He was cute—kind of short, and a little shy, but cute. He handed her a red plastic cup filled with spiked Hawaiian punch and invited her out onto the patio, away from the crowd. It was thirty-eight degrees outside, and an inch of snow dusted the wood floor of the porch, but Jessica followed him outside, without a jacket or sleeves, to escape the noise of the housewarming party. Two more guests had arrived, and her ears were beginning to ring from the twenty separate conversations going on around her, topped by a woman she had yet to identify, who had a hyena’s cackle for a laugh.
Jessica exhaled in relief, watched the steam of her breath dance and swirl above her head in the frigid air. She flung her arms over the banister and laid her face into the damp snow. “Ahhh, peace and quiet,” she said.
“You know, I read somewhere that thick, fluffy snow can actually absorb sound. Something about how the ice crystals in the snowflakes are made up. That’s why it always seems so quiet after a fresh snowfall,” he was babbling. It was adorable how nervous he was.
“What are you, a nerd or something?” Jessica joked.
He stretched out his hand. “Whitmore.” When Jessica only raised an eyebrow, he added, “Ok, I guess the name kind of confirms it.”
Jessica smiled—he has a sense of humor. “Sorry,” she said, “It’s just—that’s not what I heard inside.”
“I can’t imagine what you heard inside. If you could even hear anything at all. By the way, that woman with the obnoxiously loud laugh…”
“Oh my god, who is that?”
“Tonia. She’s the one in the red dress and has long curly hair. She’s my roommate’s girlfriend. That’s who I came with.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry you have to deal with that!” Jessica giggled and took at sip from her cup. Whitmore put his arm over her shoulder, pulled her into him in a bear-like side hug, and laughed into her ear. She wasn’t sure if her actions has invited him in for the close physical contact, but she didn’t push him away either. She settled in against his hip, and they turned toward the closed patio doors and watched the party silently continue inside, everyone’s lips moving but no sound coming out. It was calming.
“So how do you know the new homeowners?” Whitmore asked.
Jessica shrugged. She couldn’t say she knew anyone at the party. She’d come with Alex, but Alex ditched her the second they walked in to go mingle with Rebecca and her guests. Rebecca was purely Alex’s friend. They grew up together, were BFFs in high school, and followed each other to Queens University in Charlotte, where the three of them had attended college. Jessica never liked Rebecca, but she put up with her for Alex’s sake. Truth be told, Jessica thought Rebecca was a sneaky, unapologetic slut, and she stole Jessica’s boyfriend freshman year, the same guy she’d just bought this grandiose, three-story house with, patio, spacious back yard, and five-foot deep swimming pool included.
“Old friends,” Jessica finally answered, but if Whitmore had asked Rebecca’s fiancé, Jonathan, he probably would have said he didn’t know Jessica at all, having forgotten their four expensive dates together as broke college students to the African American Art Museum and Discovery Place in uptown, Scarowinds, and the movie theatre at Concord Mills, where they watched Wolfman and Jessica spent most of the time hiding behind Jonathan’s shoulder. He’d even forgotten their drunken make-out session on Alex’s futon. Jessica couldn’t get out of there fast enough, embarrassment written all over her face. Whitmore had swooped in just in the nick of time to save her.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you are a very beautiful woman.”
It sounded awkward coming out of his mouth, as if he struggled to find the right words, but Jessica accepted the compliment, since most men couldn’t respectfully talk to a woman anyway—“Aye, sexy!” and “You bad!” being their common cat calls, as if that would merit them seven digits.
Would he ask her for her phone number next? She could only expect it.
“So do you live nearby?” he said instead.
“In these uppity ‘burbs?” Jessica rolled her neck sarcastically. “No, I live closer to town.”
They were quiet for several moments. Whitmore bounced his leg, shaking Jessica with him. She was attracted to his shyness—it was a relief from all the entitled men she was used to, who assumed they could con her out of sex without bothering to get to know her or even pursue a relationship. Still, she wished he would just ask her out already, before they missed their window of opportunity. Eventually someone would notice they were missing.
Inside she spotted Alex walking toward the doors. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Where the hell have you been?” They were caught. Whitmore must have seen her too, because he stiffened and quickly removed his arm from around her. Jessica couldn’t help but chuckle; he really was a gentleman. She turned to face him, and his eyes revealed a hint of apprehension.
“Relax,” she purred. She placed her palm on the center of his chest and felt his heart racing.
“Beautiful woman make me nervous,” he said.
“That’s obvious.” She leaned in closer to him, put her lips to his ear. “Find me before you leave,” she said, and swiftly turned around and rejoined Alex, and the noise, and the party. She took one last look over her shoulder. Whitmore remained on the patio. He kept his eyes on his feet, but she noticed a smile slowly creep across his face. She had him. She only hoped he would muster the courage to seek her out after the party. She would gladly write her number down on his palm, slip it into his pocket before anyone saw them.
It is Short Story A Day May, and all this week the prompts are geared toward novelists! Today’s prompt asks us to imagine the first meeting between our protagonist and a secondary character. I chose Jessica and Whitmore, because, well, at one point he was a likeable guy, right? Jessica did chose to date him afterall. Unfortunately, when you give a mouse a cookie…
This week of SSAD prompts has really inspired me to bring my first novella, “Love Poetry,” back to life. I’ll talk more in depth about my plans for the story in a later post, but if you want to learn more about the characters, Whitmore, Jessica, Alex, and Bruce, check out my 2015 A to Z novella…