Extenuating Circumstances

This story was written as a first round entry to the NYC Midnight 2017 Flash Fiction Competition.

It was required to meet the following criteria:

Genre: Romance

Setting: Waiting Room

Object In Story: Banana Split


It started out with a scent. A familiar one. Not cloying and persistent, but a short, sweet whiff that sent Jaz back to his days as a child, making milkshakes with his grandfather. He hadn’t expected to smell that again. Not here. Not on her.

“Chocolate?” Jaz broke the interminable silence, casting a sly glance across the waiting room at her. He knew why they were both here, and that they shouldn’t speak, but there was something about her.

She sat motionless, arms crossed across her lap and her eyes fixed to the floor. It was an eternity before she looked up and met his gaze. The fluorescent light brought the color of her eyes to bear. He had seen them before, but only in passing. They were that weird mix of brown and green that people called ‘hazel’. Jaz didn’t think that was a real color.

The soft, roundness of her face implied warmth, but there was none to be found. Nonetheless, Jaz persisted, refusing to break their staring contest until the slightest hint of a smirk crept its way out of the corner of the woman’s mouth.

“Let me guess. Chocolate milkshake.” Jaz forged on.

“Banana split.” Her smirk disappeared for a bit, but Jaz could see it still lurked behind her eyes. “Extra fudge.”

“Not a bad choice.” Jaz began to lean forward, but was startled by the heavy footfalls of someone outside the steel door. He tensed up in his chair and returned his hands to his belt loops. The steps faded into echoes, but he still maintained his position. He didn’t want to get too comfortable.

It was she who leaned forward. As she crossed her arms over her knees, the bracelets on her wrist tinkled against one another. “Relax. I’m the one who should be nervous. Not you.”

“I guess. You seem pretty calm for someone who’s going to-.”

She cut him off. “I prefer to think of it as a… routine procedure.”

“That’s one way to look at it.” Jaz shrugged, feeling his tension melt away. He was getting comfortable again, even though his common sense warned otherwise. “I’m Jeff, by the way. Everyone calls me Jaz. What’s your name?”

“Pasdari.” She sat up straight, avoiding Jaz’s eyes for the first time since his opening. He knew her last name. That’s how everyone here referred to her. Besides, it was emblazoned on her shirt.

“I meant your first name.”

“What’s it matter to you?” Pasdari snapped and moved her crossed arms up over her chest.

“I’m new.” Jaz said. “Well, new-ish. I wanted to-”

“Don’t bother. I’m here. You’re there.”

“I’m not sure. You seem… different than how everyone talks about you.” Jaz felt his lips twist into a forlorn, half-grin. “Okay. Saying that out loud sounds stupid.”

“And I thought they didn’t let naive idiots like you through the screening process.”

Jaz chuckled. “Well, I may be naive, and I may be an idiot, but…uh, sorry. What were we talking about again?”

At this, Pasdari laughed and her face finally embraced the warmth that should have been there all along. Jaz felt a similar warmth rise in his chest and succumbed to a smile.

“You’re cute. I’ll give you that.” She said.

“I’ll take it.”

“Claire.”

“Sorry?”

“Claire Pasdari. That’s my name, idiot.”

“Oh.” Jaz always liked that name. There was something simple and elegant about it. “That’s a nice name.”

“Eh. It’s alright.” Claire rolled her eyes.

“So… why a banana split?”

“Nostalgia, I guess. I used to share one with my little brother every Sunday. ‘Sunday Sundaes’ we called them.” Claire let out a laugh that sounded more like a sob. “I loved him so much.”

Jaz knew her story, but not this detail.

“I don’t usually talk about my family. To anyone.”

“Why?”

“I didn’t think anybody cared about me. Cared about where I came from.” Claire looked away and let her voice trail off, before turning back. Her chains jingled and clanked. “Doesn’t really matter now, anyway.”

Jaz crossed the distance between them, duty be damned and placed his hand on hers. “I’m sorry.” He had nothing to say. There was a flicker of a thought that maybe he had made a mistake reaching out to her, but he banished that feeling as quick as he could.

A voice, booming, yet garbled, vibrated its way out of the loudspeaker system. “Pasdari. Claire. Number 28507.”

“Well, I guess this is me.” Claire stood up and let her wavy black hair fall and clash against the shoulders of her neon orange jumpsuit. She extended her bound wrists. “Do you mind?”

Jaz removed the set of keys from his belt and unlocked Claire’s wrist manacles, then the ones on her ankles.

“Most appreciated, officer.” She winked as Jaz grabbed her by the arm – not too tightly – and guided her toward the door. It slid open, letting a blast of anti-septic air into the waiting room. Beyond lay a blue and white tiled room, with a single white bed and its associated medical machinery. A doctor and a priest stood by. A second guard appeared from behind the blind corner of the door.

“I think I can take it from here” Claire said. Jaz let her go and stepped back. But she didn’t let him go too far before she grabbed his wrist and slowly yanked him toward her. “I wish things were different. But thank you. For caring.” Claire’s lips caressed his cheek for a brief moment before she disappeared into the other guard’s clutches and out of sight behind the door.

Jaz blinked before straightening his drab brown shirt. He adjusted his badge and marched out of the room, now filled only with a dead quiet. Turning down the hall, he passed the viewing gallery. It was kept dark and all the seats were empty. He let a long breath out through his nostrils, before walking in and sitting down.

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