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Synchronicity, King of Coincidence

“Many miles away, something crawls to the surface of a dark Scottish loch.” – Synchronicity, The Police

Sometimes I fall asleep listening to AM radio. Knocks me right out. A few months ago, I awoke sometime after midnight with the cord wrapped twice around my neck and hanging off the side of my bunk. Coast to Coast was on. The guest was psychotherapist and quantum theorist Mel Schwartz. He was talking about synchronicity. Specifically about the tsunami of 2004, the humanitarian calamity it wrought and how, although it claimed roughly 230,000 human lives, there were surprisingly few animal bodies found in the aftermath. He attributed this to a sixth sense long atrophied in human beings due to lack of use. He went on to say that at the exact same time that he was typing an essay about this phenomenon on the other side of the globe, a bird flew into his room and perched on his chair. Synchronicity.

As I staggered to the bathroom, half-listening, half-asleep, an elusive plot point from my latest novel, Sticks & Stones, suddenly clicked into place. (If you’ve read it, it’s the part about the drone.) Now I was wide awake. It dawned on me that had I not fallen asleep with the radio on, I might have never awoken to receive this pivotal building block of my then-novel-in-progress. The fact that this occurred while the dude on the radio was discussing synchronicity really blew me away.

Coincidences … chance happenings or mystical experiences? I once heard someone refer to them as “God winks.” A 2015 Esquire article divides them into four distinct categories:

Synchronicity – Two unrelated events collide in a meaningful way. (See above)
Seriality – A series of seemingly unrelated events lead to a noteworthy event. You usually take the bus to work, but you spilled your morning coffee on your shirt, which made you miss the 7:15. You almost called a cab, but decided to try Uber. The driver is attractive. You ask her out. Two years later, you’re married and expecting.

Simulpathity – The simultaneous experience of another person’s distress. This one usually happens with twins, life-long couples, and parents with their children.

Serendipity – Something unexpected and beneficial arises from being at the right place at the right time. Phizer researchers testing a drug called sildenafil as a treatment for angina notice a curious side effect: erections. Eureka! Viagra.

Which is your favorite?

Chapter 27: The Matchmaker

Vital signs. This is what Brooke Tyler’s workday consisted of. One never-ending sequence of vital signs. Blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, “Please make yourself comfortable, the doctor will be with you shortly.” Her plan had always been to become a registered nurse, but then David died and she was suddenly a single mother on her own. Between Evan, Maddy and work there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. The idea of three more years of school seemed less and less possible as time went by.

The familiar faces of her coworkers smiled from doorways and break rooms as she walked back to the front of the office to retrieve the next patient’s chart. Though she knew their names and the names of many of their children and spouses, they were mostly strangers masquerading as acquaintances. Who really knew anyone in this world?

She paused at the end of the hall and gazed out from the fourth-story window. A sea of majestic oaks stretched east toward her home in a canopy of green. High above, clouds like white brush strokes were painted across the stretched canvas of blue sky. Even higher, a lonely jet left twin vapor trails in its wake.

She wondered what Mason was doing. Then she caught herself and wondered why. Strange.

A hand touched her elbow. She turned. “Oh, Dr. Diaz.”

With a full head of black hair, he was in his late sixties without a wrinkle on his ruddy face. “I left Evan’s prescription up front with Crystal. If his symptoms continue or if there are any side effects, be sure to let me know.”

“I will. Thanks. Mrs. Flannigan is waiting in room two. Her chart is on the door.”

He grimaced. “I appreciate the warning.”

According to the checklist, Evan was a classic Combined Type ADHD, displaying the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, as well as exceeding the inattentive criteria. Still, she had her reservations. The internet wasn’t much help. Ritalin was either a miracle drug, a zombie potion, or a poor man’s cocaine, depending on the reviewer.

It was during times like these that the glaring hole David left in their lives was magnified. He had a knack for always knowing the right thing to do. She ached for his input. At least she had Blane to lean on. She walked back down the hall to the reception area.

Crystal Riley was a year younger than she was and recently divorced after fifteen years as the trophy wife of an abusive evangelical minister. She described her newfound freedom as how Piper Kerman must have felt when she walked out of prison. Her renaissance was gradual. First, black nail polish, then an eyebrow piercing. After four weeks of leave, she shocked the office by returning to work with an impressive new set of boobs. Most of the other women gossiped about Crystal but Brooke admired her independence and her lack of concern for what others were whispering about her.

She stood in the doorway. “Hey, Crystal, do you—”

“Oh God,” she rolled her eyes.

“What?” said Brooke.

“Sorry, hon. It’s not you. It’s just this song.”

The familiar double-claps and keys of Private Eyes filled the room.

“You don’t like Hall and Oates?”

Crystal pretended to gag.

“Why don’t you change the station?”

She shook her head — her once-brown Pentecostal bun now a platinum pixie cut — and pointed to the note taped above the radio.

“Doctor’s orders. 95 Beach FM, only. So I’m stuck with the ‘lite rock hits of the 70s, 80s and today.’” Her chair creaked as she leaned back and stretched. “FML, right?”

Private Eyes segued into Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic.

Brooke swayed a little. “This one isn’t too bad.”

“Compared to what?” Crystal curled her top lip. “A colonoscopy? Gimme Lizzy Hale over this Canadian bubblegum any day.”

Brooke smiled and raised her hands in surrender, marveling at the once docile little preacher’s wife for the thousandth time. “Dr. Diaz said he left a prescription for me.”

She pushed her chair back from her desk and rolled across the office. “I think I put it over here somewhere.”

As Brooke watched her thumb through a stack of papers, she noticed a barcode tattoo on the nape of her neck. “Crystal!” she whispered. “Is that a tattoo?”

The receptionist glanced at her, an almost-smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she reached back and touched her collar. “This? Yeah. I got it on Saturday. I have two more but… I’d have to show you in the bathroom.”

Brooke felt her face redden. “Are you seeing anyone?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Nothing serious. Why? Are you asking me out? I thought you were all hot and bothered over the handsome attorney off eHarmony or whatever.”

“I’m not asking for me, silly. I just know this guy who might be your type.”

“Yeah? How old?”

“Forty-eight, I think.”

She shook her head. “Too old.”

“But you’re almost forty.”

She looked around. “Do not say that again.”

Brooke smiled. “He’s got a lot of tattoos.”

“Really? What’s he do for a living?”

“He’s … um … he’s unemployed.”

“Great,” said Crystal. “Anything else? Some missing teeth, maybe?”

“He just got out of prison.”

She clapped her hands. “Awesome! Sounds like my soul mate, all right. Nice to know your opinion of me is so high.”

“He’s really cute.” It was only after the words were out that she realized they were true. “And he’s a sweetheart. My kids adore him.”

“Why was he in prison?”

She minimized. “Robbery.”

“Hmm. Dangerous. That might be interesting. Do you have a picture?”

Brooke shook her head, then glanced at the computer. “I don’t know, maybe. Can you pull up the Channel 7 News website?”

She rolled her chair back across the office and tapped on the keyboard. The Eyewitness News logo spun like a coin in the center of the Channel 7 homepage.

Brooke pointed to the tab that said Local. “Click here.” The Magic Mart story was the third from the top. “And right here.”

Mason’s face filled the screen, a deer in headlights.

“Yum,” said Crystal. “Look at those muscles. And that hair.”

Brooke laughed. “My daughter is responsible for that.”

They watched the video clip in silence. When it was over the receptionist reached over and touched her hand. “Those are your kids, aren’t they?”

She nodded.

“Oh my God, you must be so … I don’t know if I should say proud or scared.”

Brooke shrugged. “Both.”

Crystal glanced back at the screen. “Well, I would love to go out with your babysitter. If he’s interested. Show him my Instagram page, okay?”

A grandmother appeared at the window with a girl around Evan’s age. The conversation ended there. Brooke selected a chart from the top of the stack and went to the waiting room to call the next patient. “Malone?”

A thin regal woman with silver hair reached for her purse. On the way to the examination room she heard Crystal call to her from the front office.

“Hey Brooke? Don’t forget Evan’s prescription.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 26: Live at Five

Brooke held the glass up to the light, inspecting it for blemishes. Her hands were still shaky from her kids’ near-death experience, but she was slowly returning to normal. She noticed a few gray specks of soap scum below the rim. Blane’s pet peeve. She vigorously erased them with the hem of her shirt.

“Hurry Mom,” Maddy called from the living room. “It’s coming on.”

She dropped six wedges of ice in the glass, filled it with water, and padded back down the hall just as the Eyewitness News music erupted from the television.

“Turn it down a little.”

Evan and Maddy were on the floor in front of the coffee table while Mason sat rigidly in a straight-back dining room chair, palms on knees. She took her place next to Blane on the couch and handed him the ice water. He slid his arm around her.

“An eastside babysitter and two children are heroes after thwarting the robbery of a local convenience store this afternoon. Hailey McGuire has the details.”

From the corner of her eye she saw Blane examine the glass for cleanliness. Satisfied, he took a sip.

On the TV, a college-age brunette stood smiling in front of the Magic Mart awaiting her cue to begin. After an awkward delay, she nodded at someone off camera.

“I’m here at the Magic Mart on Seren Drive in Rosemont where today three ordinary citizens, two of them students at a local elementary school, did something extraordinary.”

The camera angle widened to reveal Mason and the kids.

Brooke burst out laughing.

“What a shmuck,” Blane mumbled.

His hair, still hard from the mousse and styling gel, had come unfixed in the scuffle and was a chaotic hash of swirl and spike. He stared unblinking into the camera, stiff with stage fright. Evan blew a purple bubblegum bubble while Maddy beamed and waved at the viewing audience.

Seeing herself, she whipped her head around, eyes shining, big jack-o-lantern smile. “I look famous, don’t I Mom?”

Brooke nodded, acutely aware of Blane’s arm around her. She braced for Maddy’s reaction but her daughter either didn’t notice or was too caught up in her own celebrity to care.

“Shut up Maddy, I can’t hear,” said Evan.

“Hey, that’s not nice.”

The reporter held her mic up to Mason. The sweat on his muscled forearm made his tattoos appear darker. Johnny Cash flipped off America.

“How long have you been a babysitter?”

“Uh … first day.”

“What made you decide to intervene in the robbery?”


“What were you thinking when the gun went off?”

“Um … loud.”

From his spot on the floor, Evan bent backwards and looked at Mason upside down. “You’re more scared of the camera than you were of the gun!”

“What’s your name?”

“Evan Tyler.”

“What happened in there?”

“That robber pointed his gun at Ms. Dot and then Mason jammed his soups against him. BANG! The gun went off and I thought it killed Mason but it didn’t, just the soup. Then they wrastled on the floor and Mason made him let go of the gun and it slid and the robber tried to get it but I kicked it away and my sister got it and ran away.”

He turned and smiled at Brooke, radiant with boyish pride. Then he noticed Blane’s arm around her and his face fell.

“Here comes my part!” Maddy squealed, almost hyperventilating with excitement.

“What’s your name?”

“Madison Rose Tyler!”

“And you grabbed the gun?”

“Yes, and then I ran to Mason’s truck and locked the doors. He tried to chase me but I’m too fast.”

“Were you scared?”

“Mm hmm, ‘specially when he punched the window but Mason choked him real hard and slinged him across the parking lot.”

“What made you grab the gun?”

“I dunno. I just did.”

“Weren’t you worried it might go off? Did you know not to touch the trigger?”

“I know all about guns. My brother has almost two thousand confirmed kills on Call of Duty. He’s gonna be a YouTube celebrity.”

Brooke glanced at Blane and rolled her eyes. “Maddy I really wish you’d stop talking about confirmed kills. It’s unladylike.”

Her daughter popped off the floor and ran around the coffee table. “But aren’t you proud of my interview, Mom?”

She smiled. Evan wasn’t the only beneficiary of David’s genes. Her husband lived on in Maddy’s furrowed brow and dimpled cheeks, in her stubbornness and confidence and charm.

“Of course, I’m proud. I’m horrified that you held a loaded gun and were chased by that awful man. But, yes, I’m extremely proud of you.”

Maddy squeezed between her and Blane, separating them. “Are you proud of Mason too?”

Brooke glanced at the hulking ex-convict in her living room, uncertain how to answer. Leave it to Maddy to put her on the spot.

On the television, the reporter was wrapping up. “The suspect, Colin Driver of Lancaster, has a lengthy criminal history including charges for burglary and aggravated assault. He was booked into the Lincoln County jail with no bond. Our city streets are safer tonight because these three ordinary people did something extraordinary. From Rosemont, Hailey McGuire, Channel 7 News.”

“Well,” Blane sniffed, “personally I think it was foolhardy and irresponsible.”

Mason stood. “All right, that’s my cue.”

Brooke touched Blane’s knee, hoping to silence him. It didn’t work.

“That’s what we have police for.” He took a sip of water. “You endangered the kids’ lives and the clerk’s life by trying to be Bruce Willis.”

She attempted to smooth things over. “Well, thankfully, everyone’s okay.”

Mason glared at him. “What would you have done?”

Blane inspected his cuticles. “I would have memorized his features, height, weight, face, clothes, while cooperating fully to ensure the safety of the children. Then, when the police arrived, I’d brief them with all the information. Once apprehended, I’d attend every hearing to guarantee that he was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Yeah, I’ll remember that the next time someone’s waving a gun around like a maniac.”

Blane smirked. “A situation I’m sure you’re all too familiar with.”

Brooke tried her best to quell the rising tension. “Hey, guys, it’s been a long day. Let’s not—”

“It’s all good,” said Mason. “I’m leaving.”

Evan pulled at his sleeve. “But we haven’t played Call of Duty yet.”

“Another time,” he said, his eyes touching hers.

Brooke noticed their color. Bluish-green, aquamarine, Earth from outer space.

“I’ve been known to dabble in the old Black Ops,” said Blane. “I’ll play with you.”

Evan responded by emptying a clip. “Br-r-r-r-r-r-ow!”

Blane jumped. Then, over the machine gun fire said, “Are we still looking into the Ritalin?”

Evan charged up the stairs.

Maddy pushed off the couch and followed her brother. “Why does Mason have to leave?” she yelled down the staircase. “Mason is a hero! He’s extraordinary! I think BLANE should leave!”

“Madison that is not nice!”

The door slammed.

She smiled at her boyfriend and shrugged, utterly humiliated. “Kids.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 25: Dorsal Fin Day Care Part Two

He pulled the hundred dollar bill from his pocket. “All right you little heathens, who wants cigarettes and beer?”

Evan raised his hand. “I do.”

“Wrong answer, Commando.” He shook his head. “Testing you again.”

Maddy smiled up at him. “I don’t want any cigarettes and beer.”

“Good girl,” he said. “Cigarettes and beer mean less push-ups. Less push-ups mean less muscle development which means less confidence which means…” He glanced at the boy. “Less chicks.”

“Well how do you know I’m not testing you?” said Evan.

“Testing me for what?”

“To see if you’re a crooked babysitter. The kind who buys kids cigarettes and beer.”

“Nice,” said Mason, holding out his fist. “You’re full of it, but I like the way you think on your feet.”

Evan stood a little straighter and tapped his knuckles. “I don’t care about chicks anyway.”

“No? I thought you had a thing for…” He nodded at his neighbor’s house.

“He wants Ms. Tammy to be his girlfriend,” said Maddy.

“No, I don’t. She’s a whore!”

“That’s not nice.”

“It sure isn’t,” said Mason. “Where’d you learn that word, man?”

Evan shrugged.

“Why would you call her that?”

“Because … she wears high heels and short skirts and bikinis and makeup.”

“It’s a woman’s nature to want to be beautiful,” said Mason. “How would you feel if someone called your mom that name? Or Maddy?”

“That’s not nice, Evan.”

“Listen, I’ll leave the lectures for your mom and what’s-his-face. I’m the wrong guy to be giving out life tips anyway. But manhood isn’t just about push-ups and soldiers and being tough. It’s about respect and kindness. You have to work those muscles too.”

“I’m good at kindness,” said Maddy.

He flicked her ponytail but continued to look at Evan. “Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Commando?”

Evan kicked a rock down the driveway. “I guess so.”

“Good,” he waggled the C-note. “Now, who wants to go blow Mr. Blane’s hard-earned cash at the Magic Mart? What’s a hundred bucks split three ways?”

“A lot,” said Maddy, hopping up and down. “Are you gonna buy soup?”

“I might.”

“Thirty-three dollars,” said Evan. “Can we ride in the back of your truck?”

He held out his keys. “Why don’t you drive and I’ll ride in the back.”

“He’s testing you again, Evan.”

“I don’t have my license,” said the boy.

Mason jingled the keys. “Neither do I.”

“But you can’t ride in the back,” said Maddy. “You’ll mess up your hair.”

He reached up and touched the rigid mohawk. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll drive.”

They raced to the truck and climbed in the back. It cranked on the first attempt. A volcanic cloud of black smoke erupted from the tailpipe. He kept the speedometer at fifteen as they coasted up the street. In his mirror there were gap-toothed smiles and laughter. Skinny arms and small hands hung over the sides of the truck bed, touching the wind like water.

The Magic Mart parking lot was deserted as usual. Dot frowned at him through the window as he pulled between two faded yellow lines and shut off the truck.

“Hey Mason, can I have ice cream?”

“Mm hmm.”


“You’ve got thirty-three dollars, you can get whatever you want.”

“I want a Smart Ones,” said Maddy.

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a TV dinner, ‘cept it’s for girls. My mommy eats them.”

The door chimed as he held it open.

“Hey Ms. Dot,” Maddy waved. “You look pretty today.”

For the first time since he’d been frequenting the convenience store, Mason noticed the wrinkles and frown lines on Dot’s face pull into a genuine smile.

“That’s quite an interesting hairstyle,” she said.

Maddy bolted down the candy aisle after Evan. Tennis shoes squeaked on tile. “I designed it all by myself!” she yelled over her shoulder.

He picked up a Rolling Stone from the magazine rack and tried on a pair of cheap sunglasses.

“Cool Mason!”

He left them on and swaggered, tag dangling, to the back of the store.

The door chimed. In the security mirror above the dog food, he saw a thin man in a navy blue windbreaker and a baseball cap walk in. He headed straight for the coolers that held the beer.

Mason watched him for a moment but was soon distracted by his own reflection. The dorsal fin was streaked with gray and leaning to the right. The tag on the sunglasses hung in front of his nose and fluttered with his breath. The mirror further exaggerated this caricature of self by expanding his head and extending his legs. He looked like a Blow Pop with a mohawk.

“Hey Mason,” said Evan, “can I have some lottery tickets?”

He picked up a case of picante beef soup and headed for the register. “If you can talk Ms. Dot into selling them to you. But I think she’s a stickler for the rules.”

At the counter he noticed the man’s cap had a silver Nittany Lion on the front. It was pulled low over his eyes. Beard stubble covered the sharp, emaciated angles of his face.

Dot’s hands trembled as she rang up the quart of malt liquor.

“Gimme a carton of Newports too,” he rasped.

She inspected the rack behind her for his brand.

Mason watched in slow motion as the man pulled a 9-millimeter from his waist and leveled it at the back of Dot’s head.

She turned, flinched, and dropped the cigarettes on the floor.

“Pick ’em up,” he ordered. “Slow.”

Mason took a step back just as the pistol swung in his face, inches from his nose. He stared down the barrel, his heart pounding.

“Don’t even think about it, Sid Vicious,” the man snarled. “Whatever you’ve got on your mind is a bad idea.”

The kids stared wide-eyed from the candy aisle. “Is that a real gun?” said Evan.

“Grandma’s about to find out just how real it is if she doesn’t empty the cash register.” He turned the pistol back on Dot. “Now.”

She opened the drawer and began removing the bills. Meager stacks of ones, fives, and tens were arranged on the counter.

Mason looked over at Evan. The boy had a pleading, urgent look in his eyes. He shook his head. Absolutely not.

“Open the safe too,” the man growled.

Dot was shaking violently. “I … I can’t. It’s time-locked.”

Click Clack. He cocked the pistol. “Don’t play with me, you ugly old bag.”

Maddy gasped and covered her mouth. Evan raised an accusatory eyebrow. Both were willing him to act. Do something!

Damn it. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and let go. “Hey man.”

The pistol again swiveled in his direction. This time he met it with the shrink-wrapped cardboard case of soup, forcing the man backwards.

The Glock roared. An explosion of noodles blasted through a fist-sized hole in the package, peppering his mohawk. As they tumbled to the floor Mason could hear Dot praying behind the counter.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

The robber fought for his freedom with violent desperation. In the barrage of knees and teeth and headbutts, Mason still managed to hold his wrist with both hands, relentlessly slamming it against the tiles until finally his grip loosened and the pistol windmilled across the floor.

The man shook free and lunged for it but Evan kicked it beneath a pallet of Mountain Dew twelve-packs. When it slid out from under the other side, Maddy scooped it up and ran screaming for the door.

The robber went after her.

Mason dove for his ankles and missed. Still, the contact knocked him off balance and slowed his pursuit. He crashed through the double doors, flailing.

As Mason scrambled to his feet he saw Maddy through the glass. She ripped open the truck door, climbed up in the seat, and pulled it shut with both hands, just as the robber arrived.

He reached for the handle, she slammed home the lock. He sprinted around to the driver side, she scooted across the seat and locked that door too. He looked around for something to throw at the window. Finding nothing, he took a vicious swing.


The glass held. Maddy screamed.

Mason barreled through the doors and charged.

The robber raised his fists to fight but with his pistol locked in the truck he wasn’t nearly as fearsome. Mason ran through his punches, gripped him by the throat and slammed him on the hood of the truck. “Oomph.” Then he pulled him off and slung him stumbling halfway across the parking lot. He noticed the baseball cap on the ground and flung it toward him like a Frisbee.

“The cops are on their way.” Evan came out and stood next to him, crossing his arms. A unified front.

The robber glared at them for a moment, then darted between the gas pumps. A police cruiser cut him off at the parking lot entrance. Doors flew open, guns were drawn.


Slowly, he lifted his hands.

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Sticks & Stones: Chapters 23 & 24

Chapter 23: The King of the Elephants
Her rock was as shaky as her face was stoic. The chair creaked over the hum of the vaporizer. Her bedspread was adorned with bright yellow sunflowers. He sat on the edge with the book in his lap. Meet Babar and His Family by Laurent de Brunhoff.

He turned to the first page. Random crayon scribblings and a small petrified Dorito thumbprint embellished the existing artwork.

“One morning Babar, the King of the Elephants, opens his window. It’s a sunny day.” He held up the picture so his mom could see.

She glanced at the drawing. “I am fifty-four years old. Don’t insult me with these children’s books.”

He turned the page. The family of elephants was on opposite sides of a lake scattered with ducks, flamingos, and a hippopotamus. “You used to read this to me when I was little.”

“When you were little,” she scoffed. “What on earth are you babbling about?”

“Look.” He held up the book. “It’s Zephir, the monkey.”

She rolled her eyes.

“And here’s the little old lady drinking tea with Cornelius. They never tell you her name. Just ‘the little old lady.’ Remember when I used to think she was Mrs. Zimlich? My kindergarten teacher?”

She frowned as if listening to the faint whisper of some long-forgotten memory. Two sticks of recognition rubbed and sparked in her eyes. Hope flared in his.


But like a tendril of smoke, the moment faded.

“Stop calling me that!” she snapped.

He turned the page.

“Who in the world drew those awful pictures?”

For a moment he thought she was talking about the book but then realized she was staring at his tattoos. He held out his arm for her to inspect. Again.

She raised her eyebrows at the praying hands with a rosary. “Are you Catholic?”

He smiled. “Don’t you remember my first communion? Second grade. Saint Pius? You were there.”

She wavered before pointing at the flower.

“It’s a hibiscus. Just like the ones you planted in the backyard.”

She glanced through the window at the garden outside. “Did I plant those too? I … I can’t remember.”

“Look at these doves. See, right here? They call this negative shading.”

She ignored the birds and leaned forward to examine the woman on his bicep, naked from the waist up. “Is your wife a showgirl?”

He quickly turned his arm. “This is the ocean over here. Peaceful, right? How long since you’ve been to the beach? I could drive you over once I get some new tires on the truck.”

She instead studied Johnny Cash flipping the bird. “My, what an unpleasant man.”

He smiled. “Nah, Johnny’s all right. He’s actually a Christian. He was probably just having a bad day when his picture was taken.”

“Did you take it?”

He shook his head. “But check this one out. Can you read it? It says Ava.”

With a shaky finger she traced the letters on his wrist before looking up in confusion. “But … my name is Ava.”

He patted her hand. “I know. I got it for you.”

Chapter 24: Dorsal Fin Day Care Part One
The backpack was pink and said Frozen across the top in icy white letters. An animated blue-eyed girl in a sweeping gown was steam-pressed below the zipper. Maddy dumped its contents on the porch. A canister of mousse rolled over to where Mason was sitting on the steps watching Evan do push-ups. He picked it up. “What’s this?”

She was busy gathering various hair spray bottles and styling gels, lining them up along the rail. “It’s for your appointment.”

Beneath the river birch, Evan brushed his hands on his jeans after a set of fifteen. Mason acknowledged his progress with a nod. “I don’t have any appointments, Maddy.”

She rolled her eyes, removed her cell phone from her pocket, and pretended to scroll through a busy schedule. “Oh yes you do. It’s right here. See? Mason, two o’clock, Saturday. Hairstyling.”

“There’s no way I’m letting you cut my hair.”

A scuffed pink tennis shoe with Velcro straps stomped the porch board next to him. “I’m tired of doing push-ups and working on your truck all the time. I wanna do something fun. I’m not going to cut it, Mason. Promise. I just wanna style it.”

He glanced at the array of hair care products. “Where’d you get all this?”

“My mom’s bathroom.”

“Hey Mason!” Evan shouted from under the tree. “Are you counting?”

He held up his thumb to the boy. “All right Maddy, here’s the deal. Style it all you want, but the first hint of a snip and you’re going under the hood of the truck. Got it?”

She nodded, a foamy glob of mousse already in her palm.

Across the yard, Evan climbed to his feet and pulled his shirt off. His concave chest and bony shoulders were red with effort. “Fifteen?” called Mason.

He flexed and shook his head. “Forty!”

Maddy slathered his hair with chemicals. First the mousse, then the styling gel, pulling it back, pushing it forward, kneading the tropical-smelling substances into his scalp. No follicle left behind, she hummed an unrecognizable tune as she brushed, mussed and brushed some more, occasionally coming to stand in front of him to inspect her work.

“I usually charge a lot of money for this,” she said as she pulled all his hair to the center of his head like a mohawk.

“Yeah, how much?”

“Five dollars.”

She checked the symmetry of the spikes that ran from his forehead to his neck, using her palms to sharpen the rogue strands into a narrow ridgeline while tamping down the rest.

“Cool, Mason!” Evan shouted. “You look like a gladiator.”

A few finishing spritzes of Paul Mitchell followed by a roaring cloud of Aquanet and Maddy hopped off the porch to admire her creation, snapping a picture on her cell phone.

“Let me see that.”

She held up the screen with a proud smile but he was distracted by the Lexus pulling into his driveway. He stood and walked down the steps. Through the windshield he could see Brooke in the passenger seat. The driver, he presumed, was her boyfriend Blane.

She was laughing as the window came down. “Mason, what in the world … your hair … It looks like a … a …”

“Dorsal fin,” offered the smug voice in the driver seat.

“Yes, exactly.” More laughter. It rose above the violins, cellos and oboes that wafted from the car’s stereo system.

Maddy ran up beside him. “Mommy, I styled Mason’s hair. Isn’t it pretty?”

Her eyes sparkled. “It sure is. Evan! Put your shirt on before you catch a cold!”

Machine gun fire.

“I could style Blane’s hair too,” said Maddy.

An insincere chuckle. “Oho, I don’t know about that.”

Brooke’s voice turned serious. “Mason, do you think you can watch them for a few hours? The sitter is at a soccer game this afternoon.”

He was already shaking his head. “That’s probably not a good idea.”

“But you’re watching them now.”

“It’s different when you’re right down the street. And anyway, I thought you didn’t trust—”

She glanced at Blane. “Well, I do now, okay? We’ve had this conversation already.”

“It’s just too much responsibility. Too many things could go wrong.”

Nervous smile. “Mason, you’ll be fine. They’ve already eaten lunch. I’ll be back before dinner and my number is in both of their phones in case of emergency.”

He hooked his thumbs over his belt. “How much do you usually pay your babysitter?”

She hesitated. “For a couple of hours? Maybe twenty dollars.”

“I’ll take forty.”


A manicured hand reached across her, extending a hundred dollar bill toward the open window. A Presidential Rolex peeked from the cuff of his sleeve.

Mason bent to make eye contact.

Blane winked. “We may run a little overtime.” Then his face hardened. “But if anything happens to Ethan or the girl, I will personally make sure that you never see the light of day again.”

“Wow, no pressure,” Mason smirked, marveling at this new variation of good cop, bad cop. Story of my life.

“All right,” said Brooke, “there’s no need to—”

“My brother’s name is Evan!” Maddy shouted. “Evan and Madison! That’s our names!”

As if on cue, Evan took a running start and leaped on the front bumper of the Lexus, simultaneously flexing and firing off rounds from his invisible M-16 a la Schwarzenegger in Commando.

“Evan Aubrey Tyler! Down! Now! Do you want me to spank you in front of Mason?” She turned to Blane. “I’m sorry. He’s not always like this.”

The attorney forced a thin-lipped smile. “Medication is definitely something I’d consider.”

Mason pocketed the money. “Well don’t worry about Pete and Re-Pete here. They’re in good hands.”

Maddy looked up at him. “Who’s Pete and Re-Pete?”

“I’m Pete,” said Evan. “You’re Re-Pete.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. Why do you get to be Pete?”

“Because Pete’s a boy’s name.” Evan flexed his skinny biceps. “Plus I’m the oldest.”

The car began to back out of the driveway. “Call me if you need anything,” said Brooke.

They stood watching as the Lexus accelerated down the street. The dorsal fin, the ponytail and Commando, each lost in thought.

“Asshole,” Evan finally said.

Mason waited for Maddy’s standard reprimand, “that’s not nice,” but it never came.

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.