Wednesday, 18 July 2012

#WriCha: The Perfect Stranger

This is the last #WriCha story of 2012. It's been great reading the work of different writers, and putting it all together for readers on this blog. The Perfect Stranger is my own short story. I only found it fair that wrote something if I was expecting others to dedicate their time. It's a 4,762 word romance. Not my usual thing, but I enjoyed writing it. 

Prompt:
Write about someone who has just bumped into a beautiful stranger in the supermarket. Do they see each other again? What happens next?

The Perfect Stranger 


The automatic doors whoosh open and Melissa steps into the store. The air vent above the doorway blows cold air down on her scalp, causing her to shiver. She waves at her friend on the nearest till, who pauses to wave back before continuing to serve a customer.
The silence in the shop is eerie. A drunk stumbles down the nearest isle, his clothes soiled from years of living rough. The doors open behind her and she hastens to move out of the way. Three figures clad in black slink past. Melissa shivers again
She grabs a basket from the tower and sets off down the freezer isle. Melissa remembers she hasn’t   eaten, and scans the freezers.
 I can’t believe mum and Jeff broke it off again! Why do I always have to mop up her tears? Melissa rolls her eyes at the recent memory of her mother’s tear-stained face.  No wonder dad was glad to see the back of her.
She slows down, her heels clack against the tiles, and browses the microwave dinners. The temperature of the isle gives her goose bumps. She runs a hand over her left arm as she debates whether to get lasagne-for-one or a chicken curry. Melissa picks up the curry and tosses it into the basket hanging from her forearm.  
After picking up a bottle of red wine, Melissa heads for the fruit stand. She places her basket on the ground by her feet and begins to pick apples. She holds them against her stomach with an arm, determined to get to the bottom ones – the ones that haven’t been handled by countless shoppers. A hand touches hers as someone else reaches for the same apple.


Melissa jumps and looks up at the other shopper. His eyes are clear as crystal lakes and wide in surprise. Something about them causes an intoxicating fog to move in on Melissa’s thoughts. She scans his face, seeing one corner of his lips lift up in amusement. Damn, he’s cute. Her hold on the apples slips, and they fall to the floor, some bouncing off her toes before rolling away. The pain of them hitting her feet is enough to pull her attention from the mystery man. “Ouch.” She breathes. With a small smile tugging at her own lips, Melissa pushes her hair behind her ears and bends to retrieve the fruit.
“Here let me help.” Wow, even his voice is...They bump heads, and she looks up to see him clutching his forehead. Melissa can feel his breath fanning across her face. Is that peppermint? “No, it’s alright. I can manage.” She replies, scooping up apples. She checks them over and sighs when she spots multiple bruises. Now I’m going to have to pay for these. Melissa reaches for another apple, and her hand closes around his. A spark shoots up her arm, causing her to half-shudder. “I insist,” There is a smile in his voice. Not an innocent one at that. Melissa removes her hand and accepts the apple from him. The atmosphere around them is electric.
“No gentlemen friends, I take it?” He asks as she walks towards the tills, basket loaded with bruised apples. Melissa’s steps falter, why would you care? She glances over her shoulder to find him almost level with her. “No, not that it concerns you. What made you think that?” She asks, eyeing him up. He’s dressed in black trousers and a white shirt. The top two buttons are undone revealing the beginnings of a toned chest. He gives her a smirk and nods at her basket. “You have curry-for-one and wine - classic home-alone basket.” Melissa glances down at his basket, admiring his observation skills. He too has a meal-for-one, although his choice of alcohol is a six pack of beer. “No lady friends, I take it?” She couldn’t resist a smile.

Mystery guy takes the fast lane at the tills, and is waving good bye before Melissa can finish explaining about the apples. Her friend, Nina, laughs at Melissa’s story. “You don’t have to take them; I’ll stick them out back for you.” She thanks Nina and pays for her other items.

When Melissa steps outside, the heavens open up on her. Rain pours down by the bucket load causing her to stand there open mouthed. Just my luck! She sucks in a breath and starts half walking-half running in the direction of her flat. Every drop of water feels like a plastic pellet, hitting her skin so hard it stings.
Headlights swing around behind her so that she can see her shadow on the ground in front, a car pulls up to her level and rolls forward at her pace. The window rolls down. Melissa slows and looks at the driver. It’s mystery guy. “Get in before you catch your death.” He calls over the rain. Melissa laughs once from shock; she hadn’t expected that. “I don’t even know your name.” She replies, wishing he would drive away so she could get home. The man’s lips quirk into a smile, “James – now get in.” he replied and jerks his thumb at the passenger seat beside him. What harm can it do? I have pepper spray in my bag...somewhere. Melissa deliberates with herself, wondering if she’ll be in a body bag by the next day. Meeting his cool gaze, she makes up her mind. “Ok, but no funny business, James.” He holds his hand up in surrender, telling her silently he won’t hurt her.
Once she gets in the car, Melissa is instantly glad that she accepted his offer. The heaters are blasting, trying their best to dry her clothes. She places her bags on the floor between her feet. “My name’s Melissa, for the record.” She tells him, buckling her seatbelt as he pulls away from the curb. He smiles at the windscreen and they reach the exit, “Where do you need to be, Melissa?” He asks. She tells him what street it is, and says she’ll walk down from the top of it. “Not far from my place.” He comments, his eyes still on the road.
As they near her street, James glances at her. Melissa looks at him, “What?”  James drums on the steering wheel with his fingers. “You should come to my place; there’s no way you can drink all that wine on your own.”
“Do you make a habit of picking up women at the supermarket?”
“Only the pretty ones,” Melissa’s eyes widen at the compliment. He looks round at her with a smirk, “I’m joking! No, this is the first time.” Melissa leans back in the seat, looking ahead at the blurry road. The rain hasn’t let up at all. “So what do you say?” He asks. Say no! He could be a serial killer...you don’t know him! Say it, say no. “Sure, why not?”

James lives in an inner city apartment down the – very, very long – road from Melissa’s house. When he opens the door he waves her through first. Her eyes dart around the open space, unsure what to gaze at first. James takes her bag and strides towards the kitchen, followed by Melissa. She runs her hand over the curve of the leather settee. Despite the open white spaces, the whole place feels cosy. James puts her shopping bag on the side and takes the wine out. “Do you mind if I put the curry in your freezer whilst you’re here?” He asks. Melissa peers at him from under her lashes whilst running her fingers over the smooth granite counter.
“Not at all,”
Melissa hangs her bag on one of the tall stools. “Should I find a bottle opener?” She glances at his bum as he puts food into the freezer. When James stands to face her, he runs his eyes over her, lingering on her chest. Her stomach flutters. Don’t be an idiot, Melissa. “Maybe I should get you something else to wear.” He clears his throat and busies himself with unpacking his bag. Melissa is about to ask what he is suggesting when she looks down at herself. The rain has made her modest shirt very transparent. “Oh, another top would be great.” She feels her cheeks flush.
Dressed in one of James’s shirts, which hangs to her knees, she sits on the settee beside him. There are two glasses of wine on the table. “Seen as there’s two of us, I’ve ordered pizza. Hope you like pepperoni...” James tilts his head as he takes in her new appearance. The corner of his mouth tilts up but he doesn’t say anything.

Over pepperoni pizza, wine and bad television they discuss harmless things. Melissa finds out that James works for firm in the city. He used to have a cat, called Socks, but it disappeared a few years back and he hasn’t had the time to buy another. He was born and raised in East London but moved away when his parents died 5 years ago. Melissa sits and listens to James talk about himself - he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about unloading to a complete stranger.
When it’s Melissa’s turn, she struggles with what to say. “My life is dull compared to yours.” She tells him. He pours them another glass, “Tell me about it anyway.” So she does. She tells him about how her mother, Karen,  left her father for another man when Melissa was seventeen, and how Karen and Jeff can’t seem to decide on anything for the wedding. Melissa even tells him how she hasn’t seen her father in years, and her brother avoids her calls. They talk and laugh until almost midnight.

“I should go home, it’s late and all of the wine is gone.” Melissa rises from the settee and wobbles over to the door. How did you let yourself get in this state? That inner voice flares up again. “I’ll drive you.” Melissa spins around to find James right behind her - within kissing distance. She almost loses balance at the close proximity, and feels him put a hand on her to steady her. A giggle escapes from her, “Don’t be silly, you’re drunk.” She tells him, grabbing her bag.
“Not as drunk as you. I’ll call a taxi.”
Her eyes drop to his lips and she tries to sober up, focusing on breathing. When she flicks her gaze up to his eyes she notices him staring at her mouth. All she has to do is lean up on her toes; the thought makes her insides giddy. The voice of reasoning breaks through her drunken stupor just as James begins to lean towards her, Stop it! You’ve just met this guy! With her heart racing, Melissa clears her throat and James’s head snaps back. He seems startled. The air is electric for the second time that night, “Well, that taxi isn’t going to call itself.”
~~
James walks into the store and feels the air con blow cold air on him. The headache he’d had that morning indicated how much he’d had to drink the previous night. The lightness in his heart had indicated how much fun he’d had. He needed to find Melissa. James walks up the isles, not taking a basket.
He had gone to work with sunglasses on, and ignored his secretary’s cheery greeting. Luckily, he’d been able to sit in his office all day with the blinds pulled shut and his door locked. Unfortunately, he’d had to go through the CV’s of ten people. James had the task of cutting it down to five for the interview stage.
Disappointment overwhelms him as he reaches the end of the last isle. Melissa isn’t there. He knows where she lives, even what building it is, but he doesn’t think showing up would be a great idea. What if she doesn’t want to see me? What if she was too drunk to remember? The questions swarming round his head are driving him nuts.
As he heads towards the doors, a woman calls out to him, “Hey you, you in the business getup.” He turns to see the woman who served Melissa beckoning him. James walks over to her, “Yes?”
“Are you looking for Melissa by any chance?” The woman, whose name tag reads Nina, is laughing at him with her eyes. He straightens his tie and nods, “Yeah, I am, any idea where she is?”
“You just missed her actually.”
“Oh,” His face drops. “Thanks.”

With his hands in his pockets, James walks alone down the dark street. There aren’t many streetlights down this road which only intensifies that creepy feeling. Having driven his car in for a service after work, James is left without transport. I’ll catch a bus - fuck walking home at this time.
As he nears a bus stop, he notices a figure slumped on the edge of the bench. Her auburn hair covers her face, “Melissa?” She looks up, her brown eyes are weary, but a spark lights them up when she sees him. “James! What are you doing here?” She kicks the pavement with the tip of her flats.
“Waiting for a bus - same as you.”
“Oh, where’s your car?”
“It’s at the garage. Do you make a habit of shopping late?” James asks, sitting beside her. Melissa looks up at him with sad eyes, and he finds himself wondering how someone’s eyes could be so expressive. “No, I’ve been out most of the day; my mother forced me to sit through another crying session. They seem to be arguing more than ever...” Melissa twiddles her thumbs. “I told her I had to go shopping, just so she didn’t drop me off home and see what a mess it is.” A wind picks up, whipping Melissa’s hair across James’s face. A delicious flowery scent hits him and his mouth waters. Melissa pulls her hair back into a pony tail, “Sorry about that.”
A bus pulls up and they both rise to get on it. “Have they tried talking it out?” James asks from behind her. “What?” Melissa frowns at him over her shoulder.
“Jeff and Karen, have they tried talking?”
“No...” Melissa takes a seat near the back, and James joins her. He’s addicted to the magnetic pull between them, and keeps her talking until her stop. She smiles and thanks him for his advice before hopping off.

When James gets home, he sorts through his dryer. A too small shirt catches his eye and he pulls his out of the pile, taking a better look. His gives an almighty thud as he realises that it belongs to Melissa. Jeez, how can one girl affect me like this? He shakes his head at himself, and puts it to one side. I’ll take it to her tomorrow, he promises to no one in particular.
The next evening, James hops into his car with a bottle of wine and Melissa’s shirt. He drives down to the outskirts of the city and slows as he looks for her building. The music isn’t on and his ears are filled with the pumping of his heart. His palms are slick. It’s probably just man flu, he lies to himself. When James comes to the right building, he kills the engine and sits there looking at it. After a moment, he pulls his tie off and slings it into the back seat before unbuttoning the first few buttons. With a deep breath, he launches himself out of the car and towards the doors of the building. Lucky for him, a resident is leaving and he slips through the door before it closes.

It takes a few minutes to ascend the stairs quickly, and when he has done it, James searches for number 23. He finds the door, faded red with gold plated numbers. Running a hand through his hair, he knocks. There isn’t any answer. He knocks again and waits longer - still no answer. Melissa isn’t in. James’ good mood dissipates.
He rummages through his pockets for paper and a pen. Using a receipt from that night at the store, he scribbles a note and pushes it through the letter flap with her shirt. Then he leaves, quickly so that he doesn’t bump into her on the way out.

Melissa waves goodbye to her mother and Jeff, who are pulling away from the curb in their (car brand). I’ll have to thank James, getting them to talk really helped. She hurries up to the door and lets herself through. Melissa heads for the stairs and goes up two at a time; she can’t wait to put her feet up. When she reaches her apartment door, she makes a note about repainting before unlocking it. “Oh, what-” Melissa feels something under her foot and bends to retrieve a shirt and receipt. She unfolds the receipt to read it.

I stopped by to give you this back. Sorry I missed you.
~ James
                Melissa reads the note again before smiling and kicking the door shut behind her. She places the note and shirt on the counter.  Nina had told her that he’d been looking for her, and Melissa had fought to convince her friend that nothing happened. “I can’t believe you went to his apartment! You - Little Miss Sensible went to a random guy’s pad for drinks. And a moking’ random guy at that.” Nina had raved at how uncharacteristic and awesome it was whilst Melissa battled with a headache.
                Glancing at the clock, Melissa is disappointed that it’s too late to stop by James’s place. With a heavy sigh, she moves through the small room, picking up odd bits and finding somewhere out of sight to put them. No matter how much I clean, I can never get this place feeling roomy.
She sets about showering for bed and places James’s shirt on her nightstand, waiting for the next day.
~~
                It’s six in the afternoon when Melissa hops on a bus into the city. She walks the few blocks to James’s apartment block and takes the lift. Her heart is beating like a hummingbird’s wings and her stomach is a nervous knot. This is a bad idea, I hope he’s at work. She straightens her skirt and exits the lift, heading left down the corridor. His apartment is the first one. She knocks and waits. There is a scuffling noise and a shadow appears behind the door. This is it.
                The door opens and a busty blonde gives her an expectant look. Melissa’s heart stops in shock. The blonde has a glass of red wine in one hand which she sips from whilst looking Melissa up and down. “Can I help you?” Melissa had been prepared for him to be out but not for him to have company – especially not pretty, blonde, female company. What did you expect, stupid, he’s gorgeous and she’s his type. “Yes, this is James’s,” Melissa says, handing her the shirt. Go on, rub it in or something. “I wore it home the other morning and thought he might want it back.” The blonde’s eyes widen slightly and she looks over Melissa again with the new information in mind. “Oh. He’s busy right now; I’ll let him know you came by.”
~~
                “So, you showed up and he had someone with him?” Nina asks for the trillionth time. Melissa nods again, sipping from her coffee. “Wow, what a jerk. At least you didn’t sleep with him or anything.” Nina takes a bite out of her cupcake. Melissa rolls her eyes and watches people walk by the shop window. They are in Starbucks for their weekly gossip session. “Yeah, at least I didn’t do that.” Didn’t stop me from falling for him though, did it?
                “Melissa?” The familiar voice is one that Melissa was hoping wouldn’t pop up. She looks up at James and forces a smile. His frown tells her that he knows it isn’t real, “Oh, hi James.” She replies. “I stopped by last night but you had company.” She adds, unable to stop herself.
                “I know, Juliet told me.” The bitch has a name. “I would’ve invited you in but I had my hands full.” Oh, I bet you did. Melissa glances at Nina, who is smirking at her. “Yes, Juliet made that quite clear.”
                “She said she did. So...”
                “So?”
                “Are you free tonight?” Nina makes an unusual sound and coffee spurts from her mouth. Melissa and James look at her in surprise, and Melissa bursts out laughing. When James joins in, Melissa tries to stop herself. You’re angry with him, remember? “I am free, thanks for asking.”
                “Okay, see you around.” James gives her a heart stopping smile and walks away. The girls stare after him, dumbfounded.

                Someone’s fist knocks against the door twice. Melissa jerks upright, her arms fling out and a glass falls from the table, shattering. Who the hell is that? “Be right there,” She calls, her voice still thick from sleep. Melissa fights to untangle herself from the worn tartan blanket covering her.
                Reaching the door, she unhooks the lock and pulls it open. Chipped paint flakes off and floats to the floor. James lifts his gaze from the floor and he gives Melissa a lopsided smile. “Oh, what’re you doing here?” She asks, I can’t believe I’m stood here in an oversized jumper. “You said you didn’t have plans, I’m here to change that.” He runs his eyes over her, and she feels exposed.
                “I suppose I should let you in then?” Melissa asks, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She moves to the side, letting him pass. “I’m sensing you’re not happy with me. What have I done?” He asks. Melissa shoves the door and lets it slam shut. She doesn’t answer him until she has cleaned the broken glass from the floor.
                “Seriously? You need me to tell you?”
                James rubs the back of his neck anxiously, “As a man, I’m pretty oblivious to my wrongdoings.” Melissa exhales heavily and stands facing him, hands on hips, “I show up at your apartment and there’s some woman there, no wait Juliet, and here was me thinking...” Melissa trails off, realising what she’s insinuating. James tilts his head at her, “You were thinking what?” She sinks down onto the settee as her cheeks begin to colour. “I was thinking that there was something going on...between us. And she made me feel like an idiot, like I never had a chance against her. And then today you practically bragged about it, ‘I would’ve invited you in but I had my hands full.’-”
                “Melissa!” James begins to laugh. She stops talking and watches him with a confused and frustrated expression, “Why are you laughing at me?!”
                “That’s ridiculous! Juliet is my secretary; that would be completely unprofessional. Although, I admit my choice of words didn’t help.”
                “Oh my god, I am an idiot.”
                “No you’re not.” James sits beside her and puts a hand on hers. “I had no idea how you felt...in fact if I did, I would’ve sent Juliet home with my papers and cracked open a fresh bottle.” Melissa looks round at him, her heart pounding against her chest. He traces circles on the back of her hand, “Really?” Melissa whispers.
                “Really...” He replies, leaning towards her. The phone rings.

                “I have to go!” Melissa smashes the phone back down into its holder and dashes into the bedroom. She pulls on the nearest jeans she can find. “Is everything alright?” James calls. Melissa pulls on a pair of socks and moves back into the living room, she almost bumps into him. James places his hands on her shoulders to steady her. “My dad’s been rushed into hospital – they think it’s a heart attack.” Tears roll freely down her cheeks. James’s arms fall to his sides, “Oh, do you want me to drive you?”
                “Yes please.”
~~
                The constant beeping of the heart monitor and the sound of her father’s heavy breathing are the only sounds in the room. Melissa grips his hand tighter in hers, bowing her head low to hide her tears. The sterile scent of cleaning products burns her nose as she sniffles. “You can’t leave me now, dad...” She chokes out a cough. It’s deadly silent in this area of the hospital, other patients are fast asleep. The corridors are empty, creating an unnerving atmosphere.
Movement near the door causes her to look in that direction, and at her brother. He hasn’t changed a bit. “It’s been a while...” Darren smiles sadly. Melissa nods, shifting her gaze to her father again. “Why didn’t you tell me he was ill?” Melissa doesn’t have to look to know that Darren is flinching at her comment. “I didn’t think you cared - after the divorce was signed you just left.” Darren walks over and sits in the chair beside her. “You know I only left because I had a life to get back to. If I’d have known how much it affected him...” The silence that follows is painful. Darren shifts in his seat and changes topic, “Was that your boyfriend in the Mercedes?”
                “No, he’s a friend.” Friend is hardly what it feels like.

                “Melissa? Melissa, wake up.” Someone shakes her by the shoulder, startling her awake. Instantly, she feels the aches in her back and neck from sleeping in the chair. “What time is it?” She rubs her eyes and accepts a coffee from her brother. “Around nine - your friend’s here.” He replies motioning to the door. Melissa frowns and gets up, her heart quickening in anticipation. What’s James doing here? When she reaches the door, Nina leaps on her, “Ohmigosh! Melissa, I can’t imagine how you’re feeling!” Melissa forces a smile, hugging her friend back. She can’t help but feel a little disappointed. “Will you take me home? I need to freshen up.” She asks. Nina nods, and they head back to Melissa’s flat.

                A note falls out of Melissa’s jeans as she takes them off. She bends to take a closer look. It has a number on it, and she recognises James’s handwriting easily. With a smile, she places it on the side and continues to freshen up.

                Three hours later...

                Melissa presses the phone to her ear, salty tears dripping from her jaw. She listens to the ringing, waiting for the phone to be picked up. “Y’ello? This is James.”
                “Hey, it’s Melissa.”
                “Melissa! How is he?”
                “He’s awake and the nurses say that he should be okay to go home in a couple of days, my brother’s gonna take care of him.”
                “That’s good news, how are you feeling?”
                “I feel a lot better, thanks.”
                “That’s great, anything I can do for you?
                “No, I don’t need anything. I’ll see you soon though.”
                “I hope so, good bye Melissa.
                “Bye James.”

                Melissa takes a deep breath before knocking on James’s door. She hears the clack of heels getting louder on the other side. Juliet opens the door, and smirks when she sees Melissa, “Hello again.” Not this time, Juliet. “Hi, is your boss in?” Melissa smiles brightly. Juliet’s smile falters and her shoulders slump back. James moves into view, papers in one hand and his mobile in the other, “Melissa.” The fondness in his voice matches the sparkle in his eye. “Juliet, I think this can wait until another day.” James says, stopping beside his secretary. With a loathing glare in Melissa’s direction, Juliet takes the papers and brushes past her.
                As soon as Juliet reaches the lift, James reaches out and snags Melissa by the waist, pulling her in for a hug. She breathes in his scent and locks her hand behind his neck. “I thought you’d be with your dad...” He whispers against her neck before pressing a hot kiss against her skin. Melissa closes her eyes and ignores the jelly feeling in her legs. “He’s in good hands.” She replies as he moves his lips up towards her jaw line. Every time his lips brush her skin her veins set alight. James’s fingers brush the hem of her shirt, sending an exciting ripple across her stomach. His lips reach her jaw and he trails butterfly kisses up to the corner of her mouth.
                Melissa pushes the door closed behind her with her foot. James presses his forehead against hers before trying to pull away. Melissa’s hands keep him in place, pressed against her. “James,” She says. He locks eyes with her, “Yes?”
                “Hurry up and kiss me already.”
~~

Links to all of the #WriCha stories will be available on the #WriCha page. Please comment with your thoughts! 

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