Note: This short story was entered into a writing workshop in the fall of 2016, where it was critiqued, revised, edited, and submitted to the Authors’ Tale anthology Once Upon a Wednesday. It was accepted and published. You can find an excerpt of the final story here or grab a copy of the anthology at Amazon. For now, enjoy the rough draft that started it all.
I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My husband, caught in a whirlwind of jealousy-induced rage, was straddling a handsome police officer on the dirty Walmart floor, throwing punches like candy at Christmas. The officer had his hands up to block his face, and his torn shirt was soaked in hot coffee. They struggled, occasionally flipping over, with the cop wrestling to hold my husband down and pull his handcuffs from his belt. As frightened as I was, I knew if I got in the middle of it, it would only get me hurt. So I stood there, my back against a pallet of dog food, sipping coffee and wondering how this would all end.
It began as a normal day. I had dropped my son off at his elementary school and had my truck idling at the four-way stop, where a police officer stood most mornings directing traffic. Watching him was the best part of my morning routine. He was just finishing up his rotation and had to cross in front of me to get to his Rural County Sheriff SUV. His eyes met mine as he walked with authority and confidence, and I couldn’t stop a smile from spreading across my face. He was quite handsome. His short black curls were bouncing with each step, and he flashed a bright, flawless smile back at me. I waved at him, then admired his trim, muscular build as he passed by and climbed into his vehicle. A loud horn honking behind me made me realize I had right-of-way at the stop, and traffic was building up. Blushing, I went through the intersection, grateful that no one could see me through my tinted windows.
Barely two miles down the road, I heard a siren. A quick look in my rearview mirror showed blue and white lights flashing behind me. I pulled over, confused. I wonder what I did? I slid my license out of my purse and rolled down my window, waiting patiently for the officer to walk over. When he finally did, my heart fluttered as I saw the same handsome policeman that had been directing traffic. I read the shiny black name tag on his shirt pocket. Sheriff James Fowler. Hellooo, sexy sheriff.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he said as he tipped his black Stetson cowboy hat. I felt a rush of appreciation for whoever designed Texas officer uniforms. Cowboys were definitely my weakness, and this man was gorgeous.
“Morning, officer,” I said brightly. I met his commanding green eyes with a nervous smile, and was relieved to see his features soften in response.
“May I see your license and proof of insurance please?” I handed him my license and my cell phone. He read over my license as I explained the reason for my phone.
“My proof of insurance is there on the screen. I lost the paper copy, so I hope the digital version is all right.”
“Yes, this is perfect. Do you know how fast you were going, Miss…Lancaster?” Sheriff Fowler asked, checking my name on my license. He turned his attention to my phone, occasionally pressing buttons, but I didn’t mind. Whatever he was doing, there was nothing on my phone that was illegal, and I hadn’t been texting and driving.
“Oh, um… like sixty-five maybe? I know, it’s a little fast, but… I’m sorry. I don’t have an excuse. I shouldn’t have been speeding.” My smile faltered as I realized I was probably getting a ticket for going five miles over the limit. He handed my phone and license back to me right as his own cell beeped twice. Getting it out and checking the screen, he barked a laughed.
“No, no, you’re fine. Actually, hah… You didn’t do anything wrong.” As he put his phone in his pocket, he looked up at me and grinned. His wide, crooked smile melted my heart, and I felt my face grow hot. “I really should be going. Have a great day, Melissa.” He winked, and turned to leave.
“Yes?” He spun around back to me, sounding hopeful. The corners of his mouth twitched, as if he wanted to say something.
“What just happened here?” I tilted my head questioningly.
“Well…” He reached a hand up and scratched the back of his head, his face turning as red as I thought mine must have already been. “You really weren’t going that fast. Besides, I can’t very well reprimand a lady as beautiful as yourself.”
I wondered if it was possible to blush any deeper than I did at that moment.
“And, not to mention,” he paused, sighing, his expression dropping slightly to reveal his disappointment, “I saw your ring. It’s bad form for an officer of the law to be hitting on a married woman.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Damn it. Even though I was indeed married, I was also blushing and smiling and laughing; I was hooked, and he knew it. His smile returned, wider than before, and his face lit up with amusement at my reaction. He took this as an invitation to lean against my truck, his face just a foot away from mine. I tried my best to avoid direct eye contact. I knew this conversation had suddenly taken a very dangerous turn. I wasn’t feeling threatened, but I knew how weak I was when it came to attractive men. I specifically kept myself out of such situations for that exact reason; yet here I was, flirting with a cop.
“Don’t worry, James,” I teased, as I pretended to straighten his already level name tag on his shirt, “I noticed your ring, too.” What was I doing? No, Melissa, bad. Bad Melissa. Stop. I pulled my hand away. “It’s probably bad form for a married man to hit on a married woman, cop or not. But I should probably get going anyways, I have shopping to do this morning.”
“How about coffee first? There’s no rule that says two married people can’t be friends. Friends can get coffee, right?”
“I don’t know…” I absentmindedly ran my fingers along the curve of the steering wheel, desperately trying to find a reason not to get coffee with this man. I made the mistake of meeting his gaze. This muscular, athletic, tan—No. I couldn’t allow myself to think about his body, or what he might look like under that black, pearl-snap shirt. I forced myself to look away from his stunning green eyes and perfectly formed jawline. “I really have to get my shopping done. I’m sorry.” I felt ashamed that my sorrow leaned more toward the fact that I’d never get to feel the warm embrace of his arms around me, or the force of his body against mine. I’m a horrible person. A nice, friendly, horrible person.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Bad idea.” He stood there for a few seconds, watching me for any sign that I was changing my mind. Not seeing anything, he rapped his knuckles against the side of my truck. “Maybe another time.” He went back to his SUV, and I released the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. Before I could shift out of park, I got a text.
8:34am: Sheriff James 😉
“It was nice meeting you. Hope you like caramel macchiato. See you soon.”
I chuckled, knowing that while he was playing with my phone, he must have been programming in his own number, and the message he had gotten immediately afterwards must have been him texting himself from my phone. Twenty minutes later I was pushing an empty cart through the dog food aisle at Walmart when my phone beeped again.
8:56am: Sheriff James 😉
“What kind of dog do you have?”
I read it twice. I wasn’t sure how he knew where I was. I looked up and down the aisle, but I was alone. I stared at the screen again for what must have been five whole minutes, until I heard footsteps close by.
“Well?” I finally tore my eyes away from my screen to see Sheriff James Fowler standing in front of my cart, holding two cups from Starbucks.
“Black lab,” I murmured. I cleared my throat. “My dog, she’s a black lab. Her name is Katy.”
“Nice name. I have an Aussie. His name is Bruce.” He handed me a cup of coffee, and I held it up to my face for a moment, taking in the wonderful aroma of hot caramel. I lowered it back down and sighed.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, you seem really nice, but it’s not safe for a girl to take a drink from a strange man. Especially one with stalker tendencies.” I giggled despite the seriousness of my statement. “How did you find me, anyway?”
“Oh, you know,” he replied casually, “just practicing for my big promotion next month. Going detective.” He sipped his coffee and pointed at the fifty-pound bag of dog food I had stopped beside. “This one?”
I nodded, and he lifted a bag off the shelf and lowered it into my cart. Against my better judgment, I took a long swig of the hot drink he had handed me, and took pleasure in the joy of caffeine. It was short-lived.
“Who’s this?” A familiar voice demanded an answer. I turned around to see my husband carrying a box of dish detergent. He set it in the cart and stood next to me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and staring intently at the sheriff.
“Honey, this is Sheriff Fowler. He directs traffic next to the school,” I explained. “He tried to pull me over today, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so he brought me coffee to apologize.” I tried to sound relaxed and calm, but my stomach was already in knots and my legs were shaking. I knew how it must have looked, but for once, I had been good in the face of temptation.
“Coffee at Walmart? You did tell him you met up with your husband here, right?”
“Actually, I didn’t get that far yet. I think he knows now though.”
The Sheriff did his best to stand tall with as much of an air of authority as he could muster.
“Your wife needs to learn to slow down around those curves in town. She wasn’t speeding, though, I just thought I’d make up for wasting her time this morning.”
“Thanks for bringing her coffee, but I think it’s time for you to go.”
“I was just trying to be friendly, sir.”
My husband was getting impatient. I recognized the signs of his short temper rising to the surface, and lightly pressed my hand against his chest.
“Sweetie, don’t you think it’s time to check out? I think we have everything we came for.”
He continued staring at the officer.
“We’ll leave as soon as this jerk-officer gets the fuck away from me and stops staring at my wife like a piece of fucking meat.” His hands were clenched into tight fists. I took a step back and looked away, feigning interest in the price of the leading brand of doggie diet food. Hm, made with real chicken. Lovely.
“It was just coffee, man. Let it go. I’m a county sheriff, you don’t want to start an altercation, okay? It was just coffee.”
“Yeah…just coffee. Well, unfortunately for you, it was with just my wife.”
And that’s how the fight started.
This short story was inspired by a writing prompt. The prompt was:
Write anything, as long as it ends with, “and that’s how the fight started.”
If this story or prompt inspired you, let me know in the comments!