Karen J. Keim
4668 N. Spring Dr.
Prescott Valley, AZ 86314
November 5, 2021 Writing Contest
C.2024 words Fiction entry
Under The Oak Leaf
by Karen J. Keim
- the state of no longer existing; without breath, perhaps still with some brain activity; no longer a threat; of zero value; the moment of the greatest darkness.
It was a crowded Saturday morning at O’Leary’s Bean and Pub. No surprise to her, she allowed a tall man leaving to hold open the door for her to enter with a nod of his head. She got to the back of the long line of patrons awaiting their favorite coffee drink, whether it be a latte, an espresso, or an Irish Coffee with Bailey’s. She glanced around the large seating area and noticed all tables were occupied. She had hoped to snag one and spend just half an hour on her laptop before her agent came by to speak with her about the progress of her new novel but it looked like outside only or at the bar.
The aroma of ground beans and probably stale beer was pleasant. It was the end of October, the day before Halloween so pumpkin spice was a seasonal addition to her olfactory glands’ delight. Most young people were in costumes for the night of parties ahead. She was fifth in line behind a couple in pirate costumes. All of the Baristas were dressed ghoulishly with name tags on upside down.
The novel would be her second. Her first book she had self-published with a company who, for a fee, and with her cooperation and approval would market, edit, print and take care of the cover design. They put her in touch with the best ebook companies and went to bat with her in brick and mortar bookstores. They also set up book signings and sent her helpful resources for how to present her book for best profiling measures. It caught on as popular and suddenly appeared tenth on three Top Ten lists, causing three publishing houses to contact her and offering her reprinting rights and a hefty presale sum to sign with them. Now she was discussing her second novel with Counterpoint Berkeley, and assigning hand-picked agents (which happened to be the same house that published two of her favorite contemporary authors). Third in line.
She smiled to herself and clutched the thick strap of her tanned leather tote with her HP inside with pride. At 65, Isabella Barone felt like a real writer. She’d been writing stories made up in her head since she was thirteen years old. In Middle School, she would read the plethora of young adult genre novels and not be inspired or impressed, but, positive she might be able to write one better.
She’d won essay contests throughout her school-age years, and had received several cash awards from entered contests outside of school. She’d read many Caldecott Medal and Newbery Award winning books by so many authors and wanted to attain their success but had not joined their ranks . . . not yet. Second in line.
She’d started her story-writing in her diaries as a young girl. Then she borrowed her father’s light blue Smith Corona typewriter in its plastic carrying case, followed by her own IBM Selectric IV with auto-erase tape, then finally cutting and pasting on one of the first PC’s to come out. Her writing surfaces ranged from kitchen tables to small desks to drawer, heavy oaked desks and then to coffee tables in cafes and bistros. Like here, with her laptop.
“I’ll take a soy venti cappuccino for here.”
“Pay at the next counter please...next?”
Her eyes swept the cafe but still not a seat was empty. Outside looked filled too. She scooted to a place by the wall to stand and wait.
She didn’t hear her the first time. The second time it was louder, and made her look up. There was a woman at a table in the far corner staring at her. The chair was empty in front of her at her table. Bel saw her point to it, so she moved quickly over to the table and the stranger who’d summoned her.
“Thank you so much!”
“Shore!” She pronounced loudly as she nodded and smiled. She had big white teeth, dark short curly hair and dazzling hazel eyes and about twenty-five or so in age.
Bel took out her laptop and started tapping away when her name was called.
“Is that you? What a beautiful name, do people call you Bella?” Bel smiled at her animated face and went to the counter, got her drink sprinkled with cinnamon before and returned to the table.
“Um, I get called that, and Izzy and Bel.”
“Nice to meet you, Bel, I’m Violet.”
“So, you’re not into Halloween?” Violet’s questioning was prompted by them both sans costume like most of the others.
“No, I used to be, but I weighed a lot more as a kid.”
“That’s funny! I’m not in a relationship anymore, so not this year, but usually my boyfriend and I go to a few parties and dress as a couple.”
The room was noisy with conversations all around us. Bel brought up her latest draft and notes of her book. She checked emails, then her phone.She was way early for the meeting, but enjoying the company. She looked up.
“So, you just broke up?”
“Two months ago...we were together for two years.” She didn’t appear saddened, but she was obviously impacted by the split.
“We...had a lot in common, until we didn’t.”
“I thought we were right. Then, one day, we were wrong for each other, and I had to let him go.” She shrugged. “I didn’t want to but I did.”
Bel closed her computer.
“I’m so sorry...two years is quite an investment. Right?”
“That had nothing to do with it.” She suddenly sat up straight and looked serious.
“I wouldn’t be able to go on after I knew.”
Bel could only guess what she came to know. She stared down into her cup and sighed.
“I haven't told anyone, not even my family or closest friends...so it probably wouldn’t be a mistake to tell a perfect stranger, right?” Her pretty eyes looked into hers. Bel neither put off her sudden confidence nor pressed her into talking, but honestly wanted to know...maybe it was the writer in her was already wondering how such an interesting issue might be the plot in the next book .
“It’s your experience to tell, but I'll listen if you want.”
She smiled widely.
“He threw away the ring.”
“He planned a perfect surprise proposal one night with an engagement ring. It was a beauty...three carat emerald cut yellow diamond. We were at our favorite restaurant, and I asked him to stand up when he knelt. I...told him...I couldn’t accept it. I wasn’t ready. I loved him so much, but I just couldn’t say yes right then and there.”
“I can only imagine the pain for both of you at that moment.”
“And...that was it? You never saw him again?”
“No. He texted me the next day that he had thrown the ring away and that I was dead to him. He reiterated, DEAD.”
“Oooh...how horrible.” She shook her head.
“I mean, who wants to hear that? So, that beautiful diamond ring in a size six is out there somewhere in the world. You know, we used to come here to have coffee a lot, at least once a week. But I refuse to stop coming here for my coffee...I’m actually more and more grateful that he showed what kind of a man he wasn’t right away, and I didn’t actually marry him and then feel my life was ruined, you know?” She sighed deeply.
“I never imagined he would react that way. Now I know what I didn’t; therefore no more investment in our relationship was necessary.”
They both sat with that for a bit, and Bel was thinking how healthy and poised this young woman was, perhaps feeling stronger for having shared the story and taking some of the bite and sadness, and perhaps anger and secretiveness out of her experience.
“Bel?” They both looked up and saw Megan standing nearby.
“Heh, Megan, hi, this is Violet, a friend, Violet, Megan.”
They both nodded at each other and said prompt pleasantries.
“Ummmm, is there a place for us to sit?” Megan looked around the room but before she could finish her sentence, Violet stood and grabbed her cup.
“Right here, please, take my seat, I’ve gotta go anyway…”
“You sure?” Bel asked, carefully trying to assess her state of mind. She nodded and smiled.
“Yes, Bel, really. I...hope to see you soon, take care!” She moved quickly for the door, and Megan replaced her in the seat across the table.
“Well, that was convenient!” Megan smiled and took out her laptop. “I’ve already had coffee, so let's get to it, shall we?”
They discussed her book for about forty minutes, then Megan left to go to another appointment while Bel stayed a bit to finish up notes. She sat holding her cold remnants of coffee and pictured Violet’s face for a moment. Besides her first name and a one night experience, she knew nothing about her, but she wanted to...get to know her, go deeper with her, perhaps share some of her own experiences.
She rose, putting her laptop away, tossing her cup and heading out into the sunshine. She walked into the windy day and watched the leaves fly and then settle on the ground. Instead of walking to her parked car across the street, she passed it up to enter the small park across from the Pub and enjoy a quiet moment by herself. She found a bench and scanning the area, she saw she was the only soul there. Sitting down, she watched the swirling leaves fall, great big elm, smaller spikey oak, all in the midst of turning beautiful fall colors of rust, red, gold, and brown. It was better than a vividly- colored PIXEL film.
Putting on sunglasses and tightened her coat belt, she crossed her ankles and semi-lounging on the hard wooden seat. She breathed in deeply, smelling cold air and moist wood. It had been a good meeting with Megan, and she felt she was making productive strides to complete and publish her second book. But her conversation with Violet kept her usual elation about the writing process overshadowed. Her hope was to run into her new friend once again inside the coffee shop and have a real conversation about each of their lives. Perhaps even this week.
Sighing, she gathered her tote and stood to go to the car. She was wearing black boots and as she swiveled right on the leaf-covered ground beneath her, she felt something under her left sole that seemed to be sinking into the earth. Raising her foot, assuming a rock was the culprit, she saw nothing atop the leaves. She knelt to find what she’d stepped on. Taking off the sunglasses, she brushed away the leaves to reveal what it was. Then, she removed one oak leaf and the sun caused the object hiding underneath to gleam brightly like a white laser beam.
She picked up the object, rubbing away dirt from it to see it more clearly. That’s when she realized that she held in her very hand a three carat yellow diamond set into what looked like a platinum band and she gasped out loud.
She knew enough through research and common knowledge that its value was probably in the tens of thousands in dollars. She felt light headed, and knew she should eat something soon. Tucking the ring carefully into her coat pocket, she made her way quickly to her car and started it up, driving off as if in a hurry, but instead of going to the grocery shop she headed home to eat something there right away.
She entered her apartment and toasted a bagel, schmearing on cream cheese, bringing it over to her couch to eat it.
She cleaned up the ring with jewelry cleaner and the mini brush it came with, and carefully placed it on her left ring finger. It fit perfectly. It looked lovely. It was quite a glamorous addition to any hand, and as she held it amid the sun rays streaming through the window behind her, tiny stars appeared on the ceiling from the faceted surface of the large stone, turning her front room into a planetarium of sorts. She sat enraptured for a time.
Of course, Bel would keep checking in at the Pub until Violet appeared. Or she could leave a note with her phone number with an employee. Maybe someone knew her who patronized or worked at the coffee bar. Maybe she came in at night when it turned into a crowded bar. On weekends there was always live music. Maybe she could call up Saundra and they could plan a visit for this weekend? But maybe they should do coffee first? Next Saturday might be the best day since Violet had been there today.
She stretched her arms up over her head. She took in three deep breaths. She reclined horizontally on the couch and held her left hand in her right, gazing at the blazing diamond filling up the room.
She later rose to go into her bedroom, reclined on her bed against a few pillows and started editing, then instead got up and changed into sweats. It was 3:00 pm. and she decided to pour a glass of chardonnay. She took a long sip and sat posed over her keyboard. Every move of her fingers on her left had made the diamond appear larger and brighter and more beautiful. She suddenly closed the lid and pushed her computer away. Slowly sipping her wine while turning her left hand left and right, she considered taking a nice,long nap before she decided on her plans for that evening.
She nestled into her pillows and closed her eyes, but she fell asleep gazing at her hand...🍁