Substitute (by Danielle La Paglia)

Photo © 2011 Gerald Pereira CC BY 2.0

Something a little different today. I signed up to take part in Tony Noland’s Great April Fool’s Day #FridayFlash Blogswap. Tony paired me up with Danielle La Paglia, who has in gracious silence endured my haphazard attempt at keeping to a deadline.

(Oy. Just be thankful you’re not my publisher.)

Danielle and I both wrote a story around the same prompt. I’m posting hers here, and she’s posting my story over on her blog. Tony gave us the following prompt to inspire our stories: “three free tickets to a movie.”



by Danielle La Paglia

Sandy fingered the tickets in her coat pocket, sliding their slick backs together as she stared at the house. It had seemed like such a good idea when she’d stopped by the theater two days ago, but the thin slips of paper felt inadequate and meaningless now. What good were three free tickets when they’d lost so much? She thought of putting the car in drive and heading home, but John stepped onto the porch and waived. There was no turning back.

A gust of wind whipped her hair across her face as she stepped from the car. The icy blast beat against her exposed cheeks and sent a flurry of snowflakes into the car before she could slam the door shut. Even the wind knew it was a bad idea.

She ran to the shelter of the porch, hoping to sneak a quick hug from John, a small shot of courage and comfort to push her through. But Maddy shoved the screen door open and ushered her siblings onto the porch. Sorrow hung on them like a heavy cloak, paling their skin, darkening the shadows in their eyes. Even seven-year-old Emily had lost her sparkle. The bright pink smile she used to wear was a soft peach line tugged down at the corners.

Sandy knew she was a poor substitute for the mother they’d lost. She wasn’t trying to replace her. She only hoped to give them a break from the reality that had been forced upon them, even if it was only for a few hours. But seeing their somber expressions, she felt the sting of her mistake. Only time would make it better, not her, not this. She wanted to run, make a hasty retreat and leave them to what was left of their broken family, but John spoke.

“You girls behave and try to have a good time.” He hugged each one in turn then Maddy hustled them down the steps. “Thank you,” he said and squeezed Sandy’s hand. They’d been dating nearly a year and, despite the three-year-old divorce settlement, it was still hard on the girls. Sandy gave a weak smile then jogged to the car.

They rode in near silence to the theater. Each of Sandy’s attempts at conversation were shut down with a one-word answer or a half-hearted nod. Resigned to their silence, she turned on the radio and let the music try to warm the stale atmosphere instead.

As they stepped into the lobby, Emily and Sarah’s faces brightened. At seven and nine, they were amazed at the beauty of the grand theater, pointing to heavy velvet curtains held back with gold ropes and the scrolling wood ornaments decorating the walls. Then they lifted their faces in wonder at the elaborately painted ceiling. The knot in Sandy’s stomach loosened until her eyes met Maddy’s. The fourteen-year-old’s face was set in a cold stare. It took all of Sandy’s strength to stand her ground and force a smile.

An usher finally led them to their seats where they once again sat in silence with only the occasional whisper from the little ones pointing out some new discovery. The house lights eventually dimmed and a hush fell over the audience. The first bars of music filled the room. The curtain rose, and the ballerinas took the stage.

Emily and Sarah were spellbound. Their eyes glued to the dancers—children twirled across the stage, tin soldiers came to life, and a sugar plum fairy enchanted them all. The glow in their eyes raised a lump in Sandy’s throat. She’d done the right thing. And as the saying went, two out of three wasn’t bad.

Emily and Sarah’s giggles and high-pitched chatter filled the car on the ride home, a warm contrast to the start of their journey. When they pulled into the driveway, the wind had died, leaving a peaceful blanket of snow across the yard and roof top. The younger girls clutched their shiny red nutcrackers and hugged Sandy goodbye. Again Maddy ushered them through the door as John and Sandy stood on the porch.

“Thank you for this. Their smiles…” His voice cracked; tears glistened in his eyes.

“You’re welcome.” He kissed her cheek then followed the girls inside. She was almost to the car when the screen door slammed behind her. She spun to find Maddy jogging down the steps.

“Sandy?” Her face was softer, her eyes wider, more innocent somehow.


“Thank you.” Maddy gave a soft smile then ran back into the house.

Sandy stood beside her car letting the words of a child warm her. Today wasn’t a substitute, but it had been a welcome reprieve, and that was more than enough for her.

Did you enjoy this post? Why not leave a comment below and continue the conversation, or subscribe to my feed and get articles like this delivered automatically to your feed reader.


Thanks for swapping blogs with me this week, Tim. :)

Fun idea with the blog swap. :)

Lots of feelings from all characters. You painted the picture perfectly. Well done! :)

Well done Danni. I gotta give it to you, you really can write just about anything and make it come alive. I think it’s because what you write feels so real.

A more fleshed out narrative than usual from you, Danni. Could have fooled me if the attribution hadn’t been upfront. Appreciated that sweet ending, too.


What a lovely happy ending! Very sweet story, made me go “awwwww!”

Lovely story Dani, you should do these longer pieces more often.

Beautifully written. I could picture the expressions of the children, from sullen to awestruck.

So heartfelt! Working with kids, I’ve seen so many of them who need a reprieve like that. You capture the changes so well.

“The bright pink smile she used to wear was a soft peach line”
This whole story was like a warm hug. Loved it!

Lovely sentiment.

Wow! Another great piece – well done! You really paint a vivid picture!

“Even the wind knew it was a bad idea.”
Danni very few show quite like you do. I loved this story, thanks for sharing it. :)

This was great. I could feel the trepidation at the beginning and the wistful ending was very fulfilling.

Very nice story. I could just see the delight in the two younger ones’ eyes as they experienced the show. And the ending was very sweet.

Simply lovely.

Wonderful! I love the transformation in the two younger sisters as the ballet captures their attention, but the ending was just fantastic. So touching.

So much more positive than a lot of your pieces. Still heart-breaking, but lovely. :)

As usual a wonderful piece that really emotes the emotion. Well paced, lovingly crafted, a joy as usual.

Very touching story – just the right amount of emotion. I was pleased by the – sort of – happy ending. Perhaps a sign of better days to come for the girls.

PJ gave me the word I was looking for — touching. I’ve seen it in real life, so I know it can happen. But it doesn’t happen enough, unfortunately.

Thank you all for the wonderful comments and for taking the time to stop by and read my story. Thank you again to Tim for hosting me this week.

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