Romance Funny Contemporary

From the doorway, Penelope scanned her mother’s crowded living room for a friendly face. Golden sunlight poured through picture windows. The lake lay in the distance. Sailboats chased the breeze.

‘Oh, to be on a boat…’

She had to give her mother, Diane, credit. She knew how to entertain.

Who actually has this many friends?

A string quartet played, smoothing lulls in conversation. Liquor flowed. Waiters drifted by with platters of catered food. Laughter punctuated the din. From above the fireplace, Diane’s portrait observed the festivities.

Diane whispered in Penelope’s ear. She jumped. “Nell, I have someone you must meet.”

“Mom, no.”

“He’s very nice, and new in town. He’s highly recommended. Jane knows his parents.”

“I’m not hiring. Have him leave a resume.”


“Stop it, Mom.”

“It won’t kill you to meet him. You don’t have to sign a contract. Just chat for five minutes. Did I teach you nothing about manners?”

“Not to sneak up on people.”

“Here he is. Meet Jeffrey. Recently moved from Boston.”

They shook hands. His ragged smile masked his shyness.

Dressed in a suit and tie, he looked like a waiter. Only more formal. Diane tried to take his jacket, but he declined.

The room had become very loud. Risking his misreading her intent, she moved closer.

‘What does one say?’’ She stammered, “Can I get you something?”

“Soda water’s fine.”

She led him to the bar. Penelope asked for white wine.

They touched glasses. “So, Penelope… Nickname? Penny? Nell?”

“’Penny’ sounds cheap. And ‘Nell’ conjures images of being tied to railroad tracks. Though mother never uses it, Nell is her affectionate name for me. I prefer Loup.”


“Short for Loup Garou. With a silent ‘P.’ ‘Lou.’ You know, French for werewolves.”

“Right. And I thought escargot was a problem.”

“A variation of ‘Pene-loup-e Garou.’

“Got it.”

She downed and refreshed her wine.

“So, I assume Geoffrey, with a G?”

“‘J,’ actually. ‘G’ reads too snooty. People think they must pronounce it with an English accent.”

She posed aristocratically. “Do say?”

“My friends call me Fray.”

“Short for Jeff-fray?”

He nodded. They sipped.

She muttered, “Eat your beans.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, did I say that?” He nodded. “Mother knows she can’t shame my eating habits anymore. Now she forces me to meet ‘eligible young men.’ You’re tonight’s scoop of beans.”

“I see. Good that I’m from Boston.”

“I hate beans.”

Jeff nodded and considered possible escape routes. Penelope turned her back to the room.

“Is she still watching me…? Her portrait. Over the mantel.”

“The artist captured her perfectly.”

Penelope shook her head. “Wrong. No one captures my mother. She holds the world on her very short leash.”

“You’re serious?” He decided she must be.

“I pity the artist who slaved away under that arched brow.” He laughed. “Like a lion tamer, she commands with a flick of her lash. You’ll see.”

He looked around and sighed. “Beautiful house.”

“Every room has a view of the lake. Some Robber Baron’s summer cottage.”

“Nice uhm, ‘cottage.’”

“The servant’s quarters are sumptuous.”

“That where you live?”

Penelope frowned and stepped back. “Comes with the prettiest little trust fund.”

He stared. “How did you get so cynical?”

“Save yourself. Avoid time with my mother.”

“Someday all this will be yours? No siblings?”

“Planning the biggest garage sale ever.”

They looked past each other but saw no escape.

Penelope tried again. “What’s your career arc? Ambassador?”

“Hedge funds. For now.”

“Ooh, mother would never abide a gambler.”

“Honestly, I’m not sure I’m a good fit.”

Jeff looked for Diane.

Penelope asked, “Did you sail? Own a boat?”

Jeff smiled. “Yes. Actually won some races.”

“All that practice in the bathtub paid off?”

He laughed. She had to be joking.

He said, “And I presume you had a horse?”

“Of course. Couldn’t get out of it.” She posed. “Excelled in ‘equestrian dressage.’”

“I hate seeing a badly dressed horse.”

“They smell. But I enjoyed dressing like one.” He laughed. “Honestly, dressage is like guiding an oversized mouse through a maze.”

“Prettier, though.”

“No doubt.”

“And mice don’t prance.”

“Not on my watch.”

The pause seemed eternal.

He asked, “You like music?”

“In this house, if it doesn’t have a cello… Piano lessons were mandatory.”

“No saxophones then.”

“God, no.” Penelope laughed a little too loudly. She recovered. “I prefer mine with no strings attached.”

“You know, the Soviet Union banned saxophones. Too decadent.”

“So, they got some things right.”

They smiled.

“More wine?”

“Soda’s fine. I don’t drink.”

“You will. The trick here is to start cheap, then go cheaper.”

“You know wine?”

“Her wine cellar’s so big, it has a wine cellar. Spent many happy hours hiding down there.”

They made room for others at the bar.

“I hate to say this, Loup, but I need to go. Can we meet again?”

“Where are you sailing off to?”

“A work thing. May I call you?”

“You go to cotillions?”

“Haven’t. Were you a deb?”

“So I’m told. No personal recollection. I’m joking. You won’t see me at one. I don’t do those.”

“You’re here, though.”

She sighed and leaned against the table. “Busted. My mother will tell you, sighting me here is rare as the dodo. If that’s not redundant.”

“Seriously, let’s talk more. If we hadn’t met here, where would we?”

“My mother introduced us, preppy. What could we have in common?”

Jeff gestured to the room. “You come from this and call me Preppy?”

Penelope looked sad. She took his hand. “The masks… on top of masks. Do they ever come off?”

“Once you’ve peeled back all the layers of an onion, what’s left?”

“Sour grapes?”

Offering his arm, he led her to a chair.

He kneeled. “Think of it as performance art. We all wear them. Even in a mirror.”

“Not armor?”

“Things are often mysterious, but rarely impenetrable.” Their eyes held. For a moment, they each felt seen. He took her hand. “I’m sorry. I can’t be late. Nice meeting you. Dinner?”

She nodded and looked down. He thanked Diane by the door. The sun had set.

Penelope felt Diane at her shoulder. “Nell, what did you think?”

“All the charm of a fresh coat of paint. Don’t stand too close. He might smudge.”

“Penelope. Really…”

“Not my type, Mom. Stop shopping for me in the junior section. I’m grown-up now.”

“But he comes from…”

“He can keep going.”

Diane shook her head. “I give up.” Her face brightened as she joined another conversation. The party had ended. Servants were cleaning.

Penelope found the kitchen and poured a coffee. She called her friend Jeanette.

“Jeanette? Loup… Need rescuing. Yeah, at my mom’s… Can you drive…? Anywhere. Away from here… Perfect…! Cool…”

Jeanette took her to a newly discovered club.

Penelope talked the whole drive. “Thank you! Thank you. I can’t tell you how much this escape means. You broke me free!”

The line moved along. They got in and they found a table near the stage. A combo played a lilting melody.

Jeanette yelled over the music, “Music’s called punk jazz, I guess. Band’s called ‘Fraidy Cats.’ Heard they’re good. I like them!”

They ordered drinks and settled in.

The sax player, wore torn jeans and a wife beater. His skin displayed more tattoos than skin. Drinking from a bottle labeled ’Chateau Lafitte Bordeaux,’ what ran onto his shirt looked like water. The crowd cheered as he dribbled the last of it onto his head.

Then he played. His extended solo swirled around the melody. The crowd swayed.

Penelope stared. Between phrases, he grinned a big ragged smile.

Jeanette waved. “He’s smiling at us!”

Penelope leaned in. “You’ll think I’m crazy, but I think my mother introduced the sax player to me.”

“Fray? Diane? You’re crazy, Loup.”

They laughed.

“I know. Weird. Right?”

The song ended and the singer announced a break. Fray bounded off the stage and threaded between tables. Penelope watched. He didn’t seem interested. Coming abreast of them, he turned and smiled at Penelope.

He pointed. “How’ve you been? Loup, right?”

She laughed and nodded. “So you’re the real Fray!”

“Right. Not ‘Fraid. And not Frayed.” He took her hand. “Nice to meet you. I hope first impressions don’t count.”

“Me too!” They laughed. “Join us.” She pulled a chair out. He sat. Penelope turned to Jeanette, “I want you to meet my friend, Fray.”

They shook hands. “I have a feeling there’s a story here.”

Penelope and Jeff looked at each other and laughed.

February 03, 2022 01:11

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Kendri Petersen
17:18 Feb 10, 2022

I love the flow of your dialogue. It seems natural and shows each character's personality well.


John K Adams
17:53 Feb 10, 2022

Thank you Kendri. I always like knowing when a story works. Or doesn't. But especially when it does.


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Ariel Searcy
05:24 Feb 10, 2022

I enjoyed the read. The story reminded me of, The Great Gatsby, which happens to be one of my favorite books. I personally found a couple of sentences a bit hard to read due to the verbiage. However, it was very well written and exemplified your talent as an author.


John K Adams
15:53 Feb 10, 2022

Thanks for reading, Ariel. And the comments.


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Gip Roberts
18:58 Feb 03, 2022

Now I finally know what in the world a "loup garou" is. I've seen that term in several fantasy stories and it was starting to drive me crazy wondering. As for this story, the chit chat between Penelope and Jeff at her mother's party was hilarious. That was probably the most awkward conversation I've ever read. I liked Jeff's observation about the masks best: "We all wear them. Even in a mirror." Very true.


John K Adams
19:27 Feb 03, 2022

Thank you Gip, for your comments and kind words. it was fun to write. 'Loup' if French for wolf. But I haven't found 'garou' except with loup. I'm thinking it is related to 'garrulous,' a talker - talking wolf.


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David Link
20:56 Feb 21, 2022

Good dialogue and use of imagery. Keep writing


John K Adams
21:08 Feb 21, 2022

Thanks David. I will.


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W.D. Pierce
20:53 Feb 07, 2022

Loved the details, how fast paced this was and the fun dialogue. Great writing John!


John K Adams
20:58 Feb 07, 2022

W. D. - Thanks for reading and the comment. It's always fun to hear what readers think. It was a fun one to write.


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