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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but there are several fun things I want to share.

To Listen:

  1. Usually, I’d rather chew my arm off than listen to someone ramble and “um” at me for long periods of time (i.e., most podcasts) (short periods of time are fine – it’s really the prolonged, coulda-been-ten-years-shorter-without-the-fillers monologues that get to me), but the Talkville Podcast in which Michael Rosenbaum and Tom Welling (and various guests) are watching episodes of “Smallville” and giving commentary on them is really entertaining. It will be more entertaining if you were in this particular fandom when the show aired, but I suspect others enjoy it, too.
  2. BILATERAL STIMULATION. So soothing. So engaging. Use headphones for the full (i.e., bilateral) effect.
  3. Tiger D – my friend Sarah’s show on Kuzu on Tuesday nights. You can listen (tonight!) from 8-10 (CST) on kuzu.fm. I’m typically book-clubbing or working during most of it, but I occasionally catch it on the drive home or if I have a rare night off when no articles are due the next day.

To Watch:

  1. In addition to rewatching “Smallville” with Lex and Clark, I’m also rewatching “Alias.” I think I’m at the part where I stopped watching the first time, because so far, nothing in Season 4 is familiar. I still heart Marshall the most.
  2. “The Good Doctor” is good overall. I will watch anything with Richard Schiff in it, so there’s that. I’m not very far in at this point, but it’s interesting enough to keep watching.
  3. And I’m not technically into this yet, as I have not started it. But I trust Maggie’s judgment, and she loves “The Sex Lives of College Girls.” So I may start watching that soon.

To Eat:

  1. It is gourd season. I am in the mood for squashes, and there is a significant pumpkin presence on this month’s meal plan. Specifically, Joy the Baker’s pumpkin muffins and some kind of pumpkin/cannellini bean soup. Maybe also pasta with pumpkin sauce. We’ll see.
  2. It’s also roasted veggie season. Most sheet pan dinner recipes contain some sort of meat, but I just don’t know how they find the room on the sheet pan with all the bounty of fall produce. A pile of roasted veggies (a warm salad, if you will) makes a quick, delicious meal with plenty of leftovers. And it’s a nice balance to the cheese-on-everything I tend to eat otherwise.
  3. Breakfast for dinner has been happening at least four times a week lately. It’s just so easy. I lean toward savory breakfast foods, so we’re talking egg and cheese burritos, frittatas, fried eggs over roasted tomatoes and rice, and toasted egg sandwiches. Happy.

To Do:

  1. NaNoWriMo! I have a new character and a new story, and I like both so much I may turn this into a series. I hope to get most of the first draft of the first book done this month.
  2. Performing with some friends at Rubber Gloves next week. Should be fun! You should come if you’re in the area!
  3. Quiet, quiet, quiet evenings. I remember now what a regular writing practice does for my schedule and my mental health. This has been good for me in so many ways.

What are you into these days?

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Some of my favorite images from the year

Well, here it is. The end-of-the-year review. I feel like a lot has been said about the world in general, and I’m tired and a little sad tonight, so I’m not interested in recapping it (didn’t I do this last year, too? I remember being very melancholy last year at this time. Maybe that’s just who I am now.). So I’m going to go through the year I thought I was going to have, how it changed for me personally, and maybe some more things as I ramble on.

First, some goal-setting changes:
1. I love resolutions, but I maintain the flexibility to adapt them. I did this really well this year – mostly out of necessity but also because it just makes sense to set goals that way. To work toward what you want until you get it or don’t really want it anymore or figure out something you want more.
2. Instead of plotting all the short-term tasks needed to reach goals in a chart for each month at the beginning of the year, I plotted one month at a time and based the new standards for each month on the previous month’s actual accomplishment (it’s like I KNEW) (I did not know) (No one knew). I like this much better, and it gives me a much clearer picture of the real progress I’m making.
3. I took the month of December off from the reward system of checking things off. Mostly I did this to just take a break from it, which was needed. But also it gave me a chance to see what habits actually stuck when I removed the reward of a check mark or a crossed-off item. Very illuminating.

Official resolutions I made at the beginning of the year and how they went:
1. Read 120 books. I did not quite make it. But, considering that I went for about four months where I had the attention span of a gnat and couldn’t read for more than five minutes at a time (I read a total of six books during those four months), I think my final total of 96 is still pretty respectable.
2. Finish Fishbowl again – nope. Although I’ve made considerable progress.
3. Keep up with microfictions on Ello – yes…ish. I haven’t even checked lately to see if Ello is still a thing. But I have written a LOT of microfiction and short stories. I didn’t set a specific number to write every month, so I didn’t keep count, but that was the main creative writing I did.
4. Perform with Spiderweb – yes x2! I was in the last in-person show, collaborating with Sarah Ruth for Spiderweb Loves You on Valentines Day. And I had a spot in our online Spiderdead in November playing an original not-really-a-composition-but-more-like-a-prompt called Maybe Hope is a Terrible Idea.
5. Find a doctor – yes. Done.
6. Find a new dentist and eye doctor – not yet. Have people picked out to try, though, in the first few months of the new year.
7. Continue to build Pilates practice – yes, but not back with the in-person classes yet (although my studio has been great with upping the cleanliness standards and thinking outside the box and serving customers – really proud of the way they’ve done things). When we started working from home in March, I accepted a 30-day strength challenge with Jessica and Mary in my office, though, and I incorporated a lot of Pilates stuff in that and have expanded it and kept up with it pretty well. I may be able to test into Level 2 classes when I return.
8. Work – vague resolution about continuing to figure out what I want to do with my life that got put on the back burner when I was just happy to still have work.
9. Word of the year was “alive” and we know how I feel about that. So that’s that.

Goals I didn’t have at the beginning of the year but added and met anyway:
1. Reduce plastic use and trash production. I started putting trash day as Monday on my calendar (I needed help remembering some things – see note above re: attention span). I soon found myself finding ways to prolong it to another day to see how long I could go without filling up the trash cans. I’m up to three weeks (except in the kitchen because food-adjacent waste really shouldn’t sit in my house for three weeks but I just use smaller bags).
2. Reduce food waste – my fridge had a hard year and I think it’s on its way to dying. My freezer still works great, though, so I began freezing leftovers. I’m down to almost zero food waste, so I think that’s a habit I’ll keep even when I have a fixed/new fridge.
3. Automate shipments – toilet paper, toothpaste tabs (the Bits ones – plastic free packaging!), laundry sheets (also plastic free!), etc. I needed to take things out of my headspace this year, so I automated a lot of shipments of things I normally would just run an extra errand to get when I ran out. Now I don’t run out. Great decision – 10/10 – highly recommend.

Things I learned about myself:
1. I’m way more adaptable than I thought I was. Like…my response to chaos has mostly been to fight and thrive (relatively speaking).
2. I am very particular about who I trust. And I like that about me. I mean, I’ll extend a basic trust to most people – I don’t want into new relationships assuming they’re shady – but past that basic trust? It has to be earned.
3. I can like and get along with someone without trusting them or letting them affect me. This makes me good at standing up for other people, and I want to practice that more in the future.
4. I need to be touched. Like…regularly. I knew this already but I really really know it now.

I lost a few people I love this year (some COVID-related, some not), and that’s been hard. I also had a few heartbreaks, one in particular that was really heavy and terrible. I feel like I’m in perpetual heartbreak these days, and I don’t know how to not be. I’m really trying to seek joy in the midst of it anyway.

Finally, to end on a sort of positive note, some highlights:
1. Staying connected to Spiderweb even though it’s online and particularly to the You Are Here support group
2. Monday night text study
3. Book clubs!
4. So many artists adapting to online performance and sharing really beautiful things
5. So many local businesses adjusting to changes and finding new ways to serve customers
6. The Science of Well-Being – free course from Yale
7. Wake and Bake fundraising boxes of baked goods
8. Backyard hangouts with people who love me

Goodbye, 2020.

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Books and mascots and dressing up for the intrawebs

That may be the most introvert-y title I’ve ever written.

In a lot of ways, this pandemic/work/socialize-from-home situation has been rough. My mental health is not its best self ever. Or, rather, it has been more work to take care of it. I don’t think prolonged isolation is good for anyone, and I’ve definitely had challenges that I expected as well as those I did not. I have needed to take many more precautions and call on more support than usual in order to function.

Other distinct pockets of my life have (dare I say it?) flourished. After the initial shock wore off (this is the theme, really), I have been able to adapt in several ways that sort of flow together but also are each their own separate issue:

  1. Reading – For a few months, I wasn’t able to concentrate to read at all. But now that I have at least an extra hour per night to add to my regular reading time that I was spending just driving from work and then to-and-from whatever meeting I had on that particular evening, I am reading about 100 pages a day. My reading goal took a hit from those missing months, but I may still read more books than I read last year.
  2. Productivity – Working from home makes me super efficient. Having more control over my work setting allows me to get through emails much more quickly, and I don’t feel rushed on phone calls. I miss my coworkers, of course, but my productivity (and thus my motivation) is thriving. We are closing one of our buildings at the end of the semester, and I was able to give significant help in getting those students moved over, and this would have been a lot harder/more stressful in the office.
  3. Sense of self – It’s been interesting to see the habits that have dropped off and stayed gone and the ones that I have either continued or picked up. I was surprised to see the things that I do, say, wear, etc., to make others more comfortable and things I do, say, wear, etc., to show up as who I really am. It will be interesting to see how (or if) I adjust back to old habits that I find stifling once I’m out in the public again most days.
  4. Consistency – Each month, I make myself a chart that has goals I want to focus on that month. It’s usually a mix of habits I want to build and the things I know I need to stay grounded and at peace. If you’ve been around here a while, you know my goals tend to be…lofty. But I’ve been meeting them better than usual. In fact, the last time I was this consistent with eating well, dancing, playing the keyboard, exercising, etc., was in my early to mid-twenties when I was performing regularly. While I’m not performing right now (well, not a lot – I do have a piece in the virtual SPIDERDEAD show tomorrow night), I am excited about how well I’ve been staying on track with things that are important to me.
  5. Creativity – All the others kinda lead in to this one. When I have the time (and the ability) to focus on what I want in life, my creativity thrives. I have so many project ideas, and I’ve been consistently writing toward my NaNoWriMo project. I also have a 31 days blog series coming up in December that I hope you will enjoy. I look forward to getting to collaborate with people again, but for now this will do.

I hope you are finding some moments of joy or clarity or focus or whatever you are needing right now.

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I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s April Love challenge on Instagram, and today’s prompt is “five things about me.” So here goes:

  1. I have a sister who is one of my favorite people. She lives in a state of delight, getting excited about every joy. It’s captivating. I did not always want a sister, though. The whole time my mom was pregnant, I kept saying I was having a brother. I talked about it, prayed for it, dreamed about it. When a sister was born, I was flummoxed. It didn’t make sense to me. Our family already had a girl (me) so we needed a boy to make everything balance out. Gender roles were a big deal and part of my raising, so I figured a brother would have the necessary skills and traits to complement my own. So obviously I thought a mistake had been made and I wanted to speak to the manager. Offended at the audacity of God to deny my request and armed with a supreme practicality (even at the age of three), I set out to find ways to remedy this situation. I called her Tommy for the first three weeks of her life, perhaps hoping it would catch on. MeMaw told me that, if she kissed her elbow, she would turn into a boy. Excellent. Finally, an actual solution! I often snuck into her room to talk her into doing it herself. When she did not comply, I tried to help (don’t worry – no little sisters were actually harmed in the making of this story. I didn’t want to hurt her. Also, her crying would have alerted Mom to my subterfuge, so…not prudent.). But at some point, I discovered how rich life can be with a sister, and I’ve been pleased to call her mine (and also by her actual name) ever since.
  2. I grew up in a small town in the panhandle of Texas, and my parents still live on the farm there. When you grow up in an environment with a lot of narrow, rigid rules and expectations where compliance is valued over authenticity, you learn a few key skills, particularly if you do not naturally fit within those rules/expectations. I learned to pretend that I did by only revealing the aspects of my person that were deemed acceptable. As a result, to this day, it’s pretty difficult to get to know me because I walk into every social situation trying to figure out which parts of me are acceptable there. I’m getting better, but I’m still trying to work out how to turn that off. On the upside, I can get along with just about anybody. I can cheat the system.
  3. A better upside to growing up where you don’t belong is that, to make room for all that I couldn’t reveal, I developed a pretty large, pretty spectacular inner world. I have this world to thank for all the characters I’ve created and every story I’ve ever written. When I have a big decision to make, it’s a great place to walk through various potential outcomes. All my best decisions have been made there. It taught me the pleasure of my own company. It’s not a suitable substitute for actual intimacy, but it’s coming in really handy right now in the isolation
  4. Talk to me for even five minutes, and you’ll probably hear about something I’m reading.  I’ll suddenly get really animated and bouncy about it. I love books. I have a large collection, and I read 4-5 books at a time. I like choices, and this allows me to choose the one that most fits my mood or is in an audio format that allows me to knit or doodle at the same time. In addition to the books we’re discussing at my various (four…maybe five if I finish in time to join the discussion for the daytime book club at church) book clubs this month, I’m currently reading my Isabel Allende collection in the order she wrote them. I’ve read some of them before, but I’m excited about re-reading each of them when it’s their turn.
  5. I have so much yarn. On the one hand, I’m glad. I’ve been able to share some of it and also I am in zero danger of running out of things to knit (Keep Denton Warm is gonna be chock full of blankets, scarves, and hats this year. If that’s a thing we get to do. Someone, somewhere will need them. Surely.). But I thought I had it all organized last year and I just found another bag this week. *sigh* I come from a long line of yarn hoarders.

 

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It’s the International Day of Happiness. This week has been w.e.i.r.d., to say the least. I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’m still at work as we try to accommodate students who have nowhere else to go and figure out what in the world we’re going to do next (I would welcome faster decisions here…I’m just sayin’.). But there’s also been so many opportunities for joy. Just in my little corner of humanity, there is so much goodness. There are also so many fun things online. Here’s a list for times when you’re feeling more anxious than happy or just want something hopeful.

  1. Italians singing from their balconies.
  2. Lots of love happening on the ‘gram. Nikki Mayeaux is posting a daily creative prompt called Poem Passwords. The pictures on #seeninquarantine are spectacular. Between her early start for April Love and purrs from her sweet cat, Susannah Conway is soothing my soul. Julia Turshen is posting daily foodie prompts. I love this list from worn_ware of people offering yoga, meditations, etc.
  3. Tessera Arts Collective in Philadelphia closed the gallery for now, but they are still on for installing a street art campaign throughout the city this Sunday.
  4. Local businesses that can’t afford to shut down completely are making the best of it with delivery and curbside pickup. The Dentonite is keeping a running list. I love watching local business owners figure out how to take care of their employees by offering alternate earning opportunities and giving devoted patrons the ability to still tip their baristas/servers (*cough* support Golden Boy *cough*). Also…Golden Boy has key lime and coconut pie right now, which are in my top three favorite pies (blueberry is the third, if you’re wondering).
  5. Aid Network Denton and the city of Lake Dallas are keeping up a list of ways to get help or get involved if you can give help.
  6. Nature is delightful. The canals are clear and the swans are back in Venice. And penguins at the Shedd Aquarium enjoy a tour of the zoo.
  7. Since you can’t go in person, many field trip locations and entertainment venues are coming to you. You may also be able to watch the stage production of your favorite musical online. The Metropolitan Opera is streaming. Andrew Lloyd Webber tweeted himself playing “All I Ask of You”, and Lin Manuel Miranda responded with his performance of “Everything’s Alright”. Yale is offering their course on The Science of Well-Being for free (audit only).
  8. For artists whose income is impacted by all the cancellations, here’s a list of places that may be able to offer support.
  9. Books resources! I didn’t know how much I needed Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog in my life until this week. In fact, many children’s authors are reading their books online this week. And one that made me salivate – download from a selection of over 300,000 books for free from the New York Public Library through their reader app!!!
  10. Debbie Allen is teaching online dance classes! So is Chloe Arnold!
  11. Joy the Baker is just a delight. As usual.
  12. People are putting their Christmas lights back up to spread joy.
  13. All the Julia Child is streaming!!
  14. What am I doing this weekend? I’m so glad you asked! 24in48’s Social Distancing Readathon!

I’m sure there’s more. What are your favorite things people are doing right now?

 

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Coffee Shop, Excerpt 2

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An ode to and appreciation of things not possible right now

“You changed seats.”

It takes a minute to realize you’re talking to me. I peel my eyes from the page and give you a once-over that I don’t intend to give.

You seem to enjoy it, but I blush anyway, caught in an unguarded reaction. I’m usually so careful. This is disconcerting.

I like and also do not like it.

You shift your weight, and I remember that it’s my turn to say things. But I can’t think of anything but how beautiful your lips are, and that seems non sequitur. Even I know that.

So I stick with, “What?”

You grin. It probably reaches your eyes, but I don’t have the courage to make my gaze go there yet. So I just have to trust that it does.

Trust is not an easy feat.

You pull up a chair and sit down, as if we planned to meet here. As if you understand that, of course, you’re welcome. I think that takes an enormous level of confidence.

I like and also envy that.

“You usually sit closer to the window.” You caress the rim of your cup with your beautiful lips and seduce the coffee out of it. I should look away, but I can’t seem to do so and also do not want to.

“The seat I like was taken when I got here, and I feel bad moving now.”

Your lips purse into a slight frown. Confusion? Question? Maybe feeling bad requires more explanation?

I continue, just in case. “That’s one more table that has to be wiped down. If I use both.” I shrug in what I hope is a nonchalant way, but I somehow doubt it comes across that way. I can’t often pull off nonchalance. “This one is fine. For today.”

I venture a glance at your eyes, but they’re so attentive, so intense. And blue. So blue.

I like that, but it’s a lot, and I have so many feelings, so I look down at my scone, which is also lovely but in a fully manageable way.

“Is it okay that I’m sitting here?”

It occurs to me that I might not seem like I want you here. Like this is an intrusion. Like I didn’t purposely choose this seat closer to where you usually sit when you come in, even though the seat by the window offers a superior view and was actually completely open when I arrived.

“Yes! Please stay!” Too much? Too exuberant? I force myself to meet your eyes.You’re smiling, so I decide to try a little bravery. “I like it.” Your smile deepens and your dimples show.

Wow. The effects of bravery are awesome. I think I’ll try some more.

“You. I like you.”

My eyes can’t hold your gaze any longer, and I’m afraid as soon as it leaves my lips that it’s too much after all. I’m usually so guarded. Right up the point when I’m really not. And that’s the point things usually fall apart.

I feel my face grow hot again. I can’t look up, but this time, that’s a good thing, because looking at the table gives me an excellent view of your hand gently touching mine.

“Good,” you reply. “I like you back.”

I look up just in time to see your lips stretch into a smile again.

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Honey Lavender Latte from Seven Mile Cafe in Denton, TX

I see you across the shop. You look like you’re glowing. I remind myself that it’s probably just in my head; I have a bad habit of putting halos on people who never asked for them.

But then you turn, and your smile is so easy. And is that relief that I see when you see me? Are you relieved to see someone you know or to see me in particular? Is that an everyone look, or is that what the look you reserve for me is going to look like?

I stare so long, caught up in your gaze and what you may or may not mean by it. I forget to react in any way other than holding that gaze. If I were actually thinking about how I must look, I imagine it would just seem like I’m staring as if I don’t see you at all or don’t remember who you are.

The truth is that I see you. That I catch myself watching for you, even in places I have no reason to expect you to be.

Like here.

As I’m wondering why you’re here, your relief topples into uncertainty, and I realize I still haven’t changed expressions. So I smile. Brightly. Maybe too brightly. I don’t seem to have a mid-range. I go from seeming detachment to over-exuberance in a flash.

I decide to embrace the enthusiasm. I wave and start walking your way, and the relief comes back to your face. Whew. Good. You lock your eyes with mine as you walk toward me.

Yep. Definitely gonna overthink about that.

 

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You might be a little faded. You might be a little dusty. You might spend most of your days perched on a shelf, more decoration than adornment.

If you were a hat.

If you were a hat, you might get picked up occasionally. Spun around. Twirled – up one arm and down another, landing briefly in one perfect moment only to be swept away and tossed to the side as another distraction appears.

If you were a hat, you’d spend a lot of time in boxes or on a rack. Rest is important for the spirit. But there’s a line between solitude and abandonment and, although it’s a fairly thick line, you might not always be able to tell the difference. It’s hard to see the truth of it when truth fades into things just being the way they are.

If you were a hat, you’d be nice hat. There would be nothing casual about you. You might spend a lot of time alone, but there’s no reason that ever had to come up in company. You’d exist to impress and command just a little more attention than others around you. Not enough to be off-putting. Just enough to be hard to ignore.

If you were a hat, your best days would be the ones when you didn’t have to think at all about how you’re only a hat. About how your whole purpose is to make them look good. About how much they love you, right up to the end.

If you were a hat, your worst days would be the ones when being just a hat is all you could think about. About how you only get the special events when you secretly know you’re much better suited to the everyday. About exactly how much time you spend on the table making small talk with the still-smoking ashtray and watered-down drinks while they all go dancing.

Sometimes you think you’re a hat. You make a grand impression, dashing into excitement and leaping to the next joy before any of the electricity has a chance to dwindle. But electricity burns, and who’s going to catch you when that shock jolts you out of the bliss?

If you were a hat, all of this would be fine.

But you’re not.

 

I’m writing 31 days of short stories (or whatever these are). Click to see the master list.

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Day 6 – Roger

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Roger: A Walkie Talkie Production

Jeff: I’ve got a delivery for the director ready. Who wants it?

Cassidy: I’m about to give this family a tour.

Trevor: I have class in five minutes.

Scott: Roger that. I’m on it, boss. Over.

Roger: What? Did someone call me?

Meiya: No…Scott was just letting Jeff know he got the message.

Scott: What? Oh, yeah. Roger that.

Roger: *static noise* What is that? What do I need to do?

Trevor: Nothing, man. Everything’s taken care of.

Roger: Okay. Cool. Let me know if you need me.

Jeff: We’re missing one of the bikes – does anyone know what happened to the red one?

Meiya: I think one of the admins borrowed it for an hour or two.

Scott: No – I have it. I just finished a tour and am heading back to get the director’s delivery.

Jeff: That’s cool. Remember to log your checkouts in the future.

Scott: Roger that. I’ll remember that next time. Over.

Roger: What? I didn’t take it.

Scott: No, I said I have it.

Roger: Oh, I guess I misunderstood. I thought I heard my name.

Cassidy: Scott, stop saying “Roger.” It’s so confusing. We all know you get the message when you respond to it. You don’t need to tell us you got it.

*Pause*

Scott: Roger that, Cassidy.

*Communal groaning*

 

I’m writing 31 days of short stories (although some are more snippets). Click to see the master list.

 

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Friday Prompt

On Fridays (or shortly thereafter…ahem) this month, I’m going to be following a Tumblr prompt that made the rounds for a while. I’m tweaking it a little, though:

On their 25th birthday, every person has the opportunity to request permission (because consent is sexy) to share the mind/vision of their soulmate. If permission is granted, they have 24 hours to observe and communicate with the person to see if they want to pursue a future together.

Trina knew he would say, “Yes,” the minute she blew out her candles. They’d planned it that way – a cozy dinner at home where the first thing she would see through his eyes was him carrying her to their room and laying her gently on the bed so that she would feel rested when she came back to herself. She closed her eyes, made the wish, and blew.

When she opened her eyes, she was sitting in a cafe. How did he get there so quickly? Or maybe it took awhile to take effect? Seeing through someone else’s eyes had to be a complicated process, she reasoned.

Maybe she should try saying something. Hello, Ryan, she thinks.

“Huh. Not Ryan. But…welcome? I guess this does actually work.”

Not Ryan?! But…no. That’s not right, she thinks. It was supposed to be Ryan. Ryan is my fiancee. We were supposed to spend the day together. Where am I now? Who is this?

“Works really, really well, in fact. Who is Ryan? Am I…are we…cheating? Feels a bit like cheating. Do you still want to do this?”

Oh, so everything I think…you hear. Huh.

“Apparently so.” There is a pause as he takes a sip of coffee. It’s not very good coffee. Grimace. “Sorry about that. I tend to go for quantity over quality. Is there something you prefer?”

Earl Grey would be nice. With a little cream. And sugar.

“Earl Grey it is.” He walks toward the counter. He leaves his book – Proust heavy reader – and his wool cap – brown, rose, burgundy, and turquoise stripes kinda sweet – at the table.

“Yeah, I’ve always been told I should read Proust, and I’m slugging through all right. It’s definitely more challenging than my usual fare, which leans more Crichton-esque.” She can tell that he smiles a little at this. Sheepish. Cute. “And the hat was a gift from my mom. She’s really into making hats this year.” Super cute. “Thanks. I bet you’re cute, too.”

She tries thinking about the selfie she took last year that she really liked, but before she could, she thinks of the unflattering one Ryan took when she fell over in the grass and had her mouth wide open, mid-cackle. Of course. Sigh.

He laughs a little, but not unkindly. “I like it. You look happy.” Pause. “And I was right. You are cute.”

He orders the tea, and the barista looks at him quizzically. “It’s not for me,” he explains. She looks back at his table without changing her questioning look. “I mean, I’m trying something new.”

You come here often.

“Are you trying to pick me up? Seems like overkill. I already said yes.” She can tell that he smirks at this. Charming. Witty. “I’ve gotta say – I like this arrangement. I always guess wrong at what others are thinking. It’s pretty helpful to have it right there in my head.”

Me, too. I thought it would be weird, but it’s actually super convenient. Pause to try and stop the next thought from coming, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I also thought it would be Ryan.

“I can’t help you there, but I sort of wish I were Ryan. He seems like a pretty lucky guy.” He takes a sip of the Earl Grey, delicious and sweet, and the barista, still watching, shakes her head. “My name is Nick, by the way.”

Of course it is. I’ve always had a thing for Nicks. But they’ve always been trouble. Erm…I mean…hi, Nick.

He laughs out loud this time. She can’t help but think he must look crazy. This just makes him laugh even harder, although he tries to subdue it.

A few minutes pass in silence, so he says, “Listen, I know you’re into this other guy, and you seem great, but I want you to be happy. If he makes you happy, you should go back to him. I just want…” He sighs. “I’m fine. I want you to be happy.”

She can tell he means it. Okay. Yes. I’m sorry about all of this. Um…enjoy your tea.

Another laugh. “Not likely, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new, right?” Pause. “Even if it’s not for me.”

It’s still dark outside when she wakes up in her familiar bed with Ryan right beside her. He looks nervous. “Did it work?”

She weighs her words carefully. She makes a choice. “No.” She commits. “No, it didn’t. I guess it only works if you’re still looking.”

Ryan smiles, relieved. She falls asleep in his arms.

A year and three months go by, and things don’t turn out the way she planned. Nothing is ever really right between them from that point on. Her small lie is always caught in the middle. On the eve of his 25th birthday, she says, “I think you should do the soulmate thing.”

Ryan doesn’t look at her. He knows. He’s known for some time. “It wasn’t me, was it?”

This time she tells the truth, even though it sounds like exactly the same answer. “No.” She tells him a little about the encounter, but stops when it’s clear he doesn’t really want to hear it.

The next day, he spends a day away from her and returns, excited and apologetic. She had already decided by 10:00 a.m., to let him go, so the conversation is easy. Cordial. Civilized.

Two years pass. Other boyfriends – some named Nick who drink bad coffee – come and go. One day she sees a knit cap – brown, rose, burgundy, and turquoise stripes – bobbing through the crowd. She follows him and finally catches up. Nervous, she touches his arm. “Nick?”

When he turns around, it’s the face she’s always loved the most. The face she knew the best. The one she chose.

After a long hug, Ryan takes off the cap. “Ugly thing, but I figured it was the best way to find you.”

 

I’m writing 31 stories in 31 days. Click to see the master list.

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