A Delicious Dalliance (2012)

Inaugural GFWW Member Round Robin

In the spring of 2012, the members of the Greater Fort Worth Writers participated in a Round Robin writing exercise.

Here’s how it worked:

Jeff Bacot, the ‘creator’ of the idea has written the first 2 pages of our short story (below). Readers comment on and critique the two pages, then the next writer will post 1-2 pages, readers comment and critique, the next writer goes, and so on until we reached a full length short story (roughly 10,000 words).

As readers, your critique and suggestions for each posting are vital to the writers and for making this fun and a success.

So  here we go..

A DELICIOUS DALLIANCE

Part 1 by Jeff Bacot

She stared through the thick glass at the shimmering lights and urban order of the city.  The night glow of downtown had never paid attention to her, but now reflected her silhouette through the window in the glistening hush of midnight. The stranger stood behind her, his black eyes looking out the window above her head, telegraphing his need to touch her. . He stepped forward slowly, gingerly moving closer.  The warmth of his  breath whispered across her skin and she could feel  the masculine heat of expectation. She waited, wanting.

“Sev.”

“The scent of good Scotch and a hint of better cologne teased her senses. He touched her shoulder, slid his finger into her long straight hair and twirled it gently.  The soft hair encircled his finger like an evening gown as he lowered it slowly downward. She trembled and closed her eyes. His finger glided down without entangling its silken glow to the small of her back and then the waistline of her jeans. Moving his index finger inside the waist of her jeans, he tucked it in gently and left it there for a moment longer than necessary.  His  finger continued around her waistline toward the side and stopped at a belt loop below the navel.

“Seven.”

A wisp of air escaped her lips and she felt a tingle from fear, from danger, from longing for this man’s proximity. She slowly opened her eyes. The lights outside the window could not illuminate the firing of nerve endings in her spine or blood flow pulsing down through her body. She reached back and touched his leg. The pressure of his lips on her neck increased as he pulled the belt loop and moved inside the front of her jeans. The embrace became a tight clutch of two bodies…

“Hey SEVEN!”  a knuckle rapped on the plastic cubicle wall. She regained her senses and whipped her head around.

“Huh, uhh, what,” she blurted as she jerked her head around to see her co-worker,Lacey, snapping fingers in her face.

“What the hell are you thinking about?  Must be good, whatever it is.”

“What’s up Lacey?”

“Just thought I would  see if you wanna come hang out at Chaunceys. Workday’s over. Wanna  come  for a few?”

“Oh, I don’t know..”

“You and Brad got plans tonight?”

“No, no plans. Not with Brad anyway.”

“Uh oh.  Problems?”

“The usual. After dating  for three years, it happens you know. ”

“Well, okay. Call me later if you change your mind.”

“Alright, you guys have fun.  See you.”

Saffron Seven Martelle turned around and put her elbows on the desk and dropped her chin into both palms. She went by Seven, the middle name her father gave her because it was his lucky number.  Her first name was her mother’s favorite spice.  The “you’re a spicey little number, aren’t you” one liner got really old.  She did not like either name, but hated being called “Daffy Saffy” enough that she chose the less embarrassing  Seven moniker, then shortened it to Sev or Sevie.

Her thoughts returned to the encounter two years ago with the man in her dizzying day dream and she felt her mouth curve into a smile. It was a networking event at a bar and a missed phone call, and a wrong number.  She looked at the ringing cell phone sitting on the bar and shook her head. He turned, still just a handsome stranger then, and looked down at  the phone,  then up at her.

“You’re boyfriend’s calling,” he said, pointing at the phone.

“It’s not my boyfriend,” she replied, an indirect invitation, meaning he was good looking enough for her not to mention she actually had one.

They talked for 45 minutes, the chemistry of attraction mixing between them; a science experiment with plenty of adrenaline, estrogen and testosterone.

She retreated to the restroom. A  minute later, he followed. She walked out of the restroom surprised to find him leaning against the hallway wall.  She’d nearly bumped into him.

“Hi,” she said

“Hi, yourself.”

The expression on his face stole her breath and she felt heat rise to her cheeks. The touch of his hands on her shoulder sent her pulse skittering and he leaned in closer.. His languid gaze drew her near. . He stood still closer and stared longer. The unwritten rule on personal space/time was “over5/under 6”. She anticipated what was coming.  His stare under six inches away wasover 5 seconds long,. It was a question mark at first, the kiss. Then an acknowledgement.  Then an affirmation.

The encounter and exchange lasted three hours, but the time passed without them noticing it, clinging to it, or measuring it. There were no plans or expectations in her head for the two years of  recurring daydreams and the imagined reunions that followed.  The moments spent with this man were a paradox of paradise in her memory, where nothing was wrong and nothing was lost. Mournful regret was not for the indiscretion or the guilt afterwards. It was not the wasted time or the expended affection.  There was regret in the brevity of the dalliance; it just ended too soon.

She believed the past could no longer inform her of anything relevant.  She was done with it; but it wasn’t done with her. She wanted to justify the encounter, to tear a shred of purpose from it, to make it mean something beyond what it was; a brief encounter with the emotional teeth of a T-Rex. But it was always simple and basic when boiled down to the naked truth; the heat of two bodies, and a mystical carnal longing for a stranger who had not yet been made imperfect by the past.

Seven picked up her things and made her way to the elevator. Maybe I should go have a few drinks. She kept that thought in her head all the way through the lobby of the giant office building, out the glass doors and onto the city sidewalk. She began walking toward Chancey’s after talking herself out of it twice. She stopped at the corner, paused and stood looking in shocked bewilderment. With her hand on her mouth, she gazed down the sidewalk at him, fifty feet away. After two years, there he was.

 

***********************************

 

Here’s the next installment of “A Delicious Dalliance,” this section written by GFW Writer member Jennifer Bennett.

Seven slid closer, eyeing the distant figure as he disappeared then reappeared between the crowds of city dwellers flowing past him on their way to somewhere. Reason suggested that she ought to doubt herself. After all, she’d only spent a few hours with him and two years had passed since that night. And what were the odds that she would randomly stumble across him on the street? It was hardly likely, but as she got closer she began to panic. Everything about him was familiar. The sharpness of his jaw-line, the shine of his jet black hair … even the swag of his posture as he lazily studied the passing traffic. It WAS Alex. She knew his first name, but that had been the extent of their specific personal divulgences. Seven pulled her sunglasses out of her purse and hid behind them before moving in a bit closer.

Alex was loitering beneath the awning of newly opened fine dining restaurant, La Belle Epoque. He held an unlit cigarette in his hand, examining it intensely and even smelling the tobacco filled end occasionally, but never lighting it. Seven sidled along the building face and pretended not to be watching him. He wore loose dark pants in a faint black and grey checked pattern and a stark white jacket. The faint scent of an expensive cologne wafted off him. Seven pretended to be inspecting the menu posted on an outside marquee, but he didn’t seem to notice her presence.

“Alex darling!” A woman strutted out of the restaurant’s entrance. All legs beneath her clinging black suit, she balanced expertly on a pair of stiletto heels. “Good God Alex!” She grabbed his arm. “What are you doing out here? The kitchen’s a war zone and Jean-Phillip’s just called to say his wife’s having her baby and you KNOW Ricky always burns the risotto. What are we going to do about dinner service?” She had a lilting European accent. Seven wasn’t sure if it was French or Italian; she was horrible with accents.

She chewed her lip as she watched Alex take one last whiff of the cigarette, then he slipped it into his pocket. “It’s fine,” he shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yes Chef,” the woman taunted and rolled her eyes.

Seven didn’t recall Alex mentioning that he was a chef. She’d just assumed that he had been part of the same professional networking event that she’d been attending in Chicago. Watching him now suddenly made her feel voyeuristic, like some bizarre lady stalker, and that thought riled her. This was her city, her street and he was the newcomer. The intruder. If anything she should be furious with him for showing up in front of her out of the blue and throwing her off.

“Seven!” a voice rang out. Seven whirled to find Lacey waving at her further down the street. The kinky curls covering her friend’s head bounced as Lacey jogged closer. “Sev! You’re coming after all?”

Seven cringed and glanced back towards the scene she’d just been watching. Alex had turned and was staring at her in confusion. His lips parted as if he might say something, but the La Belle woman tugged at him, pulling him towards the restaurant entrance and away.

“Who was that?” Lacey hissed conspiratorially when she finally stopped alongside Seven. “God he’s beautiful. Do you know him?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Huh? Oh, I had to stop at the bank.” Lacey linked her arm around Seven’s. “I’m so glad I spotted you. Now I won’t have to walk to Chauncey’s alone!”

 

***********************

Here’s the next installment of “A Delicious Dalliance,” this section written by GFW Writer member Chrissy Szarek.

He saw her. He actually saw her.

Her heart galloped and stomach plummeted, but Seven let her friend drag her away from the restaurant.

Lacey’s chatter was almost nonsensical in her ear as they walked. Seven was in a daze, Alex the only thing on her mind.

He was here? A chef at a posh restaurant? How long had he been here? Did he think about her as much as she thought about him? Or at all? It was ridiculous, really.

His cologne was the same as it had been that night. His gorgeous face and muscled physique no different. Even from a distance, she still wanted him.

Alex didn’t fight to come to her, didn’t leave the side of that woman. His eyes wide with shock, he went back into his place with little protest. No shouting for her.

Then mixed with now and she could see him staring at her with those dark eyes. Memories flitted like a movie, taking over her thoughts. No, she didn’t want to go over this again. The moment at work had been enough.

Seven wanted to put him out of her mind, her thoughts… her heart?

Her friend tugged on her arm. She met Lacey’s hazel eyes. Her co-worker’s brow was furrowed.

“Did you hear a word I said?”

Heat rushed her cheeks and it took all she had not to look away. They stopped walking and Lacey’s expression went from irritated to concerned.

“Are things that bad with Brad?”

Huh? Oh, Brad. Her boyfriend. The man who should be occupying her thoughts, not a man whose encounter was too short to even categorize him as an “old flame.”

Brad. So different from Alex. Light, where Alex was dark, shorter where Alex was tall. Blue eyes instead of deep pools of midnight. Boring, predictable, where Alex was not. He was a banker, for God’s sake.

Brad, the man she loved? Why was that a question? Why was she unsure after knowing him for five years, being with him for three, about how she felt about him? Why had it changed? The answer was a whisper in the back of her mind. Alex.

“Sev? Are you with me at all?”

Seven swallowed hard and forced a smile. “Yes. Sorry. Things with Brad could be better.” Maybe hedging would shut Lacey up for now.

Lacey smiled, it was slow and teasing. “Could that have something to do with the man outside of the restaurant?” She quirked an eyebrow.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You were staring at him.”

“I was not.” The denial was even pathetic as it hit Seven’s ears. Her cheeks were even hotter.

“Do you know him?”

“No.” Lacey studied her like she was under a microscope. Seven cleared her throat. “I need that drink now.” Or five.

Her friend gave her a long look and then sighed over dramatically. “You’re not gonna tell me?”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“Yeah right.”

“Let’s go to Chauncey’s, all right?”

“This isn’t over, Sev.” Boy, was it ever. Alex, the conversation, everything. It had to be.

Chauncey’s was saturated with noise and smoke, neither were all that appealing to Seven. They located their co-workers and slid into the oversized booth, exchanging greetings and smiles.

Right before she ordered that much needed drink, her iPhone chirped. She disregarded the text message from Brad. She would talk to him later…or tomorrow.

Becca headed to the bar for refills and offered to get Seven something, thank God. Lacey and Andi were trying to involve her with their men-gazing when her ring tone, not text alert, caught her attention.

She tamped down her irritation at Brad’s obvious impatience. He couldn’t even leave her alone for an hour?

She frowned as she looked down at the screen. The number didn’t register with her. She slid her thumb across the display and placed the device to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Seven?” Her stomach flipped. Alex.

 

**************************

 

Here’s the next section from George Talbot in our Round Robin Short Story, “A Delicious Dalliance.”

“I just saw you walking by — It’s been two years, but not a day goes by I don’t think about you and returning your pen,” he said. “I hope you’re not upset I called.”

“My pen?”

“This is Alex Laurent. We met in Chicago. You loaned me your pen to write down your number. I don’t blame you for not remembering me, but your favorite fountain pen — that’s a different story. How was Paris?”

Between the background noise of Chauncey’s and La Belle Epoque, Seven and Alex struggled to capsule their past two years. She did leave for an extended stay in Paris the week after their interlude. He’d recently returned from a year in Barcelona, where he mastered the creation of Spanish tapas. In the past eighteen months he’d been voted best chef three times by Food and Wine. Another “Alex darling” came through from Ms. Stiletto Heels’ collagen enhanced lips.

“You sound busy,” Seven said.

“I’m in a cuisine-crisis-central. My boss owns four restaurants. His daughter is managing the newest to open, and tonight she has an absentee head chef.”

“Alex — Ricky is screwing up the Foie Gras!”

“I’ve got to go save the kitchen. How about lunch on Sunday?”

“Sure. I’m off to see my parents for the weekend, but I’ll be back in town Sunday morning,”

“Sev,” Lacey whispered. “Who’s on the phone?”

“Would a call on Saturday be convenient to set a time and place? In all honesty — my favorite restaurant on one of my rare days-off is Ernie’s, a greasy dive at the beach with the best chili cheese hot dogs in North America,” Alex said.

“Sounds fine. Call me Saturday.”

“Seven –Who was that?”

“Chill Lacey. I lost my favorite pen, and somebody I know found it. No big deal, I’ll get it back Sunday.”

Seven’s ideal think-things-out getaway was her parents’ cottage in the country. After thirty-five years they were more in love than the day they met. Her father was a captaine in the French army, her mother a lead dancer in Paris’ Moulin Rouge. A year of foreign military duty passed before he was able to see her again.

Saturday morning, there was a knock on Seven’s bedroom door. “Bèbè, do you want to go fishing with your papa?”

“You bet I do.”

The rowboat had a fresh coat of paint as it did every spring. Her father was amused when his daughter checked her phone after each ring with teenager tension, but ignoring the calls, three from Brad and two from Lady Lacey. “Is it me, or does my menue Sev have more fish on the line than she wants?”

Her rod took a hit, but the fish didn’t hook. “That’s a big one mon bèbè — don’t lose it again. Back off the drag. This one needs space — an award winner, si très bon!”

The fish hit a second time and hooked. The phone rang. Alex. Seven struggled to manage the rod, the irritated fish and her phone, but the rod, fish, phone and the chance to enjoy one of Alex’s favorite hot dogs were already on the bottom of Martelle Pond.

“Fichu!” her father said.

“Shit — I’ve lost him again.”

 

**************************

Here’s the next section from Jan McSwane in our Round Robin Short Story, “A Delicious Dalliance.”

Seven pulled into her driveway and gave a big sigh of relief. The parking space next to her was empty. Brad’s not here. Good. She turned the brass knob on her front door, pushed it open, and headed for the phone. Do I smell smoke? she wondered. Was Brad here? He had started letting himself in when she wasn’t at home, and she resented it. She wished she’d never given him a key to her apartment.

“Dad, I just wanted to let you know I made it home safe and I had a really good time. Thanks for taking me fishing.” Seven left the message and replaced the phone on the receiver. Tomorrow she’d get another cell phone. She couldn’t even call Alex back. The only trace of his number drowned on the bottom of the lake. Back in the boat, she’d decided to show up at Ernie’s, and just hope Alex did the same.

Looking around at items Brad had left in her apartment through the years- a magazine, his favorite glass, cigars- Seven whispered, “I hate this place.” Maybe I can get out of here before Brad shows up, she thought as she hurried to the bathroom.

Minutes later while digging though her purse, she rushed out of the bedroom and bumped into Brad. Gasping, she put her hand to her heart. “You scared me.”

“You’re all dressed up. Where are you off to?” Brad adjusted his glasses and peered into her face.

“Lacey and I are going to lunch,” Seven lied.

“I thought we might have lunch together,” Brad suggested as he limped into the kitchen. Laid out on the counter were two lobsters, already steamed.

Tears welled up in Seven’s eyes as she watched him. Brad was sick—really sick. Or so he thought. Brad professed to have every illness known to man—name it, he had it. Except mental illness—he vehemently denied that.

When Seven met Brad, he was dependable and steady. Now it seemed he was dependent on her. He acted like a little old man—at thirty years old. Sometimes Seven wondered if he really was dying; or maybe even descending into madness. Something just didn’t feel right. He would sneak up on her, listen in on her phone conversations, and sometimes she would see him across the street staring at her office window. And he called all the time, leaving text messages when she wouldn’t answer.

“The lobster looks wonderful, Brad. You go relax and I’ll bring it to you,” she conceded.

Brad smiled and hobbled off. Soon Seven heard the TV.

Tears of disappointment slid down her face. She knew she had to end this relationship. If Brad already needed her this much at this young age, what would he be like years from now? The best thing for Brad would be to throw him back into the dating scene and force him to get better.

Wet-eyed and five minutes later, she handed Brad his lunch on his favorite plate. “Do you need anything else?” she asked.

“I’m good. Are you not eating?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

Brad grabbed Seven’s hand as she was turning to go. “Thank you for taking such good care of me.”

“You’re welcome,” she mumbled.

Seven eased back into her bedroom, letting her fingers linger over the lock. The urge to slam the door and bar it raged through her—if only it could be that easy to get Brad out of her life—but she knew if she locked the door, he would only knock asking, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ Leaving the door ajar, she sat cross-legged on her bed and stared out the window awash in the rays of the sun. She ran her fingers through her hair like Alex had once done, and used the ends to wipe away her tears.

Red birds chased each other outside her window. They’re beautiful. Thoughts of Alex filled her head. I wonder if he’ll show up at Ernie’s? I wonder how long he’ll wait for me? An hour? Two hours? Until closing time?

Seven jumped up. “What am I doing? I decided to go to Ernie’s and that’s what I’m going to do!” Brad had his lunch, and now she hoped there was a gorgeous hunk out there eagerly awaiting her arrival. She looked in the mirror. Can I pull it together? Yes, I can. She washed her face and patted her cheek. “Go get your man,” she said to the girl in the mirror. The girl smiled back and she headed for the door.

“Brad, I’m meeting Lacey.” Seven closed the door before he even had a chance to respond.

When she arrived at Ernie’s she looked for Alex but didn’t see him, so she settled into a table with a view of the parking lot and waited. And waited. And waited. She waited until the servers stared at her with disdain. With her head held high, she stood and pranced out, the ruffles of her yellow sundress bouncing off her knees. Alex would’ve loved this dress.

 

***********

And we continue our Round Robin Short Story series, “A Delicious Dalliance,” with a section from Bryan Grubbs.

“Yes I am aware that you’re trying to cut down on paper. Hurray for you. What I’m asking is for nine little digits of an incoming phone call that happened last Friday night.”

Two hours and thirteen minutes, three transfers and over an hour of jazzy porno music had eaten through Seven’s lunch and was now bringing up indigestion to accompany her frustration. She had stopped off on her way to work to pick up a replacement for her phone. Without the sim-card, she had lost all of her phone numbers.

Funny that she could still remember her best friend’s phone number from the third grade, the number to her parent’s cottage and to the local deli down the street whenever she wanted a sandwich delivered for lunch, but all other numbers were lost to her – especially the one she really wanted.

“That information will be on your statement at the end of the month.”

She let out an audible sigh. She’d done her best to control her temper, but now she was fueled by hunger, frustration, and an over-whelming urge to shove her freshly scuffed Claiborne up some call-center ass. “I don’t want the information at the end of the month. I want the information now.”

There was only humming from the receiver when her assistant, Tony, ducked his immaculate coif through the door.

“Sev, darling? I am so sorry to bother you, but your two-o-clock is here and looking a bit hot under the collar.” The corner of his mouth pulled back dramatically into a grimace.

She put her hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “I’ll be right there.” A tall margarita was the only thing that could extinguish the raging nerves and calm the boiling sea in her bloodstream, but Tony’s flamboyant nature was a close second.

The voice came through the receiver again. “Miss? I’m going to have to transfer you.”

Seven bit back a response that she found all-too appropriate and tapped the ‘End Call’ button. “Just blow out the candles,” she told herself, taking deep breaths and letting the air escape slowly across the blackened wick in her mind. The wax was just about to drip on Alex’s exposed body when Tony peeped in again.

“Sev! Get that cutie-patootie in high gear! Never leave a good-looking man waiting!”

“Tell me about it,” she muttered, brushing her hands down the folds of her skirt as she walked out the door behind Tony.

*****

Incisors were doing their damage on her bottom lip while eyes locked on to the green Jetta in the parking garage, doing nothing to assist with her failing battle against the bile uprising. What kind of man drives a Jetta anyway? Is that how she was to see herself? Thrown to practicality with surprisingly ample trunk space?

She shook her head, fingers drumming on the friction-worn plastic of the steering wheel, contemplating her next plan of action.

It wasn’t that Brad hadn’t been sweet and managed to charm her in his own way. It was that Seven had come to a realization. She wanted heat. She wanted fire. She wanted steam. She couldn’t make herself settle for sweaty palms. Evenings in on the couch when there were wild nights of irresponsible drinking and dancing still left in her.

Still, the idea of watching those dog-faithful eyes widening with hurt and self-pity was enough to keep her opinions at bay.

Instead of getting out of the car, she gripped the keys still dangling from the ignition and gave them a firm twist. If Alex only had one day off and was working at one of four restaurants tonight, that meant she had a pretty easy way of tracking him down.

Recalling the name of the restaurant she’d seen him standing in front of only a few nights ago, she scrolled through listings until she found the number, highlighted it, and hit dial.

 

**********************

And we continue our Round Robin Short Story series, “A Delicious Dalliance,” with a section from Kimberly Packard.

“Bonjour.”

The smoky, sexy voice caressed Seven’s ear. It was a voice that belonged to a Victoria’s Secret model, one that woke up with the right amount of makeup smudge under her eye. The type of voice that sounded like it’s been smoking since it was a teenager but without the stained teeth to prove it. It was also the voice belonging to the owner’s leggy daughter.

“Uh, hi,” Sev said, trying not to imagine Alex curled up alongside his boss’s daughter. “Does Chef Alex Laurent work at this restaurant?”

A boredom-laced “Oui” blew through the line.

“Great, I’d like to make a reservation for tonight.”

“How many?”

“Just one.”

The bombshell paused so long that Sev thought she lost the connection. “I have an opening at eight. But why only one, Chef Laurent’s food is for lovers, do you have one, no?”

Actually, I have two, but that would make for an awkward dinner-time conversation. “Eight is great,” Sev confirmed, ignoring the woman’s suggestion to bring a lover, preferring to meet one there instead. When asked for a name, Saffron came out of her mouth before she could stop herself. She should have given her name as Seven. He would looked at the reservation list and known she was coming. But, she knew why she didn’t. If he knew she was coming, he would have too much time to prepare for the argument she deserved.

*****

Thankfully, Brad was nowhere to be found when she rushed by her apartment after work to prepare for dinner. She showered, shaved and primped in record speed, only slowing down long enough to put serious thought into which little black dress Alex would find most appealing. It was the impulse buy from Paris that won out against the others. The one that she bought in her still post-orgasmic bliss from her night with Alex that even though, at the time, she knew he’d never see her in it, she bought it in hopes that he would. The short dress sashayed mid-thigh and the impossibly tall red heels only accented her tanned, tone calves. Eat your heart out, Chef.

The restaurant was bustling when she arrived. The owner’s daughter barely gave Sev a glance when she checked in and lazily led her to a small, claustrophobic table seated too close to the bathroom. This must be why she got a reservation so easily, no one wanted to sit at the table where the sound of toilets flushing drowned the piped-in Spanish guitar.

Deep breath, SevYou’re just having a nice dinner by yourself, waiting for the man of your dreams to appear from the kitchen. To ease her nerves, she picked a nice bottle of tempranillo from the menu and let the earthy sweet juice flood her mouth and warm her throat, imagining her whole body relaxing as nectar of the gods radiated from her stomach. With each bite she took that evening, she imagined it to be a nibble on his ear, or a lick on his neck. By the final bite, she wasn’t sure if she was ready to explode from satiation or lust.

“I’d love to meet the chef and compliment him on dinner,” she told her server after he poured her third glass of wine. The young man curtly nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. Sev’s eyes fixated on the swinging wooden door as her hands instantly smoothed her hair and her tongue licked away any traces of his food from her lips.

Just as the door to the kitchen swung open, a torso blocked her view. Her angry eyes flicked up, her drunken lips pursed to tell the stranger to get the hell out of her way when her jaw went slack at the sight of Brad standing before her with a single peony in his hand.

“Brad?”

“Sev,” he smiled at her as sweat dotted his pale brow. He knelt down so quickly she reached to catch him, thinking he was passing out, but recoiled at his outstretched hand. “Will you marry me?”

 

****************

We continue our Round Robin Short Story series, “A Delicious Dalliance,” with another section from Chrissy Szarek.

“No.” Whether whispered or shouted, it didn’t matter. Brad was crushed. From his expression, crestfallen didn’t even begin to cover it. Seven gulped. Shattered might be a good, guilty start. “I mean, no. Brad…I’m sorry. I…can’t, I just can’t.”

She scrambled to her feet, taking a step back and wanting to run.

The sweet tempranillo sloshed in her stomach and guilt threatened to overcome her. She was breaking his heart. But, it was hers or his. This time, hers had to win out. There was no other way to her happiness. God, she’d never wanted to end things this way.

Brad gasped. “What?” He waivered from his position on one knee. His shoulders, then his body, wobbled. Maybe he was going to pass out after all. But then again, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

The double doors of the kitchen whooshed again as they passed each other. People came and went, but the most important one was already—

Seven looked up, her heart thundering in her ears. Her head swam.

How long had Alex been standing there? Had he heard Brad’s proposal?

His formal chef’s hat made him even more handsome. His white jacket pristine despite the dinner rush. The naughty contemplations she’d kept herself busy with during her wait surged forward and her cheeks heated. Perhaps the third glass of wine had been a bit much.

She looked from Alex to Brad and then back again. Dark from light, one she wanted, one she wanted to be rid of.

“Seven?”

“Seven?” They both said her name at the same time. Even their voices marked them as different, one weak, one strong.

What the hell is going on? was written on both their faces before Brad’s brow furrowed and he gripped the edge table with white knuckles. Seven stood frozen as Brad struggled to his feet.

Alex took a step closer, his eyes locked onto her. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he gave her a once over. The dress had done the trick. Too bad it came with drama.

Her would-be fiancé looked at her chef and made a fist—which may have been amusing at another time. “Seven? What’s going on here?”

“I’d say that’s a fair question,” Alex said, arms crossed over his broad chest.

Seven swallowed hard, the pleasant buzz from the wine evaporating. She cleared her throat and licked her lips. Nothing helped.

“Why does this…guy…know your name?” His tone held disdain as Brad glanced at Alex.

Alex’s gaze never left her and Seven’s heart picked up speed. The chef took a step closer, moving between her and Brad.

He reached for her hand. “Seven, you look like you need to sit down—”

“Get your hands off my fiancé,” Brad barked. Seven bit back a gasp. Brad forceful?

She glanced at the banker she’d shared the last three years of her life with. She didn’t love him. Brad, supportive but at the same time, dependant on her. The steady, dependable man that he was, even with health problems. They’d been though a lot together and maybe there was a flame of passion at one time, but it was long since banked.

“Fiancée?” Alex pulled his hand back and took a step away, his eyes wide.

Looking from blue eyes to brown, she nodded to herself and stood her ground, taking a deep, cleansing breath.

“Brad, I’m sorry but it’s over.” His face reddened. “I can’t marry you. I can’t be with you anymore. It’s not fair to you or me. I’m not happy, and honestly, I don’t think you are, either.”

Fists clenched at his sides, the fair haired man that had truly never made her heart race looked torn between crying and punching something—or someone.

“Because of this guy?” His tone was wrought with pain as his thumb jabbed in Alex’s direction.

“No.” Seven shook her head. That was true.

Yes, she wanted Alex. Yes, he made her heart gallop with only a look and had given her the best sex of her life in just one short night, but it was more than that. She’d been going through the motions with Brad for far too long. Alex aside, Seven needed to end things with Brad. For herself.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Brad’s tone was stronger and Seven was proud of him for that.

“I’m sorry I hurt you.”

Brad’s blue eyes slipped closed, but he squared his shoulders and stood taller. He met her eyes. “I’ll get my things from your apartment and leave my key in your mail slot.”

“Thank you.” Seven bit her bottom lip. What else could she say?

Without a word, Alex stood beside her as she watched Brad turn and go, the velvet box in his hand. His limp was barely noticeable and Seven was proud of him for that, too. Hopefully, he wouldn’t hate her forever.

Alex grabbed her hand and electricity shot up her arm. Her gaze locked with his and one corner of his mouth lifted. She tried not to stare at his full lips.

“Now what?” he asked.

 

************

The finale of our Round Robin Short Story series, “A Delicious Dalliance,” from Jeff Bacot.

Unlike that first kiss two years ago, which was a question; this was a kiss, stated in the form of a question. Her hopes had echoed in her ears, like it was shouted from a mountaintop, now reverberated into a deep valley becoming reality. As she contemplated the distance between them, more than six inches, it was still a little too far. The awkward pause between them lasted several minutes as they stared, unblinking in the dim restaurant lighting. Seven sat motionless, exiled to the dense silence and bating uncertainty of how to answer the question.

“I…” she muttered. “I don’t…” she put her hands in her hair as she finally looked away for a brief respite from the raw power of his penetrating dark and delicious gaze.

“Know?” He softly finished for her to ease the awkward anguish of her reticence.

She nodded gently and looked at him again. He moved slowly toward her and her heart sprinted, stomach tumbling in descent. He stopped, distracted by the clattering noise of the kitchen behind him and people swirling around them.

“Can you wait outside for me a few minutes? Maybe five, I am almost done here,” he said, pointing at the kitchen, whispering in that deep throaty way that made her quiver.

“Yes, of course.”

Seven stood and walked toward the exit. She halted abruptly with her hand on the heavy brass knob of the thick aged walnut door and turned to look back. He watched at the door of the kitchen and held up five fingers. She nodded, turned and walked outside into the shimmering lights and urban glow of downtown.

The phone rang in her purse. “Hello,” she answered, knowing it was her friend Lacey. “Yes, I’m downtown,” she replied. “No sweetheart. I would love to, but I have other plans tonight.”

She stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and stared out at the beautiful city. Though she had long desired, for at least the last two years, to find Alex and re-indulge a desired fantasy from days gone by. But Brad, fear, work, friends, and time had stopped her from making that choice. It was the distant voice of an unmade choice that whispered in her ear now, a shred of meaning from that encounter. The concept of time; so rich and beautiful, but frustrating all at once, about time, spending time, having time, making time…and timing. How she desperately longed to have back that time with Alex, and the last two years wasted with Brad. There is always time tomorrow, she smiled, it’s the good thing about tomorrow; it never knows.