Author Topic: You're Never Alone (Short Story--First Half) Romance/Literary 1,986 Words  (Read 40 times)

Offline Akemp

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Jasmine Brown       

The ketchup wasn’t coming off his shirt. Blake dabbed more water on the napkin and rubbed. Poor bastard looked like a puppy that pissed on the kitchen floor. 

Blake said, “I knew French fries were a bad idea. I usually abstain from nachos or fries on a first date. This always happens.” Blake’s gaunt appearance kinda resembled a scrawny Eddie Murphy.   

At the table next to ours, Bill Clinton’s lying face was on the front of a discarded newspaper. His impeachment trial was a hot topic every day in marketing class. My ex had argued Slick Willie shouldn’t lose his job for being a man. I wondered if Blake’s morals were just as lousy.

His eyes had followed mine over to the newspaper. He smiled, “My best quality is loyalty.”

Open, invested, and curious. Blake could capture all those emotions into a single stare. That’s how he was looking at me then. And sometimes, when he unleashed his big toothy smile, he’d be so sweet and fragile. Honestly, all these years later, it’s tough to explain.

The conversation that got me, unfolded like this:   

“Jasmine, why photography?”

“Art class, seventh grade. Our focus was painting,” I said.

“You paint?” 

“Nope. I didn’t have the patience. But a gorgeous landscape on a large canvas still speaks to me, so I found a different medium to capture it.” 

He nodded. “You adapted. That’s cool.”

“And what about you?” I guessed he found his way to a camera by accident. “Why do you take pictures?”

“Ask me why I breathe.” 

He leaned in and held my hand, the one with a burn mark on the wrist. The light caught his brown eyes at an angle to make them hazel.
 
***

In the photography program, our favorite professor was Karla Morano. She had traveled across the world as a freelancer. Her critiques and sarcasm in the lecture hall could decapitate someone’s boastful confidence. Any feedback always made our work better. Blake and I adored her. 

On this day, Karla took a break from the actual techniques of shooting, instead focusing on the profession of photography. 

With her short dark hair and petite frame, she announced, “Most of you don’t have what it takes to make a living at this. Brace yourself.”

Blake had worn his pencil down to a stub. I slid another one to him.

Karla said, “And for those of you who are stubborn, you’ll be at a department store taking pictures of stressed parents and their terrible children. There’s no shame in a plan B.”

Someone from the back of the class spoke up, “I thought we paid this school, and you, to make us better than that.”     

“Why don’t I know your name?” Karla asked the student. “Because you’re neither exceptional nor awful, which makes you forgettable. Other disciplines will hold your hand. In art, we only search for the truth, and transmit it. A lone experience becomes shared.”

My dark hand and Blake’s merged together.

Karla said, “Once we enter the 21st Century, everyone is going to shoot digitally. The internet will revolutionize everything. So, you’ll have to conform.”

Blake announced, “Film is superior. I’m not into trends.” 

            On this day, the last class of the semester, Blake had contradicted her. She strolled up the stairs to our section. Her glance went to our clasped hands. 

            “That’s an admirable view, Blake,” she said, “but you think the industry will bend to your will?”

            “He’ll go his own way,” I said.

            “Okay Jasmine,” Karla seemed amused. “Are you good enough to buck the so-called trends?”

            Blake made sure every person in the room heard his words, “She is.”   

***

Our seats jerked as the car reached the apex. Everyone on the Michigan Adventure roller coaster put their arms in the air. Blake laughed. Then we plummeted. We jerked to the left. Zoomed into a tunnel. Snapped around a corner. And another dip. When we stopped, he kissed my cheek. Blake wasn’t like the others. With the physical stuff, he was a gentleman. From the beginning, he treated me special. 

That evening we drove past his place and went to the river. The little I knew about Blake’s living situation was that he lived in a one bedroom with his dad and a couple cousins. What the sleeping arrangement was I didn’t know. His mother left years ago. Maybe he was embarrassed. Anyway, we usually hung out at public places, or like that night, in his car. 

Blake said, “In a few months I’ll have my own place. I’d like a landscape of yours.”

“I don’t know,” I teased, “it’ll cost a lot.”

“I believe you, Jazzy. In twenty years, it’ll be a fortune.” 

We held hands. A light rain tapped the windshield, a soft melody from TLC strummed through the air. 

Blake said, “You believe me about your work, don’t you?”

I nodded.

“Let’s make a deal, by the time we’re 35, we’ll be acclaimed, financially stable, and together. Deal?”

Never had I heard earnestness until right then. Blake saw our futures intertwined. 

“Deal,” I said. I initiated the kiss and what followed afterwards. With Blake I was safe.   

Blake Fields

I had just come out of my makeshift dark room. The pictures were still drying, the super-saturated colors of the unemployment collection nearly done. Jasmine’s gift to me was on the wall. Her latest was a black and white negative of a car stuck in a flooded street. Just like her other pieces, she leaned towards the jarring, the morose. 

In the bedroom, under the covers, she intently read about national security. Terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center last month.

Jasmine could live in her own world. Sometimes I asked questions. Her answers created another hallway in the maze. She didn’t believe in long-term relationships, but we lived together. She only admired buoyant, garish photographs, but her own work was the opposite. Jasmine said her mother was a fine parent, but she refused to enter her house. Talking about our childhoods ceased. “Bad things happen to everyone. Keep it moving,” she finally said.

I took off my pants and got in bed. 

“Like Karla says, you’ll have an easier time with digital,” Jasmine said.

“If Annie Leibovitz is film, so am I.”

Jasmine put the magazine on the night stand and turned the light off. Her head rested on my chest. “It’s cute your hero is a girl.”

“Everyone needs an idol.”

“Blake, after graduation, where will we travel?” 

“Maybe Thailand. There’s plenty of diverse areas to shoot.”

“I need the Outback of Australia. It’s a dream of mine. Years from now, let’s make both happen.”

The best moments were her creating plans for our future. She wanted to stick around. “If that’s what you want, Jazzy, I’ll make it happen.” 

On my left arm, she used her index finger to write letters. It wasn’t until her second go-around I realized the word was “LOVE.”

***

At the courthouse were Jasmine’s girlfriends and mom. Her latest stepdad was absent. There was a clash about his attendance. Jasmine was vague on the argument, something from years ago. 

On my side was a classmate, my old man, and Karla. The wedding was quick. The official had another couple scheduled after us. Everyone asked why marry so young. We said the same thing to all of them. “Why not embrace the thing that makes us better?” 

Outside, it was Karla who took the pictures. Jasmine and I kissed in a gazebo as the shutter from a nearby camera frantically clicked. Our embrace tightened as the blessing of time disappeared. 

***

The night we invaded Iraq, Jasmine talked about money. This was a year after we graduated and married. She was a product photographer for Kellogg’s cereal, and hated it. I freelanced and did odd jobs. 

Jasmine said, “Baby, we got money saved. Let’s go somewhere and really work on our portfolios.” 

“This isn’t the best time to travel abroad.”

“Even so, I know how bad you need this. And you know where I’ve always wanted to go.”

“I do, Thailand. But you said the other day there might be layoffs at Kellogg’s. I’ll build up my clientele first,” I said, rubbing her shoulder on our couch.

She went silent for a minute before speaking. “Blake, I’m just worried if we don’t go now, there’ll always be something popping up.”

“We’ll do Thailand later this year, or next year. I promise.”

Her body stiffened. “Stop saying Thailand. That’s your dream. Where do I want to go?”

I paused. “Baby, we both want Asia. That’s what we said.”

Jasmine pounced. “You’re like my mother! I speak and you don’t hear me.” Before she left the room, she said, “Maybe you don’t believe me when I tell you something important.”

I stood as explosions ripped from the television. “Jazzy, I believe you. But who the hell can remember everything?”   

“You don’t listen, Blake.” 

My wife went into the bedroom, gently closing the door.   

Jasmine Fields

The light for an empty gas tank came on. Our Ford Taurus had another 17 miles left in it before she’d stop. I was a couple miles away from the hardware store and another six back home. From our apartment, the nearest gas station was a mile away. Thankfully, tomorrow was payday.

My newest portrait in the backseat was a burden. I figured it wouldn’t sell, but the gallery refused to even put it on display. Since Lehmann Brothers went down, every gallery in West Michigan began tightening their belts. Blake knew more about the sad economics of it than me, but the short version was that my tiny pool of buyers had vanished. 

I parked by the curb and turned the engine off. No point in wasting gas waiting for Blake. He accepted an associate position at the hardware store three months ago. He predicted the job was temporary; his freelance offers would pick up; my work would sell again.

In the rearview mirror I saw my braids needed to be redone. Spending hours at the salon was too damn depressing. And what if Karla was there? I was trying to avoid any probing questions on my direction in life. 

I patted the stray hairs on my head. Blake, with his turquoise company shirt, same ugly color as our car, hustled out of the store. Even from a distance, his eyes caught my unsold piece in the backseat. He jumped in and I initiated a lingering kiss in our freezing car. 

“Jasmine, did they even take a proper look at it?”

With the car started, I drove down the road. My response was a disinterested shrug of the shoulders. Blake squeezed my knee. I had a temp job in a dental office, but Blake refused to let me do full-time even though Dr. Brooks, my boss, had offered more hours. Blake insisted I have time to complete my portfolio. He professed that my talent was too good to treat as a mere hobby. I tried believing him. 

It was at the next stop sign, Blake noticed our gas gauge. Even when he sighed, he was silent. 

“I’ll do a few extra shifts,” he said. 

“Dr. Brooks needs me more--”

“Please don’t,” he interrupted. 

Years ago, when I could nearly touch my future, I knew I’d be jetting off to one exotic location after another, maybe working for National Geographic. My mother and her treacherous husband would know I made it. She’d admit to being wrong. But that was years ago, back when I’d go off on any fool that interrupted me. I parked the car in our assigned spot. 

Blake carried my picture under his arm. His scrawny body carrying the large photograph looked whimsical. Walking towards our apartment, me a step behind, I was amazed once again, that I ended up with Blake. 

“Say something?” he asked.

“It was the wind.” 

Online PIJ1951

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Re: You're Never Alone (Short Story--First Half) Romance/Literary 1,986 Words
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2020, 05:45:52 AM »
I read this right to the end, which is a good start. There are some interesting touches, and you managed to add detail which made the story more authentic.

However, a few points if I may -

The opening is weak - the first two short paragraphs can probably be discarded since spilt ketchup is hardly a hook. Personally I'd start with Bill Clinton at the next table - then we discover it's just his face on a newspaper. You get the idea.

Secondly, if this is a first date I wouldn't expect Jasmine to be quite so insightful. You seem to have jumped ahead to how she sees him 'all these years later' so I'm a little lost.

Karla is a bit player so we don't really need a description of her physical attributes since they are irrelevant. Besides, 'With her short dark hair and petite frame, she announced. . .' reads weird. I'm guessing the announcement was made with her voice. Having 'Blake announced, “Film is superior. I’m not into trends.”' shortly after is repetitive. Airport and Railways station controllers announce. It's much simpler to use 'he said' or 'she said'

I can see why you have chosen to write from different viewpoints - but to do this effectively we need to see the narrative proceed in a clear direction. I found the switch from restaurant to lecture hall to theme park to back of the car to bedroom to courthouse (Why?) to couch to Ford Taurus a little unsettling. You're trying to cram way too much into this short story, as if the reader needs to know everything. When you figure out what you can leave out, I think you'll have a much better piece.

Offline Idioume

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Re: You're Never Alone (Short Story--First Half) Romance/Literary 1,986 Words
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2020, 08:22:29 AM »
At the start of a story as a reader I quickly decide if I want to keep reading. To make me keep reading, I want to know what the story is about, who it is about, where it is happening, and the intrigue, in the first paragraph for a short story. You do a good job of establishing how characters speak, of making them do things, and showing their innerworlds, but there is little description of them. I need to see your characters too, a good description can hook me in and keep me intrigued, keep me reading too. Once you add those elements your story will be a lot smoother I believe.