Your friends and mine at the Flash Fiction Friday compound high in the Hollywood Hills, guarded by stone lions just like the New York Public Library, have issued a challenge involving a literal or metaphorical ticking bomb. This story is called "Pinky Swear".
"You know, it's only a matter of time," Shannon said. The noise in the restaurant, a national chain that made pretty decent salads and pasta, started to build as the lunch crowd grew. Shannon always spoke just loudly enough to be heard. She made you want to listen to her.
"Everything is a matter of time, Shea," I said. "Everything." I told Bill last night I was going to lunch with Shannon today, and his reply dripped with acid. "Again?," was all he said.
"You know what I meant," she said dismissively. She had this way of looking down her nose at you, as if you had said the silliest thing. It came from a lifetime of usually being the tallest person in the room. But I was right. Everything eventually happens, it's only a matter of time. More things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in all your philosophy.
"Yeah," I admitted. "But if I worry about what's going to happen, I'd never do anything. I can't afford to borrow trouble." I watched a visibly pregnant woman leading a train of small children into a booth near us. I shivered at the thought of Bill and I having kids.
"But still," she said. She took a sip of her water. There was condensation beading on the side of the glass. "I told you he wasn't right for you." She had done that, true. All the way up until my bridal shower, she made it clear that she didn't like Bill, that he was scaring her.
"Shea," I said. "Let's not turn this into the 'Shannon Was Right' Chronicles, please. I know you said it. And I didn't listen." She spent the months after my wedding waiting for the shoe to drop, watching for it to go wrong, her disapproval a visible cloud around every word. She never said it straight out, but you could tell.
"I'm scared for you, hun." She probably was. Shannon, for all her superiority and controlling nature, really was sweet and genuinely cared about people. Then again, I always looked for the good in everyone.
"I know," I said. "I appreciate that. I do. I'm scared for me, too." I didn't tell her about how I cry with relief when he leaves for work, that every moment with the two of us together is like a hostage negotiation.
"You know you can come stay in our spare room. If you need to." I tried to picture living in Shannon's precise house, every magazine square on the table, her well behaved, polite children, her husband, distant and cold and secretly resenting me.
"Thanks, Shea. That's nice of you to offer." It was the kind of offer that you made expecting to be turned down, a kind of offer that had about a two week expiration date. It was an offer that wasn't an offer, like the way fat Mike flirts with me at the copy machine.
"You've got to get out of there," Shannon began. The waiter came, bringing us twin salads. Greek for me, garden for her. I couldn't stand to not have something on a salad, which explained why I looked like me and Shannon looked like her.
"I wish I could," I said. "Where would I go? What would I do for a job? For health coverage?" And what would the point be, really? Single? At my age? I was too tired to think about saving myself anymore.
"You have your degree," Shannon said, taking a bite of salad. She chewed as precisely as she talked.
"Yeah," I spat back. "A BA in Business Administration. Me and 7000 other people. Big deal." I went to college because everyone said I should, even though I really had no interest in it. I couldn't admit it at the time, but I was thinking about dropping out and getting married the whole time.
"You can come live with me," she insisted. I pictured waking up to long haired, pretty Polly, along with composed, serious Wyatt, watching cartoons together in pajamas. What would they call me? What would I be?
"It's fine, Shea. I'll be fine."
"It's not fine. He's going to lose it again. You know that." She was right. I hated Shannon sometimes, the way you hate your best friend, the way you hate the way they sound when they are right and you both know they are right, the way you hate their perfect taut LL Bean and Architectural Digest life, the way you hate with a marrow deep vehemence that you can't admit to anyone.
"Yes, I know," I said. "I know. We've talked about it. If he hits me again, I go to the cops." And then what, I didn't say.
"He shouldn't hit you. Ever.," Shannon said flatly. Easy for her to say. Her husband rolled over, doing whatever she said when she said it. I looked at her long legs under the table, a fuchsia high heel balanced on her toes playfully. If I were a guy, I'd probably do what she said too.
I chewed my salad. This bite had too much dressing on it. It tasted sour.
"If you need somewhere to go, you will call me," Shannon added. I watched her uncross her legs and recross them. I saw a waiter at another table notice her. You instinctively obeyed Shannon, like she was your mother.
"Yes, Shea," I said. "I will."
"Pinky swear." I'd rather he just kill me, I thought.