Fiction Scene: The Stranger

I haven’t posted in a while, and so today I’d like to share a piece of fiction for you. It’s a scene I wrote not too long ago. I haven’t published it anywhere, but it’s one of those things I think I might do something with it one day. It was a lot of fun to write, hope you enjoy.

 The Stranger 

The stranger entered the cafe, tall, dark and handsome, and shook the raindrops off his umbrella. In one fluid moment, he clicked it shut, and scanned the dimly lit room. Then he sauntered toward the register. 

My register. 

 I gulped and continued to wipe down the counter, trying to hide that I was checking him out. But he was impossible not to notice…the way he pursed his lips as if in deep thought, and he walked as if life had handed him a giant umbrella to shield off every care in the world. 

I know, I read too much in to it, but I was a theatre major. People watching was sort of our thing. He stood about six feet, dressed all in black, with shaggy blond hair reaching just past his neck, and smart tattoos running down his muscled forearm. 

I sprayed the register again, and ran a rag over the keyboard. 

“Order up, two turkey clubs, fries,” from behind me, Ollie the cook yelled. 

 He slid the plate over the counter. 

“Right, right,” I shook my head of the stranger and grabbed the plate from the warmer. 

The order belonged to two businesswomen, who now leaned against the wall engrossed in their conversation. They were regulars that I called The Marge’s. I didn’t know what their actual names were, but they both just looked like a Marge to me. They came here twice a week, and always talked about quarterly sales figures, no matter where in the quarter it was. 

I once saw this movie where two women were in a perpetually circular conversation about their mortgage rates—longer term, lower premium, shorter term, higher premium…around and around they went, in an endless volley, never tiring of the conundrum. 

Ah…first world problems. 

The Marge’s always reminded me of that scene. They were shitty tippers, but they had turned out to be great parody material for my theatre classes. I’d used them more than once. 

“But our percentage up from last year’s M.E. wasn’t nearly as high as last quarter’s,” said Marge Number One, actually using in conversation the abbreviation for Month End. I wanted to barf.  

“Well, we can make it up in the next quarter, before the end of the fiscal year,” said Marge Number Two.

“I hope so. We really need to increase our margins,” her counterpart shook her head. 

I smirked. But, now fully aware that Mr. Johnny Cash awaited me at the register, I amped up my professional energy. I channeled my perfect customer service character that I only used when the owner was around. 

I called her Gretchen, and she’s that impossibly enthusiastic employee in the training videos that even in orientation, you’re like, “Bullshit.”

 My impression must have been a good one, because Gretchen had kept me employed at Bubbles and Brunch for the entire first half of college and counting. If only I could nail it that perfectly at my auditions. She had also gotten me a couple of dates, all of which took a second best to an evening of studying lines over Chinese takeout. 

Small town dating…the struggle is real. 

I flashed one of those smiles that are typically the domain of used car salesman and A-list movie stars rich enough to buy an entire religion. 

 “Two turkey clubs, gluten free,” I slid the plates across the pick-up counter, with a posture that made my long red ponytail swish. 

That was Gretchen’s signature move. I knew I was into her when my ponytail swished. I hoped Mr. All-in-Black over there was noticing this, because Gretchen was hot, way hotter than me. 

“Anything else I can get you?” I offered. 

The question made absolutely no sense, considering all of our condiments were in the self-serve bar, and if they wanted anything other than that, they’d have to go back through the line. But, I was on a roll with Gretchen, and I couldn’t stop. The Marge’s looked at me like they were thinking the exact same thing. 

“No thank you,” responded Marge Number One, after she peered me up and down. She grabbed the tray off the counter, and then rubbed her fingers together, as if she were wiping grime off them. 

Really? Bubbles and Brunch had been voted the Coolest Restaurant in Middlecreek for the last five years, and everyone, even the mayor, ate here. We didn’t get that way by serving salmonella. 

“Enjoy your meal,” I winked. 

The Marge’s grabbed their plates and disappeared without another word to me. 

I heard as they parted, “But last year’s M.E. percentage this month was so much higher than this year’s.” 

I didn’t stifle my laughter this time, and then sashayed over to Mr. All-in-Black. Gretchen was so strong, I could physically feel her. 

“Hi!” I bubbled, my voice exploding with peppiness. “Welcome to Bubbles and Brunch, home of the best panini in Middlecreek. What can I get you?” 

I sucked in my stomach, a move that always made my boobs look bigger, and then, I batted my eyelashes. 

A slight smile played around his lips, and I finally got a good look at him. Piercing blue eyes, and a silver chin stud, and small dimples framed his smile. Gretchen didn’t get intimidated by hot men, so I held his gaze longer than I could stand. 

“Does that shit work on anyone?” He smirked.  

“I’m sorry?” 

“The whole I-love-my-job, mid-century bobby socks soda shop girl?” 

The smile faded from my face. But instead of apologizing, his lips upturned in a knowing smile. “So I take that as a ‘no,’ then?” 

Something about his smugness and they way he looked me up and down intrigued me. 

“It works on my boss,” I countered with honesty, promptly dropping Gretchen. 

He grinned, and raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s all that matters in the end. Selling your soul to pay tribute to corporate drones whining about the bottom line.” 

He cocked his head to the Marge’s who now scrutinized and discussed their iPad screens amid their sandwiches. His arrogance now annoyed me.  

“And what do you do that you that makes you above all that?” 

“I didn’t say I was above anything.”

“So then I take it you have a job somewhere that makes you pay corporate tribute and all that bottom line stuff you just said?” 

He frowned. “I do have a job. I’m not a corporate sell-out though.”

There it was again, that weird pensive look.

“Lucky for you. What can I get you?”  

“A room,” he leaned over the counter. 

I frowned. “I’m sorry, I’m not running a hotel right now.” 

“Raja, right?” 

I raised an eyebrow. There was no need to ask that, it was pinned to my shirt—a fact that I resented. 

My parents had been ultra-weird hippie types when I was born. They lived in a cult in Sedona, Arizona, and I was born in something called The Labor Tent, which from the photographs, was exactly what it sounded like.

I was given my name in a naming ceremony out in the Red Rocks while everyone looked on and a guru that had four wives, blessed me with water and herbs, or something like that. To be fair, there was actually a pretty cool story I was named after this badass sage woman in the cult that had single-handedly saved everyone from drowning in a flood and then died in the process. 

  But I swear, if one more person made an Aladdin joke to me, I would figure out a way to sic Jafar on their asses. 

In the end, my parents grew out of the whole hippie thing before I was old enough to remember. I guess once they started having kids they decided they needed to grow up and get real jobs. So, they moved me and my sister, Petula, to Middlecreek, Pennsylvania, and we have all lived more or less normal, well-adjusted middle-class lives, our hippie past nothing more than old stories and photographs. 

Although, from time to time, we ran across weird reminders. Things like, I was a month late to start kindergarten because my toddler years “off-the-grid,” had left me with no birth certificate or social security card. Or that I was a redheaded lily white chick from the suburbs named Raja.

Mr. All-in-Black now tapped his fingers on the counter. “You’re looking for a roommate, right?” 

I was. 

My best friend Jenna had moved out to get married, and now I wasn’t sure how I was going to make rent. But, it sure wasn’t going to be at the hands of this guy. 

“No, I’m sorry. The room has been been rented.” 

“No it hasn’t.” 

“And how would you know that?”  

He winked. “I know a lot of things.” 

“What does that mean?” 

“I know you’re in your second year at Middlecreek Junior College studying theatre, and you’re in every production the Middle-creek Community Theatre puts on.”

My stomach froze. Who the hell was this guy? My first thought was that he was an MCT fan, and had done his homework on the regular cast members. 

Sure, we’ve got our bios out online, and with a little bit of web searching, he could have found out most of everything he’d just said. But, if he was such an enthusiast, why had I never seen him before? We did do meet and greets. 

 He continued, “I know you’ve done exactly three commercials and auditioned for a reality show, and that you talked your friend Jenna into going with you to be an extra in a Matt Damon movie, where the two of you played part of a crowd in a bus station. The back of her head made it into the movie, whereas you’re not visible at all. And that pisses you off, because you’re supposed to be the actress.” 

He was totally right, although not the part about me being jealous of Jenna. It was the back of her head, for Christ’s sake—a micro-second of blond hair, and the collar of a red coat. There were more than three hundred extras there that day, and it could have been virtually any one of them. Why would I be jealous of that? 

“I am not jealous of—” I cut myself off. I was not discussing this with him. “What the hell? Are you some kind of stalker or something? 

“Oh, you’re very jealous of her,” he avoided the question. “You’re jealous that she got married before you—“

I chortled. “Who do you think you are?” 

“That she’s more successful than you, and you’re jealous because you think she’s hotter than you—“

My face blushed hot with anger. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” 

He smirked. “I’m not going anywhere.” 

“Then I’m going to have to get the manager,” I shook my head and blurted unconvincingly, “And eventually the cops.” 

“You won’t,” he laughed. 

My mouth dropped. “I’m sorry?” 

“You won’t, because you don’t want me to leave.” 

“Oh, you can bet I do. I don’t know who you are, and what you’re up to, but you are over the line, sir.” 

“And you find that interesting. Much more interesting than any of the other guys you’ve dated.” 

“Dated? Who says I’m even interested in you?”

“Everything about you. The way you clench your little fists, and the way you stand with your ass all perked up like that, not like an indignant woman, but like a girl that craves attention.” 

My mouth dropped. “Wow. Just wow.” 

 I unclenched my fists and tried to un-perk my ass. 

“You need to leave,” I stated and picked up the phone to call the manager in the back office. 

“But then you’d miss the rest of the story.” 

I held the receiver. “What story?” 

“Why I came to find you.” 

I laughed mirthlessly. “You came to find me? Because you’re a creepy stalker?” 

“No. Because I’m your fiancee.” 

I dropped the phone and it clattered down the counter to the floor. “The fucking what?” 

He stared down at his shoes and then looked back up at me, the smugness gone. Now, he looked a bit sad and vulnerable. He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and tossed it on the counter. 

“Your parents are Jim and Sasha Bolinge?”

They were. I narrowed my eyes, and he shrugged. “Better known as Astral and Zappa?” 

My eyes widened. They had briefly changed their names while in the cult. He gestured toward the paper. “I’m River West, and you and I, we were betrothed at birth.” 

I blinked in disbelief and opened the paper. It was a contract between my parents and presumably his. There all our names were. Astral…Sasha…Zappa….Jim….Raven….River West…and a few other names, I took to be his family. 

I skimmed the document, and it was clear. We had been arranged to be married. 

 I didn’t know what to respond to first. That my parents would do such a thing? After all, there their signatures were, in black and white…

Or that they’d never told me?  Or that this guy was proposing to me? Or that arranged marriages even existed? Or that I had been part of such a degrading tradition? My head felt like it would explode with all the offensive angles to what this guy was saying. 

I tossed the paper back at him. “I don’t know what this is, if it’s even real, but—“

“It’s real,” he interrupted flatly. “And if we don’t do it, we lose everything.” 

A dark cloud came over him, and he turned and stormed out of the cafe. 

“Everything?” I called out after him. “What do you mean by everything?”

But he was gone. 


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