Chuck Wendig is back with this week's flash fiction challenge - The Vacation.
Word limit: 1,500
Deadline: 5th August 2016, noon EST
“Roll up, roll up, for the most amazing vacation experience ever!” shouted Sandra’s radio alarm. Hitting the off button with irritation, Sandra headed for the shower, Sighing, she reflected that the coffee machine chatter would all be on that self-same subject - the annual vacation. It was the same, every year.
Collecting her coffee from the station vendor, Sandra joined Joanne for the commute. Joanne vented about her date the previous night: “he dumped me, the jerk! I had high hopes what with the vacation looming, but it looks like I’ll be going on vacation with my sister’s family again.” Sandra sighed - she was doing that too much these days “I don’t know how you bear the noise and chaos of family vacations.” “Yeah, but singles holidays” bemoaned Joanne, “the pits!” she exclaimed in unison with Sandra. “All that primping and pouting, the drinking, dancing, and the flirting … have you heard a new pick up line in the last five years?” she continued, only to receive the expected groan from Sandra. “It’ll be the usual ‘learn a new skill’ thing for me” said Sandra with a rueful shake of her head “but I would like there to be some human interaction, just without all the usual rubbish that goes with being single and female.”
After days of interminable coffee machine chatter about the annual vacation, Sandra decided to check out that shouty ad, the one she’d been clicking off as soon as she heard the ringmaster tones. Signing into the website, she nearly signed out when confronted with that self-same voice shouting: “Any regrets?” “Any choices you think you may have got wrong?” “Want to try out a different way and see if you like that life better?” Muting her laptop, Sandra browsed the site and had to admit that the premise - time travelling in order to re-play a past regret - was interesting, so she sent for a prospectus.
The next morning, it was there. “Weary of the same vacation experience?” “Fed up that the annual vacation highlights your dissatisfaction with your life?” Acknowledging that these questions were on the button, she flicked through it over breakfast. So deeply engrossed was she that when her ‘it’s nearly time to leave’ alarm went off, she was still in her pyjamas. Rushing to get ready, she briefly pondered the prospect of calling in sick, before deciding that was just too ridiculous. Her colleagues kept commenting on her being distracted and “away with the fairies”, until her boss suggested that she might want to take the afternoon off as she “clearly had something on her mind.” Blushing, Sandra muttered something indistinct, but accepted his offer. Hurrying home, she finished reading the prospectus, before ringing the agent and asking a few pointed and pertinent question. She’d booked her two weeks before going to bed that night.
The next few weeks flew by. Sandra was focused and felt energised. Positive comments were made at work - even more so than usual - and her boss expressed how re-assured he was that “the old Sandra was not just back after her afternoon off, but even better”. Keeping her vacation plans to herself, Sandra found herself counting down the days and making careful preparations.
Her suitcase packed well in advance, everything inter-leaved with tissue paper to ensure they would be pristine on arrival, Sandra checked her reflection in the mirror. She was wearing a new little black dress, a pair of classic and utterly gorgeous black high heels, her hair and make-up were immaculate, if subtle. She looked good and she knew it. It was time to go.
Appearing at her destination’s reception, she knew she’d caused a stir. Eyes were being turned in her direction from the adjacent bar. Her room key tucked into her vintage clutch bag, Sandra headed for the bar. Walking past all the approving eyes, she slipped into a booth. A drone approached to take her drinks order, but then “he” arrived, ordered a bottle of champagne and two glasses, and slipped into the booth beside her.
This time, rather than being snotty and dismissive because he’d assumed rather than offered, Sandra demured. The evening raced by as he told her about his life, his business, his plans for the future. Sandra smiled, maintained eye contact, flirted and/or asked him questions. Finally, over coffee, the conversation to her, what she did and her plans. When she told him what she did, he visibly blanched. Sandra tried to continue but, moments later, he excused himself and disappeared in the direction of the gents.
Puzzling over what just happened, it was a while before Sandra realised he wasn’t back yet. She was just checking her watch when the barman brought her the bill, adding: “with the gentleman’s compliments.” Shocked, more than a little angry and stinging with humiliation, Sandra paid before swiftly stalking from the bar. Waiting for the elevator, she was joined by a rather tired looking man wearing a tweed jacket with leather patches. He gave her a rue smile and said: “I hate these evenings, don’t you?” Sandra looked again and realised he’d been in the adjoining booth with a rather leggy and glamorous brunette who was way out of his class. Raising an eyebrow she asked sympathetically “no luck?” “Nope”, he replied, “but at least I went in expecting to foot the bill.” Ouch yelped Sandra’s inner-voice and taking her injured ego, she headed towards the stairs, wishing her companion good night as she went.
The next morning, Sandra sought a private discussion with the manager and was invited to partake of breakfast whilst her request was referred. Sighing her usual sigh, Sandra walked into the breakfast room only to find that every single table was occupied. Worse - “he” had company - and it looked like that leggy brunette from the neighbouring booth last night. Just then she heard a soft voice at her side say “join me” and a hand being placed under her elbow. It was the leather patches guy from last night. Guy - for that was his game - persuaded Sandra to order. Realising his mistake from the previous night, Guy was soon regaling Sandra with the low-lights of his date: “and when she asked to see my past three month’s bank statements, I knew we weren’t fated to be” he said with a chuckle. “And she wasn’t the worst date I’ve had this year. That was the - admittedly gorgeous - woman, who was still a man, and needed the money to finalise his sex change operation. He told me before he’d finished his first drink that he could only date someone with a credit rating of 900 plus.” Soon they were companionably dunking croissants into their coffee and sharing laughter over their past dating experiences.
No, I’m afraid this isn’t one of those stories where Guy and Sandra fall madly in love and go off together into the sunset. But they were genuinely in like. Returning to the real world, they went on a singles holiday where they spent a vast amount of time laughing, but also found enough time to listen to advice from their new friend. Remarkably, by the end of the two weeks, each were making decidedly better choices and actually enjoying their dates. There was hope for them both yet.
Word count: 1,331