submitted by Madeline on Sun, 05/15/2016 - 17:03

“Shower caddy and soap—”


“Desk light, pillowcases, notebooks—”

“Got it.”

“Socks, glasses case, portable radio, my quote mugs—”

“All present.”

“Okay…” Harper Little released a flap on the last cardboard box and watched it settle into place. Looking up, she grinned at her mother.

“What?” Vivian Little rolled a felt-tip pen between her thumb and forefinger. Her blue manicure gleamed against her pale skin.

“A shining personality…an exceptional mind…”

Vivian laughed and twitched her pen over the pad of paper she was holding. “You forgot your riveting eyes.”

“Right.” Harper let out a huff and smoothed the frizz down both sides of her part. “I’m a ten, I think.”

“And so humble.” Her mother laid the completed checklist down and stood up, reeled Harper in with a palm around her wrist, kissed her cheek. A mauve pair of lips were imprinted.

“Mom.” She pivoted into her private bathroom, a perk she was going to miss in about three hours. With dampened toiled paper, she rolled over the mark. The tissue broke off in white freckles, and she blinked at herself. Vivian was right about one thing—her eyes were exceptional. Beaming blue and effervescent, they had been drawing attention since Harper was a toddler. Waitresses said she should be a diaper model; teachers gave her extra pats on her shoulders when they filed out for recess; girls either fawned over or hated her, and the boys shied away.

Vivian leaned into the doorway, and Harper offered a wan smile in the glass. Her mother had given her everything else, it seemed—a knobby-kneed frame, milk-white skin, thin lips—but not those eyes. They were from her father, a man she’d never seen or met or even talked about, really. It was just understood that Harper’s eyes weren’t Vivian’s flat brown, and that it was perhaps the only perk to coming from him at all.

Harper thought about asking his name, as she had several times over the years. Now that she was moving out and into the world, her mother might feel nostalgic enough to offer the syllables. Were they two, or three, or four? Did he and Harper share letters? Was it a kind name, or a cold one—something like Richard or Gregory?

She didn’t even care to know his last. It wasn’t like after eighteen years of no connection whatsoever that Harper wanted to strike up a relationship. Vivian—she was enough. And Harper’s stepfather, Todd, and her stepsister, affectionately called Kirby.

It was all good, their family. Harper just wanted to put a name to the eyes.

Vivian’s head was tilted to the side as she watched her daughter, though, and there was such a warmth to her face. Harper couldn’t stomach the threat of draining it away. She lifted the corners of her lips further, so that they were at their thinnest, and Vivian copied. Then she picked up her toothbrush and squeezed a peppermint line across the bristles. She could wait another eighteen years.

In the car, they played The Cure while Vivian reminisced about her days at the college. Harper had somehow ended up at the same prestigious university, a stone’s-throw of forty-five minutes away. She was glad she’d be close to her family; she wasn’t one of those souls who strove to make every change as dramatic and exaggerated as possible. Anyway, Harper had grown up hearing tales of this school, of its beautiful quad and the historic buildings and the lake it bordered. Vivian had swam there with her gaggle of girlfriends and tanned on the lawn, and now Harper would, too. First she’d have to find some girlfriends, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

She propped her head up against the glass and thought about her mother’s euphoria in the days that they’d filled out the application and scoured over Harper’s essay. She was sure she wasn’t going to get in, not with her grades and scant extracurriculars—choir, yearbook—but then the letter had come. Admitted with a full scholarship. Both Harper and Vivian had cried.

It was a dream come true for Harper and a dusty one for Vivian, as she’d dropped out after getting pregnant with Harper her sophomore year. Her mother never spoke about it much, but Harper knew it had to be difficult as all communication with her college friends dwindled, and then the people themselves trickled away as they jetted off to new worlds and lives. Vivian stayed behind and raised Harper, met and married Todd, moved to a cute three-bedroom on a corner lot. She went back to school online and finished her business degree, then got a job at an accounting office.

It was a boring life. Harper sometimes blamed herself for that, so it only felt right that when application time rolled around, this university was at the top of the list. She had to try, for her mother. And she’d been able to give that to her. It was the greatest moment of Harper’s existence.

“Momma—” Harper stilled called her that sometimes, when she was feeling fuzzy.

Vivian broke off mid-anecdote and appraised Harper. “Yeah?”

“Sorry, I—” Harper shook her head. “I guess I just wanted to say thanks.”

“Oh.” Vivian twisted the volume knob down. “For what?”

“My life…” Her laugh was sandpaper. “You sacrificed so much—”

“Harper…no.” A glance revealed Vivian’s eyes had taken on a sheen. “I never gave up anything. You’re the best…” She cleared her throat. “Don’t ever think you’re anything but the best thing that ever happened to me. That I ever did. The best. I think about my life before you and it was—” She sniffed as the tears spilled over, taking one hand off the wheel to dab at them. “Gray. Harper, it was gray.”

Harper’s own face glistened wet. “I’m going to work really hard, Momma. I’m going to graduate with honors and I’ll tell everyone it’s because of you.”

“Oh, honey.” Vivian moved her hand from her eyes to Harper’s knee. “I just want you to be happy. That’s all. And not flunk out—preferably.”

They both laughed, weak sounds, but better than tears. “Okay,” Harper said. “I will. Not. I mean, I will not.”

“Good. That’s all you need to promise.”

They were silent for a moment. The Cure wafted back through the speakers.

“You know,” Harper offered after a moment, pulling her legs against her chest, “there’s just one thing I want you to answer.”

“Okay…” The word ended in wariness. Harper drew a steadying breath.

“Did you love my dad? Ever?”

Vivian’s forehead folded up. “Why does it matter?”

“I don’t know.” And Harper didn’t. She just wanted to hear Vivian’s answer. Maybe love made it better somehow. Maybe it made her right. “Could you please just answer? This one thing? And then I won’t ask about him again.”

“That’s…fine. You can ask me anything.” Harper knew this wasn’t true. But she appreciated her mother’s efforts. It was unspoken that they didn’t speak of the man who’d impregnated Vivian, who’d continued his college career while she left and started over, while visions of the future detached like the puff of a dandelion and floated away in clouds.

“So,” Harper ventured, her voice a hovering thing. “Did you?”

Her mother bit down on her lower lip. “No, honey, I’m sorry. I did not.”

Their exit came up, along with a sign that advertised the college. Harper studied the name and its letters. Hers overlapped with three. Maybe that was as much of him as she was ever going to get.

The dorm was a little cold. Harper tried to adjust the thermostat but it didn’t seem to work, so she texted space heater to her mother and put on a sweatshirt. A beat later her phone dinged with a cheerful reply: On it, punctuated with a smiley face.

She flopped onto her petite twin bed and imagined Vivian’s arms around her like in their parting hug, two hours after arriving. She was mostly unpacked, the room being so small that she couldn’t bring much. She had her books and her music, though, so that was fine. She sat up and put on The Cure.

Later was an orientation dinner after an address from the Dean. Harper was dreading that, having to go out and socialize when she felt so down. She’d promised Vivian she’d make friends, and an almost-obligatory function seemed a good place to start. So she ran some mascara over her eyes, and then wiped it off. She didn’t want to draw attention to them tonight. She just wanted to…be.

For a moment Harper wished that Vivian had given her everything, that she didn’t gloat any visible parts of that terrible man—because every time Harper met her reflection, she was meeting him. And maybe her eyes were the worst part about her.

Harper found the cafeteria abuzz with the chatter of five-hundred excited freshmen. Harper joined the meal line and accepted various bland-colored foods with a mousy thank you. She plopped down in an empty seat at an empty half of a long table and forked bites into her mouth.

After a few minutes, a girl took the chair opposite hers. She offered Harper a smile, which shifted to a grin.

“Whoa—are you wearing contacts?”

Harper shook her head. “No…”

“Wow. Your eyes are gorgeous.”


“Really!” She beamed and stabbed a leaf of lettuce. “I’m Jones.”


“Cute name. I go by my last. Technically my name’s Sharon but I hate it. So Jones.”

“Yeah…my last name is Little. So that wouldn’t work.”

Jones laughed. It was a trilling, happy sound. One that Harper could get used to. “That’s also cute, though. Harper Little. Your whole name is adorable.”


They talked a little more after that, exchanging hometowns and favorite movies and family details. Harper was just about to answer a favorite-band inquiry when the room suddenly resounded with microphone feedback. She straightened and turned her stare to a stage, where a grey-haired man was mounting the steps. He was hard to see from here, the lights glinting off his glasses, but he had a friendly smile.

“Good evening, class of twenty-twenty. And welcome to the best four years of your life!”

Students around the room set down their utensils to clap politely. He raised his own hands and joined them. When all was silent, he relaxed back on his leg. “My name is Charlie Hamberg. I’ve been fortunate to have thirty years here as Dean, and I’m sad to share that this will be my last.”

Boos went up around the room. He grinned.

“I know. I know. But I’m excited to meet you all. I’ll be coming around the tables here in a minute. But until then, I’d like to say a few things—”

Harper half-listened through the rest of his speech, which concluded to applause, focusing instead on finishing her food. She glanced up intermittently to follow his orbit around the tables. When he neared theirs, she quickly polished off the last bite.

“Hello!” Jones leapt to her feet to shake his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“And you too, miss—”

“Jones. I’m Jones.”

Harper sighed inwardly as she wiped off her fingers, then rose. She readied her own hand. In profile, she could tell this man was older—late fifties or early sixties, probably. He and Jones talked for a few seconds, and then he focused on Harper.

“Hello, Miss—”

“Harper Little.” Their hands met, and her breath caught as her heart stuttered in her chest. She squeezed tight and felt like she was going to be sick. He didn’t say anything, just met her gaze with the faintest of smiles. Harper couldn’t force her face into anything. She was too riveted by a pair of eyes, beaming blue and effervescent—his eyes.

Entirely her own.

Author's age when written

I wrote this for a short-story contest in which a lie has to be revealed! (2000 word limit!) Thoughts & critiques are welcomed. I haven't written fiction in such a long time, so it was lovely to sit and pen this today!


I loved this! I was hooked and drawn in immediately and read the whole thing effortlessly just because I was curious and invested. You're soooo good at doing that. And at structuring stories. I tend to waffle and struggle with set-up and tension-builders and conflict presentation, but you've got those down.

You painted her eyes so magically and made them such a "thing" throughout this whole story, without overdoing it. They sparkled before my vision the entire time -- "beaming blue and effervescent"!

I felt emotional when the mother told Harper her life was gray before she was born. To make someone feel emotional in a first chapter is a feat!

This was great: "For a moment Harper wished that Vivian had given her everything, that she didn’t gloat any visible parts of that terrible man—because every time Harper met her reflection, she was meeting him. And maybe her eyes were the worst part about her." That made me feel involved (though many things did before this part, too); made me root for her and want her to see this issue resolved. I feel so curious.

Class of 2020!! I was class of 2010! GAHHHHH.

And then --




I legit got shivers all over my body as I read the last line. Is this a short story? You could end it right there. My goodness. Wow!!

...Oh, wait, just read your note. It is a short story. That's awesome!! Ugh, I feel so betrayed by that guy, almost. Mostly because of his friendly smile. I like that you had him far away, so of course she couldn't see his eyes.

I loved her mom, too, by the way. You really set up their dynamic and the guilt Harper has and the love her mother has for her. I hope Harper finds her own path (not just making her mother happy, however kind that is) and that she can learn to love her eyes because they're her own!!

Awesome piece of fiction :)

....And wait, you just sat down and wrote this today?!?!!! What! Whoa. It just came out all so complete. Though I guess sometimes that happens. But still -- that's impressive!! It's very evenly paced and well-rounded.

I think what makes this story magical first and foremost is your style of writing! Just like Sarah Bethany said, you have such a skill of grabbing the readers attention in the first few lines and then keeping them pulled into the story throughout the entire thing!
Secondly I would have to say the realness, the overall relatability was what really made this short short story come to life! I really did get emotional at the "gray" part as well, and that is definitely special since I just met Vivian and Harper and couldn't possibly be connected to them yet.... But you made me connected and it was beautiful!!!
I love the way you write, "her laugh sandpaper" is probably one of my favorite descriptions between dialog, that is.... That's just fabulous!!!!!
And the end... Oh my word the end!!!!! I did not see that coming.... AT ALL!!! It was brilliant, it made my heart race! I literally felt like I was as horrified as Harper must have felt... Well, maybe not that much! The whole plot escalated sooooooo well, absolutely perfect!

I did see a come miss-spelled or missing words but I'm afraid I can't help ya out and find them :( haha! Not that it took away from the pleasure of reading this piece at all!

I really enjoyed this piece, and definitely would like to see more... Please! Haha!

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
Write On!

I did think of one thing (whilst lying in bed last night, haha).... did the mother not know the dean still worked at the college?
But maybe that's not something worth worrying over, because I didn't think of it at all until hours later... so I don't think it's a technical story problem...

First of all, thank you ladies. Like, so much! What kind words to receive! Your comments made me smile and grin and do an internal fist-pump in the air, because I'm glad the twist was unexpected. I don't typically write twists into a lot of stories, so I don't have a lot of experience with them. I'm glad this one came off well!

And Sarah, first, YAY--you were thinking about it even later?! That's a compliment in and of itself! And that's a really good question--I've left a lot of this open for readers to come to their own conclusion, and several things are implied. Like Harper gets not only into the college, but a full ride; that's probably related to the Dean. A little nepotism, at its finest! ;) But of course nobody knows, not Harper, and--I think--not her mother. Maybe she thought he had left. Maybe she knew about him retiring and thought it'd be okay. Or maybe they've been talking and they were in agreement for him to leave Harper alone. It could go a number of ways, and since I stopped the story there I haven't really decided which one it is!

I really, really appreciate that you have thought about this, though--that's so encouraging to me! :) Thank you SO MUCH and I hope my jumbled response helps a little!

Maddi, I got so excited to see you post fiction. I clicked on it, and saw it the bar was very short...I thought, huh? Is this an excerpt? I hope not! So I'm so used to reading such long stories of yours!
I agree with Sarah Bethany that the beginning just drew me in. It was a wonderful way to start! Especially with not telling who's talking, and why they're listing things.
Again, your style is so enjoyable. You are so talented. One thing I noticed about your style is you do things like this: “What?” Vivian Little rolled a felt-tip pen between her thumb and forefinger.
In between dialogue, you add the actions of the character, which makes it more life-like. I loved how you seamlessly introduced the problem of the absence of her father, and especially the part, "she could wait another eighteen years" and the part where you talked about cold or soft names. I think writing this in 3rd person is a good choice.
Then finally the eyes. Your ending kind of a surprise, kind of not. I just knew the dean would be related, but the way you said it "Entirely her own" - that was SO well-put! It made me want so badly to know more! Fills me with resentment ( "How could he smile?" ) and happiness for her satisfaction. That is good emotions you brought out from me in 2000 words.
However, I would have never thought it was a story in which a lie has to be revealed. Are we supposed to interpret the lie? Whether it could be her mother, her father?
Also, this story lived on for me even after it finished. I re-read it, and was so happy it was the dean's last year. I was like Sarah Bethany, thinking about it in bed. I hope hope you win!! And like Sarah Bethany, can't believe you wrote this in one day!

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Megan, you are SO lovely! Thank you! <3 I always love your comments. Thank you for pointing things out as well. It's food for me! LOL! About the lie, in true fashion to myself, I'd switched the prompt around in my head and remembered it incorrectly as "in which a secret has to be revealed" when it was actually a lie. :P So I just went ahead and kept the story, because Harper's father's identity was kind of a lie by omission. hahaha! :) Thank you so much for saying all you did, and the fact that you thought about it afterward--that means so much! It's good to hear from you!

Yay, I can always count on getting a quick response from you!
You're welcome, I had read this a few days ago, and couldn't wait to tell you. :)
And yes, it's been awhile, but a little secret of mine: I always check apricotpie, even though I don't always comment.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I thought about the lie as well...and what I came away with is that her acceptance into the school on her own merit turns out to be a lie. So I don't know if that's the case, but as the reader I guess I just came to my own conclusion :P

"Here's looking at you, Kid"
Write On!