Free Fiction: Half-Empty

Anticipating Temptation comes out today… and I know you want to get your hands on it. After all, of all the things I’ve written, this one is my favorites, for several reasons. (But shhhh, don’t tell the Earthbound Angels I said that.) In the novella, Char has her own column called Little Things I’ve Learned, which all started with a bad date.

This is the story of that bad date.


Char shook the glass in her hand, and the ice jiggled around, but the shaggy-haired waiter still missed the point and didn’t come running with a refill. It was kind of par for the course lately for her—her needs simply weren’t being met. Clearly not at work where she just got fired, not by the guy she was on a second date with, not by her friends (hell, what friends?), nothing.

The date recognized her dilemma and he poured half of his water glass into hers. Water wasn’t really what she wanted, but, it was better than nothing, right?

“You know, a thank you would be nice, Char,” he said condescendingly as he set his glass back down on the table.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, refusing to make eye contact for fear the daggers they shot actually landed in his chest like she imagined. Like she didn’t have enough problems, she didn’t need to add manslaughter, albeit deserved, to the list.

“You’re lost in thought, what’s bothering you?”

Everything.

“Nothing, it’s just, nothing’s going right this week.”

“Well, aren’t you a downer tonight? Could you try to be a bit more positive?”

“I just lost my job, how positive do you want me to be? Would you like me to barf rainbows, because it’s not going to happen. I lost my only source of income and now I have to find something else in this tiny little town, so excuse me if I don’t feel like kittens and sunshine at the moment.” She threw her fork down on the table and it clattered against the plate, and if her rant hadn’t caused every head to turn and stare, the noise from the fork sure did.

“Would you be quiet?” he hissed. Char couldn’t even remember his name right now she was so mad. Johnny, Jim, something with a J. Jerk was more like it at the moment.

“No, I won’t,” Char replied. “I had a bad day, a bad week, a bad life, and now, just for fun, let’s add a bad date to the mix.”

Johnny/Jim/Jerk threw his napkin on the table and he stood up. “Call me when you’re—no, wait, don’t call me.” He grabbed his jacket and stormed out of the restaurant.

The waiter finally returned and slipped the bill face-down in front of her. She flipped it over. $32.65.

She sighed and leaned back against the booth. She just lost her job and had $47 left in the bank account—no, $47 minus $32.65, plus tip. Her ride just left her stranded a half hour away from home. She had no friends to call.

She began to sob in the booth. The heads that turned to watch her blow-up with whatever-his-name-was had returned to their meals, though the low murmurs and tension in the room told her she was the subject of several conversations.

A figure slipped into the booth across from her, and when she looked up, it was the waiter. The icy stare she shot across the table made him laugh.

“You’re having a rough night, aren’t you? Char, right?”

“Rough life is more like it,” Char admitted. Ha, he couldn’t recognize when my glass was empty, but he got my name.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s just a rough patch, things will look up. You have to look at it as the glass being half-full.”

“No, it’s half-empty.”

He smiled at her warmly. “It’s a matter of perspective, and I happen to think you deserve better than that guy. So, things are looking up. Half-full.”

Char rolled her eyes playfully. “Yeah, well, everything else about my life blows. Half-empty.”

“You do realize that when something empties, something else become full. It’s kind of like the whole, ‘for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction.’”

“You’re using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to make me feel better about the fact my bank account is empty and I have no friends?” Char fidgeted with the bill on the edge of the table, pondering if she could cut and run without getting caught. Then again, her chubby self wouldn’t get too far before the manager tackled her, so that was pretty much out.

“It will take time, but you’ll get another job—or win the lottery—and your bank account won’t be empty. As far as the friends, you’ve got me now. Half-full.”

“You are a broken record.”

He smiled, pushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes, and popped a fry from jerk’s plate into his mouth. “Yeah, but I’m wearing you down, aren’t I?”

“I still think you’re full of it.” Char eyed her water glass, and chugged what was in it. “There, definitively empty.”

The guy across the table looked at her, his brown eyes full of amusement. He crooked his finger and bent forward. She leaned across the table.

“Your glass may now be empty, but soon your bladder will be full. I told you, it always fills up somewhere.”

Char smiled and dropped her head so her hair would cover her goofy laugh face. Please don’t snort, Char, please don’t snort.

She looked up, her face still burning hot from laughter. “All right, you win. I lose.”

He stood up, untied the black apron around his waist, and placed his hand out to her. “I just got cut for the evening and I think you deserve some ice cream after the date you had. I promise I won’t skip out on paying.”

Char looked down at the bill on the table and frowned. His eyes softened when he saw the look on her face.

“It’s rare for me to pay for a guy at dinner, but if it gets you to smile, let me cover your dinner too.” He reached into his apron and pulled out a stack of bills. He counted off $33 in singles and fives and placed them on the table. “If he ever shows his face in here again, I promise I’ll spit in his food too.”

Char’s eyes lifted and locked with his brown ones. A small smile tugged at her lips.

“You can do better than that. Half-smile doesn’t equal the full bill getting covered.” His hand lifted a few bills from the stack and he shoved them into his pocket.

Before Char knew what she was doing, a wide grin broke across her face and she giggled.

“Much better.” He put the bills back on the table.

He wrapped an arm around Char’s shoulder.

“I’m Lee, and I’ll be your date for the rest of this evening.”


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