Contest #216 shortlist ⭐️


Fiction Friendship LGBTQ+

We used to call it the “Homework Stoop.” No homework would ever get done, of course. We were kids who saw too little of each other despite being in the same building all day. All we’d ever do is gossip, trash-talk, and place bets on whose order would be called first. It used to be a place where sweet memories in the making were accented by the sweet aftertaste of our far too bougie drinks.

Now it leaves a taste in my mouth as bitter as the scent that fills the air.

The fairy lights no longer change color. They just hang there like dying stars illuminating a dusty yellow hue on the patrons waiting in line for the latest fad or their caffeine fix. The lights had died the same day the others left town for college. Ten years have passed and I still haven’t heard from them since.

I hate coming here, though I’m a regular. It’s the easiest place for me to get my capitalism ridden boost of energy that I’m too lazy to make at home. It’s on my way to the bus stop. Like. Directly in my path. No veering to the other side of the street, no dipping down the side streets, just turn a corner and boom, there she is.

I’m still not sure why I’m writing this. Dr. Kurtz is going to ask for these entries, though, so I have to (hi doc). Something about helping with the loneliness? Who knows. I don’t really buy it to be honest. (Hey, you told me to be honest.)

The line is long today. Almost too long. And it looks like they’re short staffed. I might have to skip the caffeine rush in favor of an adrenaline rush. Being late always does that to me. Has the same effect both on my alertness and my anxiety. Both are probably equally as healthy too.

The layout of this place has changed a lot in the past ten years. I’ve been around for a long time, though, so I’ve slowly watched it transform before my very eyes into a place that the others - that’s what I call them now I suppose. I think they stopped being friends long ago - would hardly recognize. It’s funny how slow change like this is only noticeable when it’s too late. After everything is said and done. It creeps up on you like a… I don’t know, some sneaky predatory animal hunting its prey in the shadows of night. But that’s just the way it is, I suppose. That’s life. It sneaks up on you and then hits you over the head with a spiked baseball bat when you least expect it. And you never see it coming.

The intercom system is the same though. Still that same shitty tinny

My turn in line came and I had to stop writing so I could order. Not really sure where I was going with that last sentence. It was going to be profound though. I think.

I’m sitting at the table where we used to sit with our notebooks performatively strewn open in front of us while we talked about literally any and everything else. I didn’t do it on purpose, it was the only table open and my knees are killing me (dumb joint pain, stupid cold, muggy weather), so I had to sit down. There’s another group of kids here at the table in the corner. How they’re this loud and awake this early in the morning is beyond me.

But then, humans are naturally social beings aren’t they? It’s only natural that folks, especially still-developing kids, would go out of their way to seek and participate in that social interaction we crave. (See, doc, I do pay attention.)

They’re definitely short-staffed. I’ve resigned to pulling out my computer and getting some work done while I wait. I’m actually trying to be productive. It’s supposed to be a busy day at work and at this rate I really am going to be late. I can’t fall behind.

I’m going to end up falling behind. I always do. Right out from underneath everyone’s noses. Nobody has ever seem to notice yet. Sometimes I wonder how long it would take someone to notice I was gone if I’d just disappeared. Like, something happened on the way to or from work, or I suffered a heart attack or something and died in my stupid little studio apartment. I live alone. I have no pets (yeah, I know, doc, I’m working on it, maybe. The pet rent is stupid high for my building), no real friends at work. Acquaintances and friendly colleagues, sure, but no one who I’ll actually stay in touch with if one of us were to leave for whatever reason, despite what they all say.

I hate when people say “we’ll keep in touch!!!!” as if they’re some magic words that make it automatically true. Sir, we didn’t keep in touch when we were working in the same office, what makes you think we’ll suddenly start talking to each other in our free time once you’re somewhere in Istanbul or some shit doing some other job. I’m not gonna look at some cat on the street and say “better call Dave! What a guy. He’d love this!” I don’t even have your number saved in my phone.

But for real, I can’t get any work done. This place was never for work. It was for being a kid. Free from the confines of high school and before having to go home where parental pressure awaited.

Something smells burnt. I hope it’s not mine.

I hate how the aesthetic of the place looks now. They’ve ditched the rustic vibe in favor of something more… I don’t even know, but it looks like a slowly imploding industrial factory that makes the acid responsible for creating the Joker. The fairy lights don’t help. In fact they just seem out of place. It’s the one thing they kept from the old design.

The burnt smell was my order. They’re making it again.

I am so going to be late.

Boss Lady says no worries. Hah! Too late for that. At least my job is hybrid. That would be helpful if I were literally anywhere else. I haven’t spent this long in here since high school.

Sometimes I wonder if the others think about me as often as I think about them. They were the last real friends I had. Though I guess they weren’t real friends if they were so quick to cut off contact after graduation.

That’s not fair. It’s been ten years, I need to stop playing the pity party game. I’m almost thirty. Time to grow up.

Tried again at the computer. No luck.

There’s some woman sitting with me now. The place is still packed, and she needs to sit too. She’s got neon blue and orange hair, glasses, and is wearing scrubs. And she looks exhausted. Probably just came off a shift at the hospital.

I still can’t get any work done.

The machine’s backed up. It needs to be cleaned, they say. It’s gonna take eight minutes. A very precise time frame. Hope they can stick to it.

The lady’s phone just rang. Loudly. It startled here and she didn’t let it ring long, but I recognized the tune. It was an instrumental version of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themes, I’m sure of it. Did I remember to put the turtle sticker on my computer?

I didn’t.

I should say something. I probably won’t. (I can already hear you reprimanding me, doc. Don’t.)

I wrote a complete sentence on my computer before my brain shut off again.

That theme song is stuck in my head now.

Apparently, I started humming it. She looked at me funny at first. I wasn’t sure why, until she asked me if I was a fan. Her drink got called, though so we didn’t get to talk much. I’ll probably never see her again.

She came back after getting her drink. Her name is April, finally got it legally change last year. Named herself after one of her favorite female characters. Apparently, her roommate thinks it stupid. I think it’s endearing. (Yeah, yeah, big word I know, look at me go, it’s almost like I edit for a living, sue me.) She says she comes in here after her overnight shift every morning. Funny how we never seemed to overlap until now.

Anyway, April asked if I’d be here again tomorrow. I told her probably. The caffeine is the only think that keeps me sane at the newspaper’s editorial office.

“Same table?” she asked.

I said sure if it’s open.

“Great! See you then.” She left after that. I hope she gets some sleep.

My drink’s finally ready.

At the bus stop now. I was going to write something else, but a note fell out of my journal. It’s from April.

She’s apologizing for running off so quickly after getting her drink. I don’t know why, it’s perfectly understandable. She says it’s nice to come across another turtle fan “out in the wild” and that I seem like a cool person. She’s holding me to our appointment tomorrow.

The end of the note says she hopes we can be friends.

I think…

I think I hope for that too.

September 22, 2023 19:01

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23:14 May 09, 2024

Love your writing style!


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Amanda Lieser
20:51 Nov 11, 2023

Hi Maddie! Congratulations on the shortlist! I can certainly understand why you earned a spot! I really appreciated the way that this story read like a stream of consciousness because it allowed us to jump in to your narrators mind you slowly, but surely revealed parts and pieces of this character to us and with each sentence, I felt a little bit closer to them. My favorite sentence was: Sometimes I wonder if the others think about me as often as I think about them. I liked it so much because some advice I received when I was a teenager for ...


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Audrey Knox
20:51 Sep 29, 2023

I love how we have two different shoutouts to friendships formed by the Ninja Turtles in this week's shortlist :) The voice of the narrator in this was so strong! I really feel for her friendship abandonment issues. Thank you for sharing.


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AnneMarie Miles
15:49 Sep 29, 2023

Woohoo! Congrats!! I knew this would be up here today. Hope you're celebrating your wonderful story 🎉


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AnneMarie Miles
12:56 Sep 29, 2023

This was a charming story with some deeper themes. The perspective was cool, too. I liked the idea of this being a therapy assignment, a journal entry. It really can help with all sorts of personal problems, and what a better time to do it then waiting for your coffee 😊 and a hopeful ending, yay! Keeping my fingers crossed the two become friends!


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