The NYC Short Story Competition results from round 1 were posted at 0030 on Thursday, March 12. Out of the 30 writers in my heat, I placed second! WOO-HOO! This meant I moved on with four others from that heat (and another two hundred thirty-five writers total) to round 2 of competition, with a new genre, subject and character assignment and a 2000 word limit. This round spanned only 3 days from assignment to submission deadline; I received the following prompts: Genre: Romantic Comedy / Subject: Quitting a Job / Character: A Recently Divorced Woman. Thanks of course to my supportive and loving husband who lets me spit-ball ideas based on my assignment at midnight and then took major parenting duty for the weekend, as well as several beta readers from the NYC competition (mrjaywilson, douglasesper and ShadowBeast) who provided great feedback!
Constructive criticism is welcome and appreciated. Good luck to my fellow writers and please enjoy!
Bumps In the Road
Synopsis: A night out reveals many bumps in the road ahead, but a happy ending may yet be in store for Allison.
“Greg, that was almost painful! Honestly, how many times have you been speed-dating?” Allison slipped her arm under his, keeping pace with his long stride.
“Actually, this was my first time,” Greg said, bending his elbow slightly to cradle her arm. He stopped suddenly and turned to face her.
“I’m sorry, I was just teasing.” She hesitated. “Everything okay?”
“On you.” He paused. “I think I’d like a glass of wine…care to join me?”
“Definitely. I think you owe me at least that.”
“Great. Then everything’s fine.” He smiled, wheeled them around on the sidewalk, and led them to a restaurant.
Greg held the door open and they headed for the bar, claiming a high-top table. After hanging his coat over one chair, he slid out the neighboring one for her. Once she was seated, he settling onto the oak chair, a hint of his cologne catching her attention. He lifted the wine list and scanned the pages. Allison watched his studious expression until she realized she was staring and dropped her gaze down to rest on his hands. They were strong with long, graceful fingers that had wiped her tears for weeks on end as her twenty-year marriage fell apart, and then held hers after she signed her divorce papers two months ago. She suddenly longed for the warmth of those fingers intertwined with her own.
“How about this one, Alli?”
His smooth baritone voice snapped her back to reality, chasing away the thought of his fingers on her skin. She nodded and murmured, “Sure, looks good.”
He furrowed his brow and began to speak, but the server interrupted, setting down two glasses of water. After ordering the wine, he turned back to Allison. “So, who did you meet?”
She rolled her eyes. “Some were unbelievable! One guy used to be copier salesman. You’ll never believe his line.” She bit her lip, trying to control her amusement.
“Your ass’d look great in black and white?” Greg grinned mischievously and took a sip of water.
Allison laughed. “No, but that’s almost as awful!” She leaned forward to whisper huskily, “He asked me how many shades of grey I like on a man, ‘cause he’s worked with them all.”
Greg guffawed and choked on the water. “And I bet he has the shirts to prove it. Probably not a stain that comes out.”
“He was so earnest, too, like he expected it’d be a great line. How about you, how’d you fair?”
He shrugged. “A few potentials, but nobody stood out.”
She arched one eyebrow. “A few, eh? I marked two, maybe three. Let’s see if I can guess your picks from those I remember seeing.”
“No way. You can’t pick them out from a cursory glance and some brief, pre-event chatting.”
“Definitely. I know you better than you think,” she said.
He leaned back and folded his arms. “Alright then, what’ve you got?”
Before Allison could speak, the rattle of her cell phone against her keys interrupted. “Shoot, it’s Jessica. Hang on, I better get this.” She ducked her head and covered her other ear. “Jess, honey, what’s up?”
“MOM! You’ll never guess what happened!” Jessica’s voice teemed with excitement.
“Okay, well, tell me! What happened?”
“No, wait, where are you? We should tell you in person!”
“Um,” Allison glanced up at Greg and shrugged with a slight smile. “We’re at Grapeseed.”
“Great! We’ll be right there!”
“Okay, see you soon.”
He cocked his head, eyebrows raised. “She’s crashing us?”
Allison smiled and shrugged. “She and Max auditioned for some reality show. I guess they heard back from the producers.”
Greg laughed. “This’ll be good. I’m glad we already ordered drinks,” he said as the server returned, presenting the bottle of wine. After quickly tasting and approving, Greg swirled what was left of the first pour while carefully watching as Allison took a first whiff of the deep burgundy wine.
“Wow, great nose,” she said, taking a small sip. “Mmm, Greg, excellent pick.”
“I do have good taste,” he said evenly, his rich, chocolate-brown eyes holding hers until Allison forced herself to glance down and take another drink from her glass. The rich wine seemed to flow directly into her blood stream as she felt a warmth spreading through her chest.
“So, you were going to guess my picks for dates?”
“Hmm. My first guess is the tall brunette with incredible posture who smiled a lot. Looked like a runner. Definitely your type,” Allison ventured without looking up.
“Indeed she was,” Greg nodded.
“And the leggy one, olive complexion in the cream cardigan who didn’t wear much make-up. She seemed very fit, confident and intelligent.”
“Hmm,” Greg replied. “Good guess. Anyone else?”
“Actually, I was wondering if you talked with any of the guys. There was chatter in the ladies room afterwards about one of them quitting his job to start some crazy website. Any idea who that was?”
Greg raised his eyebrows. “Did they say anything else?”
“Something about cats and sandwiches. Cats with condiments on them? Or maybe it was cats with strategically placed sandwich parts. I’m not really sure, I just heard some talk in the bathroom.”
Greg leaned back. “Actually, it’s called ‘Catwich’ and it’s an internet meme site. Somewhat like ‘I Can Has Cheezburger’ but with a more narrow scope. The site is in beta-testing and has been rating really well. I’m talking with some major advertisers on Monday.”
Allison’s jaw dropped. “Wait, what? You’re the start-up guy?”
“You knew I was working on a side project. Why’re you so surprised?”
“I guess…it’s just…you’ve been with D.o.E. almost twenty-three years. Retirement’s on the horizon and you always talked about finishing out your time. Why quit? Why not just keep doing this on the side?”
“Because I’ve been doing this on the side for the last nine months. The development was a ton of work and now it’s about ready to launch. You’ve been rather self-involved here lately and I guess you just didn’t noticed.”
The truth of his words stung and she had to blink back a few tears. Allison thought of all the times she canceled their plans or didn’t answer his calls in the last few months, despite his presence when she needed him. “I-I’m sorry, Greg. With Matt leaving, the divorce, the settlement and everything else…” She trailed off, thinking of all the nights she called Greg, crying about her ex-husband’s exodus, demands for spousal support, and arguments over Jessica’s tuition, then about how little Greg had shared about his life. He’d been musing over running his own company since shortly after they met, eleven years ago through a running group while training for a marathon. The subject came up more in the last two years, but always in the context of “after retirement.” Before she could say anything else, her daughter bounded up to them.
“MOM!” Jessica threw her arms around Allison while her boyfriend, Max, shook Greg’s hand. “We’re IN! Can you believe it? The producers called while we were at dinner. Obviously I had to tell you right away!”
“That’s great, sweetie, I’m so happy for you,” she replied. “Tell me again, which show is this?”
“Happy for us, Mom! Remember? Life Swap? It’s me and Max, but of course, they’ll need to include you some, too.”
Allison blinked. “And why’s that again?”
“Mom.” Jessica dropped her chin to lock her pale blue eyes with Allison’s cobalt ones. “Remember? This’s the show where we swap lives with a celebrity couple for six weeks! We talked about it ages ago! You were totally on board.”
Allison chuckled. “What? You can’t be serious.”
“Yeah, Mom,” Jessica nodded her head vigorously. “It’s just for part of summer break. We’ll be back in August. Our swap-mates’ll live in the apartment while the show films.”
Allison stared in disbelief at Greg, whose shoulders were shaking as he chuckled. “What the hell’s going on around here tonight?” She pointed a finger at Greg. “You’re quitting your job to start a website at forty-nine. And you,” she turned to Jessica, “signed me up for some insane reality-show nonsense? Who’s your swap mate? Wait, no. Not yet.” Allison held up her finger to Jessica before she could respond, and signaled the server. “Dirty martini loaded with olives, please.”
They sat, listening to the chatter and clinking of glass around them until the server returned with the drink. The vodka burned as she swallowed a large mouthful, so Allison quickly bit into an olive. She took a deep breath. “Okay. Who’re my new downstairs tenants?”
Jessica and Max glanced at each other. “Miley and Patrick.”
Greg burst out laughing, spraying deep red wine and started to cough. He grabbed for a napkin as Allison gapped at Jessica. “What?!”
Jessica grimaced. “Miley Cyrus and Patrick Schwarzenegger.”
Allison drained the martini and set down the glass with such force that the stem snapped off the base. “Are you INSANE?” She stared at Jessica’s sheepish expression, then at Greg. She grabbed her wine glass, finished it and poured another.
“Alli, maybe all this change’s for the best,” he offered. “Think of the attention you’ll get…it could be good for your practice and your social life! You’ll never have to speed date again.”
Allison narrowed her eyes at him over her wine glass as she took another drink. She could feel a tingling in her fingers and a numbness from the alcohol, which thankfully absorbed some of the shock. “Right, that’s all I need. A bunch of paparazzi outside my house and some crazy men tracking me down who think I’m their perfect match. No, thank you.” She set the empty wine glass down and stood, wobbling slightly. “I need some air,” she announced and strode towards the door, trying not to look at the tables of happy couples she passed along the way.
Allison stepped outside into the cool spring evening, her thoughts jumbled and head spinning as she headed for the tiny green space just up the street.
She turned to see Greg, jogging to catch up, her coat in his arms. “Alli, maybe it’s not all that bad,” he said.
She sighed. “You’re not about to have two of the most photographed celebrities living in the basement apartment of your house.”
“Maybe not, but this’s a great opportunity for Jessica. And maybe it’ll be fun.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“Look, Alli, this was a tough year, I know, and change is hard. I mean, shit, look at me! It took ten years to get up the nerve to venture out on my own. Maybe a little shake-up is long overdue, and in a few years, you’ll think these were just bumps in the road.”
She shook her head and dropped her shoulders. “I just don’t feel like I’m ready for all this change. It’s too much, all at once. And tonight, you know…I don’t think I want to meet anyone new right now.” She stared down at her hands.
“How about someone who’s not new?” Greg said softly.
Allison looked up, her heart fluttering. Greg stepped closer, sliding his fingers along her wrists until they intertwined with hers. “How about a little change for us?”
She continued to stare but couldn’t summon a response, so nodded. Greg leaned down and gently pressed his lips to hers. The warmth of his mouth on hers ignited a fire in her chest. Allison slid her arms under his coat, pulling him closer, and kissing him more deeply. By the time they parted, both were breathing more rapidly and smiling widely, oblivious as Jessica and Max approached.
“I’d say that was long overdue,” Jessica remarked.
Allison and Greg turned, arms still around one another, then looked back at each other, still smiling. “Maybe we’re all due for some changes,” Allison said finally, lacing her fingers with Greg’s. “Let’s go back in. Jessica, you’ve got more explaining to do,” she added firmly. Both couples turned, hand-in-hand, and headed back inside.