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Contemporary Romance Fiction

The morning gloom had lifted and the day turned a shade of blue that made me want to run and play. The breeze smelled of hay from the stables, lilacs from the botanical gardens and the sweet grass that lay before me. Blankets stretched out on the lawn with picnic baskets and coolers and more food than anyone could possibly eat. Two guys tossed around a frisbee but one of them should really throw it out so the other could chase after it and impress the people sitting on blankets.

A hint of cologne wafted by from an old man who sat on a bench over by the pond. He looked lonely, maybe we should go over and say hello. Blue jays chirped at a squawking crow in a fight over a piece of bread. I wanted to run through them and break it up.

In spite of all this excitement, the day became a drag. Every time I headed out toward something fun, this woman I’m supposed to spend the day with yanks me in another direction. She doesn’t want to do this or go that way or stop to smell a flower.

*

I’m not saying it was the worst blind date ever, just exhausting. At brunch, I ordered the seafood omelette, savoring my meal and taking small bites so I wouldn’t have a mouthful if he ever asked me a question that would spark a conversation. This guy just sat there quietly gobbling up his scrambled eggs and sausages. And when the meal was done, I expected some leisurely moment to talk over coffee but he just paid and said let’s go.

I thought, hoped really, that the reason he was in such a hurry was that we had tickets to a show. But with a week to plan this blind date, the only thing he could come up with was a walk in the park. A small art gallery was just a block away. I leaned in that direction but he blocked my path and pointed at the park.

“Is it even safe to go there?” I had heard crime was on the rise.

“Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.” He grabbed my hand and tugged me into the crosswalk, practically bouncing across the street.

The city can be cozy if you get yourself a good apartment and decorate it with inviting furniture covered in fabric that purrs to the touch. Put a divan next to the window and watch the birds flitter by. Buy a sofa with enough pillows for at least eight different positions for napping, reading or watching TV. Of course, my apartment is in a good location near the best bookstore, café, deli, and gym.

But with all the city has to offer, he took me to a park, just a park. Don’t get me wrong. Parks are nice–from a window. But to actually be here with a sticky dew settled on the grass and all the pollen blowing in my face, forget it. I put on sunglasses to shade my disappointment and protect my eyes from itching and watering.

Spring can be difficult. And not knowing his plans, I wore a black mini-skirt to stay cool if we ended up in an outdoor concert and a cream sweater to fight off chills from an overly strong air conditioner in a museum. I wore my black leather pumps with a low heal in case he was short. We walked along a path of trees with the temperature changing from shadow to sun every ten feet. I rolled up my sleeves one second and let them drop the next.

And then we were smack dab in the middle of chaos. Frisbees and footballs flew through the air. People on bikes and rollerblades unable to stop. Fifty collisions waiting to happen. And instead of this being our chance to talk, all he could do was gape at the flying objects and look at me for permission to go chase after one.

I insisted he sit with me on a bench by the pond. I would scratch a conversation out of him if it killed me. At this point I just wanted to know enough about him to figure out what my sisters were thinking. They had raved about Douglas.

My youngest sister boasted he volunteers as a fireman but he said just for one summer. I was told he once played in the US open but that turned out to be a summer job working as a ball boy. He went on a bit about the art of chasing tennis balls. I’d been oversold on this date. The only thing we had in common was that we were both single.

And I suspect everyone calls him Doug, not Douglas. He’s too embarrassed to correct me after I insisted he call me Kathleen, not Kathy. My parents named me after my aunt and I intend to honor her memory, in spite of the teasing my sisters give me on melancholy days when they declare Indoor Kat needs to get out of her apartment–which is probably why I’m on this date.

During the silences, Douglas scratched the back of his neck with such fervent intent, I thought he’d hurt himself trying to think of something to say. He asked how I became an interior decorator, which I’m not, but I guess he had that impression after I went on a bit about pillows.

Before I could correct him, Douglas held up a hand to quiet me. An elderly gentleman at a nearby bench had let out a moan. Tears rolled down his face. Douglas hurried over and I followed. He wore a light blue jacket with tan slacks and a plaid shirt, yet he was shivering in the sun.

Douglas crouched down in front of him. “Sir, are you okay? Can we help you?”

“I don’t know where I am.” His hands were shaking.

I deduced from his clean shave and combed, red hair that someone had taken care of him this morning. That someone must be close by.

“May we sit with you.” I approached slowly.

He stared at me with a worry that he should know me and didn’t.

I waited but he didn’t respond. “What is your name?”

“My name is Oscar. Oscar Johansen.” His voice was rough and hollow.

I introduced us and sat next to him. “Let’s just sit here a bit and enjoy the sunshine.”

Douglas went around the back and inspected his head for injuries, giving me the hint to ask, “How do you feel today, Oscar? Do you have any pain?”

“No. No pain.” He looked around the park, busy with people he couldn’t focus on. “I want to go home now.”

“Okay. We can bring you. Do you remember your address?”

Oscar stared at the ducks in the pond. His head trembled when he tried to remember. “I live in an apartment. Near the park.”

“Okay. That helps.”

Douglas scanned the cityscape. High rise apartments surrounded the skyline but the buildings across the street from the nearest park entrance would be the best place to start.

“Kat. I’ll talk to the people over there. Those buildings are the closest.”

Douglas rushed off. I searched on my phone for the address of an Oscar Johansen but the results only showed people with social media accounts. Oscar didn’t even have a phone.

I sat quietly next to him, feeling his warmth along my side. “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”

Oscar stared at a lone duck. “I got scared. This morning I was looking at my savings account and I wasn’t sure it was enough.”

I took his hand.

“My tax accountant gives me advice, but she retired and I don’t know if we are okay. My family needs me. I need to go home.”

“It’s okay. We’ll get you home.”

Douglas crossed the street and took long looks at everyone he passed, searching for the expression of someone worried about a lost man. He headed into a crowd and began talking to people and pointing in the direction of the park.

“I came here to get some fresh air. I just wanted a short break. But now I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”

“It’s okay. We’ll find your home. My friend is looking.” I took a deep breath and rubbed Oscar’s shoulder. “Do you think it will rain?”

Oscar didn’t respond. I was dying for a conversation all morning and this was the best I could come up with? He continued to stare at the ducks.

Douglas began asking the doormen of several buildings and again pointing to the park.  A desperate plan. He couldn’t talk to every person in the city. But I feared the alternative. If it got late, we would have to take Oscar to a hospital and wait until someone came for him. A hospital would be too stressful. So many people, too much trauma.

I tried to occupy his mind. “My grandma used to have ducks on her farm. I’m from Wisconsin. Do you know where that is?”

Oscar nodded.

I told him the story of how my grandma immigrated to the U.S. when she was a little girl. I told him about the farm. And the apple pie she used to bake. Oscar smiled. “I like apple pie.”

“It’s the best.”

“My wife likes blueberry.”

“What’s her name?”

“Hazel. Because of her eyes.”

I searched my phone for an Oscar and Hazel Johansen. I got several listings for couples named Johansen but none with Oscar and Hazel and none that lived in the city.

Oscar turned to look at me and smiled.

“What’s your name young lady?”

“It’s Kathleen.”

“Oh, that’s a pretty name.”

“Thank you. It’s my grandmother’s name. She’s Dutch.”

His face started to relax. His voice became firm.

“I grew up in a big house in New Jersey. With my brothers and sisters. That’s how I met my wife. She was my little sister’s best friend.” He frowned. “She passed away.”

“Your wife?”

“My sister. She had a stroke.”

“I’m sorry.” I put my arm around him and squeezed.

“She wasn’t happy when I stole her best friend.” He chuckled ever so delicately. “But she was a good aunt to our children.”

“How many children do you have?” I kept a calm voice. I didn’t want to rush him.

“A boy and a girl. Our daughter visits every Saturday. I don’t see my son as much.”

It was Sunday. We may have missed our chance.

I asked about his daughter and if she ever married. Hoping this would help.

He talked about her briefly and ended with, “She’s divorced.”

I searched for a Rhonda Johansen and a Rhonda Smith and a Rhonda Smith-Johansen and every combination I could think of.

“We live over there.” Oscar pointed in the direction that Douglas had been searching. “Bought our apartment fifty years ago. Never moved. Our son wanted a house with a big backyard to play in. But we couldn’t afford it. So we stayed.”

I stood up to wave at Douglas, but couldn’t get his attention.

“It doesn’t have a view of the park but we like it. We were happy because we could walk here.”

“Where is your apartment?”

“Just behind that one over there.”

And then Douglas crossed the street with a woman who rushed by his side. Fair skin and thin, red hair like Oscar. She kept up with Douglas and when he pointed toward us, she hurried on ahead. Douglas leaned over to catch his breath.

“Dad, what are you doing here?”

He didn’t answer. Wouldn’t look at her. He was the father and he didn’t want to be scolded.

She sat next to him. “Why did you leave the store?”

A tear rolled down his cheek. “I wanted to pay but I didn’t have my wallet. I wanted to make sure we had enough money in our savings.”

“But how did you end up here?”

“I don’t know.” The shaking returned.

“It’s okay. It’s okay.” She helped him up and we accompanied them out of the park. The three of us surrounded Oscar with Douglas in front fending off people passing by.

“Thank you so much for staying with him. I’m Donna. His daughter.” Her voice cracked. “I’ve never lost track of him like this. He tries to wander but never this far.”

I told her it wasn’t her fault, sympathized with the difficulty of taking care of her father, and reassured her she was doing a great job. But the guilt on her face remained.

Douglas and I walked them back to their apartment. She insisted we come up for a drink. Douglas had caught his breath but perspiration rolled down his neck.

Oscar lived in an old brownstone on the first floor. When we approached the steps, his body went on autopilot; he headed up the steps and straight for his door. His wife lay in a bed that had been set up in the living room where a nurse fed her slices of melon. Oscar sat down next to her and stroked her hair. She sucked the fruit and stared into his eyes. He told her about the weather and described the activities in the park. The two of them unaware of anyone else in the room. We left quietly. I wiped away a tear and noticed Douglas doing the same.

Back outside, the sky had turned a hazy orange. Douglas insisted on walking me to my apartment and we took a short cut through the park. The worried look had not dropped from his face. Not even the frisbees distracted him. I took his hand and gently kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you for a wonderful afternoon.”

He looked confused.

“It was awkward. Then stressful. But it had a happy ending.”

Those droopy eyes turned bright and his happy-go-lucky grin came back. He wrapped his arms around me. His brown, Henley shirt felt so soft and his shaggy hair tickled my face. We took a deep breath and walked hand in hand. He began to whistle and I joined him.

At the steps of my apartment, I flicked a strand of hair out of his eyes and suggested a second date. A family-owned restaurant not far from here. He agreed. And after, I nudged him, if he was a good boy we could go to the park.

February 04, 2022 13:01

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21 comments

Daniel R. Hayes
16:24 Feb 18, 2022

Another great story Craig! I read in your bio about your writing journey, and since you were thoughtful enough to give me some advice, I thought I would give you some from what I've learned. In publishing, one thing that I found out is that you have to find an editor that will see your vision and believe in it. A lot of editors specialize in different genres and it can be challenging to find one that will work with you. Editors are not good at marketing, that's why they're editors. The publishing industry is always changing and there are n...

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Craig Westmore
20:25 Feb 18, 2022

Thanks Daniel! I want to pick your brain (dangerous thing to say to a horror writer) on the publishing world. How did you start making contacts? Was it in person or online? First, I need to figure out what my genre is. I'm using these prompts as a discovery process.

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Daniel R. Hayes
23:51 Feb 18, 2022

Sure, to venture into my mind is a dangerous thing... hahaha! Okay, so I made some contacts through Reedsy believe it or not. I try stay active and learn what I can, and through this process I've made a lot friends on here. Also, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and be a little vulnerable, and what I mean is believe in your work no matter what others say. I'm a firm believer that if we don't believe in ourselves, no one else will. Develop a thick skin and roll with the punches. Finding your genre can be tricky, but I say write wh...

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Craig Westmore
15:16 Feb 19, 2022

Cool. So I'll continue to write and build a community with Reedsy. That's doable. But here's my dilemma: how can I be vulnerable and have a thick skin at the same time?

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Daniel R. Hayes
18:15 Feb 19, 2022

What I mean by being vulnerable is don't be afraid to write what you want, writing is a vulnerable thing for some writers who poor themselves into their stories. At the same time, you must have thick skin to shield yourself from negative comments or feedback because at the end of the day, no matter how perfect your story or writing is, you can't please everyone.

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Craig Westmore
21:39 Feb 19, 2022

Got it. I had some bad experiences in writing workshops a few years ago so I decided to write in isolation until I got my confidence up. Writers on Reedsy are very supportive. I like that.

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00:45 Feb 14, 2022

You're really good at writing descriptions that keep advancing the story along. Kudos for a Wisconsin reference, my hometown. In the story it's nice how she comes around to seeing the good side to a quieter guy in the end of the story. btw I see in your Bio you spent time in Brazil, (still living there?) would to hear more about their culture and your experiences there someday.

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Craig Westmore
20:58 Feb 14, 2022

Thanks Scott for the comments! Yes, I still live in Brazil. I visit family in the U.S. once a year but with the pandemic it's been three years since I've been home. I'm getting very stir crazy and have a lot of 'saudade' (homesickness). I have been holding back some on sharing my experiences here. I'm looking for a suitable story. I don't want to write a typical American goes through culture clash trope. In fact, I think I need to leave out an American character or there will be too much judgment. Check out my story "A Philosophy of Thi...

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07:38 Feb 15, 2022

Same here in tiny hong kong, haven't travelled for 2 years. Totally agree on avoiding that trope. I feel it would be more culturally appropriate to write real characters from the country, explaining their own culture, which is not easy. Anyways, my coworker in new york told me a few exciting personal stories of crime, extortion and wild parties in sao paulo which made me curious, as I've never been South of Tijuana, I'm not sure how far he went with embellishing them. Will read your story this week;)

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Craig Westmore
20:17 Feb 17, 2022

Two years in Hong Kong? I can imagine the excitement of living in that city and the stress of staying far from home. I'll try to come up with stories with Brazilian characters in the future (won't be this week though). Looking forward to your next story with adventures from around the world!

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Frank Lester
18:26 Feb 11, 2022

A very pleasant story. I enjoyed the second part with the old man better than the first. I wouldn't delete the first part because it plays into the ending. It's like you have two stories here that don't quite blend. One reason, the transition between the first and second part is jarring. It took several paragraphs for me to realize you had switched POV. It confused me because you referred to the blind date as "she" in the first part, but then in first paragraphs of the second part, you referred to the date as "he". For a second, I thought Do...

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Craig Westmore
20:53 Feb 11, 2022

Thanks Frank! Yeah, the tone from a blind date to a man suffering in the park is jarring. Not sure how I can transition in and out. Maybe two separate stories and a lighter event that draws them together. I hadn't thought of dropping Doug's POV. I'll give that some thought. Lots to fix but I was writing out of my comfort zone. Never written a romance before so it was fun to just play around.

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Frank Lester
22:11 Feb 11, 2022

Good first attempt. We should push our limits if anything, to see things from an unfamiliar POV. Overall, it makes us better writers. Glad to help, Frank

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Craig Westmore
15:01 Feb 13, 2022

Quick question, Frank. I was playing around with description and wanted Douglas to be dog like and Kathleen to be cat like. Was that too obvious to mention or was I more subtle than I realized?

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Frank Lester
17:35 Feb 13, 2022

To be honest, Craig, I didn't get any sense, subtle or otherwise, of a dog and cat relationship between Douglas and Kathleen. I envision a dog and cat relationship as argumentative with a constant push and shove in the dialogue. I read their relationship as more misinformed internal observations that were subsequently proven wrong when they encountered Oscar. A dog and cat relationship might occur later in their relationship (post Oscar) but as is, I don't see it.

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Ellie Phillips
06:27 Feb 11, 2022

Hey Craig, This is such a lovely, heartwarming story. Your characters come across really well through their thoughts and dialogue. We see fun loving Doug who loves the simple things in life and the more reticent Kathleen or Kat! You started rom Doug’s POV and I really liked the juxtaposition between his idea of the date and then Kathleen’s completely different view of it. I think maybe it would have been nice to have more of this though - we only got a very quick insight into his POV before a very detailed (and rewardingly so,) insight of...

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Craig Westmore
20:42 Feb 11, 2022

Thanks Ellie! Yes, this story could use an update. I thought of things to fix after turning it in. I'll check the verb tenses. Sloppy of me. I agree it needs more POV of Doug. I could interrupt the Oscar-Kathleen dialogue with Doug's search. Good idea! Thanks for your feedback!

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Boutat Driss
08:57 Feb 08, 2022

A wonderful style a beautiful story. I liked it

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Craig Westmore
20:57 Feb 08, 2022

Thank you, Boutat!

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Karen Mc Dermott
13:41 Feb 06, 2022

Wonderful story. I had a tear in my eye too.

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Craig Westmore
22:15 Feb 06, 2022

Thank you, Karen!

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