Short Story: Guessing Games

First, a little background. I decided to enter a short story contest that my friend discovered. It consisted of three rounds in which you receive a three-part prompt: a genre, a subject, and a character. After each round, the word length and time to complete the story shrink as only the top five entries in each heat progress.

Well, the results are in for the first round, and I’ve moved on! I managed to nab third place in my heat, which asked me to write a romantic comedy involving anger and a limo driver. Those who know me know how funny this is since I am not a romcom fan. My writing M.O. tends to be “if I’m stuck, just kill someone off.” That’s not very romantic or comedic, unless your humor is black, which mine does tend to be. Anyway, since I have to write my ass off this weekend for the second round, I thought I’d share this shocking feat of romantic comedy I’ve supposedly accomplished. Read on if you fancy.

Ruby grimaced at the dance her phone made across the bar. Two calls and thirteen—fourteen now—texts later, her silent treatment didn’t seem to be getting her point across. She would answer with something sassy and clever, but she was too annoyed to think in anything but profanities. She snatched up the phone and dropped it into the vast expanse of her purse, hoping it didn’t break on the way down.

“Darling, you have to want something stronger than cranberry juice.”

The corners of her mouth lifted in a reflexive smile. “Thanks for the concern,” she purred, “but I’m on duty soon.”

“Funny, I wouldn’t take you for a cop.”

“That’s the point, isn’t it?” She turned in the direction of the voice. Though the man’s approach annoyed her, she had to admit that he was cute. That was the point of the dim lighting in these places though, wasn’t it? To furnish flirtation and ill-advised decisions?

Though she hadn’t finished her drink, she slid from her stool and strode on steady heels to the bathroom to check her makeup. He didn’t follow her or even try to catch her elbow for another moment of her time, which was a shame. She did enjoy a challenge sometimes.

The cranberry juice stained her mouth a bit, but it only complemented her deep red lipstick. She’d eschewed eyeliner for just a bit of black mascara to make her green eyes pop. In her line of work, people did not often pay her enough attention. Fortunately, she enjoyed the details.

By the time she returned to the bar, he had stolen her seat. He twisted on the cushion and smiled at her when she approached. “Just keeping your seat warm for you. You can’t really trust people, leaving your drink unattended like that. Someone might slip you something. Or, worse, they might steal your drink.”

“And then they’d want to hunt me down after finding out that there’s no alcohol in there,” she retorted. She really had no reason to head back to her seat rather than the door other than to square away her bill. Really, she felt this guy ought to pay for her to make up for the way his light eyes seemed to dance over her body, rarely making eye contact. “Look, it’s been…something, but I really should leave soon for work.”

“What if I propose a wager?” The man dismounted and took a step away from the bar, his tall, lanky body looming over her. She expected him to be reeking of booze and sweat, the cocktail of tomorrow’s regret, but all she could detect from him was the faint scent of cologne, something spiced and exotic. “We haven’t even introduced ourselves. I’m Jacob.”

“You can propose anything you like, Jacob, but I reserve the right to reject it. And it’s Ruby,” she added, almost an afterthought.

He smiled at that, revealing dimples. That surprised her. They were tricky to detect beneath his fine layer of dark stubble, but they were definitely there. “Ruby. That’s nice. I like that.”

Jacob leaned back against the bar and let his eyes wander again. Ruby considered just walking out into the night to escape the warm air of the bar and this man’s intrusive confidence, but another vibration of her cell phone deep within her purse was enough to persuade her to stay. She forced herself to stand a bit taller and summon up some nerve. “Well, most people like rubies. They’re expensive and all. What’s your challenge?”

He rubbed his hands together with excitement. “Well, Ruby, if I guess what your job is in three tries, you let me answer all those texts for you, and I get your number.”

She laughed at the ridiculousness of the request. While she wouldn’t mind being free of the texts stacking up from her last indiscretion, she felt that he should have already learned something about her propensity to give men the cold shoulder. “What makes you think that I would answer you if I didn’t feel like it?”

“You could have left already, but you haven’t. Admit it, you’re curious.”

She was, even when it was against her very nature to admit it. With some hesitation, she lowered herself back onto her stool and shot him what she hoped was a convincing glare. “You already said cop, so that’s one guess wasted.”

He barked out a laugh and raised a finger to the bartender, who immediately set to work pouring a pint. He must have been a regular to have that kind of link to the bar. Was that the sort of man she wanted to entertain, someone who spent too much time drinking? She had doubts and pushed them to the front of her mind. She couldn’t afford to make another mistake. There were too many parts of the city she couldn’t visit for fear of running into the wrong person. At thirty, she already felt too old to be making decisions she could not longer support in the morning light.

Calm down, she told herself. You have nothing to lose. He couldn’t be any worse than the last guy, and she had no obligation to talk to him ever again. She looked over the bar to check the time. An hour until time. She’d didn’t have far to go anyway. She could at least humor a man and let him possibly entertain her.

By the time she looked back to him, he had his beer already raised in an invisible toast to her. “If you’re going to count a guess I made before we started, I think I should get to ask you a question. Even the playing field a little.”

“Oh, is there a playing field?” Ruby felt herself relaxing into her seat, her annoyance at the evening’s path waning. It felt good to be away from her small apartment and to have conversation that made her feel like she had the upper hand. She hadn’t felt in control in so long. “But fine. You can ask one question, as long as the question’s not cheap. No asking me what I do or how I’d describe myself or anything like that.”

Jacob held his free hand in front of his chest in surrender. “Deal.” He narrowed his eyes at her, biting his lower lip as he looked without really looking. Something about that concentration was boyish, endearing. “Do you have to wear a uniform?”

She gestured down at her outfit. “You’re looking at it.” Maybe it wasn’t entirely fair to tell him that when she was wearing black skinny jeans and a dark, fitted sweater, but she couldn’t help herself. “My jacket’s out in my car, but it’s black as well. If that helps you at all.”

That did not seem to be the answer he had wanted, and he frowned to show as much. “That’s all you’re going to give me?”

“That’s all you asked. And I really don’t have all night, so if you could just get on guessing, that would be great.”

“Fine.” He tapped a finger against his lips. “You are…a funeral director.”

“Really? You think I’d go to work this late if I worked on funerals?”

“Hey, people die all hours of the day. We don’t know if we’re going to make it out that door. You could just be hedging your bets.”

“That’s grim. Clever enough, but really dark. No, I don’t work in a funeral home in any sense. Couldn’t even tell you the last time I was inside one. That’s one down, one to go. Why would you even make a bet like this? You’re never going to get it. I should know. I see a lot of people in my business. I’m good at reading them.”

“Is that so? And what do you read about me?”

She laughed because she didn’t want to say that she could recognize that he was an impulsive person, perhaps a bit desperate. He probably was a bit reckless with his money. He was open almost to a fault, someone who had a lot of friends but not many people he could count on to be close. He spent more time out than he did at home. He was comfortable around women but probably didn’t have a sister or anyone close his age to tell him where he was making mistakes in his approach. “You’re not as forward as you think,” she told him with a slip of a smirk. “You think you’re much smoother than you are, probably because you’re endearing enough that nobody has ever called you out on it. You’re clever enough and a bit of a night owl. And you like being right.”

With each description, he nodded along. She enjoyed the faint buzz of being right. Once again, she was demonstrating that she held the power in this situation. She liked that he didn’t argue with her. There was something sexy about humility, even if he didn’t seem to possess much of it. “Those could be easy guesses though. Just trying to describe someone? You say vague things until you hit the mark. It’s like a horoscope. Like I could tell you that you’re upset when a guy comes on too heavy. You like being in control, and you like asserting it. You isolate yourself. You wonder why you’re always alone, but you keep painting yourself into corners because you don’t give people enough of a chance. You think that you’re smarter than other people, that you’re better than them, but really you don’t give them a chance.”

His words were like a slap in the face to her. She had never had a stranger tell her that she was stuck up and cold. If he thought that she put up walls with other people? Well, she’d show him walls. She straightened her purse on her shoulder and stood. “Well, this has been a lot of fun, but I have to get going. You enjoy your beer with people I’ll never get to know since I won’t ever give them a chance. I’m going to go be alone before work because that’s what I like so much.”

Apology wrote itself over his features, from the knitting of his brows to his lips fumbling for the right words to get her to stay. He reached out to her, but she was steady on her heels, her eyes abandoning him for the door. “Wait. Ruby. I didn’t mean anything by it. Hey, we were just making predictions, right? So prove me wrong.”

She turned to him again, her face flushed with anger. “I’ve already proven you wrong. I’m not a cop, and I’m not a funeral director. And for future reference, when you’re trying to make a good impression on a woman, why don’t you try saying nice things to her rather than making all of these weird, grim speculations? Nothing you’ve said to me has made me feel good about myself, so for the record, I would not be answering any of your messages even if you did get my number. So have a nice life.”

She focused on the sound of her heels making their way across the linoleum. Four steps, five. There were no more than fifteen left between her and the door, and then she would never have to set foot in this bar again. He called out to her, but she didn’t hear him over the stereo and the clatter of people losing track of their tone as they gave in to drunkenness. Part of her was curious, but she would not entertain any of his excuses. She didn’t need to waste her time.

He caught up with her quicker than she expected. His hand was on her elbow, his lips near her ear. “I said you’re a limousine driver.”

She wanted to laugh. She wanted to slap him. More than anything, she wanted to know how he possibly figured her out. “That doesn’t change anything,” she snapped.

“It might not, but you pick up your client in twenty minutes. You’re supposed to meet him five blocks from here, and I think you’ll find that if you check your records, his name is Jacob Amos.” He offered her an apologetic smile. “I knew from the minute you said your name.”

She snapped her phone from her purse and scrolled to the reservation. Everything he said was right. She wanted to throw the phone at him and storm out, but she knew she needed this job. Finding the patience to scroll to her fling’s texts, she handed the smart phone to him. “Well, get on with it. I’m not going to call you though.”

“I don’t need a call. I just need a ride. And to do this.”

Before she could protest, he pulled her close and pressed his lips to her temple. She tried to struggle away, but then she noticed the flash go off. He released her a second later, finishing his message to the other man and hitting send. “I don’t think that he’s going to bother you again after seeing you with your boyfriend.”

How embarrassing to have her personal problem solved by a stranger who should have had the upper hand, especially when that man was her client. “You didn’t have to do that,” she mumbled.

“Maybe not, but I figured it might be the only chance I have to kiss you. I figured it might as well go down in history.” He cleared his throat and gestured back to the bar. “I have to settle my tab still, so I’ll see you in a few minutes. Maybe we can start over again. I thought I’d try to be clever, but I just showed you what an idiot I am. I get nervous.”

“About what?”

“Beautiful women. Beautiful, sober women,” he said.

The explanation made her chuckle, just a little. It was enough. “When I pick you up, I’ll call you Mr. Amos. Maybe we’ll have a bit of small talk and get to know one another.”

“I’d like that,” he said with a wide grin. Those devastating dimples were impossible to miss anymore. “I’d like that a lot.”

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