Sunday, September 30, 2012

Short Story: "Another First Date"

Mr. Osterman is enjoying a quiet week's vacation.  By vacation, we mean that he is knee deep in progress report grading, with two children to manage as well.  The next installment of Mind the Thorns will return next week at its usual time.  In the interim  Mr. Osterman offers up this chilling short story for your amusement.






Another First Date


Jordan smiled back at her date, easing herself down into the car seat.  She tried to swing her legs into the car as demurely as she could; this was the first date she’d been on that the guy had insisted on opening the car door for her.  He eased the door shut and then gave it a firm shove to latch it.  While he jogged around the front of the hood, she smoothed her knee-length skirt over her legs.  So far this had been the perfect night.

Kyle opened his own door and easily slid into the driver’s seat. “I’m so sorry about that.  It’s an older car and that door’s been tricky for weeks.  I really need to get it into the shop to be looked at.”  

Jordan leaned toward him and kissed his cheek.  “Oh, don’t apologize for being a gentleman.”  She eased back in her seat and looked up at the car’s ceiling.  “There are hardly any left, it seems.”

“All the better for me,” Kyle answered, turning the key and starting up the engine.  He grinned.  “I do hate competition.”  He turned the car out of the restaurant parking lot and onto the main road.  The pavement glistened from the recent rain as the tires splashed from one small puddle to the next.  

“Doesn’t competition bring out the best in us?”  Jordan watched the various storefronts and parking lots pass the window as the car worked its way through the college town she called home.

Kyle shook his head. “I prefer a good individual challenge.  A one-on-one affair, not me versus the masses.”


There was a nice stretch of pleasant silence in the car as it slowed to turn a corner and continue along its way.  Now they were passing the movie theater, the big box store, and a few of the outlying hotels.

“So,” Jordan said, breaking the silence.  “Since most of dinner was spent speculating on season two of Game of Thrones, I know you’re a Martin fan.”  She curled her finger around several strands of her hair.  “What do you think of, say, Tolkien?”

Kyle thought about the question a moment before answering.  “He is the master, but in comparison to the newer books I think you really see his age.  The books are good, but they’re just not...”  He tapped the steering wheel as he mentally sought out the word.

“Relatable?”

He snapped his fingers.  “Yes, ‘Relatable.’  You see the same thing with Lewis.  I mean, the movies were gorgeous but they strayed so much from the novels to make them work for a modern audience-- it really just shows how much times have changed.”

“I know,”  Jordan agreed with a contented smile.  “I understand that they couldn’t have both of the girls just be window dressing like they were in the novels, but I think you just lose so much of the historical perspective when you change them.”

“At least we weren’t treated to the idea that wearing make-up keeps you out of Narnia,” Kyle said.  He reached up to adjust the rear view mirror, though no one was following them.

“I always hated that about those books.  I think that was the moment I started to lose respect for Lewis,” Jordan sighed.

“He was a product of his times.”

Jordan nodded in agreement.  She had said the same thing many times before.

It was Kyle’s turn to smile at her. “Okay, so which was worse?  Throne of Jade or The Black Powder War?”

Jordan blinked. “Oh god,” she began.  “After how awesome His Majesty’s Dragon was, it was just so painful to read those.  I mean those had to be two of the biggest let-downs for me last year.”  She continued to curl her hair around her finger, using the nervous energy as she thought.  She looked over at Kyle.  “Why would you ask me about those two books?”

He shrugged.  “They were my two biggest disappointments, too?”

It was Jordan’s turn to smile.  “They were good but so not up to standards of the first.”

“The fourth redeemed the series.”

“It did!”  Jordan sat back and watched the trees race past.  It was starting to get darker and the shadows were closing in on the road slowly.  She realized she hadn’t seen another car in a while.  “What about the latest Martin novel?  We didn’t talk about that at all over dinner.”

Kyle scratched his chin again.  “I’m afraid I won’t have much of an opinion on that until I read your review.”

“Read my what?”

“Read your review,” Kyle repeated.  “It helps to know what you like to read so I can establish a rapport through common interests.  I really can’t say what I think of that book until I have an idea of what you like.  That way we can pleasantly agree and feel that much more connected.”


“How do you know what books I like?”  Jordan reached for her cell phone but realized her purse was gone.

Kyle remained focused on the road, the car accelerating more.  “If you’re looking for your phone, I’m afraid it’s still back at Nick’s Cafe, on the table, under a napkin.”  He reached over to pat the top of her thigh.  “It was very sporting of you to agree to put our phones on the table and hide them like that.  Of course, mine was a throwaway phone I bought this morning so I doubt I’ll miss it.”

She moved her hand to the door handle and closed her fingers around it.  He couldn’t have seen her motion, not while focused on the road before them.  He continued.

“As to the books, well, it wasn’t hard at all to read back over your reviews on that Best Books website you frequent.  You have it linked on your Facebook page.”

“So the fact that we agreed so much about our favorite books was...”

Kyle finished her sentence, “Because I knew the answers you wanted to hear.”  

Jordan could feel her face growing cool as the blood slowly drained.  “And you were reading that Evanovich book before class Monday...”

Kyle finished for her again.  “Because you have it listed on your ‘to-read’ list.  I thought you should be the one to ask me about it, which is nice because it shifts the game.  I am not pursuing you; you are pursuing me.”

Jordan blinked back at him, her mouth still slightly open.  “But how did you even know my name to look me up?  I mean, did you go through my purse or something?  I can’t be the only Jordan on campus.”

Kyle tapped her thigh again.  She held her breath as his hand touched the skin above her knee.  “No, you certainly aren’t.  I only wish it had been a little more challenging to find you.”  He returned his hand to the steering wheel.  “You’re smart enough to pursue a chemistry major, let’s see if you can figure it out.  It starts with the name Jewel.”

Jordan slid away from him toward the door.  She tightened her grip on the door’s handle.  As soon as the car slowed she would have to make a leap.  She just needed to be ready when the opportunity presented itself.  Playing along made sense.

“Jewel.  Okay.”  She rolled her fingers on the handle.  “Well, that’s my friend’s name.”  She thought some more about the connection between the two of them.  “But all of her pictures are friend-locked, though.  Did you hack her account?”

Kyle held up a hand in a three-fingered salute.  “Scout’s honor: I do not hack into computers.  Too much work, really.”  He smiled at her as he eased up on the gas to make a long slow curve.  “You do have such lovely freckles.”

Jordan swallowed.  She was finding it harder to breathe, the car feeling as though it were getting smaller around her.  She had to get out.  “Then how did you know my full name?”

“Oh, think, my dear girl.”  His tone was becoming impatient.  “I’m not such a clever man.”

Jordan’s mind blanked.  The more he glanced at her, the more she knew she had to get out of the car.  It began to slow.  There was a stop sign ahead.  He was slowing down to turn, the sound of the blinker filling the car.  As he guided the car around the corner, he turned away from Jordan.  She pulled up on the handle and pushed her body hard against the door, ready to fall out onto the wet pavement.

Nothing happened.  The door did not move.

The car steadily picked up speed again as it straightened out.  “I’m sorry.  I told you when I picked you up that those doors were finicky.  I really should get that looked at.”

She stared back at him, her hand still on the door handle, clinging to it as though it would prove her salvation later.  

“And to be sporting,” he explained, “it really was not hard at all.  Your friend, Jewel, took you to a party at her sorority.  They were kind enough to post pictures of it and tag everyone they knew.  And unlike your profile page, those pictures were public.”  He held up his hand and ticked off the steps.  “So we go Jewel to Sigma Chi to the Sigma Chi fan page to public pictures to tags in those pictures to you.”  He put his hand on her knee again and held it there as he drove. “You really should pay more attention to those things.”

Jordan tried to pull back from his touch but his fingers dug into her flesh.  She could feel her eyes starting to water, blurring her view of the darkening forest on either side of the road.  She took another breath.  “You know, my roommate will notice when I’m not home tonight.”

“No she won’t.”  He kept his hand on her knee and pulled her more towards the middle of the seat.  He moved his hand from her leg down to the car’s console and pulled up a smart phone.  A twitter post was shown on the screen.

“@Jewellie0880 Date is best ever. Handsome & Gentlemen.  Hope U wont see me before Mon!”

She read the post again.  She had tweeted that after they arrived at the restaurant.  It was meant to be a private message to her roommate.

“You might have meant for that to be a direct message but you neglected to mark it as such, making that a public tweet, not private,” Kyle explained.  “And your Twitter feed is public as well.”  He put the phone back in the console and left it on so she could see the screen.  “That really was very kind of you to do.  It ensures our time here won’t be interrupted.”

Jordan wiped her nose on the back of her hand.  She blinked a few more times, trying to clear her eyes.  She did not want to cry.  She did not want him to see her cry.  “Where are you taking me?”

Kyle glanced at her and smiled.  “My mother left me a little place out there:  a hunting lodge of sorts.”

She looked out the window and sniffled in another attempt to clear her nose.  “What... what do you like to hunt?”

He laughed.  It was an easy, casual laugh. “Oh, Jordan,” he said, his face breaking into a wide grin.

“I think we both know the answer to that.”


Our regular story resumes with Chapter 16.

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