Contemporary Romance American

            “JANUARY 5, 2021”

Thank goodness she'd bundled up so tightly, snugged into her black balaclava with a bright red, fluffy scarf and a pom-pom beanie hat pulled over her head, which she thought might make her appear a little silly, but she never really cared about standing out in a crowd.

She sported matching red, texting-capable winter gloves, and calf-high, black, furry boots covered her tucked-in blue jeans. The red cowl neck of a cashmere sweater peeked out from the toggled top button of her emerald green winter coat.

It was 32 degrees with light flakes falling. She mused if it had been snowing anywhere else but on her, she'd be able to better appreciate its beauty back-lighted, as it was, by the city's winter lights display.

She stood in a long line of people like herself, all braving the cold and now waiting for hot cocoa and an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich from the food truck. She kept swaying and stamping her feet to the music softly playing through her Ear Buds, both to assuage boredom and to keep warm.

As she undulated her hips, she couldn't help but notice a tall, dark, handsome man to her right whose lips and hips were moving in sync with hers.

It seemed he noticed her too. He smiled and asked, “'My Universe'”?

“Why, yes!”

He said, “I love Coldplay. This is their performance with that K-Pop group, I think. I can't remember their name, though.”

She responded, smiling slightly, “BTS.”

As they inched forward in their respective lines, they chatted about music, favorite performers, and what concerts they'd attended.

She introduced herself as Janet and said she had come into this part of town for the protests, of course.

He nodded. Of course.

She asked him his name.

Introducing himself as Lee, he said he was waiting for his order of a chicken taco with fresh guacamole and handmade salsa from the food truck next door. It would be served with a piping hot coffee.

Lee said he was there for the protests, and she nodded. Of course.

Even through the introductions and conversation, they each remained tightly wrapped up. Lee's features were indistinguishable from those of the Unabomber, with a hoodie pulled up over his head and sunglasses.

She herself left very little skin exposed to the cold, and she guessed she couldn't be picked out of a line-up -- not that she'd be in a line-up, of course. That's why they were there, to legally exercise their First Amendment rights.

Finally, their orders were ready, and using head nodding and hand motioning, they agreed to ride the escalator down to South Station to eat together out of the cold.

“Speaking of Coldplay, I do like 'Shiver,'” Janet said, removing her coat.

“Oh, I know. Who doesn't, right? And to 'fess up, I do like 'Butter.' BTS has some smooth moves in that one. I'd like to meet their choreographer.”

Janet laughingly agreed with Lee and asked, “Oh, so now you do know who BTS is, huh?”

“Yeah. I just felt a bit embarrassed admitting it. I'm a little old to be a groupie.”

“Oh, right. It's not remotely embarrassing for me to disclose I'm a card-carrying member of their ARMY.”

They laughed in unison. They felt such ease and compatibility with each other.

This almost never happens, Lee thought. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so instantly drawn to a woman who shared his willingness to be briefly inconvenienced by standing around in the cold for the good cause of supporting their country. He felt incredibly happy to have met Janet.

Janet had been alone for a long time and longed for a companion, a partner to share not just her love of country, but a readiness to show it through political activism. She felt so much happiness to have met Lee.

While munching on dinner, they talked more about the peaceful protests occurring almost weekly over the past few months and wondering why this one was being viewed as having the potential to be so different.

“Have you attended any of these previous vigils and demonstrations?”

He replied, “Of course.”

Janet nodded her head.

“Did you?”


He nodded. He was not surprised. “See. No violence, no police threats, nothing newsworthy. Why would there be? It's just peaceful, legal, First Amendment protest.”

Janet agreed with his big picture takeaway, but added, “Of course, you'd need to be here to see the overwhelming police presence. I doubt something could even get going.”

Janet noted tonight's march crowd seemed the most electric with the least police presence and silently wondered why.

“Huh.” Lee finally glanced at his wristwatch and said, “It's getting late.”

“Yeah,” Janet agreed. But then, being uncharacteristically bold, heard in her head a little voice saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Ask him!” So she did.

“Would you like my phone number or email address or Facebook handle or” – Lee jerked as if coming out of a trance and exclaimed, “Oh, hell, yes! I'm so glad you asked me. I was just about to give you my last name and number.”

“Sure, sure,” Janet teased.

“No, really!”

They happily chatted more as they swapped last names and phone numbers and sent each other test texts. Displaying their phones, they shared pictures of their beloved pets, a small rescue dog owned by each.

Then, still smiling and exchanging small talk, they simultaneously pulled out computer-printed sheets from their pockets containing protest information.

Hot currents of electric shock jolted through them as they suddenly realized they weren't going to the same place or the same protest!

She inhaled sharply as Lee exploded, “Oh, no!”

She cried out, “Oh! You aren't going to the Capitol, are you?”

“Janet, aren't you coming to D.C. with me?”

“Of course not. That's where his – I mean, you – please tell me that's not where you're heading, Lee!”

“Well, of course it is. I mean, we agreed we were going to the same protest. It's where you're going, isn't it? What else is there to protest?”


The young man continued on as if he hadn't even heard her. He probably hadn't. “We can't let the presidency be stolen. We have to stand up and be counted.”

“Oh, Lee, I agree wholeheartedly! We have to protect our Constitutional rights!”

“Exactly, You do understand. Our voices must be heard in legally peaceful protest!”

She stared at him, head shaking unconsciously, as she wondered how something that had started so beautifully and had been filled with such possibility had suddenly gone so terribly, horribly wrong.

“Lee,” Janet said quietly, “Please don't go. Stay with me and let's talk. We have a great starting point: We love our country.”

“What do you mean, 'Please don't go'? Come with me to the Capitol. We've already agreed, you and I, that we've attended marches, rallies, and sit-ins over the past few months in protest of how our country is headed. So why wouldn't you” -- then he saw that Janet was shaking her head and crying.

“Oh, no.”

Janet was unable to speak.

Lee stuttered, “But – but that would mean – that means” – he couldn't speak anymore. His unexpected comprehension that they'd been protesting against each other past few months was just too painful to be suffered.

“Oh, please come with me, Janet. I don't want to lose this, whatever “this” is.”

She countered his offer, suggesting again that he stay with her, “We can sit together and keep talking.”

“We can do that on our way to the Capitol.”

She again shook her head, tears dropping onto her hot, red cheeks.

“Someone has to stand up for what's right. And if not me and not you, then, who? It's our job as American citizens, isn't it? Don't you see that? That's all we want, is fair representation.”

Janet burst out, “I do see that. Our votes have been counted and have to count.”


Continuing on, she said, “You people are all the same. You'd do anything for him.”

Lee shook his head, saying sadly, “And just like that, I'm a 'you people'?”

“No,” Janet said, “I didn't mean to say that. I am sorry.”

“Are you really?”

“Yes, Lee. But the numbers don't lie. Tomorrow's joint session of Congress will affirm” –

He finished by saying, “that the numbers don't lie.”

Janet closed her eyes.

Lee cradled his head in his shaking hands and tried to settle his roiling emotions. He gently reached out and took Janet's hands in his, saying, “Oh, Janet. I'm so drawn to you, and I genuinely think we could go somewhere together. I want to. We have so much in common. We like the same music, movies, and books. We live near each other. We both love animals. I want to walk my dog with yours. I'd love to go out with you.”

“Oh, yes. Me, too, Lee. I want to introduce you to my wiggle-butt, Tilly, and I want to meet your furry friend, Rocket. We have so much in common.”

Lee said, “Exactly!”

But she continued on relentlessly, speaking softly through her tears, “But I don't think there's a way around this. I simply can't be with someone who supports him. I can't even try; the difference is insurmountable.”

Still, Lee gathered Janet close, enfolding her in his strong, reassuring arms. She didn't even try to pull back from him; in fact, she leaned in even closer. She heard his heartbeat, and she could smell his cologne.

So Janet asked pleadingly, her words muffled against his chest, “Please don't get on that bus. Let's just leave and go to my place and spend time together, just the two of us.”

Discouraged, Lee shook his head sadly as he silently agreed with her assessment that their differences were greater than could be bridged in just this one meeting, particularly on this date.

“Tomorrow will be too late, Janet. The Joint Session of Congress will make a lie into law. But I guess you don't care about that, huh?”

“Don't care! That's why I protest! He's a liar.”

Lee yelled, “Ah, the inevitable name calling.”

“I'm not calling you names!”

“You seem too smart to believe their lies!”

Janet cried, “Their lies! Their lies? How dare you, Lee?”

“How dare I? Someone has to dare to tell the truth. That's all he's doing, Janet.”

“He wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the” --

“On the what, Janet?”

She was immediately embarrassed by that knee-jerk response and apologized.

Janet tried to calm things down, hoping they could still reconcile somehow. “I'm sorry.”

“Apology accepted.”

They smiled at each other again, even though the smiles were now a bit forced, not as wide, and their eyes conveyed a wistfulness not there previously.

Lee tried again to explain his point of view to her.

“I'm not getting on one of those buses to go to the Capitol to be violent or hurt anybody or break any laws. Surely, you can tell I'm not a violent person!”

“Oh, no, Lee. Of course I believe you're a good man. But if you get on one of those MAGA buses, I'm pretty certain violence will find you.”

Lee shook his head, affronted by her description of the bus as being a “MAGA” bus. To him, it was just a tour bus he'd booked a ticket on to go to Washington.

Still, he tried again, “Can't you see the election was rigged? I mean, honestly, you seem to be so educated. Don't you ever follow the news? And I mean more than just CNN and the mainstream sources who keep routinely being caught in lies.”

Offended at the thought that she didn't follow literally a dozen or more news sources from around the globe, print, radio, television, in English, French, and Russian -- Janet's head spun crazily.

She asked him, “Don't I watch the news? That's all I do, it seems, is watch the news. I get news alerts on my phone every five minutes.”

“The mainstream media, right?”

“No, global news sources, Lee. What do you follow?”

“The truth, Janet.” He was so confused. “I don't understand how otherwise normal, intelligent people can be sucked into believing” --

She finished his thought for him by saying, “lies.” She continued on, “How can smart people be so confused as to believe” –

They talked over each other, her voice first, “lies? I just don't” --

-- “understand how” --

-- “something like this can happen!

-- “this happens!” His voice ended in a sad utterance, “I just don't get it.”

He continued on, saying, “You can't simply believe everything you see or read in the mainstream media. You're smart enough to know that, aren't you?”

Janet heard his distress in the shakiness of his voice and felt the strained sincerity behind his question, so once again she tried to get him to stay with her.

“Please don't go. I know a great coffee shop right near my apartment. We could grab a cuppa and go to my place. I just know there's a middle ground we could reach. Isn't there?”

But Lee seemed to deny that as even a remote possibility.

“Someone has to stand up for our country. That's why I'm going to the Capitol. Why aren't you, Janet? I thought you said you loved our country.”

“Oh, I do, Lee. But that's the problem, you see. We're never going to be able to be . . . friends, are we?”

Lee's head moved slowly side to side.

She continued, “We're just too different.”

Lee quoted “My Universe.” As the song lyrics say, “And they said that we can't be together because, because we come from different sides.”

“I guess they're right. We are just too different.”

February 01, 2023 21:00

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Wally Schmidt
16:29 Feb 26, 2023

Wow Val! From a meet cute relationship to political divisiveness-you took us there in this story which, sadly, is a commentary on the state of the States today. Really well written and engaging scenes and characters


Valerie Shand
21:31 Feb 26, 2023

WooHoo, Wally! Precisely the point I was trying to make. We have become like tinder, and if you light a match anywhere nearby, up we go into a full-blown conflagration. We have forgotten, it seems, how to be rational. Thank you so very much for your kind review, Wally! Now let me scootch over and read something of yours. :))


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Wendy Rogers
19:32 Feb 09, 2023

Great characters, so realistic on how quickly it went from potentially liking each other to enemies. Before all the craziness, people seemed to be able to have differing opinions and not care, now it is a determination on how people can even be in the same room together. Great way of demonstrating that!! looking forward to reading more of your stories.


Valerie Shand
21:29 Feb 10, 2023

Thank you, Wendy. And, yes, our country has changed so much it's terrifying. I appreciate your encouragement.


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01:10 Feb 08, 2023

Nice story, quite engaging. I was hoping they'd get together at the end. People in wisconsin or texas not talking to each other because of something happening 2,000 miles away that they have no control over is a bit silly. I guess people just like to take sides and be opinionated about big things that they have no control over. 99.99% of our real life has nothing to do with politics.. well I've been away from the US for fifteen years, I've heard things have changed.


Valerie Shand
03:53 Feb 09, 2023

Scott, thank you very much for your kind comments. Even as I wrote this, I was wishing there was a way for them to get together in the end. There just wasn't. I should have been better at clarifying my setting of Boston, Massachusetts, I see. This particular date, or the following day, in fact, 1/6/21, is such a lightening rod, that -- at least in this country -- not paying attention and not having a strongly-held opinion was impossible. Moreover, people who were friends and like minded on most issues could not make any inroads on a meet...


04:07 Feb 09, 2023

NP, happy to send some positive vibes your way, your story works. Two people and a conflict/tension is usually a great formula for short stories. yeah certain keywords and events set off people's emotions and then they aren't actually reading the story anymore. Its nice we can set things in the future or in a fictional different country and write what we feel like without upsetting anyone. I did a satire 'Gluten Is What Makes This Nation Stick Together' on the crazy level of conflict about every little thing these days that i enjoyed writin...


Valerie Shand
00:19 Feb 14, 2023

Oh, I love a story that makes me laugh so hard I snort. The premise of a country divided on the issue of gluten just isn't as far-fetched as it ought to be. "Grey's Anatomy, now into its 37th season" was only able to be seen in gluten-free states and only if he paid for his NetFree subscription. I love Felix's secret habit being binge-watching gluten-free television shows. A Congressman's freedom and life are at risk for eating a bagel. Felix can make a decision to save him, but he chooses to eat his spicy falafel and lentil salad plate bef...


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01:10 Feb 08, 2023

Nice story, quite engaging. I was hoping they'd get together at the end. People in wisconsin or texas not talking to each other because of something happening 2,000 miles away that they have no control over is a bit silly. I guess people just like to take sides and be opinionated about big things that they have no control over. 99.99% of our real life has nothing to do with politics.. well I've been away from the US for fifteen years, I've heard things have changed.


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Wendy Kaminski
22:06 Feb 07, 2023

It's funny, but I can see people getting different things out of this depending on what side of the fence they fall on ... even though you've split it right down the middle! It's incredible how politicized we've become, so that all that matters is what the person's politics are. What a sad and unpromising place to be. I hope we'll change, some day. That said, as you can tell I really enjoyed it - it was extremely thought-provoking! Great story, and since I didn't say it yet, even though it's not your first, welcome to Reedsy! :)


Valerie Shand
22:50 Feb 07, 2023

Wendy, thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad that what I was aiming for was what you found. I tried to humanize each person and cause the reader to think kindly or generously of the other side. And make no mista kes, as you know, the two sides just can't seem to get along at all.


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03:31 Feb 04, 2023

I particularly liked the character Janet. The way she dressed told me she must be a fun person to hang around with. Lee was just too stubborn. Probably just as well they didn't get together; he seemed like a dud. LOL Loved the story!


Valerie Shand
16:32 Feb 04, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my story. This was my first submission to a contest, and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. And, yes, Janet was the outgoing character while Lee was way more laid back. I'm off to find your most recent submission and read it. Thanks again!


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