***Contest time again. This short story was written for NYC Midnight’s Short Story Contest. Assigned genre was Rom-Com, assigned subject was a doctor’s office visit, and assigned character was a graffiti artist. I put forth this creation for your feedback. Thank you!***
7:29 a.m. Unlock the door and lock it behind me.
I push my way into a cold and dark waiting room. Muscle memory keeps me from bumping into chairs as I reach for the switch on the wall, washing the gray interior with fluorescent light.
I think the room would benefit from warm colors and wall art other than CDC warnings and HIPPA notices. My previous boss scoffed, believing patients want a sterile place to wait. Warm reminded him of dirt.
Five years, a new boss, and nothing’s changed. Except I don’t notice the pooling grayness on dingy Berber carpet anymore. I daydream while running through opening the office. Computer: on. Coffee: brewing. Calendar: open and review.
7:50 a.m. I unlock the door
7:58 a.m. Dr. Michaels’ coffee is ready, and I’ve checked myself. Makeup: still decent.
8:01 a.m. There he is.
I look up as the bell tinkles his arrival, allowing myself one moment of worship as he steps through the door. The sun streaming through the windows catches the natural highlights in his light brown hair, making me feel like I’m going blind while looking at Apollo.
Normally Dr. Jackson Michaels steps towards reception, giving me a small but relaxed smile before asking me how I am. Today he doesn’t look at me as he breezes past while talking on the phone, grabbing the coffee I set out with thoughtful precision on the gray flecked laminate desk. Not even a nod hello. I absorb the shock in my stomach, pushing down neural pains of rejection.
“Lacey?” he hollers, making me jump a little in my chair.
He never yells for me. Dr. Michaels believes in calling on the phone, despite my desk sitting right outside his office. He’s big on professional image. I step towards his office doorway and stop, my body stuttering from the unfamiliar summons.
“That was John. He insists on having that person paint our alley wall.” John Michaels is Jackson’s, I mean Dr. Michaels’, brother and silent financier of the practice. John’s Wallstreet money meant Dr. Michaels could buy Dr. Aaronson’s full practice and property without having to put in leg work to gain patients.
“That person?” I ask, confused by his agitated voice.
“The graffiti artist who has been painting up all the buildings around here. John’s decided to hire him, feels we need to capture the urban renewal that’s going on,” Dr. Michaels waves his hand, expressing distaste for said ‘urban renewal.’
Over the past few weeks I’ve watched as paint has appeared, welcoming the break in my grey world. The street art is well done and colorful, combining the neighborhood’s history with what it is becoming. Every morning my eyes seek new lines and splashes of color with artistic envy while shoving down sadness for my own dusty art.
“He’s really talented,” I breathe out my words, hoping I don’t offend him.
“No, it’s ridiculous, allowing ruffians to deface historical buildings. It will offend our patients. But John has put his foot down, so I want you to handle it. Keep him away from me,” he says as he looks out his window, dismissing me.
“Excuse me?” I look up at the rude intrusion into my daydreaming about Dr. Michaels proposing marriage in the file room.
“I’m here to paint.”
My eyes take in the fume mask pushed up on his forehead, resting on a black bandana covered in specks of paint. He leans forward on the high desktop, giving me a front row seat to tan forearms dusted with hair. His nails are trim and clean, despite paint covering most of his clothes. Why am I noticing his nails? Hazel eyes with golden flecks stare into my soul, making my stomach nauseous and my heart speed up. Confused and unable to speak, I stare at the man in front of me.
“So. Which wall am I supposed to paint? The design is complicated. I need to get started.” His narrow focus on his art pushes a blush from my chest into my face.
Donning my best haughty persona, I stand up. Feeling him behind me, I walk outside and point to the wall. Turning on my heel, I come back to my desk and sit down with a thud. What is wrong with me?
After a few hours of pretending, I can’t resist peeking at the artwork any longer. Peering around the corner, I don’t see the artist. He must be on lunch break or something, so I take a moment to stare open mouthed at the wall. The man has painted only for a morning, and it’s breathtaking.
“Can I help you?”
I jump, spinning around on my heel and losing my balance. I catch myself against the wall. A wall of paint. I stare in shock at my handprint on the wall while I hear him ask, “You okay?”
“Just looking at your work. It’s great. Sorry ‘bout the handprint,” I mumble over my shoulder as I bolt into the office.
“So, who’s Lindsey’s new guy?” I toss out the question as I pop an olive into my mouth. Though always wanting the dirt on my little sister’s life, I rarely call her and ask. Me digging into her life brings shovels into mine, and my bland existence does not need exposing.
The largest rebellion of my life was getting an art degree. One talk with my father after graduation, and I returned to the fold of expectations. Expectations meaning a job as a receptionist for one of his golf buddies. The title of Office Manager followed in the expected amount of time. Next step: marriage to a stable, upright guy. A guy like Dr. Michaels.
My sister, on the other hand, is immune to our father’s expectations. She bends and twists wherever the wind blows. She doesn’t ask him for money and is self-sufficient despite snubbing college. He has nothing to blackmail her into expectations. I adore my sister and watch with amusement as she blows through life, changing as clouds change against the sky.
“You can ask me, ya know,” she says, wrapping me from behind and putting her chin on my shoulder, “but then you would need to answer some questions of your own, wouldn’t ya.”
I laugh, turning into my sister’s arms to give her a bear hug. A quick kiss on the cheek, then I lean back to look her. Beautiful as always. Though we both have bright hazel eyes and decent bone structure, genetics gave me carrot red hair, pale skin, and freckles mapped out like the earth’s light pollution. My sister is blessed with auburn hair and skin that would make dairymaids jealous. Genetics are a weird thing.
Something over her shoulder catches my eyes, and I stare. Right now genetics and the universe have the worst sense of humor. Looking at me over my sister’s shoulder is the graffiti artist.
“Supper’s ready, we can chat at the table,” Mom breezes past while air kissing my sister.
At the table, Lindsey makes introductions and awkward handshakes follow as we sit down. My brain doesn’t make it to the table, having turned on its heel and walked out the door, so I think I mumble, “nice to meet you, Lennon,” before I melt into my chair. An alien is forming in my stomach and climbing up my throat while I swallow half a glass of wine like a shot of cheap tequila.
“Lacey, how is work?” my mom asks me, laying her slow-it-down hand on my wine wrist.
“Huh?” the fog settles as I focus on my mom, “Oh, work. It’s fine.”
I feel my traitorous freckles trying to step into the spotlight as I blush under Lennon’s gaze. His hair is dirty blond. Just long enough for me to push my hands through it and pull. What the hell is wrong with me?
“How’d you guys meet?” I manage to squeak around the sudden image of hot, sweaty sex with Lennon.
“Oh, yeah. Lennon is Mark’s roommate, the guy I’m seeing. I told Mom I was bringing Mark, but he had a last-minute gig. Lennon said he was hungry, and I thought why not. At least you two have something in common,” she replies, looking at me with an evil grin.
“We do?” Lennon asks with a kind smile across the table. I wonder if it’s possible to slide from my chair and out of the room like a Looney Tunes’ character.
“Totally. Lacey here is an artist, mostly oils. Could probably earn money,” Lindsey pauses, then shakes her head, “no, not probably, definitely could.”
“You’re biased,” I mumble past the wine glass now attached to my mouth.
“Instead, Lacey made a rational decision after graduation and now has a bright future in business administration,” our father states to no one and everyone.
“How do you like Dr. Michaels, Lace?” my mom tosses her innocent question while looking down the table at our father with a not-now grimace.
I choke on meatloaf, sure they all know about my marriage fantasies. I hack and heave, trying to catch a tiny bit of air into my lungs while they stare on sympathetically. With extreme effort, I answer, “um, good. He’s a great boss.”
“I talked to him. He seems like a cool guy,” Lennon adds, looking at my mom.
“No,” I cough out.
“No, he’s not a cool guy?” Lennon tilts his head as his brows furrow.
While I answer, “I meant you talked to his brother,” my sister mutters, “he’s a douchebag.”
“Linds!” my mom admonishes my sister.
“It’s true, Mom. Lace’d never say anything bad ‘cause she’s got a thing for him, and why not after being around an old guy and old patients, but he’s a complete ass,” Lindsey accentuates her last word by stabbing her salad and pushing it into her mouth.
Lennon’s expression makes me decide slinking is not enough. No, I need an Acme black hole to open below my chair.
“Hey,” a familiar voice pulls me from my intimate relationship with an Excel spreadsheet.
“Hi,” I smile, looking up at Lennon.
It’s been several weeks since he completed the art installation, which is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Suddenly I am my sister’s preferred companion for outings, and she cannot do anything without me. Since he’s Mark’s friend, Lennon is usually with us. I catch looks of glee from my sister, but she’s faster than my brain. I can say I don’t panic now when Lennon looks at me. The man still reeks of sex, but I’m starting to enjoy my reaction to him. In fact, Lennon now plays lead star in my fantasies, completely different visions than my daydreams of Dr. Michaels.
“Want to get some coffee?” he smiles down at me, tapping a rhythm with his fingertips against my desk that now seems so much warmer.
“Like, a coffee date?” I quip before becoming aware of what I said. My face begins its slow transition to tomato, but Lennon laughs.
“Yeah, like a date. During your lunch in 15 minutes?” he raps the manufactured wood with his knuckles as I nod acceptance, “cool, see you then.”
“Lacey?” Dr. Michaels’ hollers from his office as Lennon raises one eyebrow and turns towards the door with a quirk of his lips.
Second time in a month. The pit of my stomach is not prepared for whatever this break in routine means.
“Yeah?” I stand in his doorway, unsure of what to do with my hands.
“Please sit down.”
In the seven months I have worked for Dr. Michaels, I have never sat down in his office. Am I being fired? Familiar nausea is saying hello to the back of my mouth.
“I heard you talking to that guy just a few minutes ago,” he states, pushing files around his desk until they line up with the desk edges.
“You mean Lennon? Yeah, he’s a friend. He’s gone now,” I respond, my brow creasing in my confusion while I put my fidgety hands in my lap.
“You know, Lacey. I consider you a good worker. You keep my office organized. I’m sure one day you will make someone a great wife, organizing a man’s life as well as you organize my day,” his measured tone is at odds with my flash of irritation, “As your boss, it’s my responsibility to take care of you. Spending time with a street thug is beneath you.”
“Excuse me?” I sit up straighter in my chair, unable to keep the fleeting scorn from my face, “he’s an artist, not a thug…”
Dr. Michaels waves off my words, “Lacey, please. You deserve more than that. A professional who can give you the house and life you need.”
I feel my temper rising, a thermometer of rage boiling up my neck and close to exploding from the top of my head. Dr. Michaels becomes superimposed with Dr. Aaronson and his aversion to color and my father with his aversion to creative risks, and I stand up. Dr. Michaels looks up in shock.
“Lacey, sit down. There is nothing to get agitated about,” he says using his best bedside manner.
“Lacey, what? Did I say something offensive? Really, this is just a small conversation between friends,” he leans forward on his desk, lowering his voice and widening his eyes.
I turn on my heel, stopping only to get my purse. There is nothing else of mine in my holding pen of five years.
“You what?” Lennon looks in my eyes while trying to hide a smile.
“Yeah, walked right out,” I choke down a giggle, my body humming with adrenaline and weird bubbly emotions rising from my solar plexus.
“That’s amazing,” Lennon says, smiling into my eyes as we stand outside the coffee shop, “what will you do now?”
“I don’t know. I have some money saved, so maybe paint for a little bit. Ask a friend of mine if he needs a helper with his street,” I smile up at Lennon, my eyes briefly settling on his soft lips.
“I’m sure he would oblige. Maybe you should start seeing someone, like seriously,” he whispers, moving closer to my mouth.
“Maybe,” I breathe towards him, unsure if he can hear any of my words.
In response, he grins as his hand slides around my jaw to the back of my neck, pulling me towards his mouth. All my daydreams evaporate. Instead, I lean into his burning kiss, losing myself in the colors and textures exploding in my head as I breathe in Lennon’s scent.
An ending here would be the like a story from a fairy tale, with everyone living happily ever after. The truth is I moved back in with my parents while I apply to art galleries and museums. I started painting again, and I’m sending portfolios to every dealer and gallery I can. Lennon and me? Yeah, we’re good.