Fiction Friday – 28 March 2008

This Week’s Theme: Describe a time your character was wronged; even though it was insignificant to the one who wronged them, your character never got over it.

“God we’ve changed”

“I can’t believe my hair used to look like that!”

“Mate, I can’t believe you used to have hair!”

Jen stood back from the crowd thronging around the noticeboard of graduation pictures. Ten years on, and although everyone looked different, some people still acted the same.

She swallowed hard and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She strode towards the noticeboard, jostling through the crowd to reach the name tag hanging beneath her photo. As she pinned it to her dress, she smiled sweetly at two of the loudest members of the crowd. “Maria. Dave. Nice to see you again.” Then she walked away triumphantly, as female eyes narrowed spitefully, whilst male eyes widened. She had to bite her lip to suppress the grin. She would never have recognised Maria without the name badge. The past decade must have been tough on her…

Of course, it hadn’t been particularly easy on Jen either. She glanced down at her badge, with the small reproduction of her photo on it. The awkward 18 year old stared back. Jen had never been anything of note at school, always falling between two stools. She was never so fat or ugly that she was ostracised or mocked, but then never so thin or pretty that she was considered popular. She had been plain. Average. She had never stood out.

University had been good for her–getting away from people she knew, the life she had been used to. It pushed her out of her comfort zone and had made her take control of herself. She had also discovered life, fun, a confidence in herself to experiment with fashion, make-up (proper make-up, not cheap junk) and to do what she wanted, not what people expected. Success and failure, highs and lows had made her into the woman she was now. A late blooming rose, but definitely championship material.

She sauntered over to the free bar, her dress swishing the ground as her hips swayed gently. Sipping from a glass of champagne, she surveyed the room, and caught the glances. She was making an impact. Good. Now, where was he…

“Jenny?” She started at the sound of his voice. Dammit. She felt her stomach doing flip-flops. OK, time for Plan B. He had found her, but she could still do this.

With a smile she turned to look at Mike. He hadn’t changed much. A few lines around the eyes, but they still sparkled mischeviously. Dark hair cropped much shorter now, and a few lines of grey, giving him a far more serious image. Like Jen, but unlike the others, he appeared to have taken good care of himself. She had missed him, but she still hadn’t forgiven him.

“Michael, wow, how long has it been?”

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe ten years, like everyone else?” She saw his eyes dart briefly down from her eye level, before returning. Reel him in, nice and slow Jen…

She raised her glass. “Here’s to ten years then.” He picked a glass from the bar and clinked it against hers. “I can’t believe it’s been ten years, time just flew by.” She reached out to touch his arm briefly as she spoke, smiling and batting her eyelashes. His face flushed slightly, and she knew she was in control. They fell into an easy conversation, as if no time had passed since the days when they used to walk home from school together. If your school days are meant to be the happiest days of your life, that was when Jen was happiest.

Throughout the conversation she kept close, maintained eye contact, gently brushed her hand against his. Not too much, but just enough.

“You, uh… you look really… wow.” Mike began to mumble, then cleared his throat. “Would you maybe, I mean if you’re not busy, or, unless there’s someone… maybe go for dinner sometime?”

She gazed into his eyes, smile fixed. “Do you want to know a secret?? When we were in high school, I was so in love with you. More than just best friends. I would have given anything to have been your girlfriend.”

She stopped smiling, and put her drink down. “Do you remember the prom? The last dance? Do you remember when I asked you to dance, and you refused? That’s all I wanted, one dance. The chance to be closer to you than I’d ever been. To pretend, for just one moment, that someone like you…” She stopped, realising that her voice was rising. She would not lose control now. “You hurt me so much that night. I wasn’t worth looking at back then, and all of a sudden I am now? Yeah, I know I look good now. But I’m still who I was then. And that wasn’t good enough for you. I didn’t think you were that shallow Mike, but I guess you are. So no, I don’t want to have dinner with you. Goodbye.”

She half-walked, half-ran from him. No tears, no hysterics. She had promised. She had said her piece, now time to move on. So why were her hands shaking, and why did it hurt so bad?

She paused outside, breathing in deeply, breathing out slowly. “Jen!” Mike’s voice cut through the silence.

“Go away Mike, I’ve said everything that needs to be said.”

“You always did need to have the last word. But maybe you should listen to what I have to say.”

She looked up at him, expecting to see anger, pity, a mocking smile. Instead she saw the same look that had been on his face that night ten years ago. Pale, lip trembling slightly. “Ten years ago, I was a stupid teenager. A stupid teenager who only wanted to dance with the girl he was in love with. And when she asked, he got so scared that he would do something wrong, he pushed her away. And he knew straight away that he’d made the biggest mistake of his life.”

“Don’t lie to me Mike.”

“I’m not lying.” He reached into his pocket. “You didn’t speak to me after the prom, so you probably didn’t wonder why I didn’t ask you to sign my yearbook.” In his hand was a wallet, which he opened, and pulled out a scrap of paper. “It was because there wasn’t a space for you to sign it. Your picture wasn’t in there.” He unfolded the paper and handed it to Jen. It was worn with age, but it was her. The school photo from their final year. And underneath, the letters “M&J 4 EVER”.

“I thought you only saw me as a friend. But you were always more to me Jen. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

She had promised herself no tears, but when she looked from the picture to him, it was a promise she could no longer keep. He held his hand out to her. “If the offer’s still open, I would love to dance with you Jen.”

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5 thoughts on “Fiction Friday – 28 March 2008”

  1. Oh Paul!! its so nice to see the softer side of you.. so caringly written – it coul dhave gone in so many directions , I was holding my breath till the end…( and not a spot of blood shed…)

  2. An interesting turn of fiction for you Paul … complete with a double twist at the end. It was a surprise to see a gentler side to your writing this week. You pull off the female perspective with ease and style.

    I have to admit to having had a huge crush on the guy I walked to and from the bus with in my final year of high school – so this hit a cord with me and brought back some long forgotten angsty memories.

    One small criticism is the Americanisms … prom, year books etc. I’d love to see your own cultural heritage woven in there.

  3. Jodi, I think that’s an indictment of the increasing Americanisation of my own culture. For a few years before I left high school, our school had produced a year book, and by the time it came around to organising the leavers’ dance, it was being called a “prom” by all and sundry! Mind you, I never had a “graduation” until university, so mentioning that is a little bit American, and probably stems from the existing Americanisms. I’ll need to ask my little brother whether or not by the time he left school they were “leaving” or “graduating”.

    Thanks Jodi, and Annie too, I was worried this one would turn out sappy. I don’t often stray from twisted and cynical, so this makes a nice change!

  4. http://www.urbandictionary.com/ is the link for the dictionary I was talking about.

    We had a year book of some description but it wasn’t called that – I never got one so can’t remember what we did call it. The public highschool that I went to produced a school magazine each year which had class photos etc from all year (I still have my collection of those).

    We had ‘socials’ which were the big ‘dance’ thing, but missed both opportunities to attend by changing schools midway through my high schooling. I only finally got to go to one when I was on teaching staff – and lets just say it wasn’t the same.

    I think we just ‘finished’ … I dont ever remember saying graduation – that’s what you did at university. Perhaps I’m just (cringe) showing my age … and also rebelling as best I can against America becoming cultural imperialists … because I dont find there is much appealing or cultural about America … but that’s just my opinion of course.

    You can see the same things happening here in Australia – the Americanisation of our culture, I think mainly because we’re not producing our own Australian TV and film which is the most pervasive of cultural transmission – commerical TV takes from the US and the UK, and the ABC takes mainly from the UK. Perhaps with our new change of government and new tax relief for investment in film and TV we might see some change?

  5. Paul,
    nice piece. I was at the edge of my seat until the romantic ending. I somehow kept thinking she was going to pull a nice little revolver from some sexy thigh holder under her slinky dress. A romantic ending was not what I expected and I enjoyed it.

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