This story is by Gayle Woodson and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Walter poked a fork into a sizzling meat patty. “Come and get it, before I feed it to the hogs.”
Five-year-old Nathan giggled. “You’re silly, Daddy. We don’t have any pigs.”
Marla grabbed the platter from her husband and set it on the picnic table, beside a bowl of coleslaw that was under attack by a swarm of flies. She tried to shoo them away with a dishtowel. “Pesky critters.”
Jasper’s eyes narrowed as he tracked the erratic path of one particular fly. He rose slowly from his folding chair, lost in concentration, as his head jerked up and down, side to side. The tip of his tongue peeked out the side of his mouth. Suddenly his hand snatched the fly in mid-flight. He sank back into his plastic folding chair and slowly opened his fist.
Nathan gazed at the dead fly. “That’s so cool, Uncle Jasper.”
“He’s not your uncle,” Walter snapped.
Jodie patted her nephew on the back. “He will be soon. Only two more weeks ‘til the wedding.”
Jasper pinched the bug between his thumb and index finger. “Looks yummy, Nathan, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you love to eat this?”
The little boy stumbled backward. “Oooh, no. That’s gross.”
“Drop that,” Marla commanded. She doused Jasper’s hands with sanitizer before raising a bottle of beer in a toast. “Happy Fourth of July.”
The picnic table was laden with baked beans, Jodie’s signature deviled eggs, plus apple pie for dessert. Marla prepared her son’s hamburger. He liked it simple: only meat, bun, and a dab of mayonnaise. Walter preferred the works: mustard, ketchup, cheese, onions, pickles, and jalapenos. Jasper just ate meat. No bun, no condiments.
Jodie sliced her own hamburger into quarters and cast adoring eyes on her fiancée. “This is sort of an anniversary for us. We met exactly one year ago today. It was just like in that song, ‘Blue Moon.’ He suddenly appeared before me. And I was no longer alone. Like magic.”
Marla said, “How sweet.”
Walter rolled his eyes. “Magic, eh? So he’s’ your Prince Charming?”
Jasper tried to kiss his fiancée, but she turned away and mumbled through a mouthful. “Not now, sweetie. I’m eating.”
After eating a few bites, Jasper hopped out of his chair peered into the cooler. “We’re almost out of beer.” He patted Jodie on the head. “Let’s go get some from the fridge.”
“I want to finish my hamburger before it gets cold.”
He wrung his hands and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You sure you won’t come with me?”
“What’s the matter? “ Walter contorted his upper lip. “Can’t bear to be away from your sweetie for even a moment?”
Jasper sighed. “Okay. Enjoy your dinner.” His shoulders drooped as he plodded up the steps from the backyard toward the house.
Nathan had cleaned his plate and asked to be excused. Dusk was settling as he scampered around the yard collecting fireflies in a mason jar.
Walter grabbed a second cheeseburger and another scoop of potato salad. “Has he found a job yet?”
“It’s complicated,” said Jodie. “It’s hard to find work when you’re undocumented. Besides, he makes a great stay-at-home housekeeper.”
Marla sighed. “Jodie, you met this guy on the rebound. I’m afraid he’s a gold digger who just wants to live off my little sister.”
Jodie turned toward the house. “I wonder what’s keeping him?”
“Probably taking a dump,” said Walter. “Too embarrassed to tell us that.”
“He makes me happy. That’s all that matters. He’s nothing like Luke.” Her ex-husband had never taken her career seriously and resented her long hours in the office. It was no great surprise when he suddenly announced that he wanted out, but it was still traumatic for Jodie. He swore it was not about another woman. Marla had scoffed and said that when a man walks out, it’s always about another woman. A week after the divorce was final, Luke married another woman.
Nathan proudly presented a glowing Mason jar. “See my lightning bugs?”
Jodie gasped. “They’re suffocating. You need to put holes in the top so they can get some air.”
“How ‘bout I just let them go?” He unscrewed the top and the tiny bits of light floated up into the night air.
Walter held up the apple pie. “We got any ice cream to go with this?”
Jodie volunteered to fetch the ice cream. It was a good excuse for going into house to search for her beloved boyfriend. She scampered up the steps and threw open kitchen door. “Jasper, where are you?” She searched every room in her sister’s house, including the powder room near the living room and both bathrooms upstairs. He was nowhere to be found, so she grabbed the ice cream from the freezer and headed back down to the party.
The ice cream was frozen stiff, and Marla struggled to scoop it out. “No sign of Jasper?”
Jodie shook her head. “I can’t imagine where he went. Our car is still out front.”
Walter strode to the cooler and lifted the lid. “What was he talking about? There’s plenty of beer in here.”
Nathan reappeared with a new specimen. “Look what I found.” A green frog scrambled in a vain attempt to escape, its pale toes sticking to the glass walls.
“Please put some holes in the top,” said Jodie. “He needs to breathe.”
Walter gobbled his pie and ice cream while Marla took Nathan up to the garage to hammer some nail holes into the lid of the jar. After a few moments, Jodie heard a crash of smashing glass, followed by Nathan’s wailing lament. “He got away.”
Walter scarfed down the last bite of pie, licked melted ice cream from his plate, then let out a snarky chuckle. “Well, Jodie, you can sure pick ’em. Looks like this one ran out on you, too.”
Jodie charged up to the house and into the kitchen, where Marla was washing Nathan’s sliced finger in the sink. Pink water swirled down the drain. Jodie clasped both hands to her face. “Oh my God. Does he need stitches?”
Marla shook her head. “It’s just a nick. He’ll be fine.” As she rummaged through a cabinet for a band aid, she whispered, “I saw Jasper’s clothes.”
“His clothes? Where?”
“Behind the garage. Maybe he had a psychotic break?”
Jasper’s clothes lay crumpled into a puddle. His orange t-shirt lay on top and the toes of his Nike cross-trainers poked out from under his jeans. Jodie was horrified by the mental image of Jasper galloping through the neighborhood, stark naked. She opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Her throat seemed to close as she ran down the steps, through the back yard, into the park, and stopped at the edge of a lake. A full moon emerged from the horizon and the fireworks splashing across the sky were mirrored in the water. The deafening booms of aerial bombs filled the air. It was the exact spot where she had been standing one year earlier, crying her eyes out because Luke had left her. Now Jasper had disappeared. She was devastated beyond tears.
Something cold and clammy bumped against her calf and stuck there. In the dim light, she saw a little frog, just like the one that Nathan had captured. She tried to shake it off, but its sticky toes clung firmly to her bare skin. She reached down to gently peel the creature off her leg and hold it in front of her face. The frog’s tiny eyes pled silently for help. A glimmer of recognition clicked in Jodie’s brain. She pulled the creature close to her lips and kissed its slimy mouth.
The frog began to vibrate and expand. Jodie laid it on the ground and watched as the limbs stretched out and the head bulged as the frog slowly morphed into a human child, curled into a fetal position, then grew into a man who stood up to face her. He had the physique of an Adonis, with bulging biceps and an impressive six-pack. His flawless skin gleamed in the moonlight.
“Why wouldn’t you kiss me up there? I was tingling all over. I didn’t know what was wrong, but whatever it was, I didn’t something weird to happen in front of everyone. Why didn’t you come with me?”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand. What made you turn back into a frog?”
He shrugged. “I guess the spell wasn’t permanent. Maybe it has to be renewed once a year. Like an annual subscription.”
“Thank goodness you found me.”
“I knew you would come back to this spot.”
“I thought you’d left me. I was afraid that I’d never see you again.” She threw her arms around him and laid her cheek against his chest. “Let’s go home. Right now.”
He patted her on the back. “Okay. But Maybe . . . can you bring me my clothes first?”