Eden Baylee and I are now well into our second year of these collaborative 800 word stories (not to mention the many we co-wrote previously for Richard Wood’s Word Count Podcast).
For those of you new to them, a previous blog will provide the background to our decision to continue with them and the ‘rules of the game’.
This month’s prompt was: ‘She was standing behind the counter giving him this root beer-float kind of smile’.
Parts 1 and 3 were written by Eden and parts 2 and 4 by me, and we’ve called it Max. We’d love to hear what you think of it.
Prompt: She was standing behind the counter giving him this root beer-float kind of smile.
Parts 1 and 3 EB
Parts 2 and 4 BK
She was standing behind the counter, giving him this root beer-float kind of smile. At first, Billy thought she was looking at the table behind him, the one with a group of loud twenty-something guys. He’d even glared at them earlier because of the ruckus they were creating. But no, there was no mistaking it. She fixed her sight on him like a child who’d never learned it was impolite to stare. He looked away, tried to curtail his discomfort by casually glancing at other patrons. Not an empty table in sight. A few people had laptops with them, but the majority were on their phones or with a book. A woman in the corner drinking coffee with a croissant struck him as odd. Imagine that in a coffee shop these days!
When he thought he had let enough time pass, he slowly peeked in her direction again. His heart just about stopped.
She was still staring right at him, and then she did a little wave with her fingers, as if to say Toot-a-loo!
Finally, he couldn’t avoid her anymore; he smiled back—tentatively.
That was when she picked up her bag and headed toward his table.
His first impulse was to panic. Despite the Toot-a-loo wave, he had no idea who she was. He was awkward enough when it came to making conversation with friends, so small talk with a stranger was way beyond his skill set. She looked a bit older than him but not a lot, and in fact, she was quite attractive in a way. But who the hell was she? Some auntie or cousin he’d forgotten? Somebody he’d worked with in the past? Surely it couldn’t be that she just fancied him. That sort of thing never happened to him, and he had no delusions about his attractiveness to the ladies. As she came near, he stood, waved an inviting hand at the empty chair beside his own and was astonished when she beamed a great warm, friendly smile at him and raised her own hand to shake his.
“I hope you brought it,” she said. ”They promised you would.”
She released his hand, sat down, settled her bag on her lap, and with the huge smile still in place, looked expectantly at him.
“Don’t worry,” she said and with a tap on the bag, added, “I’ve brought the money.”
Billy coughed nervously and took his time sitting down. Was this some crazy deal he’d forgotten?
“You’re the trainer, right? Sam and Beatrice said you were bringing the dog with you. Can I see him?”
His mind did a few more flips. For a second, he considered stringing her along, responding with something outrageous, only he’d never really been witty or quick with words. ”I’m … sorry,” he said finally, his voice shaking, ”I think you’ve made a mistake. I’m not a trainer and I don’t know anyone named Sam or Beatrice.”
After confusion wiped the smile from her face, she fired back.
“What do you mean? I was told to meet you here for noon. You fit the description. I sent a deposit already!”
“For a dog?”
Billy fidgeted in his seat. ”I’m not a dog trainer. I’ve never owned dogs and truth be told, I’m much more of a cat person.” He coughed out an inappropriate chuckle and immediately regretted it.
“But …” She looked around the shop and slowly turned back to face him. “I wired five hundred dollars to an account yesterday. If you don’t have my dog, then who does?”
Good question. Five hundred dollars? For a bloody dog? And that’s just a deposit! What sort of…?
His mind raced, searching for an out, trying to keep his smile in place.
She was fidgety, anxious. He needed to be calm. There was no way he’d…
Wait a minute. She’d said he ‘fit the description’. What description? Who’d ‘described’ him? Who were Sam and Beatrice?
Somebody was setting him up. Somebody confident enough to know he’d be in here, at this time, like most days. Yes. Of course. Max!
Bloody Max! Had to be. The number of times Billy had said ”I’ll bloody kill you, Max.”
It’s exactly what he’d do. Like setting him up with that stripper last Christmas…
The woman seemed near to tears. Billy leaned conspiratorially closer, his smile wider.
“Just kidding,” he said.
”Everything’s ready for him,” she said. ”His own wee room – a big cupboard off the kitchen – all the little toys they love, his bags of food, different-coloured bowls for his drinkies… And his kennel… dark blue, with his name over the door. In big letters.”
She held up her hand, pointing to spell them out.
“M, A, X.”
Yet again, Billy’s mind filled with thoughts of murder.