I made it through to round 2 of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, so I spent this past weekend consumed with trying to craft the perfect short story.
For this one, I was assigned the genre of “Romantic Comedy”, I had to include “Open Marriage” as a subject that featured somehow prominently, and I had to include “A Sculptor” as a character. I had 72 hours to brainstorm, write, edit, re-write, re-edit, and submit my masterpiece but was limited to no more than 2,000 words. I came in at 1,999 words (whew!) when all was said and done.
I won’t know until late April whether or not this will be good enough to advance to the third and final round of the challenge, but I had a blast participating. I hope you enjoy my story!
Synopsis: Clumsy Chrissy is having a hard time thinking about anything besides Jack, the hunk from the coffee shop. When she joins her septuagenarian parents for marriage counseling, both she and her parents’ therapist are in for a surprise.
Perchance to Dream
Nestled in Jack’s strong embrace, I admired his Adonis-like features and basked in his adoring gaze.
“Chrissy, I’ve been waiting a long time to kiss you.” He looked at me, his gaze earnest as his eyes searched my face.
“Oh, Jack! Me too!” I leaned forward, anticipating his kiss. Just before our lips met, Jack looked at me tenderly and said “Bzzzzz! Bzzzzz!”
The dream evaporated as I fumbled for my phone, dropping it several times before it was firmly in my hands. The angry buzzing had stopped, but I had missed a call and a text from my mother.
DON’T FORGET ABT 11 AM COUNSELING W/DR SCHOENMANN. WE’RE OPENING UP. WE’RE HAVING AN OPEN MARRIAGE.
Good grief. I fell back onto my pillow, not ready to face reality yet. It was way too early for Mom and her “shouty caps.” And, she didn’t really mean an “open marriage”, right? She and Dad are both in their 70s. Gross.
My mind drifted back to my dream. Why had I dreamt about the hunky guy I met at the corner coffee shop? That dream was never going to come true.
I only know his name because I’d seen it scrawled on his coffee cups: Jack. Privately, I thought of him as “Hunk.” Jack. Hunky Jack. Hmmm. ‘Hunky Jack’ sounds like ‘Hungry Jack.’ I want pancakes, I thought idly.
Glancing at the clock, I was relieved to see I still had plenty of time to make pancakes and get to Dr. Schoenmann’s office on time, although why I needed to go to this appointment was a mystery. My parents had been seeing Dr. Schoenmann, a marriage therapist, for the past month. Mom had called yesterday asking if I would join them for today’s session.
Deciding I couldn’t delay the inevitable, I called her and she answered on the first ring.
“Christina. Thank God. You’re alive. You’ll be there at 11, right?”
“It’s marriage counseling, Mom, right? Why do you want me there?”
“What? Is it a sin you should be there?”
My whole life, Mom’s asked me if various things were sins. When I was little, I thought she was testing me and I was afraid a wrong answer would send me straight to hell. Maybe going to this therapy appointment isn’t such a bad idea.
“If you must know,” she continued, “Dr. Shoenmann said we need to be more open, so we want you there. You’ll come, right? You’re not working?”
“I’m an artist, Mom, remember? A sculptor. I manage my own time. Yes, I’ll be there.”
“I know you’re a scepter, Christina, but I thought you might have found a real job by now. Is it a sin I should want you to have a real job?”
“Sculptor, Mom. I sculpt clay. I’m not an ornamental staff.”
“What?” She screeched. “What are you talking about? Have you been drinking?”
“Mom, someone’s at the door. I need to go.”
I refused to get sucked into another discussion about my job.
On the way to the therapist’s office, I daydreamed about Hunky Jack before remembering, with sickening clarity, yesterday’s disastrous encounter with Jack at the coffee shop.
Being my usual clumsy self, I had tripped over an enormous, but invisible, object as I had nonchalantly walked by Jack’s table. My latte had leapt from the cup to land all over his muscled chest. I had just wanted a better look at him, for crying out loud. Who could fault me for that? Unfortunately, seeing Jack covered in 16 ounces of frothy caffeine wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
He was far too nice, which somehow made it worse. Red-faced, I had murmured an apology before hightailing it out of there. I would probably have to switch coffee shops now.
As I entered the building, my thoughts turned to my parents’ therapist. Although I’d never met Dr. Schoenmann, I had a sneaking suspicion he saw my parents as easy money. After 45 years of marriage, why did they need marriage counseling? I suspected Mom went because she was bored. I suspected Dad went because Mom told him to.
In my head, Dr. Schoenmann was a cartoon villain, complete with a twirly mustache. He’d cackle to himself maniacally as he counted comically-large piles of clients’ cash. The clients themselves would recline on couches facing away from him, thinking he was solving their marital problems as he added a periodic “I see” or “interesting… continue”. Hmmm. Maybe I could expose him for the fraud he surely was.
The moment I stepped into the waiting room, Mom practically assaulted me, her voice way too loud. “Christina!”
“Mom! Inside voice!”
I glanced at Dad, who seemed completely engrossed in a “Real Housewives” episode playing on the overhead TV. From his body language, I got the feeling he would rather be anywhere but at this appointment, which made two of us.
“Christina!” Mom continued in a loud stage whisper. “I wondered if you weren’t coming. But I thought, why wouldn’t she come? My Christina is a good girl.” I caught sight of other waiting patients snickering at this diminutive septuagenarian calling 40-year old me a “good girl.”
Oblivious, she barreled on: “Today, we’re talking about openness in our marriage. Is it a sin we should be more open? Your father and I need an open marriage.” Now the other waiting patients were openly chuckling. I glanced at Dad in time to see him roll his eyes.
Before I could tell Mom that I didn’t think “open marriage” meant what she thought it meant, the door to the inner office opened.
No. It couldn’t be. My heart started racing.
Hunky Jack from the coffee shop stood in the inner doorway of Dr. Schoenmann’s office.
Then I realized what that must mean. Great. He’s married. Of course he’s married. I knew there had to be something wrong with him.
He hadn’t noticed me yet, so I looked down at my feet hoping he’d just waltz straight on past without seeing me.
No such luck. “Chrissy? Large non-fat no-whip triple sugar-free caramel latte Chrissy? Imagine seeing you here!” When I chanced a glance upwards, he was actually beaming at me.
Good grief. Why, oh why did I have to like coffee drinks that take two minutes to order? Why did I have to spill coffee all over a married man? God, I could just imagine his wife’s reaction to that story. Where was the wife? Why wouldn’t he just leave already? And, where was the villainous Dr. Schoenmann?
Taking a deep breath, I met his friendly gaze. Wow. Had I thought he was good-looking? Understatement of the year.
“Jack? Hi.” I managed to get the words out despite the enormous frog in my throat. “Where’s your wife? It’s funny that you have the same marriage counselor as my parents.”
“Well, I’m actually not married. And I’m…”
Before he could finish his sentence, Mom leapt to her feet shouting “Dr. Schoenmann!”
Thank God. Saved by the villainous counselor. Craning my neck to see around Jack, I still didn’t see anyone. Where was he?
Why was Hunky Jack warmly greeting my parents?
Oh no. No. No! No!! No!!!
“Dr. Schoenmann, this is our daughter, Christina. She doesn’t have a real job; she’s a scepter. Do you kids know each other?” Mom’s gaze darted between us.
How could Hunky Jack be their therapist? And, where was his twirly mustache?
“A sculptor, Mom. I sculpt things out of clay.” I squeaked.
Wait. Had Jack just said that he wasn’t married?
Jack/Dr. Schoenmann looked at me quizzically as he reached out to shake my hand. He said something about it being nice to officially meet me. I think. Or maybe he said something else entirely. I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t hear him over my pounding heart. Hark, were those angels singing? Did I just get zapped with an electrical current? Why was I acting like a love-struck teenager?
Jack ushered us into his office, which looked suspiciously like a comfortable living room and not at all like a villainous therapist’s lair.
Mom, Dad and I sat on one of the couches, and Hunky Jack/Dr. Schoenmann sat across from us. Lordy. This was going to be distracting. They just shouldn’t give licenses or counseling certifications to people that good-looking.
I realized my mind was wandering inappropriately when Mom swatted me on the arm.
“Christina! Pay attention! Is it a sin you should pay attention for just one hour?”
Apparently satisfied with my look of contrition, she continued: “Dr. Schoenmann, you told Melvin and me last week we should be more open. We talked, and we want to be more open. So we invited Christina here today.”
“That’s great, Mrs. Verwirrt. While it’s somewhat unusual to have an adult child join a marriage counseling session, I’m all for it if you think it will help.” I couldn’t get enough of his hypnotic voice.
I opened the bottle of water he offered me, mesmerized by the sight of his strong, capable hands twisting off the cap of his own bottle.
“You’re right.” Mom continued, oblivious to Jack’s seductive water bottle-opening techniques. “We do need to be more open. We’ve decided we’re going to have an open marriage. Open, open, OPEN MARRIAGE!”
I couldn’t control what happened next. I watched helplessly as the water I had just sipped left my mouth, droplets spraying in slow motion all over Hunky Jack/Dr. Schoenmann’s broad shoulders and chiseled torso.
Oh my God. Had I seriously just done a spit-take all over my parents’ therapist? I waited interminably for the floor to swallow me. No such luck.
But, instead of becoming upset, Jack just mopped himself off with a handkerchief.
“Can you tell me more about what you mean, Mrs. Verwirrt?”
Without skipping a beat, he diplomatically ignored the second time I’d gotten liquids all over him in as many days. This guy was good.
Mom, on the other hand, was getting flustered.
“What I mean? Open! O-P-E-N! Sharing information. You know. No secrets. I won’t tell you how to do your job, Dr. S., but a marriage therapist should know what ‘open marriage’ means. Melvin and I will tell each other our deepest secrets. I don’t have any secrets, mind you, but is it a sin Melvin should talk to me? With this new open marriage, Melvin will talk to me!” Mom sat back in her seat, winded from her tirade.
Dad grunted and picked imaginary lint off of his polyester pants.
I caught Hunky Jack’s gaze and shook my head slightly. There was no need to enlighten my parents about what an “open marriage” really meant. Thankfully, he seemed to agree.
For the rest of the session, I sat back, content to observe. Jack was amazing. He was even able to draw a few words out of Dad, no minor miracle. I apologized in my head for assuming the worst about marriage counseling.
When the hour was up, Mom pulled Dad and me toward the door, but Hunky Jack/Dr. Schoenmann stopped us.
“Mr. and Mrs. Verwirrt, if it’s OK, I’d like to speak to Chrissy alone.”
Mom gave us a funny look, but headed toward the lobby with Dad in tow.
Here it comes. He’s going to ask me to pay for dry-cleaning his saliva-logged shirt. My feelings of goodwill toward counselors disappeared.
“Look, Chrissy, this may sound strange because I don’t know much about you, but I’d like to get to know you better. Maybe we could go out for a drink. Maybe you can even spill it on me.”
His eyes twinkled, and his smile lit up his entire face. “Maybe,” he continued, “we can have an open relationship. You know, no secrets.”
Before I could overthink it, I scrawled my phone number and handed it to him. “Call me at my studio tomorrow. But, Jack? Let’s get pancakes instead.”
I turned to leave, my heart skipping with joy. Maybe my dream would come true after all.