To highlight the winners and honorable mentions of the 2019 Kathleen Downey Short Fiction Contest, Richard Mayne heads this series to share their work on the New Worcester Spy. Each entry includes an interview with the writer followed by their notable piece of short fiction.
Cheating, Psychology, and a Story
By Richard Mayne
What possesses a person to stay in a relationship where one of the people has cheated? Gabi Plainte’s short story, “New Beginnings” attempts to answer this question. It’s a piece of realistic fiction, said Plainte. Adding, “the events in the story could potentially happen and probably have, somewhere to someone.”
The senior psychology major, and writing minor came up with the idea a couple years ago, but shelved it when “life got in the way.” Flash forward to spring of 2019 and Plainte still had a desire to write a story trying to answer the question, why do people stay in a relationship with a cheater? So she did, the finished product becoming “New Beginnings.” The story earned Plainte a third place finish in the Kathleen Downey Short Fiction Contest at WSU.
“Besides ‘New Beginnings,’ I’ve written a couple other short stories, all realistic fiction. Lately, I have become interested in travel writing and writing journal articles. I have another short story idea in mind that I want to start as soon as finals are over. My favorite style of writing is fantasy writing. Ever since reading Harry Potter as a child I have loved how writing can take you to places that bend the rules of reality.”
One of Plainte’s aspirations in writing is to someday have a fantasy novel published, claiming that she has “ideas already in the works.” Until such a time, there is always “New Beginnings,” which the New Worcester Spy is fortunate to be able to publish.
Note: The best way to contact Plainte is through her email, firstname.lastname@example.org
By Gabrielle Plainte
I tore through the closet in my dorm looking for something to wear. Jeans, pastel and flowery blouses, and hoodies littered the floor. Camila watched me from the twin bed on her side of the room, painting her nails black. She had already finished her hair and make-up and changed into her outfit for the concert tonight. Her light hair sat in a high pony tail, hanging straight down her back. Black eyeliner covered her eyes, matching the black jeans and leather boots she wore. A red crop top completed the outfit, turning Camila from a prissy college student into a rock goddess.
We had exactly forty-five minutes until we had to leave for the rock concert. I still sat in the black leggings and the flannel I had worn to class earlier. After a few more minutes of my fruitless search, I relented and asked Camila if she had anything I could borrow. I was always wearing Camila’s clothes; you would think I didn’t have any of my own. I did own clothes, however, that didn’t mean I liked any of them.
“Don’t worry,” Camila replied to my question, smiling. “I have something that Colton will just want to rip off you.” I could feel the blood rushing to my face before she even finished her sentence.
“It was one time,” I exclaimed, loud enough that the people in the dorm room next door probably heard me. I had met Colton in my astronomy class earlier this semester. We shared a love of the stars, sneaking out to the observatory after hours to use the telescope. We saw Venus a few nights ago, and she had cast her spell on us.
“Well if you wear this outfit, there will definitely be another,” Camila said, laughing at my tomato-red face. She gestured to an outfit she was holding, a pair of studded and ripped jeans and a strapless top that looked as if it were made of snake-skin. It was an outfit I could never picture myself in, but I was desperate. The time dwindled down to thirty-five minutes, and I still hadn’t brushed my teeth since lunch.
I took the shirt and jeans from Camila and put them on. The shirt came to just above my belly button, showing off my dreamcatcher belly ring. I had to admit that Camila was right about the outfit; it hugged my curves in all the right places. Even the color of the color of the shirt was perfect, the deep purple bringing out the blue in my gray-blue eyes.
“You look hot,” Camila stated, nodding at her work. “Now, it’s time we do something about that hair…” Camila lead me over to the full-length mirror and told me to sit on the floor. She took out my lopsided bun and ran a brush through my hair. It fell in black waves around my shoulders. Camila used a curling iron to even out the waves. She moved it around with her hands and secured with hairspray. The transformation was complete; my hair went from bedhead to celebrity waves.
“If fashion doesn’t work out, you always have a back-up career as a hairdresser,” I commented. Camila hoped to be a fashion designer, but that wasn’t her only skill. She could highlight her own hair, and she was the resident hairdresser on our dorm room floor. Other students would pay her to dye their hair when they couldn’t afford a hairdresser. For parties, she was the one who always did our make-up. Camila was always put together, the perfect blend of sexy and classy that my yoga pants could never hope to match.
When Camila was done with my hair, I had fifteen minutes left before Robin and Colton would be here. Robin was Colton’s close friend, who also attended our university. Two things mattered to Robin: poetry and metal. He was more excited to go to the concert than Colton was. If seeing underground rock bands could be a hobby, it was Robin’s. He was also obsessed with poetry, reciting obscure lines from poets nobody ever heard of. Tonight, Robin was designated driver, so we would all be happy to listen to his rants in exchange for a free ride.
My phone chimed with a message. Colton and his friend were here, waiting for us to come outside, probably hitting a joint in the parking lot. My stomach did strange flip flops as I pictured him sitting outside, dark brown hair falling into his eyes. I checked myself in the mirror one more time before I left. My make-up was done, and my teeth were brushed so I wouldn’t have taco-breath. The image stared back at me, eyes rimmed with dark liner and purple eye-shadow. I was ready. I even looked almost pretty. Smiling to myself, I grabbed my purse and hurried after Camila.
The sound of the football game blasted in my ears as I took the customers’ order. They were a middle-aged couple, seated at the bar, eyes glued to the game. The man held his second beer in his hand, no doubt the source of his pregnant-looking stomach. The woman was skinny, with short-grey hair sticking up everywhere. She was better at drinking than her husband; she was already on her third glass of wine.
“We both want a bacon cheeseburger,” the man barked, without looking away from the screen. “I want a salad with mine, not the fries. I’m on a diet.” The Patriots scored a touchdown, and the bar filled with the yells of the fans, drowning out the rest of what the man said about his diet. Yeah like that salad is going to do shit with all the beers you’re drinking, I wanted to say.
Instead, I scribbled his order on my notepad and asked if he wanted anything else, the fakest of smiles plastered on my face. The man shook his head, and I made my way to the kitchen to give the cooks his order. Most restaurants today had a computer that the waitresses put the order in, and it would send it to the kitchen automatically. They had one at the diner where my cousin worked, but not here. We had to walk to the kitchen and give the slip of paper to the cooks. Wyatt, the owner, was too cheap to hire someone to clean the floor, never mind some “fancy” computer system.
I was thankful it was a Friday night, because that meant Alonso was working in the kitchen. He was what made working at this place bearable. I had someone to complain to about the drunk customers and Wyatt’s antics with. One time, he tried to demand all the waitresses had to wear miniskirts. Alonso threatened to quit; he was the best chef here, and Wyatt knew he would lose customers, so he relented. Alonso always had my back.
“You coming to me and Michael’s party tomorrow night,” Alonso asked after I handed him the order. “We just moved in; you have to see it. The apartment is gorgeous.” He drew out the word gorgeous, dark brown eyes twinkling. Alonso and his boyfriend had been apartment hunting for six months now. Anything that didn’t have hardwood floors and wasn’t freshly painted was out. They were lucky they even found a place.
“Yeah, I will be there,” I replied my voice flat. I didn’t want to go to the party and watch all of the happy couples. My boyfriend and I had been fighting all week. He had gone out with his friends all hours of the night, never answering his phone. I tried, telling him what I needed for the sake of our son, but that didn’t negate my desire for more. To hold hands in the street, to kiss in the morning after a night of passion, to have my heart race at the very thought of him. To truly be loved.
“What’s bothering you sweetie?” Alonso inquired, picking up on the misery I wasn’t aware I was showing. He knew me too well. “Is it your man?” Alonso answered his own question before I could reply.
“He’s going to some rock concert with his friends from school, and hasn’t bothered to text me,” I answered, words tumbling out of my mouth. “We just had a fight about this the other day. I don’t wanna keep him trapped in the house; I only want him to contact me!” I was practically shouting by the end of my sentence. One of the other cooks turned his head towards me.
“I keep telling you he’s an asshole,” Alonso had repeated this line at least a thousand times. Every time my boyfriend did anything remotely wrong, Alonso would say he was an asshole. I wondered if he thought repeating it would finally make me listen. “Men like that are the same. Sneaky, lying bastards.” I was certain Alonso was referring to his own ex. An expression crossed Alonso’s face and his tone softened. “Do you think he’s up to his old tricks?”
I never had a chance to respond to Alonso’s question. The lights in the kitchen became darker and my head spun. The nausea hit and I bolted for the bathroom, ignoring customer’s requests for drink refills. I didn’t stop until I reached the toilet and emptied out the sandwich I had earlier. It had been about a month since the dizzy spells started, followed by the nausea. I attributed it to stress.
“You had one of those spells again, didn’t you?” Alonso asked rhetorically when I returned from the bathroom. I nodded, wiping the side of my lip with a piece of toilet paper. Wyatt was too cheap to even put paper towels in the bathroom. Instead, he had a blow dryer that blew out cold air. “You really should see a doctor about that.”
“I have an appointment on Monday,” I informed Alonso. I was sick of him and my cousin bugging me to see a doctor. It was just stress. Once the problems in my love life diminished, I would be fine.
“Go home and get some rest,” Alonso insisted. I stayed where I was; I really was alright now that the spell was over. “I will deal with Wyatt. Christie can cover your tables. Just go home.”
I relented, thanking Alonso and promising him I would text him later. I called my cousin for a ride. She had borrowed my car to take my son and her kids to Chuck E Cheese for a birthday party. They were on their way back, and Skylar swung by to pick me up. She insisted I sleep over, more worried about my nausea spells than I was. She and Alonso were the concerned parents I never had. My father left before he even knew he was a father, and my mother spent more of her time with a bottle than me, but Skylar and Alonso more than made up for it. In the end, I agreed to stay at Skylar’s house for the night.
I stood in line at the bar while the sounds of the guitar solo roared around me. I enjoyed the first band we saw, Ghost. The lead singer was a woman and her voice was haunting. The crowd stood silent listening, instead of singing along off-key to the music. The band after was awful; a man covered in snake tattoos screamed into the microphone with the determination of someone trying to summon the devil. I couldn’t hear myself think, nor focus on the story Camila was telling.
Colton stood next to me; it was hard to focus on anything when he was around. I could feel the warmth emanating off him as he stood behind me. He was staring at Camila, eyes squinted as he attempted to making out what she was saying. Robin was also looking at Camila, his gaze never leaving her slender body.
“Are you enjoying the concert?” Colton turned and asked me, giving up on trying to hear Camila’s monologue. His dark eyes met mine and a shiver slid down my spine. “I picked Ghost because you listen to Evanescence and they sound kinda similar.” Colton looked away for a second. “If you want, I can buy their CD later. Maybe we can even meet them.”
“I’m having an amazing time,” I replied, thinking more about Colton than the concert. The venue smelled like alcohol and sweat, but with Colton, I didn’t even acknowledge any of that. Colton was my knight in shining armor, whose kiss I had waited for to awaken my soul. “Thank you, Colton. I would love their CD. It would be awesome if we could meet them.”
Colton stood still for a few seconds, an unreadable expression crossing his face. “My band is having a show tomorrow night, and I would love it if you came,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you before, I just…” He trailed off, frowning.
“It’s fine,” I answered, a lump forming in my throat. I didn’t want tonight to be ruined by thoughts about that.
Colton met my eyes and smiled, telling me how beautiful I was and special I was to him. For a moment the words felt hollow, but then I stared into his eyes. I knew that look; he only stared at me with that warmth in his eyes.
“I don’t want to be apart from you tonight,” Colton said, grabbing my back and pulling me closer to him. Colton’s lips met mine, sending electric sparks down my spine. I shivered, moving my hands to rest on his hips.
“We could spend the night at my dorm,” I suggested, still shaking from our kiss. “The RA falls asleep after twelve, and sleeps like the dead.” The RA never discovered all of the men Camila had snuck into our dorm room.
“Nooo,” Camila’s shrilled, turning her head in our direction. “I need to sleep off all this booze tonight. I have the interview for my internship tomorrow. Remember?” Camila’s voice drowned out the band.
“You’re all welcome to stay at my humble abode,” Robin offered. He looked at Camila when he suggested this, even though it was my problem he was attempting to solve. “My apartment is off campus, so no rules.” Robin had a devious smile on his face as he said this. He turned toward Colton and me, offering his guest room and the lure of privacy.
“Fine, but I’m not sleeping in your bed Robin,” Camila responded before either Colton or I could answer. Robin looked away from us, red cheeks obvious even in the dim light. He had a raging crush on Camila, but she wasn’t sure if he was even “friend material,” as she had put it.
The group in front of us grabbed their drinks, nodding to us as they walked away from the bar. Colton and Robin stepped up to the bar, placing drink orders for all of us. I listened to the music as I waited, anticipating the night ahead with Colton. I smiled, thinking how the best part of the night was still ahead of us.
Noon. It was almost noon, and Colton still was not home. I left Skylar’s house a few hours ago, managing to get the grocery shopping done, the laundry, and feed my son, Hayden lunch. Colton had texted me and said he would be here hours ago. My hands shook angrily as I washed the dishes. A tomato sang about the alphabet on our TV in the living room, the sound of the cartoon grinding into my skull. Hayden loved his cartoon shows, and they were educational, but their songs were just so awful. It reminded me of advertising jingles.
“Shit,” I muttered as the hot water burned my hands. Why couldn’t our dumpy apartment have a dishwasher? I checked on Hayden, making sure he hadn’t heard me cuss. The last lesson I wanted to teach my four-year-old was swearing. The only time Skylar had sworn in front of her daughter had been a nightmare. Allie immediately began using the word, giggling every time her mother told her not to use it.
Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Hayden sat on the couch, eyes glued to the vegetable singing about counting. I walked back into the room that doubled as a kitchen and dining room, returning to the dishes. I checked my phone again, the anger returning as I saw Colton still had not responded to me. I wondered for the hundredth time where he was and why he hadn’t returned any of my calls.
The sound of the door opening broke through my worried thoughts. Hayden shouted, “Daddy’s home,” and ran into Colton’s outstretched arms. Hayden was the spitting image of Colton, with the same dark brown hair and eyes. Colton spun Hayden around in circle, telling him that he loved him. Hayden smiled, happy to see his father for the first time in twenty-four hours.
“Hello beautiful,” Colton said when he noticed me standing in the living room. He stared at me, his smile growing larger. I wondered why he was so glad to see me when he had spent the last three hours ignoring my calls. “Can I have a kiss from my lovely girlfriend?”
I grumbled hello, making no attempt to hide my frustration. The smile left Colton’s face and he put Hayden down. Hayden looked from me to Colton, trying to discern the source of the tension in the atmosphere. Despite being a child, Hayden could still sense when his parents were not getting along.
“Can you give Mommy and Daddy a moment to talk alone?” I asked Hayden, forcing my voice to sound calm. In reality, I wanted to scream. Seeing Colton smiling had made feel like yelling at him even more.
“But I want to watch cartoons with Daddy,” Hayden protested, asserting his independence. He was as willful and stubborn as his father.
“You can watch cartoons after, I promise,” I pleaded, the desperation audible in my voice. “You can play with your Legos in your room, just for a few minutes.” Hayden said nothing for a moment, before nodding and running toward the direction of his room.
“So, what’s wrong?” Colton asked a few moments after Hayden left the room. All of his earlier cheer was gone, and I couldn’t help feeling satisfied.
“How can you not know what’s wrong?” I yelled, half rhetorically. Colton was oblivious to anything that bothered me. “You said you would be home hours ago. You never called or texted me back. Where the hell were you?” His face was blank as I screamed at him.
“I went out to breakfast and left my phone at Robin’s apartment,” Colton replied in a monotone. “I’m sorry.” Colton’s voice was void of any emotion as he apologized.
“Who did you go with?” I pressed. When Colton didn’t reply immediately, I repeated the question.
“The same people that slept over Robin’s last night,” Colton answered, his voice hard. Colton’s gaze went past my head out the window. “Robin’s friend, the girl from my astronomy class and her friend. I told you they slept over his house last night.”
“I know that; I’m not stupid,” I growled, my voice gaining volume. I hated when Colton repeated what he already told me as if I couldn’t remember what he said. Colton didn’t respond and I couldn’t come up with anything else to say about it. Instead, I asked him whether he was still coming to the park with Hayden and me. We had been planning all week to have a picnic in the park as a family.
“I have a headache after this and need to lay down,” Colton answered. “My show goes late tonight, and I need to be awake. I’m actually getting paid.” His voice lingered on the word paid, making it a point I knew that his work trumped any plans we had with our son. Hayden was excited to spend time with his father, whom was seldom around. Colton was always busy with college, his part-time job at the moving company, or his band. They were going to make it big and become stars, he always said, asserting that this would all be worth it when we were millionaires.
“Don’t lie,” I called to Colton’s back as he walked out of the living room. “You’re only going to sleep because you drank too much last night.” The sound of the bedroom door shutting was my only reply. I stood there for a second, before walking into the kitchen to prepare the picnic.