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.
Hopefully you remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 2 of 12: “Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made”
Laci and Del: Romance Tailor Made
They’d been dating since New Year’s, midnight. This time. Laci had to admit things were going well. Over the last six weeks, Del seemed to have remembered everything that mattered to her.
She only ate ice cream in the summer… unless she was angry, then bring it on. By the gallon. She liked her pizza New York style, as thin as she could get it, and always with sausage and veggies. Chicken wings should be seasoned with paprika and garlic salt, not slathered in sauce, and served with blue cheese, not ranch. And like pizza, she had to drink Pepsi, not Coke, with them. And definitely not iced tea or something without bubbles. Beer would do in a pinch, but was not her first choice. She was fiercely addicted to hockey. She loved museums, but preferred to go to them alone because people usually rushed her through them. She pretended to enjoy art films but in actuality they bored her; she preferred action movies. And obviously, she hated being alone at midnight on New Year’s because not kissing someone was a double whammy for her: it was a new year and it was her birthday.
He remembered it all.
When Del told her he had something special planned for Valentine’s Day, she couldn’t help but panic. “Special” was too much. “Special” was too soon.
They had crossed that bridge before. They had discussed marriage. She’d been ready for it. She had been secretly buying bridal magazines and thinking about venues. She’d tentatively designed the perfect menu, chosen colors and flowers, and known just what gown she wanted. If she had closed her eyes, she could have felt the ring on her finger.
And it had blown up in her face.
She didn’t know if she was ready to deal with all that again.
“What time can you get off work?” he asked.
“Uh… I don’t know. Why?”
“I thought we might start the night early. Valentine’s Day is Friday, so you know it’s going to be even more crazy in town than usual.”
“What time do I need to be ready?”
“Well, I don’t want to give too much away. Can you be ready to walk out the door at five?”
“Five? That’s awfully early for dinner, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got a full evening planned.”
She sighed, but no air felt like it entered or exited her lungs. Her chest felt tight, her palms cold, clammy. “All right. Five. What should I wear?”
“Whatever you’re comfortable in.”
“I’m comfortable in jammies.”
He waggled his eyebrows.
“Seriously, Del. I need to know how to dress.”
“Something comfortable. That’s all I’m saying.” He leaned down and gave her a quick kiss, then started to walk away. He called over his shoulder. “I promise, this will be a night you won’t forget.”
Something comfortable? She bit her lower lip. I doubt I’ll be comfortable until that night is long over.
When Valentine’s Day rolled around, Laci had worked herself up so much that she couldn’t concentrate if she tried. She finally just took the afternoon off and went home. Standing in her closet, she pawed through her clothes countless times, never coming up with anything. Finally, she stood back.
“What the hell constitutes ‘comfortable’ to a man?”
She took a bubble bath, styled her hair, and applied her makeup. When her doorbell rang at 4:55, she was still in her robe.
“I know I said ‘comfortable,’ but I don’t think we’ll get out of your apartment with you looking like that.”
The look on his face was something between appreciation and predator. She whacked his arm as it reached for her and darted out of his reach. “I’d be ready by now if I knew what I was supposed to be wearing. You won’t tell me where we’re going, or what ‘comfortable’ means, or how dressy I should get, or…” She stopped and took a good look at him for the first time.
He was dressed in jeans and his winter jacket, underneath which she could see a hockey jersey peeking out.
“When you say ‘comfortable,’ do you mean ‘casual?’”
She started to relax. “How casual? Like, my lucky-hockey-jersey casual?”
“That would be perfect.” He smiled.
The pressure in her chest released so quickly, she was surprised steam didn’t pour out her ears. “I’ll be right back!” She all but danced to her room and stripped out of her robe. Her beloved Lemieux jersey held a place of honor in her closet; it hung right by the door next to the white Sidney Crosby, black Evgeni Malkin, and blue James Neal jerseys. But the black Lemieux jersey was her lucky jersey, and it was a special night, so that’s the one she wore. She donned it with a pair of black jeans and black boots, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the door.
“Perfect,” he said, standing back and looking her over.
She could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. “Stop it. I hate it when you look at me like that.”
“Get used to it.” He opened the door for her. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
She sighed, but played along. Downstairs, a black car was parked at the curb. She started to walk around it to cross the street, but he led her to it and bowed low, opening the door. “Madame, your carriage awaits.”
“I rented a car for tonight. I didn’t want to walk in the cold or try to hail cabs.”
“Where are we going?”
“Geez, Laci. Would you just play along and get in?”
“Okay!” She got in and Del climbed in behind her. He poured her champagne and they toasted to a wonderful Valentine’s Day. Laci hadn’t even finished her drink before they were at their destination: her favorite pizza parlor. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Come on.” Del took her hand and led her inside. They ordered salad and pizza—New York style with sausage and veggies, of course—and two Pepsis.
When they were finished, Del took her hand. “Did you enjoy your meal?”
“Ready to go?”
“It’s only six-fifteen, Laci. The night’s just getting started.”
Their driver valiantly braved rush hour traffic to cross the river and stop at The Square, where Del paid for them to ride the incline to the top of Coal Mountain and look at the view of the city.
“It’s a little chilly, but it’s beautiful,” Laci said, nerves creeping back in. The top of the mountain was exactly the kind of place people went to propose, and she wasn’t ready.
“I’m glad you like it,” Del said. “But we can’t stay. We’ve got one more stop.”
Relief flooded through her, warm and comforting, tingling her chilled fingers and toes. “Really, Del? You’ve already given me a great night.”
“I think you’ll like this.”
They rode the incline back down and got in the car. Again the driver fought city traffic and took them to one of Laci’s favorite places: the hockey center.
Del produced two tickets from his pocket. “Center ice. Right behind the bench.”
She threw her arms around him. “Are you serious?”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Laci.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Del.”
As they walked inside, Laci knew she was going to remember that night for the rest of her life.
She also knew Del had put together a far more romantic evening for her than if he had wined-and-dined her at a fancy restaurant.
What did that mean for them going forward?