Before the After: the (very) short story that inspired Now and Again

Posted June 20, 2016 by Jennifer Ellision in Uncategorized / 0 Comments

When I was in college, I wrote a short story for one of my fiction writing workshop classes. If you’ve read my acknowledgements for Now and Again, you may know this already. The story was about a young woman, who had doubts about her upcoming marriage. 

I believed it was the best thing I’d ever written up to that point in my life.

Well, except for maybe this one chapter of a Sailor Moon fanfic… I digress.

Eventually, I discovered the main character of that short had a best friend named Em, and I wrote Em’s story in Now and Again.

Now, this story doesn’t fit precisely with the Now and Again canon as it was published, and it’s unedited, but I thought I would share where the characters grew from. When I have the time to devote to it, I plan to spruce it up with editing so that it does fit with the canon and publish it (as a free short story, of course), but for now, I hope you enjoy it! 

Now and Again prequel cover

 

Nikki Wright was not a good liar. That was one of several reasons that she couldn’t quite believe it when her fiancé had bought it when she’d let him think the evening would be nothing more than a few glasses of wine and catching up with an old friend.

“I’m going to be home pretty late tonight,” Nikki said as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

She’d moved into Dr. Ron’s house with him about five months ago and they’d quickly fallen into a comfortable morning routine. She’d roll into her robe around 6:30 a.m. and start the coffee. Dr. Ron would come downstairs for a quick breakfast at about 6:45, kiss her good-bye, and be out the door, on his way to the practice at about seven o’clock.

She had to admit though, she thought, admiring the flash of light from her left hand, her ratty robe seemed a lot more glamorous since Dr. Ron had proposed about two months ago.

She held the coffee pot towards him in invitation. He shook his head.

“Why? What are you up to tonight?”

Her eyes fixed themselves on her Folger’s as she stirred in hazelnut creamer and Splenda. “Nothing too exciting. Remember my friend Joey?”

“Sure.”

“She’s in town and we’re just going to grab a couple of drinks.”

Her stomach jumped. She was so bad at this. She could still remember trying to lie to her mother in her adolescence. On one memorable occasion, she’d watched a notepad that had been sitting on her stomach bounce in time with her nervously pounding pulse.

Her mother had noticed. Results had not been in Nikki’s favor.

She wasn’t exactly lying to Dr. Ron, she told herself. She picked up her mug and sat at the pine kitchen table with him. But, then again, she knew that at the types of venues Joey frequented, wine and cheese were never on the menu. Nikki would be lucky if there even was a menu. The successes of Joey’s nights were usually measured by how many shots she’d managed to suck down and still retain the ability to stand.

“That sounds fun.” Dr. Ron smiled, dimples flashing briefly. He picked up his briefcase. “Listen, if you get a chance after work, could you drop off my tax return at the accountant’s office for me?” He pecked her on the cheek and started out the kitchen. “Oh, and if I’m asleep when you get home tonight, just nudge me or something to let me know you’re home, ‘kay?”

“Sure.” She bit her lip and turned in her chair to face him. Her left hand, hidden at her side, bunched the fabric of her flannel robe in a fist. “You’re sure it’s all right?”

He turned from the door, one hand still on the knob. One eyebrow raised quizzically above his brown eyes. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?”

Her mouth twisted and nose wrinkled as she sipped at her Tequila Sunrise from a clear plastic cup that she could easily tear with two hands and just a smidge of strength. The patrons (could drunk, underage kids really be called that?) seemed somehow paler in the dark confines of the bar. The neon blue and red lights of the Bud Light sign lit their faces giving them a sickly pallor. Legs soaked from someone’s spilled Vodka gleamed under the lights like an oyster, just boiled and free of its shell.

“God, this is awful,” Nikki said, pushing the drink across the table. She felt foolish and overdressed in Patsy’s, the seedy college bar that she had frequented with Joey a mere three years ago. She should have picked the jeans over her Lilly Pulitzer dress. “Drink it, please, I just can’t take it.”

Joey Luciano, with a shot in her left hand, grabbed the Sunrise with her right and chugged it down. Joey, of course, was wearing dark jeans with a black spaghetti-strapped tank top. Her bottled-blonde hair was stick-straight and gleaming.

“Eurgh, you’re right,” she said with all of the wisdom that two martinis, a Cosmo, and a Washington Apple can bestow. “If there was a drink named ‘Shit,’ that would be it.”

Of course she had to take it a step further than Nikki had herself, Nikki thought, ordering a Lemon Drop. After all, Joey Luciano had been one-upping her since the day they’d been born. Their mothers had gone to the same hospital from the same Lamaze class on the same day. Nikki’d been born first: a normal delivery with the end result of a healthy baby girl weighing in at six pounds, eleven ounces. Joey came later, making it within the same day by one freaking minute at 11:59 P.M. Her mother had needed a C-section. Joey weighed six pounds, seven ounces and was jaundiced. The other women in their Lamaze class sent gifts and flowers. Nikki and her mother got cards.

Nikki watched Joey now as she crossed her eyes at the cherry in her Amaretto Sour.

“You know, I used to be able to tie cherry stems in a knot with my tongue.” She caught the eye of a man-boy by the pool tables across the beer-and-vomit-soaked floor. With the music beating a deafening tattoo behind her, she let a smirk unfurl as she lifted the cherry from the cup and gently removed fruit from stem with her teeth.

Nikki felt her face heat and had to look away. Sometimes, Joey was so bold that it was embarrassing.

“I don’t think I have the skill for that anymore,” Joey continued, her eyes never leaving Pool-boy’s.

“I’m sure you can do whatever you set your mind to,” Nikki said, very tactfully, she thought.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Niks.” Joey winked one clear blue eye at Pool-boy, and it should have looked ridiculous, but it didn’t, it looked sultry and alluring. Nikki couldn’t help a flash of childish envy; she’d never be able to pull off a wink like that. “Come on, have another drink and let’s dance,” Joey suggested abruptly.

“Come on, have another drink and let’s dance,” Joey suggested abruptly.

Nikki laughed, but it sounded brittle, like rock candy, like it wanted to be tough and sharp, but would melt under heat. “Why the hell not?” Did that sound breezy? She hoped so. Joey handed her a shot—of what, she wasn’t sure, but it was blue and sweet.

Did that sound breezy? She hoped so. Joey handed her a shot—of what, she wasn’t sure, but it was blue and sweet.

They pushed their way out onto the dance floor, just the two of them, Joey holding her hand in a backwards grip, high above their shoulders, high above the drinks that were likely to wind up spilled and contributing to the swamp of the floor. Someone’s heel stepped on her foot and a splash of beer dripped onto her shoulder. It might have landed on her Lilly dress. She may be going to the dry-cleaners tomorrow. They stood out on the dance floor while a song that she didn’t know played. She moved her hips from side to side, but it wasn’t right, she should be home in bed with Dr. Ron, not here where her hips popped to the left and to the right as if they were locked there, as if they were rusty hinges, as if she was double-jointed and not just hopeless. She sucked down the Cranberry & Vodka in her hand through a straw, and the red was a quarter gone, half gone, all gone, with only ice left and her brain hurt from the rush of cold. Joey laughed at the face Nikki made, tongue sticking out, bottom lip curled into a pout because that drink was awful, but it was magic and her hips were moving, like someone found the Tin Man’s oil can. Joey’s hands were on her hips, moving them to the beat, in that boy-teasing way that Nikki remembered from her college days like a memory of a dream. Her hips were unlocking and the pink flowers of her Lilly looked ridiculous against the sexy black of Joey’s top, but she closed her eyes and for a while it was three years ago and she was in a sexy black tank top, and she ground her hips and raised her arms.

The music pounded, the lights flashed, and fog shrouded the floor. Sweat eased its way down her back and lined her brow, and her face flushed and she threw her wavy brown hair up into a ponytail. Joey winked at her- a joking wink this time and Nikki thinks how alike they looked, really, how they could have been like sisters, like twins once, if Joey’s hair was brown, or if Nikki had been blonde, and if one of them had worn contacts, then they could have been the same. She laughed and she sucked a lime wedge and she had another drink. She lost her footing but she regained it and she kept on twirling her hips and she teased and flirted with a Pool-boy of her very own and she refused to dance with anyone who asked. In a week, she would be Mrs. Dr. Ron. Nicole Jennings, she told Joey they’d call her. Nicole, the doctor’s wife.

In a week, she would be Mrs. Dr. Ron. Nicole Jennings, she told Joey they’d call her. Nicole, the doctor’s wife.

Joey’s mouth twisted like she’d had another Tequila Sunrise. “There’s no way you’re a Nicole yet.”

And Nikki laughed and Joey did too and she swore her pulse was keeping time with the music and she wound her way down to the floor and shouted the lyrics. The bartender was an asshole, but she tipped him anyway and she put two straws in two glowing green drinks and thought they looked radioactive but they tasted sugary and sweet and she sucked them both down at the same time and fought the urge to gag.

They called a cab and they sang obnoxious eighties songs to each other and Nikki poured herself out of the cab when it pulled up to Dr. Ron’s townhouse and Joey jumped out too. She demanded that they not wait so long to do this next time and just because Nikki was getting married didn’t mean she couldn’t still have fun and she’d see her next week for the bridesmaid shindig.

And Nikki hugged her and said how she’d always been jealous of Joey, but she really loved her. “Like, really really,” she swears.

Joey left and Nikki went inside, tripping up the walkway, thinking that if she broke anyone’s back it’d be her own. The front porch light had been turned off. Dr. Ron’s house was warm and quiet and she took the stairs up to his room two at a time, slipping off her pink ballet flats to let her feet sink into the carpet right before she went in. The floor was cold and she shivered.

Dr. Ron rolled over and peered at her, his eyes barely open, the color nonexistent in the non-light from the moon that seeped in through the blinds. She lifted the covers and put her cold feet between his warm calves and buried her face in his side.

“Hey, Nikki.”

And she hugged his big, warm, hairy arm to her Lilly dress with her left hand and whispered back a melancholy greeting because next in a few months she’d be Nicole and someday Joey would have to be Josephine but for right now, right this moment, all she wanted was to wear jeans and tank tops and flirt with Pool-boys and be Nikki.

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