Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An Aversion to Romances and Titles

Now, I don’t write Romance—like EVER. In fact, I am allergic. Once, some friends and I tried to compose our own Scottish love stories, and about two pages in I had already planned the tragic yet beautiful demise of the hero (as well as the heroine’s insane sister). Like I said, I don’t do Romance. However, a few months ago, for an American literature class, I was forced (at gunpoint) to rewrite Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Courtship of Miles Standish” using a different setting and just the barebones of the plot. (Fanfiction—another thing I don’t do.) That said, I figured I’d share the only lovey-dovey piece I’ve ever written so you can see what you’re (not) missing. Oh, and it doesn’t have a title, because I’m horribly awful at those. If you had a diagram, clever titles would be at one end of the spectrum, and I would be at the other.
So without any further ado, happy reading and happy Valentine’s Day! And thank you for your patience.
They sat studying—Victor and Hugo—buddies since, I don’t know, preschool, or even before that.  More tightly knit than socks.  For several hours they’d been content to just snack in silence with only the crunch of Cheetos to fill the gap between them.  But then Victor happened to glance at the clock, and it reminded him that evening was coming soon, and with it, work.  He wouldn’t have time to ask Jasmine himself. 
Pensive, he cleared his throat and began gathering his schoolbooks, ready to stuff them into his bag.  He paused.  “Hugo, I’ve been thinking.  Would you do me a favor?” 
“Sure,” Hugo mumbled, adding a row of numbers in his mind.  “What is it this time?  You want me to run to the store and grab more Bagel Bites?” 
Victor shook his head, his mouth tight.  “I’m leaving tonight—the old man wants me to pick up his orders from Vicksburg.  But summer’s coming, and I’m so busy; I might not get the chance later.  I want you to ask her out for me.” 
Forgetting to breathe, Hugo tilted his head to look at Victor through the corner of his eye, the calculations lost.  “You what?” 
“Ask Jasmine if she’d date me,” Victor pressed impatiently.  “Set up dinner for us, tomorrow night—nice restaurant somewhere. You pick.  Or let her.  Call me when it’s settled.”  He stood, then thought better and stooped to slap Hugo on the shoulder.  “Thanks man.” 
Smiling brightly, Jasmine stood behind the counter, taking orders and handing steaming coffee to overworked freshmen preparing to cram for the beginning of finals—next week, so soon.  Hugo could count on one hand the days remaining before he would be free to pursue his own interests over the summer.  In his mind though, when he’d seen his future, he hadn’t been alone.  Now it was different. Unfortunately, according to the lifelong rule of friendship and honor carried up from the kindergarten playground, Victor had been the first to speak, which gave him dibs. 
For several minutes, Hugo waited in line, eyeing the merchandise:  the ivory white mugs, the over-priced key chains, and the shirts with clever slogans.  And he saw nothing really.  In fact, he hardly noticed as the couple ahead of him grabbed their sandwiches and their cocoa and strolled off arm-in-arm, laughing at something Jasmine had said. 
“Can I get you anything, or are you just going to stand there until I call security?” 
The question jolted him back to reality, but it took him a while to recognize the playful expression on Jasmine’s face. 
“You’re really out of it today.”  Smirking, she leaned forward with her elbows on the counter and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  “You on the run or something?” 
His pulse raced as if he were, and his palms sweated too, stuffed into the depths of his linty pockets.  “Can I speak with you, alone?” 
She frowned and studied him closer.  “You all right?” 
“Please, just answer the question.” 
Shrugging, she shook her head in confusion.  “I’m off in ten.” 
Ages seemed to pass before she joined him at a secluded booth, tucked behind a curving wall near the restroom doors.  A bit of toilet paper clung to the tiles just beyond the threshold, and Jasmine crinkled her nose when she saw it.  Pulling up a chair, she set a mug in his hands and watched him stir absentmindedly.  Meanwhile, she sipped her own pumpkin latte with obvious care, reading him with her eyes. 
When she cleared her throat, he jolted awake, finally registering the drink before him.  “Thanks,” he mumbled, taking in the scent of Aztec mocha.  His favorite. 
“What’s eating you?” 
All he wanted was to sit there and enjoy her company for however long she’d let him and to go home knowing they were still friends.  Instead he cleared his throat and met her eyes.  “Victor sent me.  He wants me to set you two up on a date.” 
Frowning, she straightened and paused mid-motion, her hand still raised to tuck her hair behind her ear.  “That’s what this is about?” 
“Which restaurant do you prefer?” Hugo pressed. 
“Why won’t he just ask me himself?” 
“He’s busy.” 
“Oh, busy,” she snorted.  “My bad.” 
“Which restaurant?” Hugo pleaded.  His thoughts were swirling in a tiresome blaze, and he was so tempted to sink his head onto the table and feel the cool wood against his face. 
“No,” she snapped.  “I’m not going.  If he doesn’t care enough to ask me himself, if he’s too busy, then I won’t have him.  This is the twenty-first century—we don’t send emissaries.  And you can tell him I said that.” 
“Jasmine, he’s a nice guy.  He works hard, makes money—he’d take good care of you.”  Why am I pressing so hard? Hugo asked himself.  Just let it be over and done with. 
“It takes a little more than money to please me,” Jasmine drilled him with her accusing eyes.  “What about love?  What about friendship?  What about shared experiences and smiles?  You have to work for those.  You have to earn them yourself, not with someone else’s help.” 
“He didn’t want to miss the chance to ask you, but his father needed him—” 
“He had all year to ask me.”  Pursing her lips, she pushed back from the table, grabbed her coffee, and stood.  “And what about you?  Why’d he send you to ask me?  Doesn’t he know?” 
“She what?” 
“She said no?”  Victor glared at Hugo, remembered whom he was addressing, and lowered his voice to a quiet yell.  “What reason did she give?” 
Maybe it was the stale taste of coffee in his mouth or the image of her angry face locked away in his brain.  But Hugo couldn’t think straight—he had to let it spill.  So he told Victor everything.  Everything. 
For a long while, Victor was silent, pacing back and forth across the carpet with hands locked and eyes screwed tight.  “You little—” he bit the words off, too angry even to speak.  And then he stormed out of the room, just like that, raging and seething, fists clenched. 
The next day, when Hugo returned from the library, he dropped his school bag on the floor and noticed, with a pang, that Victor’s belongings were gone.  He was gone. 
“He just left?”  Jasmine twisted her straw to mix the slushy bits with the melting coffee.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t know—your friendship…” 
“Doesn’t matter,” Hugo shrugged and toyed with a bit of wilted lettuce from his uneaten sandwich.  “We weren’t going to be roommates next year anyway.  He graduates…” 
“Still, you lost a friend because of me.  I’m sorry.” 
“Listen,” Hugo snapped.  “It’s not your fault.  You didn’t want him.  He should have let it be.”  Of course he hadn’t told her everything, not about the bit where Hugo had admitted to loving Jasmine.  That part wasn’t for her ears, only for his heart. 
“You know—time…has a way of smoothing things over,” Jasmine offered. 
“Is that so?” Hugo tried to meet her eyes, sure that she’d meant something deeper. But she was looking elsewhere. 
They sat in the café, as they’d done for the past few months, through cramming and finals and then into the summer—every day, every evening, meeting there to drink coffee and talk.  To toy at the edge of friendship, but never to go farther than that.  They faced each other, and between them they felt the world spinning with words they couldn’t say. 
“How long can we keep this up?” Jasmine finally asked, one sweltering afternoon.  Already her frozen coffee was thoroughly melted.  But she hadn’t even taken a sip. 
“Hmm?” Hugo raised an eyebrow, studying the tabletop. 
“This game,” she snapped, “the game where we pretend we don’t matter to each other.  Because I can’t move on, but you won’t give me a reason to stay.  So what are we doing?  What’s the point?” 
“You know…I can’t,” Hugo pleaded, hating the weary ache of age in his chest. 
“Hugo, you can’t just keep me dangling over the edge and expect me to be fine with that. If you’re going to make an offer, then make it.  But otherwise, don’t waste my time.”  With that, she stood, and her chair screeched across the floor. 
Long after she left, he could still hear the slamming door, could still hear her words ringing in his ears.  Finally he gathered his trash and threw it away, steeling himself for the long, hot walk to his apartment.  Just outside the shop, he paused to glance at the newspaper stand.  Maybe the reports of others’ misfortunes would distract him from his own. 
Sweating profusely in his nicest leather jacket, shaking with guilty excitement and trepidation, he stood at Jasmine’s door with a bouquet of roses in his unsteady hand.  On the eleventh knock, she flung the door open and barred the way, sagging wearily against the frame.  But her sparking eyes betrayed her interest.  They discovered the roses.  “What now?”  She pursed her lips. 
Drawing in a deep, calming breath, Hugo sank to one knee, offered the flowers, and said with a faltering voice, “Jasmine Pencroft, will you marry me?” 
She shrieked, gasped, laughed, sucked at the air, covered her face with her hands.  Tears slipped from beneath her fingers. 
“So…what’s your answer?” Hugo prodded, after a painfully long time.  By now his leg was starting to cramp, and his arm was getting tired from holding out the bundle of blooms.  Why won’t she just take it already? 
“What about Victor?” she asked, and her excitement dimmed. 
“He died in a plane crash.”  Of course, Hugo really tried to feel sorry about this, tried to forget the pall that had hung over their friendship and ruined it so much that he felt relief at its end.  He knew regret. 
“That’s terrible,” Jasmine murmured.  “And now you’re free?” 
“Yes,” he stood.  His leg seemed a mass of knots.  Finally she took the roses and sniffed delicately. 
“You know you can’t let his death be for nothing,” Hugo prodded. 
“Of course not,” she agreed. 
The wedding was small and simple, with sprays of white flowers and soft kisses of starlight to garland the outdoor stage.  Deep shadows obscured the couple in sheets of purple robes.  Dimly silhouetted figures stood looking on.  Some were crying, others laughing softly.  One was gossiping to another while fiddling in her purse for an elusive pack of gum.  But a lone observer waited unmoving, off to the side, as the vows exchanged themselves in hushed voices. 
Only after the ring and the kiss did he step forward and climb onto the stage with a stiffness and a limp about him.  A silver slice of moon fell on his face, and the newlyweds shrank back with frightened gasps. 
“Victor!” Hugo exclaimed, half-choked.  “I can explain.”  He felt laid bare, exposed, caught in an act of unpardonable sin.  His entire body trembled, and his face grew hot. 
“You believed I was dead?” Victor chuckled.  “Thought so for a while myself.” 
“But how?” 
“An Indonesian villager dragged me from the wreck and nursed me back to health.  But the reporters didn’t know,” he winked, “and I didn’t tell them.” 
The couple relaxed. 
“Anyway, I assume you’ll be having a reception?” 
Jasmine nodded dumbly. 
“Good, you have no idea how much of a bother it was to get here on time.  I was afraid I’d miss the cake.  There will be cake, won’t there?” 


  1. XDDDD Okay, I was worried about Victor crashing the wedding, but cake helps solve all friend problems, right? It's cute and it's funny, and hey, I'm all for fan fiction. So a good Valentine's Day Story, whatever you may think. :)

    1. :P Thanks! Longfellow's poem is definatley more fleshed out. In the end, Miles Standish (Victor) apologizes and gives his blessing, but considering the intended length and tone of my rendition, I felt a prolonged ending would detract from the whole. And also, cake really *does* solve friendship issues. I'm glad you enjoyed it. (Sidenote: It was surprisingly fun to branch out into genres/subgenres I ordinarily avoid.)

    2. *Definately* Sorry--can't spell. I got my tongue twisted around my eye-teeth, and I couldn't see what I was saying.