24 comments

Contemporary Romance Fiction

[Content warning: beaucoup d'insinuations]


**apéritifs**


The plump curve of Cathy's lower lip leaves a pink crescent on the rim of the champagne glass as she takes tiny sips. The angles of her diamond engagement ring catch the light cast from the tasteful candelabras.


Beads of sweat roll down Joe’s forehead, mimicking the drops of condensation drawn by gravity toward the bottom of his pint of pale ale.


He lays his hand on top of Cathy’s, the hard edges of the diamond imprinting on his soft palm. “It’s a lovely restaurant,” he says.


Gabe leans back in his chair, sipping a martini, running tanned fingers through his dark hair. Beneath the curtain of the white linen table, his foot slides surreptitiously up the Maid of Honour’s leg.


He lifts his glass and says, “A toast to the bride- and groom-to-be. Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a cold beer and another one.”


Across the table from the Best Man, Laura clinks her tumbler of water against the champagne flute, the pint and martini glass. She uncrosses her legs, kicking the Best Man acutely in the shin before drawing her feet under her chair, far from the radius of his pedestrian overtures.



**pain et beurre**

The cold butter furrows into Joe’s slice of baguette, a plow churning earth in a winter field. Little flakes of crust dust the jacket of his blue suit. He plucks them off as he watches Gabe scrape the tip of his knife along the top of the butter, fingernails scratching across a smooth, muscular back. He shivers.


“Last night as a single man,” he says, winking at Cathy, then turning towards Gabe. “I’m counting on my Best Man for a last chance at debauchery.”


“Joe, behave yourself, we can’t have you showing up tomorrow, half-drunk at 11 a.m. can we?” Cathy laughs.


“I’ll lock him in his hotel room, Cath, without women or wine,” Gabe says.


Laura looks from Joe to Gabe, then to Cathy. A fortune-teller debating what to say when she flips a tarot card that reveals the tumultuous truth. The Tower, a tall spire on a hill, surrounded by lightning bolts, engulfed in flame, a trio of people leaping from the windows desperate for escape.


She eats her bread without butter and says nothing.



**hors d'oeuvres**

Cathy’s hand flits to the barely noticeable bulge of her belly as she considers the elongated plate of escargot stretched before her, the spirals shimmering in a pool of garlic-infused butter. She gazes at Gabe, his lips slick with snail juice, his tongue circling to catch every drop. She blushes.


Joe slides the tines inside a shell, trying, prying, coaxing. The slippery encasement shoots from his fingers arcing toward Gabe. A dotted line of longing connects two points on a plane.


“Ah, who lubricated my utensils? Ha ha,” he says, wiping his three-pronged fork with a napkin.


Gabe slurps the snails straight from the shell, sucking the creatures and their succulent secretions, dropping the hollow husks onto the plate with a vacuous clink, clink. 


“Tools are overrated, my friend,” Gabe says, “when we have lips, and teeth and tongue.”


Laura spears one with a tiny trident, wrenching it from its carcass. She chews it thoughtfully, then arranges the empty shells into an equilateral triangle. The legs are the same length as the hypotenuse, the limbs still, below a noose.


**plat principal**

Blood drips from Gabe’s rare steak as he slices off a piece, chewing the flesh with relish while he watches Joe nibbling on a thigh, Laura entrapping strands of pasta. The rapacious eyes of a wolf who’s as fond of hen as he is of cock.


Cathy sighs at her salade niçoise. She notices a small bullseye resting on the yolk of a severed egg, the sign of an inseminated ovum.


“Aren’t you hungry?” Joe asks.


“I think I just chose poorly,” she says, looking at Joe’s plate, then at Gabe. “I prefer something …meatier.”


Joe shrugs as he cuts the crispy chicken skin, a shade of caramel brown the same as his thinning hair. He pinches the thigh between his fingers and devours the flesh, leaving only the bone, which he sucks slowly while watching the minute movement of Gabe’s mandible.


“It’s bad luck for Cath and me spend the night before the wedding together,” he says, “but I’ve got a huge suite all to myself. Why don’t you join me, Gabe? We can get massages in the room….and ah, makes passes at the pretty masseuses,” he adds.


“That’s a possibility,” Gabe says, “but I thought it was customary for the Best Man and Maid of Honour to spend the night together.”


Cathy frowns.


Joe purses his lips.


Laura shakes her head. Two sides of an equation that can’t be simplified, an isolated variable that remains after all the like terms have been combined.


“Joe and I have adjoining rooms,” Cathy blurts. “There’s a door between them.”


Laura winds a nest of pasta around the tines of her fork. The strands twisting and twining, tightening and binding to form a tangled testament to torture, a jumbled objectification of love. The writhing mass is chopped into short segments by her molars, simplified and deconstructed in her stomach, metabolised into their base elements.



**le fromage**

Cathy asks if the brie is unpasteurised, a gallic shrug, her only answer.


Joe squeezes a cube of camembert, the sides bulging out but not yet bursting.


Gabe stacks his plate with an assortment. Buttery, chewy, crumbly. Earthy, musky, creamy. 


Laura counts the holes in a wedge of Emmental.



**le dessert**

Laura picks up a spoon, gently tapping it on the brittle crust of the crème brûlée. Fractures spread, deep and shallow. A parallelogram of gazes, a triangle of grazes, and still a fatal lack of congruence.


She smacks the glaze sharply, drawing attention from the other floating particles.


“You okay, Laura?” Cathy asks. “You’ve been quiet all evening.”


Laura sets down the spoon and opens her mouth to speak.


In this equation, the geometry of truth begins with the sharpest distance between three points.

June 28, 2021 16:52

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24 comments

K. Antonio
01:32 Jul 01, 2021

This to me was like a lesson on vocabulary. I feel dumb after reading this. 😂🙃 I obviously need to read more. I also got to say I really liked the creative approach on the story, how its structured. It's witty!

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H L Mc Quaid
12:18 Jul 01, 2021

😂 to be fair, I've never used "rapacious" or "hypotenuse" in a story before, and I'm unlikely to use such words again. Glad you enjoyed my little experiment.

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03:41 Jul 13, 2021

What a mathematically attractive story!

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Ramona Taylor
19:25 Jul 12, 2021

I like the way each paragraph was a course and revealed a little about each character, as each course was presented. There must be at least four secrets at this table. Creative clever writing this! I knew food is sexy but never realized it was mathematical nor scandalous!

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23:42 Jul 11, 2021

Wow. I reread this two times because I didn't seem to get enough of it. I love all the show not telling and your carefully and intricately selected vocabulary. I learned a lot of new words. The structure was very adequate. I have such a high opinion of you now, like, to me this was amazing. One of the things that attracted me to this story was that geometry played a role in it (I've never read anything that made geometry seem so attractive). I am taking geometry right now. I have to say your use of geometry vocab was quite good. I have to ...

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H L Mc Quaid
09:06 Jul 12, 2021

Glad you liked it, Ruthy. And learning new words is a favourite past-time of mine. :) You're absolutely right about the equilateral triangle, maybe I can get away with saying it was poetic licence? ;)

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13:42 Jul 12, 2021

You sure can. I'm all for it.

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Rayhan Hidayat
20:40 Jul 03, 2021

This story, at least to me, felt so bizarre and dreamlike, but in an amazing way. A French restaurant is the last place I expected to catch up on my Geometry! Everything is great. The food descriptions, the subtext (the rapacious wolf line made me giggle), and the way the segments are separated by courses of a meal is clever. Quality stuff! 😙

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H L Mc Quaid
15:16 Jul 04, 2021

Thanks Ray! Geometry was the only math class that I was good at...I think because it was more about visual thinking and logical reasoning than moving numbers from one side of an equation to the other, or triple-guessing the real 'context' of word problems. I'd totally psych myself out with word problems, such a dork. Anyway, so glad you enjoyed it, and the various innuendos. :) 😙

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Ash Jarvis
17:38 Jul 02, 2021

This story is so carefully crafted. For me the best thing is that you’ve taken two wildly disparate elements—geometry and French cuisine—and intertwined them beautifully. And made use of the vastly underrated ‘hypotenuse’ ;) I think one of my favorite lines is also one of the simplest: “Laura counts the holes in a wedge of Emmental”. Not necessarily because it’s the best (although it’s very good), but because it gives us a breather after so much richness of language… Wonderful job with the prompt!

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H L Mc Quaid
11:29 Jul 03, 2021

Ash, thanks for the comments. This is the first story that I created a (rough) outline for, before I began writing. Usually I have a vague idea of the plot and some characters, and sometimes a vision for the ending, and then I just see what evolves. This one, I planned out the characters, the courses, and the 'secrets' that would be revealed during each course before I started writing. Also, that 'holes in the cheese' is one of my favourite lines. It makes me smile every time I've read it while revising. :) Thanks for your observations, I...

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Ogechukwu Anyaso
17:40 Jul 01, 2021

Nice story, I liked your inclusion of French it was cool. Hope you can read my story The Supper too😊

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H L Mc Quaid
11:30 Jul 03, 2021

Thanks! I've left some comments on your story. :)

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Beth Connor
23:52 Jun 30, 2021

J'adore! Delicious, delightful, and dotty! Its a gâteau de mille-feuilles in a world of chocolate layer cakes... In all seriousness, well done! (I need to add John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction." to my growing list!)

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H L Mc Quaid
12:22 Jul 01, 2021

your comments make me hungry. 😂 Thanks very much. I really struggled to finish The Art of Fiction, but I was determined to make it through. For me the best thing, besides the satisfaction of finally finishing it, was the exercises at the end. 😂

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David G.
13:02 Jun 30, 2021

Well done! I feel like I need to take a course on all the layers and symbols. I really liked all the double entendre! The bard would be pleased.

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H L Mc Quaid
15:59 Jun 30, 2021

Thanks, David. I could really feel my brain working a different way while writing this...how to convey the meaning/subtext with symbols and allusions. Ended up with many double entendres! :)

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Kristin Neubauer
20:46 Jun 29, 2021

I am super-impressed, Heather. Not only did you combine four writing exercises into your story, but you also wove it around the prompt.....and it is so good! I read the story before the comment and was thinking that this was unusually heavy - for you - on the symbolism, but I was really soaking it up. Such strong imagery and writing all under a shadow of foreboding yet with touches of humor and characters you developed quickly but three-dimensionally. Plus I thought the menu format was so creative. Bravo, bravo, bravo for a great story,...

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H L Mc Quaid
21:36 Jun 29, 2021

Hi Kristin, Thanks so much for the very kind comments. This was a huge stretch for me, but what I think I learned is that I could integrate more symbology in future stories (up to 20% of what I did here, because this story is OTT). Glad you liked it, I appreciate you supporting my experiments. :)

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Shea West
14:09 Jun 29, 2021

I just read your comment below about the exercises you're trying and I must say knowing that now makes the story all the better. Some of the sentences that stuck with me: The legs are the same length as the hypotenuse, the limbs still, below a noose. (The rhyme-y nature of this was poetic in a way that made me smile.) The strands twisting and twining, tightening and binding to form a tangled testament to torture, a jumbled objectification of love. (This one I adored the way you used so many T words. It plays into the actual feeling so well!)

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H L Mc Quaid
14:33 Jun 29, 2021

Thanks so much Shea. I know this story was weird (in a way that my other weird stories have not been, ha!), but it was fun to play with alliteration more, and even out-right rhyming. :)

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H L Mc Quaid
18:17 Jun 28, 2021

WTF, Heather, you may be asking, and rightly so. I'm trying exercises 8,9,10 and 11 from John Gardner's "The Art of Fiction." Exercise 8 challenges the writer to create a scene in which two characters have a secret, but the readers must be able to intuit the secret from the subtext (gestures, focal points, etc.) Exercises, 9,10 and 11 are about using objects to intensify the readers' sense of what the characters are like, and the relationships between them, without using similies ("He was like...").

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A.G. Scott
17:45 Jun 28, 2021

"It's lovely restaurant" (+ a) “Here’s to a long life and a merry one..." (remove ") kicking the Best Man in sharply in (remove in) “Last night as single man,” (+ a) I wouldn't normally expect these small oversights from you, but I can understand why they're there... you must have been distracted working on this absolutely INSANE (in a good way) imagery. The food, the senses, the relationships, everything is described from this really absurd, poetic point of view. It made for a fascinating read.

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H L Mc Quaid
18:04 Jun 28, 2021

thanks A.G.! I've just posted this, and not done a full review yet (I usually wait a few hours because I'm still close to it). I continue to revise throughout the week, so the version you've seen is (hopefully) the roughest it will be! I'll make those changes ASAP. :)

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