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Contemporary Drama Fiction

Shane kicked at the front tire of the wheelbarrow. Hard enough that it fell right over, sending up a tiny cloud of dust. “Dang, Shane, coulda seen that one coming,” he said out loud to no one. He stood in his scrubby piece-of-shit backyard, where his parents and most of all his sister Lois never came. It was ages since the wheelbarrow had been used. No flowers, no lawn, just a patch of land you’d find literally anywhere in the world, Shane imagined. It was where he paced.

It was the most peaceful place for miles. 

But today there was no peace. Holding back tears Shane thought he might just break down and call Melissa, beg to be taken back. He thought for the millionth time of how she’d ended it: “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she’d told him sternly, her arms crossed tight across the top of her lovely belly. How he adored that belly.

He hadn’t understood. Not at all. “Huh?” he asked himself afterward, driving too fast home from her house. “Rome wasn’t built in a day? What the?” That was just like her, he thought, thumping hard at the steering wheel. Deliberately mysterious. 

For so long – the two and a half months they’d dated – it never mattered, the way Melissa talked so different. The words she said, the way she put them together – it was all he could do to keep up. Enough to make any other man give up.

But Shane would not. He was smitten, from the ends of his sandy brown hair to his toes. And every inch of him in between. God, what a woman. All he wanted to do was get it together enough to move out of his parents’ place and be at Melissa’s beck and call forever till the end of days. It really didn’t matter that he didn’t quite follow what she was saying most of the time.

But now? Now that she was talking like that, puzzle-talking, and calling it quits between them? It mattered. It mattered, all right.

“Rome,” she’d repeated, gritting her teeth. “It wasn’t built in a day.” And then a smirk, like, What an idiot, do I have to spell it out?

“Rome?” Shane had sputtered, as Melissa more or less pushed him out the door. “Baby, what –”

Slam. Her screen door jumped on the jamb like it always did. Shane stood there for a second, staring at his shitty Toyota in her driveway, hot with shame.

“Just go,” she hollered, and even in his misery Shane couldn’t help but enjoy the way her voice rang so sweetly. This, he miserably realized, was a girl who could do no wrong. Even as she was kicking his sorry ass out.

That was three days ago. Since then he’d barely slept. He dragged himself to his job cleaning toilets at the library to hours pacing the tiny backyard to the driver’s seat of the Toyota, which he drove for mile after mile out Route 17. That’s when he could cry his eyes out and no one would say boo. 

He spent a good deal of time puzzling over Melissa's last words, writing them out on a piece of loose-leaf from his sister’s room, holding a PaperMate No. 2 so hard that his fingers cramped. Rome was not exactly built in a day. No, no, no. That was all wrong. He closed his eyes like he’d seen people do on TV, tried to imagine Melissa’s face as she spoke. Her exact words. He found himself lost remembering the way her eyes – though they were angry – were so beautiful.

Rome was not built in one single day, he wrote.

Still not quite right.

“Damn, Melissa,” Shane whispered, crumpling up the paper. 

Thing was, Melissa was the only one who ever really got him. Most people yawned when he spoke. Rolled their eyes. Turned right around and pretended he wasn’t there. But Melissa? She had listened. She smiled gently when he talked about the things that mattered: Why Lois shouldn’t hog the bathroom in the morning. How there was a dead raccoon on Mathers Road and he’d managed to maneuver the Toyota right around it – at high speed, even.

Why certain numbers just made no earthly sense, how math was connected to the Aztecs? Had she seen the Dateline show about maybe math came from alien beings?

“Like the way that when you times anything by nine, those numbers add up to nine when you take them separate. Like nine times seven is thirty-six. Get it? You’ve got a three, and then also a six. And three plus six is nine,” he told her shyly on their first date. “It’s so cool.” It was then that she leaned her prettiest face into his and kissed him, right on the lips.

That Rome thing she said – it helped to keep writing it down. He’d taken more loose-leaf from Lois’s room, and at night he sat on his bed and wrote it over and over. He’d settled on “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – finally, finally, finally recalling exactly how she’d put it.

It hurt, sure, but the memory wasn’t all bad. When she’d crossed her arms the way she had as she spoke those words, her breasts had pushed together. He smiled hard at the image.

Melissa was not meant for this town, Shane sometimes thought as he wrote. She was meant for some place a lot more exciting. Where people who looked like her and talked like her hung out. Sadly, he thought, she was not meant for people like him.

It was after about a week of this that he put Lois’s paper down and with it the pencil, now a nub. Accept your lot, he told himself. And when Lois and his parents looked at him funny when he joined them for The Bachelor that night he didn’t take the bait. So what if he hadn’t been himself for a few days? Couldn’t they just mind their own business?

His mom handed him a sleeve of Oreos. Lois picked at her braces and their dad told her to knock it off. There was a commercial for denture cleaner and Shane said out loud that he thought fake teeth were gross. “Just you wait till you start losing your teeth,” his mom said brightly. “Then your tune will change!”

Shane rolled the edges of an Oreo on his tongue and thought she was probably right.

On the TV, a handsome man named Chad was down on one knee on The Bachelor. This was a scene they all knew well, replayed as it was throughout the series countless times. The family as one held their breath and waited for Chad to speak. This episode, it was a stunning redhead named Brianna who had the honor. She wore a gown of shimmering teal blue.

“Brianna,” Chad began. “I have waited for you my whole life. Your face, your body, your heart, your soul.”

Shane’s mom let out a little sigh.

“We have been through so much these five days here on the island,” Chad went on. “We’ve been through thick and thin.”

The camera zoomed over to Brianna, who was remarkably calm. Shane thought they made a pretty good couple.

“I know,” Chad said, “That life is full of struggles and hard times. But I want to make a life with you. A beautiful family. A house we fill with children and laughter.”

Brianna was crying, and across the rec room, so was Shane’s dad. Little sniffles, but still.

“I know that future I’m talking about isn’t going to happen overnight,” Chad continued. “After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day …”

Shane yelped. Beside him Lois shot out an elbow. “Shut up, dickwad,” she muttered. Shane’s Oreo went flying.

“… But I know that our love will see us through,” Chad said, beginning to weep some himself.

Shane stood up. He felt like he might faint, so he sat back down, hard.

“What the hell, Shane!” said Lois.

“I gotta, I gotta go …” Shane stuttered, jumping up again and bolting.

Out back he paced. Shane thought he saw something scurry along the fence, lit by the back porch light. The wheelbarrow rested still on its side.

“Damn,” he whispered. “Damn!” He touched at his face and found that he was smiling so broadly that his cheeks hurt. How could he have been so wrong?!

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Exactly what Melissa said.

“Yes,” Shane proclaimed to the universe, confident that Melissa more than anyone would hear his words through the clear night air. “Yes, you are right! Rome was not built in a day! And yes, Melissa, I will marry you,” he hollered. “Shane and Melissa forever!”

Inside, his family glanced toward the backyard. “Was that Shane?” his mom said, frowning.

“Hush,” said Shane’s dad. “Here’s the good part.”

Lois picked up her brother’s Oreo, dusted it off, and shoved it into her mouth. Onscreen, Chad had taken Brianna into his arms. “Yes, Chad,” Brianna was saying in a squeaky voice. “I will marry you.”

Out back, Shane let out a whoop of joy.

April 28, 2023 20:10

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1 comment

David Sweet
18:13 May 03, 2023

Shane doesn't seem to be the brightest crayon in the box. I don't know whether to root for them or feel sorry for Melissa! Haha. And to think he found his answer on The Bachelor, no less. This was a fun story. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with all of your writing.


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