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 8 of 12.
Laci and Del: Birthday Wishes
After she and Del had talked out the misunderstanding that had broken them up for a year, they had each explained it to their families in the hopes of putting to rest the hard feelings that had developed. She wasn’t sure it had worked, particularly where his mother was concerned.
His birthday should be a day of celebration, not a day of détente.
She swirled the knife through the fluffy white frosting on three-tiered fudge cake she’d baked that morning. Just when she thought it looked perfect, Del ran his finger through the top.
“Mmm, that’s good.”
“Damn it, Del. I just finished frosting that. Couldn’t you take some out of the bowl?”
“It looked better on the cake.”
She sighed and scooped more icing onto the cake. “Don’t you have something to do?”
“Nope. Charcoal’s in the grill and ready to light. Steaks are marinating. Vegetables are skewered. Beer and sodas are in the cooler. All that’s left for me to do is…” He spun her toward him, wrapped his arms around her waist, and dipped his head to capture her mouth in a searing kiss.
Her mind emptied of everything that had been nagging her. It cleared of all thought, all reason. All she knew were his lips on hers. His kiss was hot, sweet… a heady combination of sensuality and hunger.
The sound of a cough brought her back to reality. She tore herself away from Del and her mother gave a nervous chuckle. “Excuse us. Should we have knocked?”
“Mom, Dad. Hi.” Laci gave each of her parents a hug.
“Del, happy birthday,” Alice said and hugged him.
“Good to see you,” Gary said and shook his hand. “As we were getting on the elevator, we saw your parents drive by. They should be coming up soon.”
“Thanks, Gary. Can I get you two something to drink?” Del led them into the living room and Laci took a deep breath.
For a brief moment she had forgotten all about getting her apartment ready for their guests, finishing the food, and spending time with Del’s family. Now it all came flooding back. The worry about the food. The concern over the decorations. The panic over his mother. She swirled the knife through the frosting and tried to control her breathing.
“You missed a spot.”
Nora had somehow entered her apartment—entered her kitchen—without her noticing. That made twice she’d been surprised in a few minutes. She needed to stop getting lost in her thoughts… and other activities. She also needed to start locking her door.
Dipping the knife back in the bowl, she put the final touches on Del’s cake.
“Aren’t you even going to say hello?” Nora asked.
“I’m sorry. That was rude of me.” Laci stabbed the knife into the remaining icing in the bowl and turned to face Del’s mother. “It’s just that you took me by surprise.”
“Hello, Nora. How was your drive?”
Nora leaned against the counter. “Please, stop. Just stop. I’m not above enduring polite conversation in public settings with people I don’t like, but this isn’t exactly our situation, is it?”
Laci wiped her hands on her apron and noticed Nora reading it. She was wearing the “Kiss Me… I May Have a Wee Bit o’ Irish in Me” apron she’d bought for St. Patrick’s Day. When Nora frowned, Laci untied it and took it off. “So what would you say our situation is, exactly?”
“I know we’ve never been close, but we both love my son. And now that I know you didn’t break his heart like I thought, I’m willing to try—I want to try and move past all this. I’d like for us to become, well, if not friends, at least friendly. For Del.”
Relief flooded through Laci. That was better than she could have hoped for. “Of course, Nora. I’d like that.”
“Well, it’s not like we’ll be seeing that much of each other anyway. What with you both moving out west. But I’m glad to know you’re on board with making the effort.” She swiped her finger through the frosting on the cake. “Hmm. That’s awfully sweet. But I’m sure the cake will cut some of the sugar.” She walked out of the kitchen.
Laci clenched her teeth and set about fixing the cake. Again. The icing was not too sweet. And she never said she was going out west with Del. In fact, it had been her hope that he’d convince his boss to just let him travel back and forth instead of moving there. Did he already accept the job? Did he actually tell his parents they were moving?
She didn’t want to jump to conclusions again, but things didn’t look good. She’d let Del have his day, but they had to talk. Soon.
She spent the rest of the day only half paying attention to what was going on. Her mind was reeling with what Nora had told her. They were through dinner and Del was blowing out his candles before she realized she couldn’t remember two minutes of conversation with anyone since Nora had left her kitchen. She cut and passed out cake while thinking about her future with Del. Wondered if she had a future with Del.
When it was time to clear the plates, they were all scraped clean. Except for Nora’s. She’d barely touched hers.
“Time for gifts,” Alice said. Gary passed her an envelope which she handed to Del.
He tore it open. “Box seats to the Steelers’ home opener. Thanks!”
“I know how you two love football,” Gary said. “Thought you might want to catch a game in style.”
“Tickets are impossible to get. Especially box seats.” Laci got up and looked at the tickets over Del’s shoulder. “How’d you manage these?”
“I know a guy who knows a guy. It pays to have connections in town.”
It was like a knife to Laci’s gut. If she chose to move with Del—and that was a big if—she wouldn’t know anyone, wouldn’t have any connections.
Nora and Patrick passed a small box over to their son. “Ours next,” his father said.
Del ripped the paper off the box and opened it. A gorgeous antique watch was inside. He ran his finger over it, a wistful look on his face.
“It was his grandfather’s,” Nora said. “We wanted him to have something to remember him by—all of us by—before he leaves.”
“Leaves?” Alice said. “Where is he going?”
“Laci didn’t tell you?” Nora said. “They’re moving to the West Coast.”
“You’re what?” Alice and Gary said together.
“You know,” Del said, “I think Laci didn’t tell you because we haven’t come to any concrete decisions about our future yet.”
“Isn’t this exactly what happened the last time?” Alice asked.
“The last time was different,” Nora said. “Laci wasn’t willing to go then. She is now. Aren’t you?” Nora fixed her with a piercing stare.
“Are you leaving?” Alice whispered.
“You know, it’s getting late,” Gary said. “We should go and let the kids talk.”
Nora was digging her heels in, but Patrick convinced her to go. After everyone left, Del turned to Laci. “I didn’t tell my parents we were definitely going. You know my mom. She gets something in her head, and… well. That’s that.”
Laci shrugged and started cleaning up.
“Leave it for later. We need to talk about this.”
“Not tonight. I’m not ready.”
“Fine. Not tonight.” He hugged her and placed a kiss on top of her head. “How about you give me my present.”
She sighed, pulled away, and started walking into the bedroom. “You can open it tomorrow.”
“What’s wrong with now?” He looked at a large box in festive paper on the floor. “I’m assuming this is it.”
Del tore the wrapping paper off and stared at his gift. “You bought me a set of luggage?”
“I know you don’t have a set. And the overnight bag you travel with is pretty ratty.”
“So, you’ve already made up your mind about me leaving?”
“I told you I’m not ready to discuss this right now.” He wouldn’t be open to her idea, not when he was upset. And she wasn’t willing to fight over it, especially on his birthday.
“Did you buy yourself any luggage?”
“I know your set is pretty worn. Did you buy yourself any?”
She bit her lip, but didn’t say anything.
“You know, I think I’m going to go home.” He headed for the door.
She chased after him. “But it’s your birthday.”
“Yeah. And it’s one I’ll never forget.” And he walked out.
Laci was going to chase him, but she didn’t bother. He was in no frame of mind to listen.
Would she find the right words once he’d calmed down, or would it be too late?