Daryl closed his computer and opened it again for the third time. He’d already opened and closed his email at least ten times. Shuddering, he put his head in his hands. His name could not have been among the top ten nominations for the StarLit Science Fiction novel of 2021. He was a high school history teacher, not a novelist. He felt his knees jackhammering under his desk. He neeeded to do something about this obviously false nomination. He would write a letter to the staff and let them know that a mistake had been made. Maybe his name was similar to one of the real contestants, or maybe his name had gotten accidentally shuffled in to the nominee’s list.
What a royal fuck up. He went to the fridge and took out a beer, and turned on a Netflicks show. There was a beautiful woman making her way across the 1800’s grand ballroom, with measured lanquid movements, appearing to be moving randomly, but if you watched her hazel eyes, you knew she had a purpose. Daryl guzzled the beer, and enjoyed the buzz, while he contemplated where she was going, she was a harbinger and would confront someone or something. Immersing himself in a tv drama had a tonic effect. Getting nominated for the StarLit award had as much reality as this silly drama.
His cell phone rang, and he paused the show, entertaining the dim hope that it was the contest organizers calling to let him down gently that his standing in the nominations had been in error. It was Jenna, his ex-girlfriend who’d moved out during his sixth month of writing the novel, because she’d said it was taking all his time, and his laptop had become like a third in the relationship.
He tossed a drink's coaster in the air. If it landed on the picture top, he’d answer Jenna’s call. If it landed on the non-picture bottom, he’d continue watching the show and find out where the woman with purpose in her hazel eyes was headed. The coaster landed with the picture of the Leaning Tower on the top, so he answered the phone.
Jenna was squealing and Daryl held his phone away from himself, and waited for her to calm down enough to make sense. Was she pregnant with her new boyfriend. Did she want him to be the godfather? All at once he wanted to go to bed and disappear into the sleep of oblivion. This day was just way too strange.
She started talking, gasping out words in a barely contained mania. “You’re…one…of the top…nominations…you could win…”
“No, I’m not. It’s an error. I’m letting them know,” he said, really wanting to get back to the 18th century lady.
“But Horatio told me…”
“Who’s Horatio. We’ve never known a Horatio...,” he said.
“For a writer, you’re incrediblily obtuse. My life didn’t stop after you. Horatio and I are engaged…”. He could hear the smug smile in her tone.
“Oh, congratulations,” Daryl said. Who the hell was Horatio, and why was Jenna marrying him? No fellow would go by Horatio and not have at a least six-pack, unlike him, with a six-can beer gut.
“Horatio is so excited. He read your novel, ‘Return to America in Year 3055’ and he is totally jazzed. His book club wants to meet you.”
Yeah right, I’m sure Horatio is not only muscular, he also wears glasses and reads books, ‘a senstive Clark Cable nerd’. More likely he and his friends want to pound the hell out of me. “How’d he find out?”
“I told you, his book club read it.”
Daryl rubbed his eyes. Screw Indy publishing, there just wasn’t any accounting for taste with on-line dollar store fiction. “Tell your dear Horatio, that there’s been a mistake, and that I am not one of the finalists.” He hung up on her. She wasn’t making any sense.
He hit the start button on his remote control. The phone rang again. It was her again. The novel had been all her idea, because he’d liked to speculate about alternate histories and what their trajectories would look like. She’d challenged him to put his ideas into a novel. Once he started writing he’d been surprised to find himself immersed in his characters and the world he’d built for them. But not being able to bring himself to obfuscate history, he’d found himself extrapolating into science fiction.
At first Jenna had been happy about his ‘writing hobby’ and liked to throw it out as conversation fodder, but when he’d become less available for those social occasions, she’d become resentful, and he’d thought a bit envious. She had the English Lit Major and was building a career in journalism, but she’d pushed him to do the writing, and then she’d dumped him.
Now she was all gaga because she thought he was a serious nomination. Or was Horatio, her fiance having second thoughts and trying to throw her back to him, her ex, the new supernova writer.
No, one waltz was enough for him with Jenna.
He flipped back on the TV and turned his attention to the mysterious woman on the screen, making her way through the ballroom. She smiled and exchanged pleasantries, but never let herself get held up by anyone. Then the moment had come, when the crowd parted, and the camera focused on a dapper gentleman sitting at a table alone, as if he’d been waiting for her. The woman a moment ago, poised, now trembled as she pointed a small pocket pistol at the man.
A disporportionate fury came over Daryl. How dare that woman lose her composure and relinquish her power. Classic rubbish. He switched off the TV, but then turned it back on, no matter how bad, he had to see how it ended.
Ah no, the woman put away her gun. It hadn’t been loaded anyway. Daryl realized he didn’t have the sound on and couldn’t hear the conversation. Now, she was using her wiles and the dapper man was looking discomfitted. Before long, those two would be caught up in a frenetic affair.
A loud knocking came at his door, and he heard Jenna’s calling out, “Daryl, open up.”
A pleasant tenor male voice added, “We’ve brought along a drink to celebrate.” Horatio? Daryl was glad he’d muted his TV and feigned unawareness of their presence. But it didn’t last long. He heard the key in the lock and Jenna appeared triumphant, holding the key in her hand. “I have no idea how you can write, when you can’t be bothered to change the spare key’s hiding spot.”
Horatio, a bespectaculed fellow with an almost handsome face and not quite six-packs followed her with a bottle of champagne. “Man, you must be stoked. I’m rooting for you to be this year’s winner.”
“Er, thanks, you read it?”
“Every word, Jenna,” he patted her arm affectionately, “had to peel me away reading it at times, especially when I was near the end.” Jenna tittered and ignored Daryl’s knowing look that said ‘keeping your man in line, eh?’
How’d you figure out that ending?” Horatio asked, oblivious.
Daryl tossed a coaster up in the air. It landed picture side down. “Kind of like that. Flip of a coaster. Either way nothing’s lost.”
Horatio squinted at him. “Not sure I understand, but then you’re a novelist, let’s have a drink. I’m pretty sure after a few, you’ll make more sense.” As if on cue, Jenna brought in three champagne flutes from the cabinet.
Daryl accepted his and the mealy toast. Nominated for the prestigious StarLit Science Fiction Award or not, fandom and all its craziness, but not love had come.