The White Toblerones

Submitted into Contest #210 in response to: Set your story after aliens have officially arrived on Earth.... view prompt


Romance Sad Science Fiction

‘Why’d you turn off the news? Do you want to talk about something?’ says Anabela, a restless finger tapping against her coffee cup, a tremor contorting the liquid. Her tone is casual, as if we’re going to delve into our usual lighthearted discussions, or laugh about our alien speculations from yesterday. But I know her tells. Her back is unnaturally stiff against the office chair and she won’t meet my eyes. Her gaze flickers around the office instead. 

Before responding, I glance around to make sure we’re alone, or maybe to delay the conversation as long as I can. There’s no-one in the waiting room this late in the afternoon. I spy a fresh stain on the carpet where a sick toddler threw up this morning, just before the doctor sent them to the ER. The stain is oddly symmetrical, like an inkblot my psychologist showed me once. I realise I’m feeling queasy myself.

‘Okay, here it is,’ I exhale, rubbing my hands on my pants to get the sweat off. In summer we crack the windows open to keep the temperature bearable, and through them leaks the hum of traffic, the beeping of a pedestrian crossing, faraway sirens. Outside the world seems alive, but here in reception we might as well be stuck in time. The only movement is Ana’s finger and the Windows screensaver floating lazily across the computer screen behind her. I sigh again. ‘I’m leaving. I’ve asked to be relocated, and today’s my last day here. They’re moving me to the clinic across town.’

Ana’s finger stops abruptly, her knuckles growing white around the cup. She raises it to her mouth, takes a long sip with her eyes closed, and swallows. I fight down a pang of guilt and watch her, distracted by the elegant curve of her neck, the stray waves of dark hair falling across her cheek, the poise she shows despite the pain. When her eyes open again, there’s a hint of moisture in them.

Just as she starts to speak, a gust of hot wind rushes into the building, followed by the rolling squeak of the automatic double doors, and the cacophony outside suddenly intensifies, drowning out our conversation. The two of us whirl back to face our computers; she resumes typing, if a bit more forcefully than before, and I turn my attention to the man on crutches limping up to the counter. He wears a wide-eyed expression of excitement.

‘Name, sir?’ I inquire.

‘Edward Bunton,’ he replies, his rapid breaths condensing on the glass screen between us. ‘Appointment with Dr Jenkins.’ 

‘Bunton…’ I murmur, clicking through my computer. 

‘You hear the news, son?’

I glance up at him. ‘About the aliens? Yes, sir.’

‘Extraordinary, isn’t it?’ he gushes. ‘I knew it. I knew they were real.’

‘Mhmm.’ My mouse clicks faster. 

‘You must’ve seen Star Wars, eh? Star Trek? ET? Amazing that we can come up with all this tosh and in truth they wouldn’t look out of place in a bloody zoo. Must be chilly on their planet with all that fur, eh?’

‘Dr Jenkins, you said?’ I interrupt.

‘Er, yes. For three-thirty. You know, they’re saying they’ve got technology that’ll put us hundreds of years into the future. Help us make spaceships, even. Faster than light! Unbelievable.’

I look at him again. His face is beet red with elation.

‘You can go in now,' I direct him.

He hesitates. ‘My appointment’s in fifteen minutes. Bit early, isn’t it?’

I point down the hallway. ‘First door on your left.’

Now looking confused, he nods to me and goes on his laboured way. As soon as he’s out of earshot, I lean over to Ana and, unwilling to touch her, I put a hand on the back of her chair. She pauses her furious typing and looks at me with dried tears etched into her cheeks. 

‘Why?’ she chokes out. Another question she already knows the answer to.

Seeing her upset wipes my mind clean of all the words I’d rehearsed over and over again in the shower and in front of the mirror. Swallowing over the lump in my throat, I bow my head, unable to meet her gaze.

‘Crosswords,’ I mumble. ‘Too many crosswords.’

Confusion flickers across her features. ‘Huh?’

I clear my throat. ‘Crosswords. How many have we solved together since last year? Hundreds? I love doing them with you.’

Our eyes meet again, and she’s looking at me intently, like there’s something she’s searching for. She doesn’t say anything, so I ramble on.

‘And before I met you, I’d never tried anything Mediterranean before. That salad your mom makes, what’s it called? Tabbouleh? I could eat it for breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, even whatever you call that meal we had at 2am during that night shift.’

‘Din-fast,’ she smiles. My heart skips a beat.

‘I loved our din-fast. And I love the way you don’t take smack from anyone. How many rude visitors did you tell off when I didn’t have the guts to do it?’

‘I told you, you shouldn’t let them just walk all over you.’

I smile back. ‘When you’re around, I don’t need to worry. And as much as I hate this place,’ I gesture to the office at large, ‘I love it too, because it’s our space. I feel safe here. You make me feel safe. And you might be the only person on the planet who thinks I’m funny.’

Her tears take on a different quality. ‘Toby, are you saying - ’

The sound of a door creaking open cuts her off. The stooped form of Dr Jenkins emerges from his office, one hand clutching his stethoscope, the other running a hand through his wild bone-white hair. By the time he reaches reception we’re already back at our computers looking as busy as possible, as if we can somehow shield ourselves from the moment.

‘Have you two seen the news?’ he exclaims.

I glance at the TV on the wall in the waiting room. I’d turned it off just before telling Ana I wanted to talk to her; before that, it had been blaring CNN’s latest on the alien contact. 

‘It was getting distracting.’

‘Nonsense,’ he scoffs. ‘Something big has happened. You’ll want to see this.’

He grabs the remote and flips the TV back to life. A reporter is standing in front of the White House, gesturing at some peculiar triangular buildings on the usually pristine green lawn. 

The aliens have arrayed their craft in front of the White House in a startling display of power, the reporter says, but so far it appears their intentions are benevolent. Predictably, social media has gone into a frenzy, quickly dubbing the triangular spacecraft “White Toblerones”. 

The news report momentarily captures my attention, a brief distraction, the words barely registering in my mind. I steal a glance at Ana from the corner of my eye; her profile is bathed in the soft glow of the office lights. She’s composed now, but her eyes still shimmer with unshed tears. 

‘Toblerones? Can’t see the resemblance myself,’ Dr Jenkins grunts.

‘Don’t you have a patient waiting?’ I ask him. Ana loves Toblerones. Last month, after she had a particularly rough day, I surprised her with one of the giant ones they only sell at certain confectionery stores. I recall the way she squealed with pure delight, suppressing a smile at the memory.

Dr Jenkins waves a nonchalant hand at me, his attention fixed on the screen. 

‘Edward can wait,’ he says. ‘His appointment hasn’t started yet, anyway.’

The news report drones on for another fifteen minutes, during which I try and fail to avoid stealing glances at her. I click through my computer aimlessly as a whirlwind of emotions tugs me in different directions. Self-reproach slides through my gut like a parasite. My mind chatters incessantly, a constant stream of doubts about the ill-timed confession, at once regretful and relieved.

It took me months to realise and then admit to myself how I felt. Anabela is unlike anyone I’ve ever met before: a firebrand, in the vein of her Latin mother, a romantic, a thinker, an obsessive, a quandary. She hasn’t shown me a red flag yet, but even if she did, I’d charge at it faster than a Spanish bull. 

There’s just one problem.

‘How is Lucy, Tobias?’ Dr Jenkins asks, suddenly standing in front of my counter, the TV muted. 

‘She’s great, thank you,’ I stammer back. ‘She was just promoted to partner at her law firm. I’m so proud of her.’

He nods. ‘I’m not surprised. She’s extraordinary, that one.’ He looks at Ana. ‘And how is your mother, Anabela?’

She turns around, lashes glistening. ‘Very well, Dr Jenkins. Sounds like the aliens are supplying us with all sorts of medical tech. You and her might both be out of a job soon.’

‘Yes, perhaps,’ he chuckles. ‘Well, Tobias, we will miss you here. Some more than others, perhaps.’ His eyes dart between us as he stalks back into his office.

Once we’re sure he’s gone, we exchange another meaningful glance. Heart pounding, my breath catches in my throat, and I have to force the words out. 

‘I’ve realised there are some things I can’t avoid anymore,’ I say softly. ‘Even if they complicate everything.’

A dozen expressions dance across her face, each more anguished than the last. At last she settles on a tearful smile. Her gaze lingers on me for a moment, her eyes searching mine. 

‘Being friends would be easier than… ’ she trails off.

I feel a warm flush in my cheeks. ‘Sorry.’

‘No,’ she murmurs, her voice carrying a hint of humour. Her chest rises with a deep, steadying breath. ‘Don’t apologise. It’s complicated, and I’ve tried to push it away, but it's the truth. I feel the same way.’

My animal brain almost takes control of me then. It warms my cheeks, quickens my pulse, screeches that this is when I’m supposed to kiss the girl. But my rational brain wins. It hurts, and part of me doesn’t want to, but I say it in a whisper.

‘And that’s why I have to leave.’

We share a moment of silent understanding, and she inclines her head, a sad smile on her lips. By the time Edward Bunton emerges from Dr Jenkins’ office, we’re both busy at our desks. I’m packing up my stationery, my spare lunch containers from Ana’s mom, my book of crossword puzzles. She deals with Bunton, shutting down his awkward attempts at conversation about the White Toblerones and ushering him out the door with a minimum of fuss.

I look around the office as I leave, a space that holds so many memories, and the lump in my throat returns. We do our customary walk together back to our cars. We stop at hers first, the blue Mazda Demio with a chipped wing mirror. The earlier heat hasn’t fully faded but somehow my limbs and hands are shivering. 

She looks up at me uncertainly. ‘You finally told her about me, didn’t you?’

‘Before this, I’d only been in love once.' Reaching into my pocket, I slip my wedding ring back on. It’s cool, but it slides back into the depression on my finger with comfort, like it never left. ‘And now it's twice. But I made a commitment to Lucy, and I have to honor that.’

She studies the ring, then shakes her head. ‘You were an idiot for taking it off in the first place.’

‘I wasn’t thinking.’

‘No, you weren’t.’

‘Somehow, it made me feel less guilty for feeling the way I do about you.’

‘Sometimes I wonder if your brain is made of tabbouleh,’ she retorts. We share a chuckle. 

‘I don’t know Lucy,’ she continues, ‘but I can’t do this to her. From everything you’ve told me, the way you talk about her, the way you love each other. She doesn’t deserve this.’ 

She takes a shuddering breath. ‘I don’t know if it’s possible to love two people at once. Especially with your whole heart. So it’s okay. I understand. Sometimes you meet the right person,’ her voice breaks, ‘but someone else got there first. That’s life.’

‘And that’s why we can’t talk for now.’

‘No,’ she corrects me, ‘that’s why we can’t talk ever again.’

The words make a physical pain in my chest. I always imagined heartbreak would feel like a tearing sensation, or the stab of a dagger, or that it would make me cry out in anguish. Instead it’s a dull ache between my ribs, like someone pulled the fibres of my myocardium and twisted them into knots. At the same time my conscience is beating on the inside of my skull, demanding why this is so difficult when it shouldn’t be. Should it?

We let the silence stretch for a time, unwilling to let the moment end. Then a piercing sound from above makes us both jump and whirl around. A dark triangle emerges from the distance, gradually looming larger, until it takes shape as one of the White Toblerones streaking past at incredible speed. It passes just above us, and the reflection from the otherworldly metal is almost as bright as the sun itself, beautiful and incomprehensible. A few blinks later and it’s a speck in the distance.

We turn back to each other, eyebrows raised. 

‘I thought they’d be… more,’ I admit, my voice raw and unsteady. Squinting into the distance, I convince myself I can still see a dot on the fiery horizon. ‘Something more than a bus-sized triangle.’

Ana sniffs. ‘That’s the problem.’

We share one last glance of shared understanding that needs no words. She tilts her head and gives me that slightly wider smile that shows all of her teeth, wrinkling up her nose. The evening sun lights her skin golden, a longing wind caresses her hair, and I know she’ll never look at me that way again. 

August 08, 2023 10:02

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Amanda Lieser
16:40 Sep 08, 2023

Hi Shuvayoj, Holy cow I adore this story! I love that the aliens are a background thought-rather realistic, I think since so much of the world goes on in the background of our own stories. I loved how you held so much tension in the dialogue and the way your characters’ voices can through so clearly. This is a tragic lovestory that you summed up so beautifully in the line about timing. Nice work!!


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19:35 Aug 17, 2023

Something more... That's a universal desire within humans where we never stop wanting more and more and more. The interpretation of that basic human quality was well presented here. I'm curious, though, about why you use apostrophes instead of quotation marks for speech. Is there a reason you chose to style your story this way?


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Galen Gower
13:35 Aug 13, 2023

You've done a very good job here. I don't know whether I'm qualified to offer any suggestions or not, but the only thing I wanted was a little insecurity form your MC about his wife making more money or having a more advanced career. That may just be an American male insecurity, but it would add a wrinkle to the feelings that developed between the people in reception. Ok, I lied, the lady in reception is a little passive. I'd be interested to see a version of the story where she's not accepting his declaration that it has to end. Have you ...


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Kelsey H
07:53 Aug 13, 2023

This is really great, I love how the alien invasion is actually just a minor issue to Tobias, his real concern is the girl he is in love with who he can't have. I thought it was so realistic, usually the alien arrival is presented as some world stopping event, but actually even when major things happen life still has to carry on, and all your day to day concerns are still there. The likeness of the spaceship to white toblerone was perfect and gave an easy visual without needing any lengthy explanations. Also love how you made it feel for t...


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Riel Rosehill
10:29 Aug 12, 2023

Hi Shuv! I always enjoy reading your work and this was no different. I'm no sci-fi fan, but this for me had the perfect balance, the perfect amount of sci-fi sprinkled in. And I LOVE how the alien ships were called "White Toblerones" haha. The ending dialogue I thought was excellent: something turning out to be much bigger then you thought it would, be it the White Toblerones or some feelings you shouldn't have towards your colleague. I was ready to give some critical critique but, got nothing. This is good! And the patient who wants to tal...


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Katy B
23:56 Aug 11, 2023

I'm glad to see another story from you! As moving as ever :)


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Aeris Walker
22:49 Aug 10, 2023

Hi Shuvayon--good to see you back on Reedsy! First draft or not, this is great, genuinely. It's funny to me how this is "Sci-fi" but the shocking, news-breaking phenomenon of aliens landing at the white house actually takes a back seat to the drama happening within the reception area of a doctor's office. You do a good job making the readers care more about what's happening between them than what's being said on the news. (White Toblerones: Super clever description and title by the way.) I appreciate the realism in this piece. Your main cha...


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10:03 Aug 08, 2023

This one's a first draft right now and needs a lot of revision. It's just nice to get a story out there since it's been a while!


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