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Today's Story by J. M. Vogel

Remember, we promote from within.

The Grass is Always Greener

“Another Saturday, another covered dish,” Jennie sighed.  She swished the dishrag around the sudsy dish water as she watched her neighbor Ella be-bop down the street, covered dish in hand.  Ella’s sunflower print sundress put her own yoga pants and tank top ensemble to shame.  “Do you think it’s because I’m just not glamorous enough?”

Rick sighed.  “Do we really have to have this discussion every Saturday morning?” He slid the greasy skillet into the wash water.  Jennie glared.  “Fine, no it is not because you’re not glamorous enough.  And to stave off the next batch of questions, it isn’t because you’re socially awkward, too quiet, play your music too loud or, on occasion, have a few glasses of wine on the porch.  You weren’t invited because these women never matured past high school and rely on cliques to determine their self-worth, as I’ve said every Saturday since we moved in three years ago.”  His lips brushed her neck as his arms wrapped around her waist.  “Seriously, would you really want to hang out with them?” he whispered into her ear.

The short answer?  No.  Jennie had not one thing in common with these women.  Name brands, mini-vans and block parties meant little to her.  Frankly, she felt it all frivolous.  The problem wasn’t how she would spend her Saturday afternoon.  She loved the fact she’d be locked in a head to head battle for Scrabble dominance with her husband while her kids ran amok in the background.  The problem was that no one had asked.  For three years Jennie jogged, mowed and stood at the bus stop with barely an acknowledgement of her existence.  Smiles, waves and small talk did little to ingratiate her with the “in-crowd”, but she didn’t understand why.  She was a nice person after all.

“It would just be nice to be asked,” she said, dropping the dishrag into the sink.  Turning to face her husband, she circled his neck with her arms and pressed her lips to his.  “Are you ready to cower before my Scrabble superiority?”

“Bring it on,” he mocked before returning the kiss.


Monday morning, Jennie was at the bus stop, chatting up her friend Wendy.

“So, anyway, this dog must have thumbs or something.  How else would it constantly get out of the house without anyone knowing?  They act like they don’t know that it’s pooping in my yard all the time.”

The airbrakes squeaked as the bus rolled to a stop.  After kisses and waves, the kids boarded the bus, leaving Wendy and Jennie to their morning gossip session.

Wendy shrugged.  “Very odd.  It takes all types I suppose.”  Both Jennie and Wendy sipped their morning cup of coffee, now alone on the corner.  Overhead, birds darted across the sky and butterflies hovered over the dewy grass.  Jennie felt stupid for being so glum on such a gorgeous spring morning.  She swished the remaining coffee around in her mug, wanting to ask Wendy a question.

“So, what did you make for the neighborhood luncheon” she asked, the question deceptively innocuous.  Wendy was the only woman in the neighborhood who could be considered a friend.  But even Wendy was invited to participate in the Saturday meetings, birthday parties and neighborhood bashes.

“Oh, here we go,” Wendy said, throwing back her head and laughing.  “Why does this bother you so much?”

Wishing she could just crawl back into her hole, she shrugged it off.  “What?  I just wanted to know if you made a new recipe.”

Wendy shook her head.  “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, Jennie.  You’re the lucky one.  Trust me – they aren’t worth your time.”

Jennie sighed.  Wendy’s response never changed – you don’t want to be involved.  She never elaborated, which always made Jennie suspicious.  The sentiment sounded canned.  She knew that she was just sparing her feelings.  If Wendy truly didn’t want to hang out with these women, she’d stop.  All of these warnings were solely meant to assuage Jennie’s ego and she knew it.

“So, Euchre on Friday?” she asked, changing the subject.

“You betcha!”  Wendy winked, patted her on the arm and started for home.  “See you after school,” she called over her shoulder.

Jennie went home to prepare for her morning jog.


As her feet pounded the pavement to the rhythm of her running soundtrack, Jennie’s mind wandered.  Why did she have this need to be liked?  She never really felt like she fit into any one group and, for the past thirty years, she’d been okay with that.  In high school and college, she relished the fact that she marched to the beat of her own drum.  She’d proudly declared time and again that no single label fit her.  Athlete, musician, literature buff, sci-fi junkie – she’d done all of it and more.  So why did this matter so much?  What was it about this group?

She knew the answer instantly.  The neighborhood dynamics had nothing to do with whether she excelled or failed at any given hobby. The depth of her knowledge on any subject held no bearing.  Acceptance here had to everything to do with how people perceived your home life – you marriage, mothering ability and property.  You were judged on that which you held dearest — the core of your being.

So what was she to take away from this?  Did the other women feel that she was a bad mother?  Or did the azaleas lining her porch say something about her character of which she was unaware?  She was so lost in thought that the toddler darting in front of her on the sidewalk startled her.  The child continued its gallop into the street after a ball.

As the child continued fumbling with the ball, a car blew through a stop sign.  The driver, unaware of the tableau before her, was focused on something in the car.  It took only a split second for Jennie to notice the driver was texting.  Without a thought, she darted into the street toward the child, yelling for the approaching driver to stop.  She grabbed the tot around the torso in mid stride, clearing the lane just as the sedan reached the spot where the child had been only nanoseconds before.  It had been so close that the cars bumper had grazed the bottom of Jennie’s shoe as she leaped out of the way.  The car’s tires squealed briefly but never stopped.  Jennie took a deep breath as she loosened her death grip on the child, who in turn just stared back at her with wide eyes.

“Abigail!” a frantic voice yelled.  Jennie looked up to see Trina Wesley running toward them, tears streaming down her cheeks.    The child screamed and sobbed as she saw her mother’s upset reaction.

“She’s ok,” Jennie called, carrying the child back toward her house.  “Some idiot ran the stop sign, but she’s alright.”  She handed the child to the anxious mother.

Trina reached out and squeezed the child to her chest.  “Oh, thank you!” she sobbed as she kissed every inch of the child’s face.  “I turned my back for just a minute and she was gone!”

Jennie nodded.  “They’re good at that.  Well, I’d better get back to my run.”  She nodded at Trina as she began slipping her ear buds back into her ears.  Trina’s hand on her arm stopped her.

“How can I ever thank you enough?”  she asked, relief rolling off her in waves.

“Think nothing of it,” Jennie said, shaking her head.  “If it was Michael of Maria, I’d hope someone would do the same.”

Something seemed to click when she said her children’s names.  “Oh!  So you’re Michael and Maria’s mom? Michael is in my oldest’s class.”

A pang of sadness rippled through Jennie as she realized that after three years, this woman had no idea who she was. Trina was the head of the Saturday afternoon luncheons in the neighborhood.  It became blatantly obvious why she’d never been invited. “Yes.  I’m Jennie,” she said, extending her hand.  The two exchanged pleasantries.

“I can’t believe we’ve never met before,” Trina mused.  Jennie didn’t find it quite so anecdotal.  The fact was they had met – multiple times.  “I wish there were something I could do to pay you back for saving my Abby.”

Jennie shook her head.  “Not necessary.”

“Of course it is!  Let me think.”  She paused, regarding Jennie in a strange manner.  “I know!  We have a luncheon every Saturday where we work on our neighborhood fundraising project.  Any of the extra cash we make, we split amongst ourselves.  Would you like to come?”

Dread and excitement fought for dominance in Jennie’s head.  She wasn’t sure she should go since she was obviously such a forgettable member of the neighborhood, but, at the same time, they had asked – finally!

Jennie smiled.  “Sure.  That sounds great!”

Trina, seemingly pleased, nodded.  “Ok!  Well, bring a covered dish and be there no later than eleven-thirty.”

Jennie nodded and waved before continuing her jog home.  She marveled at the turn the morning had taken.


“I can’t believe you’re going!” Rick said as he zipped the back off Jennie’s dress.  “After the way they’ve treated you?”

She looked at herself in the mirror, appraising her appearance.  Her new flowery sundress and shoes made her smile.  “It would have been rude to say no,” she said as she attached her earrings.

Rick rolled his eyes.  “You’ll be miserable, you know.”

Jennie shrugged.  “Maybe.  But at least I’ll be able to put this ridiculousness to rest.”

Rick sighed and pressed his lips to hers.  “Well, have a good time, I guess.”  He pulled her into an embrace.  “You look beautiful.”

Jennie flushed.  “Well aren’t you just the sweetest thing?”  She kissed him on the cheek and grabbed her covered dish from the counter. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

As planned, Jennie stopped by Wendy’s to pick her up.  They walked slowly, enjoying the gorgeous weather.  “You should turn around and go home, Jennie.”  Wendy said, her voice full of worry.

“No!” Jennie exclaimed.  “I’ve been invited.  I’m going to go.”

Wendy stopped and turned toward Jennie, placing her hand on her shoulder.  “You don’t understand.  Once you start going, you aren’t allowed to stop until you either move or die.  Trust me.  Go home to Rick.  You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

Jennie raised an eyebrow.  “Can we keep going, please?  These shoes are killing me and we’re going to be late!”

Wendy shrugged.  “It’s your funeral,” she muttered as they reached Trina’s driveway.

Nervousness poured through Jennie as she pushed the doorbell.  Why all the warnings?  What was with Wendy?  She began to ask a question of her friend when the front door sprung open revealing Trina, dressed to the nines.

“Oh, hello!” she called, ushering in the new arrivals.  “Jennie!  I’m so glad you could make it,” she said, taking her covered dish.  “Wendy, be a dear and have her sign the form?”

Wendy’s lips pulled up into a fake smile as Trina headed into the kitchen.  She grabbed a sheet of paper from a stack on the credenza. From her pocket, she pulled a pen.  “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she whispered.  “This is a non-disclosure agreement.  You must sign it before you can attend the meeting.  Basically it says what happens at Trina’s stays at Trina’s.”

Despite all of her neurons firing, telling her to run the other way, Jennie signed the sheet.  She’d already walked in after all.  What could possibly happen?

Trina reappeared a few minutes later, a glass of white wine in hand.  “Oh you signed it!  Great!” she exclaimed.  Handing Jennie the glass, Trina wrapped her arm around Jennie’s shoulder and marched her through the entryway to the family room.  Jennie’s jaw immediately hit the floor.

“Everyone, I’d like you to meet our newest member, Jennie.”  Every woman from the neighborhood was there applauding with vigor, but Jennie couldn’t hear them.  She was too busy looking at the card tables full of marijuana, rolling papers and other paraphernalia.  How had she not smelled this when she walked in?

“Go ahead and have a seat,” Trina directed, her voice lilting.  Around the room, conversations resumed in an echoing din.  Trina leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “Have you rolled one before?”

Jennie shook her head mechanically as her mind tried to wrap itself around this very unexpected situation.  This was how they made money?  She’d never so much as smoked a joint, let alone rolled one.  The overwhelming smell of the pot made her stomach lurch.

“Wendy, can you get Jennie her own stash and show her how to get started?”

Jennie watched as Wendy left the room.  She plopped down in the chair, wondering what she’d done.  Why hadn’t she heeded the warnings?  “Now, as I’m sure Wendy told, mum’s the word.  You can imagine that we are particular about our little operation here, so you are to keep this under wraps at all costs.” Trina warned.  Her smile sent chills down Jennie’s spine. “Or else.”  Trina stared pensively at the ceiling.  “Oh!  And remember, we promote from within,” she sang, patting Jennie on the shoulder.  “So, do a good job and your might just move up the ranks to where the real money is.”  Trina winked and then went about her merry way, humming a happy song.

“Are you ok?” Wendy whispered as she set the tray in front of her.  The sight of the tray’s contents made her want to vomit.  How could she have been so stupid?

“Do I want to be promoted?” Jennie whispered as she eyed the tray in front of her.

Wendy pursed her lips and shook her head.  She mouthed what looked to be the word Meth.  The blood drained from Jennie’s cheeks.

She mulled over her limited options. None of them looked promising. She could do a subpar job and remain at this level, rolling joints that would be distributed to teenagers, children and young adults, none of whom should ever be exposed to drugs in any form all while trying to avoid jail. Oh, and do this while hiding her actions from her own children whom she’d told time and again that pot was bad. Or, she could do a great job and be moved up the ladder to an even more morally reprehensible, potentially dangerous position that could kill her or also land her in jail.

Wendy poked her arm. “Are you feeling alright? You’re as white as a ghost!”

“I’m just wondering how mad Rick is going to be when I tell him we have to move?”


J. M. Vogel lives in Columbus, Ohio.  With a Bachelor of Arts from The Ohio State University, she is setting out to show the world that a degree in English does not predestine you to life in the unemployment line.


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