Monday, December 10, 2018

WEP December: Ribbons and Candles

Write…Edit…Publish (WEP) is an online writing community now partnering with the Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG). We post the third Wednesday of every second month. Check out our program for 2018 in our sidebar and Pages. WEP challenges are open to all. *Submit your name to InLinkz (free) on the first day of the challenge month. The winner for each prompt wins a $10 Amazon Gift Card with winners’ badges for second and third prize. *Scroll down to read previous winning entries. There is also a special Commenter’s badge.

My Entry Starts Here:

Holly ducked her head as she walked past the ribbon-filled Christmas display at the General Store where she worked. Christmas wasn’t on her list this year. 

She felt tears threaten as she put on her frumpy red work smock. Looking in her locker mirror, she told herself to keep her chin up, keep her smile bright. She smiled at her reflection, but it looked forced. 

It would have to do. Her break was over and she had to work. She closed the locker, clocked herself in, and went to take over the register from a teen who hadn’t even bothered to learn her name. 

Small town life wasn’t really all that wonderful. Few jobs available, no place for singles to meet other than a few bars, and not much to do during the winter, other than take snowy hikes.

Holly liked walking in the snow, hearing it crunch and pack beneath her boots. She thought of this as she listened to “Winter Wonderland” on the store’s Christmas play-list. She used to love everything about winter and Christmas. The tears threatened again, and she was glad there weren’t any customers in the store. It was pretty bleak this time of evening, dinner hour to close, but she needed the hours.

To make the best use of her time, she wiped down the sparkling clean counter, then locked the register and walked around the store, looking for something to re-stock. 

The doorbell jingled and she went back to the front.

A young man, bundled with a scarf around his face and parka, stood in the entryway.

 “Hello, can I help you find anything?”

He unwound his scarf and gazed at her seriously. It was Brad. And, he had obviously heard the news about her parents. 

“Hey, Holly Jol-,” he paused and didn’t finish his childhood nickname for her. “I hoped I’d find you here.” He held out his arms for a hug. 

She wouldn’t deny herself a good, warm hug from Brad, even if they hadn’t been close since high school. So, she threw her arms around him and held him close, pressing her face into his snow-damp shoulder. 

“I heard,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make the funeral. I …,” he paused again, his breath hitching. 

“It’s okay, Brad,” she said. She didn’t cry, would not allow herself to. She started to draw back, keeping her head down, but he didn’t let go.

“After your mom’s accident when we were in high school, I know you gave up a lot, Holly, but now, maybe you can … I mean, after you take some time to grieve and make sense of things, you can go and do some of the things you used to dream of doing.” 

Hot anger that bubbled up inside her, the anger she’d been holding in every time someone tried to comfort her, or told her she could go do something different now that her parents were dead.

She yanked away and marched over to the register. 

“I’ve made sense of things already.” This wasn’t exactly true, but she had gone over the finances. She knew the reality of her situation. After her mom’s post-dated medical bills had been paid, her parents’ second-mortgaged house sold, she would have just enough to live for a month or two, no more.

As she started to wipe away her tears, Brad handed her a handkerchief. 

It was soft when she took it in her hands. Of course, only the finest things for Brad Morgan. She swallowed that thought back, tried to force the sting of jealousy away. 

“Please, Holly, you can talk to me. My mom said you haven’t talked to anyone, haven’t even gone to church.”

“I talk to customers,” she said. 

He shook his head, then wandered over to the Christmas décor section. “You know I’ve been thinking of getting an advent wreath, you know the kind with the candle-holders, not the evergreen kind. Do you have any here you recommend?” 

She gazed at his broad shoulders, noticed he wasn’t even looking at the display as he glanced back at her. She walked over to him and pointed. 

“I’ve always liked this one, with the gold and silver leaves. It’s simple, just a circle of candle-holders, but it seems peaceful to me.”

“So, this one.” Brad picked it up. “Do you sell candles for it?”

She tried to ignore the way he looked at her so hopefully. “Yes, we have them in blue, purple, pink, and white. Some people like blue for hope, and some like purple for the royalty of Christ, and then there’s a single pink one for joy, and then a white one to put in the center of the circle on Christmas day.” 

“Which color are you using? The blue for hope or the purple for royalty?”

She shrugged. “My parents used purple, but I haven’t put one up this year.”

“Holly Jolly, it’s your favorite time of year, your birthday, you have to celebrate it somehow, with someone.” He dipped his chin, his puppy dog eyes serious. 

“Please, Holly.” He put his arm around her shoulders gently. 

“Are you asking me to celebrate Christmas with you, or Advent? The Advent Wreath’s meant to be used every day.” She wanted to step away, but found herself getting closer to him somehow.

“Why don’t you light the first candle with me tonight, then I figure out a way to light them with you every night, either commuting or Skyping.” 

She felt his warmth seep into her side, but she didn't have anything to offer him in return for his comfort. “I don’t know.”

“Blue for hope, then.” 

She smiled slightly at his determination. “Okay. Blue for hope.” 

He grinned. “I always win at arguments.”

“What?! You do not. Remember debate class, when I beat you?”

“It was rigged.” He gave her an exaggerated wink.

She shook her head, but smiled. Maybe Christmas was on her list, after all.

Helpful criticism would be great! I don't often foray into semi-romantic fiction, so I have a couple of questions:
1. Do their physical actions work with their words and the tone?
2. Does Holly's movement from sorrow to hopefulness (and a tiny bit of flirtation) work or is it way too rushed?
This really wasn't what I planned on writing, but it was where the story went. 

This is my last post here for 2018! 



And, as a little fandom Christmas gift to you all, if you haven't seen it yet here's the official trailer for Avengers: Endgame:


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Glad he persisted. She needs a friend. And should've be alone.
Excited about the new trailer even though it doesn't give away much. Until the end...

Sharon M. Himsl, Author said...

I like this, my kind of story :) Reminded me of my retail days working for a large department store.

Is trailer down? Doesn't work.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Really enjoyed your story. I did feel Holly's transformation was a bit rushed. Perhaps have him work on her more, bring up happy connections. Great moving story though. I think many of can relate to Holly's feelings.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Alex - one of the reasons I love the trailer is that it doesn't give away too much. :) And, thanks for the feedback!

Sharon - Thank you! I attempted to fix the trailer so hopefully it works now.

Natalie - Thank you! I love your suggestions.

Lisa said...

Even just getting her to smile would be enough and perhaps not feel rushed at the end. The characters were believable and I slipped right into the story. Pacing was good! Well done.

Sherry Ellis said...

I like your story. I felt Holly's change of attitude toward Brad was a little rushed - from being angry to having her heart melted by his kindness and charm. Maybe include more of a reason for why she can't stay mad at him.

Good luck with your writing. And Merry Christmas!

cleemckenzie said...

It's hard not to have her change from despondent to hopeful and "interested" in the guy quickly when you're doing a flash fiction piece. If you had dragged it out further, it might have slowed the action or you would have wound up with a short story.

I liked the small gestures Brad made, like handing her a handkerchief without saying anything, and then creating an opportunity for them to celebrate with The Advent Wreath. He came across as a caring guy.

You've got one typo: scar should have an F.

Olga Godim said...

Flash fiction demands swift actions, so no, I don't think Holly is too fast in switching from despondency to hope. I think most of us want an excuse to be happy. When anyone offers her a chance at happiness, especially such a nice guy, of course, Holly should grab it.

Denise Covey said...

I like Brad and the hopeful and sensitive way he approached Holly. Perhaps you could have given us more of her internal thoughts at the beginning, then bring in Brad when she's made some decision to live life. Her response was a little over-sharp when he first approached her, I think.

For someone who doesn't write romantic fiction as a rule, you did well.

Thanks for crafting this flash for WEP.

Merry Christmas!


Jemi Fraser said...

Very nice! I love a touch of romance in all things :)
The romance is always rushed in flash fiction - that's part of the fun!
The only part that rang a little (and only a little) off was his immediate suggestion that she start moving on. I think a little more commiseration or attempt at building a connection first would be more effective. Maybe if he phrased his thoughts as a question rather than a suggestion??? Not sure - but I really enjoyed the story!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You did such a wonderful job portraying her despondency, it was almost tangible. The length of the piece didn't give you the luxury of developing the love interest slowly, but you did well with the time you had. I especially like that you ended with a note of hope. All around, a very nice job!

Elephant's Child said...

Hope is a fragile necessity. I love that he gave her some. The next step to a teensy bit flirtatious did seem a step too far - except that it seems she was moving down very familiar pathways.

Toi Thomas said...

Because it's such a short story, I don't think it's happening too fast, but I do wonder if there was more to it, would there be history between them that would a) bring them close quicker or b) find her drawn to him simply for a sense of security. She's in a bad place and he's nice. If she develops feelings for him, is it because of genuine interest or her circumstances? I sense that she likes him as a person but not sure if romance is really in the air. In any case, I thought it was lovely. I like taking a sad situation and turning it around.

L.G. Keltner said...

This was such a nice story! I felt her sadness and how being surrounded by reminders of Christmas made it that much harder for her with all that she'd lost. While her change in attitude with Brad does seem fast, I took it as having more to do with the history they share together. Sometimes when things are dark, we can find small moments of hope or joy when greeted by a familiar face we'd missed. It doesn't erase her sadness, but it does allow for a flicker of hope to shine through, which is something she clearly needs right now.

Yolanda Renée said...

She wanted, needed someone to remind her of the joy. It's a lovely story, and full of hope! Great job@

Nilanjana Bose said...

This is a charming story. Given the wordcount, there is a limitation to how much you can draw out the change in attitude, but it doesn't feel too rushed because Brad isn't a complete stranger, they have some history together. I like the symbolism of the advent wreath too.

Always a good thing to let the story go the way it wants to rather than force it to the writer's will imho.

Pat Garcia said...

I like this story because it speaks of hope after a tragic loss. Despair is driven away because of his kindness and life for her takes on the colour blue for hope. Beautifully done.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat G

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! Just wow! Thank you for all of the wonderful comments and specific, detailed critique. Thank you!

Pat Hatt said...

Didn't feel rushed to me. She needed a friend even if she didn't know it and allowed herself to give in a little as he persisted.

Trailer is grand indeed.

Michelle Wallace said...

Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
I enjoyed this snippet and can see it evolving into a longer story.
Holly needs something to cling to after her tragic loss. Brad provides the sense of hope.
If you rewrite this as part of a longer story, then you can bring up old connections/memories: the school debating classes they took together; or maybe the reason why he remembered her birthday is tied to a poignant teen memory; in order to make his advances more sincere maybe he can hint at the fact that he always admired her from a distance, for whatever reason... maybe her sense of independence...? Their conversation reveals that they know one another and are not complete strangers.
I suppose it depends where you want to take the story. Very interesting beginning! The possibilities are endless. I like it.

Bernadette Braganza said...

Such a cute story :) I don't really think that it was rushed — well-paced.

PS: I'm finally happy that Trailer 1 is out & can't wait for trailer 2!

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

I, too, think it’s a charming story! That line right up front, “Christmas wasn’t on her list this year” captures her despair so perfectly, and is given all the more force when we learn that Xmas was her favorite holiday.

I do think that I might have stopped with more of a hint that she will thaw than quite as clear a romantic move as you did, but the constraints of flash fiction are tough when youn need to slow down the action! I think it worked in any case, and maybe it was a bit of seasonal magic :) Very well written.

Kalpanaa M said...

The story worked very well for me and I agree that considering the length of flash fiction you moved at a good pace. Her despondency was real, his persistence was real too - their physical movements made sense. I love a good Christmas story with a little romance woven in so it was perfect for me. Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.