Stefanie Allison Makes a Tall Order

Reaching
Photo: Joe Thorn

In our latest entry from Stefanie Allison a perhaps forgotten story is not what it seems.

Top Shelf

by Stefanie Allison

I relished the sound creaking of wood as I ascended the bookcase; this was a princess who had no qualms about saving her prince in peril. I had made sixty-eight previous attempts—some with my dad yelling about “don’t throw my beer pong trophy away!” but most ended with losing my—

“AHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

“I got you Smurf!”

Don’t tell anyone I said this: but I realized the meaning of “strong, yet soft” when I landed in Eric’s arms. I rubbed my chest to quell the tickling sensation.

“Don’t die of a heart attack now, my little Smurf!”

Eric loved rubbing in the fact he was over six foot—and six feet wouldn’t be enough feet to kick him in the ass for it.

“Put me down!”

“What do we say?”

“NOW!”

“Good to have helpful neighbors,” my dad said, raising an eyebrow.

“My pleasure, Mr. Roberts,” Eric said, blushing.

“Well, son,” my dad said (Wait, he’s never called Eric that), could you get that box labeled ‘For Goodwill’ off the shelf for Sarah?”

“Sure thing,” Eric said, watching my father walk away.

“…Uh, put me down.”

“Huh? Oh, sure.” Gently, he made sure my feet made contact with the ground before climbing the bookshelf with the precision of a rock climber (Show off).

“Got it!” Eric cried, tilting the box down to look at the contents. He froze.

“What, is a black widow asking you on a date?” I asked, taunting him for his fear of spiders.

“Why is this in here,” Eric said.

“What?”

Eric held up the book in question. My heart stopped along with the ticklish sensation.

“I wrote this for your sixteenth birthday,” he said as a page fell loose.

“I…”

“You didn’t even read it, did you?”

“Eric—”

He brushed past and I grabbed his arm.

“Don’t leave. Please.” He leaned down and I felt my pulse in every strand of my hair.

“Get the box yourself.”

That night, I read his homemade story of a knight rescuing his princess, just for a chance to feel the rush in my veins again.

27 comments

  1. Diana Diehl says:

    Nice implementation of the classic formula of the romantic comedy–attraction gone awry when characters get in their own way. This is a concise peek into the push-pull tug o’ war that accompanies the innocent blushes of early contact.

    I like your snappy dialogue, Stephanie. (“Put me down!” “What do we say?” “NOW!”), and the delicate vulnerability you reveal in both characters when our protagonist steps over the line just far enough to cut to the quick.

    I can’t help wondering, will she win him back? Or is she really only after that bittersweet rush of the one that got away?

    • Tiffany V says:

      I love the fact that you’re wondering what will happen next Diana, but that is the point of a good hook, isn’t it? She is sassy, and a bit self-absorbed. He loves her dearly, but has the good sense to love himself too. It reminds me of “Sense and Sensibility” or “Little Women”… and is adequately timeless..

      Or could that be because I’m watching “Downtown Abbey”. Still, my dear authoress, you’ve fed us well (or whet our appetite) again. Thank you.

  2. Diane Cresswell says:

    Ahhhhhh… you need to make this longer otherwise suspense will kill me… and I’m already old!!!! Simple yet draws you in. Quick wit and a souscon of magic with the inevitable sadness of lost. Ah but just for the moment. I do love your stories and sent you email on the other one. Yes extend this one.

  3. Parisianne Modert says:

    I felt both a tumbling in syntax and angst in a falling way as I read “Top Shelf”. The storyline to me is the most expressive in terms of the unread book which bites as if it is a spider driving innocence away without a chance to be forgiven. The gift of a sixteenth birthday implies that there has been a secret boxed away and betrayal of Eric’s love for Sarah by Sarah’s indifference to the deeper expressions of his love for her.

    I find the story compelling, but quite sad.

      • Parisianne Modert says:

        I didn’t leave this story wishing a happy ending at all. In fact I read it as a falling out story. The page falls from the book, the box is out of reach, Eric has to let Sarah down, because he isn’t man enough yet to claim her from her father as she has let him down by not reading his love offering to her.

        Eric sees her as his “Smurf” which is a child’s playful innocence lacking maturity and however the book got in the box out of her reach isn’t as important as to her not being able to confess to him that it was the book she sought and that she is sorry for not reading his gift to her. Mature love between adults endures because adults find a way to forgive with candid honesty. I read this to be the falling from innocence at the end of an inmature attempt to find love in childhood without a happy ending being possible until they both grow up.

        As a reader, I cannot assume that either is ready to be an adult, because I cannot read anything in beyond the last word offered. There has been no mention of a next round of writing at all and no additional page has been published at this point to suggest a happy ending.

        If this were a prologue and short chapter it could be a romantic hopeful, but as a flash fiction stand-alone this is a tragedy in my opinion.

        • Stef
          Stef says:

          I imagined them as teenagers when I wrote this (anywhere in the neighborhood of 17-19 years old), so I don’t expect a Shakespearean sonnet from either of them. I have hopes for them outside of this little story, but it would be unrealistic for either of them to play the game of love like experts at their age.

          • Parisianne Modert says:

            Chronological age and maturity in age are different from each other. Not all people mature in character at the same pace. Seventeen is approximately a senior in high school and nineteen would be perhaps a sophomore in college or someone who has moved away from home. Given this neither Eric nor Sarah impress me as being even mature enough to begin high school. Please note that Sarah’s father doesn’t see them as a couple either. Eric to him is just a boy next door who has grown up as a friend to his daughter.

            Sarah knew that Eric’s writing was in the “Goodwill” box or she wouldn’t have tried so many times to retrieve it which means she wasn’t ready for what he was. Sixteen year old girls in my childhood were a mix of ready for dating and not, but today young people grow up much quicker which makes me doubt that she is over sixteen. Her discovery of feelings for Eric beyond childhood have just began. Her petulance in being held too long by Eric is childish. She is more concerned by her father’s reaction than her opportunity to be in his arms or grateful that he did catch her. See knows she enjoys being held, but is to immature to accept his closeness to her. I see him as an immature seventeen year old boy at best who wrote to her when he was sixteen and her as an even more immature 14 year old at best who received written gift before she was ready.

  4. Kenneth Weene

    A would-be boyfriend who calls his diminutive love “Smurf”. A would-be girlfriend who doesn’t take time to appreciate her “lover’s” gift to her. A father who, ignoring his daughter’s distress over a failed task, asks another person to complete it and in the process uses a loving term, “son.” This story reminds me of an aphorism I just made up, “For all the books in their library, does anyone ever stop to read their own hearts?”

    • Parisianne Modert says:

      I would vote for your aphorism to be given a “Best Opening Sentence” award. Brilliant thought, because it is very true Kenneth. I hope you will consider incorporating your aphorism into a story someday.

  5. Michael Stang says:

    The story is above suspicion, pure. Your talent as a writer is soft and carries a big stick. In a contest you are dangerous. Pretty sure you will not need the coffee

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