More in the spirit of both challenges I’m participating in this month, I’ve been scrambling to get this story written and polished since last night. This is not my strong suit, and I really need to thank my partner Musingtopieces and my Camp NaNoWriMo cabinmates for their feedback!
878 words. LGBT themes. 🏳️🌈
“Here you go,” Grace said as she plopped down on the neighboring stool with their food, pushing the plate of fries in her best friend’s direction. She eyed the tall glass the bartender had brought just before she’d left, now empty of everything but ice. “Better?”
Julia shook her head. She picked up a fry, but paused with it still only halfway to her mouth. Along the way the ring snagged her attention again. Everything else aside, Grace had to admit it was a beautiful ring. The diamond was uncut, with a polished teardrop emerald peeking out like a leaf from beneath a rose.
The two stones sparkled in the light above the thin silver band, occasionally attracting the eyes of patrons up and down the bar. On Julia’s slender finger it looked heavy and out of place, but that was the way she wore it. What it symbolized weighed so heavily on her mind that meeting Grace for drinks after work had turned into showing up an hour early and knocking back fruity cocktails with names like Rum Runner, Bahama Mama, and California Lemonade.
With a sigh, Julia popped the fry into her mouth and leaned on her elbow on the bartop. They hadn’t even had a chance to talk much yet but Grace knew the gist of it. She could guess from the past few weeks her friend avoiding any wedding talk as much as possible.
The bartender came over and replaced the empty glass with a full one. He glanced at Julia, then the ring, and then Grace, who merely shrugged. It had been a long day and she’d only just finished her waitressing shift; she wasn’t in the mood to police a grown woman’s drinking.
“Thanks,” Julia said morosely, generally addressing both of them. She leaned over and snagged the straw with her lips, sucking hard at the mixed drink for a moment, draining nearly a fourth of the glass in one go.
Grace waited until the bartender left, then turned to Julia. “So… that whole cold feet thing is really kicking in hard, huh?”
“You betcha.” Julia flashed her a lopsided grin. She had a smile that lit up the room, that had always netted her free drinks in the clubs during college. It had been a reassuring constant back in the days when Grace had been too nervous to go into lesbian clubs on her own and dragged Julia along for moral support. She’d been a good sport about it, too. Easygoing and friendly with the women who hit on her while gently trying to deflect them in Grace’s direction, the straight best friend helping her take her first baby steps out of the closet.
When the bartender finally cut Julia off a few rounds later they made their way out of the bar, Grace doing her best to help Julia walk in a reasonably straight line. Her friend was in no condition to drive and Grace had duly confiscated her keys despite the drunken protests. Now, every stumble seemed to shake a giggle out of Julia and she kept dragging them off course into the nearest wall.
“I guess cold feet was an understatement,” Grace muttered, unable to think of a time she had ever seen anyone so unprepared to go through with something that they got falling down drunk. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to hold it against Julia, who over the course of the night had opened up about her fiancé and doubts that she’d never mentioned to anyone until tonight.
Julia giggled in her ear again. “Graaaaace,” she sing-songed.
With surprising coordination, Julia swung out and put her back to the wall, pulling Grace with her. Grace had to catch herself to avoid actually falling into her friend, scraping her palms on the rough stone. It was the part of the restaurant where the building had given way to fenced-in outdoor space, and fragrant clusters of blooming lilac spilled over the top of the wall above their heads.
As Julia draped both arms around her neck, Grace had a premonition. She knew that they would kiss. She knew that Julia would admit that behind all the doubts there was one big secret she’d been keeping, and that one way or another it would erode away her marriage before it even began. And honestly, if it weren’t for the glint in Julia’s eyes and her insistent tug pulling them closer together, Grace would still be blind to it. Not willfully blind, just… she’d never thought about Julia that way, not before coming out or after.
But this moment was perfect. The fragrant flowers provided shelter, some of the creepers draped down farther than others creating a little alcove around them. A cluster of the pale purple flowers, their color deepened by shadows, rested just to one side of Julia’s head as though she had tucked a blooming sprig behind her ear. With the town’s population either home for the night or still inside at the bar, there was no one around. In the still, moonless night, they were the only two people on earth who mattered.
Flushed and uncertain, Grace teetered on the edge between stepping back and breaking the moment or accepting, possibly even returning the kiss.