Tuesday, January 29, 2019

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: Lobster Bisque

For a number of years, I've participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. They give you three prompts and eight days to write a short story using these three prompts. The word count is capped at 2500. This year more than 4500 people from around the world participated.

My prompts were:

Genre: Romance
A Thing: A blank check
A character: A sea captain

My story takes place in prison, where all great romances begin.

Without further ado, I give you: Lobster Bisque.

Lobster Bisque


Chris Todd Miller

Portland Harbor, Casco Bay
Marion R Jensen Correctional facility
Rec Room

Free time in the rec-room at the Marion R Jensen Correctional facility in Portland, Maine resembled a playground, except there were no females, plenty of profanity, and in place of kickball, an old television clung to the wall. The corner of the screen was cracked, but the picture was clear. They even had a playground monitor, Correctional Officer Mendoza. A dozen inmates gathered around the idiot box.
Currently the Caucasians had the room, which today included a handful of skinheads. Access to the TV room rotated on a schedule between the Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, and the White Supremacists. Subcategories of those groups included everyone else: the mentally ill, the born-agains, the guys just trying to do their time, and any other hard ass that nobody wanted to mess with. As hard asses go, former Master Chief Petty Officer Curtis Oliver of the US Navy Seals was the baddest motherfucker on the block.
A dispute started over what to watch. Before things got heated they realized the channel was stuck on a local affiliate showing a Friends rerun. “Who the fuck was watching this?” asked Warchild, the skinhead leader.  
“Probably a schitzo,” replied another follicle-challenged brother.
Curtis smirked. It was rhetorical, you dumb hick.
Warchild left taking most of his cronies with him. Everyone else settled down to watch Friends, given it was their only option.
A new face pulled an orange plastic chair near Curtis and sat down. “Oh, this is the one where Phoebe tells Ross that Rachel is his lobster and she’s his.”
“Spoiler alert,” Curtis glared at the new guy. “Look, I don’t know who you are but I have two questions: one, what’re you talking about? And two: who the hell are you and why are you sitting next to me?”
“That was three questions.”
“You have exactly three seconds to get the fuck out of my face,” Curtis said.
The man put up his hands in a surrender gesture. “I’m Petty Officer 3rd Class, James Coleman, sir. You are Curtis Oliver and you’re a goddamn legend.”
Curtis looked at James for a long second. “That was a good answer. You can stay, for the moment.”
James slid his chair closer. His face shone like he was just asked to prom by the head cheerleader.
“You know my story?”
“Yes sir,” said James. “I don’t blame you one bit either. That son-of-bitch had it coming. He got off easy if you ask me.”
“Oh, I see. So you actually don’t know shit.”
“Just answer my other question,” Curtis said pointing at the television.
“Oh, yes sir.”
“And stop calling me sir. That’s not who I am anymore.”
“Yes si—um, okay. This is the episode where Ross is freaking out because he thinks he might lose Rachel and to calm him down Phoebe explains how lobsters mate for life and Ross and Rachel are lobsters to each other.”
“And this was a hit show?” Curtis asked. “It’s bullshit, by the way.”
“The show?”
“Yeah, but the lobsters, too. That’s not how they mate. Lobsters get it on with several mates.”
James scrunched his face. “Really, how do you know that?”
Curtis leaned forward and put his forearms on his knees. “Like I said, you don’t know shit about me. If you did, you’d know that before I ended up in here, my wife and I ran a lobster trawler. She still does, in fact.”
“You were the captain of a troller?”
Curtis shook his head. “Trawler.” He emphasized the AW. “And I never said I was the captain. That’s my woman. We own it, but I do whatever she says from emptying traps to eatin’ pussy.”
James nodded his head in deep contemplation. Curtis slapped James’ knee with the back of his hand. “You got a lady waiting on you?”
“Yeah, yeah I do.”
“Then you’d be wise to follow my advice. What’s her name?”
“Freyja. And she’s pregnant. Due in a few months.”
“No shit. When do you get out?”
“A lot longer than a trimester. This new administration is going to deport her and there’s not thing one I can do about it.”
“You married?”
“Engaged. Even if we were married, Trump’s ban would still kick her out.”
“Hashtag MAGA,” Curtis spat.


 Portland Harbor, Casco Bay
Marion R Jensen Correctional facility
The Prison Yard
Curtis and James met regularly in the yard. Curtis shared war stories and James, who never saw combat, shared Icelandic culture. James was convicted of forgery and immigration fraud trying to loophole the citizenship process for his fiancée. They met while James was stationed at the US Naval Base in Iceland at the Keflavik International Airport. When Curtis prodded him for details all James would say was “it’s complicated.”
On this day, the wind blew off the harbor and carried to the prison yard with a unique crispness. “It’s its own kind of punishment, you know?” Curtis said. “Putting us this close to the ocean and making it so far away.” They watched the trawlers come and go around the oil tankers, ferries, cargo and cruise ships, and the handful of yachts.
“Did you see that?” Curtis asked.
“See those trawlers to the north. Look for a flashing light. That’s my Jessie. She flashes that halogen light three times to let me know she’s close.”
“That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard,” said James. They stared at the harbor for a minute or maybe an eternity, Curtis wasn’t sure.
“Let’s think about something else,” James said. “What’s the first thing you’re going to eat when you get out?”
“That’s easy, lobster bisque. Jessie makes the best lobster bisque in New England.”
They walked alongside the chain link fence, razor wire circled the top. James picked up a rock and threw it over. “You’ve never told me her name before.”
“Yeah, well, I’m starting to not not like you.”
“Sea captain and she can cook. Doesn’t get much better than that.”
“No it doesn’t,” Curtis smiled and winked. They walked for a few more minutes.
“Can I ask you something else?”
“You can ask,” replied Curtis.
“What’s your real story? You said I don’t know shit about you. What don’t I know?”
Curtis squatted on his heels and sighed. “I never killed anyone. I mean, outside of a sanctioned maneuver. I know everyone here tells you they’re innocent, but I really am.” He stood and they continued to pace the perimeter. “Jessie’s dad died right after she was born. When she was sixteen, her mother remarried. Before long, her step-dad started touching her and it escalated from there. When she turned eighteen, she left. Got work as a deckhand. Worked her way up to first mate. Eventually, we met, bought a boat and went into business for ourselves.”
“You walked away from the SEALS to catch lobster?”
“I was in a dark place, Jimmy.” He looked out over the bay. “She silenced the demons. I think it’s because she’d beaten her own demons. There’s not much that salt water can’t cure.”
“What did you name your boat?”
“Blank Check. It was the key to our earning potential, a veritable boatload.” He laughed at his own joke. “It also symbolized what we were trying to do. A clean slate. A fresh start.”
“But then?”
“Step-dad knocked up Jessie’s mom. Ultrasound said girl. Jessie about lost it. There’s no way on God’s green Earth she would let what happened to her happen to her sister. She found her step-dad and shot him. There’s no way in hell I’d let my woman go to prison. I took the fall. I had a good lawyer. Got it knocked down to manslaughter. Now I’m here and she’s out there.”
“I can’t imagine doing that. I mean, I’d want to, I just don’t know that I could.”
“You could. For the woman who quiets the demons, you could do anything.”
They stopped near a corner of the yard. “You see this spot?”
“Here where we’re standing?”
“Yeah. Remember it.”
“It’s a dead spot. Come on, let’s head back. Hey, are you any good at forgery? I mean you’re here so maybe you suck at it.”
“I’m good. I’m real good. Like I said, it’s complicated.”
            As they approached the main area, Warchild stepped in front of Jimmy. “Where have you two lovebirds been?”
            Curtis motioned Jimmy behind him. “Leave it alone, Warchild.”
            “Leave what alone? Your boyfriend? I knew you two were fags. Come’re sweetheart, I’ll show you a real man.” Warchild reached for Jimmy. Curtis grabbed Warchild by the wrist, did a step-pivot-twist and Warchild was on the ground. Curtis put a foot on his throat and didn’t release the wrist hold. The skinhead circle moved in. “Back the fuck off,” Curtis said. He didn’t yell it. He didn’t need to. “Try something and he’ll be jerking off lefty for the rest of his life.” He applied more pressure to Warchild’s wrist. “Do we understand each other?”
            “Fuck you,” Warchild said.
            Curtis applied more pressure.
“Yes, goddammit,” he said through clenched teeth. “Everybody, back off.”
            “Say you understand.”
            “I understand. God, please. I understand.”
            Curtis released him. He motioned to Jimmy and they walked away.
“I can handle myself,” Jimmy said.
            “I know you think you can.”
            James scoffed. “Then why?”
            “Like I said, I’m not not liking you more and more, Jimmy.”

            The next morning Curtis and Jimmy sat across from each other at a table near the middle of the pod. Two trays sat between them consisting of oatmeal, eggs, toast, and sausage links.
            Curtis cut up his sausage and mixed it with the oatmeal.
Jimmy speared a link and put it in his mouth.
            “I wouldn’t do that,” Curtis said.
            Jimmy made a face as if he’d just licked the floor. Curtis put a hand over his mouth. “Swallow it. If the guards see you spit it out that’s all you’ll get for a week.”
            Jimmy choked it down.
            “The oatmeal makes it go down easier.” He removed his hand. “About your special skills. Let’s say I found a way out of this place.”
            “I’m listening.”
            “If I take you with me, can you make passports and other documents?”
            “Absofuckinglutely, but I’m not going anywhere without my Freyja.”
            Curtis sporked a mouthful of eggs into his mouth. “Jessie will pick her up and meet us at a designated time and place, then we make a run to Canada.”
            “The dead spot?”
            Curtis nodded. “The dead spot.”


Portland Harbor, Casco Bay
Marion R Jensen Correctional facility
The Dead Spot
A handful of stars fought a losing battle with the pre-dawn. Curtis and Jimmy slipped away from the work detail where they were supposed to report to laundry. Officer Rodriguez would make sure their absence went unnoticed until it was too late. They followed the fence until they reached the dead spot where Jessie would be waiting with bolt cutters and his beloved SIG Sauer P226, just in case.
They made it through the yard without incident. When they reached the dead spot, Jessie wasn’t there. Curtis scanned the area looking for her. “Jessie!” he whispered and yelled at the same time.
“Where is she?” Jimmy asked.
“She’ll be here.”
“We don’t have—”
“There,” Curtis pointed at dark figured, approaching north by north-east. “Come on, baby, daylight’s coming.”
There was no prescribed love scene like in the movies, they didn’t kiss between the chain-link or grasp hands. Jessie just went to work with the bolt cutters.
“You’re a minute late. What happened?”
“Ground patrol was late. Idiots. I nearly ambushed them. I’m surprised you haven’t broken out of this place on your own by now.” She worked the bolt cutter with an easy rhythm. She’d cut through about a dozen links when Curtis grabbed the fence with both hands and wrenched back the opening. Jimmy wriggled through then he held the opening for Curtis.
“Did you bring it?” Curtis asked.
Jessie gave him a WTF look and withdrew a Sig Sauer and shoulder holster from a nap sack.
“Come to me, baby.”
Jessie handed it to him and he cinched it up with a practiced movement. Jessie already wore hers.
“You both have one?” Jimmy asked.
“Jessie, this is Jimmy.”
Jessie cocked her head. “Where’d you find this guy?”
Curtis laughed. “Iceland, as it turns out.”
She looked at Jimmy. “Freyja’s on my trawler. She’s fine but we need to go.” She looked at Curtis. “And for you, a thermos of lobster bisque waits below deck.”
“Can’t wait.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?” Jimmy asked.
Alarms shattered the peaceful morning. Spotlights raced each other across the yard and stopped on the three fugitives.
“Shit, go,” Curtis yelled. The three of them took off down the hillside, Jessie in the lead. The terrain was largely kept clear to deter escapees, but the city also had an ordinance that basically said it needed to look pretty. Clumps of trees dotted the area partially obscuring the prison and still giving the locals their fall colors.
The three zig-zagged from clump to clump until they ran out of trees. Between them and the bay was a hundred yards of open ground. An ATV crested the rise to either side of them, their headlights blazed into the remnants of the night. Curtis put a hand on the back of Jimmy and Jessie, pushed them forward and yelled, “Go.”
The three sprinted for the dock. Curtis calculated the intercept point. They weren’t going to make it. He stopped and fired his Sig at one ATV then turned on the other. He aimed high, hoping the shots would slow them down. It worked. The pursuers came to a halt, only to pull out rifles and return fire.
Jessie and Jimmy stopped when they heard the shots.
Curtis went down.
Jimmy froze.
Jessie shrieked.
Jimmy did an awkward dance as he tried to flee and run back to Curtis at the same time. Jessie sprinted back to her Master Chief. “Come on,” she yelled. When she reached him, she turned and laid down cover fire in one direction while Curtis mirrored her. Curtis yelled at Jimmy, “Go, get to the boat!” Jimmy bee-lined it for the dock, but hesitated before boarding.
Curtis fired a shot over his head and waved him on. Jimmy would have sense enough to know that meant shove-off and don’t look back.
Jessie put his arm around her shoulder and the two of them humped it back to the nearest cluster of trees. Through the crimson and gold leaves, they watched their Blank Check merged into the harbor traffic and disappear.
She looked at his wound. “How much time do we have?”
“Two minutes, maybe less. Look, they don’t know about you. I can get you a head start.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
He blinked back tears. “If you stay, know this: I’m not going back to prison.”
She slapped a new magazine into her Sig, racked the slide, and kissed him. “I go where you go.”


Sunday, August 26, 2018

League of Utah Writers 2018 Writing Contest Results


New Writer: Creative Non-Fiction 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Making Sense of Mormonism by Brian Perrin 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Another Rule Broken by Jacquelene Rivers 
  • First Honorable Mention: Dog-ma by Colleen Callahan 
  • Third Place: By the Short Hairs by Jelene Kirkland 
  • Second Place Fishing with Heber Stock by Kathy Davidson 
  • First Place: What Are You Living For? by Samantha Thorup 

New Writer: Fiction 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Erotic Hallucinations by Ramiro Torres
  • Second Honorable Mention: A War to Bring Peace by Krystal Gerber
  • First Honorable Mention: Lester by Patrick Hare
  • Third Place: A Painted Smile by Jonathan Humphries 
  • Second Place: The Maiden's Request by Gregory Lemon
  • First Place: Stumblecookies by Garrett Faulkner

New Writer: First Chapter (Fiction or Non-Fiction) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: CHARLY&NELLA by Tara Creel
  • Second Honorable Mention: MIDNIGHT by Natalie Evjen
  • First Honorable Mention: The Shadow Master by Justin Cole
  • Third Place: Weight of It All by Paul Warburton
  • Second Place: Quests & Confusion by Jenna Harris
  • First Place: Ruthless by Patrick Hare

New Writer: Poetry 2018
(only three entries no honorable mentions)

  • Third Place: Charge of the Dark Brigade by Zoe Stoffel 
  • Second Place: The Passenger by Lori Reichard
  • First Place: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School February 2018 by Daniel Cureton


Poetry: Encore Poetry (any category) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: OUT SLIPS MY THUMB by Jef Huntsman
  • Second Honorable Mention: The Tainting of My World by Lorraine Jeffery
  • First Honorable Mention: This Mundane Life by Anna Marasco
  • Third Place: STEPPING INTO LIGHT by Marie Tollstrup
  • Second Place: Rebel by  Anna Marasco
  • First Place: THE REUNION by Jef Huntsman

Poetry: Prose Poem 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: METHOD TO MADNESS by Marie Tollstrup
  • Second Honorable Mention: Norihiko's Bonsai by Jo Harline
  • First Honorable Mention: The Ride Home by C.H. Hung
  • Third Place: ARCHES by Marie Tollstrup 
  • Second Place: RED RIVER CHURCH by Marie Tollstrup 
  • First Place: Scapegoat by Alex Leavens

Poetry: Light Verse (Rhyming, Metrical, and/or Humorous) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Raincheck by Jeremy Gohier
  • Second Honorable Mention: Video Game Guy by Cesanne Greathouse
  • First Honorable Mention: The Perfect Pancake by Nathan Wright
  • Third Place: Old Gooselbine's Pumpkin Strudel by Alexis Tate
  • Second Place: Wrangler Jeans by Josie Hulme
  • First Place: Summer Sandcastles by Charlene Harmon

Poetry: Narrative Poetry (Open or Closed Form) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: ON SEAFORD HEAD by Kevin Shannon
  • Second Honorable Mention: Out of Reach by Alexis Tate
  • First Honorable Mention: WAR'S BEAUTIFUL FACE by Marie Tollstrup
  • Third Place: This by Lorraine Jeffery
  • Second Place: Stepmom by  Felicia Rose
  • First Place: Straining to Hear by Lorraine Jeffery

Poetry: Word Play 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Traffic Jam by Amy Leskowski 
  • Second Honorable Mention: The 105 by Daniel Cureton
  • First Honorable Mention: Magpies are Bitches by Candie Thomas
  • Third Place: A Body of Work by Denis Feehan 
  • Second Place: Pineapple Rules by Pam Tucker
  • First Place: X-ploring by  Grace Jessen 


Prose: Children's Story 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: As to Plan by Johnny Worthen 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Heroes Inside of Me by Rachael Jessop
  • First Honorable Mention: Just Like Max by Robyn Buttars
  • Third Place: The Elusive Socks by Jo Ann Stringer
  • Second Place: The Day the Spigot Broke by James Crofts 
  • First Place: S Is For Small by Robyn Buttars

Prose: Creative Non-Fiction 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Switchbacks by Jill Bowers
  • Second Honorable Mention: SWIFT CURRENT by Jef Huntsman
  • First Honorable Mention: Boyfriend by Rena Lesué
  • Third Place: Aura by Dianne Hardy
  • Second Place: Why We Live on a Homestead by Felicia Rose
  • First Place: Klatch by Tim Keller

Prose: Encore Prose (any category) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Bubble by Lorraine Jeffery
  • Second Honorable Mention: Tempest by Tim Keller
  • First Honorable Mention: Jamaica Rush by Jef Huntsman
  • Third Place: Matching Baggage by Tim Keller
  • Second Place: Thing That I AM by Paul Warburton
  • First Place: THE SIREN CALL by Marie Tollstrup

Prose: First Chapter (Novel) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: The Fates of Stars and People by Daniel Martin
  • Second Honorable Mention: Forever, Ethan by Rachel DeFriez 
  • First Honorable Mention: Salt Lake Sorceress by Heidi Voss
  • Third Place: What Comes From Darkness by Amanda Luzzader
  • Second Place: A Killer Frost by Amanda Luzzader
  • First Place: COYOTE SPILL by Jef Huntsman

Prose: First Chapter (Young Adult) 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: The Unenchanted by Emily Wheeler
  • Second Honorable Mention: Felicity by Lynne Allen
  • First Honorable Mention: Paige Sampson: Misfit Rebel by Kathryn Ferriello 
  • Third Place: Grey Matters by Rachel DeFriez 
  • Second Place: SUNK by Maggie Adams 
  • First Place: THE CHIME CHILD by Lisa Taylor 

Prose: Flash Fiction 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Exhibition by Jeremy Gohier 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Flash Ants by Kathy Davidson 
  • First Honorable Mention: Suburbia by Tim Keller 
  • Third Place: Falling Off My Shoes by David Rodeback 
  • Second Place: Marie by David Rodeback 
  • First Place: No Man's Land by Krystal Gerber 

Prose: General Fiction 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: I Made Muffins by David Rodeback 
  • Second Honorable Mention: SANCTUARY WITHIN by Marie Tollstrup 
  • First Honorable Mention: THE DEATH OF SAMANTHA ROSE by Warren Stucki 
  • Third Place: MASKS by Marie Tollstrup 
  • Second Place: Synthetic Heart by September Roberts 
  • First Place: The Switchboard Operator by Denis Feehan 

Prose: Media Article 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: Faceless But Not Forgotten by Robyn Buttars 
  • Second Honorable Mention: CONFRONTING SUICIDE by Marie Tollstrup 
  • First Honorable Mention: Heels by Felicia Rose 
  • Third Place: "Flaunt It Friday" or "One Woman's Domestic Tale" by Alice Batzel 
  • Second Place: The Hunger, Anthology, Book Review by Daniel Yocom 
  • First Place: Local Governments in Ancient Egypt by Sariah Horowitz 

Prose: Mystery / Thriller 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: New Job by Denise Johnson 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Hunger Moon by Sariah Horowitz 
  • First Honorable Mention: The Model by Neil Dabb 
  • Third Place: A Cup of Hot Chocolate by Lorraine Jeffery 
  • Second Place: Regret by Keri Montgomery 
  • First Place: DISTURBED by Jef Huntsman 

Prose: Speculative Fiction 2018 

  • Third Honorable Mention: Tilting Scales by Richard Timothy 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Breaking Up With an Angel by Heidi Voss
  • First Honorable Mention: City of the Bees by Carol Nicolas 
  • Third Place: A Friend in Need by Caryn Larrinaga 
  • Second Place: Missing Persons by Emily Wheeler 
  • First Place: Life Blossoms by Chris Todd Miller 

Prose: Spiritual Personal Essay 2018

  • Third Honorable Mention: THE TELLING OF THE BEES by Katharine Goodman 
  • Second Honorable Mention: Of Crayons and Angels by Amanda Luzzader 
  • First Honorable Mention: Seek, Find, Be by Julie Walton 
  • Third Place: The Piglet by Felicia Rose 
  • Second Place: The Topsy-Turvey World of Our Inherited Wolf-Stories by Shaunna goldberry 
  • First Place: Within My Glass Box by Joni Haws 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Terminator: A Love Story

A little background on how this story came about. I took part in a contest put on by NYCMidnight.com. You are given three prompts. With those three prompts you have 8 days to write a short story. No more than 2500 words. Here's what 3 prompts and 8 days produced.

Prompts: Romance / First time on an airplane / a librarian

The Terminator: A Love Story

A foul-mouthed librarian flies to Seattle to meet her online suitor for the first time.

Chris Todd Miller

Naomi Adams maneuvered her olive-green name-brand sauté pan to a side burner as quickly as possible without spilling her latest attempt at tasty vegetarian—sliced zucchini in olive oil and garlic. She mostly succeeded, at not spilling dinner. Whether she succeeded at “tasty” vegetarian was another matter altogether.

The chimes echoed again. FaceTime told her that Michael was calling. She skittered across the hard wood floor in her stocking feet to her reading nook. Her cat, Mr. Darcy, sat perched on her laptop keyboard. Stacks of books rose up around him like a metropolis under construction, not a one had fewer than six Post-it notes peeking out from the pages. Mr. Darcy voiced his displeasure at being removed from his spot. “Oh, hush, you old charmer.”

She clicked the green button and Michael’s face appeared. Her heart flittered like a school girl on prom night waiting for her Prince Charming to pull up in the drive. At this point in her life, he didn’t need a white stallion either, Kevin Bacon in a beat-up VW bug would do just fine.

“Hi, Darling,” Michael said.

“Hi, yourself,” she replied. “Didn’t we agree not to do this? It’s like seeing the bride before the wedding.” She could hardly take her eyes off his smile. So enchanting, so, sigh, Mr. Darcy-esque.“

“I know. I know. But I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I can’t hardly wait to see you in the flesh.”  

She felt her face go hot, and cleared her throat. “Michael,” she said with a coquettish lilt, and looked away.

He chuckled. “In person, I mean.”

Neither spoke, and as the silence teetered on the edge of awkwardness, she asked, “How’s your licensing coming along?”

“Technically, they’re certifications, and it’s fine. Lots of acronyms and stuff.”

“Like what?”

“You know, transfering domain names and websites, and making sure nobody hacks the Gibson. What about you? Are you nervous for your flight?”

“A little, but I’m doing what I can.”

His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Let me show you.” She held up a laminated sheet with checklists, timelines, maps, itineraries, and notes, including highlighted sections in three colors. “I have my entire trip plotted out to make my first ever flight as uneventful as possible. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always vodka.”

He shook his head and laughed. “You never cease to amaze me. With that kind of a game plan, you could be the head coach of the Seahawks.”

“That’s football, right?” she asked.


“I know we have the Falcons here, but I’ve really never understood the game. Why do they smack each other on the butt?”

She tucked her legs underneath her and they talked about the dynamics of muscle-bound men fighting over an inflated ellipse, inflated to, she would learn, 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch. The conversation proceeded to all the things they would do when she got to Seattle. By the time they signed off, the zucchini was cold.

“Excuse me,” Naomi said to the guy sitting in the aisle seat of her row. If she was getting on a plane for the first time in her life, she wanted the full experience. He obviously wanted the aisle seat due to his height, but rather than stand up so she could get past, he shifted his knees to the side. She clambered over him, and her copy of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander tumbled out of her bag and landed between his feet.

“Shit,” she said. She looked at the NBA-wanna-be. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ve got it.” He handed her the book.

She took her seat next to the window. Relax, Naomi. Millions of people do this every day, she told herself.

The plane systematically filled as the other passengers arrived. Naomi was beginning to think that she wouldn’t be forced to share an armrest, when a guy squeezed past the hatch just before the flight attendant latched it behind him. He had a backpack slung over one shoulder, and he spent several minutes trying to find an overhead compartment that would accommodate his pack. He found one with space enough for a handbag. He pulled out the two bags already in place, turned them around, and forced his bag in.

“Sir,” said the flight attendant. “Please take your seat.”

“Sorry. Sorry. One second.” He grunted as he made his third attempt to slam closed the overhead bin.

Naomi gave herself a mental high-five for reserving a window seat. She feared for the person sitting beneath those bags. A strong sneeze would jolt the compartment open, let alone turbulence.

As she feared, mister everybody-wait-for-me took the seat next to her. As he sat, she laid her arm across her lap, atop her worn copy of Outlander.   

A pleasant voice came over the intercom. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard flight 636 to Seattle, Washington. My name is Maria. My crew and I will be taking care of you today. Our anticipated flight time is five hours and twenty-three minutes. Now we request your full attention as the flight attendants demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft.”

Naomi turned her attention to the safety demonstration. The guy next to her leaned over and said, “I can give you the Cliff Notes version.”

Naomi glared at him. “I suspect you’re very familiar with Cliff Notes.” She turned back to the demo.

He smirked. “You look like a smart girl. I suspect you’ll figure out how that seat belt works, but if you need help, let me know. I helped an old lady through security a minute ago.”

She shushed him.

“Wait a minute. Is this your first time?”

She looked at him from the corner of her eye.

“It is your first time! Seems like we ought to be flying Virgin Airlines, then. You know what I’m saying?”

Naomi sighed and summoned her best Ms. Manners voice. “Yes, it’s my first time. Would you be so kind as to shut the fuck up so I can make sure I don’t die on this flight?”

He laughed. “Oh, salty. You’ll be just fine. Most people on this plane aren’t even listening. Besides, flying is safer than driving.”

She looked at him. “What’s your name?”


“Nick, I’m well aware of that statistic; however, you may note that we’re not in an automobile. The fact that I’m on an airplane flying twenty-six hundred miles to meet a man I found by playing Words with Friends overrides logical thinking. It’s all I can do to suppress the fight or flight instinct.”

“I see what you did there. Not bad. Not bad at all.”

She chuckled. “I can’t help myself. I make bad jokes when I’m nervous, and I cuss.”

“Later on, I'll buy you a drink. We'll drink to poppin' your aviation cherry, and motherfuckin' profanity."  

Naomi gave an exasperated sigh. "Whatever. Shut up, already!"

He raised his palms in surrender. “All right. Shutting up.”

They sat in silence while the flight attendants completed their spiel, although she caught him glancing her way from time to time. As the plane taxied the runway, Naomi repeated the motions in her head of how to utilize her seat cushion as a flotation device.

The plane positioned itself on the runway and accelerated. The wheels rumbled and the world outside whipped by as the aircraft approached lift. Naomi felt herself forced back in her seat. She inhaled sharply. When the wheels left the ground, she grasped Nick’s hand.

The plane reached cruising altitude before Nick said, “If you’re finished with that,” motioning to his hand, “I’m going to need it back.”

She released her grasp. “Sorry. I just—

“I know. Never been on a plane before. It is a pretty cool experience, and there’s only one first time. What did you bring with you to read?”

She perked up. “Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. It’s my favorite. Do you know it?”

“Never heard of it.”

“She’s kind of the Jane Austen of our day.”

“I have to admit; I don’t read a lot. Particularly romance.”

“You might like it. The romance aside, there’s plenty of warring and fisticuffs. Bound to be a classic.”

“My idea of a classic is Linda Hamilton and Schwarzenegger in The Terminator. Do you know it?”

His mocking jab did not escape her, but she found it oddly charming. “It’s not that far a leap from Scottish Highlander to futuristic killing machine.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“A little, but only to calm my nervousnous and . . . nerves.” She made an exasperated face. “Whatever. When it comes to romance, I’m stone cold sober.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I was kidding.”

“You like war? Sex? Violence? An underdog? Time travel?” She patted her book. “It’s all here. Besides, I could argue that the original Terminator is more of a romance story than science-fiction.”

“Now I know you’re drunk.” He motioned for the flight attendant. “Miss? No alcohol for this one. Diet Coke only.”

“I’ll take a Jack and Coke.”

Nick held up two fingers.

She turned toward him. “I’m serious.”

“Prove it.”

“How about a wager?”

“Name it.”

“If I’m right, you pay for my drink,” she said.

Pfft. Done.”

She cleared her throat. “What was the point of the movie?”

He raised his hands in a “duh” gesture. “To kill Sarah Connor so she could never give birth to her son, John, who leads the rebellion against the machines in the future.”

She noted the mic-drop look on his face. “Of all the soldiers, why did John Conner send Reese back?”

“Trick question. Reese volunteered.”


The attendant came by with their drinks and passed them over the guy now sleeping in the aisle seat.

“To meet the mother of the legendary John Conner. She would have been like a religious figure to them. He couldn’t pass up that opportunity,” Nick said.

“Yeah, he says something like that initially, but later he talks about the picture that John gave him. The picture of Sarah.”

She saw realization settle in his face. “He was in love with her before he ever met her,” Nick said.

“Bingo. Anybody else goes back to protect her, he either fails, because he does it out of duty instead of love, or succeeds in protecting her but doesn’t knock her up. This is a love story with a sci-fi sub-plot. No love story—no story. Period.” She tossed back the remainder of her drink. “You owe me eight dollars.”

“How do you know all of this?” He peeled off a ten-dollar bill from a fold of bills in his front pocket. “Here, but I refuse to admit it.”

“Your money is acknowledgment enough.”

“Seriously, how do you know about stuff like Jane Austen and The Terminator. Are you some kind of a savant?”

“Jane Austen and the Terminator. That could be the next mash-up movie hit.” She reached into her purse and pulled out what looked like a credit card.

“What’s that?”

She handed it to him.

“A library card? You go to the library a lot?”

“I am the library, bitch.” She put her hand over her mouth. “Sorry. I mean, I’m a librarian.”

Nick laughed so hard Jack and Coke came out of his nose. He wiped his face with the minuscule napkin that came with his drink. “At least now I know your name, Naomi Adams.”
The plane jumped as it hit a pocket of turbulence. Naomi gasped and grabbed Nick’s hand.

“You keep latching on to me and people will think we’re engaged.”

The turbulence persisted and she held on for another minute.

“Thanks.” She released his hand. “And I don’t care what they think.”

“Why don’t you two get a room, or go to the lavatory and join the mile-high club, already,” said the man in the aisle seat, who she thought had been asleep since takeoff.

Nick leaned over and whispered something in the man’s ear. The haranguer’s eyes widened.

“Sorry. Sorry, man.”

Nick tilted his head.

The man leaned forward and looked at Naomi. “Sorry, miss.”

“What did you say?” she whispered.

Nick shrugged. “Nobody fucks with the librarian.”

She touched his arm. “You can be quite charming, you know that?”

“I have my moments. Tell me about your guy in Seattle. He’s got to be something to win the heart of the world’s most foul-mouthed curator of the written word.”

She cocked her head. “There’s a rumor in some circles that Christopher Marlow had quite the potty mouth.” She gestured with both palms down. “Okay. Don’t laugh. Like I said, we met playing a random match of Words with Friends. After about a dozen games, we started chatting and ultimately, FaceTime.”

“Did you give him money?”

“Cynic, much?”

“Some. Did you?”

She pursed her lips. “How do you know so much?”

“Pardon the expression, but it seems I can read you like a book.”

“He needed it for his certifications and licensing. He’s in IT Security.”

“I’m not even going to ask how much.”

“Good, ‘cause I’m not going to tell you.”

“Let’s change the subject, shall we?” he asked.


Nick’s versatility amazed her. He had something to say on every topic she presented. Once she got past his initial bravado, she decided she liked him. She got the impression he couldn’t find his way around the Dewey Decimal system, but found herself enveloped in his stories about cities he’d visited on every continent, except “that cold one.” He’d never been there.  She surprised herself by the disappointment she felt when the Space Needle punctured the horizon. She hadn’t expected to feel that way. Hadn’t expected it at all.

The seatbelt light went dark, underscored by a succession of clicks. 

“Well, Naomi Adams, we should do this again some time, maybe even—

“Shut up. Don’t ruin this.” She gathered her bag and her book and clambered over Nick and the sleeping giant. She allowed herself one look back before she stepped into the jetway.

Nick found her at the baggage carousel. One battered olive green duffel bag circled the carousel. He shouldered it then walked over to Naomi. She sat on her suitcase, alone.

She held up her phone so Nick could see it. “His number is no longer working or has been disconnected.” Shame welled up inside her and she fought to keep her composure.

Nick sighed. “May I speak?”

She nodded.

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I understand it’s kind of a thing here.”

For the third time that day, she took his hand.

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