Welcome to Fiction Friday! Every Friday we give you a short bite of a serial story, something you can read on your lunch break, but with a twist: We want you to choose what happens next. This week, I’m starting a new story, a contemporary romance set in New York City. Elizabeth and Gabe couldn’t be more different, and their first meeting is anything but promising. Come back every Friday this month to see if our Fiction Friday team can bring them together.
Drawn Together – Part 1
A. J. Larrieu
Elizabeth gasped as the contents of her suitcase spilled onto the wet, dirty pavement of what had to be New York’s busiest crosswalk.
Her interview clothes—the stockings, the skirt, the high heels she couldn’t afford and never should have bought—all were trampled by the stream of pedestrians surging across the road. Elizabeth ignored them. Her portfolio had been in that suitcase. If she could grab it…too late. The pages had already slipped out of their case. Her series of prints of the Prestons’ bed-and-breakfast got kicked across the crosswalk like garbage. Her drawing of Mrs. Already’s gazebo had a sneaker print on it, and her watercolor of the Chatahatchee River—the original (God, how could she have been so stupid?)—was half-submerged in a pool of gray rainwater at the curb.
Elizabeth went down on her knees, soaking her jeans. Her hair finished falling out of the bun she’d pinned it in that morning, but she didn’t care.
Her interview was two hours away, but there was no point in going. She was a thousand miles from home. Even if she could reschedule to tomorrow, there was no way she could get backup copies in time. Elizabeth blinked back tears and rubbed her face, smearing her mascara. It didn’t matter now.
Then she saw it. At the edge of the crosswalk. One of her Preston prints—not her best, but at this point she didn’t care—was resting on the pavement. It had escaped the worst of the wet and the stampede of pedestrians. It just might be okay.
The light was about to change. A black Porsche Boxster was three feet away from rolling right over her artwork. The flashing hand on the crosswalk signal counted down to disaster from three.
“Sir!” The driver didn’t even look up. He was talking on a headset. Elizabeth struggled to her feet and ran for the car, waving her arms like a panicked airline ramp agent.
The man looked up just as the light changed. He saw her—he had to. Elizabeth nearly laughed in relief. And then, as impatient commuters laid on their horns behind the Porsche, the driver gunned the engine around her and crushed her last hope for a paycheck under a tire she couldn’t have bought with five times the balance in her bank account.
Elizabeth sat down on the curb, no longer caring about salvaging her clothes. What did it matter? Her interview was over before she’d even found the building.
# # #
Gabe sipped his coffee as the artist—the eleventh of the day—leafed through her portfolio and pointed out all the reasons she could capture “the spirit, you know, the feel” of his grandfather’s childhood home.
“Thank you Ms. Jameson. We’ll let you know what we decide.”
The girl gave a sharp little nod and gathered her papers. She didn’t smile. She knew a brush-off when she heard one.
“How many more?” Gabe asked his grandfather as Number Eleven shut the office door.
Les Redfield scratched his hairy ear with the arm of his eyeglasses. “One more to go.” He sipped his tea and smacked his lips. “Might be the one!”
Gabe rubbed the bridge of his nose. Of course he wanted to commission someone competent, but a dozen candidates was nine more than he’d expected. “Can’t we just go with that second one? She seemed pretty good.” Gabe didn’t know squat about art, but the retired art teacher’s drawings had looked realistic to him. And she likely needed the job. If Les insisted on spending his money on a series of custom drawings of his Upper West Side mansion, at least he’d be keeping a retired public school teacher comfortable in the process.
“She wasn’t quite what I’m looking for,” said Les. “We have to find the best. You trying to rush an old man’s dying wish?”
Gabe snorted. “I’ve lost track of all your dying wishes.” The year before it had been redecorating the roof deck. And the year before that, rearranging all the furniture to be more feng shui. Funnily enough, Gabe was always the one tasked with shepherding the designers and artists and painters around the house. He was happy to do it for the man who’d raised him, but sometimes he wondered what the point was of all this home improvement.
Les put his glasses back on and peered at the interviewee list.
“Elizabeth Bretton,” he said. “From North Carolina, degree in mass communications from Chapel Hill.”
“She’d have to stay on-site,” said Gabe. “That retired teacher lives in the city.”
Les ignored him. “She’s done a few commissions, mostly local businesses. Twenty-six, never been married.”
“Does that matter?”
Les’s eyes twinkled and he hit a button on his phone. “Audrey, please send in Miss Bretton.”
“Right away Mr. Redfield.”
Gabe sighed. Fifteen more minutes and he could put this endless day behind him and get back to his office. The door opened. And in walked the schizophrenic blonde who’d tried to attack his car that morning.
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