By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Practice Restraint—Write a scene for a story with two characters. One character has kept a secret from the other, and the other has recently discovered it, but not yet revealed her discovery. Have the characters engaged in an activity—shoveling out from a snowstorm, preparing for a party, looking for a lost ring. Use the dialogue and the action to express the tension between the two, without having them directly discuss the secret.
Jon walked into his small office in the library still reeling from the conversation he had just had with Melissa, the librarian.
She actually saw Kourtney on the street corner. No wonder Kourtney won’t fill out her contact information on the volunteer form. But…Kourtney? She doesn’t look homeless.
Jon whirled around. “Kourtney? Wha—what are you doing here?”
Kourtney’s eyebrows knit together although she kept smiling. “I’m here to help you set up for the book signing, remember?”
“Book signing,” Jon murmured. “Yeah, the…the book signing.”
“Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah. Fine. So let’s, uh—let’s set up for the book signing.”
Kourtney stared at Jon for a moment longer as though trying to figure out what bothered him. Jon returned what he knew looked like a shaky smile at best. After a minute Kourtney shook her head and gave him a typical teenager eye roll before leaving his office and walking toward the small conference designated for the book signing that day. Jon watched her leave, trying to find some indication in her physical appearance that this girl who had begun volunteering six months earlier made her home under overpasses or on a park bench somewhere.
Suddenly the phone rang, breaking Jon’s train of thought. He shook his head to clear it from the trance and answered the phone.
“Hi, Jon, this is Suzanne.”
“I just wanted to confirm the book signing for Cory Waters this evening. We’re still good to go, right?”
“Oh, right. We’re setting up everything right now. Does Mr. Waters need anything special for the signing?”
Jon talked to Suzanne for a few more minutes and then hung up. Speaking to her put him back in action mode, and he strode out of his office with purpose. One way or the other, he would try to find a way to help Kourtney.
When he got to the conference room, Kourtney had already begun pulling out chairs from the closet and lining them up in rows. Jon watched her for a few minutes, but when he realized that Kourtney had begun staring at him he went to the closet and started dragging out chairs behind her.
Her clothes seem so normal. She doesn’t dress like a homeless person. But I guess I’ve never really met a homeless person before…
“So how’s your day been so far?” Jon asked.
“Good,” Kourtney said with a nod. “How about you?”
“Not too bad,” Jon said with a nod of his own. Suddenly inspired, he made his tone as casual as possible. “Say, Kourtney, I was taking care of some paperwork today, and I noticed that you forgot to fill out your permanent address on your volunteer application form.”
“Oh, really?” Kourtney said, her voice just as nonchalant as his. If Jon hadn’t listened for it, he wouldn’t have heard the slight shift in the pitch of her tone or missed the way she suddenly found the folding chairs intensely fascinating. “I must have gotten distracted or something.”
“Yeah,” Jon said, feigning a chuckle. “That happens sometimes. Say, why don’t we take care of it once we’re done here?”
Kourtney blinked a few times at the chair she had just unfolded. “Uh, yeah, I guess we could.”
Jon went back to the closet for a long folding table, and Kourtney helped him carry it. They managed not to look each other in the eye as they stood the table on its edge and Jon unfolded the legs. Once he’d “clacked” the legs into place and they’d stood the table up, Kourtney turned away from Jon and went to a cardboard box in the corner of the room. She started pulling out books from the box and brought them back to the table to arrange, all the while still avoiding Jon’s gaze as he went back to the folding chairs.
“Oh, Jon, I forgot. I’m really behind on processing those books that got transferred from the other library branches. I couldn’t finish them all yesterday, so I’ll probably be working on that right until I leave today. Do you think we could get to the form another day?”
Jon looked at her intently until she finally looked back at him.
Kourtney smiled gratefully. As Jon continued to look at her, though, her smile faded.
“Jon, is everything okay? You’ve been acting kind of strange since I got here.”
“Everything’s fine, Kourtney.”
She glanced at the closed door to the conference room, and Jon saw something new in Kourtney’s face: apprehension. He realized just what his meaningful glances might look like to Kourtney. Abruptly he broke eye contact with her and returned to the chairs, turning his back to her.
“Why don’t you go ahead and get started on processing those transfers, and I’ll finish up in here.”
“Okay,” she said, a question evident in her voice. Jon didn’t want her to read anything in his face, so he tossed a casual “Thanks for all your work” over his shoulder before she left. Her answering “You’re welcome” came from a distance, although Jon couldn’t tell for sure because he didn’t want to turn around and make her actually start running from the conference room.
Great, now she’s going to think I’m a pervert. But what can I do to help her? Can I do anything? And why doesn’t Kourtney have a place to live?