Crickets, An Ugly Rug and Impulsivity

Submitted into Contest #25 in response to: Write a short story about someone writing New Year's resolutions.... view prompt

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Holiday Romance

Frank’s New Year’s Resolutions parties were the worst.  Every year he invited us over to his house on the first Saturday in January for brunch and resolution planning, and every year Cassie, Judy and I had no choice but to schlep over to his apartment to “start the year off right.”  Frank had been my best friend since childhood, so I knew how much of a thrill he derived from a goal accomplished, but seriously, he did enough resolution planning with his life-coaching clients.  I don’t know why he had to do it with his friends too.


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the brunch… immensely.  Cassie finished culinary school top of her class, and she always prepared a fabulous spread: bacon, sausage, homemade biscuits with gravy, blueberry coffee cake, yogurt parfaits with so many fruits that they looked like a rainbow in a glass. My mouth started watering the moment the invitation arrived.  Yet, every year just like clockwork Judy would start the diet talk just as I set my overflowing plate on the table, tainting every delectable bite, and I would be ready to bolt for the door.


For me, it was a pointless exercise anyway.  I never came up with any good resolutions, and I don't think I had ever accomplished a single one.  Every year at Frank’s End-Of-Year Resolution Party, when we all had to take stock of our progress, I had nothing to report.  Frank would pull out our lists and ask for an accounting.  Most years I had the flu on accounting day.


I loved my friends. In fact, you could say that I loved them too much.  We had all been friends since we were kids, and Cassie, Frank and Judy were my entire world.  Everything I did in my life, even go to the store for toilet paper, involved one of them. I developed a crush on Cassie in the first grade, and my mother always told me to marry my best friend.


Tell Cassie how you feel, I wrote on my blank notecard.


I looked up from my list and stuffed an entire sausage link inside my mouth.  Delicious.  Cassie sustained me, and not just with her food.  


Cassie epitomized perfection.  I watched as she gracefully twirled around the kitchen.  In one fluid motion, she removed a tray of scones from the oven and grabbing a spoonful of caramel sauce from the stove drizzled each one with just the right amount.  Setting the tray down, she then licked her finger and smiled.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted more: to try a scone or to be the one to lick the caramel off her finger for her.  Instead, I just licked my own lips.  


“How is everything?” she asked coming over to the table and hovering just over Frank’s shoulder.  


Frank raised two thumbs up and continued chewing.


“It’s lovely,” Judy said quietly.  I looked at her plate and rolled my eyes.  One small pile of eggs and a half a piece of bacon.  Judy never let herself enjoy anything.  Everyone she met unanimously agreed that she was perfect, but to Judy the whole world was just being nice.  


“Judy, are you ok?” I asked her across the table.  She was eyeing her small breakfast as if it was a steaming pile of pig intestines or something.


“Just fine,” she replied giving me a weak smile.  “I have decided on my first new year’s resolution.”


“Wonderful!” Frank applauded wiping his mouth and then downing an entire eight-ounce glass of OJ. “Let’s get this party started!”


Frank bounced out of his chair and dashed over to his white board, meticulously cleaned for the occasion. At the top of the board in capital letters were written each of our names.  He uncapped his purple marker, Judy’s favorite color, chosen to make her feel connected to her resolutions, and leaned forward expectantly.  


“Give it to me,” he said.


“I have decided that this year I want to get a pet,” Judy told us.


Crickets.  Frank stood frozen still poised with marker in hand. Cassie slipped into the seat next to me with her plate, and I quickly turned my card upside-down on the table. Judy having a pet was a risky proposition.  Last year her resolution had been to get a plant.  Frank brilliantly recommended a Chinese Evergreen because it was very forgiving of overwatering.  The first one did so well that by the end-of-year accounting she had accumulated nineteen.  We definitely couldn’t let her get a cat.


“A pet… wow, Judy, that’s…” I stuttered.  


“Judy, that is a very attainable goal, but I think you need to make it a little more specific,” Frank told her.  “What kind of pet?”


“Well, I haven’t decided,” Judy told us, pushing her plate to the center of the table.  “I’m still doing my research.”  Thunk, at least ten very large books hit the table, causing everyone’s drinks to jiggle.  


“It is good to be intentional,” Frank encouraged her.  “Any solid leads yet?”


“Well,” Judy said leaning back in her chair and pulling her hair up in a ponytail.  “I thought about starting small as you recommended last year with the plant, so I considered a fish.”


“But you’re afraid of water?” both Cassie and I said simultaneously.


“Now, now, guys,” Frank said giving both of us a very parental look.  “Only positive encouragement allowed.  No naysayers at my parties.”


“No, no,” Judy said quickly. “It’s ok.  I agree.  Having a tank of water around would definitely make me wary.  I ruled fish out for the same reason.  My second thought was to go exotic, really spice things up.  I am currently leaning towards a monkey.”


“A monkey?” Cassie said as I choked on my scone.  I started coughing, so Cassie throttled me on the back while Judy handed me her water.


“Yes, a monkey,” she told us.  “Like in Curious George.”


Crickets again.  Judy had a knack for doing that.


“Darling,” Frank said sitting down beside Judy.  “You know a real monkey won’t be like a storybook monkey.”


“Right,” I agreed.  “I mean Curious George never poops, but a real monkey…”


“Gross, Josh,” Cassie said, shoving my shoulder.


“Josh, you excel at pointing out the practical,” Frank said much more calmly while giving me the stink eye.


Judy sniffed and placed her hand over one eye.


“Aw, Judy, I’m sorry,” I said.  I pushed back my chair, knelt down beside her and took her other hand gently in mine. “I didn’t mean to be a party-pooper. I am sure a monkey would be fun if that is what you really want.”


“I don’t really want it,” she said shaking her head vigorously and sniffing louder.  “It’s just that I need to practice.”


“Practice what sweetie?” Cassie asked, handing Judy a napkin.


“I… I…”  Judy looked at all of us in turn and then rested her eyes on Frank.  She stared at him so long it became uncomfortable.  I also looked at Frank.  


I knew that about two months ago they had a “moment,” as Frank liked to call it.  Frank had just broken up with Maleficent, a.k.a. Brooke, and he was a bit of a spinning top.  He was all nervous energy, dashing all over the city double booking appointments or dinners, wearing louder than normal colors, impulse buying throw rugs by the dozen. I glanced down to see one such purchase under the kitchen table: purple and turquoise with orange accents. Wrinkling my nose, I wondered if I should repurpose my orange juice in a sabotage effort.


“Never mind, “Judy finally said, wiping both eyes and rubbing her whole face.  “Someone else take a turn.”


“I’ll go!” said Cassie brightly, practically bouncing out of her chair and over to the white board. She grabbed a red marker and wrote in big letters under her name “GET MARRIED.”


“To whom?” we all chorused.


“I don’t know yet,” she replied sly.  “I’m still doing my research.”  She winked at me.


“I’ll marry you,” I impulsively blurted out.


Crickets.  I looked at Judy as if somehow this were her fault. My mouth had gone dry, and I couldn’t think of a way to undo what I had said without also seeming like a jerk.  I slowly reached over and picked up my orange juice.  Taking a sip, I looked at Cassie over the rim.  She was just staring at me, studying me.  It suddenly occurred to me that everyone in the room already knew how I felt about Cassie, including Cassie.


No one was moving.  No one was going to say anything.  They were all waiting on me.  


This was a make-or-break moment.  I could go serious and fulfill my new year’s resolution by telling her how I felt. Maybe not propose but asking her on a date would be a start.  My other option would be to make a joke and miss this window, most likely forever.


I chose to dump my orange juice on the carpet.


Where stillness had reigned a moment before, now chaos took its place.  


“Josh!” Frank hollered, running to the counter for paper towels.  Judy burst into tears.  Cassie knelt down with a kitchen towel and started sponging up the mess.  Taking the paper towels from Frank, I knelt down beside her.


“I love you,” I whispered next to her ear.


Continuing to dab at the rug, Cassie looked at me.  “I know,” she whispered back.


“I always have,” I whispered again.  “I get up in the morning only because I hope at some point to see you.”


Judy was still crying. Frank was frantically cleaning off the table so we could move it and get at the spot more directly, but all I could focus on was Cassie.


“Am I crazy?” I asked her. “Am I confused.”


Cassie bit her lip and set down her towel.  I held my breath, desperate to hear what she had to say.  She didn’t say anything.


She leaned over and kissed me.  She kissed me on that horrible rug covered in orange juice, while Judy cried and Frank hollered.


I kissed her back, and I refused to stop.  I put my hand on her waist, for the first time not as a friend but as something more. She ran her fingers through the hair at the back of my neck, and I pulled her in closer.


“I’m pregnant,” Judy shouted.


I stopped kissing Cassie. Cassie pulled away, and we both turned to look at Judy.  She was sitting in her chair, sobbing. Frank had already moved the entire table and was just about to attempt to literally pull the rug out from under us.  He turned his panic from the rug to Judy.


“It’s yours,” Judy told him, suddenly damning the tears and pulling her head up high.  “Frank, I am having your baby.”


Cassie and I slowly turned our heads to look at Frank.  Judy’s crickets had struck again.


Frank didn’t move a muscle. He held on to the edge of the rug like it was his lifeline.  He stared at Judy while his face spasmed through a whirlwind of emotions: disbelief, sadness, anger, surprise, sadness again, incredulity.  Taking our cue from Frank, none of the rest of us moved either. I could still feel the heat of Cassie’s body pressed against me and her fingers squeezing the back of my neck. Half my brain wanted to get back to our kiss, but the other half was concerned that Frank was about to have a nervous breakdown.  Maleficent had left him because he had wanted to get married and have kids and she had not.


Slowly, Frank released the rug and set it gently back on the floor.  He smoothed the edges and pressed his palms down into the floor.  Standing up, he adjusted his shirt and then rubbed his palms together.  I could hear his labored breathing, and I moved to get up.  Cassie tugged gently on my hair, urging me out of the corner of her eye to stay put.


Without looking again at Judy, Frank walked over to his white board and stood immobile.  I risked a glance at Judy, who was unusually calm, sitting serenely in her chair, hands in her lap.


Picking up the orange marker, Frank began to write on the board underneath his name.  We could all hear the distinctive squeak of the marker on a clean board, and I could not help but flinch.  When Frank stepped back, we could all see what he wrote:


Frank:

Love Judy

Marry Judy

Make Judy happy for the rest of her life

Clean Office


“Clean office?” I said a little too loudly.


“To make a nursery for the baby,” Frank said moving over to Judy, kneeling down and taking both of her small hands in his.  “I know we didn’t plan this.  I know you didn’t pick me intentionally, but Judy, you are my best friend.  Would you let me make you happy for the rest of your life?”


“We don’t have to get married,” Judy said gently.  “We can make this work without that.”


“We could,” Frank agreed. “But, Judy, ever since that night, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.  I wanted to talk to you about it so many times.  I wanted to ask you to dinner or talk about dating for real.”


He looked over at me and Cassie and smiled sheepishly.  “Just as Josh has loved Cassie since the first grade and Cassie has loved Josh since the seventh grade...”


“You have?” I said, looking at Cassie in shock.


“One confession at a time,” Cassie said with a laugh, putting a finger up to my lips.


“I have loved you Judy,” Frank said with a shrug and a laugh.


“Since what grade?” Judy asked him, also smiling.


We all laughed.


Judy touched Frank’s face gently.  “I love you too,” she admitted and then she leaned down to kiss him.  I took that as my cue to kiss Cassie again.


By the end of the brunch, the resolution board was complete.  Two moves, a wedding, a baby.


I offered to walk Cassie home, leaving Frank and Judy alone to flowchart their future.


“Well,” she said letting out a frosty breath as we stood on Frank’s snow-covered front step.  “This will certainly be a year of new beginnings.”


“Do you think it will actually work out though?” I asked her.  “I mean, yes, they’re friends, but is that really enough to make a lifelong marriage work?”


“Excuse me,” she said backing up a step.  “If they can’t make it work, what chance do we have?  We’ve just been friends.”


“Yeah, but we’re going to date first,” I said.  “See if this thing will actually work out.”


“You don’t think we are going to work out?” she said, looking at me with wide eyes.


“No… I mean, yes, but…” I stuttered.  What was I saying?!  I finally had the woman of my dreams pressing her lips against mine, and I was blowing it before we even went out on our first date.  “I just meant don’t you think they are rushing into things?”


Cassie relaxed and slid up next to me, wrapping her arms around my waist and squeezing me in a bear hug. “They already know everything there is to know about each other,” she said.  “I believe, if they commit to making it work, it will.”


“I commit to making it work,” I told her.


“Me too,” Cassie said quickly.  She looked up at me and smiled.


“I love Frank’s New Year’s Resolution parties,” I told her.


“You do not,” she said scoffing and planting a quick kiss on my lips.  “You hate them.”


“Not anymore,” I told her and before she could utter another word I picked up where we left off under Frank’s table on his ugly rug. 

January 24, 2020 15:43

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6 comments

Miles Gatling
20:06 Jan 29, 2020

Great story, congratulations! And thank you for your kind words.

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Brittany Gillen
21:14 Jan 29, 2020

Thank you and your welcome.

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Emily Sperber
04:59 Feb 01, 2020

Great title too!

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Brittany Gillen
20:48 Feb 01, 2020

Congrats on your win!

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Emily Sperber
04:58 Feb 01, 2020

Loved this! I feel like you have a knack for dialogue and I was intrigued from the beginning! I'm wondering about the ending - if after Frank's cleaned office being a nursery we just get the list of the others' resolutions, a final leaderboard, to kind of tell us the ending on its own? I loved the story though; keep on writing!

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Brittany Gillen
20:47 Feb 01, 2020

Thank you. I did struggle a bit with the ending, and I honestly just ran out of time before the submission deadline! 😉

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