Friday, July 24, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Glow" (Part 1)

The image that inspired it all... If only I knew the origins...
The Prompt: "Imagine if your chest glowed when you met your soul mate."

The Result:

The Glow
by Leslie Conzatti

Part 1
 
Jessica Ross finished updating the last cell on the spreadsheet and sighed. Over the steady hum of office business, she heard a loud, cheery voice doling out Hi-There’s and groaned; she knew what was coming. Hoping against hope, Jess adjusted the stray lock of straight brown hair hanging in front of her glasses and opened the next file, a form.

Footsteps slowed just beside the next cubicle, and came to a stop.

Jess didn’t turn.
Someone cleared her throat.
Jess couldn’t concentrate enough to fill the information correctly, but she still refused to acknowledge the person standing behind her.
“So…” Tiffany sauntered in and planted herself next to Jess, leaning on the edge of the desk behind her.
Jess finally looked up at the grinning redhead.
“How did it go with Ray last night?” Tiffany asked.

Jess didn’t move, only kept staring at the calendar hanging on her cubicle wall.
Tiffany’s grin dipped with sympathetic concern. “Oh, but I thought…” A pink blush spread over her cheeks and neck.
Jess still stared at the calendar; Ray’s name was still there, and the time of their reservations, 7:00.
Tiffany was still trying to process the unspoken news. “But… His status—“ she stammered. “I thought that if he got The Glow…”

“He did.” Jess could barely squeeze the words out through the narrow pathway in her throat. Her chest felt heavy. “He’s now dating the waiter who brought us our dinner.”
“Oh, Jess!”
“Shut up!” She wasn’t going to cry; she’d cried too much already. There wasn’t a point anymore. “I’m still a No-Glow, Tiffany, and it’s okay. Maybe it just… doesn’t happen for some people.” Jess felt the sting of trying to say out loud the things she’d been telling herself for years.
Tiffany patted her shoulder. “It’ll happen, Jess. Just give it time.”
“Whatever.” Jess turned back to her computer and Tiffany wandered awkwardly out of the cubicle. She tried to go back to filling out the form, but her fingers weren’t working. Jess gave up with a heated sigh and slumped against the back of her chair.
There was another date on the calendar, one with a big blue circle around it: October 23, her birthday. The day she would officially become the oldest person in her own acquaintance who never Glowed.

“It’ll happen,” her parents always told her. “You never know when, but when you Glow, you know!”
Meanwhile, the halls of her high school and then her college were practically lit up like Christmas trees with all of the glowing, thudding hearts of soul mates who had found each other. It was a phenomenon nothing short of miraculous—but the more time passed, the more Jess began to feel that perhaps the others were right, that the problem was with her.
It certainly couldn’t be anything she said or did; she’d tried everything she could think of: working out, changing her hair color, moving across the country—nothing worked. In her sophomore year, someone had started the rumor that maybe Jessie Ross didn’t have a heart at all. That was stupid; of course she had a heart. If she didn’t have a heart, she wouldn’t be alive! But it still stung; what was it that glowed inside a person, anyway?

One would think Jess would be an authority on The Glow by now; she’d seen enough of them, without ever experiencing it herself. She’d lost count of how many guys she’d dated (even a few girls, just in case) hoping that the others were wrong, that it really was a matter of timing.

Yeah, right; most people were finding their Glow in their early 20s; there weren’t many single people her age that she knew of—and who would date an almost-27-year-old woman with straight brown hair and glasses who might never Glow at all?

Jessica swallowed hard and tried to breathe normally; somewhere in the trip down Memory Lane, she had started crying. Now she vainly tried to smother her sobs and refocus on what her sister always referred to as “the boring job.”
“Why do you work there, anyway?” Kelly demanded in their last text conversation. “I thought you wanted to be a teacher or something; why didn’t you stay with that job you had in Kansas?”
Jess had responded “IDK” and passed it off at that—but the truth was far more desperate.

She never admitted it to anyone, but lately she’d been imagining that there was some kind of sparkle that would happen when she walked into the office on most days. It might have been her aging brain playing tricks on her… but then again, it might also be a legit Glow as she passed her prospective soul mate without even realizing it. A few times, Jess had made a point to freeze where she was and look around at everyone she could see—but no Glow. Whoever it was had probably moved on already.
Jess clung to that hope whenever she felt like quitting. She could Glow, it might happen… but what if a Glimmer was all she ever got?

“It’s better than nothing,” she murmured to herself. She punched in the last amount on the form and hit “Send to Printer.” One brief check in her compact mirror confirmed that she didn’t have streaks of mascara around her eyes, and she slowly made her way to the large copy machine down the hall.

Sure enough, someone else was printing at least a dozen copies of some multi-page report. Jess sighed and leaned against the wall, arms folded, to wait.

“Oh.”
Jess jerked upright when someone’s head came through the doorway. Curly dark hair, blue eyes, a quirky smile—Jack’s was a face she’d seen around the office. He wasn’t in the Human Resources department much, but he was one of the regular couriers, always headed to somewhere like Legal or Accounting.
Now, he backed out of the tiny “copy room,” muttering, “Hey Jess; someone told me Rita would be here.”
Jess pointed to the stack of papers just finishing their exit. “That’s probably her stuff.”
Jack nodded, “I’ll head toward her cubicle then, see if I can catch her—“ he stopped, still watching Jess. His eyebrows dipped. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Jess felt a hot flush crawling over her cheeks; had she missed a makeup malfunction? “Do I have something on my face?” she asked.
Jack’s lips twitched, but he didn’t crack a smile as he responded, “Yeah, It’s just—“ he pointed, and the mortified Jessica covered her mouth with her hand and raced for the bathroom.

Idiot! Her thoughts screamed, Moron! Crybaby! That’s what you get for crying at work! Frantic, she stared at her face in the mirror. It was a bit blotchy from the crying, but other than that, nothing was out of place.

Well, almost nothing.

With the status of her face confirmed, Jessica inspected her blouse. Something pink—Oh crap, was that hi-lighter? She pulled at it—
Leaning over the sink, Jessica could clearly see the soft pink brilliance filling the space between her collarbone and her blouse. She was Glowing!  
Jessica burst out of the bathroom at almost the same speed she had entered it. She got a couple strange looks from people, but by then her Glow had faded, and she could remain calm enough to make it back to the copy room without attracting too much attention.
The printer was empty, but there was a stack of papers she recognized as the form she’d just printed—and a note on top with her name on it! Jess grabbed the papers and trotted back to her cubicle to read it.

Jess,
Sorry if I embarrassed you. It was supposed to be a joke my dad would use to cheer me up when I was down. He would say “What do you have on your face?” and when I would say it was nothing, he’d say, “Yeah you do; son, you’ve got a frown where a smile should be!”
You ran out before I could finish. If there really is something going on, I’m sorry. I’ve just noticed that you haven’t been smiling lately, and I can remember thinking when I first started working here that you were one of the happiest people I’d ever seen. So, I’m sorry, and I hope you find something to put that smile back where it should be.

Jack