by A.L. Duncan
Annie Freckle is doing her best to be a productive and efficient worker among workers while living her life as a recovering alcoholic. Working as a barista in a busy downtown café, and as an accounting clerk for a quirky bookstore owner, Annie has her fair share of diverse characters that circle her wagon of life.
It isn’t until she signs up with Guardian Services—a monthly membership of fairy godmothers—that Annie’s white bread life begins to take off in an adventure of self-examination and the pursuit of happiness.
Follow Annie as she musters her innermost self to develop spiritually and emotionally, all while discovering a love interest she never dreamed would melt her butter.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Annie Freckle is all that and fries too. She just doesn’t know it yet. With the help of a few fairy godmothers, Annie is transported into a journey of self-discovery and self-worth in this modern-day Romantic Comedy. I happened to work with an Annie who would give her all to everyone around her and still be loving. In healthcare, this is an exhaustive and draining skill. Yet, like most of us, hardly had the energy to give herself the same love and care or time. This is a story I felt we all could relate to and, like Cinderella, enjoy the perks of a magical world I believe that is very much a part of our lives, cheering us on. I do hope you enjoy it."
Every other day, Annie would walk or swim with her elderly landlady’s dogs. The sprite Chihuahua mix, Saqi, made the perfect companion to the rescued beagle-bird dog mix named Bones. Bones always seemed to enjoy giving her rusty joints a stretch. Such time with them both gave Annie an excuse to start her day out with a smile. Today was a pool day. Saqi paddled around in an inner tube chasing his ball while Annie joined Bones in a chase for several tennis balls that had splashed into the water. A wide-eyed game for them both, as Annie attempted to grab a ball with her teeth too.
Before visiting her father, Annie decided it was always a good idea to mentally prepare herself. Today, she walked through the downtown to the city’s carousel. There, she drank a coffee by the river and watched the barges go by while listening to the faint pipe organs of the spinning carousel. She drove her tiny, yellow, electric Smart Fortwo across town as clouds bore down, torturing the streets with endless sheets of rain.
“Why does it always rain on my day off, dammit?”
While stopped at an intersection, Annie blared the volume on the song, “Bad to the Bone” and met the smug smirk of a man in a towering SUV. He clearly was not appreciating her choice of vehicle. She pulled away, flipped him the finger, and continued headbanging.
When visiting her ailing father, Annie would drive to the local suburban farmer’s market and pick up his favorite handmade rosemary and olive oil bread and a handful of local fresh fruit. On this occasion, she picked up some strawberries. She also added in a bonus bag of black licorice. It wouldn’t hurt to butter him up a bit. She never knew where she stood with her father. He was either warm and pleasant or bitterly cold and contemptible. In the car, Annie scanned through chapters of a book on dementia for caretakers at more stoplights on the way.
It was closer to lunch by the time she got there, but her father always made breakfast. It was his favorite meal. She stepped in from the garage and received his usual gruff greeting, along with his Dobermann’s bombardment of hysterical jumping, tackling, and rambunctious joy at her presence.
“Sit down. Breakfast is ready.” Her father placed a plate of scrambled eggs and potatoes on the table in front of her. “Gunny, go lay down.”
Gunny leapt at Annie’s bag in an attempt to disarm her. Missing her as she twisted and sidestepped, he hurled himself into the living room empty-mouthed. His expression was hardly one of defeat. She knew not to feel cocky just yet. She laid the market bag on the counter and handed Gunny a big bone. He was so excited.
“Lucky for you, I happened to stop at the pet store,” she said.
Her father poured himself a drink. “He’ll bury it. I’ll find it in a day or two stuck inside the cushions.”
“Yes. But I’ve seen his eyes when he finds it and hands it to you. So proud of himself.”
Her dad scoffed a laugh.
Annie placed the fruit in his fridge. “I found your favorite licorice. Thought you might enjoy it over a ball game or something.”
“The Reds lost yesterday. They’re on a bye today.”
“Well, you can enjoy it later watching the Pirates get stomped on by someone.”
“You getting fat again?” he asked, poking at her belly.
“No. It’s probably the shirt.”
The dutiful charge of being a good daughter always put Annie in a less-than-obedient mood to honor thy father and mother. With a churning gut and mixed feelings, Annie sucked in her sore feelings and took a seat at the table.
He offered her a demeaning snuff, his go-to reply to most things.
She’d tired of trying to convince her dad she was doing well in her life, happy with most days. On other days she still noticed the scars on her forearms and chest, abuse from a previous lover who had an affinity for kitchen knives. Then, there were moments she wished she had more time to enjoy those brief glimpses of ease, of satisfaction, of being in her element. Moments with her dad certainly put a crimp in things—the instinct to always be Daddy’s little girl had gotten harder as she’d grown older and his derailing criticisms became harsher. She was used to changing the subject.
Annie poked at her eggs. “How was your lunch with Scott yesterday?”
“Your brother never showed up. Never called.” Her father stabbed at a piece of meat. “I called him later and he gave me some damn excuse about being caught up with fixing something in his house.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“He doesn’t give a shit. Nobody gives a shit.”
Annie scoffed. “Hello. I’m here.”
Her dad set his fork down and applauded her before returning to his eggs.
That did it. Annie felt her being unhinge. “You know, I could leave.”
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t have to be here. I came because I wanted to. I actually wanted to spend a little time with you. If you’re asking for a pity party, you’ll have to do it alone. I don’t party anymore. It’s bad for my complexion. I break out over soap opera melodrama and end up looking like four-day-old Chinese takeout. I can’t help you when you’re like this. And it’s not right that you should take it out on me.”
Annie was shaking. She hated talking back to her dad. It had taken years to find her voice and even longer to feel confident enough to use it. She picked at her food and sipped the organic orange juice he always bought just for her visits.
Small boxes of pens, letters, bills, and junk spilled over each other, with only enough space for the two of them to eat. His house was a mess of clutter she was never allowed to touch or toss. In fact, he never threw anything away that he considered useful or repairable. And in his mind, he could repair or use just about anything.
“How’s your breakfast?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm. It’s…really good. I like the green peppers with the potatoes.”
Annie slipped into her car seat, closed the door, and moaned with relief as she leaned her head against the steering wheel. The drops of rain on the windshield soothed her tension and hid her face from her dad’s figure at the door. She returned his wave before heading out.
* * *
The supermarket was always a mix of education and disinterest. Exotic and ugly fruit. Wilted lettuce, wrinkly poblanos, overripe avocados, and underripe bananas. New labels for GMO-free snacks dried with inorganic seasoning. Energy tea bottles with a hidden one-percent alcohol content.
“Oh, I wouldn’t drink that,” Annie said as she watched a pregnant mother of a frantic, screaming toddler pull one of the bottles off the shelf. “In your condition, I mean. Did you know it has alcohol in it?”
The mother barely acknowledged her. “Do you want your milk?” she cooed quietly to her little boy. “Do you?” A silver cross dangled from her neck as she bent over into the cart and pulled an airline bottle of brandy out of her purse. She masterfully opened the kid’s bottle with one hand as she twisted the top off the brandy with her teeth, pouring it into his milk with her other hand. The top was replaced, the bottle shook, and it all took less than a minute.
“Helps him sleep,” she insisted to Annie. “Doesn’t it, sweetie? We all want to sleep later, don’t we, hmm?” The woman snatched up three more bottles of the energy tea before disappearing down the aisle of baby food.
“Walk away, Annie,” she told herself. “You are not going to 12-Step an infant.”
Once Annie had gotten home, the clouds cleared, allowing the June day to be drenched with plenty of sunshine. Annie placed a handful of daisies she bought from the grocery store in a ball jar and stuck it on her kitchen table. Pork and Beans leapt up to the open window and purred for her to stroke their heads, and joined Annie for a big sniff at the fresh air. She decided to distract herself with some good old-fashioned chores to escape the feeling of angst, which always settled in after a visit with her dad.
With her earbuds in, she mowed the yard with much palooza, wiggling to all her favorites. Afterward, she relaxed in her inflatable kiddie pool with a glass of Tang, enjoying the quiet of her small backyard, limbs dangling over the top the puffy plastic.
She felt a shadow loom over her. Something had cut off the warm sun from her face. She opened her eyes to spy the goofy smile of her landlady.
“Oh. Hi, Mrs. Winkle.”
Annie raised her sunglasses to get a better squint at the woman filled with halos from blocking the sun. “Is everything all right?”
“I’m so sorry to bother you.”
“You’re not bothering me.”
“It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.” Annie started to roll out of her kiddie pool, and soon understood why toddlers looked so awkward standing up from those limp rubber tubes. It’s a perfectly natural position to have your butt up in the air as you attempt to find your feet after hitting the grass. Mrs. Winkle handed her a towel.
“I’m so glad the sun came out and warmed things up. Oh, I used to sunbathe all the time.”
Annie dried herself off with a towel. “I bet you had a beautiful tan.”
“Oh, yes. My grandmother was an Indian through and through.”
“Was she, now?”
“She wasn’t very good at catching a foul ball. But she loved sitting in the stadium when the team was playing the Pirates. Got the best tans in the northeast seats.”
“I see. You do know the Indians changed their name, right?”
“Yes. What a shame to choose a name like the Radicals.”
Annie shook her head. “The Guardians. They’re the Guardians.”
“What kind of name is that?” Mrs. Winkle wrinkled her nose. “What’s to guard in Cleveland, for God’s sake? Lake water? Akron? They would have done better with a name like the Rebels.”
Annie placed hands on her hips. “Was there something you needed to ask me?”
“Oh. Yes. If it’s no trouble.”
“No, no trouble at all.”
“Good. It’ll just take a minute.”
Annie followed Mrs. Winkle back inside the house. “How’s your grandson?” Annie queried. “Have you heard from him?”
“Did I tell you he moved to Minnesota to live closer to his girlfriend?”
“He decided to change his name.” Mrs. Winkle pet a vining mandevilla on her way past. Its blooms were bright red and warmed by the sun. “Isn’t this gorgeous?”
“What does he call himself?”
Annie ruffled her forehead. “Uh. Your grandson. You were saying he changed his name. What does he call himself?”
“Why does he need to call himself?”
Mrs. Winkle occupied the first floor of Annie’s rental, a two-story rowhouse. She kept her patio and sliding glass doors impeccably clean, as if they were brand new. The kitchen and small dining table was also kept tidy. Usually. A bag of flour had fallen over, powdering the table and the tiled floor as both her dogs sat perfectly still in the middle of it.
Annie bleated, “Oh, my.”
“Yes, well. You see, I thought I would make some egg noodles for tonight’s supper.” Mrs. Winkle picked up the torn flour bag. “But the bag got away from me.”
The flour had spread far and wide, even outside of the room, with paw prints marking a trail of chaos in all directions.
“I tend to have this acid reflux reaction to excitement nowadays. Then I get gas. Don’t get old.”
“Well, I’d prefer it to the alternative.” Annie bent down and the two dogs raced to her, getting white powder all over her damp skin and bathing suit. “I’ll get this cleaned up for you.” She laughed at the licks on her face. “Okay. Stop. Stop.”
“If you have the time, could you take my trash out too? It’s trash day tomorrow, you know.”
Annie’s phone dinged. A calendar reminder that she had a doctor’s appointment in an hour. Her heart vaulted and breath halted. “Oh, no. I forgot about my physical.” Her blood rushed. “Um—you know, Mrs. Winkle, never mind. I can do it.”
“Are you sure?”
Annie waved aside her concern. “Yeah. I’ll do it.”
Mrs. Winkle stood beside Annie as she opened the garage door. Piles of black trash bags fell out before her.
Mrs. Winkle gave a sly wink. “Found a burst of energy. Thought I should clean out a little. Oh. If you have the time, could you also wipe down Saqi and Bones for me?”
Annie made quick work of sweeping and mopping the kitchen, then washed the dogs in her kiddie pool. Rinsing Saqi, the Chihuahua, with a hose was hell. It was a challenge not to shoot him away with the jet of water. She would retract him into position like an old typewriter after every shot, and he stood dutifully with every slide. He did seem to enjoy running away afterward, dashing about the yard and rubbing himself all over the grass when she gave him the word to go. Bones intended to take up more time than Annie wanted to give her, and she couldn’t help getting herself wet too in the process because making a game of it was so much fun, and ole Bones seemed to enjoy the massage.
The only problem occurred when Annie attempted to haul out the trash bags. One felt like it weighed over sixty pounds. Tugging and pulling and pushing and gasping, she lost her grip and fell into another bag that burst, sending Styrofoam into the air like a poof of confetti, covering her still-damp body like a snow mummy. Thank goodness the neighbors weren’t watching. Maybe they were. At this point, she no longer cared. She spotted a woman across the street she once met at a LBGTQ festival. She had been seeing her everywhere lately. Reluctant to make eye contact, Annie felt her pupils dilate in reply to a happy hand wave. After the last bag was dropped at the curb, Annie made a dash upstairs to her apartment. Within minutes, she was zipping down the narrow, winding street in her Fortwo.
* * *
Annie sat on the examination table with a tech taking her blood pressure as she spit out a Styrofoam pellet and combed another few out of her hair. The tech grinned at the distraction.
“I hate those things,” the tech murmured.
“Big box companies must get a kick out of selling something to old people just in case they want to send themselves to China in all that free packing material nobody else wants.”
“Your pulse is really high today. Too much coffee?”
“Too much excitement. Good thing I don’t get gas. Inside joke.”
The tech dismissed herself. “The doctor will be in shortly. I hope your day calms down a bit.”
“So do I.”
Annie’s doctor was the old-school type. A slightly built fifty-something fella with a graying beard and hitched suspenders that made him look like he should be in a silent film. His mustache curled in a smile as he shook her hand. His voice always reminded Annie of Bob Ross, the artist she watched on PBS as a kid. She’d sit alongside her mom, who’d converted the dining room table to an art studio, and watch Bob’s reruns. Painting was therapeutic, her mother would insist.
“You’ve been quite active lately?” the doctor asked.
“Of late. Really late. Yeah.”
“Even when I don’t try.”
“Good. Well, your numbers are excellent. Across the board.”
“Yep. Whatever you’re doing. Keep doing it. Still sober?”
He shook her hand. “Good job.”
“Thanks.” Her cheeks warmed. She did feel proud of that milestone.
He unclipped the papers from his board and handed them to her. “Beware the seven-year itch.”
Annie scrunched her face. “That’s for marriage, isn’t it?”
“Murphy’s Law. It’s for everything. What they don’t tell you is that it happens every year, every month, every day. The key is to make sure you’re really enjoying your life.”
“Well, I have moments. Small, incremental moments. Not the whole day, of course. Some days. Now and again. On occasion.”
“And how do you think about yourself in those moments?”
Annie puffed out her cheeks. “I don’t. That’s the distraction.”
“And what do you do when you’re not distracted?”
“Are you depressed?”
“No.” Annie had to let that question sink in for a moment. “I don’t think so. I enjoy my life today. I’m a productive part of society. It’s very freeing to know that.”
He nodded. “What are you doing for you?”
“What do you mean?”
He opened the door. “Just think about it.” His mustache curled into an uplifted wooly worm.
“Well, if all my numbers are good, everything’s right, then what am I doing wrong?”
“You can be doing everything right, everything the world needs you to do. But, if you’re not happy in the process of just living, all the rest means nothing. Obligations and good deeds aren’t always enough. It’s different than following the spirit intent of something. I have to ask myself why it is I really want this thing or this situation to work in my favor. If it’s for the sole purpose I believe it will make me feel good, then it is the wrong intent. Be happy first.”
Annie slouched. “But what if I’m anxious?”
“Anxiety is the body’s response of what we are thinking. We are what we think about. Doing things that make you feel good can keep you healthy and happy.”
“Happy little trees, huh?”
“Happy little trees. Happy little clouds. Happy little me.”