Contest #104 shortlist ⭐️

43 comments

Contemporary Drama Friendship

You savour these moments in the spotlight, swirling the attention like a fine wine in your mouth. All lenses narrowed on your charming smile, your blue eyes made bluer as your pupils contract to pinpoints, the only part of your body that shies away from bright lights. The reporters jostle for position, shoulders kicking toward the front of the stage. Ravenous, famished, churning the air as they sniff for political chum. I envy your ease in these situations, you slice through the tricky queries and lob back talking points, you smash the softball questions and ace the FAQs.


The moderator takes the mic and introduces you. The incumbent candidate for the First Legislative District of Pennsylvania, representing the City of Erie, Terrence Sullivan.


Back in college you earned the moniker The Terror for your inebriated escapades. Streaking nude through the girls’ dorm, crunching empty cans of beer against your forehead, prying caps off bottles with your teeth. We lived in different climes, even then.


On campus, you ruled the equatorial zone, swinging from the vines, beating your chest, mingling perfectly with the fraternal creatures, bursting with colour and cockiness and cacophony, quarterbacking on the football field and orating in Poly-

Sci classes. I surveyed the temperate zone, sitting cross-legged on a flat rock near the summit of a pine-topped mountain, content with the company of a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, while occasionally zig-zagging on the tennis court and examining petri dishes in the Biology lab.


Our forced co-habitation was a collision of unnatural intersections. A social experiment in random selection. As freshman roommates in Baldwin Hall, you wanted the top bunk, and I didn’t mind. I’ve never been particularly interested in negotiations.


I glance to my right and catch your eye as the cameras flash.


***

The years since we’ve graduated have been good to you, Pee-Wee. I remember when you rolled into our dorm room freshman year, tennis bag slung over your back. You introduced yourself as Herman Weiss, and the first thing I thought, right after I coined your nickname ‘Pee Wee’, was that your ridiculous ponytail would have to go. Now look at you, a top epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins wearing a decent suit, a passable haircut, and fashionable black glasses.


I know you don’t relish these events, too many people, too many questions, no time to dig deep into a topic. Sweat glistens on your forehead and you resist the urge to wipe it with your sleeve.


The moderator introduces you as Dr. Herman Weiss, a surprising challenger for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. 


In less than two decades we graduated from best friends in college to improbable political opponents. Most folks think you don’t have a chance, you’re not a political animal, you’ve never run for office before, you’re up against a popular incumbent. And they’re right. But if I’ve learned anything from watching you operate in college, it’s to never underestimate you.


Like that time you took a Poly-Sci course ‘out of interest’ and we sat next to each other in class. You got top marks on every paper and test. But that last required element, to give a speech in front of the class, you were going to skip, even if it hurt your grade, because you avoided public speaking. I convinced you to try, and helped you prepare.


Don’t wipe your face with your sleeve, I advised, it makes you look desperate and sloppy. Don’t stare off into space for too long when someone asks a question. Look them straight in the eye and say, ‘that’s an excellent question, I’ll consider it and get back to you.’ If someone asks something you don’t want to answer, say ‘what we should be talking about is…’ and then introduce what you want to focus on. And whatever you do, don’t point with a finger, use your knuckle. That one made you chuckle. But when you gave your talk on ‘why policy decisions should be based on science’, the audience was in the palm of your hand. So I know better than to count you out.


Out of the corner of my eye, I see you shuffle a few index cards and set them on the lectern.


***


On my own, I was rubbish ‘at networking’ as you called it. You navigated the social streams with ease, spawning conversations, creating giddy whirlpools of women swirling round you, baiting their breaths. You loved being around people, laughing, slapping the men on their backs, a gentle slide along the upper arm for the ladies. Your battery was recharged by swimming with the school, buzzing with the hive, running with the pack.


The only time you were on your own for any length of time was when you got mononucleosis and were quarantined in the infirmary. Being immune, I brought you books and class assignments. You were miserable, not from the mono so much as from the isolation, left with your thoughts circling like a dog chasing his tail. I taught you some basic self-awareness practices, breathing exercises, a few simple chants, a guided meditation. As always, you were a fast learner, and the desperation dissipated.


Half way through Sophomore year you started to downplay your intelligence, you didn’t want to be called an elitist, you were a man of the people. You got ‘good enough’ grades even though you could have been magna cum laude. You moderated your drinking, no more streaking, though you still opened beer bottles with your teeth, until you chipped the front one. I wonder if you got that fixed yet, or if you keep it as a memento, proof that you’re good ole boy. I turn more fully towards you, seeing if I can spot the imperfect tooth.


***


You rotate your trunk to face me, grey eyes calm behind the black glasses. I remember the last time we talked, at the 10-year reunion. I was surprised you showed up, knowing how you don’t like big groups. We’d always had different political views, but that never got in the way of deep discussions, and we ended up at a local bar, sipping whisky at 2am, reminiscing about the old days.


It’s nice to see you again, but I wish the circumstances were different. You’re a chew toy in the mouth of the political machine and I’m the dog being sicced to rip you apart. I smile wide, showing my canines.


***


You’ve kept the chipped tooth. I nod in appreciation. The moderator asks the first question, something about what shenanigans you got up to in college.


Pointing my knuckle at the audience, I say what the voters really want to know is...








July 28, 2021 12:26

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43 comments

K. Antonio
19:50 Aug 05, 2021

Looks like we have both reached 3 shortlists. CONGRATZ!! I've shared the podium now with you, Ray and Claire, so I'm excited that so many people in my social circle have gotten recognition! I'm kinda mad at myself for not having read this sooner. It was a wonderful piece. And you know how much I love something not driven by plot, so this hit all the right places for me who loves character-driven stories with stellar writing!

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H L Mc Quaid
19:51 Aug 05, 2021

We're Shortlist siblings. Nice that so many peeps in our CC are doing well. 😁

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K. Antonio
19:55 Aug 05, 2021

Honestly, so many of the authors I follow are inspiring, so it's just rad to see the growth and progress! It's exciting to see all that "wax-on" and "wax-off" be worth it in the end! I'm so happy for us both!

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A.Dot Ram
20:55 Aug 05, 2021

Yay! Congrats!

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H L Mc Quaid
20:57 Aug 05, 2021

Thanks for your help. 😁

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H L Mc Quaid
13:47 Jul 28, 2021

If you're looking for a plot-driven story, this is not it. ;) The plot development parts of my brain are focused on a screenplay at the moment, so here we have some character development, which I hope is at least mildly entertaining. Critique, as always, is welcome.

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Palak Shah
13:53 Aug 08, 2021

This was a great story and I loved reading it so much. Congrats on bring short-listed Could you please read my story if possible :))

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Amanda Lieser
23:12 Aug 06, 2021

Wow! This was such a great story. I thought you had an incredible opener and I loved how you brought it back at the very end. This story was funny and poignant. Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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H L Mc Quaid
22:05 Aug 07, 2021

Thanks, Amanda! Glad you enjoyed it. I've been working on endings, and trying to get better. :)

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Andrea Magee
06:53 Aug 06, 2021

Congratulations on being shortlisted! A very enjoyable read and well written.

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H L Mc Quaid
13:45 Aug 06, 2021

thanks very much. :)

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Andrea Magee
06:40 Aug 06, 2021

Congratulations on being shortlisted! Excellent story/writing!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:38 Aug 22, 2021

thank you!

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Rayhan Hidayat
01:08 Aug 06, 2021

Here’s me doing a little dance in return as promised 🩰 Congrats!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:52 Aug 06, 2021

Thanks! I pictured you doing a bit of John Travolta disco action, ala Saturday Night Fever, just fyi. ;)

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:12 Aug 06, 2021

Pulp Fiction is one of my all time favorite movies... :)

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Eliza Entwistle
23:11 Aug 05, 2021

A wonderfully-crafted story that was detailed and easy to read. You ended it perfectly. Congrats on the shortlist!

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H L Mc Quaid
13:52 Aug 06, 2021

thanks very much!

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Shea West
20:41 Aug 05, 2021

Yay! A shortlist well deserved, sadly I'm just now making my way to your story. All the same, I'm happy to be reading it. I look forward to what you write every week as I never know what to expect. This felt different from most of your other pieces. There was something almost nostalgic about their past how these two used to know one another before they became adversaries. I imagine them telling their children, "We didn't always used to be on opposite sides you know." It's something I imagine about people in the public eye...what were they...

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H L Mc Quaid
13:56 Aug 06, 2021

I also wonder what I'll write each week, as I don't know what to expect. ;) There is a kind of nostalgic feeling here, or maybe a 'wish the world were this way' vibe, as I'd like people serving the public to make an effort at being civil, and I'd like the public to see them as real people.

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Ash Jarvis
15:32 Aug 05, 2021

I do love a story where someone is about to realize they aren’t as smart as they think they are, and I feel like you ended this one at just the right point. My only critique is whether Terrence could be so self unaware that he believes they were best friends in college? Although I do like the idea that the friendship is somewhere in the middle—less than he remembers, more than Herman recalls… I can see your point about this not having a plot, but it has great tension, so for me it works beautifully!

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H L Mc Quaid
14:40 Aug 06, 2021

hi Ash! thanks for the comment. Glad you thought there was tension despite a lack of plot. :) And yes, Terry and Herman had different perspectives on their friendship, for sure.

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A.Dot Ram
05:30 Jul 31, 2021

You played with point of view a week early! This was fun, and you did come away with two likable characters and tension between them. I appreciated the climate analogy--the equatorial and temperature zones. A few uncharacteristic typos in this one, if you have time to fix: "our enforced cohabitation..." *forced* makes more sense to my ear. "and I the first thing I thought..." extra "I"? Poli-sci/Poly-Sci different capitalizations "or if you keep as a memento," maybe missing *it*?

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H L Mc Quaid
10:10 Jul 31, 2021

Hi Anne, ha, I thought the same thing when I saw the prompts this week. Now what will I do? 🤔 It's kind of you to say 'uncharacteristic' typos...haha. I often leave out or insert small words, thanks for catching those! Glad you liked the climate analogy, that was one my favs too. :)

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Beth Connor
04:29 Jul 29, 2021

I love what you did with this prompt!

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H L Mc Quaid
09:44 Jul 29, 2021

thank you :)

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A.G. Scott
22:52 Jul 28, 2021

Perfectly enjoyable read, but you really ought to list this under fantasy... you wrote a pair of /likable/ politicians.

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H L Mc Quaid
09:44 Jul 29, 2021

😂😂😂

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Kym Ortega
21:08 Aug 30, 2021

Great story! Congratulations on being shortlisted.

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H L Mc Quaid
14:28 Sep 01, 2021

Thanks, Kym. :)

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Katie Kanning
01:44 Aug 07, 2021

Hey, I love your story! I'm wondering if I could read it on my podcast, "Unpublished, not Unknown"? It's all about giving voice to indie authors' short stories and spreading their reach a bit further. I'll credit you and link your profile in the show notes. People can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Youtube, and 5 other locations. It's in its growing stage, so I'd only ask you to share your episode with friends if you like it :) You can check out the format here: https://bio.link/katiek

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H L Mc Quaid
22:04 Aug 07, 2021

Hi Katie, I had a listen to Ray's story on your podcast and it's good. Let me know about next steps.

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Katie Kanning
22:18 Aug 07, 2021

Hey, thank you! First, I'd ask for written permission to read your story on the podcast. Permission could mean just replying to this thread :) I'd also ask what name you want to be credited in the episode (real name or pen name) and how to pronounce it? Also, do you have additional social media links you want me to put in the show notes in addition to your Reedsy page? That's it! I'll do all the work and will hopefully get it posted in the next day or two. Once it's posted, I'll reply to this thread and let you know so you can listen...

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H L Mc Quaid
07:04 Aug 08, 2021

sure, you can use my real name Heather McQuaid (first name rhymes with 'weather' last name pronounced "mick-kwaid"). Twitter handle is @h_mcq Looking forward to it. :)

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Katie Kanning
00:16 Aug 11, 2021

Hi Heather, I got your message a couple days ago. I recorded the episode but due to my new computer which is giving me a lot of trouble, I had to rerecord the whole thing. Typically I do all podcast things on the weekend due to my job, so we'll see if I have time to finish it during the week. Either way, it'll be up this weekend--if not before :) That's the update!

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H L Mc Quaid
08:02 Aug 11, 2021

Thanks, Katie. Technology isn't always our friend! 🙂

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Katie Kanning
22:33 Dec 28, 2021

Hi there! I’m reaching out to all of the authors who have been featured on the UNU podcast. I have a few new opportunities for you! In the quick and easy form linked below, I am offering: 1. A chance to schedule a casual interview with me for the podcast. This will be a basic get to know you, a way for you to advertise your other writing (books if you have them), and a time to laugh and have fun. They would be less than an hour, most likely under 30-min. Whatever works for your schedule. 2. A personal bio page for you on the website I...

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