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Contemporary Fiction Friendship

We are all children of Destiny. People act as if life is complicated. No. Life is decisions. Luckily those decisions have already been made. We only have to follow the course laid out for us. My dice makes the will of Destiny clear.

Ding ding ding.

My hand thanks the alarm clock with a hearty smack. First choice of the day, sleep in or wake up? I pick the dice from the bedside table.

1-3: Sleep in.

4-6: Get up.

5. I get up, naked, dice in my hand. Next choice, shower or not? 3, time to shower then.

Hot water runs over my body for 6 minutes. Refreshed, knowing the dice voiced the will of Destiny, I get dressed. Fancy or casual? 2, casual.

The sun shines in the sky beyond the window of my ramshackle room. The world is full of options. I prefer to narrow life’s choices to multiples of six.

I can stay at home today: 1.

I can go for a walk in the park: 2.

I can visit family: 3.

I can pick up my job seeker’s allowance: 4.

I can look for a job: 5.

I can shop for food: 6.

5, fate is a jester. It’s going to be an interesting day. My trainers slap the pavement walk away from my home with a wallet that has only my key and a stick of gum in it. I gave all of my money to a man who keeps telling me his sister is giving birth in the hospital. He’s been telling me that story every few months for a few years. He probably owes his niece or nephew a few presents by now. He is always confused when I roll the dice in my palm before him. His run of bad luck ended yesterday though, hopefully he buys new clothes. There’s a hole in the elbow of his stained Adidas jacket. If he doesn’t have a new jacket when I see him next, I’ll roll the dice to see if I can buy him one.

A cafe window has a sign saying Staff Wanted. Muffins and bagels line the display in the windows, as well as Mary Berry cook books. All I know about Mary Berry is that she doesn’t like a soggy bottom. Who does though?

The bell on the door clinks as I enter and walk to the counter.

“Hello,” says a woman with dyed blond hair in a bob cut. Odd name for it, can’t imagine a man called Bob having that hairstyle, or a woman called Robert. Fate is a funny thing. “What can I get you? If it’s hot food you’re after it’s going to be a while. It’s just me today.”

“What’s why I’m here actually,” I say. I smile. I’ve practiced that smile in front of the mirror. It’s my best smile. “I’m looking for a job.”

The woman with a name badge that’s called Martha puts down her bread knife and looks me up and down. Perhaps Destiny doesn’t want me to have this job since it decided I shouldn’t dress up. Her blue eyes are complemented by the bluish purple bags beneath. From the lines on her face and her dry hands wrapped in plastic gloves, I’m sure she works hard. She has a pale ring of white skin around one of her tanned fingers.

“Do you have any experience in cafes?”

Lie: 1-3, or tell the truth: 4-6. I roll the dice on her glass countertop. 5, truth. “No. I’ve never worked in a cafe before.”

She squints at me as if she’s about to sneeze. Looking around at the busy room filled with round tables, wooden chairs and checkered tablecloths, she sighs.

“Take this,” she hands me a folded apron before I can roll the dice to see whether I should take it. The apron says Martha and Mario’s but Mario has been scored out with black permanent marker. “Take this to that table there.” She hands me a plate of sandwiches and a cup of tea on a little white plate. I follow her finger to a man who regards me skeptically. I give him the practiced smile. He coughs in a way that my mother taught me signals that he is uncomfortable. He opens his newspaper.

“New Boy,” the woman I presume is Martha calls. She puts two plates on the glass counter. This one to table six there. She points with her head because her hands are busy. I see a woman wearing a Slipknot T-shirt. She has a nose piercing and black lipstick. I have heard Slipknot. They are loud. I place the caramel muffin and hot chocolate in front of her. She smiles a smile that doesn’t look practiced. All of the moisture in my throat disappears. I feel my face flush. I see a collar around her neck that reminds me of a bulldog I knew when I was five. My eyes start to drift into the ragged V she’s cut into the T-shirt but my mother told me not to stare so I look away.

“More orders here, New Boy,” Martha says. Her voice snaps me back to reality, away from the ghostly images the memory of the girl at the table and my lusty imagination conjured.

I pick up two plates and she points out the customers who need them. We repeat the steps in an endless blur of movement until I see the Slipknot girl stand up and put on her headphones. I know from the reviews online that the Skullcandy model she’s wearing has excellent noise cancellation. Mother told me to stop wearing headphones everywhere because I need to hear vocal indicators. I’m not good at reading body language.

The girl in the Slipknot T-shirt and Skullcandy headphones smiles at me again. I blush.

My first day at the cafe passes in an endless blur. By the end Martha is smiling at me, she’s sweating from the exertion. So am I.

“What’s your name, New Boy?”

“Michael Summers,” I say as she turns the sign on the door so that I can read We Are Open.

“Good to meet you, Michael. That’s us done with the morning rush. Break time. Do you like sandwiches?”

“It depends on the filling,” I say, standing perfectly still.

“Have a seat, you’ve earned it.” She taps the back of a chair. “You know that girl liked you? She smiled, twice.”

I sit. “I’m not good with girls,” I say because the dice chose honesty today.

“BLT?” she asks.

“I don’t know that acronym.”

“Bacon, lettuce, and tomato,” Martha smiles again. “It’s a very popular sandwich. You’ll need to learn the acronym and the little nicknames people give their favourite fillings.”

“Did you like the job? The lunch rush starts in another hour. That’s what the day is like. Morning, hour break, lunch rush. Done.”

“I liked the girl in the Slipknot T-shirt,” I say because I rolled a 5.

“You’re an interesting guy, Michael. Rebecca seemed to like you as well. That’s her name, Slipknot girl. She’s here Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Caramel muffin and a hot chocolate. Unless she’s feeling down, then it’s a triple chocolate muffin and the hot chocolate.” She hands me a sandwich. I can see the layers of bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Spread keeps the bread from going soggy.

Pulling out my dice, I roll. 4, I eat.

“What’s that about? The dice.” Martha sits next to me with a bacon and egg sandwich I would rather eat.

“Deciding whether to eat the sandwich or not,” I explain.

“Something wrong with it? I’m guessing since you rolled a four that one to three would have meant you didn’t eat it. Them being first means you didn’t want to.” She pops off her shoes. I can smell her feet. I’ve been told not to mention people’s body odours.

“I don’t like tomatoes.” Why did I roll a 5? This is too much honesty. People don’t like when I tell the truth all the time.

“All you have to do is say. Bacon and lettuce is a weird combo though. She tears off the bitten piece of her sandwich and eats it in a single bite. Taking mine, she does the same, handing me the section I’ve already chewed.

I pull the dice from my pocket.

“You don’t always need that,” Martha says, holding my hand with the dice inside. My mother would probably say the same if she hadn’t died of cancer.

“Try it.”

I eat.

The lunch rush is exactly the same as the morning, minus Rebecca.

“Good job, Michael.” Martha throws down her apron on the counter at the end of the lunch rush. She turns the sign from Sorry We’re Closed so that I can read We Are Open. “From what I can tell with your system, you tend to make short term decisions. Sounds like that probably makes life harder than it has to be, if I’m honest with you.”

“Are you?” I ask.

“What?” She frowns, wiping a hand across her brow.

“Are you honest with me?” I ask.

“I am.” She nods, dislodging a hair which had been plastered in place until now by sweat. She sits with her legs spread wide in a way I mostly see men doing on the train. Her black Nike shoes are scuffed and the sole is peeling away at the back on both.

“Life is always difficult. Having the dice makes decisions easier, even if I don’t always agree with Destiny.”

“Destiny?” Her eyebrow rises again.

“The dice makes my choices. That way I don’t get stressed. I don’t cope well with stress.” I reach for an elastic band that’s usually around my wrist. It was a replacement behavior instead of pinching my chin. I only pinch my because mother said scratching my elbow cuts the skin too often. Pinching wasn’t much better. The dice told me to take off the elastic band two days ago.

“Worst you get here are fussy customers, and you can send them to me.” Her smile reminds me of my mother's. I want her to hug me. That would be inappropriate. “Roll now. One to three, you work for me Monday to Friday doing the morning and the lunch rush. Three to six, you’ve done your day and I’ll pay you cash and say thank you for today.”

“Usually I roll every morning.”

“I can’t employ you like that Michael. I like you but that’s not workable. One to three or four to six. Roll the dice.” She gestures to the table.

3, I work for Martha.

“Great.” She slaps her hands together. I jump in my seat and grip it when I land. “Sorry. I’ve just been on my own since Mar-” She stops and looks away. “Since my former business partner left. He can’t blame a dice though.”

“We are all children of Destiny,” I tell her.

“Like Beyoncé?” She winks.

“Everyone.”

“That’s not really science though is it? That’s superstition.” Martha drinks a cup of coffee that must be cold by now.

“Hardly. All interactions have an inevitable outcome. Determining the outcome is simply a matter of have the data and the means to process it.” I hold up my dice. “It has six sides. I can throw it not knowing which side will face up. That doesn’t make it magical. It will land on a side depending on the way I threw it and perhaps the surface it lands on.”

“May I?” Martha holds out her palm, calloused from years of hard work, dry from constantly washing her hands, burnt by the coffee machine I see. Pale patches of scar dot the back of her hand.

I hand over the black cube with 21 dots. For a moment I worry she won’t give it back. I pinch my chin.

“When will Michael tell Rebecca he likes her? One to three is on Wednesday. Four to six, on Friday.” She rolls.

6, Friday.

“Looks like I’ve got the rest of the week to coach you. Sounds like you could do with some pointers. Much experience with girls?”

“Roughly half of the students I studied with were female.” I take off the apron that has Mario’s name crossed out with permanent marker.

“But you have kissed a girl, or woman, right? Is it women you like?”

“Both, yes.”

“How does it usually go?”

“My first and only kiss was in high school. Lisa Chambers. I told her she was pretty. We had lunch together. She kissed me. I got an erection. She screamed and slapped me. I got detention.”

Martha spits the coffee in her mouth back into the cup she just sipped from in a spray. Her eyes are wide. She’s going to laugh.

I pinch my chin and look at my shoes. “No one was angry that she slapped me. All of my classmates teased me until I finished school.” I rolled a 5 so I tell the truth.

“Probably shouldn’t mention that to Rebecca.” Martha puts a hand on my shoulder. Normally I would be uncomfortable with a stranger touching me but I don’t mind. “You have a job now, Michael. I’ve got a coworker. I think this is the start of something great, for both of us.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a red hair band. “You kept reaching for your wrist. I’ve got a niece you remind me of. She does the wrist thing. Here.”

I take the band, slip it over my hand and smack it against my wrist. It’s soothing.

I help Martha clean and tidy up, she explains where everything is behind the counter as she goes. When we’re done she takes cash from the register and pays me for the day.

“Get your bank details for me so I can set up a payment for you. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“I rolled a three. I will see you tomorrow, Martha.” I take a moment to recall what my mother taught me to say. “Have a good day.” I hold my hand up as a wave goodbye. She locks the door behind me and I walk home.

I ping the hair band on my wrist as I walk home. I think of Rebecca. I smile a smile that I didn’t practice.

May 10, 2023 00:24

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24 comments

Amanda Lieser
22:09 Jun 01, 2023

Hey Graham, You included so many elements in this piece, that I am just a total sucker, for I am a sucker for a good romance story, I am a sucker for a story about an anxious person, because I myself have a lot of anxiety, and I am a sucker for a good life story. I thought that this piece manage to include all of that. I loved that little blip about the first kiss. That was wonderful. I really enjoyed that the story seemed to be more focused on the friendship that Martha is going to, hopefully have with her protagonist. It’s an interesting t...

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Graham Kinross
22:24 Jun 01, 2023

Yes Man with Jim Carey was an inspiration. I think that was based on a book, where someone just says yes to everything they’re offered to try and live a more positive life, except saying yes to everything isn’t always a good thing. Thanks for reading Amanda, as always. Are you going to let the dice make your decisions from now on?

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Martin Ross
15:29 May 12, 2023

OCDelightful (I secretly want to write book blurbs). I was so waiting for Beyonce to enter the narrative, and high-fived myself. Seriously, I really like the way you dealt with Michael’s condition, and Martha’s casual decency in appreciating it. I enjoy your style whether you’re bussing tables or blowing up shit.

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Graham Kinross
21:55 May 12, 2023

I realised half way through that I was writing about someone coping with ocd and autism. I did a little bit of editing in the beginning to make it more consistent, hopefully enough.

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Lily Finch
07:44 May 12, 2023

Graham, this story is cutesy wootsy. "Fate is a funny thing." You can say that again. Rolling the dice can be scary and unpredictable. Makes for a hairy inside. It seems Martha will be his new Motherly figure and Rebecca will be his love interest. That combination = Michael landing on his feet with his chance with the dice. I thought this take on the prompt was awesome and enjoyed this story Graham. Thanks for the good read. LF6

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Graham Kinross
11:35 May 12, 2023

Thanks for being a good reader.

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Kira Carver
00:55 May 12, 2023

This was very charming. Your writing style is simplistic in the best way. The kind of simple that enhances the poignant moments. If you don't at least get shortlisted, consider yourself robbed.

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Graham Kinross
03:11 May 12, 2023

Thanks, Kira. I rolled the dice for this one and whatever call Destiny makes, I’ll be ok with it.

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Michelle Oliver
13:43 May 10, 2023

1-3 loved it, 4-6 loved it more! I really enjoyed this quirky, vulnerable character who has developed a unique coping mechanism for his life. Your portrayal of a person prone to high levels of anxiety combined with an inability to read social interactions, was so believable. I felt for this character and was so happy that he seemed to fall on his feet through the dice of destiny, and meet up with a mentor who seemed to understand him straight away and accept him as he is.

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Graham Kinross
13:45 May 10, 2023

Thanks, Michelle.

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Mary Bendickson
05:08 May 10, 2023

Another of your inventive stories so well done.

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Graham Kinross
10:05 May 10, 2023

I thought I’d come up with it myself but I think someone wrote something like it for the numbers prompt and my mind recycled the idea. Hopefully it’s different enough. Thanks for reading, Mary.

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Bridie Squires
11:25 Sep 01, 2023

I really loved this story. The character felt real and relatable, and the ending gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. I particularly liked when you wrote “I smile. I’ve practiced that smile in front of the mirror. It’s my best smile.”, and “She squints at me as if she’s about to sneeze.”.

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Graham Kinross
22:11 Sep 01, 2023

Thanks Bridie. I wanted to write about someone who struggles to fit in because I feel like that sometimes. Not to this degree but I think we’re all that ‘awkward person’ sometimes. Thanks for reading and commenting. You started my day right.

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07:42 Jun 20, 2023

I should start rolling a dice to make decisions! Good story. Keep it up :)

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Graham Kinross
10:02 Jun 20, 2023

It would definitely make decisions easier wouldn’t it? Are you an indecisive person?

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19:47 Jun 20, 2023

In the process of making better decisions, I don't end up making decisions at all. I wouldn't say, I am indecisive, just try to think through everything, which eventually leads to nothing. :/

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Graham Kinross
23:42 Jun 20, 2023

The unexamined life is not worth living. The overexamined life isn’t lived at all. Tough thing.

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L M
12:17 Jun 10, 2023

This is sweet. “ simply a matter of have the data,” having? What is the wrist thing about?

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Graham Kinross
12:32 Jun 10, 2023

This wrist thing is a stress relief technique often used as a replacement behaviour to stop people self harming when they’re stressed because without it some people start pulling out their hair, scratching themselves and similarly harming themselves. Thanks for spotting the typo. If only I could edit it now…

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L M
12:39 Jun 10, 2023

Youre welcome.

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Aoi Yamato
00:54 Sep 11, 2023

interesting.

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Graham Kinross
09:16 Sep 11, 2023

Thank you, Aoi.

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Aoi Yamato
03:21 Sep 12, 2023

Welcome.

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