*Exciting News!* A new book, Freely Written Vol. 1, is now available! It features 20 stories from this podcast and makes a great gift for story lovers!
In today's story, You are My Sunshine, Gene adjusts to life back in the office after working from home.
Today's prompt was inspired by a my beautiful yellow coffee mug that says "Hello Sunshine!" It's a new favorite from Barbarah Robertson Pottery, and it made me think of the old song, You are My Sunshine.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
The Freely Written Book: Freely Written Vol. 1
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 58 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is You are My Sunshine
Before we get started, I have an announcement: some of my favorite Freely Written stories are now available in a new book, simply called Freely Written Vol. 1. The book features 20 previously aired stories that you can take with you and read whenever you want a story break.
For now, the book is only available on Amazon in paperback form. Though it will soon be available through more retailers and as an ebook. I’ll add a link in the show notes so you can check that out.
Now, if you’re a first-time listener, here’s how this podcast works: I write a bit of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.
Today’s prompt was inspired by my coffee mug. I have a beautiful new mug from my favorite potter, Barbarah Robertson. It’s a lovely stone color with a yellow glaze over the top two-thirds and the words “Hello Sunshine” carved into the lower portion. Its sunny coloring and bright message are a nice pick-me-up, especially when the weather is dreary.
It also reminds me of the old song, You are My Sunshine, so I decided to run with that idea.
Let’s see what story that inspired:
You are My Sunshine
The sun had been shining all week. Brightly. Brilliantly. Relentlessly. Not beyond its usual hours, though. It still rose in the morning and set in the evening. As it typically does in regions that aren’t too far from the equator. But during those hours, it was incessant. Rarely hiding behind a thin wisp of cloud. Simply beaming for all to see.
It was a welcome change after 10 days of rain. At first. By the end of the week, it had become the expected normal. People who had rushed to get outside while the sun was out began to relax their routines, accepting that the sun would continue to shine for some time.
Some people began to worry. No rain in the near forecast meant dry ground and thirsty plants. The area wasn’t prone to drought, but it had happened on occasion, and no one wanted to deal with mandatory water conservation efforts while their gardens shriveled and their cars went unwashed.
Yet, most people thought it was too soon to worry about that. A week of sunshine was something to be enjoyed, they said, as they planned picnics, hikes, and boat rides.
Gene was somewhere in the middle. He liked balance in life. A little rain. A little sun. Never too much of either. With that in mind, he felt 10 days of sunshine would be a nice balance to their prior 10 days of rain. Though he knew the weather didn’t work like that.
He also knew better than to tell his coworkers that he was hoping for rain after a tenth day of sun. They already thought he was peculiar and would use it as another reason to call him quirky. Which was meant to be a polite way of calling him strange, though it didn’t feel all that polite to Gene.
On the eighth day of sunshine, Gene went to work as usual. His new usual. His department had been back at the office for a month after two years of mostly working from home, due to the pandemic. While they’d mostly settled back into their office groove, Gene was having trouble with the transition.
His quirky eccentricities had been less obvious during their work-from-home period. Not to Gene, who was simply being himself, but to his coworkers who had forgotten their awkward encounters with him in the break room or passing in the corridors.
During teleconference calls, it had been easy for Gene to stay quiet during the pre- and post-meeting social portions and only speak about his work when it was required. It had been a comfortable arrangement for Gene and going back to the office was proving to be a social challenge.
On this eighth day of sunny skies, and twenty-eighth day back in the office, Gene was determined to let go of the anxiety that had been building and ignore any social awkwardness his coworkers seemed to feel. He wasn’t there to make friends, he reminded himself. He had several close friends outside of work and none of them seemed to have any problem with his behavior, interests, or so-called quirks.
In fact, some of his friends also knew what it was like to be the quirky one at their offices. Sometimes they laughed about it. Sometimes it wasn’t so funny.
Gene often envied his friends who worked in labs or technical companies because they had very little trouble fitting in with their coworkers. But as the sole IT guy at a small marketing firm, Gene was surrounded by go-getting salespeople who all watched sports and singing competitions and only knew superheroes from their splashy blockbusters.
There were other jobs out there, Gene knew, and he’d started applying for them as soon as he got the email saying they were going back to the office. Hopefully, he’d be leaving soon, but he was stuck for now.
One of his coworkers flagged him down as he plodded back to his cube, eyes glued to his steaming cup of tea. With an inward sigh, Gene looked up and saw it was Roger, one of the most outgoing of the office extroverts. Which was saying a lot.
“Come meet the new girl!” Roger called happily, and Gene noticed a small crowd had gathered in the open space near the copy machine.
“Her name is Jean,” Roger continued, “like you!”
Great, Gene thought bitterly, imagining the inane jokes that would spawn. But he turned down the aisle and shuffled toward the group, deciding that quietly joining would probably be seen as less weird than ignoring them and hurrying back to his desk.
When the crowd parted, he saw a young woman with blue hair, black eyeliner, and a spritely smile. She wore a jean jacket over a simple skater dress and was waving her arms while telling a story about her cat, who was named Chewie. As she talked, Gene noticed that she wore gold earrings in the shape of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter.
The story ended with the cat safely untangled from her freshly clawed new curtains and everyone laughed together.
Gene grinned and took a chance, asking, “Flerken or Wookiee?”
His coworkers turned to him with raised eyebrows or rolled their eyes, but New Jean beamed.
“Flerken, of course!” She pulled back the sleeve of her jacket to show a tattoo of the Captain Marvel emblem on the inside of her forearm.
“Nice!” Gene nodded appreciatively, ignoring the quizzical looks around them.
New Jean did not ignore the quizzical looks and didn’t seem to be bothered by them either. She simply turned her smile on the group, explaining, “Chewie is the name of Captain Marvel’s cat, who is actually an alien creature called a Flerken.”
“Oh, I saw that movie!” Nicole piped up with a smile of her own. “Captain Marvel is such a badass!”
“Right?!” New Jean laughed encouragingly. “She’s even better in the comic books. I can bring some in if you want to read them.”
“My son loves comic books,” Roger chimed in. “There’s a shop over in Old Town that he really likes.”
“Yep, I know it well!” New Jean agreed, going on to say that she knew the owners and helped out at some of their events.
As she talked, Gene took in her animated features and, more importantly, marveled at how easily she’d gotten this group to talk about one of his so-called quirky interests. He was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice a shift in the conversation until Roger repeated his name insistently.
“Gene? Gene! Earth to Gene!”
Gene startled and the others laughed, but not New Jean. She looked at him with kind eyes and a soft smile.
“Are you coming to the company picnic on Saturday?” Sarah asked pointedly. She often used that clipped, patient tone when talking to Gene.
“Uh, I’m not sure…” Gene hesitated, trying not to look at New Jean. He’d had no intention of going, but if New Jean was going…
“I hope we have nice weather for it,” New Jean spoke smoothly into the strained silence. “But I also kinda wish it would rain on Saturday.”
“Why?” Nicole asked, already anticipating a funny answer.
“Because Friday will be 10 days of sunshine, and we had 10 days of rain before that. Rain on Saturday would balance it out!”
New Jean smirked and the others laughed good-naturedly. It wasn’t much of a joke, but her impish delivery sold it, and Gene felt his heart skip a beat.
His imagination put them together at the company picnic, huddled under a huge oak tree with rain falling all around. The others would have fled to their cars, but Gene and Jean would be laughing together lightly. She would say that she didn’t mind the rain, and he would say, “You are my sunshine.”
“Right, Gene?” Roger pulled Gene from his thoughts again, but Gene had no idea what question he’d been asked.
As he felt his cheeks heat, New Jean laughed lightly and again spoke into the awkwardness with ease. “He said it sounds like you and I have more than our names in common.”
“Oh, yeah,” Gene’s blush deepened, and he kept his eyes trained on New Jean’s encouraging gaze.
“I’m glad we do,” she smiled, and Gene felt himself smiling back with ease.
You are my sunshine, he thought to himself, realizing that it might not be so bad to keep working here.
Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please share it with your friends and check out the new book, Freely Written Vol. 1. You can also connect with me on social media, visit my website, SusanQuilty.com, or support my writing through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]