This is a departure from the writing I’ve done here so far. I’ve done a whole lot of writing ABOUT myself, but today I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little writing FOR myself. I love fiction, and in my reading over the past few months, I’ve been struck with the desire to write more of that… making up stories and helping characters to come to life.
So here is the beginning of a short story about a woman who begins an evening expecting to entertain one date, but who finds herself caught between two. When I took part in the Tampa Bay Area Writer’s Project a few years back, my instructors told me to stop prefacing my work, so without further ado…
“Just a minute, I’ll be right there!” shouted Zara over her shoulder toward the front door of her apartment. “He’s thirty minutes early,” she grumbled to herself as she pulled the comb through her still wet hair.
Zara gave herself a brief glance into the mirror before leaving her bedroom. Her wavy brown hair dangled limply around her shoulders, her face was washed clean of makeup that she hadn’t had time to reapply. But her skin was smooth and porcelain, her blue eyes bright and darkly lashed. Briefly she was tempted to apply a little lip-gloss, but shook her head to herself. Steve wasn’t picky. In their three dates he hadn’t once made a comment about her appearance. Perhaps a low maintenance guy was exactly what she needed. Her favorite, well-loved jeans and a classic gray t-shirt would have to do.
A sharp knock sounded again. It wasn’t like Steve to be so impatient. She rolled her eyes to herself as she made her way to the door.
“Hey gorgeous,” the completely unexpected visitor drawled when she opened the door. He swept into the room, pulling her into his arms and lowering his nose deliberately to the top of her still damp head, taking a deep breath. “Z, I love your shampoo.”
“Jack, what on earth are you doing here?” Zara couldn’t keep the irritation out of her voice. When they had spoken earlier in the day, she made it clear that she wasn’t available that night, that she was making Steve her famous cooks-all-day spaghetti and meatballs. But her best friend was often hard headed, and hard of hearing. Or that’s what he would like to pretend, especially when she told him what he didn’t want to hear.
“I’ve come to visit my favorite girl in the world, of course,” Jack beamed, and Zara relented; she couldn’t resist his charm. Grinning, she looped her arm around his waist and led him into the kitchen where he promptly claimed his usual spot at her counter. He was still wearing his work clothes, dark gray, perfectly tailored slacks, a crisp white Oxford, and a slim argyle tie. For someone who had just wrapped a nearly 12-hour day, Jack looked impossibly fresh.
“Well, my friend, you have about 30 minutes before you’re going to have to make yourself scarce. I’m making Steve dinner tonight.” She pulled her enormous pasta pot from under the counter, and turning away from him, Zara started filling it with water. At that mention of spaghetti, Jack took a deep breath.
“That must be why I couldn’t resist coming over. I’m a sucker for your sauce,” he grinned, leaning over the counter for the wooden spoon she’d left there, snatching the top off of her slow cooker, and stirring the sauce before sneaking a taste.
“Stop that!” Zara scolded as she turned around to catch Jack with a mouth filled with her wooden spoon. He at least had the grace to appear repentant, but Zara had to reach over the counter to wipe away a spot of sauce that was caught at the corner of his mouth. It was unexpectedly intimate; Jack coughed a little and the moment was broken.
“I thought I’d stick around for dinner, meet this Steve,” Jack said dismissively. When Zara opened her mouth to object, he smoothly continued. “You’re not going to wear that, are you? What about your makeup? This is a date, after all.” His distraction technique worked.
“I think it’s refreshing that I don’t need to worry about what Steve thinks about how I look,” Zara said, but even to her own ears the excuse seemed thin. “Besides, I just got home from work and I haven’t had a chance to do anything more than shower.”
“Well then, it’s good I’m here. I can finish up the salad and bread while you finish getting ready,” Jack said, stepping off his perch at the counter and gently leading her toward her room.
“Oh fine,” Zara said, almost to herself as she walked into her room, suddenly grateful for a few more minutes to herself before Steve’s arrival. She would have to deal with Jack’s inconvenient visit before Steve arrived, but she was too grateful to have a little help that she was willing to overlook it, for the moment.
This is pretty typical Jack behavior, and to be honest, Zara should have known to avoid mentioning her spaghetti to him. But they had been best friends for years, since meeting for the first time when she was a brand new student at their high school. She walked into her first period class, hopelessly tentative, a recent transplant from Suffolk, England, and froze, completely shaken by the dozens of pairs of eyes that landed on her instantly. Jack walked in behind her, towering over her even then, as a sophomore in high school, and warmly greeted her. “You must be new here. My name is Jack. Come over here and sit by me.” And that was it. They were fast friends, and as it turned out, lasting friends. When Jack graduated from high school and left for the University of Virginia, Zara followed a year later. When Jack was admitted to law school at Georgetown University, Zara followed a year later, accepting a teaching position in suburban northern Virginia. He teased his shadow endlessly, but Zara didn’t complain. She loved being close to him, even when it meant her date nights would be interrupted.
At her vanity, Zara suddenly wasn’t terribly interested in fixing herself up, but dutifully she applied blush, a swipe of eyeliner, and the subtlest lipstick she could find. Then she went to her closet to replace her gray t-shirt with a royal blue sweater that revealed more of her shape. After scrunching her waves artfully, Zara rejoined Jack in the kitchen, where he was layering vegetables in a serving bowl. His eyes fell on her, and she stopped, turning briefly as if to get his approval. All of his earlier levity was gone; his gaze was more serious than any he’d had all evening.
“That’s better,” he said gruffly. “And dinner is nearly ready. You just need to drop the pasta when this Steve gets here.” Jack wouldn’t meet her eyes.
“Well, thanks so much for your help, Jack,” Zara attempted. She bustled into the kitchen to take over washing the cutting board in the sink, but Jack wasn’t having it.
“Oh no, you’re not getting rid of me, friend. I said I wanted to meet this Steve, so I’m going to meet Steve. Plus, you have to feed me.”
Just as Zara opened her mouth to protest in earnest, a gentle buzz began at the door. Steve was right on time.
I’ll write more about Zara and Jack (and Steve) next week!