Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Proud (1040 words)

More than anything, Margaret wanted her son to be a good man. She was the sort of person to wish on stars and clovers and right-side-up pennies, and she had made thousands of wishes over the last twenty-five years. She made so many wishes, found so many lucky things to hang them on, that each one was barely more than a stray thought that had turned into a want. She only realized the desperation of the want when she heard herself repeating it again and again.

Please, let him be a good man.

Please, let him be a good man.

Please, let him be a good man.

Her wishes had always been too light in her pocket to bother counting, but if she had, she knew that this one repeated desire would make up more than half of the ones she carried. A thousand feather-light thoughts rolled up into a stone worn smooth as she worried it in her pocket. Whatever edge it might have had when she first said it, was gone, and it rolled off her tongue as easy as a breath. As necessary as a breath.

Some days, when luck didn’t appear as often as it should, it was her only wish. If she got two, then she would ask time and fate and God to let her see him again.

Sometimes she passed men on the street and thought they might have her nose. She always watched them pass her, wondering if she should ask their names. But how could she ask a stranger on the street if he had been adopted as a baby?

Sometimes the phone rang, and as she reached for it, she imagined that it might be his voice on the other end, deep and rich as his father’s.

But she never imagined that it would actually be that easy.

“Is this Margaret Stanton?” he asked.

And she shifted the phone to rest between her ear and shoulder while she flipped through the handwritten pages of borrowed recipes. She knew that casserole was in there somewhere. “Maggie, yeah,” she said quickly. “Who’s this?”

“Uh,” he said, laughing quietly in sudden shallow nervousness. “My name is Zack Hoaglin. And I think, if I got the right number, you might be my mother. Or I might be your son. Or… sorry.”

Margaret thought she should have dropped the recipes – she felt shocked enough – but she just lowered them to the kitchen counter and stared blankly at the wall. “Zack?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Um.” He collected his thoughts on a breath, and started again a little calmer. “I was born at the Rockford County Hospital, on September 26th, 1989, adopted same day. Is that you?”

Margaret hesitated. “Yeah,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “Good.” He took a slow, quiet breath. “How are you?”

Margaret almost laughed. “Fine,” she said.

“Good,” he said, and he sounded like he was laughing, too. “Look, I’m coming back into town this week. Can I meet you?”

“Sure,” Margaret said.

“Do you like coffee?” he asked.

“I do,” Margaret said. “Do you know the little place on Eighth and Sprucer?”

“Nope,” Zack said. “But I guess I will soon. Tuesday? I’m free around eleven.”

“Tuesday,” she repeated. “I’ll see you there.”

And when she hung up the phone, there was a lady bug with an odd number of spots on the wall.

She made another wish.

On Tuesday, she pushed through the glass doors of Jack and the Java Bean and looked around. It looked as it always did when she passed through for her morning coffee, all yellow and brown from sunlight and furniture that reveled in its age. There was no crowd, just a handful of people happy to sip slowly and sit long. They gathered around the shop’s careless mix of square and round tables and didn’t look up as she arrived.

Margaret scanned their faces, then turned and ordered her coffee from the boy behind the counter. Wrapping her hands around the warm cup, she sat down at a little round table on the far side of the room and she watched the door.

It was only a few minutes before he arrived. He pushed open the door with one hand, already scanning the shop through the glass of the door. He didn’t have her nose. But he had her hair, curly and dark brown, and unruly. He was tall, shoulders broad under an easy black and white plaid shirt and blue tee. His jeans were comfortably worn. He met her eye and instantly smiled.

Walking to the counter, he ordered a coffee, collected it, and didn’t hesitate as he walked over to her.

“Margaret Stanton?” he asked, standing behind the chair that sat opposite her.

“Maggie,” she said.

“Maggie,” he repeated, and nodded. He pointed to himself. “Zack.”

Margaret nodded. She motioned to the chair. “Sit?”

He slipped into the chair, and didn’t stop smiling.

Meeting his eye, she wasn’t quite sure how to look away. He had her eyes, too, brown flecked through with green. And she stared too long, and he raised his eyebrows at her. She laughed at herself and looked away.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he told her quickly. “I’ve wondered what you looked like for a long time, too. Although, the last couple years, it’s been a little easier to guess.”

He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled out a picture. He dropped it onto the table and pushed it toward her. He was holding a little girl with brown girls and a smile as wide as the moon while a blonde haired woman leaned against his shoulder with an even smaller girl cradled against her shoulder.

“They don’t take after my wife, so I figured they had to look like you,” he murmured.

“You’re married,” Margaret said.

Zack nodded. “Three years now, to the kindest woman in the world.”

Margaret listened closely, and smiled back slowly. Everyone in that photograph was beautiful, and happy. And the first thing he wanted to say about his wife – the thing he was proud of – was that she was kind.

“Congratulations,” Margaret said. She nodded at the photo and met his eye again. “What are their names?”

I’m a thief! I stole the first line of this piece from my friend, Bek. Be sure to stop by her blog and read what she thought of Margaret’s son. Then check out all the other thieves.

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