by Staci Troilo
It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.
Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 3 of 12: Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking.
Laci and Del: A Wee Bit O’ Picking
It was an irritant somewhere in her brain, picking away at her comfort zone.
Pick. Pick. Pick.
If Laci had felt nervous before Valentine’s Day, she was positively panicked afterward. The first month and a half of the year had gone more smoothly than she could have hoped after their years apart, then Del had to go and up the stakes with the perfect Valentine’s date: just the right mix of recreation and romance.
Since then she’d been a wreck.
He had dialed everything back to casual, but she knew it was a fake casual. They were past that. He’d taken them past that.
She kept going to movies with him, sharing meals, discussing their days, meeting for coffee, but she knew, she knew, those things weren’t innocuous. It was more than merely food, entertainment, and mindless chatter. They mattered to him. And if she was honest with herself, they all mattered to her, too.
Pick. Pick. Pick.
It was a month after their perfect date, and he hadn’t said anything, hadn’t put any pressure on her—none at all, in fact—but she felt it. Because over the last week, he’d spent less and less time with her. Time was running out. She had to choose.
Pick. Pick. Pick.
Commit or move on.
Whatever was fiddling around in her head believed in divide and conquer, because some of it had gone to work in her stomach. She thought about making a bowl of soup, but took some antacid instead.
St. Patrick’s Day was Monday. Because of his heritage, it used to be one of Del’s favorite days of the year. He had proven to her that he still knew her well. Maybe it was time to see how well she still knew him. She sat down with a notebook and pen and got to work.
On Monday evening, Laci’s doorbell rang at 5:30, right when she expected it. She straightened her green silk dress under her apron and answered the door.
He must have had a hard day, because he’d already taken off his jacket, untucked his shirt, loosened his collar, and undone his tie. His hair was mussed, like he’d been running his hand through it in frustration, and he was looking at his phone with a frown on his face. But when she greeted him, he pocketed his phone and the stress lines smoothed into a lazy grin. “You look gorgeous. What’s the occasion?”
She grabbed his hand and pulled him into her apartment. She looked gorgeous? One of her favorite looks on Del was his done-with-the-business-day look. His five o’clock shadow was coming in and his clothes were starting to come off… he had that perfect blend of elegant and casual that really got to her. “Are you kidding me? Delany Keegan doesn’t know what today is?”
He thought for a second and shook his head. “Sorry, babe. The last week’s been pretty rough. Today was a real killer. Let me think… It’s not a birthday. Not an anniversary. What am I missing?”
She reached behind her and slowly untied her apron, watching his every reaction.
His gaze followed her hands. He swallowed and smiled, clearly expecting a lot more to come.
Instead of removing her apron, she lifted it to him and said, “Read it.”
“What?” He chuckled, clearly not expecting that turn of events.
“What’s it say?”
He looked at her for a moment, then he looked down at the apron and read it. “Kiss Me. I May Have a Wee Bit O’ Irish in Me.” He smiled. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day.”
She spoke with her best brogue, which wasn’t that good, but was serviceable. “It is indeed, Delany Keegan. And you should be ashamed for neglecting your heritage like that. Forgetting our day. And not even wearing o’ the green! You know what that means!” She reached out and pinched him.
He tossed his jacket on the sofa and spoke in a brogue far better than Laci’s. “You get one free one, Laci Marks. Try it again, and I pinch back.”
She giggled and said, “You better not if you want to put a wee bit o’ Irish in me later!” and ran into the kitchen. He was close on her heels. She turned to ward off his advance, but he had stopped short. “Del? What’s wrong?”
He was staring at her table. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice low, soft.
The nerves were back again, working overtime. Pick. Pick. Pick. “I made dinner. We’ve been eating together almost every night, anyway. I just decided to cook tonight instead of us going out.”
She needed something to do with her hands, so she took her apron off. For the second time that night, she waited while he looked her over, head to toe. At the door, he just appraised her beauty, and she appreciated it. But in the kitchen, he assessed the intent behind her efforts, and it made her squirm. Then he turned toward the table, where she had already placed homemade soda bread, Colcannon potatoes, corned beef, and a steaming pot of Irish stew. Tall glasses of Guinness were at each place setting. He didn’t even know that coffee was already brewed for after dinner, Irish if he wanted it that way, to accompany an Irish cream chocolate cheesecake that she’d baked the day before. She bit her lip while she waited for his analysis to end.
“You did all this?”
She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.” Fidgeting under his stare, she continued. “We have to eat, right?”
He crossed to her and took her by the shoulders, forcing her to face him, but she stared at the floor. “Laci, look at me.”
She couldn’t quite manage it.
“Laci,” he whispered.
She looked up into his eyes and saw that he was searching for answers. Answers she was frightened to give.
“Did you do all this for me?”
She nodded. “I know your mother makes this meal every year. I wanted to make sure you got to eat your family feast, even if you were with me instead of them.”
He smiled, and his eyes stopped questioning her. Instead, they held answers. Those were the eyes that she’d once fallen in love with. Eyes that once held the promise of a future, of children, of growing old together. Of a lifetime. She saw those things again.
It was frightening.
“Your apron said I’m supposed to kiss you.” He pulled her into his embrace.
Everything had changed.
She had picked.
What if she’d made a mistake?