The Prompt: It’s Valentine’s Day and you bump into a former lover, the one you refer to as “the one who got away.” (Now remember guys, this isn’t edited (except to get it under 1000 words), it’s just what flowed from the prompt. I probably should start cleaning them up, but… it’s just an exercise. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Although… maybe I’ll do a before and after series, from first draft to… as finished as I can get it.)
My knee bounces while I wait in line. How many people are seriously having pizza on Valentine’s Day? It’s finally my turn at the cashier and I say, “I called in an order for one large. Extra sauce with pepperoni and mushroom.” Like an idiot I tried to dodge the delivery fees and tips by picking it up. I should have just let the extra five bucks go.
“I’m sorry,” the teenager says, staring and poking at the computer screen. “Your order isn’t in here. I’ll get it started now. I’m really sorry about this, it’ll be a few minutes.” He runs into the back, presumably to order some ‘pizza sculptor’ or whatever ridiculous name they’re using now to start my pizza. He runs away before I can argue that I called it in and it should have been waiting for me. Before I can tell him that he broke my heart on Valentine’s Day. It cheers me to think of the look he would have if I actually said that. I sit in one of the hard plastic chairs reserved for idiots like me. The kid gives me a nod before he starts helping the next customer.
The strung bells slap against the door near my head. The man who has just walked in looks familiar, but I can’t believe it.
When he reaches the cashier he says, “I called in an order for Ashley.” My heart clogs my throat. It must be him. How many men are named Ashley, for starters? I stare at his back as though something there will confirm his identity. The transaction ends and I look at my phone as if I were enthralled. My heart flips when he stops next to me. I look up and see that face I had kissed so many times, the face that I had loved. The face I thought I would wake up to for the rest of my life. My Ashley.
“Ashley? Ashley! How are you? What are you doing here?” My skin is tingling from hearing him say my name. We study each other while we talk. I keep tucking a stubborn lock of blonde hair behind my ear.
“I’ve been well,” he says. “How about you?”
A long, awkward silence hangs between us. Ashley. The one that got away. More accurately, the one I left behind. His face has lost its boyish roundness and there is a layer of stubble on his square jaw. He seems taller, too, but he has the same sweet brown eyes.
“What happened?” he finally asks. My face heats up and I look away. Ten years later, it’s still the greatest shame and worst memory of my life. The parts I can remember, anyway.
“You mean you don’t know?”
“We were kids, Mickey. Kids say all kinds of messed up things.” He steps out of the way to let someone else out and he’s suddenly inches away from me. This close, when my eyes meet his I’m reminded of all the nights we’d spent together after he would sneak into my room. I’m reminded of all the times we’d skipped class to fool around in his empty house. I’m reminded of all the plans we’d made for the future.
“I had to change schools,” I say, a little too bluntly. “So, big plans for Valentine’s day?”
We scan each other’s hands. Neither of us has a wedding ring.
“Just me, some pizza, and a beer,” he says.
We smile awkwardly and I have a horrible moment of memory. I remember that night. I see their faces one after another. Even after years of therapy I think of it, and I still don’t remember who was really there. I don’t even remember my brothers, but they had covered me up, carried me out, and got me to the hospital.
A manager comes out and the cashier nods toward me. “Here you are, miss,” the manager says. “Sorry about the mix up.”
“Thanks. How much?” He shakes his head. “On the house. Sorry again. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Thanks,” I say again. “You too.” Before I leave, I stuff a ten into the tip jar.
Ashley follows me out into the parking lot. “Would you like to join me?” he asks. “That is, if you don’t have plans already.”
For a moment I want to say yes. I want to learn what has happened in his life. I want to know if he was there that night. I want to know if he really knew the truth.
I turn to him and realize it. He was there. He was the first. We had snuck up to a room to get a little bit of privacy and when we were done he left the door open. He walked out when someone else walked in. He started the whole thing. I feel sick and look away.
“How about it?” he presses. “We can catch up. It’s been such a long time. We’ve got plenty of pizza and I’ve got plenty of beer.”
I think of the man who is waiting for me. The man who had such a look of pain on his face when I told him the story that I thought I wouldn’t be able to tell it at all. I think of how long he waited for me, and how patiently. I think of the little boy waiting with him. My son, who was probably waiting impatiently after helping his daddy set the table for someone to pick the pepperoni off of his slices.
“No thanks,” I say. “I have to get this back to my family.”
“How are they?” he asks, not ready to let go even though I am. “Your brothers? How are they?”
“They’re great. One’s modelling in Rome and the other is filming in Hollywood.”
I don’t wait for the meaning of family to catch up with him. “It was great seeing you again,” I lie.
I wrote this from the point of view of Michaela, the girl triplet from Chaser, ten years after the story takes place. Hopefully you have an idea of what happened to her on that night, even though it isn’t very nice. The prompt is from Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt Boot Camp. I probably paraphrased it, since I had it written on a Post-It note. Now it’s your turn. How would your Valentine’s Day encounter go? I have a feeling that a lot of them would be more romantic than mine. Then again, realizing how much you love the one you’re with is pretty romantic, too, right? Follow the prompt, but keep it under 500 words (I get to do long posts cuz it’s my blog) OR post a link to your take on your own blog or website. Have fun!