Entering writing contests is like riding a roller coaster, and it’s a great learning experience. It gives you a deadline, a word limit, and a theme. Perhaps a genre you’ve never considered writing. There’s nothing like fear to get your creative juices flowing. Shake it up. Try writing in first, second, or third person. Try present or past tense. Most importantly try something new.
Rock Bottom is the title of an earlier version of Different. After getting feedback, the story morphed and changed. Below is what I entered into the competition. Halfway through the story changes. So does the ending.
I didn’t win, but I did learn more about the creative process and what I could do. Compare the two stories. Leave a comment on which one you liked. Enjoy!
A Short Story by M. J. Patrick
I lay my last bill on the polished granite countertop. “Let me buy this round.” If I appear desperate, the odds of sleeping in a bed tonight decrease considerably. The choir that narrates my life is quiet due to the amount of liquor I’m consuming.
Mia gives me the cutest smile. “Someone wants to be more than friends.” She leans in, giving me a kiss on the cheek. Her lashes flutter against my face. Her nearness takes my breath away. The sweet perfume of her fills my soul.
I give her a bashful smile and hide behind my long tresses.
“You’re as irresistible as a puppy.” Mia slides off the stool revealing toned legs. A grin spreads across her face when she catches me looking. I entwine my fingers into her short hair, pulling her close. Then I stop right before our lips touch; she closes the gap. Her kiss is divine and hungry. The nibble to my bottom lip shooting pains of ecstasy into every nerve.
Joe knocks on the bar. “Enjoy your shots, ladies. I’d tell you to get a room, but then I couldn’t watch.”
“Consider it your tip.” I tease him.
We throw back the shots. I’m so ready to leave here, soak in a tub and sleep in a clean bed. Mia will be like the cherry on top of a sundae. In the morning, I’ll fix breakfast, tidy the kitchen, and worm my way into her heart and apartment. A faint whirr breaks through my euphoria.
“Hold on, I need to take this.” Mia whips out her phone. I watch her sashay away from me.
Someone clears their throat. Tearing my eyes from the view, I face Joe.
“I’m not giving your money back, like last time. There’s a job for you here if this doesn’t work out.” Joe tips his head in Mia’s direction. He moves away before I say a word.
A touch on my arm pushes miserable thoughts aside. I turn, smiling — until I see Mia’s not. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve got to run. Work before pleasure. I’ll be around.” Mia pinches my nipple hard. “One to remember me by.”
Mia’s abrupt departure darkens my mood. I sit pondering my options.
“I know you’re sleeping in the back. Give me your key.” Joe holds out his hand. He had to know my landlord evicted me.
“Why? You’re just mad because I won’t accept your lousy job. I don’t want to waitress, living off the tips of horny old men. Getting slapped by pervs.” My shrill voice travels across the room. Everyone pauses to hear what’s going on.
From the back, a voice yells. “Who would want a piece of that hummingbird ass?” Belly laughs increase the noise levels back to normal.
“Annie, your grandma followed her heart over her business instincts, letting you inherent her nest egg. You’ve gone from partner to a patron of this bar. Hand over the key.”
“Don’t drag my grandma into this. I don’t need you telling me what to do.” I stand seething.
“I don’t want to see you back here again until your tab is settled.” Joe turns and waits on a customer.
Angry, I storm out the door, bumping into an arm balancing a tray of beers. I smile hearing shouts of surprise and the breaking of glass. I’m sure Joe will add that expense to my tab. The smile disappears as the door shuts behind me. What have I done?
My mind, whirling with sudden loss, doesn’t comprehend what my eyes witness. Mia kissing a man. I stand in the middle of the sidewalk getting bumped by passersby oblivious to the fact my world is crumbling. A taxi stops to collect the happy couple. They can’t keep their hands off of each other. My legs shake, and I lean against the building for support. The choir wakes from their alcohol-induced slumber humming a melody of I Told You So.
At another bar, I get free drinks for favors. I do what it takes to hush the choir made up of past and present tormentors. An hour later, I stumble out of the backseat of a car. The cool air doesn’t soothe the turmoil that writhes within. My feet and the city crowds push me along the sidewalk. Why did Joe have to bring up my grandma? The pain of losing the one person who embraced my differences never fades. Damn cancer.
I fight hard to avoid the dark places fear takes me. The choir chants repetitious sound bites. We love you, but not your sin. You chose this life. Faith can change you. I run until I stop to throw up. Catching my breath, I see a cross atop a steeple, trapped in the glare of spotlights. “Why did you make me this way? Do you think I want to be different?”
There won’t be an angel sent to dissuade me. The number of suicides each year is my proof. My feet know where to go. It’s a path I’ve traveled often. It’s not famous like the Golden Gate Bridge. It will quiet the choir’s litany that proclaims my final judgment.
The climb is arduous through the underbelly of the bridge’s substructures. Birds with homes flutter away at my presence. At the height of the apex, I balance on a beam. Not to tempt fate, but to make a decision.
“Grandma, how did you love me? I can’t love myself?”
A soloist stands in front of the choir. The melodious voice blends with discordant notes without overwhelming the harmony. It’s a song of acceptance. Grandma accepted me, for who I am. Can I accept myself? It’s the first step of many. A plan to reconcile with Joe takes hold like a seed.
Inches from my head, a flower clings to its inhospitable environment. “You don’t belong here.” That’s when I knew, I didn’t either.