It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.
Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 7 of 12.
Laci and Del: Fireworks
As Del pushed off the dock, Laci listened to the chirping crickets and croaking frogs, their cheerful melody a mockery when juxtaposed against her occasional sighs and Del’s sporadic mutterings. A bunch of them were spending the three-day weekend at Del’s cousin’s lake house, and so far, despite everyone’s determination to have a great Independence Day holiday, she felt the tension between her and Del as solid and tangible as if an actual wall had been erected between them.
A wall she could walk around or climb over.
The tension? She didn’t know how to overcome.
Jeremy, Del’s cousin, was one of those freakishly-smart kind of geniuses. When he was in college (which he started two years early), he wrote some kind of computer something-or-other just for fun and sold it to Microsoft for an ungodly amount of money. Couldn’t even legally celebrate his good fortune with a glass of champagne. The funniest part? He wasn’t even a computer science major. Laci wasn’t sure what his degrees were in or what he did for a living. She just knew he spent a lot of his time at Lake Latonka, the private community along the lake about an hour from the city. She also knew that, unlike the stereotypical nerdy genius, he was down-to-earth, fun, and easy to talk to. And, thankfully, he was generous with his good fortune. She’d been to his lake house many times.
Jeremy recommended watching the fireworks from the beach area. “Most of the residents are going to head up that way in their boats. The water’s going to be a congestion nightmare. You’re welcome to take the boat out, but I think you’ll be better off on foot.” And everyone joined Jeremy and his girlfriend. Everyone, that is, but Laci and Del.
“I just want some privacy,” he told her. “Is it so much to ask to sit alone with you, rock gently in the waves, and watch some fireworks? One last moment alone before life comes crashing back in?”
To Laci, it didn’t sound like he wanted one nice night before they went back to the city. It sounded like he wanted one memory to cling to before he said goodbye forever.
They headed silently toward the public beach area as the sun set behind the pines and maples along the shore. They passed a pontoon and a sailboat, and almost bumped into a paddleboat in the gloaming.
“Better get to your dock,” Del called. “Without running lights, it’s hard to see you.”
The guys saluted with what looked like beer cans and turned their vessel toward the nearest dock. They kept right on turning, however, and made a couple full circles. Laci could hear the mix of laughter and slurred swearing coming from their paddleboat.
“Drunk assholes.” Del slowed and followed them. “Shouldn’t even be out here if they’re drinking. Especially when it’s too dark for people to see them. Now we need to be sure they make it to land okay.”
Laci made out some shapes in the shadows coming from the beach house near their dock just as the first boom of a test firework sounded. The guys in the paddleboat yelped and one of them almost fell overboard.
“Roy! Larry!” a woman’s voice rang out. “Get your sorry asses off that paddleboat and on dry land before one of you falls in. We’re not hauling you out of the water this year. You hear me? Every year, same thing…”
Del sighed, then called out. “Ma’am? Do you need help? We almost hit your… friends, so we followed them over. Wanted to be sure nothing happened to them.”
“We don’t need nothin!” Roy or Larry said. Then one of them stood and fell in the water.
“Damn it!” The woman threw her arms in the air. The people she was with headed into the water.
“I’ll save you, Larry!” Roy tumbled in after him. Del started to climb overboard, but she waved him off.
“No, no. We’ve got it. Happens every year.” Laci saw that Larry and Roy were already being hauled onto the shore. Someone else had pushed their paddleboat over and was securing it to the dock. “Sorry for the scare and trouble, folks,” the woman called. “Try to enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Del settled himself behind the controls and they continued on their way. He also continued muttering. “Of all the stupid, irresponsible, dangerous stunts to pull…”
Another boom sounded, and a fish jumped and splashed beside them. It startled Laci, but Del just kept on going, apparently lost in his own diatribe. Laci put her hand on his arm.
“What?” he snapped.
“Stop the boat.”
“Why? You’re joking, right?”
He slowed the boat down and finally stopped it. When he turned to look at her, he crossed his arms over his chest. Tension rolled off him in waves more palpable than the ones rocking their boat.
Laci crossed to the other side of the boat and sat down. She looked up, where the first of the fireworks illuminated the night sky. They weren’t down in the beach area yet, and the trees of the community area partially obscured her view, but she was grateful for the privacy. Not another soul was around, everyone either already sailed or walked to the beach area for prime viewing. Boom.
“What’s gotten in to you?” she asked.
“To me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You’ve been complaining all night. That’s not like you.”
“What those guys did was reckless. People could have gotten hurt. Or worse.”
“And you aren’t the lake police. A few months ago that would have rolled right off you. You probably would have even laughed at them pedaling in circles.”
“A lot can change in a short time.” He didn’t cross to her, but he leaned back and watched the sky too. Another explosion of color burst past the tree line. Boom.
“And there it is.”
“You’ve been different since Father’s Day. Maybe even earlier.”
He snorted. “Father’s Day? That was an eye-opener. But that wasn’t the start of our problems.”
She swallowed her guilt and was grateful the darkness hid what was certainly a telltale blush. At least he never found out she’d eavesdropped on his conversation with her mother. “Then what was the start? And what problems are you talking about?”
“Let’s just enjoy the show. I thought we could have the weekend, but apparently not, so let’s at least have tonight, okay? One damn night.”
“No, Del. It’s out there now. Let’s just finish it.”
He sighed and looked down, missing the firework that screeched into the air before exploding into an orange starburst. “Is that what you want? To finish it?”
“I don’t know what I want. I guess before I decide, I want some answers. Some honest answers.” The fireworks increased in frequency, but Laci stopped noticing them. She was intent on reading each subtle change in Del’s expression, each shift in his position, each slight inflection of his voice. She needed to not only analyze everything he said and did to be certain he was being truthful, she needed to commit it all to memory in case it was their last moment together.
He scoffed in derision and shook his head, then he turned and looked out over the water. “That’s rich, coming from you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“All this time I’ve been wondering what I did wrong, and the whole time you’ve been telling everyone I left you. I can’t believe how conniving you were. You almost cost me all my friends in addition to my career. And you. But if that’s how you really are, then maybe you did me a favor. Maybe you aren’t the loss I thought you were.”
“You’re turning all this on me? Are you kidding? I never lied, and I certainly never left. You did both.”
He spun back toward her. “I did neither.”
“Then why does your mother blame me for what happened?”
“Maybe because it’s all your fault.”
“Ha!” she said. “I was ready to give up everything for you. My friends, my family, my career, my home. Bu you chose your career over us. And you didn’t even have the balls to tell me. You just left.”
“What are you talking about? I never left you.”
“Please. I saw you. I was there. You told me I had to decide by Friday whether or not I would move out west with you. And I was scared. I didn’t want to go. But I decided to surprise you. I gave up everything and decided to go. I broke my lease, quit my job, packed up, and went to tell you I would go. But to my surprise, you already had suitcases packed and were hailing a cab. You were leaving without me. And you didn’t even tell me.”
“Are you denying it?”
“I saw you, Del. You got in a cab that Friday morning with luggage.”
“And I called you that Friday morning, too. But you didn’t pick up. And I continued to call you all weekend. I was out of my mind with worry. I thought something happened. I even called your friends and your parents. No one would take my calls. Then your number was out of service. I came back to town a week later, and you didn’t even live in the same apartment.”
“I told you. I broke my lease for you. Apparently for no reason.”
“I didn’t take the job.”
“Just stop, Del. I told you. I saw you get in the cab.”
“How much luggage did I have?”
“Luggage. How much?”
“I… I don’t know. One bag, I think. Maybe two. Who cares?”
“I had one garment bag and my laptop.”
“Is that the kind of luggage someone has who’s moving across country?”
“I… I don’t know. I suppose you could have had the rest of your stuff sent.”
“And my car?”
“No.” He sighed. “I told my boss that my fiancée wasn’t on board with the move, so I wasn’t taking the position. He wasn’t thrilled, but he agreed to let me stay here. I did have to go out to the West Coast office to interview people for the position, though. It was a spur of the moment thing. I tried calling you that morning, but you didn’t answer.”
Laci’s heart felt like a lead weight—heavy, cold, rigid. What had she done? She’d thrown away everything wonderful in her life on a capricious assumption, sullied his reputation out of bitterness and vanity. “Oh, Del. I’m so, so sorry. I misread the whole thing.”
“And you cut and ran without giving me a chance to explain. And like a fool, I wanted you so badly, I came back for another round. But you’re ready to cut loose again. You’ve been setting me up for another fall since March, but I kept denying it, ignoring what was right in front of my face.”
“Ever since you made me dinner for St. Patrick’s Day, you’ve been pushing me away. So what did I do? Like an ass, I fought harder. I told you I love you. Did you tell me back? No. I forced you to spend time with my family, and you threatened my mom. Yeah,” he held his hand up, “she told me all about it. I don’t even want to hear your side of it. And on Father’s Day, when I tried to cozy up to your family? I found out you’ve been lying about me this whole time.”
“But I didn’t know it was a lie!”
He shrugged. “I don’t know what to think, Lace. I love you. Or I thought I did. But you obviously don’t feel the same way. So I wanted one last weekend before this whole damn thing imploded again. But we didn’t even get that.” He looked up, and his chiseled features were briefly illuminated by the fireworks above. It was already the grand finale. Boom, boom, boom.
“Now that I know you didn’t leave me, I’m not afraid anymore.” She crossed to him and put her arms around his neck. “I love you, Del. I’ve always loved you. I always will love you.” She stood on her toes and pressed her lips against his.
At first he resisted, but then he wrapped his arms around her and returned the kiss.
She finished watching the fireworks in Del’s arms, content that the future she always envisioned was within her reach. When the show was over, Del turned the boat around and headed back to his cousin’s lake house. Laci’s elation was short-lived. She chewed on her lip and thought for a moment. Something Del had said got her thinking, and she was troubled.
“Del? About March?”
“Hmm? What about it?”
“Your work schedule got a lot heavier then. You’ve been a lot more stressed. Is something going on?”
“I thought we agreed to just have one nice weekend.”
“No pun intended, but that ship has sailed. Is there a problem?”
He sighed. “My boss told me that since I never got married, I can’t use the ‘my fiancée doesn’t want to move’ card anymore. I’m being transferred to the West Coast office. I have to move by the end of the year.”
So much for her ‘happily-ever-after.’ Now what was she going to do?