Testing the Water
*** Once again I am participating in NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge. The assigned flash fiction is romance/reservoir/bagel, and I had 48 hours to write the story. Feedback is always welcome and wanted. Please enjoy!***
Synopsis: A woman learns to trust her intuition and the potential of love from an unexpected source.
The ceiling fan clicks above me, doing little to cool my heated skin.
I hear his panting slow as my own breathing returns to normal. For a few minutes I lay still, unwilling to disturb the rare quiet in my mind. As my internal monologue restarts, I am stuck with awkward indecision. Do I stretch my limbs and succumb to sleep that is pushing at my consciousness, or do I slide out of his bed and fake confidence as I pull on my clothes? Choosing the safest option, I sit up and lean towards the edge of the mattress.
“Please, don’t go,” he whispers, placing his hand on the small of my back.
I shove down the giggle that bubbles up from my stomach, lying down and curling up on my side facing away from him. He scoots closer but leaves space, the only contact between us is his hand resting on my waist. My back relaxes, and soon I am asleep.
“It’s time you get on with your life, get out and date,” Gillian says, “You wasted five years with Jack, don’t waste any more.”
I meet my best friend’s eyes across the picnic table before breaking contact to look around the party. In general, I don’t like spending time at reservoirs. The water smells, and people mingle in chaos with the ability to disappear without warning.
“I’m over Jack. That’s not the problem,” I reply, “The problem is I don’t trust my intuition, and I don’t trust people. Trust is kind of important.”
Gillian sighs before saying, “yes, you are right. But how do you starting swimming again if you refuse to get within 100 feet of the water?”
“Hey, how are you?” he asks, leaning over me.
I want to answer that I don’t know what to do with my body, that I am a bundle of anxiety, that my heart is going to run from my chest and hop a train far away from him.
Instead, I answer, “I’m good.”
“You hungry?” he asks, searching my face and staying on his side of the bed as I try to hide my face from his eyes.
Those eyes. Those amber orbs that make the world disappear. Those golden irises that shine from his olive-skinned face like sunshine glinting off quartz in beach sand. I glance up at him and smile, nodding my consent. He flashes his dimples, then his eyebrows come together in a slight frown.
“You’ll be here when I get back?”
I nod again.
“What about him?” Gillian asks, pointing as she warms up to her new game.
“Nah, lunkhead,” I reply, barely looking.
“Okay, what about him?”
I roll my eyes at Gillian, tiring of her insistent desire that I have a one-night stand to dip my toe into the water. I stop listening to her as she rambles about the positive attributes of each male, my eyes scanning the ever-increasing crowd with a sense of dread. I notice a group that just beached their catamaran, and I watch them pull their sails and wrestle the sailboat further up the beach. One man looks in my direction, and I am arrested by a pair of eyes looking into my soul.
“Him,” I whisper.
Gillian stops mid-sentence to look towards the boat. She looks at me, and then back at him, before shaking her head.
“No, absolutely not.”
“Why not?” I ask, struggling to turn my attention back to her.
“He’s not a dip your toe kind of guy,” she replies, shaking her head, “he’s a jump in the middle of the ocean with no lifeboat or life jacket kind of guy.”
I don’t hear her warning.
After 15 minutes of tossing and turning, a knot forming in my stomach, I get out of bed and put on my clothes. I walk around his apartment; self-consciously aware I am a stranger. I pick up a photograph of a younger him, his arms around a young woman with them looking at each other and laughing. My heart hopes she is a sister or a childhood friend, but the tiny voice gains ground and whispers it’s a girlfriend.
I move past the photographs, trying to avoid the feeling like I’m intruding on his life. I read the spines of books. I look out the window. I stare at the microwave clock, willing time to pass. I try to not listen to the voice saying he is regretting me, he is regretting his choice, he is taking a long time hoping I will give up and leave before he gets back. The anxiety becomes too much, and I grab my purse.
I hear the key in the door, and I freeze.
He walks into the apartment, unaware of me for the first few moments, and I watch him as he deadbolts the door and moves into the kitchenette. He feels my gaze and looks towards me. In one moment, his glance takes in my body posture and purse.
“Leaving?” he asks, his brows furrowing.
“Um, I wasn’t sure,” I stutter.
“Here, I have bagels and coffee,” he offers, lifting the drink carrier in his hand towards the bag he put on the counter.
“What kind?” I ask, moving through molasses as the air in the room thickens.
“You seem like an Everything kind of girl,” he replies, watching me.
Something pops in my chest, and my lungs pull in air for the first time since I woke up. I grin, avoiding his eyes.
“How did you guess?”
He shrugs. I move closer to the bagels, the smell of freshly baked bread and caffeine warming my stomach. He hands me one of the coffees, his fingers brushing mine. As I take my first sip, I close my eyes and sigh with contentment. When I open them, he is in front of me. He leans forward and gives me a gentle kiss on my lips.
“Thanks for staying.”
I relax into his eyes and smile.
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