March Madness Flash Fiction: NOT-ON-THE-FIRST-DATE CATE by Shawn Anderson
TODAY’S BREW: Whatever will fit in this bathtub
Shawn Anderson is one of the people that I don’t even talk to every day, but he affects me every day. Just his simple tweets and his smiling face make me happy no matter what else is happening. I’m lucky he’s my friend. I’m lucky he considers me one. And you’re lucky to read this story because it is one of the most unique ones I’ve come across in these flash fiction series that we do.
by Shawn Thomas Anderson
My khakis. Pressed to impress.
New chambray shirt—sleeves rolled to the elbow. Handsome, yet casual.
Lucky Valentine’s Day socks—the ones with the big red hearts on the ankles. No action in February, but still relevant in March.
I stuck my nose inside the collar of my shirt to make sure my cologne wasn’t too overpowering. Patting my pants pocket, the rattling of the breath mints in their plastic container reassured me that they were there. All systems go.
Singing every word of her Match.com bio in my head to the tune of a Taylor Swift song, I googled her one last time on my phone. No telltale mug shots, hostile Twitter rants, or any other red flags to indicate that she was a bunny-boiling psycho. This had to be the one.
The bistro where she chose to meet me was the exact one I was going to suggest. The place was abuzz with conversation and clattering dishes. A man stumbled onto the stage with his acoustic guitar and set up to perform. Live-music ‘80s night. Romantic.
I ordered a latte to hold the table, and as I waited, I glanced at my watch. Of course, she was going to be late. I just knew it—she was one of those people. But right as the hands hit seven o’clock, the girl with crimson hair was standing over me. Perfect timing. The perfect girl.
“Hello. Ian?” Her plump lips breathed my name as the performer hit the first chord from his rendition of Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Like a choir of angles, strumming harps.
“Old-school Joy Division. Cool,” she said.
“Abigail?” I stood up to shake her hand, but missed her fingers and shook her arm. Creepy, awkward… Don’t blow this, you dummy. “So nice to meet you.”
“Thanks for meeting me here. This is one of my favorite spots.” She didn’t seem to mind the shaking. “It reminds me of Middle-earth.”
I looked around at the dark woodwork, painted trees, and the group of hobbit-like hipsters drinking coffee and bobbing to the music. “Middle-earth?”
“Why, yes. Are you a Tolkien fan?” She slid into the seat next to me, disregarding the place setting arranged across the table.
“Since I was young,” I said and sat back down.
Her handbag thumped on the floor as if it were weighted by an anchor. It reminded me and I kicked the duffle bag, resting between my feet to make sure it was still there.
“I don’t usually do this on the first date, but I feel like we already know each other so well.” She bit her lip and smiled, revealing a bright smear of lipstick across her pearly whites. “I want you to meet Paul.”
Who the hell was Paul? Her husband? Her lover? “Paul?” I gave a hard swallow, choking on my chances and the thought of competing with another guy.
“He’s just someone I met in a cemetery a long, long time ago,” Abigail said, taking a sip from my coffee cup. “He’s the one I measure all my dates up to. Your resemblance to him is uncanny.”
Ah, maybe he was a father figure… I was good with fathers. “Sure, I guess. Is he meeting us here?”
“Oh, he’s already here.” A glint of mischief flashed in her eyes.
My eyes darted around the room. Had he been watching me this whole time?
“He’s right here.” She flopped her handbag onto the table, rocking the water glasses and my coffee mug to the point of almost spilling.
Oh God, was he in the bag? I took a loud gulp as the song ended, and felt like the whole place was staring at me. “What’s in the bag?” I chuckled a little, trying to stay calm, but my voice cracked.
“We met night after night in the moonlight until I just couldn’t resist anymore, and I had to take him home with me.” She fumbled with the zipper as she told her story. “Finally, one night I crept up behind him and BLAM-O!
“I took his head clean off his shoulders with a baseball bat.”
There was a head in that bag—a severed human head! Check please. My mouth went dry, but I wasn’t sure if she was going to whack me if I made any movement to leave or toward my water glass.
She undid the zipper the rest of the way and pulled out a stone head, placing it on the table between her palms so it was staring at me. “Meet my Paul. Isn’t he perfect?”
The next song started, a folksy version of Depeche Mode’s Strange Love, but I was sure all eyes in the place were still on me.
“So, does he approve?” Not knowing what to do, I reached forward and patted the statue head. “Nice to meet you, Paul.”
“Of course,” she said and rested her hand on mine. “You have his cheek bones and his nose. I usually don’t run around vandalizing cemeteries, but the statue was so beautiful, just like you.”
My cheeks felt warm. “Funny you should bring Paul, because I also have someone that I never introduce to first dates.” I reached under the table and tugged my duffle up into my lap. “This is my Cate.” I pulled the marble bust of Catherine the Great from the bag and placed it next to Paul.
Abigail squealed with excitement and her knee hit the table. Both Cate and Paul toppled over, their faces rolling together, lips touching.
My hand snaked across the table and found hers.
She laced her fingers with mine as the performer started strumming and singing the next song, I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You. “Modern English… I love this song.” Abigail swayed to the beat and looked deep into my eyes.
“So do I.” Check please.
Shawn Thomas Anderson is a copywriter, branding specialist, and writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy and science fiction—plus a little horror from time to time. He lives in a far-flung corner of New England, splitting his time between Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s a magical place where moose, bear, and deer wander through your backyard and everyone rocks flannel. He currently coauthors the Splinter steampunk-adventure web serial with Summer Wier.
Follow Shawn and his writing adventures on Twitter @ShawnTWrites or visit his website and blog at www.shawnthomasanderson.com, coming soon.