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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