The Stained Napkin

First, some background. Then the story.

I found a website last year which gives out writing prompts every Wednesday to assist in writing short stories. In May they do a short story version of NaNoWriMo. (National Novel Writing Month. November if you’re interested.) They call it Story A Day May. Last year I didn’t get very far with it. This year I have more energy and commitment. My failing will be that I still have a novel I’m working on – trying to finish to finish in the next week or two to be more precise.

So, that said; I’m going to try posting most of the stories out here. (Along with the prompt that birthed them.) They will be posted straight from my writing software. (Scrivener) I’m also trying to write them in the same world as the novel I’m making. The hope is to create material for an eventual marketing campaign which uses free short stories to build interest in a paid novel. I’m not sure if that exact campaign will work in this case, but it’s what I have right now.

Write a Story in 30 Minutes.

<— Write Below This Line —>

Traffic was pretty bad coming into the city today. Ben feared he would be late. He spent the last mile looking for an opening to get in the right lane, and now he was fairly sure the exit was going to pass him by. As he crested the hill he saw the problem. A wreck blocked the right lane and the exit ramp both. There was no way he was getting off the freeway here, or getting to the cafe in time.
It was Jane’s idea to meet in the city. They had been dating since their junior year of college. Back then they had both loved the city. It was a different time and a different city though. This city was close to their new lives, but it wasn’t as big. They hadn’t planned to move to the area together. In fact, he had been planning a good-bye dinner for her when the offer from Oak Grove Elementary had come in. That had been three, four years ago? He wasn’t sure, but he never wanted to go back to the city now.
The first year was tough. He felt like the town was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily Jane was just down the road in Cedar Prairie, and that made it OK. That first year they spent most of his off-work time in the city, trying to re-create their experience in Chicago. It didn’t work.
By the second year he preferred to stay out of the Cedar Prairie and started working to convert Jane to the Pine City life. It took longer than he though it would, but eventually she decided to move outside the city limits. She didn’t make it all the way to Pine City, but was in an almost rural neighborhood outside of Cedar Prairie. She still worked downtown though, and now he was stuck trying to get there.
He tapped a button on his dash. “Text Jane.”
“Ready for message to Jane, Mobile Text,” the car responded gently.
“Accident on the exit, running late. Sorry. Send.”
“Accident on the exit running late. Sorry.” The car lost some of the meaning as it parsed his voice. “Send or Revise?”
“Send.” He knew from experience that it wasn’t worth trying to fine-tune the message. She would get it.
As he passed the accident scene he couldn’t help looking over. A mini-van. Hopefully it was a company transport and not a family. He’d been thinking a lot about family lately. Jane’s older brother had been married two years ago. He couldn’t help feeling as if Jane’s dad was staring a hole in the back of his head at the reception. Jane insisted he was imagining things, but then she wasn’t a guy.
As he finally shifted to the right lane his phone beeped at him. Glancing at the display he saw his new route and arrival time. 2 miles to the next exit. If only he had gotten off at the other downtown exit. He hated that section of one-way streets though. That hatred cost him a good ten minutes today. Probably fifteen by the time he actually got there.
The car interrupted his driving music. “Text message from Jane. Read or Ignore?”
“Read.”
“OK. Drive carefully. I’m waiting. Respond, Delete, or Save.”
“Delete.”
It wasn’t so bad when his older brother got married. His dad understood he just wasn’t in the same spot as Jimmy. Every couple was different after all. He had friends with kids in elementary school and others that weren’t even dating. Truthfully outside of that wedding Jane’s dad was a good guy; he never really pressured Ben to move the relationship forward. He tried to put Jane’s dad out of his head as he exited the freeway.
Maybe the time would come soon to move forward though. Ben couldn’t imagine not being able to call Jane at a moments notice. Thing is, couldn’t really imagine always sharing the same space either. When she moved she seemed concerned over what he thought of the place she picked. She even asked him to house-sit for a week shortly after she moved in. Maybe she wanted him to see what the commute would be like? After all, the cat could go for a week with him just visiting every couple of days. That’s what happened when she was living in the city.
“You will arrive at your destination in 1 minute.”
Oh good. Driving around this city was making him miserable. It would be nice to sit down in a nice quiet cafe and share lunch with Jane. Maybe he could bring up his idea of a summer trip?
He pulled into a public parking lot a block or so from his destination. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck parking on the street. As he rounded the corner he paused for a moment. The Stained Napkin. That was the name of the cafe where he and Jane had their first date. As he pushed the door open he realized that it wasn’t just the name, that sign looked exactly the same.

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