By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: “Not yet.” Incorporate this line of dialogue into a story. What prompts a character to say these words? Contextualize what the phrase means. How does he or she arrive at this moment? What is the question that precedes the answer?
At her Sweet Sixteen party, when she expected her popular jock boyfriend to tell her he loved her, he sneered and told her she was too mousy, too plain looking, too virginal to be his girlfriend any longer.
In tears she ran out of the party hall, looked up at a night sky full of stars and whispered, “When is the real love of my love going to show up? Someone who loves me for me?”
A thousand miles away, in another state, another time zone, at a different Sweet Sixteen party, he heard the whisper in his ear.
“Not yet,” he whispered back, with a hint of a sigh.
During his second year of college, when he went to a frat party and made eye contact with a girl across the room, he watched as one of his “friends” sauntered over to the girl, put his hand on the wall behind her, and chatted her up. Fifteen minutes later they left the room.
He punched his hand with his fist, took a beer to a chair in the corner, and whispered to himself, “When am I going to meet the girl of my dreams? The girl who will want to stay with me and not leave with the first guy wants to sleep with her?”
On a different campus, in another state, another time zone, at a different frat party, she heard the whisper in her head.
“Not yet,” she whispered back, with an exhalation of longing.
At the graduation party celebrating her master’s degree, her father arrived teetering on his feet, unable to stand straight, saying in slurred words that he couldn’t believe his little girl had grown up and how proud he was and whether she could point him in the direction of the bar. Her step-father gently put a hand under the drunk’s arm, guided him back outside, and called a cab.
She excused herself from the gawking guests, locked herself in the bathroom, and whispered to herself, “When will I meet a man who can say no to something bad for him and still consider himself a man?”
In a banquet hall on the other side of the country, in another state, another time zone, at a different graduation party, he felt the whisper brush the side of his face.
“Not yet,” he whispered back, his heart tugging.
In his first job he saw a woman grin at their boss, and the look held meaning. It held tension, the kind of tension that gets relieved in hotel rooms during clandestine encounters. Three months later when the woman got the promotion he rightly deserved, he went to the company kitchen, waited for the artisan coffee machine to brew him a cup.
As he stared out the window, he whispered in disgust to himself, “When will I meet a woman with enough self-respect to let her work speak for itself without using her body as the means to getting ahead?”
Three states away, still in a different time zone, in a branch of the same company, she rejected the not-so-subtle advances of her own boss and wearily blew a few strands of hair out of her face.
“Not yet,” she whispered back, frustration edging her mind.
Two years later, at the wedding of their regional director, when they found themselves sitting across from each other during the reception, he bowed his head and lifted his glass of champagne specifically in her direction during the toast. She felt her cheeks get warm, nodded her head in recognition, and lifted her own glass in reply. After the first few dances, he stood up, buttoned his jacket, came around the table, and held out a hand.
“Now?” he asked.
She smiled. “Now.”