A Fresh Start

Submitted for Contest #74 in response to: Write a story in the form of a top-ten list.... view prompt

2 comments

Dec 30, 2020

Fiction

“No argument, 2020 was a beastly year, but it’s almost over. I’m suggesting we start the new year with a new, attitude,” Jase said. “Just for fun, lets each list 20 good things that happened this year, and 20 things we plan to do in the year ahead.”

“As usual, you’re not listening, Jase,” Kim snapped. “I told you I don’t want to play this game. Aside from the fact that we survived it, I can’t think of a thing, about this year, that was positive.”

“I’m just suggesting we have a little fun, Kim. You remember what fun is, right?”

“Are you looking for an argument?” Kim asked.

Jase shook his head. “I’m just looking for a way to connect, Kim. I’ll admit, asking you to put a happy face on this past year might be asking a bit much. Let’s do this instead, let’s list 20 things you want to accomplish in the new year.”

Kim sighed and said, “I’ll list five goals for 2021 if you’ll leave me alone one”

“Ten,” Josh said. “You list your top ten and I’ll list mine.”

Kim closed the book she been trying to read and set it aside. “I’ll play your game if you promise to leave me in peace. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Jase said, brightening. “Start slow, if you like, and build up.”

Kim gave him a warning look.

Jase bit his lip. If he tried to push her further, Kim would shut down and stick her nose back in her book, which would spoil his plans. He suppressed the nervous babble bubbling up within and worked to keep his expression neutral.

After a long moment, Kim said, “I would like to survive 2021.”

“Is that number one on your list?” Jase asked.

“No, that’s number ten I guess,” Kim said.

“You’re saying surviving the year is least important thing on your list?” Jase asked.

“It’s my list, Jase,” Kim warned.

“No. Yes. Sure. Your list.” he said. Then, hoping to lighten the mood he intoned, “SURVIVAL is number 10 on Kim Ricco’s list of top ten to-do’s in the new year.”

Kim’s lips curved upward in the smallest hint of a smile.

Jase grinned. Kim wasn’t the most expressive person on the planet, so a small smile was a big win. “Number nine?” he asked.

Kim pursed her lips and looked up at the ceiling. “Number nine…I’ll get the vaccination.”

Jase nodded. “Number nine will likely assist with ensuring that you achieve number ten. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to choose something different for nine?

Kim’s look said, ‘You’re skating on thin ice.’

“Number eight?” Jase asked.

Kim tapped her lips with one pointer finger. This, Jase recognized as one of her, ‘I’m thinking’, postures. He waited. He’d loved her since they were a couple of clueless kids in Ms. Arthur’s tenth grade Algebra class. Well, loved was a strong word. He’d been more interested in Tabby Carter, but Tabby only had eyes for the jocks, so Jase lowered his sights and settled on Kim. She’d settled on him too, and they’d been an on again, off again couple ever since high school. Lately they’d been on, but things had been rocky. It seemed like it was time to go big or… Well, the bottom line was if she made up her mind to quit the game, there would be no convincing her to change her mind and he’d have to think of another way to…

“…somewhere warm. Mexico. Jamaica. Maybe Cuba.” Kim was saying.

Jase’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t been listening. Kim did not take kindly to being ignored, and she could hold a grudge. If he admitted he hadn’t been listening, she would quit the game and he’d spend the rest of the day in the doghouse which was not part of his plan. “Should we be writing these down?” Jase asked.

Kim’s brow furrowed. Jase recognized her suspicious nature as number three on his private list of Kim’s least lovable quirks. “For posterity,” he said, whisking a pad and paper from his desktop and holding them out to her. “It would be fun to make a list and check off our achievements at the end of next year.”

“Number seven is that you agree to write all lists in 2021,” she said dryly. “You know how I feel about lists.”

Jase nodded. Another of his beloved’s idiosyncrasies was her almost pathological dislike for creating lists. Her refusal to write shopping lists often made it necessary for him to peel himself off the sofa and trudge to the store to pick up the must have items she’d forgotten to buy. Heaven knew he’d done his best to encourage her to get into the habit of creating lists. He’d installed a small dry erase board in the kitchen. The unused markers slowly dried up. He bought packages of bright neon colored sticky notes, which remained sealed and unused. He brought home packs of notepads with magnetic strips affixed to the backs. He placed the notepads pads on the refrigerator door. He used the notepads, she did not. He sighed inwardly and said, “It will be fun to review next New Year’s Eve.”

Kim scrunched up her mouth, the way she did when she was about to concede but was not happy to be doing so. If he had to pick out one facial tic that bothered him most, it would be this one. Pursing her lips that way was not only unattractive it also virtually guaranteed the skin around her mouth was going to pucker. She would be wrinkled as a prune before her fiftieth birthday. Not an attractive prospect.

“Number six?” he prompted. The words had popped out before he had time to reconsider but Kim’s reaction surprised him. He’d expected her to tilt her head to the right, arch a brow and give him ‘the look’, which would signal the game was finished, but she just gave him a look that might have been a glare, or might have just been her normal expression. Jase noted that Kim could be unpredictable which, in truth, he found more than a little annoying. Just when he thought he had her figured her, the woman would trip him up by responding to something he’d said or done in the most unexpected way.

“For number six I’m going to say I’ve thinking about going back to school.”

“School?” Jase asked. “That’s new.”

Kim shrugged and bent over the paper to add to her growing list.

“When did you decide to go back to school?” Jase asked. He felt blindsided by the news. How did she plan to make this work? She had a full-time job. She made time, most weekends, to go out with her friends. She pursued hobbies that cut into the time she spent with him. Now she was thinking about going back to school. Where would that leave him? Would she make time for him or would he have to stand around waiting for the crumbs that fell from her full plate? That was the trouble with Kim. He'd heard her friends describe her as ‘driven’, but selfish was more exact. He could count on her to do what she wanted when she wanted, but could he count on her to consider his needs and feelings? It was not a question he wanted to consider too deeply.

“Number five, I plan to volunteer at an animal shelter.”

“Nice,” Jase said, hoping he’d managed to keep the sarcasm out of his tone. In fact, there was nothing nice about her plans to spend even less time with him. She hadn’t asked him if he wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter because she wasn’t interested in finding an activity they could do together. He could imagine her using school assignments and homeless dogs as an excuse to spend more time away from him. He licked his lips and swallowed hard.

“Number four?” he asked. Something funny had happened to his voice. It had gone hoarse and the question hissed out of him. He reached up and felt his neck wondering if his throat was closing. He wondered if talking could cause anaphylactic shock. He didn’t think so, but he felt strange, like he was having an allergic reaction to this conversation.

“I guess adoption is an option,” Kim said.

“Adoption?” Jase croaked. “I…we…you…”

Kim laughed and reached over and socked him in the arm. “An animal, Jase. I’m talking about adopting a pet. That would be number four on my list.”

Jase nodded, but his expression suggested he was not fully comprehending.

“A dog. A cat. A parakeet.” Kim said. “If I volunteer at a shelter, you know I’m going to wind up falling in love and bringing someone home.” she shrugged. “Maybe more than one, knowing me.”

Jase nodded. Of course, she was talking about adopting an animal. He couldn’t imagine what he’d been thinking. As far as he knew, Kimberly Ricco didn’t have a maternal bone in her body. He couldn’t recall ever hearing express a desire to become a mother. Weren’t women supposed to swoon over babies and talk incessantly about having kids? Wasn’t her biological clock ticking? Would she ever want kids, or would she be happy to grow into a crazy old cat lady? He was so busy musing on a gray-haired Kim Ricco’s future surrounded by mewling cats, that he missed item number three on her list. He shrugged, realizing he did not care. The game had lost its appeal. And, he realized with a start, it wasn’t only the game he felt himself losing interest in.

“Number two, I’m going to try to go Vegan,” Kim said.

Jase’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Kim. “Vegan?” he asked.

“Yes,” Kim said, bending to add number two to her list. “Vegans don’t eat anything with a face.”

“I know that, Kim.”

“But…?”

“You do know what I do for a living?” Jase asked.

“Yes, Jase, I do,” Kim said, making no attempt to mask the impatience in her tone.

“I’m a butcher, Kim,” Jase said.

“Yes, Jase, you are,” Kim said.

“I bring meat home on a regular basis,” Jase said.

“You do,” Kim agreed.

“Don’t you think there is something odd about a butcher living with a Vegan? I just don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“What I think, Jase, is that you are being manipulative,” Kim said.

“Manipulative?” Jase asked. “The queen of control is accusing me of being manipulative?”

Kim bent over the notepad Jase had given her and wrote one last line with a flourish.

“Do you want to know what is number one on my list?” she asked.

“I do,” Jase lied.

Kim capped the pen, tore the page from the pad and held the sheet out to Jase.

He watched her stride down the hall to their bedroom and waited for her to slam the door closed before he looked down at the list in his hand. Her number one goal had been marry Jase, but she’d crossed out the word marry and replaced it with the word LEAVE.

Jase reached into his pocket, feeling for the small box he’d tucked there and thought, for once, the two of them were on the same page.

He could follow her…argue with her…beg her to stay…vow his love for her…carry through with his plan to ask this living, unemotional, stubborn, grudging, suspicious, list-hating, wrinkling, unmaternal, selfish vegan to marry him. Or they could cut their losses.

The new year could be a fresh start for them both.

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2 comments

Nikki Hertzler
05:43 Jan 08, 2021

Well, I am glad it ended the way it did. At the beginning when we found out they were boyfriend/girlfriend and yet he couldn't think of anything he liked about her...I'll just say that I'm glad this end is where you were headed! Your story sure doesn't need copy-edited any more (except for that extra word when Kim says she'll say five goals if he'll leave her alone). It's good how you put in her little "tells" that Jase always recognizes. Funny about her going Vegan. That was certainly dissing her so-called friend very strongly. I think yo...

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Linda Brodsky
15:23 Jan 08, 2021

Thank you for your input Nikki! Input from readers is always welcome and your comments were so thoughtful. Happy reading.

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