Contest #104 shortlist ⭐️

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Gay Romance Contemporary

 Her throat was dry. She could hear the tap dripping intermittently into the aluminum sink behind her. The way the quiet pitter patter was unrhythmic and unpredictable sent a shiver down her spine. She buried her face into the couch. Dad said he was going to fix the pipes last weekend, but something came up. Maybe mom is sick, she thought. It didn’t matter anyway, really. Dad’s mind worked more like a river than a pond. Nothing stayed in view for long. Instead, everything moved along with the current. In one ear, leaking out the other.

Seconds seem to drip out of Katherine’s hands. She was waiting. Darcy was supposed to arrive soon, but that wasn’t really her style. There was no reason for it either, but it always kept Katerine on her feet.

They had plans that night. A movie and dinner at a rooftop bar catering mostly to middle aged couples desperately seeking respite from kids they loved but couldn’t always like. Katherine had wanted to go for a while. Vintage lights hung from thick cords around the deck. All the chairs were mismatched, some of wicker, like they were stolen from an elderly woman’s backyard, others ornate dining chairs with delicate designs carved into the wood and purple velvet seats accented with tortoise shell buttons.

It sat in the middle of town square, overlooking a tall war monument protecting the roundabout that controlled everything. Once could not get anywhere without looking the Union soldier in the eyes. His face was gaunt, as though starvation from the war followed him. His cheekbones protruded, leaving the skin to drape loosely below. The small holes in the limestone left the statue with a strange aura of life, like each of his pores was delicately chiseled onto his face. She never learned his name.

Katherine lifted her head out of the linen cushions. Darcy should be here soon, but she was already 30 minutes late. They would miss the movie for sure. She could show up with a bundle of flowers. That happened once, years ago when they had first met. The summer night was ebbing slowly into the sky as the sun began to lie its head. She remembers the scene so vividly. The orange clouds mixed with the blush pink seeping from the delicate blue, teeter toddlering between a fading gray and a dying cornflower, the day’s last gift to the trees before falling below their view.

They didn’t really have set plans that night, just dinner around seven, but Katherine was anxious. What if the food gets cold? She was always worried. Dinner sat on the stove, her on the couch. Staring at the light hanging from the ceiling, a myriad of disastrous situations danced before her eyes. Car crash. Pole fell on her while she was driving. Slipped and fell. Got lost. Abducted. Phone died. She doesn’t like you. She doesn’t like you. She doesn’t like you. “Enough of that,” Katherine said to herself. Her mind worked more like a whirlpool, spinning deeper and deeper into itself. Usually, a part of her sat above, throwing a lifesaver down before her head submerged fully. Slapping her knees, she stood and looked out the window. The stars, rubbing their tired eyes, were peering faintly out over the leaves.

Just as she sighed, the heaving type where sadness pools into and out of one’s lungs with the same breath, she heard a knock at the door. She was startled, a jolt of energy mixed with reupholstered fear made her fingers cold as she rushed to the door. Katherine found herself staring at Darcy, holding bunches of wildflowers. Giddy joy and a twinge of childlike apologetic guilt spread across her cheeks like blush on her olive skin.

Her outfit was eclectic and completely her own. Daisy yellow vinyl raincoat with accenting red sleeves with matching rain boots. They were covered with mud, Katherine would later find that she had waded through a creek to grab the flowers for her. She wore a sweater underneath. It must have been wool, but Katherine couldn’t tell. The thick knit turtleneck was a deep brown, coincidentally matching the mud on her shoes. She was messy and put together. A whirlwind and a light breeze. Summer air and heavy rainfall.

“These are for you.” She thrusted the bouquet forward into Katherine’s chest. There was a ladybug hanging onto one of the leaves. It flew off towards the light above them. “T-thank you,” Katherine mumbled, not meeting Darcy’s eyes, instead locked in a trance at the meager gift she had received. There must have been something in the pollen, Katherine thinks, because at that moment, looking into Darcy’s brown eyes, spun with small specks of green, she fell in love.

Remembering that night always brought that same smirk Darcy had to Katherine’s lips. She had been trying to be more like her, daring. Unapologetically herself. Wanting nothing from the world beside what she could find on the side of the road or hidden behind her ear.

A light filled the living room from the driveway. Darcy’s old station wagon flew up next to the house. A flutter started somewhere in Katherine’s legs, moving quickly up to her chest. Heartbeats became so rapid, she couldn’t tell if her heart had stopped all together or not. Suddenly, she couldn’t remember whether or not she had brushed her teeth. It’s too late to check. She did, she knew she did. A small part of her sat on her heart, calming her soul. Tonight could be the night. It could finally be tonight. She padded from the window to the entrance hall, tip toeing like she was afraid to move any luck that had settled to the floor from countless days of blowing matches out with the same thought each time.

They had known each other for years now, but Katherine felt something special in the night. The birds had continued singing much longer than they usually did. The moon was just short of full, its eerily bright light illuminating the front yard. The back of the door seemed whiter, more pure somehow. She wanted to wait, just to stare until Darcy’s signature knock would fill her ears, just before she would let herself in. “Kat. Kat, listen. Waiting is for the birds. I promise I’ll always knock before I walk in,” she pleaded with her once after Katherine suggested she open the door for her. But, she knew it was futile, and it didn’t really bother her anyway. Darcy was a hurricane, and hurricanes don’t ask to go anywhere.

She heard steps on the stairs. Knock. Breathe. Knock. Breathe. Knock. Breathe. Doorknob. Breathe, Katherine.

The door swung open, and there she stood. She smelled like cinnamon and jasmine. It was something new everyday. Sometimes small bottles of sandalwood jostled in her purse on early morning walks. Rose petals hidden behind her ears, lavender pouches in her pockets. She was wearing baggy jeans with stars that she had doodled all over the legs. Various colors and sizes of an imaginary galaxy covered her knees. An oversized jacket draped over her bony shoulders, a tight maroon top somehow was also falling off of her. The dinner was somewhat formal, although she didn’t fit the atmosphere much, Katherine knew it wouldn’t matter. Darcy transformed wherever she was. The sky would change colors for her, Katherine was almost sure of that.

“I have a surprise for you,” she said, that special smirk forming as she turned to grab what she had brought. “You’ll never guess what I found when I ran into the drug store on my way here.” She ducked behind the other closed door. There was a scuttle. Katherine’s chest felt heavy. “You remember Tyler, right?” A man appeared in front of Katherine.

  Fuck.

Something broke inside her for a moment. Brief and hopefully indistinguishable in her face. The girl sitting on her heart fell, clutching at her ribs in vain. There was nothing to do.

“Yes! Tyler, how are you? It’s been so long!” She spoke slightly through her teeth, hoping embarrassment and resentment wasn’t leaking out her eyes instead of the tears she was holding back. She did know Tyler. They had gone to high school together years ago. She had fallen out of touch with him because she had wanted to. Blame it on the breeze, she reasoned to herself. Time moves, and people move with it. It’s no one’s fault. You didn’t even see it happen. But there he stood. His lanky arms filled the space uncomfortably. Katherine felt a strange aura around him. Did he even want to be here? Darcy wanted him to. She held his hand as his eyes couldn’t seem to meet Katherine’s.

His voice was quiet. “Yeah. Hi. It’s been awhile.” He didn’t know what he was getting roped into. It was obvious. He just wanted what most people who saw Darcy walking past wanted. Katherine wanted to think she was special, different from the rest, but maybe she wasn’t afterall. She did want what he did, but she also wanted to hear about her dreams and what she thought of each blade of grass in the yard. To know her favorite shade of yellow and why certain days have darker blue skies than others. He couldn’t want that. If he did, Katherine couldn’t be better. There was no fighting it.

“Let me grab my purse and fix my hair, then we can go. I’ll meet you guys in the car?” She spoke more like a command than a suggestion, turning for the bathroom before she had finished talking. She wanted to scream. Pull her hair out. Punch something. Why are you even angry? This wasn’t a date anyway. But she wanted it to be. This was going to be the night where she would look Darcy in the eyes and reach for her hand. Recite a poem about brown haired girls with big lives and too little time on their hands. She would look her in the eyes and say everything that was collecting on a desk in the back of her mind.

She knotted her thick hair into a bun. It didn’t matter what she looked like anymore. She wiped off the meticulously applied lipstick, smearing it slightly across her cheek. She wanted to rub her makeup off. It didn’t matter. Tears rolled down her face. Suck it up. You don’t cry. Courage was mustered from somewhere in her that she didn’t know existed. With one quick glance in the mirror and a forced smile, she walked to the car.

The night passed fast.

They arrived. The waiter arrived. Dinner arrived. Other diners arrived. The noise arrived. The discomfort arrived.

It felt like Katherine was third wheeling her own plans. Darcy was always touching Tyler. Nothing inappropriate. A hand on the chest. A simple slap on the shoulder. Fingers accidentally tracing his hand as she reached for something. The conversation was tedious. Tyler monotonously droned on about a job Katherine didn’t care about. All she could stare at was his tooth gap and how his cheeks were too big for his face. His chin was sharp and too strong, she felt, for his big apple cheeks.

The night passed fast.

She was standing on her porch as she watched Darcy get into her car, Tyler by her side, his arm around her shoulder. She watched them get into the car. She watched them look at the other the way she always thought Darcy looked at her. He put his hand on the back of her neck and kissed her delicately. Katherine dissolved into a puddle.

  She’s not a prize. She’s never even told you if she likes girls anyway. That was true. She didn’t know if she did like girls, but that wasn’t ever something they talked about. “Labels are restricting. Who cares what I am when I don’t even fully know yet,” Darcy exclaimed one night. Her arms always flung everywhere while she spoke like she was giving a speech no matter how small the audience was.

She sat on the couch while the tv played infomercials for the perfect nonstick pan. Nothing would ever stay on it. “No oil needed!” the enthusiastic host practically yelled into the camera. With the loud crash of overzealous salesmanship, Katherine’s eyes refocused. Darcy’s mind was like a riptide. Pulling people out to sea before they could realize how deep they were in. She was stuck out in the sea now, too far to find her way back to the shore she began on. Time moves quickly, but Katherine moves faster. It’s time to let go of the current. It was.

Sweet Darcy. She thought longingly at all the nights when the sky was too perfect not to reach out for her. All the opportunities she missed. Her exterior was too slick. Her walls too high. Sweet Darcy. The sun has set. The light is gone. And as the birds finally fell asleep, she grappled with the position she found herself stuck in. I’m never going out with you again.

July 28, 2021 02:59

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3 comments

Aghughu Dynasty
16:10 Aug 22, 2021

I like this story, can I repost this story (though put together in video) if you dont mind? I will give you the credits..

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Rudy Nowotny
19:24 Aug 22, 2021

Go for it!!!

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Amanda Lieser
23:09 Aug 06, 2021

Ruth, I loved this story. It was beautiful and romantic and tragic all at the same time. I thought you had outstanding imagery and excellent characterization. You did a wonderful job of creating a character the reader could fall in love with just as Katherine did. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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