So after the craziness of NaNoWriMo died down, I was looking for another community based writing event. I stumbled upon NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge through Twitter (I think!) and was intrigued. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the annual Challenge the rules are as follows: (paraphrased of course)
– There are three rounds. To advance you must be in the top 5 of your round
– Each round you will be assigned a genre, character and subject that must be included in your story.
– Timelines / word counts for each round vary. Round 1: 8 days, 2,500 words max. Round 2: 3 days, 2,000 words max. Round 3: 1 day, 1,000 words max.
I was excited to try writing in a new style as I am used to long-form story telling. I was assigned to Heat 10 in which we were given:
Character: A Single Mom
Subject: Gluten Free
And the following is the short story I came up with! Please enjoy!
Hannah sat with a bump on the hard boards of the bench. The wind whipped through the three sided lean-to that served as the public bus stop. She pulled her jacket around her tighter and shoved her hands in her pockets. Her finger found a hole in the lining. It figures, she thought. When it rains it pours. Glancing at the posted bus schedule she tried to see when the next bus was scheduled to come by. She had never taken one in the middle of the day before. 1:36pm. She looked at her watch. Twenty minutes to go. Sliding back down onto the bench Hannah hung her head and braced herself against the wind. How would she explain this to her son? She had to find a new job and soon. The small amount of money that she had squirreled away wasn’t going to last forever.
It wasn’t as if it was her fault though. All it took was one rich, irate customer and as the waitress she took all the blame. Despite two years of busting her ass, she was tossed to the curb like garbage.
The wind picked up again, rustling papers tacked to the wooden trim of the lean-to. A neon yellow flyer broke free and flew into Hannah’s face. She grabbed at it and pulled the struggling paper in front of her.
Need Money Now?
Have a Great Idea or Invention?
We May Have a Deal for You! Come With Your Pitch to City Hall!
Hannah crumpled the paper and laughed bitterly. It was probably just a scheme to attract desperate people. She looked around for a trashcan but didn’t see any, so she shoved the paper into her pocket and continued to wait for the bus.
Standing in the small entryway to her apartment she could hear her son laughing in the other room. Calvin was the single ray of sunshine in her life. She may not have much, but he was enough.
“Ms. Roberts is that you?” Tina, the babysitter, called.
“Yes, I’m home a little early today.” Hannah shucked off her jacket and let it fall over the back of a chair. She walked into the living room and Calvin catapulted himself at her, and she caught him in a bone crushing hug.
“Tina and me were playing pirates!” Hannah laughed and looked at the joy radiating from her son’s face. His dark curly hair, which he had inherited from her, shook as he spoke and it made her smile.
“Well, Mr. Pirate, I’m sure all that sailing has made you hungry. How about some lunch? Mac and Cheese sound okay?” Calvin cheered and ran into the kitchen. He loved helping his mom cook. She turned to Tina. “Would you like to stay for lunch?”
“Thanks Ms. Roberts, but I’ll probably just head home. I’m on this gluten free diet now anyway, so pasta is off the menu.”
“Okay. Let me just grab your money, and you can be on your way.” Hannah went through the pockets of her coat. She pulled out the neon flyer from the bus stop and tossed it aside. Finally she found a bill and handed it to Tina.
“Is everything okay?” Tina asked taking the money.
“It will be… I’ve always figured things out. Thanks Tina.” She said closing the door behind her.
“Okay mommy, open your eyes!” Hannah’s son Calvin stood with his arms spread wide, and a huge smile plastered on his face.
“Oooo sweetie, this is beautiful.”
“I made cereal and toast!”
She laughed and sat down in the chair her son pulled out for her. He scrambled into his chair at the other end of the table and scooped a spoonful of Fruit Loops into his mouth. The LED candles flickered across the table, illuminating the chipped blue bowls that Hannah had picked up secondhand. Her first mouthful of cereal was soggy. Calvin looked at her expectantly and she smiled. He was trying so hard to make her happy. She was sure that he had been able to hear her tears earlier in the other room. He was only seven, but had always been so in tune with her after his father left.
“Thank you so much for dinner sweetie. I appreciate the help and you did a great job.” She could see the blush bloom on her son’s cheeks.
“But wait mom- you haven’t tried desert yet! And that’s the best part!” Calvin scrambled down from his chair and raced into the kitchen and out of sight. Hannah chewed her cereal as she listened to her son in the other room.
He came out clutching two pudding cups in his chubby little hands. He set one down at her place and then sat back down with his, hardly waiting to dig into the chocolate. She licked her spoon and pushed the cereal aside.
She took a scoop of the pudding and relished the chocolate. She paused as she felt something crunchy in the smooth pudding. It had an interesting savory flavor.
“Honey, did you put something extra in the pudding?”
“Yeah, it’s the secret ingredient!”
“What is it?”
“If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret anymore!” He squealed. Calvin dug back into his pudding, getting almost more of it on his face than his mouth she thought. Hannah looked back down at her pudding and took another spoonful. Nothing crunched this time. She probed the cup with her spoon. She landed on something, and pulled it up to examine it more closely.
“Sweetie… is this… a bug?” Calvin giggled. Her stomach turned.
“Mr. Cecil loves them! And I do too!” She put down her spoon.
“But Mr. Cecil is a lizard. He is supposed to eat bugs. We aren’t.”
“That’s not what Tina said. She said people have been eating bugs forever, and that crickets are the best because they are gluten free!” Hannah would have to speak to his babysitter. But as she watched her son practically lick his pudding cup clean, she thought maybe there was something to it. The neon flyer from earlier flashed in her mind. Perhaps this was just what she needed to happen.
Hannah looked down at her blazer and picked at a loose thread. She hoped that the lace tank top underneath wasn’t too unprofessional. Most of the other people in the waiting room were men in suits and crisp white shirts. She clutched the manila folder and tray of cookies in her hands. This is crazy. I can’t possibly go in there and ask for people’s money to make food out of crickets. They would laugh her out of the room.
“Hannah Roberts.” A short assistant called from the door. She stood and took a deep breath and smoothed out the wrinkles in her skirt the best she could.
A group of four people sat at the long desk at the bottom of the amphitheater. Hannah felt it took an eternity to traverse the space between them. She carefully picked her way down the stairs and took her place in front of the panel.
“Welcome Mrs. Roberts.”
“Ms.” She responded without thinking. The man on the end of the panel looked up from his notes for a minute, and she flushed. What did it matter if she was a Ms. or a Mrs.? She kicked herself mentally and tried to move on, hoping they would forget her faux pas. “Thank you all for taking the time to be here today.” She started. “I’m here seeking an initial investment in a line of gluten free products that are also packed with protein, vitamins and flavor. I have done some preliminary research to show that there is a strong and growing market for these products and with the right marketing my brand has unlimited potential.”
Hannah approached the desk and passed out the information packets she had put together. When she handed the final packet to the man on the end, she caught her breath. She hadn’t noticed from further away, but he had piercing blue eyes that seemed to cut right through her. He cleared his throat and she snapped out of it, turning to stand and address them all.
He was hovering there in her peripheral vision throughout her presentation. It gave her a nervous energy that excited her.
“In the end, if we can’t stand up for our health, let me ask you- what can you stand for?”
Walking down the hallway, headed for the door Hannah felt lighter than air. She could skip if it wasn’t for her high heels. The panel had responded positively to her idea, and wanted to fund it.
“Ms. Roberts!” she heard her name called from behind her. “Wait, please.” She turned to see the tall handsome man from the panel. Her breath caught. What was he doing? Weren’t there other people to see in the meetings? “You forgot your tray.” He said, extending it out to her.
“You didn’t have to run it out to me.”
“I know, but I wanted a chance to speak to you again.” He said. “I’m Titus.”
“I know who you are.” She had realized it halfway through her pitch. Titus Johnson was one of the biggest names in the city. He owned the newspaper and was on half a dozen boards or committees. Everyone knew who Titus Johnson was. What Hannah didn’t know was why he was still standing there, staring at her. His eyes were bright and his smile seemed to stretch to both his eyes.
“May I call you Hannah?” He asked. She nodded. “Well, Hannah” he said, as if testing out her name, “Your passion in there really struck a chord with me. It’s been a long time since I have met someone so on fire, and well… quite frankly so beautiful too.”
She felt her heartbeat quicken. She didn’t know how to take the compliment. She wasn’t sure of what she was doing- just that she would do anything for her and her son. Titus plowed ahead. “I wanted to see if I could see you again… maybe try some more of your cricket food?” He grinned at her and any walls she had came crashing down.
“Absolutely.” She said, as she took the tray from him and turned to go. Her face hurt from how much she was smiling.
Hannah was running around making last minute adjustments to the dinner, lighting candles and watching the clock. She hadn’t been this nervous since she was dating her ex-husband back in college. She felt giddy.
She hadn’t told him about her son yet. It would be obvious once he walked in the house, despite all her efforts to clean up his toys, she couldn’t erase the evidence. Not that she wanted to, but it was a difficult subject to broach.
Just as she ladled the final scoop of steaming tomato sauce over the pasta the doorbell rang. She threw off her apron, tossing it over a box of live crickets in the pantry, and hurried to the front door. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and checked her hair and makeup in the entryway mirror. Her hair was a little frizzy, but she couldn’t help it. Opening the door, she saw Titus standing on the step. Everything about him was perfection. A crisp green shirt complimented his dark tousled hair, and made his eyes seem to glow. He revealed a bouquet of flowers, and a grin.
“They’re beautiful. I can’t tell you the last time someone gave me roses.” She ushered him inside and took the flowers. “Let me find a vase for these. They would look wonderful on the table.”
“Speaking of wonderful, you look great tonight.” Titus said. “Not that I didn’t like the skirt suit, but this is definitely a more flattering look.” Hannah was happy that her back was turned as she thanked him. Blushing as much as she was couldn’t be a good thing on the first date. She had to try and keep it together.
“There. Perfect.” She said as she placed the crystal vase in the center of the table. It really did complete the spread. Titus pulled out her chair and she sat. Joining her, he placed his napkin on his lap and she followed suit. “I hope you brought your appetite, because I ended up making a whole lot. I’m still trying to get portion sizes right. You’re not afraid to eat more crickets are you?”
“I don’t see any crickets on the table.” Titus said, surveying the pasta and salad.
“That’s the beauty of it. They are combined with other ingredients in the pasta. You don’t see them, but all of the health benefits are there. And it’s all gluten free to boot.” Taking a bite of the pasta she could see Titus smile. “Taste good?”
“To be quite frank” he said, dabbing at his mouth with his napkin, “I tend to think most health foods are just shadows of the real thing. But this… this adds something great. It’s almost a bacon undertone.”
Hannah beamed. “I’m glad you like it.” They locked eyes for a moment and she felt an energy passing between them that had nothing to do with the food. A trace of sauce was left on his lips. She gestured to it, and he licked it off slowly. She had to look away. Raising her wine glass to her lips she tried to settle her breathing. What was it about him that made her come so easily undone? It had been a long time since anyone had made her feel this way.
“Hannah?” Titus said quietly, folding his napkin and placing it on the table.
“Can I be frank with you? I came here tonight not interested in crickets, or gluten free food. Don’t get me wrong, you cook wonderfully, and I really think you have a great business plan, but… I don’t think that is all there is to you. From the moment you walked into that meeting with that nervous smile and unfailing determination… I was hooked.”
“Titus…” she protested. She didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t that she was upset with what he was saying; in fact it was quite the opposite. “I have a lot of baggage.”
“Don’t we all?” he said rising. He walked over to her and took her hand. “Please give me a chance. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I have a feeling that it will be worth it.” He took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing it tenderly. The feeling sent shivers down Hannah’s spine.
“Yes.” She said with a smile breaking over her whole face. She stood and embraced him. His lips met hers and he pulled her in closer. The sound of crickets chirping enveloped them, and Hannah knew this was the beginning of something wonderful.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts and constructive criticism in the comments below. This was my first short story outside of school, and I had fun with it, but know I can still learn.