Your phone trembles in your hands, and your hot chocolate grows colder. This is stupid. This is so stupid. You shouldn’t have come. You shouldn’t have texted him. You shouldn’t have even come. Coffee makes you sick. You hate coffee. You hate everything about coffee. What part of “Wow, coming to a coffee shop was a lousy idea” did you not understand?
This is stupid. This is stupid. This is so undeniably, unfathomably —
You jump from the table and meet his eyes. Apart from the thicker beard, he’s barely changed. Tan skin, guitar around his back, fluffy dark brown hair, kind brown eyes, lanky limbs, and the same warm smile.
“Whoa, whoa, easy. Just me,” he says, a small chuckle at the end. “Just your good friend Gen.”
You stuff your phone back into your purse. “S-Sorry. Just a lot on my mind.”
“I can tell. I’m glad you called. Also, sorry for the lateness. My Uber driver took a while to get to my place.” He takes your hand in his. It’s rough and dry with calluses from guitar strokes and hundreds of hours of practice, but it is far more reassuring than your sweat-laced palms, at the moment. He points with his other thumb to the line of customers. “Can I grab you a drink?”
“Oh, no, that’s fine. I’ve got–” You wiggle your hot chocolate cup in front of him.
“Oh, okay, cool.” He nods. “Let me get in line, then. I’ll be right back.”
You nod and sit back down. He’s so nice. And genuine. From the moment of his inception, you felt a connection with him.
But what are you? You’re fake, that’s what. Protagonist? Pssh. Anybody is nuts for even thinking of making you the star role. You’d mess it up. You know you will. You know it. The writer knows it. Everyone–
“Sooooooooooooo…” Gen slips off his guitar and seats himself in the chair across from you. “What’s up, Miss Moon?”
You take a sip of your hot chocolate, trying to hide your blushing. In character as always. Faithful to the part from day one.
But the moment you open your mouth, to answer, the barista shouts from the counter. “I have a black coffee for Gen! Black coffee!”
Gen’s mouth shrivels, impressed. “That was fast!” He stands, pats you on the shoulder, and winks. “Be right back, sweetheart.”
You nod, barely bobbing your head and inch. He hates you. He hates you, doesn’t he? He’s being nice, because he has to. You’ve read the drafts. You know he’s going to stay a relatively minor character. You consider the possibility of having a few more scenes between you two, but…
No. This is stupid. You’re stupid. This whole thing is stupid. You’re going to ruin it. You’re going to mess everything up and make the writer start over three more times.
Gen returns with his coffee and takes off the lid. He takes his slow whiff and smiles. “Best smell in the world… to me, anyway.” He returns to his chair. He notices the tears lining the edges of your eyes, and his face softens with concern. “Hey, you okay?”
You rub yours eyes. “It’s been ten years since she first thought of me,” you say. “Five years since she’s written the first draft. Four since she tried again. And now, she’s going for a fourth draft.” You shake your head. “I don’t know how much more I can take, Gen. I don’t want her to give up on me, but at the same time, I don’t want to keep going like this either. I want to tell her how I feel, but then I feel like I’ll come off as too demanding. She’s got other things to write, too.”
Gen places his coffee to the side. He taps your hand gently, and like a good friend, he understands immediately. “Karetu, do you remember when you and I first met?”
“I was a nondescript hobo on the desert streets. Now I’m a former assassin trying to redeem myself. And look at you. Instead of some cliche princess, you’re a knight in the thick of all the conflict. Things are going good for us.” He shrugs. “Still wish I was a main character, though, but I’m happy if I stay secondary. Who knows? My point is, The Girl Upstairs is working on it. It might feel hard right now, but I promise you haven’t been abandoned. The system’s just getting an overhaul. That’s all. Lotta change, lot of it good.”
She sniffles. “I’d be happy if you stayed in it.”
Gen smirks and takes a sip of his black coffee. “Of course you will. All the girls will be.”
“All the girls will fawn after Danto.”
“He might be handsome as a pirate, but he’ll never be as cool as me.”
You smile and sip your hot chocolate. “That he won’t.”
You and Gen hold hands and stare at each other in silence. You wonder, briefly, what his lips and yours would taste like together. Would the earthy tones of his coffee compliment your spicy-sweet peppermint? Or would one be too powerful over the other?
As I watch you both interact, safely out of your sight and typing away at my laptop, I’m not so sure myself.
I didn’t think you’d be into older men.
Okay, explanation time.
I wrote/revised/wrote this initially as a random Match.com-like encounter between two nameless characters so I could practice my second-person narrative style.
But then I thought, “What if the two people are characters that happen to be in the same book, kind of like how two people can be cast in the same movie?”
But then, I thought, “What if they were my characters in the novel I’m writing right now? What would they be thinking of my madness?”
And then, I thought, “What if these characters were dating behind my back, and not happy with the characters I planned to pair them with O_O? Or maybe they’re just friends, I don’t know, but still?”
I have to be honest. After writing this, I kind of feel bad for Karetu and Gen. But at the same time, I kind of don’t, hahaha xD. And I find it scary how comfortable I am with my sadism.
But on some level, fiction writers are quite sadistic in their artistic worlds. We put characters through all this torture to become heroes. We give them tragic backstories, put them through oodles of conflict, and we do it in the name of good storytelling and empathy. A bit of a cynical viewpoint, but you have to admit it there’s some darkness in the art.
I’m still glad that I wrote this, though. I was thinking of not writing it and posting it, but it ended up being rather thought-provoking for me and helped me understand that while I view my characters as characters and people-like, my characters view themselves as full-blooded people with feelings and desires.
And before I go, yes. Karetu and Gen are the names of the characters in my work-in-progress-for-ten-years novel KARETU. You can view my word count progress right here. I hope to be done by the 18th of April with the rough draft, and I’m thinking of posting some excerpts in the interim. What do you guys think?
Also, if you liked this flash fiction piece, please leave a comment telling me what part you liked or if you find any part of writing with your characters fascinating. And if you can, please consider buying me a coffee or give whatever you can so that I can keep writing.
As always, see you next post.