Beautiful, Not Broken

Submitted into Contest #216 in response to: Include dialogue that shows that a character is socially awkward.... view prompt


Lesbian Romance Contemporary

“I just don’t get it,” Tess confided, frustration etched on her face, “I genuinely thought we hit it off, you know? So why hasn’t she messaged me back? I mean, sure, she had to leave early, but that’s because something else came up. It sucks, but it happens.”

Tess glanced at Lydia. They’ve been friends for less than a year, but they had already spent countless times dissecting Tess’s social interactions. 

“Hmmm,” Lydia mused, “how sure are you it went well? Sometimes vibes can be deceiving.”

“Absolutely sure,” Tess affirmed. “I’ll admit I can be a bit awkward sometimes, but I’m rather adept at picking up on subtext and reading body language. And hers – it was all incredibly positive. She was truly into me. And not just with non-verbal stuff too, she even said it.”

Lydia leaned forward, her curiosity piqued. “Ooooh, please do tell – spill the beans!” she exclaimed, nearly spilling her tea in the process. 

And so Tess proceeded to tell Lydia, in detail, about her date with Emma a few days ago… 

On the bus ride there, she was once again wondering why she kept doing this to herself – the stress and worry were never worth it. As the bus continued on its meandering journey through the suburbs, Tess put on her headphones and listened to girl in red, trying to lose herself in the music. She wished she were back at home, curled up on the couch. Then she suddenly wondered whether she had turned the oven off. Of course it was off, she didn’t even use it that day. But she still thought about it for the next 10 minutes, and even contemplated cancelling the date and going back. But no, she had to do this, she needed it. She closed her eyes and tried to tune out again. 

As Tess disembarked at her stop, her palms were already feeling moist and her heart rate had picked up. Each step she took was deliberate, as she had to be careful not to step on any cracks or lines on the pavement. Right turns compelled her to tap her neck four times with her right hand, left turns with her left. This helped ensure that no bad things would happen. Tess knew that none of this made any sense, yet she couldn’t help herself. 

She arrived at the place where they agreed to meet, and stood there feeling self-conscious, positive that every passing eye was directed at her. She looked at her reflection in the nearby storefront window; the infamous Wellington southeaster had done its damage on her hair once again, and there wasn’t much she could do to salvage it. She put her hands in her pockets and tried to put on a nonchalant air. 

Then a woman looking like her date finally arrived. “Hi, I’m Emma,” she said with a warm smile. 

“I’m Emma,” Tess echoed automatically. 

Emma’s eyebrows quirked up in a bemused expression. “Uh, sorry? Aren’t you Tess?” 

Tess felt her face go warm and cleared her throat. “Oh, uh, yeah, sorry. I meant to say, ‘Hi Emma’.”

“Oh, cool. But are you Tess though?” Emma asked with a chuckle. 

Tess nodded, her voice still shaky. “Yes, uhm, shall we go inside?” Tess asked, without making eye contact. 

Tess took a deep breath before entering the cafe, and reminded herself that this was about more than just a date. It was a step towards overcoming her social anxiety and finding meaningful connections. The place was relatively empty, which made her sigh with relief. 

“What can I get you two?” the young waitress enquired with a smile. 

“A chai latte for me please,” Emma said. 

Tess hesitated, then stammered, “Uh… a flat white. Thanks.”

“Coming right up!”

There were some moments of silence as they settled at their table.  

“How was your day?” Tess began. 

Emma leaned back in her chair, getting comfortable before answering. “Yeah, pretty good, pretty good. I started with a refreshing morning run along the waterfront, followed by a quick dip in the ocean to wake up properly – it was cold as, but soooo refreshing! Then, I caught up with an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. And now, here I am, on a date with you. How about your day? What did you get up to?” 

Tess wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t do much except stress about this date, but she couldn’t admit that. She didn’t like lying either, so opted for a compromise. 

“Oh, nothing much. I, uh, just had some life admin to get done.”

“Well, it has to get done somehow, right?” Emma replied with a laugh. 

“Yes,” Tess replied blandly. 

A few more silences. Both women’s gazes darted around the room, before finding each other’s once more. 

“So, what do you do for work?” Emma asked. 

“I’m a modelling analyst,” Tess said in an annoyed tone; that information was available in her profile. “You?”

“I’m a nurse. You know, saving lives and all that jazz.” Emma spent the next five minutes or so talking about what she liked and didn’t like about her job. 

Tess wasn’t sure what the appropriate level of eye contact she was supposed to be making, and if she wasn’t looking at Emma’s eyes, where should she look? Her eyes darted down to Emma’s inviting cleavage, but then she pulled it back up. No, not there, definitely not there. What should her hands be doing? Should she be saying something yet? And then she realised she hadn’t been paying attention and willed herself to focus. 

The waitress arrived with their drinks. After she left, Tess asked in a tone more serious and conspiratorial than she had intended, her voice just above a whisper, “In your profile you said you don’t like pineapples?” 

Emma’s eyebrows rose in surprise at the sudden shift in the conversation. “Oh, yeah, they’re a bit prickly and sour.” She laughed and leaned back slightly in her chair, but before she could say anything further, Tess continued. 

“Have you ever wondered why they’re called pineapples? I’ve always found it kind of funny, I mean, they really don’t look like apples at all. And they don’t grow on pine trees, either. So why are they called ‘pineapples’? It’s like this quirky little mystery of language, you know? It’s one of those things that just doesn’t make sense, but people just go with it.” Tess had not, in fact, always found this funny. She obsessively looked up pineapples before the date so that she could have something interesting to say. Sometimes when she was nervous, she started rambling; other times, she kept quiet. It would perhaps have been better if, in this instance, she had been quiet instead. 

“Yeah, I guess.” Emma took a slow, deliberate sip of her latte. 

“Are there any words you find weird?” Tess continued, unable to stop herself. 

“Hmmm, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t thought about it much.”

“You can think now if you want.” There was a long silence this time before Tess continued by asking, “What did the apple say to the pineapple?” She had looked up some jokes as well. 

Emma shrugged. 

“It’s me, your regular cousin.”

Emma smiled politely, then asked after a lengthy pause, trying to steer the conversation away from pineapples, “So, what exactly does a modelling analyst do?”

“Oh, I model stuff. Not like clothes,” Tess said with a grin, “but like the economy and so on. I model different scenarios of policy changes to see how it would affect household income levels, and the distribution between different income levels.”

“Oh, wow, that sounds captivating. I bet it must be rather complicated?”

“It can be pretty interesting, yes,” Tess took a sip of her coffee and thought for a while before adding, “I don’t find it complicated, it’s just what I do.” 

There was another extended silence as Emma waited for Tess to elaborate, but she didn’t. Both women looked around the restaurant. 

“Hey, so listen, it’s getting quite late…,” Emma began. 

Tess looked at her watch. “Not really. We’ve only been here for like 15 minutes. Have you thought about which words you find weird?”

“Uhm, no. The thing is, I’m feeling quite tired.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Your latte should help with that, it contains caffeine. Drink some more.”

“Actually, I have to meet someone in a bit.”

“Why would you need to meet someone if you knew we were going on a date?” Tess chuckled. “Let’s go for a walk after our coffees are done, that should help you feel more refreshed.”

“Sorry, I can’t. Something has come up.”

“The word ‘actually’ is by far my least favourite in the English language. It’s just so… fake, you know what I mean? Like it shows the speaker is not being entirely truthful. Do you have a word you dislike?” 

“Not really. I do have to go now, I’m afraid.”

“Okay, no worries, we’ll do the walk some other time then.” There was a prolonged pause while Emma gathered her things. Tess continued, “I’ve had a very good time today, getting to know you better.”

“Yeah, uh, it was nice to meet you. See you.” Emma said and got up to leave. 

“You still have like half of your latte left!” Tess shouted, but Emma was already halfway out of the café… 

“From what I hear,” Lydia began, “it sounds like she may have been trying to come up with an excuse to leave the date early. You know, sometimes people could say things just to be nice, or because they don’t want to put themselves in a difficult position. And I think, maybe, you take it too literally at times?”

Tess stared off into space, absent-mindedly pulling on her earlobe. “But I don’t get it, why would people lie?”

Lydia continued in a gentle voice. “Tess, sweetie, we haven’t been friends for that long, but I’ve noticed that sometimes social cues and conventions can be a bit tricky for you.”

“Yeah? Like how do you mean?”

Lydia moved closer to Tess and gently touched her shoulder. “I don’t want you to take it the wrong way. But sometimes… it’s as if you don’t know when to either start or stop speaking. Or maybe your choice of conversation topics – you tend to have difficulty switching topics once you’ve got something on your mind. You need to know, though, that this doesn’t mean you’re broken or anything like that. Everyone’s unique quirks are what makes them beautiful. I, for one, adore your eccentricities!”

“But I thought… uh, that I was quite skilled at reading people. I know I get anxious, but I always prided myself on that… I guess dating just isn’t for me, Lydia. Or just interactions with people in general. ” Tess groaned and pulled her knees up to her chin, hugging her legs. 

“No, that’s not true!” Lydia went over to Tess, enveloping her in a huge bear hug. “I think it’s great you’re putting yourself out there. It just takes some practice, you’ll get the hang of it. And Emma just wasn’t for you. You need someone who can appreciate your quirks, someone who finds them endearing! Forget that bitch!” 

Tess chuckled through her tears. “I don’t know…” she said between sobs, “I’ll think about it. Thanks, Lydia. I’m so glad we’re friends.”

Tess couldn’t shake Lydia’s words. She found herself replaying their conversation in her mind like a broken record. Sitting at her desk at work the next day, she couldn’t concentrate on the spreadsheets and graphs that usually filled her screens and fascinated her mind. Her eyes drifted to the window overlooking the bustling city streets below, and her thoughts wandered back to her date – her awkwardness and inability to read the situation. The way, Tess thought, that Emma had deceived her caused a sharp pang in her stomach. 

As Tess stared blankly at her computer, she thought that maybe Lydia was right, perhaps she does miss social cues after all. And she wondered whether her obsessions, compulsions, and awkwardness were pushing people away. She felt empty inside, not sure what she could do to change her situation. Nobody truly understood her, how her brain worked. But did this mean that she will never have an intimate connection with another person? Even maintaining friendships was challenging. 

Since she was unable to concentrate anyway, she decided it was a good time for her second cup of coffee for the day. When she got to the coffee machine, she saw her former manager, who she would rather avoid. So she trudged up to the third floor to use their machine. To Tess’s bewilderment, this one was also occupied. Should she just skip coffee? But she desperately needed the caffeine and a break. Plus, this was Rebecca… Tess had seen her around frequently, but they had never had a conversation. Tess always thought that she seemed like a kind and interesting person. And quite attractive. 

Rebecca’s gorgeous dark brown skin, complemented by the luscious cascade of brown curls framing her face, exuded a touch of playful elegance. When she laughed, which she did often, her dimples added an extra layer of charm to her already captivating smile. Tess couldn’t deny the quickening of her pulse and the subtle warmth in her body whenever she caught sight of her. But up to now, she’s been too afraid to strike up a conversation. 

Today, Rebecca was wearing a mismatched pair of socks, with cats on one and dogs on the other, in bright orange and green. She paired them with a vintage dress adorned with faded prints and a denim jacket covered in various quirky, and importantly, rainbow-themed pins. 

Taking a deep breath, Tess gathered her resolve and approached the coffee machine, her voice trembling as she spoke. “Hey…”

Rebecca turned, her eyes widening as she noticed Tess and realised she was talking to her. “Oh, hey there. Time to caffeinate and conquer, I gather?”

Tess nodded, her gaze darting around the room as she struggled to maintain eye contact. “Yeah, coffee. I mean, I guess that’s why we’re here.” She fidgeted with the pen in her hand that she carried everywhere. 

Rebecca let out a soft chuckle, her fingers twirling a strand of her hair. “It is indeed. It’s Tess, right? You’re that smart one in the modelling team?”

“Oh, uh, well I don’t know about that. I mean, I’m Tess, yes, but not sure about the other part. And you’re Rebecca?” Real smooth. Tess cursed herself silently for her strangeness – why couldn’t she ever just be normal? 

“That’s me, the one and only! Actually, no, I think there are four Rebeccas in total, but I’m the best one, I promise!” She winked and smiled at Tess.

Tess smiled as well. “I don’t have any trouble believing that.” A silence lingered between them, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable to Tess this time. “What is your least favourite word in the English language?” Tess ventured. Despite this line of questioning not having worked out well for her on her date with Emma, she decided it was worth one more try. 

“Oooh, what a fun question!” Rebecca replied. “I’d have to think about that for a bit.”

They stood there, drinking their coffees, consumed by their thoughts. 

Finally, Rebecca spoke, a spark of passion dancing in her voice. “One word that’s always made me cringe a bit is ‘ooze’. I can just feel all the slimy disgustingness, you know?”

Tess considered this for a bit and grimaced. “Yeah, you really can feel it. I guess that means the word is quite effective then. I feel the same about the word ‘awkward’ – when you write it, it just looks, well awkward. And I always misspell it!” Tess laughed, and Rebecca joined in. “Plus, it reminds me of all the ungainly encounters I’ve had,” Tess continued. 

“Oh god, yes, I hate being reminded of all my blunders,” Rebecca snickered. 

There was another silence. And then, Tess decided to be brave. “So, best Rebecca, I was wondering… would you like to… uh, have a drink outside of work sometime?”

The pause before Rebecca replied felt like an eternity, but was in fact a mere few seconds. Tess’s eyes were fixated on the coffee machine’s buttons as if they held the secrets of the universe, while her finger absent-mindedly fidgeted with the rainbow pin on her lanyard. 

“I would love that. Yeah, let’s do it!”

Back at her desk, Tess couldn’t stop smiling. She had ventured beyond her comfort zone, and this tiny success gave her a small but potent surge of energy. For the rest of the day, the echoes of Rebecca’s laughter and playful winks lingered in her mind, leaving Tess with a newfound sense of hope. Maybe, just maybe, this potential friendship could be the beginning of something beautiful. 

September 22, 2023 01:34

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Chloe Carrington
11:23 Oct 16, 2023

I really enjoyed their story and felt I could relate so much with it. You are truly talented!


20:32 Oct 16, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind comments! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it.


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AnneMarie Miles
12:34 Sep 28, 2023

Hello from the critique circle! This was a lovely story, Melissa. As a socially awkward person myself, I certainly felt for Tess! I really enjoyed the structure of this story, and how you delved into the internal aspects of being socially awkward, like Tess's little tics - the compelling taps on her head and the anxiety. Those are all the sides of social awkwardness that we don't necessarily see; we typically can only see the body language and the strange dialogue and inflections. I also appreciated the dynamics of this piece, how it starts ...


22:27 Sep 29, 2023

Thank you so much for taking the time to read, and providing such lovely feedback, AnneMarie! I'm really glad you enjoyed it :)


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20:24 Sep 27, 2023

Way too believable and relatable lol lovely writing Melissa!


07:49 Sep 28, 2023

Thanks, Derrick! :)


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Janet Boyer
18:07 Sep 27, 2023

I LOVED this story, Melissa! You captured awkward social dialogue magnificently. (I felt so embarrassed for Tess when she said "I'm Emma". *wince*). I would totally be friends with Tess (my neuro-divergent son and I ask each other questions like "what's your least-favorite word?" all the time! ) 😃


07:49 Sep 28, 2023

Thank you, Janet! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I know all about social awkwardness myself, so I could use a lot from my own experiences, haha!


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Helen A Smith
16:27 Sep 27, 2023

Enjoyable and engaging story. You ably showed what a minefield dating can be, even more so here. Glad the MC met someone she seemed able to make a connection with.


07:46 Sep 28, 2023

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the story.


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