This story is by R Scott Wiley and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“No.” Chad’s voice echoed in his small apartment. He winced, hoping that his voice didn’t carry through the wall to Mr. Abramson. He couldn’t afford another tenant warning for noise. And Mr. Abramson was the king of complaints.
“It’ll be fun,” Brian said. “You need to get out of this space sometime. You stare at the screen all day, typing away. And at the larger screen watching Star Trek all night. You need some interaction. Human contact, know what I mean.” Brian’s eyebrows rose and fell, emphasizing his innuendo.
“You’re as subtle as a brick to the temple, Brian. Forget it. Not interested in harvesting apples.”
“It’s not an apple harvest. We’re not migrant workers. It’s one of those ‘pick your own apples’ places. All types of college girls—no, college women—go there to pick apples and drink cider. It’s a great place to find…human contact.” The eyebrows moved again.
“Maybe I do need to get out of this space. But picking apples?”
Brian draped an arm over Chad’s shoulder. “Hey, buddy, come on. You know how this is going to go. You’ll refuse. I’ll keep making great arguments. We’ll fence back and forth, like those guys in Star Trek do with those light swords.”
“That’s Star Wars, Brian. If you’re gonna use it against me, at least get it right.”
“Whatever. You know you’ll say yes in the end. Trust me, Chad. It’ll be worth it.”
Chad ran a hand through his hair. “You are so lucky that I’ve been cooped up here for a week working on that deadline.” Chad shook his head and sighed. “Okay, let’s go. You’re the only guy I know that would suggest going to a singles orchard.”
Brian maneuvered his old truck out of the city and into the green hills outside it. Chad tuned out Brian’s chatter and thought about other times Brian had dragged him out of his apartment.
A few months before it was a ski retreat. They ran into some friends of Brian’s. Friends as in sorority girls. Brian schussed the slopes with several lovely young ski bunnies and even kept seeing one for several weeks after. Chad tripped over an errant ski pole on the first day and made time with several cups of hot chocolate while nursing a severely sprained ankle. He had a nice dinner with a nursing student one evening, the sister of the girl Brian was seeing.
Last year they went on a wine weekend. Brian spent most of the time with a banking heiress and her entourage. Chad shared wine with her assistant and ultimately spent $300 for a special bottle of wine to share with a special someone. That bottle still sat in the top of Chad’s closet, no special someone ever materializing.
Brian chattered on. “Just look at all those colors. Nothing like a fall drive, huh? You don’t see color like that everywhere this time of year. Not back home in central Texas, that’s for sure. Just brown dried leaves in November. I remember one time—“
“Hey!” Chad cut off Brian’s commentary. “Brian, do you have some farmer’s daughter waiting for you up here?”
“What do you mean?” Brian shifted a little in the seat and focused his attention to the road.
“You insisted we go on a ski retreat, and you met up with that group of sorority girls. You made me go on that wine weekend and just happened to run into your heiress friend. It seems that you drag me along to make sure you don’t seem like some kind of stalker to the girls you find along the way. Girls you knew would be there. So, tell me, what’s the deal with this apple orchard?”
“Nothing.” Brian continued to study the country road ahead as if driving required his full attention.
Silence grew to almost deafening strength. Brian shifted in his seat again, making the seat belt squeak a little in protest.
“There’s no girl.” Brian forced the words through his teeth in a hiss. Chad still did not speak.
Brian drew in a long breath and released it. He pulled the truck to the shoulder and turned to Chad.
“I’m not meeting a girl,” he said. “There’s no girl. For me. Not really.” Brian paused. “Well, this girl I know has this friend and—”
“I knew you had concocted something!” Chad hit the door with a fist.
“You hit my truck!”
“I’ll hit more than that. Turn around. Let’s go back.”
“Aw, Chad. Come on. We’re almost there.”
“But she’s going to be there and wondering where we are and—“
“I don’t care. I am not going to go into some apple orchard and ‘interact’ with some girl you set me up with so you can play hero to her friend. It’s not going to happen, Brian. Let’s go back.”
“I’m going to the orchard. If you don’t want to go, get out.”
Chad flung the door open, jumped out, slammed the door shut.
“I’m going, Chad. I mean it.”
Chad turned away and started walking back the way they had come.
“What are you going to do? Walk back?”
Chad kept walking.
Brian called to him. “You’re being ridiculous. And I won’t pick you up on the way back.” Chad continued to walk with no response. No word or even gesture.
Brian started the truck and roared off.
All sounds of the truck faded away. Chad muttered random words about Brian and kept putting one foot in front of the other. After a mile or so, his feet crunched something. He stopped and saw pecans littering the ground. He picked up a handful and put them in his pockets. He cracked a few to eat as he took a short rest break.
He looked at trees in the distance. Bright oranges and yellows shown through the green. “At least it’s a nice day for a walk,” he said to squirrels running in the treetops.
After a few more miles, the day was still nice but Chad didn’t enjoy it as much. They had traveled further out than he had estimated. He heard a car approaching from behind, so he stepped further off the road to maintain safe distance. To his surprise, the car stopped.
The driver was a woman about his age, short brown hair and a few freckles scattered on her cheeks. She had an amused but friendly expression as she asked, “You okay? Need any help?”
“Why do you ask?” Chad hoped he sounded an nonchalant as she did.
“Don’t often see pedestrians out here unless there’s car trouble. And it appears your trouble is you have no car.”
“Even longer walk. What about a lift? I can drop you at the next phone or bus stop or transporter we see.”
“Transporter, eh?” Chad laughed. “That would save some time.” He moved to open the door. “I’m Chad.”
“Permission to come aboard, Deanna.”
“Granted. It appears we have successful first contact.”
Chad slid into the seat. A few pecans dropped from his pocket as the car began to move. Deanna glanced at the pecans sliding in the seat. “No need to bring your own provisions,” she said as she motioned to the back seat. “I have some apples if you’re hungry.”
Chad stiffened. “Apples? Where’d you get those?”
Deanna pulled her eyebrows together, wrinkling her forehead. “I bought them at a fruit stand a few miles back. Who are you, the apple police? Maybe this was a bad idea.”
She turned the steering wheel slightly, moving the car back toward the side of the road.
“I’m sorry,” Chad said. “Part of that long story. Let’s press on, full impulse?”
Deanna looked at him for a minute, then smiled. “I’ve been known to hit warp factor 1 on occasion.”
The conversation back into the city was the usual trading of information. Chad told Deanna about his job writing reviews and synopses of movies for various print and online publications. She hold him about cooking meals for a day care center. Both shared a love of Star Trek and a dislike for Judd Apatow comedies.
They did not stop at the next phone. They bypassed several bus stops. Deanna drove Chad back to his apartment.
“Can I pay you for the gas?” Chad asked.
Deanna shook her head, her hair bouncing around it. “This trip’s on me.”
“Then maybe dinner. As a thank you?”
Deanna paused slightly, a wary look in her eye. She smiled.
“Why not. Pizza Planet? 7:00?”
“Seemed appropriate. We can do something else.”
“No, that’s great.”
Chad hummed the Star Trek theme to himself as he walked to his apartment. His phone buzzed. He saw Brian’s name on the screen. Let voice mail take it. He had other things to do.
Tonight he would boldly go where he had not been in quite a while—the dating frontier.