Each month (at least) I’ll be featuring a piece of fiction I have penned.
This piece is from my entry for last year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge. Please read it accordingly.
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Normally the rich scent of espresso mixed with the noise of milk being steamed was a soothing balm of sorts to the soul of Sam Hendricks after a long day. Even back during the days when he had been the one to grind the beans, steam the milk, and call out the orders.
But today was not a normal day. Not that he had even many of those anymore.
Slipping his grey-tint aviator sunglasses up so they rested on top of his head, he scanned the interior of the coffee house — it, too failing to comfort in its familiarity — for the ‘budding young reporter’ he was to be meeting. It didn’t take long to locate the young woman, her excitement palpable even from across the room. It could be the way her left leg was bouncing incessantly up-and-down, up-and-down. Or the way she was, literally, on the edge of her seat. Or the way her eyes were glued on the front door, on him. Ten months later and such a reaction still made Sam’s skin crawl.
“Now remember Sam,” chirped his manager’s voice in his mind, “the fans gave you what you have right now. Don’t forget! And they can just as easily take it away from you.”
Sam grimaced slightly, hiding the expression behind his left hand before faking a yawn. He had come to the interview alone (well, as alone as one ever is when being discreetly followed — this time — by a tall, burly bodyguard), yet his manager still popped up like some incredibly annoying little red devil on his shoulder. Mentally he gave the annoying voice a strong flick as he schooled his features into what he hoped was a pleasant smile. It was hard to tell sometimes if he actually looked pleasant, panicked, or pained without a mirror. So far he had no reports of it being either of the latter two, so he decided his face was fine and deftly wound his way around the tables between him and the “reporter” he had now dubbed Crazy Fan Gurl (because she seemed like the sort who would use a ‘u’ in place of the ‘i’ in ‘girl’ on whatever internet message board she was on).
He gave her hand a firm shake and was about to say he was just going to quick place his order when he saw there were two drinks on the table where she had set up show.
Oh man . . .
“Hi,” she said in that way people so often do when they’re trying too hard to be calm and casual, as well as be your best and oldest friend two seconds after making your acquaintance. Or at least that’s how it sounded to Sam. “I got your favourite,” she chirped as Sam pulled out the chair across from her that she had gestured for him to take, “a venti skinny caramel frappucino.”
Sam unwound the long knit scarf from his neck, hanging it over the back of his chair before shrugging off his black peacoat as he considered what to say next. “Uh, thanks,” he said once he had turned back around form making sure his coat would stay folded over the back of his chair and not fall on they myriad of melting snow puddles on the floor. ‘Would’ve ordered a coffee if given the change, Crazy Fan Gurl.’ He knew his present grin was a genuine one.
Crazy Fan Gurl smiled, a faint blush colouring her cheeks as she looked down at what were actually very neatly typed notes. Uncapping a black ballpoint pen, she looked at Sam. “My name is Tammy Bond. Sorry,” she added with a decidedly sheepish shrug, grabbing her own drink — a tall hot chocolate, no whip according to the cup sleeve.
And just when I was this close to replacing the ‘u’ with an‘i’, Sam mused as he eyed his own cold drink. “No worries,” he said instead, clasping his hands in front of him on the tabletop. Maybe if he positioned his elbow in just the right spot, he could “accidentally” knock his drink onto the floor . . .
“Well, let’s get down to business!” Tammy said, tapping the “Voice Memo” icon on her iPhone.
Sam kept his gaze focused on her as she rambled on about fan-submitted questions and thanks came tumbling out yet again for him taking the time to come out and grant her an interview, blah-dee-blah-blah. Eventually she would, truly, get down to business, he consoled himself as his right elbow edged imperceptibly closer to the frappucino.
“Okay,” Tammy finally said as Sam’s elbow hovered mere fractions of an inch from the icy-cold drink. “Are you excited to be in Seattle?”
This Sam could answer honestly. “I am,” he said with a slight nod of his head. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing more of the United States, and this is my first time here.” He noted the tiny twinge of disappointment pulling at the corners of Tammy’s mouth when he did not elaborate any more than that. But she dutifully jotted down his answer in a neat script.
“What has life been like since you became ‘the most famous third-place finisher on the Canadian version of “Triple Threat”?”
Great — a ‘Super Quote’ question. “Hopefully my dubious reign will end soon,” he said, holding up a hand to halt the protest he knew would be coming, “as the new season of “Triple Threat” — the first to encompass both Canada and the United States — starts airing next week.” (At least he fervently hoped it would end.) “But yeah — my life has, as I’m sure you can imagine, been pretty crazy. Some good, same bad.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘what can you do?’
Tammy laughed knowingly, firmly entrenching her Crazy Gurl status. “I bet,” she said. “And that leads into my next question, well, a fan’s next question,” she said in such a way as if to convey she really were a reporter. Sam found he didn’t care one way or the other. “You didn’t win, yet many would argue you are more popular than Sherri Leahy who —”
Sam knocked the frappucino off the table in what he hoped looked like a reflexive jerk of his elbow. The plastic cup had barely cracked open on the floor and Sam was on his feet. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, placing his left hand briefly on top of Tammy’s right one. “I’m just going to grab myself a coffee.” He knew he was being mean by initiating a rather intimate gesture considering they were, really, strangers to one another. But it had the desired effect of silencing her so he could get into line and order his drink. He ignored the barista who promptly cleaned up his mess.
“Um, yeah, so then,” Tammy said, tucking her brown wavy hair behind her ears as Sam sat back down, cradling his steaming coffee between his hands. “What it it that has surprised you the most in regards to your fame, either negatively or positively?”
She may actually make a great reporter one day, Sam admitted rather begrudgingly. Not a hint of a blush or wavering voice or fluttering hands. And he knew she could not have done this before. He looked down into his coffee, forcing himself to relax his tensed shoulders as he mulled over her question. Somehow he felt as though he owed her an honest answer. Or maybe he owed it to himself. “That so may people care about really trivial things,” he said, meeting Tammy’s gaze – or, more accurately, the top of her head as she was busily jotting down his answer. Her pen stilled as what he had said registered and he decided to take that as his cue to keep talking. “For example, there is me — I’m just a boring guy with a boring life that people are only showing any sort of an interest in because I happen to be able to carry a tune. Yet no one cares to dig through my grandfather’s trash to see what brand of toothpaste he uses, and he has a voice that could make you weep with its beauty.”
Sam held Tammy’s gaze for another beat before breaking eye contact and taking a slow sip of his coffee. When Tammy didn’t ask her next question he set his cup down and found she was scratching her pen through the next two questions. Drats. And he had wanted to pontificate on his ‘favourite or most gratifying aspects’ of what he did and how ‘coming from the simple life a college student and barista, to now being thrown into this fame’ had changed him as a person. Was he such a snarky person a year ago?
“Right,” Tammy said, keeping her eyes locked on her list of questions. “What motivates or drives you as a person and as a performer?”
“The Toyota Corolla I’ve had since high school. Still gets great city mileage.”
Tammy didn’t cross off any of the remaining questions. Steadfastly avoiding any eye contract of any sort of visual acknowledgement of Sam, she packed up her pen, papers, and cell phone into her purse (not bothering to even stop her cell from recording) before pushing her chair back and storming out of the coffee house.
And it scared Sam how little guilt he felt about his behaviour.
© 2010 Michelle Woodman