Friday, November 21, 2014

Free Fiction Friday: Say It With Strawberries

I had a little fun with this story.  It's more like an exercise in writing than it is a complete package short story.  Instead of being strictly romance with happily ever after, the main character doesn't get the guy, but he bounces back better than before.

Title: Say It With Strawberries
Genre: male/male romance
Length: ~1000 words


Strawberries meant romance, so Jeremy bought strawberries.  

He bought them once a week and that was the only thing he purchased during that trip.  It was supposed to make a statement.  Nigel worked as a check-out cashier three times during the week and Jeremy made sure he shopped every time Nigel was there. The other two times Jeremy found different things that suggested love.  

Jeremy wasn’t old enough yet to legally purchase champagne, being eight months shy of twenty-one, but the grocery store stocked just about anything else that brought romance to mind. In the past two months, Jeremy found bags of enormous crisp apples, deeply blushing pomegranates,  red globe grapes, expensive chocolate with chilies and cinnamon, tins of smoked oysters, and even a small jar of caviar. He’d indulged in crusty French bread and cupcakes with pink icing, cheeses with names he couldn’t pronounce, and once, very boldly, he’d even bought a can of whipped cream at the same time as the strawberries.  

Sometimes it took a while to work up his courage, and to wait for the perfect moment when there was no line at the register, to bring the selected item over, but each time he did, his palms sweated and his breath grew short. Blood rushed through his ears so loudly that sometimes he could barely hear Nigel’s words. He hated it because it meant he missed hearing the slightest trace of an accent contained within Nigel's voice. Nigel’s voice was deep, the sort of deep that brought to mind movie trailers and jewelry commercials, and tinged with a curl around his vowels that gave Jeremy goose bumps on the back of his neck. Jeremy wasn’t particularly good at accents, so he had no idea what it could be, but he loved the way Nigel spoke.  Even if it was only to ask if he wanted a plastic bag.  

Jeremy had harbored crushes before and made good on some of them, turning infatuations into passionate experiences.  But there was something different about Nigel.  He was slightly older and even though he laughed pleasantly, making small talk with customers, his eyes were dark and serious.  They didn’t just brood, they smoldered.  Jeremy could get lost in the fathoms of  those eyes.   
Nearing the start of his third month, Jeremy longed for something more forward than just purchasing love-struck foods and waiting for Nigel to chat with him during the transaction.  If he didn't do something, he could spend a year or more buying strawberries with nothing to show for it.

Lurking in the pasta aisle, Jeremy waited until Nigel’s line was completely empty, then he sidled through the lane. “Hi,” he said, sounding breathless to his own ears.  

“Hey.”  Nigel looked down at the item.  “Strawberries again?  Are you on some kind of special diet?  Is this for smoothies?” 

Jeremy’s heart sank a little because he’d thought it had been obvious what he was doing, but he pressed on.  “Not really, it’s sort of been like a romantic gesture.”  He paused to gather his courage.  

Nigel spoke before Jeremy decided what he wanted to say.  “Oh, that’s cool,” Nigel said.  He picked up the carton and brought it across the scanner.  A little beep sounded. “My boyfriend does that for me, sometimes.  Brings me little things he knows I like.” 

Jeremy’s heart plummeted.  Nigel already had a boyfriend. The next few moments were a blur.  He said something to Nigel about how that was nice, but he couldn’t remember exactly what words he used. He must have paid for the strawberries because he walked outside with them in one hand and his wallet in the other.  

He stood on the sidewalk and stared into the parking lot.  Cars moved around in a slow dance.  His own car was in the lot, but he didn’t feel like getting in it and driving anywhere.  It seemed like too much effort and he didn’t know where he’d go.  
Jeremy turned slightly and he could see Nigel through the window glass.  He was ringing up the purchases of a woman with long brown hair. Jeremy stayed on the sidewalk for several long minutes.  One of the lot workers came by, pushing a long line of shopping carts. 

“You okay, there? You need help?” the guy asked.  His name tag read “Leo”.  He was older with a salt and pepper mustache, but his eyes were friendly. 

Jeremy shook his head.  His throat was too tight to trust he would find his voice.   

Leo pushed the carts all the way into the store. He came back out again a minute later.  He looked at Jeremy.  “Mister, you sure you don’t need some kind of help?  You look confused.” 

Jeremy held out the container of strawberries.  “I bought these, but I don’t want them anymore.” 

Leo shifted his weight.  He looked past Jeremy and then refocused his gaze.  People whizzed past them, intent on getting inside to shop or outside to pack up and go home with their purchases.  Leo tugged on Jeremy’s elbow.  “Over here, buddy.” 

Jeremy went with him.  Near the wall, it was quiet and felt more private.  

“Look, I’ve seen you here before.”  Leo fidgeted and scrunched his face. He seemed incredibly uncomfortable.  “It’s Nigel, isn’t it?” 
Jeremy stared at the ground.  

“He’s a handsome kid, that’s for sure,” Leo said. “And nice.  Hard worker. But he doesn’t have a lot going on in the office, if you get my meaning.” 

Jeremy’s attention shifted from the dried up green piece of gum stuck to the ground to Leo’s face. “What?” he asked.  Nigel’s smoldering, serious eyes couldn’t be just…vacant, could they? 

“You think about it.  You’ll be okay.  I bet you can find someone better suited for you.” Leo patted Jeremy on the shoulder. Then he brushed past him and returned to collecting carts.  

Jeremy stayed against the wall.  He looked down at the strawberries.  He did like strawberries.  He’d also liked the smoked oysters, unpronounceable cheeses, and caviar.  Actually, coming here to see Nigel had been difficult on his wallet.  Organic, fair-trade chocolate with cinnamon and chilies did not come cheap. At least he’d gotten to eat the food. He’d really enjoyed it.  But he’d just nibbled on the items individually, without really doing anything with them. 

Maybe what he needed was to take a cooking class.  

Then, next time, when he tried to date someone, he could cook them a romantic dinner instead of just buying ingredients.  Jeremy dug his car keys out of his pocket and headed for his car. 

Leo gave a wave as he passed by.  Jeremy returned the wave, but otherwise, didn't look back.

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