NPR's Bob Mondello and Tamara Keith read selections from Round 10 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. Sunday's stories are "The Escape" by Lisa Turano of Asheville, N.C., and "Three Little Words" by Rick Hodges of Arlington, Va. Read the full stories below and see other submissions and past winners on our Three-Minute Fiction page.
I don't really want to say this on a message, but I just can't wait any longer.
You know how we were snuggled up under the blanket in the park last week? Yeah, that was nice. Our six-month anniversary. And we got into a fight about something so stupid as exactly how long we've been dating, and whether it was from when we met at Starbucks or when we went on our first date. Heck, we ended up at that same Starbucks on our first date anyway.
That was our first real fight. Another milestone, huh?
And then you said you thought you were ready to tell me something? Those three little words? Yeah. And you said we could take this relationship to a new level. And I would have to say those three words too.
Well, I think I'm ready to say them.
I can see us going somewhere with this relationship. Maybe we could build a big log cabin someday, together. We could have a farm where we grow something, different, something fun, like, I don't know, hot peppers. We'd go together to farmer's markets to sell them. We'd have ten kids, and build them all kinds of things to play with on the farm. We could watch the sunset each night from the back after putting them to bed, snuggled up under a blanket like we were in the park.
Um, maybe not ten kids. Two or three. Only if you want them. I'm getting a little ahead of myself because I'm nervous. It's just me babbling about my dreams.
But we could do your dreams too. If you want to buy a little place in the city with an art studio and make art all day, that would be cool too. Or, I was thinking, I could quit my job — in fact, I could quit my whole career, because you know I've told so many times that accounting is soooo boring, even when you politely pretended it wasn't on our first date. I could be an artist too. Or a farmer slash artist. Hey, we could build big sculptures on the farm, out of old cars or logs or whatever. I don't know. I want whatever you want. I want you to be happy too. I'd really be happy doing anything, as long as it's with you.
But yeah, you were right that before we move forward in this, I have to say those three words. And you're absolutely right that no relationship between two people can work without getting around to saying them. Someday maybe we'll say them to each other all the time, and give each other a kiss and go to work. I'd like that.
But, still, you know, they aren't easy to say out loud the first time.The thing is, I've never actually said them to anyone else. You're the first. Well, my mom of course, and my dog Wiggles — he was my dog when I was seven, a Labrador retriever. I said it to him sometimes, when I was by myself. But you're the first time I've really said it, and meant it.
But I'm ready. I really wish it wasn't on a phone message, but I can't wait any longer.
Hey, Julia ......... it's me ....... Kind of glad you're not picking up — this'll be easier. Maybe.
So. Here goes. I'm going to ask you to do something for me. It's not an ordinary best friend kind of favor — God, I wish it was. I wish I just needed you to pick up my dry cleaning or something ...... Anyway. Here it is. It's big ..... I need you to somehow explain to David (and I guess everyone else ...... damn) that I won't be there on Saturday. I just can't do it. This won't make any sense, I know. You'll think I'm insane. Everyone will .......
Um, I'm at the airport right now. And I'm getting on a plane in a few minutes. To Guatemala. Yeah, I know. It sounds crazy when I say it out loud. I don't even know where to start. It's just — I went to the bookstore this morning, you know, to pick up that nice pen for the guest book. I decided to grab a book to read on the honeymoon — something fluffy, good for sunning by the pool on the cruise. Anyway. Whatever. So there was this woman there, a row away from me, in the travel section. She just looked — I don't know. Interesting. Different. Carefree. Like she wasn't worrying about what anybody would think. She had on bright red overalls, and some kind of crazy tribal jewelry. She was talking to her friend, and I was nosy and I eavesdropped. Her friend asked her, "Why always these third world countries? I still don't get why you keep going back." And do you know what she said? Listen to this, Julia. She said, "Because when I'm there I'm constantly reminded of what's important. I feel alive in a way I never feel when I'm here. Because, for whatever reason, I feel like I can really be me when I'm there."
What she said hit me like a ton of bricks. Bam. Sounds stupid, right? But I looked at myself and thought — What really is important? Is it this crazy expensive wedding, with the two-thousand dollar dress and open bar? Is it my job — that I hate, and I do only because I'm supposed to have a 'career' and I have to pay the bills? Do I actually feel alive every day? Or am I just trudging through my life, doing things because I'm 'supposed to'? And am I really being me? Or just a version of me that the rest of the world thinks I should be?
Julia, I just stood there, asking myself those questions — and my answers sucked. That woman walked away with her friend, and I just stood there. I finally left — I never bought the pen or the book.
I went home and kept thinking about all of this, and it was just suddenly so clear that I couldn't get married on Saturday. I love David, and this is just about the crappiest thing I could do to him. But I don't think I should join lives with someone until I can answer those questions and feel good about the answers. And Julia, right now I feel pretty alarmed by my answers.
So — Guatemala. Yes, it's impulsive, and extreme. But I need to do something extreme. I need to force myself to take a long hard look at my life. And I need to go right now, or else I'll chicken out. If that woman's right, maybe I'll come back feeling alive, knowing what's important, and knowing what it's like to truly be me.