I’m a big fan of free writes. When sitting down to work on a project, I like to start out with a fifteen minute free write. Anything and everything is acceptable, no matter how petty or trite. Skipping this process tends to result in fewer words written overall and a tendency to become distracted. Most of the time, what comes out is self-serving drivel: my plans for the day, a great meal I’ve recently cooked and/or eaten, a rant about well-meaning family members who just don’t “get it”. Sometimes I surprise myself by coming up with something coherent— and maybe even cohesive.
What follows is the result of my most recent free write. It’s clearly the beginning of something, though I’m still a bit fuzzy on exactly what. Mostly, I’m sharing it to prove that you can plant your butt at the page with every intention of kvetching about noisy neighbors and the ever-growing pile of dishes and still walk away with something that makes you think, “Hey, not bad.”
If you like what you read here, I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments.
“What can I get for you?”
My ears pricked at the deep, Southern drawl.
“I’ll have a burger, medium, no fries.”
“Something to drink with that, sir?”
“And for you, ma’am?”
Yeah, it was him all right. I knew his family owned the place, but, I had no idea he’d still be around four years later. My chest tightened, among other things.
“I’ll have the meatloaf with a side of gravy.”
“And to drink?”
“A diet coke.”
“Great, I’ll have those cokes out for you in a few moments.”
I shielded my face with the menu as he stalked past the booth. His stride was just as I remembered: long and heavy, yet agile. He even smelled the same.
The restroom door creaked and out marched Sarah, wiping her hands on her jeans.
“No paper towels. Fucking hick town.” She slid into the booth. “You okay, Callie?”
I peered over the laminate. “Yeah, fine.”
She opened her menu. “What’s good in this dive?”
“I don’t know. It’s all pretty much classic diner food.”
“Come on, you used to work here back in high school, right? Help me avoid food poisoning.”
“That was years ago. Things change.”
“Nothing changes. Just loses its shine, that’s all.”
“Hmm.” I glared at the Early Bird Special.
“Hot waiter, though.” She snickered.
“Over by the counter. I prefer ‘em clean shaven, as you know, but he’s perfect for you.”
“Aren’t you gonna look?”
“Sheesh. What crawled up your butt?”
I scowled. “Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Well, either way, you’re in luck.”
“Because he’s coming over here.”
“Fuck,” I spat.
His footsteps thudded on the old oak floors. I angled towards the interior of the booth.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sarah whispered.
“Have you ladies had enough time to look at the men—Callie?”
My heart sprang into my throat. The leather groaned beneath me as I rotated. “Hey, Josh.”
Dear, God, that lopsided grin.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
“Yeah, it has.”
It fucking hurt to look at him, like staring into the sun. My chest seized and my stomach burned, no doubt aggravated by my hunger.
“You know each other?” Sarah crossed her arms.
“We went to school together,” I said.
Josh raised an eyebrow.
“And we used to date,” I mumbled.
“Oh. Wow. You’re…Hi, I’m Sarah.” She held out here hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
They shook. Josh’s palm was as wide and calloused as I remembered. I followed a prominent vein all the way up his forearm, where it disappeared into his sleeve. I swallowed.
“How’ve you been, Cal?” He ran a hand through his tousled hair.
“I’m great. How’re you?”
The silence that followed seemed to stretch on forever.
Sarah cleared her throat. “And…”
“And what?” I asked.
“Aren’t you going to mention why you’re back?”
“Oh, right.” I laughed nervously. “I got a job in Atlanta. Thought I’d pass through on my way over.”
“Aw, that’s great, Cal.” He beamed, pearly whites and soft, full lips. “Doing what?”
“Network administration for small- to mid-sized corporations.”
“Yeah? That’s impressive, Miss Tanner.”
My groin tightened. Not at the title itself, but from hearing it spoken with that familiar, gravely twang.
“Thanks,” I said, relaxing into a genuine smile.
“So,” he picked up his pen. “What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger,” said Sarah. “No onions.”
“Sure thing. And you, Cal?” He seemed to be grasping every opportunity to use my name.
I caught and held his gaze, staring into those deep brown eyes that never failed to make my insides molten. “The usual.”
He chuckled. “Sounds good. Drinks?”
“Water’s fine,” said Sarah.
Josh took our menus and sauntered back to the counter. I watched him go, admiring admiring the way his jeans showcased his well-muscled legs. As much as I wanted to claim that time had erased the memory of his broad shoulders and the angle of his jaw, I couldn’t. Four years later and I still knew each and every part of him by heart.
“So, that’s Josh.” Sarah tapped my hand.
“You told me he was handsome, but you failed to mention that he was fucking beautiful. And his voice, Christ, Callie, that man could talk your panties off.”
“Yeah, that was kind of the problem.”
I sighed. “Can we talk about this later?”
“No, we really can’t.”
“Ugh. Fine. We met my sophomore year of high school. He was a Junior.”
“Yeah, I already know that stuff. Keep going.”
“Well, he was the most incredible human being I’d ever met and for some strange reason, he seemed equally crazy about me. We dated for two years and then I broke it off right before I left for college. The end.”
“The end? That is not the end.”
“Well it has to be, because he’s coming back with our drinks.”
Josh balanced a wide, food-laden tray between his palm and shoulder. He’d always been graceful and watching him maneuver this awkward thing like it weighed almost nothing reminded me of what it had felt like to be lifted and carried by those strong arms, tossed onto mattresses, pinned against shower walls with my legs wrapped around him. I shivered.
Josh stood closer to me than was probably necessary as he dispensed our waters. “Food should be out soon, ladies.”
“Thanks.” My voice cracked.
He flashed a crooked grin before side-stepping to the next booth.
Sarah’s gaze remained fixed. “Yeah, that’s definitely not the end of your story.”
“Shh.” I glared at her.
She was right, of course.
A warm hand squeezed my shoulder and I looked up just in time to catch Josh’s smile as he strode back toward the kitchen. My breath hitched.
Sarah leaned forward, her voice a low growl. “You are gonna tell me absolutely everything that happened between the two of you by the time our food arrives.”
I smirked. “Or else?”
“Or else, I’m gonna ask him the same question. Hell, maybe I should. I bet the details would sound better coming from him.”
“Stop,” I slapped her hand playfully. “All right. I’ll tell you.”