Free short story: Just Right

Solving_the_Energy_Trilemma_882x300_source_Fotolia_11154121Just Right

Saturday, July 11, 2015

When the doorbell rang, Kristen Beach checked her watch. Right on time. She liked that. Her last boyfriend, Lawrence, had been chronically late; her ex-husband, Daniel, had always been fifteen minutes early.

She chuckled, thinking of Goldilocks, and hoped Kevin Brodie would be just right.

She opened the door. Kevin was already smiling; his smile grew wider when he saw her. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself. Come in.” Kristen closed the door behind Kevin. “I just have to grab my purse.”

Kevin trailed after her to the kitchen, where her purse sat on the counter. “You look great.”

“Thanks. So do you.” And he did. He was wearing a blue polo shirt, that matched his eyes exactly, and pressed navy chinos.

To her surprise, Kevin blushed a bit. Maybe he was unused to getting compliments. Kristen figured that his ex, Abby, hadn’t been too complimentary.

Apparently she hadn’t been complementary either. Too bad for her, but good news for Kristen.

She locked the house and followed Kevin to the driveway, where he opened the door of his Honda Civic for her and said, “I hope this doesn’t offend you.”

“Having a door opened for me? Of course not. Thank you.” Kristen grinned. “As long as you don’t mind if I open doors for you sometimes.”

He laughed. “I don’t mind.” He circled the car and got in, noting with approval that she’d already buckled her seatbelt.

Kristen had gone hiking with Kevin and a group of friends a couple of times and had attended Jamie’s wedding with him eight days ago – but this was their first real date. They were going to Eugenio’s, a small Italian restaurant on a side street of West Hollywood that was just casual enough to be comfortable. The choice was another point in Kevin’s favor. Her first date with Daniel had been at a trendy, incredibly expensive place where a miniscule amount of food was presented on an enormous plate, and the final bill had been over two hundred dollars. Her first date with Lawrence had been at a seafood dive in Santa Monica with peanut shells and shrimp tails on the floor.

Eugenio’s was just right.

Kevin navigated through the winding streets of Bel Air toward Beverly Glen Boulevard. He glanced at her in amusement. “I wasn’t sure if you’d be in your work clothes or not.”

Kristen laughed. Her work clothes consisted of pencil skirts, silk blouses and stilettos – the sexy librarian stereotype. Tonight she was wearing a linen tank top and ankle-cropped pants with ballet flats. “No – like you said, those are my work clothes.”

“Why?”

She glanced at him, surprised. “Why do I wear those clothes to work?”

“Yeah. I’m curious.”

“It’s a costume.” She shrugged. “When I became a librarian, I decided to mock the stereotype. Now – it’s my professional signature, I guess.”

“Is that how you want to be known?”

She cocked her head at him. She hadn’t been sure how Kevin would be as a one-on-one conversationalist since they’d only been together in large groups. So far, she was impressed. “That’s how I want to be known at work. I find it intimidates certain personality types, both students and coworkers, who need to be intimidated.”

He nodded. “It’s a power statement.”

“Yes. Like a gun and badge can be.”

“Some cops see them that way.”

“You don’t?”

He thought about that a minute. “I suppose the badge is a power statement. It’s the symbol of the power of the law enforcement system that backs us up. The gun – no. It’s just a tool for me.”

Kristen knew that Kevin had been forced to kill a guy who’d taken another man hostage a couple of years ago. She didn’t want to get into that discussion with him tonight. “Jamie tells me you have a degree in philosophy. That seems unusual for a police officer.”

The corner of his mouth tipped up in a smile. “I’m sure there are others, but I’ve never met them.”

“Why did you choose that?”

“I thought it was the best way to study ethics.”

“Ah. Makes sense. You knew you wanted to be a cop?”

“Yeah.” He grinned. “It’s a middle child thing. We develop a strong sense of justice from a lifetime of receiving the short stick.”

Kristen laughed. “I’ve met your dad. I doubt that you were terribly neglected.”

“You’re right, I wasn’t. Dad and my grandfather did a pretty good job of keeping things equitable. But I see, in my own family and in others, the first-born is special and the baby is special. The middle kid or kids are just along for the ride.”

“Are Jamie and your older brother closer to your dad?”

“Marginally, yes. Jeff lives in the same town as Dad, and Jamie had a year of Dad to himself when I went off to college. And, the past few years when I was with Abby, we spent a lot more time with her family than mine. Dad and I are close, don’t get me wrong – I’m only talking about a degree or two of difference.” He glanced at her. “Where do you fall in the family dynamic?”

“I’m the oldest of two, but my brother is ten years younger. I was an only child for a long time.”

They pulled into the small parking lot beside the restaurant; Kristen got out of the car rather than wait for Kevin to open the door for her. Kevin gave her a knowing smile as he came around the car – he’d noticed.

She figured there would be very little that she could hide from Kevin, even if she wanted to.

Which she didn’t.

 

Once they were seated, a basket of garlic bread between them, Kevin said, “You know a lot about my family already. You met most of them at Jamie’s wedding. I don’t know anything about yours.”

Kristen smiled, thinking of her parents. “My mom and dad were born about ten years too late. They had Woodstock values in the Wonder Years generation. They met in college, at the University of Washington. My mom got pregnant with me near the end of their sophomore year, so they got married. They were twenty when I was born.”

“So you were born in Seattle?”

“Yes, and raised there until I was nine. My dad went to medical school at UW and did his residency in family medicine there.”

“Your dad’s a doctor.”

“Yeah, but he’s worked for the health department his whole life. When he finished residency, we moved to Yakima. They still live there.”

“They’re still married?”

“Yep.” Kristen grinned. “Still hippies, too. Your sister-in-law Valerie reminds me a lot of my mom, except my parents are vegans. Mom has a degree in elementary education, but she chose to stay home. She has a huge garden and organized some of the first co-ops and CSAs in Yakima. A CSA is -”

“Community-supported agriculture. Val’s into that too. She’s not a vegan, though.”

“Neither am I.” Kristen smiled at the server, who’d come to take their order. “I’ll have the lasagna.”

Kevin ordered eggplant parmesan and handed the menus to the server. “You get along with your parents?”

“I do. They’re terrific people.”

“Sounds like it.” Kevin’s expression became mischievous. “Were you a rebel?”

“Ha! Not growing up. I didn’t have anything to rebel against. My parents are the most open-minded people you’ll ever meet.” Kristen took a second piece of garlic bread, noting that Kevin seemed to approve of a woman with a healthy appetite. “No, I was a band geek through high school and college.”

“What instrument?”

“Flute and piccolo. Did you ever play an instrument?”

“No.” Kevin took another slice of bread for himself. “We had money for either sports or music. Not both. We all chose sports.”

“Ah. I ran track in high school, but that was pretty inexpensive.”

“Jeff went to Stanford on a track scholarship. He ran cross-country.”

“Wow. He must have been good.”

“He was.”

“You played baseball, right?”

“Yep. That’s how I paid for UCLA.”

“You must have been good, too.”

Kevin looked a bit self-conscious but didn’t downplay it. “I was.” He didn’t seem to want to talk about that. “Why journalism?”

Kristen smiled wryly. “Being raised by my parents, I was an idealist when I got out of high school. I wanted to be an investigative journalist, to expose wrongs and make things right.”

“You wanted to see justice done.”

“Yes. Like you. But my first job out of college was writing copy for the teleprompter at a TV station in Spokane, and I realized I liked to write. I enjoyed the challenge of using the least words to convey the most information. One of the station managers, a woman who acted as a mentor for me, suggested that I go on for a master’s degree to improve my job prospects. I decided I wanted to get out of Washington, so I applied to USC’s Annenberg School, and got accepted. That’s how I came to LA.”

“Is your master’s in journalism too?”

“No, I switched to communications management. Messaging, essentially. I had the idea that I wanted to work as a consultant to nonprofits that needed help with their message.”

“Did you?”

“Briefly. I got a job at County/USC Hospital in media relations. I met Daniel there, and after we got serious he didn’t want me working there anymore. So I resigned, but I was bored. I started casting around for something else to do, and a friend suggested library school.”

“Was Daniel controlling?”

“He could be. His concern in that instance was mostly for my safety. At that point I wanted to be with him enough to do what he asked.”

“He worked at the hospital?”

“Assistant chief of neurosurgery.”

Kevin whistled softly. “High-powered.”

“Yeah, he was. He was also a year younger than my father.”

He chuckled. “That must have gone over well with your dad.”

Kristen grinned. “Not so much.”

“How long were you married?”

“Eight years. Twenty-six to thirty-four. How about you?”

“Five years. Twenty-two to twenty-seven.”

“Did you meet your ex in college?”

“Yeah. Jennifer. She was a kindergarten teacher and eventually a hoarder.”

Kristen winced. “Ouch.”

Kevin huffed a laugh. “Yeah, no kidding.”

 

They talked for hours, about their jobs, their marriages, their families. The time flew. Before Kristen knew it, they were the last people left in the restaurant. Kevin asked for the check. Kristen said, “Will you let me leave the tip?”

He smiled. “Sure.”

She left a generous tip – which seemed to please Kevin – and they walked to the car. He said, “I hate that I have to end the evening early, but I have to drive to San Diego tomorrow morning.”

“Oh. Family stuff?”

“No, to interview a suspect.” He opened the car door for her again, then circled to his own side. “Remember the day we met? The Jane Doe we had in Benedict Canyon?”

“I remember. She was shot in the chest.”

“Yes. Jon and I are going to talk to the woman who paid her killer.”

Kristen stared. “Someone had her killed?”

“No. Someone had an acquaintance of hers killed, and she got caught in the crossfire.” Kevin shook his head, his expression grim. “I’ll tell you all about it one of these days.”

“Okay.” One of these days. That sounded promising.

When they got to the house, Kevin walked her to the door and waited while she unlocked it and turned off the alarm. She turned to him and said, “I’ve enjoyed this so much.”

“I have too. I hope we can do it again, soon.”

“I’d like that very much. Good luck in San Diego tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.”

“Thank you. I will.”

For a second, Kevin seemed to be considering what to do. Kristen flashed back to Daniel, who’d cooly and formally kissed her knuckles at the end of their first date, and Lawrence, who’d laid a long, sloppy kiss on her and had wanted to spend the night.

Kevin grinned and held out his fist. Kristen laughed and bumped his fist with her own.

He got in the car and drove away, waving. She waved back, smiling.

Just right.

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2 Comments

Filed under Short Stories

2 responses to “Free short story: Just Right

  1. Cute. Quite different from Abby, isn’t she?

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